MORPHOLOGICAL MAPPING - FUSING SCIENCE AND ART



THE STORY BEHIND NOEL’S WHALES AND DOLPHINS

All of the drawings, paintings and sculptures of whales and dolphins created by Noel are based on his detailed research into each species, accumulated over the past thirty years.

This process, which he pioneered in the mid-eighties, brought together various diverse disciplines with an aim to create highly accurate scientific illustrations. His research began with the Heaviside’s dolphin, a species endemic to the African west coast of the Benguela current ecosystem, commissioned by Dr Peter Best on behalf of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. This was the first published scientific illustration of this elusive and little-known species.

Noel explains the process :

When I began illustrating the southern African species in 1984, the literature at the time showed enormous variation in the images available, so my challenge was to develop a technique that would combine the accuracy of science with the most advanced methodology of art.

For the rendering, I adjusted and honed airbrush techniques to enable me to capture the nuances and blends evident in most cetaceans, but it was when I started looking at the science that I had to go back to the drawing board!

Over many years I developed and refined a technique that enabled me to map the morphological ratio’s of each species - the comparative size of dorsal fins, tail, length, position of eye along the lateral plane, girth etc. These dimensions were available from researchers around the world who fastidiously collect this data, as well as at stranding events where I could gather the data firsthand (here I was also able to record the subtle colours and blends which disappear soon after death). I then collated definitive data by establishing the mean data set for each species, as well as the differentials between adults, male and female, and juveniles.

This data was then transcribed into physical maps which would enable me to begin the process of adding the complex curves which define each species, and only then could the process of illustrating begin.

An unexpected application of the morphological research was consulting for Warner Bros as the scientific and behavioural advisor for Free Willy 4, as well as Right Whales for ARD German Television, using the latest Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) programmes and techniques.

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