The Guardian is running an interview with Pauline Fowler, whose company Animated Extras has been involved in many film and television projects where apes and hominins are part of the cast. It’s an interesting interview, and I like to get this behind the scenes look at the artistic and technical process. As many may know, I’m one of the most irascible critics of the results, but I very much appreciate the challenges of realism in portraying ancient hominins.
I asked Fowler how she would go about animating an Ardipithecus ramidus, who lived 4.4m years ago. The 45% complete fossil, known as "Ardi" was discovered in Ethiopia by Tim White's team in 1992 just 75km from the location of the famous "Lucy" fossil. "Well Ardi was short, stood about three and half to four feet tall. She had long arms. If you are going to make suits you need small people and arm extensions. Children are hard to work with so you need adult midgets, not dwarfs, you need average human proportions, but smaller. But finding enough midgets who can act is tough. You could blue screen Ardi and put in the environment later or have it as a CGI construct. There's several ways you could animate Ardi. But the colour of Ardi, her hair and size and shape of the soft tissue is informed guesswork, soft tissue doesn't usually fossilise. I always liaise with an expert and we find a realistic compromise."
Not so different from R2D2, really.