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Link to nature.ca, the Canadian Museum of Nature web site.Link to Explore Nature! in the web site nature.ca.
Text: "Puijila" in Inuktitut. Puijila: A Prehistoric Walking Seal. Photo collage: Scheuchzer's cotton-grass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri), the research team at work in the field, a reconstruction of the Puijila darwini fossil, an ejector block in the Haughton Crater, two palaeontologists shaking a dry screen.
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Home > The Fossil & The Breakthrough > A Missing Link > Arius3D Imaging Centre - page 1

Arius3D Imaging Centre

The Canadian Museum of Nature is the first of two Canadian museums to have an in-house, three-dimensional-imaging centre staffed with expert technicians. All capabilities of the Arius3D Imaging Centre were utilized following the discovery of the new species Puijila darwini.

 

 

Image 1) The Puijila darwini skull (collection number NUFV405) being scanned.

The laser of the 3D camera gathers data from the underside of the fossil skull of Puijila.

The Arius3D Imaging Centre is equipped with a laser-emitting surface scanner. It passes a laser over the entire surface of the object being scanned, gathering data about the surface. The data are then transformed by technicians using specialized software into three-dimensional, virtual reconstructions, which are images.

The images may be processed into virtual 3D models that can be manipulated in a virtual environment, as well as photographs and animations. The data can also be used to produce a precise, real-world replica, or 3D print, of the object. Watch a video of a 3D print being made (a reproduction of one of Puijila's vertebrae).

The 3D virtual reconstructions and 3D prints are useful for research, conservation, exhibition and education.

From Dig to Digital

3D Model
The brown bones are fossils and the grey ones are reconstructions.

Rotate the skeleton by sliding the rectangular control-tool left and right.

You must have the latest version of Flash in order to see this 3D model. You can download this software from the Adobe Web site.

As the first step in creating a 3D model of the Puijila skeleton, the centre's Senior Technician, Paul Bloskie, scanned each fossil bone and fragment individually. Then, he created the 3D virtual fossil bones from the scan data.

Next, the centre's 3D Animator / Illustrator, Alex Tirabasso, worked alongside research scientists to fill in the missing bones. For guidance they used the existing Puijila skeletal elements and those of similar mammals, both modern and extinct.

Including both the fossil and "filled-in", or concept, bones, Tirabasso then virtually assembled the specimen. The result is a 3D model. (Try the 3D models on this page). Several 3D models were made in order to explore the skull, as well as different postures and stances.

Benefits to Research

Natalia Rybczynski and her co-researchers relied on the 3D models when they were studying the characters that were key to identifying and classifying the Puijila darwini species.

Like many fossil specimens, the Puijila skeleton is badly broken, some parts are fragile and fragmentary, and other parts are missing. Consequently, assembling the specimen to study the articulation (the way the bones fit together naturally in anatomical position) was impossible. Instead, a 3D model serves very well as a stand-in.

3D Model
See how turning the colour "off" makes aspects of the fossil more visible. In the colour view, the brown bones are fossils and the grey ones are reconstructions.

Rotate the skeleton by sliding the rectangular control-tool left and right.

You must have the latest version of Flash in order to see this 3D model. You can download this software from the Adobe Web site.

The skull was especially challenging to reconstruct. Its shape is complex, and many parts of the top and back of the skull are fragmentary or missing.

The Arius3D Imaging Centre provided the perfect tools for the reconstruction process. It was much more efficient and accurate to try different configurations of the pieces using the 3D models than the traditional approach using pencil and paper. Also, physical reproductions—3D prints—were made, tested and revised on short notice.

Eventually, Rybczynski and Tirabasso were able to compare the 3D model and 3D print of Puijila's skull with skulls of other fossil pinnipeds, and they noticed some distinctive similarities—another sign that Rybczynski was on the right track in classifying Puijila as an early pinniped!

The 3D models are also useful for research because they permit handling in a way that the fossil doesn't. The 3D models can be viewed from any perspective (zoomed, rotated, flipped). Also, the colour and lighting of the virtual fossil can be altered in the 3D model, thereby giving emphasis or greater visibility to anatomical features.

Future projects might include animations that could be used to help investigate how the animal may have moved on land and in the water.

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Image 5) Natalia Rybczynski holding the braincase of Puijila darwini (collection number NUFV405).