The unearthing of the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton near Eastend three decades ago continues to be a fascinating story of scientific discovery.
The latest documentary in the Stories from the Great Southwest series by Overtime Studios tells the full story of Scotty the T. rex and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the paleontological research happening at the T.rex Discovery Centre.
It was written and directed by George Tsougrianis, who is a managing partner in the Swift Current based production company Overtime Studios. The story of Scotty was an obvious choice for this documentary series, which was started in 2012 by the Swift Current Museum to highlight the rich history of the city and the entire region.
Scotty received renewed attention across the world in 2019, when a scientific study was published in which it was declared to be the largest T. rex skeleton ever found by paleontologists. It made the decision to produce this documentary even more relevant.
“So because it was the biggest, we felt it was just timely, even though the story has been told,” he said. “And we wanted to add a little bit more in terms of where are things now. We may know the story, but obviously the T.rex Discovery Centre and the work that goes on there is a continuation of the work. So when we put all of that together, we felt it was a good story.”
He also considered this to be a good opportunity to highlight the interesting work done by paleontologists. He met T.rex Discovery Centre paleontologist Dr. Emily Bamforth a few years ago at a Fossil Fever event in the Grasslands National Park, which was a fascinating experience.
“Over the last couple of years, I've run into Emily subsequent to that and had more conversations, and I just really became more interested in what these people actually do,” he said. “We've been to the T.rex Discovery Centre a number of times for various projects, but the part that I really wanted to show that I don't think anybody has really seen is what happens behind the glass in that restricted area where they actually have all the bones, but also more importantly where they do a lot of the ongoing work.”
Scenes in the documentary therefore show staff at work in the area where bones collected during field trips are carefully cleaned and analyzed. Scotty’s original bones are stored at the T.rex Discovery Centre and he had the opportunity to see and film them.
“I've never seen the bones the way that they were able to show them to me, like literally open up the various shelves, and to actually see not just Scotty's fossils, but the reams and reams of bones that they've catalogued over the many years that they've been doing the work,” he recalled.
He also had an opportunity to accompany Dr. Bamforth and another paleontologist, Dr. Hallie Street, on a fieldwork trip.
“That was really exciting for me,” Tsougrianis said. “I went out with them to one of the active dig sites. They're actually working on it and Emily was really good. She explained things and what they were doing and what the fossil remains were at that particular site.”
A life-sized replica of Scotty is the showpiece of the exhibits at the T.rex Discovery Centre, but the displays also feature other examples of Saskatchewan’s rich prehistoric period, including marine reptiles and prehistoric mammals.
The documentary therefore includes details about these other exhibits and Dr. Street provides information about ancient marine reptiles that once lived in a vast inland sea that covered a large part of present-day Saskatchewan.
A significant challenge for Tsougrianis during the making of this documentary was to ensure the factual correctness of the scientific information presented to viewers.
“That was probably my biggest concern,” he said. “I was even going back and forth with Emily on how do you pronounce some of these long names, whether it was the animals or the period. I just wanted to make sure that it was accurate and that we didn't say something falsely.”
The documentary, which is just over 20 minutes long, presents the story of Scotty and the T.rex Discovery Centre through three segments.
“There is the origin story of Scotty, how Eastend fits into the picture, and then the latter half is really about that behind the scenes and what does a paleontologist actually do,” he said.
The documentary includes historical footage as well as interviews with retired teacher Robert Gebhardt, who discovered the first pieces of Scotty in 1991, and paleontologists Tim Tokaryk, who realized the importance of the discovery when he visited the site in 1994. Tokaryk was also an original member of the scientific team that unearthed Scotty over a period of several years.
The intention was to officially launch this documentary in 2020 during an event in Eastend, but the COVID-19 public health restrictions made it impossible. Scotty the T. Rex, the Full Story was therefore released towards the end of the year on the Overtime Studios website. To watch the documentary and for more information about becoming an Overtime Studios subscriber, visit the website at www.otime.ca