POCATELLO — “Bigfoot Captured,” a documentary set to premiere on the History Channel on Monday, has Idaho State University’s prints all over it.
ISU anthropology and anatomy professor Jeff Meldrum offers his insights on the program, which delves into the possibility of Bigfoot existing and uses scientific evidence to back up that claim.
But Meldrum isn’t the only one from the university with their hands on the production of the History Channel special. The Idaho State University Robotics and Communication Systems Engineering Technology program built an 8-foot-tall Bigfoot skeleton using a series of 3D printers.
“To actually stand next to it was really, really quite amazing,” Meldrum said. “Even this was a bit of an academic exercise because obviously everything is just inferential, but what it conveys is that otherwise difficult-to-imagine sensation or impression of standing next to a skeleton that’s 8 feet tall. I mean it’s huge — massive.”
Because no actual Bigfoot skeletons have been unearthed, Meldrum had to reconstruct it based on what Bigfoot researchers believe the creature is related to.
Meldrum borrowed from the physical looks of extinct animals such as the Gigantopithecus blacki — an ancient ape that was twice the size of apes today — and the Neanderthal — a species of human that is said to have became extinct 40,000 years ago.
Meldrum took the Neanderthal skeleton, and technicians from the Idaho Virtualization Laboratory on ISU’s campus — under Meldrum’s guidance — digitally manipulated the skeleton to reflect the Bigfoot captured in the famous Patterson-Gimlin film.
“They made the shoulders much broader, the torso thicker, the arms longer, the legs the right proportion,” Meldrum said. “Then we took the Neanderthal skull away because it’s more human-like.”
So what did Meldrum and his team replace for the Bigfoot skeleton’s skull? They borrowed that from the likes of the Paranthropus boisei, an ape-like creature that roamed eastern Africa until about 1.2 million years ago. That skull is robust, wide, and it fit the look Meldrum was going for.
“We came up with a pretty interesting model, one that agreed with the creature that was depicted in the Patterson-Gimlin film,” Meldrum said.
Following the digital model’s completion, on it went to be printed, which proved not to be a straightforward task. A 3-D printer works by feeding a type of plastic twine into a head. The head heats the plastic and spits it out, similar to a hot-glue gun. The head is assigned X-Y coordinates and lays down layers of the plastic, which harden. When the head finishes one plane, it begins on another.
Garen Call is an assistant in ISU’s robotics and communications program, and the History Channel contacted him to help undertake the project.
The 3-D printing took 1,600 hours, and because the skeleton was so large, it needed to be printed in sections before being assembled. Printers from all over the state, and even one in Washington, were assigned specific body parts. When they were finished, those parts would be shipped to Call and his team to be put together.
“I got filmed in the show showing and talking about the process of printing, how it works and also on building the skeleton,” Call said.
The final result? An upright, manipulable Bigfoot skeleton, modeled, printed and assembled by Meldrum, Call and their respective teams at ISU.
“I’m delighted these departments were not only interested, but willing to participate in an exercise that I hope will be insightful and informative, and in pursuing this fascinating question of the potential of the existence of a relic hominoid species,” Meldrum said.
The History Channel would not allow media to publish a photo of the Bigfoot model before the documentary aired.