The Haplo project enjoys a brief interlude in realspace

August 7, 2018

Preserved bits of the Snowmass Haplocanthosaurus, MWC 8028, with me for scale. Modified from Wedel (2009: fig. 10), but not much – MWC 8028 was about the same size as CM 879.

Let’s say you had a critter with weird neural canals and super-deeply-dished-in centrum-ends, and you wanted to digitally rearticulate the vertebrae and reconstruct the spinal cord and intervertebral cartilages, in a project that would bring together a bunch of arcane stuff that you’d been noodling about for years. Your process might include an imposing number of steps, and help from a LOT of people along the way:

1. Drive to Dinosaur Journey in Fruita, Colorado, to pick up the fossils and bring them back to SoCal. (Thank you Paige Wiren, John Foster, and Rebecca Hunt-Foster for an excuse to come to the Moab area, thank you Brian Engh for the awesome road trip, and thank you Julia McHugh for access to specimens and help packing them up!).

2. Take the fossils to the Hemet Valley Medical Center for CT scanning. (Thank you John Yasmer and team.)

3. Find a colleague who would help you generate 3D models from the CT scans. (Thank you Thierra Nalley.)

4. Talk it over with your university’s 3D vizualization team, who suggest a cunning plan: (Thank you Gary Wisser, Jeff Macalino, and Sunami Chun at WesternU.)

5. They print the best-preserved vertebra at 75% scale. (50% scale resin print shown here.)

6. You and a collaborator physically sculpt in the missing bits with some Super Sculpey. (Thank you Jessie Atterholt for sculpting, and thank you Jeremiah Scott for documenting the process.)

(7.) The 3D-viz team use their fancy optical scanner (basically a photogrammetry machine) to make:

  • a second-generation digital model (digital)
  • from the sculpted-over 3D print (physical)
  • of the first-generation digital model (digital)
  • made from the CT scans (digital)
  • of the original fossil material (physical).

(8.) With some copying, pasting, and retro-deforming, use that model of the restored vert as a template for restoring the rest of the vertebrae, stretching, mirroring, and otherwise hole-filling as needed. (Prelim 2D hand-drawn version of caudal 1 shown here.)

(9.) Test-articulate the restored vertebrae to see if and how they fit, and revise the models as necessary. (Low-fi speculative 2D version from January shown here.)

(10.) Once the model vertebrae are digitally rearticulated, model the negative spaces between the centra and inside the neural canals to reconstruct the intervertebral cartilages and spinal cord.

(11.) Push the university’s 3D printers to the limit attempting to fabricate an articulated vertebral series complete with cartilages and cord in different colors and possibly different materials, thereby making a third-generation physical object that embodies the original idea you had back in January.

(12.) Report your findings, publish the CT scans and 3D models (original and restored), let the world replicate or repudiate your results. And maaaybe: be mildly astonished if people care about the weird butt of the most-roadkilled specimen of the small obscure sauropod that has somehow become your regular dance partner.

We did number 6 yesterday, so just counting the arbitrarily-numbered steps (and ignoring the fact that 7-12 get progressively more complicated and time-consuming), we’re halfway done. Yay! I’ll keep you posted on how it goes from here.

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8 Responses to “The Haplo project enjoys a brief interlude in realspace”

  1. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Wow!
    Being a recovering engineer, taking things to a “logical” conclusion is …something:
    13) use petri-started muscle and ligament and nerve cell cultures to re-create a living creature that can prove the printed articulation model is functionally correct.
    14) add legs, tail, neck, head, and internal organs to prove the entire sauropod model is functionally workable as a living creature. Do NOT release in the wild, see the Jurassic Park movies for the dire unintended consequences of THAT.

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    (15) Finally figure out how sauropods were able to lose their skulls so easily.
    (16) Three words: BBQ sauropod ribs.
    (17) Profit!


  3. […] since we’ve just been discussing the utility of 3D printing in paleontology (1, 2), I thought you’d like to see this. Brooks did caution us that the 3D model was a work in […]


  4. shoutouts super sculpey & stuff like that. keepin ERRThANG pushin!

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Brian Engh — is that you?


  6. […] orientations in the case of the Snowmass Haplocanthosaurus vertebra that Matt’s been playing with so much […]


  7. […] those shapes over easily in my hand. Not to mention the other things you can do with prints, like physically sculpt on them without gooping up your fossils (we’re midway through step #8 from that post, […]


  8. […] probably to present on the Haplocanthosaurus project–which only occasionally dips into realspace anyway–with a bunch of the folks who made it […]


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