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The Master of Evolution Animation Returns

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

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Earlier this year I posted about the fantastic work of Tyler Rhodes, a student in the animation program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Tyler had completed a unique experiment with a classroom of young children from Patrick Henry School of Science and Art:

“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.

Rhodes’ first animation from this experiment won accolades far and wide, and he’s recently released another version – complete with new creatures and a very different ending. This was his ambition from the start – to use the diversity in the diagrams produced by the children to highlight just how easily the course of evolution can be changed. In other words, the fact that this second animation ends in a completely different way is a rather humbling message to the human race – our presence is rather random!

Rhodes is hard at work continuing on with various new iterations of the project, he is currently dealing with a gaggle of creatures over 1000 strong! He is also interested in collaborating with other science artists on this endeavor, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with him.

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. Bill_Crofut 6:35 pm 11/20/2012

    Dr. Bondar,

    Re: “Rhodes’…ambition from the start [was] to use the diversity in the diagrams produced by the children to highlight just how easily the course of evolution can be changed.”

    However entertaining the animation may be, it’s not a demonstration of evolution. For example, the alleged transition from reptile to bird seems to lack serious credence. Why? There is no fossil evidence for it in any meaningful sense but, not on my authority:

    “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology….Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution. In exposing its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to impugn the potential validity of gradualism (for all general views have similar roots). I wish only to point out that it was never “seen” in the rocks.”

    [Prof. Stephen Jay Gould. 1977. Evolution's Erratic Pace. NATURAL HISTORY, May, p. 14]

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  2. 2. Carin 2:30 pm 11/21/2012

    Hi Bill, thanks for your comment.

    The exercise that Tyler created for the students was not meant to be an accurate representation of how life actually evolved on earth. It was meant to be an exercise in understanding how the process of evolution works, and how diversity can crop up and become incorporated into future generations. In his simplicity, I think that Tyler has created a very effective film that shows us how the evolutionary process works.

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  3. 3. Bill_Crofut 11:27 am 11/22/2012

    Hi Dr. Bondar,

    Thank you for responding.

    Regarding the intention of producing the film, it doesn’t occur to me, as a Traditional Roman Catholic and militant young-Earth Biblical creationist, how the evolutionary process works, and that puts me in some impressive company:

    “Darwin himself considered that the idea of evolution is unsatisfactory unless its mechanism can be explained. I agree, but since no one has explained to my satisfaction how evolution could happen I do not feel impelled to say that it has happened. I prefer to say that on this matter our information is inadequate.”

    [Prof. W. R. Thompson. 1956. Introduction. In: Charles Darwin. Origin of Species. Everyman Library No. 811. London: J. M. Dent and Sons. Reprinted with permission. Evolution Protest Movement. 1967. NEW CHALLENGING ‘INTRODUCTION' TO THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. Selsey, Sussex: Selsey Press Ltd., p. 12]

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