Oct. 30: Academy to Preview NOVA’s “Becoming Human” — Students Modeled Recreations of Neanderthal Physiology

Academy of Art students appear in the third segment of this new PBS series. A "Halloween Eve Sneak Preview Costume Party" will take place at the Academy’s Morgan Auditorium this Friday, Oct. 30, 5–7 p.m. Free admittance to those who come in costume, caveperson or otherwise!

Academy of Art students appear in the third segment of this new PBS series. A "Halloween Eve Sneak Preview Costume Party" will take place at the Academy’s Morgan Auditorium this Friday, Oct. 30, 5–7 p.m. Free admittance to those who come in costume, caveperson or otherwise!

What does a Neanderthal wear to class? You can find out Halloween Eve at the Academy’s Morgan Auditorium. The question is more than academic for eight Academy student actors who learned what it’s like to be an early hominid ancestor — from the inside out — as part of “Becoming Human: Unearthing Our Earliest Ancestors.”

Becoming Human is NOVA’s upcoming three-part special examining discoveries from Africa, Asia, and Europe and exploring what the latest scientific research reveals about our ancient relatives … and how this knowledge is transforming our understanding of the human past.

From 5–6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, at Morgan Auditorium (491 Post St., San Francisco), the first 300 members of the public in costume will be admitted free to a reception premiering selections from Becoming Human. Prizes will be given for “Best Neanderthal” and other costumes. They’ll also receive special “Neanderthal Trick or Treat” gift bags generously provided by Northern California PBS station KQED and the Academy of Art University.

Onstage, Academy makeup instructor Chris “Makeup Gourmet” Scott will help members of the audience learn how to look like a Neanderthal. At 6 p.m., honorary doctorates go to John Alexander, Matt Rose and Chad Waters — the team of Hollywood makeup artists who created the scientifically correct pre-humans for the NOVA special. At 6:15 p.m., NOVA supervising producer Stephen Sweigart introduces a special preview of clips from the three-part series.

Eight Academy of Art students are featured in the third segment of Becoming Human: Stu Chase, Christopher Jernberg, Brynn Kerin, Ben Nykaza, James Audi Rudzinski, Derek St. Mary, Kaitlin Rose Williams and Smret Yohanes. The episode in which they appear will broadcast on PBS stations Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Becoming Human examines what the latest scientific research reveals about our earliest ancestors,” says Paula Apsell, senior executive producer for NOVA and director of the WGBH Science Unit. “To bring our ancient human past to life in vivid detail, producer Graham Townsley collaborated with artists and scientists to create startling life-like images of early humans that are scientifically accurate based on fossil evidence. Audiences are in for a treat when they experience original animated sequences throughout the series as well as the scenes with Neanderthals in part three of the series, which showcase the work of the Academy of Art students.”

The video below is a behind-the-scenes look at the Neanderthal makeup devised by Chad Waters and Matt Rose, two of the artists who will receive honorary degrees on Oct. 30. The two met at the studio of seven-time Oscar-winner Rick Baker (who was himself awarded an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Art University and gave the commencement address in spring 2008).


“This isn’t One Million Years B.C.,” quips Diane Baker, director of the Academy’s School of Motion Pictures & Television, whose students are featured. “In all my years in front of the camera, I was never asked to do anything so challenging as what these students had to do: portraying the very essence of what makes us human.”

More on NOVA & Becoming Human:

To celebrate the 200th anniversary year of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species, NOVA will premiere Becoming Human Tuesday, Nov. 3, 10, 17 and What Darwin Never Knew, a two-hour presentation on Tuesday, Dec. 29. In addition to evolution-themed programming on-air, the WGBH Lab has partnered with NOVA and PBS Engage to launch an “Open Call” on its website for user-generated content around the theme of evolution. The challenge to viewers is to create a three-minute video that offers a personal perspective on the world in which they live. Selected submissions may be presented, via broadcast and broadband, in conjunction with NOVA’s spotlight programming on Darwin and evolution.

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