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An Evolution Animation Unlike Any You’ve Seen Before…

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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How do you make an authentic evolution animation?  Quite simply: you allow it to evolve.  Tyler Rhodes, a student in the animation program at Virginia Commonwealth University, wanted to create an animation that wasn’t simply linear, but instead represented the true ‘tree-like’ process of evolution.  So he enlisted the help of elementary school students from William Fox Elementary School and the Patrick Henry School of Science & Art, and involved them in a type of game.

“Much like the whispered game “telephone” where one person whispers a message down the line until it’s very different by the end due to small “mutations” along the way, I would create a game of telephone using visual imagery.”

Tyler began the game by sketching a nondescript salamander-like creature:

He then had various groups of students make copies of this sketch, knowing that the copies would contain subtle differences.  The natural variation in the ‘progeny’ created from the first salamander sketch was used to determine the survival of the fittest.  Tyler would ‘kill off’ 98% of the organisms and start the process again, this time working from the sketches that ‘survived’.  In subsequent iterations he would throw out curveballs like desertification or a volcanic explosion (subsequent to the sketching), which would help the group decide which animals were best suited to survive.  They would then take these environmental changes into account when sketching their next creatures.

There was a total of 6 generations, after which time Tyler digitally cut out the images and animated them with his own music and sound effects from the children.  The finished product is an evolution video that is completely unique, refreshing and altogether entertaining.


I would like to congratulate Tyler on this remarkable achievement.  His editing skills and creative vision bring the process of evolution to center stage in an entirely new form.

Carin Bondar About the Author: Carin Bondar is a biologist, writer and film-maker with a PhD in population ecology from the University of British Columbia. Find Dr. Bondar online at, on twitter @drbondar or on her facebook page: Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist With a Twist. Follow on Twitter @drbondar.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Banksy 4:39 pm 02/29/2012

    So wonderful! What a great idea, beautifully executed.

    Link to this
  2. 2. LUrkingAwesome 7:20 pm 03/1/2012

    Alright now, fellas

    Now what’s cooler than being cool?

    Link to this
  3. 3. Tyler Rhodes 8:26 pm 03/1/2012


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  4. 4. Strycher 9:10 am 03/2/2012

    That’s awesome! What program did they use to animate the kid’s drawings? It looks great!

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  5. 5. Carin 12:03 pm 03/2/2012

    I’m so glad you all like it! Tyler, care to chime in on how you animated it? We’d love to know :)

    Link to this
  6. 6. Tyler Rhodes 12:34 pm 03/2/2012

    I scanned all of the drawings, color corrected them/cleaned them up and digitally “cut them out” in Adobe Photoshop. Afterwards I used Adobe After Effects to prop them up in 3-D space, flying a virtual camera around them, and used something called the “puppet tool” to give them that rubbery effect. I wanted to animate them in a way that left the original drawing as intact as possible.

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  7. 7. 5:44 pm 03/8/2012

    Evolution is the topic! Could you guys help by signing this petition ?
    and passing to others, chain style ? Thanks you.

    Link to this
  8. 8. geometeer 9:21 am 03/9/2012

    I’d love to know how the surviving 2% were chosen, each time.
    The driving force of any evolution is change followed by not-purely-random selection.

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  9. 9. Tyler Rhodes 10:38 pm 03/9/2012

    geometer, I go over my process in more detail at
    but the basic idea was I would eliminate the creatures more or less at random, but I was also leaving creatures that I thought would ease the game along. The kids would then choose which creature would carry on from the remaining 2 or 3.

    Link to this
  10. 10. WizeHowl 7:19 am 03/16/2012

    Tyler, well done! and congratulations to all the kids involved as well. Now this is real Science and it shows what can be done with some imagination, it is great to see the contribution of the kids, they will take so much away from it.

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