Monday, December 25, 2017

Biogeography in popular culture 2 - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

With the new movie Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle out to capture a slice of the year-end box office pie, we have a movie featuring lots of animals, and another chance to figure out the biodiversity and biogeography of the setting.

I counted at least 16 species of animals featured in the film, and there is a constant reference to the jaguar. So is Jumanji somewhere in the Americas?

As the accuracy of biogeography depicted in popular culture such as television commercials and Katy Perry's music video is rather suspect, lets see about this one.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Africa: 1. hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), 2. black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), 3. Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) (?), 4. white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), 5. African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana).

South America: 6. vulture (Cathartidae), 7. jaguar (Panthera onca)

North America: 8. Mexican red knee tarantula (Brachypelma sp.), 9. grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Unknown/unidentified (too fleeting or unfamiliar to ID): 10. eagle, 11. fruit bat (Pteropodidae), 12. centipede, 13. scorpion, 14. mosquito, 15. rat

Missing from original: lion, monkey, zebra, pelican

Based on the overwhelming number of animals (at least 4) from one continent, the new Jumanji movie is probably set somewhere in Africa. However, the presence of some species from North and South America makes this another flawed depiction of biogeography in the media industry.

I am not sure if it there is a biodiversity crisis in Jumanji that mirrors the real world, because some species from the original movie such as the zebras and lion are obviously missing from this movie.

One thing has not changed though. Just like the original, the CGI animals in the new movie look rather unnatural.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Old Spice's Sperm Whale Can't Blow Like That

Old Spice has a new ad out—another one that involves the protagonist being on top of another animal. But this time it is a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). However, in order to not run afoul of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and for the sheer impossibility of the shot, they had to create one using CGI. But how accurate is it? Not too bad, but there are a few obvious mistakes:

1. Blow hole
The blowhole of the sperm whale is located at the dorsal tip of the snout and directed to the left, and not so far back in the middle of the dorsal surface of the animal. While the nasal passage may be big enough to fit a tennis ball (assuming the animal does not suffocate), any object that is ejected when it blows will shoot out towards the left and slightly ahead of the animal.
Position of the blowhole on the Old Spice ad.
Location of sperm whale blowhole. Photo by Vilmo Vinza

2. Whale song
The sound used at 0:46 is not of a sperm whale. Sperm whales hunt, navigate, and communicate using clicks. The song-like vocalisation in the ad belongs to a baleen whale, possibly a humpback whale.

3. Swimming dynamics
The swimming dynamics of the sperm whale is simply not convincing. It is impossible for a sperm whale to swim continuously at the surface with the front part of its body still and only its fluke in motion at speed depicted. Some degree of undulation would inevitably occur.

All in all, perhaps a B for the model (the whale, not the human).

Just last night, a colleague was musing that it would be great fun to have an annual competition between animators and biologists. The former will try to produce highly realistic CGI animals, while the latter would try to guess if they are real or fake. Judging from the pretty good non-human CGI organisms in recent films like The Revenant, The Jungle Book, and the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes, this hypothetical CGI vs. biologists competition could actually get quite interesting.

PS. This ad gets an F for littering the ocean with trash, this also pointed out by Southern Fried Science. Marine trash such as the tennis balls in the ad can pollute the sea and cause the death of animals if swallowed.