A cross section of science on the cyberscreen

An Evolution Animation Unlike Any You've Seen Before...


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.

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

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Email this Article