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Last year, The Brain Scoop kicked off Project Hyena Diorama, an Indiegogo campaign aimed at raising the funds necessary to build a brand new permanent habitat diorama at The Field Museum that would house a quartet of striped hyenas taxidermied by Carl Akeley in 1896. In six weeks we raised 91% of the funds thanks to Brain Scoop and museum fans from all over the world, and so began the long process of research and construction. The diorama will be officially open to the public on January 27th, 2016!

To check out the campaign:

See more updates on tumblr:

Check out more photos of the diorama on The Field Museum's Facebook:

Come hang out in our Subreddit:
Twitters: @ehmee
Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Editor, Camera, Graphics:
Brandon Brungard

Aaron Delehanty

Exhibits team:
Gorge Alejandre, Alvaro Amat, Gretchen Baker, Alex Berez, Daniel Breems, Jean Cattell, George Chavez, Sarah Crawford, Aaron Delehanty, Ben Dimock, Jason Gagovski, Marie Georg, Hector Gonzalez, Jaap Hoogstraten, Danilo Kajevic, Matt Matcuk, Chris McGarrity, Susan Neill, Mike Paha, Shelley Paine, Taylor Peterson, Susan Phillips, William Test, Kate Ulschmid, Emily Ward, Si Watson, Emily Woodworth, and Christina Yang.

This episode is supported by and filmed on location at:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL
(The Brain Scoop Intro)

Emily Graslie: Hey! We are here in the future home of the striped hyena diorama, which is currently being built thanks to Indiegogo supporters and fans of The Brain Scoop and The Field Museum, and we're here with Aaron Delehanty.

Aaron Delehanty: That's right, yeah, my name is Aaron Delehanty and I'm an artist here on staff at The Field Museum. I work in the replication shop, and we build a lot of components of the exhibitions here and the occasional diorama, which I guess hasn't come up in a lot of, many decades-

EG: Yeah.

AD: -so it's pretty amazing that this is happening, and I'm thrilled and pretty honored to be able to paint the mural for it.

EG: So it's dusk, it's this beautiful area in Somaliland where the hyenas were originally found. In terms of like, time of day, like is this accurate- what direction are we pointing in, and you have some stars and things and... how'd you come up with that configuration?

AD: Yeah, we sure do yeah. We looked very closely at when these hyenas were originally collected back in I think it was 1896, and it was during the dry season, so we based on that information and where they were in Somaliland, we chose August 6th, 1896 and we're doing 5:30 in the morning. It's "civil twilight" they call it.

EG: Wow. So what about with the star pattern. That's not- that wasn't a trivial decision as far as I understand it.

AD: Because it's a night scene, and we know the place, it was pretty easy for us to decide on making sure that the constellations in the sky were totally accurate for this time in Somaliland.

EG: Carl Akeley, if he were here today, what do you think he would think about this?

AD: He'd probably snarl. (laughs)

EG: (laughs) He was kind of a snarly man.

AD: From what I've heard, he was very snarly. But I know he'd be proud because he'd devoted his entire existence to dioramas.

EG: When you're talking about wanting to retain accuracy and all of those things, and we're thinking about Carl Akeley and what would Carl Akeley do. We have this huge landform in here and-

AD: That's right.

EG: -we're, you didn't build this.

AD: No, this was part of the original taxidermy and we're trying to preserve as much of the original Carl Akeley taxidermy as we can, and that includes this landform.

EG: So that's good. I'm glad that you guys are keeping all of this and keeping obviously detailed notes capturing how all of this is happening. I think that's one of the most exciting things about this. The exhibitions department has been detailing literally every step of this process. They got a time-lapse of a GoPro in here to paint the scene. 

AD: Yeah, the whole museum community is very excited about this project and a lot of people outside the museum are really thrilled about this project, too.  So we're trying to document it in various ways to show off to people what their contributions have done.

EG: I'm pretty excited about it.  it's one of the coolest thing I've been a part of.

AD: Me too and it wouldn't have happened without brain scoop so I am thrilled for Emily and thrilled for all of her fans cuz this have been fantastic.

EG: So, Aaron, can you just walk me through what's happening in the landscape?

AD: Sure.  So , our main feature is the acacia tree, which we have here, and on top of the acacia tree there are a couple of vultures who are waiting for the hyenas to finish up so they can have their piece.  Then we have these boulders; The locals call them extrusions because they just kinda pop up in this weird landscape.  Locals also call those plants there-they're sansevieria-but locals call them mother in law's tongue cuz they're so sharp and pointy and kinda dangerous looking.

EG: That's fabricated?

AD: That's fabricated but that one we got from Home Depot so don't look at that, that's just a placeholder.

EG: You're gonna make one tht's nicer than what Home Depot can offer.

AD: Yeah, real sansevieria, they're much sharper and they're thicker.  They're not pretty like the Home Depot version is.  One of Carl Akeley's photos, a very beautiful bunch of aloe.

EG: It's the same one.

AD: So, yeah.  And then it's just a bunch of desert.  Luckily, since it's five thirty in the morning and it's the dry season, there won't be much dust in the air, so you get this very clear line of sight all the way to the horizon.

EG: So what's this, what is this tree over here?

AD: Yeah, it's still half painted; people call it the dragon's blood tree.  It's just such a cool tree, it's got this red sap, so if you cut it it looks like it's bleeding blood, like red blood, so dragon's blood.  It's pretty awesome.

EG: Got it.

AD: It's a pretty cool tree.

EG: Are you gonna put a big slash in it and it'll be oozing?

AD: Hmm.. no, we won't, no.

EG: That'll just be a nod to the botanists.

AD: Yeah, yeah.  Orion up there, if you can see all the way up towards the ceiling, his little belt, if you keep turing and find Orion's belt.  Casper and Pollux, the Gemini twins, even though they were close to the horizon where you probably shouldn't see them because it's so bright, I have some artistic license there to bring Casper and Pollux into the landscape.

EG: Yeah, I think that's permissible.

AD: Thanks.  And then that's it.  We ot our hyenas in the foreground, our bat eared fox, just...

EG: This is the stand in.

AD: Yeha, the stand in is right, this isn't gonna be the one that we put in here.  And I probably left some things out, cuz it's a pretty complicated story here, but uh, that's the gist of it.

EG: It's pretty good.

AD: Thanks.

EG: SO, this was one of my favorite things after the campaign closed and we got the green light, we're gonna go up and do it, I went into your studio upstairs and you had this adorable model.

AD: Yeah this was our first thing we even did on day one was begin construction on a one tenth scale model.  So this was great, this gave us our opportunities to start talking with the botanists so that we can get the plants right, to start talking with the geologists to make sure we get the geology correct, to start talking to the astronomer to get the stars correct, and then talk to the zoologist to make sure the animals are in their correct environment and doing something that they would be doing in this space at this time of day.  And then I painted in again on this little guy. And this one was so that I could get the color correct.  The thing about this painting is you don't wanna reveal to people that its a painting.  That would just ruin the whole effect.  Poeple just wanna get lost into it, you know, so it has to be seamless inb that sense.  And glare, you can't have any glare, cuz if there's glare on the wall, it kinda reveals that it's paint.  So I ended up making this formula, there's all this beeswax.  I add beeswax to almost all the oil paint, it kills any kind of sheen whatsoever to it.  I didn't put any beeswax in the moon though, cuz I wanted that to glitter a little bit. 

EG: That should pop.  You should put some actual glitter on it.

AD: That's not a bad idea.

EG: I think Carl Akeley would approve.  If you bedazzle it.
AD: Oh yeah, he's snarl in an approving way.