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Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History


Digital Dinosaur

Triceratops skull computer rendering

An intermediate step in creating the fully-rendered bones of Triceratops in the computer. Data points were connected to form polygons, which then were individually shaded to render a surface texture for each bone.

Triceratops now exists accurately in the computer as fully-rendered bones that can be sent to researchers as easily as e-mail. Researchers can make highly accurate measurements from the digital dinosaur, and do various analyses on shape and function of the bones. We used the data from the entire skeleton to analyze the posture and gait of Triceratops.

We had prototyped a one-sixth size Triceratops (about the size of a Labrador Retriever), and assembled a team of paleontologists who studied this tiny version to analyze how the bones work together at the joints. This led to our mounting and animating the most realistic posture and movements for Triceratops ever seen by humans. Further work on other movements, such as chewing, will tell us more about how Triceratops lived over 65 million years ago.

What will I see when I visit the new 
exhibit at the Smithsonian?

The new Triceratops will be unveiled on May 24, 2001. We will exhibit the new mount of Triceratops in its new posture, facing off with Tyrannosaurus rex. They lived at the exact same time and place, and probably encountered each other. You'll be able to see the original skull, the left and right humerus and the prototyped replacement left humerus of Triceratops, and the miniature Triceratops mounted in the original posture for comparison. We will also show skulls of the other members of the Marginocephalia, including Diceratops (two horns instead of three), Styracosaurus (a full skeletal mount of a baby), Centrosaurus, Protoceratops, Bagaceratops, Psittacosaurus, and four bone-headed dinosaurs, the pachycephalosaurs. You'll be able to touch a cast horn of Triceratops and a bronze skull of a 1/6th-scale Triceratops. A video will detail the entire process of conserving, molding and casting, laser scanning, prototyping, and researching the posture of Triceratops.

Learn more about the Triceratops by 
visiting these links:

Computer-generated image of Triceratops

Each color on this computer-generated image of our Triceratops skull and jaws indicates a separate pass of a 3-D surface scanner that captured the data to describe the bones. All the passes were knit together to produce this image. Incompletely colored areas were not picked up by the scan.

We used this technology to capture the shapes of all the bones in our skeleton in the computer, reverse or resize them to fix problems with the original skeleton, create prototype replacements, and analyze every bone. Thus our Triceratops has become the first digital dinosaur, and enabled closer study of this three horned-plant eating-dinosaur than ever before.

Triceratops at the Smithsonian  |  Conservation  |  Computerizing Bones  |  Digital Dinosaur  |  Home

Walk sequence of the virtual Triceratops
A walk cycle of the virtual Triceratops

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