The best dinosaur show of the decade is based on ancient clues and fossils

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Since jurassic park enthralled by the first image of a friendly brachiosaurus roaming a grassy plain, audiences have been waiting decades for another cinematic spectacle that reveals new insights into dinosaurs and the prehistoric world.

Now the wait is finally over with the launch of Apple TV+’s visually stunning new series, Prehistoric planet. Reported by none other than naturalist historian Sir David Attenborough, prehistoric planet is a five-episode limited series that began airing Friday, May 27.

Whereas jurassic park imagine what would happen if we brought dinosaurs into our modern world, prehistoric planet arguably does something even bolder: it uses real science and computer animation to recreate the very world in which dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex lived, feasted and played alongside other majestic creatures in environments ranging from icy worlds to coastal tropical climates.

But how did the show’s creators use science to accurately recreate the daily lives of animals we’ve never seen in real life? Reverse sat down with series showrunner Tim Walker and chief science consultant and paleozoologist, Darren Naishto explain the incredible science behind this jaw-dropping series.

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How does Prehistorical planet recreate the past?

AppleTV+

Walker’s goal was to get the science right from the time he started assembling the creative team behind the show, including Naish. Their goal: to recreate the era before the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event that killed off dinosaurs and most life on Earth, or what Walker calls the “last great period of dinosaur evolution”

“It was embedded science from the start,” says Naish.

But recreating the ancient past from around 66 million years ago is no small feat, especially for a series that spanned 10 years. So how did they do it? It turns out that we already have a pretty good fossil record from this period, thanks to decades of archaeological research.

“It also introduces some heavy hitters in the world of dinosaurs,” says Walker. “T-Rex and Triceratops, they were only there in this short window of time.”

With a strong team of wildlife filmmakers from the BBC’s Natural History Unit and a CGI team led by Jon Favreau (The Mandalorian), Walker brought Naish aboard to verify the actual scientific details of animal life at that time. Naish’s interpretation of bringing the fossil record to life through comparative biology and other disciplines was key to translating old bones into real, breathing creatures on screen with precise muscle movement.

“We are in a dinosaur revolution.”

But Naish admits there were two key challenges on the show.

“First, we are in a dinosaur revolution. More new species are being described than at any other time in history,” says Naish.

More information might be good for creating a realistic series, but it also means more critical scrutiny from a well-informed audience, who will want to ensure that the details of the series match the latest scientific research regarding the appearance of dinosaurs and other creatures.

The second challenge was deciding which animal behaviors to feature on screen and which were up to date with the most exciting new findings.

“I really think we pulled it off,” says Naish.

How does Prehistorical planet bring ancient animals to life?

The first episode of the “Coasts” series offers fascinating insights into the behaviors of aquatic creatures like the plesiosaur. AppleTV+

prehistoric planet features both familiar faces like the famous T-rex as well as new ones, like the tyrannosaurus Qianzhousaurus – an eastern Chinese dinosaur known as “Pinocchio rex” for its long snout – which have no never been seen on screen. Other animals, such as mosasaurs – a monstrous aquatic reptile twice the size of the T-rex – are also appearing.

So how did Naish and Walker manage to recreate the appearance and behaviors of these creatures in great detail? For some animals, we know pretty well what they looked at during different life stages based on complete fossils. But for other creatures, the fossil record may not provide all the necessary information. Therefore, you must establish comparative benchmarks based on the behavior of living relatives of these extinct species – a technique known as bracketing.

In the first episode of the series, we are taken to the coasts and oceans of the world. A sequence at the end of “Coasts” features the live birth of a three-meter-long infant plesiosaur (a large marine reptile).

“It’s based on a specific fossil, where a plesiosaur mother has a preserved baby inside of her,” Naish says, “so we know that these animals gave birth to many so-called live births.”

A triceratops in prehistoric planet.AppleTV+

At another point in the episode, a plesiosaur swallows large pebbles to provide stability as it swims – a well-known fact in paleobiology. But there are other times when Naish had to go beyond what was strictly in the fossil record. In a fun scene from “Coasts”, a mosasaur visits a “cleaning station” where a group of fish essentially cleanse the mosasaur’s body of old skin, which they then consume as food.

There’s no hard scientific evidence that mosasaurs engaged in this behavior, but scientists believe it’s likely based on the behavior of actual marine mammals like sea turtles.

“Our stories represent this very complicated amalgamation of data or information with the fossil record with this knowledge of what is seen in the living world, often using this bracketing technique where you look at the living animals that surround extinction,” Naish said.

Walker adds that by observing the behavior of modern animals in specific environments, they were able to make educated guesses about how dinosaurs and other extinct animals might have lived.

“The same kind of challenges apply 66 million years ago as they do now,” he says.

How did you prehistoric planet find new ways to show the dinosaurs?

Did you know that the T-rex can swim? AppleTV+

“Our great desire is to show dinosaurs in a different light,” says Walker.

One of the show’s most compelling reveals comes in the opening moments of “Coasts,” when a grown male T-rex takes his baby for a swim to a nearby island. But the voyage at sea is fraught with peril. A mosasaur can easily kill a baby T-rex, so the series shows how father and offspring navigate this potentially deadly journey while fending off the larger one.

For audiences familiar with T-rex, this sequence will come as a surprise for two reasons. On the one hand: the fact that the T-rex can swim given its small arms. Most on-screen depictions of T-rex show the creature running on land with its small arms at its sides. Still, these massive dinosaurs could probably swim quite well due to their powerful hind legs, massive flared feet, and air-filled spine, which allowed the animal to sit higher in the ocean. water.

“Looks like T Rex was a good swimmer? Yes. It has a lot of anatomical features that show you that this animal was very proficient in water,” says Naish.

From the fossil record, we know that the T-rex lived in certain swamps and coastal areas. Like lions and wolves – before the arrival of humans – the T-rex was not limited to a specific environment, but rather lived in a fairly long swath of western North America.

So while the T-rex may not have swum every day, it likely would have crossed bodies of water in search of food. Direct fossil evidence known as “swimming tracks”, which refer to marks on the bottom of a river bed or seabed, further confirm that the T-rex could swim.

“What we want to show is that the dinosaurs were monsters. They were majestic and beautiful and they were part of the ecosystem,” Walker says.

The second reason why this swimming sequence will surprise viewers? It depicts the T-rex as not just an apex predator – or a murderous beast at the jurassic park – but also surprisingly vulnerable and majestic creatures, especially as young babies.

“In terms of filmmaking, the natural world is full of babies, they play a key role, and they’re very attractive,” Walker says.

Naish adds, “Most dinosaurs were babies and young, and large adults were relatively rare.”

Like any other animal, T-rexes had to take on parental responsibilities. From the fossil record, we know that dinosaurs had many descendants compared to other types of animals. The more babies there are, the more likely you are to lose some of them before they reach maturity – this is true throughout the animal kingdom.

“You know, people might not like it, but deaths of young people would have been very common,” Naish says.

But while many viewers will likely flock to the show because of T-rex, prehistoric planetThe science of is arguably at its best when it goes beyond dinosaurs, showing us the complex ecology of prehistoric life in new and dazzling ways for viewers. One of the most breathtaking sequences in the first episode doesn’t feature a dinosaur, but a glowing ammonite that lights up the sea.

This series is called Prehistoric planet, says Walker. “It’s not called Dinosaur. And so we wanted to show the planet and its inhabitants.

prehistoric planet is streaming now on Apple TV+.

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