By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - Extinct creatures both cuddly and nasty have been brought to life with 3D computer technology as nature documentary maker David Attenborough turns his attentions to fossils and skeletons at London's Natural History Museum in a new made-for-TV film.
Featuring creatures ranging from the Dodo and a giant sloth to a 33-foot (10-m) long snake and a terrifying sabre-toothed cat-like animal, "Alive at the Natural History Museum" had a premiere showing at the museum on Wednesday night for a crowd that included Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.
The film will air on Britain's Sky satellite channels on New Year's Day and is clearly aimed at a family audience, with children sure to laugh at the antics of the awkward Dodo or the ostrich-like giant Moa bird.
But Attenborough in his narration admits "there is no more alarming animal in the museum than this" as computer imagery makes the skeleton of a sabre-toothed Smilodon spring to life.
It is not entirely reassuring that, as he asserts, neither the Smilodon nor the equally worrying Gigantophis prehistoric snake, shown slithering around the halls of the Victorian-era museum, would have eaten humans because they were extinct before mankind evolved.
Attenborough said he had been particularly astonished by the computer-generated movements of the skeletal Smilodon.
"Actually it is an extraordinary animal, those sabre-like teeth," he said. "But the clever thing was to work out on the computer how all those joints moved so that you could get it stalking and actually leaping. Seeing how the joints moved was actually more interesting than if you'd put fur on it."
The film by production house Colossus was made in collaboration with the museum and its curators, some of whom were on hand on Wednesday to show the actual fossils and skeletons on which the computer-generated 3D images were based.
"It does help to visualize some of the things that I only have in my head," Dr Paul Barrett, head of the museum's Vertebrates and Anthropology Palaeobiology Division, told Reuters when asked about the computer imagery.
"To be able to translate that into something that looks like a living, breathing animal is actually challenging and more intellectually interesting than you might guess, from a scientific point of view."
Attenborough, 87, whose films and television programs over the past 60 years have mostly focused on living creatures, from wildlife in Africa to the insect world, said he'd been fascinated by the museum's collection since he was a young boy.
He said he had relished the chance to make a film based on the collection of some 70 million specimens, including the huge, though plaster, skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur in the room where the film was screened.
"I came here as an eight-year-old and came in through that door and saw this thing and I thought, 'Gosh it must be so exciting to see the basement where they keep all those secret things'," he said.
"And to be able to come here over the years and ...to be lucky enough to be taken behind the scenes is a great thrill."
(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)