Animating, Ani-Morphing and Un-ani-morphing of the Evolutionary Process in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

Produced and hosted by astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, the television documentary mini-series Cosmos (1980) aimed to renew scientific interest among the general public, in light of the growing popularity of pseudo-scientific ideas, such as astrology. Since its original broadcast, Cosmos has long been considered a milestone in the scientific documentary genre, due to its ability to approach the wide audience in an accessible manner through Sagan’s eloquent presentation and the show’s high production values. Carrying on from Sagan’s original mission, a sequel series titled Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey began in 2014, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.  This article examines the use of animation for the illustration of the evolutionary process in Sagan’s original series, arguing that the animated segment analyzed here exemplifies Sagan’s approach to scientific education that gained the show its initial acclaim.

Evolution was one of the major themes that Sagan wanted the original show to deliver, and the segment examined in this article is taken from the second episode of the show, “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue,” devoted to exploring the origin of life on Earth. Cosmos was hardly the first production to present the evolutionary process or specific stages of it through animation – this tradition dates back as far as Winsor McCay’s film, Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), and Max Fleischer’s documentary, Evolution (1923). The uniqueness of the segment in “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue,” however, is how it integrates the program’s overall approach to the subject of evolution, and to the presentation of scientific issues to the public in general. In Cosmos, as I will argue, evolution was not a merely a subject explored by an animator for artistic (as in Gertie the Dinosaur) or even educational (as in Evolution) purposes, but rather an instrument in the hand of scientist, who used it to explain science to the public. Sagan believed the dynamic nature of animation to be well-suited for many of the points he wanted to deliver. Moreover, animation also fits neatly with Sagan’s overall approach to science education: to overcome public resentment toward certain scientific ideas (most notably, evolution) by making them appealing – conceptually and aesthetically – to his audience. In this respect, the segment examined in this article is a prime example of Sagan’s educational approach.

Evolution, Carl Sagan and Cosmos

Although his academic career dated back to the 1960s, by 1980, Sagan was already recognized as one of the leading speakers of science in America – a frequent interviewee in the media on scientific issues, the author of best-selling popular science books, and a major figure behind highly-publicized projects as the “messages to space” in the form of engraved plaques and audio recordings brought along on space missions aboard different NASA spacecrafts. Over the course of the production of Cosmos, Sagan’s introduction of scientific concepts to a non-specialist audience was accompanied by a wide variety of visual elements, including live-action segments that dramatize historical events as scientific research during the Renaissance, special effects used to visualize the depths of space and animated segments, some using ground-breaking (for the time) computer technology, particularly in the segments discussed in this article.

By making evolution the central focus of the second episode of the program, Sagan was addressing the same problem faced by American science educators teaching evolution – the conflict between the scientific concept of evolution and the religious and cultural beliefs of many of their students regarding the beginning of life on Earth. Science education scholar William Cobern (1994) has similarly addressed this issue, claiming that there is a distinction between making students understand the evolution as a process, and having them believe and accept this process as scientific fact. The problem with the latter goal, according to Cobern, is that teaching evolution in classrooms carries its own “metaphysical framework” (p. 584) that extends beyond the mere presentation of scientific material. Antagonism towards evolution often arises because it is viewed as carrying what is perceived to be an anti-religious or de-humanizing subtext – the idea that human life developed not through divine intervention but as a result of random occurrences in a larger scientific process.  To mitigate some of the potential for hostility towards the inclusion of evolution in school curriculums, Cobern suggests prefacing course material on evolution with a dialogue that addresses the possible religious and cultural concerns that might arise from teaching the material.

In Cosmos, however, and 15 years prior to the publication of Cobern’s article (which does not address the show) Sagan adopted a similar, albeit much stronger approach. With his initial discussion of religious opposition to evolution in “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue,” Sagan has aimed at not only making his audience more open to the concept of evolution, but also making them fully accept evolution as the only explanation for the appearance of life. Early in the episode he narrates, “Evolution is a fact, not a theory… Many people were scandalized by the ideas of evolution and natural selection. Our ancestors looked at the intricacy and the beauty of life, and saw evidence for a great designer… the idea of a designer is an appealing and altogether human explanation of the biological world. But as Darwin and Wallace showed, there’s another way, equally human and far more compelling: Natural selection, which makes the music of life more beautiful, as the eons pass.” More simply, Sagan both insists on forwarding the factual basis of the evolutionary process, while also acknowledging that religious concepts of “great designer” responsible for the beauty of life and nature have both aesthetic and emotional appeal. But he also argued that evolution – beyond its factual basis – has an equal, if not greater appeal, that the process of natural selection has its own beauty.

This largely balanced approach was rooted deep within Sagan’s academic background: as a graduate of the Hutchins program at the University of Chicago, Sagan’s studies included not only explicitly science-based coursework, but also classes in the history and philosophy of scientific thought. This gave him a holistic view of science, as part of an evolving human consciousness, and not a separate discipline (Davidson, 1999, p. 35-36). Sagan’s educational background solidified into an ideological view which he strongly expressed in Cosmos. In his analysis of Sagan’s use of language in Cosmos, rhetoric scholar Thomas Lessl (1985, p. 175-187) contends that Sagan’s presentation of scientific principles to a mass audience went beyond an attempt to merely explain these principles, but also deliver the subtext that these principles represent a grand purpose: that the human race is in a constant voyage, a voyage that can lead it to a better place.

The notion of voyage in particular is one of Sagan’s most consistent metaphors. For Sagan, evolution represents more than a scientific process, and in Cosmos it also becomes a metaphor for the overall progress of the human race, with science standing at the forefront of this progress. This ideological view constitutes the basis of the animated segment examined in the remainder of this paper. As my analysis will demonstrate, Sagan presents the evolutionary process as a consistent progress, his thesis aided by the aesthetical appeal of morphing – the animated metamorphosis of images.

Evolution, animation and morphing

As argued in the introduction, animation seems uniquely suited to visually depict the process of evolution, and indeed even the earliest animated films make use of evolution as a theme, such as McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur and Fleischer’s documentary Evolution. Each film represents a different approach in its treatment of evolution.

Gertie the Dinosaur features  the titular prehistoric beast as a character with personality that serves as a part of a playful narrative, in which editing gave the impression of interaction between the live-action footage of the director and the animated footage of the dinosaur, is disconnected from any scientific roots (Mitchell 1998, p. 169-171).  McCay’s film was the forerunner of many portrayals of dinosaurs in subsequent narrative works as Walt Disney Studio’s Fantasia (1940) and the computer-animated predators in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jurassic Park (1993) – films that treated dinosaurs as characters with motivation, rather than the object of pre-historical study.

 Fleischer’s Evolution, which is comprised mainly of live-action footage of different landscapes (urban industrial sites, forests, deserts, and historical sites such as the pyramids in Egypt) and still images of dinosaur models alongside short animated segments that demonstrated the movement of celestial bodies in space, to emphasize evolution as a scientific process. Aimed at educating its audience, Fleischer’s film can be seen as a precursor of more explicitly-pedagogical productions employing animation as a means by which to illustrate the evolutionary process, such as the BBC documentary series Walking with Dinosaurs (1999), which is also notable for employing advanced computer animation of the post-Jurassic Park era.

Despite both dealing with the prehistoric past, the ideological differences between the two approaches to animating evolution go far deeper. Scott Bukatman (2012, p. 1-21) has characterized McCay’s body of work, including Gertie the Dinosaur, as a tale of struggle between the physically-regulated reality, familiar to the audience from their everyday lives, and the visualization of imagination in both comics and animation, which  can often be considered as a distortion of that same reality.  By taking dinosaur characters out of their evolutionary context and placing them into a narrative context, the work of McCay and subsequent animators ascribing to this mode of representation can be seen as a distortion of reality, planting these characters within a modern context in which they do not belong.

On the other hand, pedagogical or science-based productions as Evolution or Walking with Dinosaurs do not aim at distorting regulated reality, however playfully, but are rather more concerned with reinforcing it. Productions of this nature bring dinosaurs and other prehistoric elements back into their natural and evolutionary context, attempting to re-create the same context on the screen in order to illustrate the scientific process of evolution. In other words, while narrative animated productions use elements from that process to illustrate a stories and characters, the educational productions are aimed at illustrating the evolutionary process itself. That said, using animation to visualize the evolutionary process can be controversial in its own right – at the time, Walking with Dinosaurs came under criticism from the scientific community, despite the producer’s claim of an “accurate vision of paleontology” for what was, in essence, a visual representation of scientific speculations through computer generated imagery (van Dijck 1993, p. 6-7, 12-15).

Unlike previous productions rooted in McCay’s playful characterization, or Fleischer’s less fanciful educational film, the animation in Cosmos takes a different approach.  The animated segment discussed in this article does not feature detailed, realistic design. The different stages of evolution are represented more abstractly, by white- outlined shapes representing one-celled and other small organisms, and with most of the more advanced stages of evolution (such as fish, reptiles and mammals) lacking facial or other defining features. In fact, very little movement is performed by the images of the different stages that represent the evolutionary process in the segment, and the focus of the segment’s  ‘regulation’ is achieved  by morphing, a technique by which each image changes its shape and form fluidly,  to become another image which represents the next evolutionary stage. By employing morphing to the animated segment, the show’s production team has embraced another longstanding tradition in screened animation, and used it not only as an aesthetic device but also as means of emphasizing the scientific principles behind evolution. Morphing has appeared early as in J. Stuart Blackton’s 1906 film Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, which is considered to be the first cinematic animated film. Blackton’s film was a glorified version of popular “Lightning Sketch” stage performances in which  artists drew a quick sketch to demonstrate how abstract lines can come together to form a familiar shape.  In this vein, Blackton’s film consisted of four character sketches that go through gradual changes (hair growing on a bald head, a cigar appears in a character’s mouth, etc.). Lightening Sketch performances were intended to demystify their ‘backstage’ process while amazing their audience – the artist drawing the sketch would narrate the drawing process, explaining that no magic is involved – only skilled draftsmanship (Crafton 1993, p. 48-57). Voice-over narration was of course impossible in Blackton’s silent film, but among the seemingly magical transformations that the character sketches go through, achieved through trick photography, glimpses of Blackton’s hand drawing are still noticeable.

 In his 2000 article, “Animation and Animorphs: A Brief Disappearing Act,” Norman Klein discusses morphing as a means by which to demystify the animation process. Klein coined the term “ani-morphs” (p. 21-40) to signify the points between the two images in the morphing process – points that, once revealed to or by the audience, serve as a reflexive device that demystifies the same process. An animator’s work, as Klein argues, could be characterized by how obvious he makes the ani-morphs to the audience, by how much of the process of metamorphosis creation he reveals on the screen.

In Cosmos, the morphing effects in the segment were handled by the show’s computer animation team headed by Jim Blinn, a computer science Ph.D. from the University of Utah. At the time, Blinn also worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory visualizing space missions through computer graphics. For “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue,” Blinn’s team traced and stored images of the stages of evolution received from the art department as computer files, and then were able to program the computer itself to perform the morphing effects from one image to the next – an impressive task, given the technological limitations at the time of the show’s production.  The final morphing process is very smooth and, upon casual viewing it is difficult to detect ani-morphs – obvious points in the process of morphing from one image to another – unless close attention is paid to the details which are added to and also disappear from the various images. When broadcasted, however, the segment was accompanied by a powerful ani-morphic device – Sagan’s narration, which, while aimed at demystifying the evolutionary process, had the same effect on the morphing process as well.

Ani-Morphing Evolution: One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue

The animated segment begins with Sagan announcing, “Let’s take a closer look at who our ancestors were. A simple chemical circumstance led to one of the great moments in the history of our planet.”  From this moment onwards, a series of white-outlined images representing the different stages of evolution appears on the screen, one morphing into the other as Sagan narrates. The images do occasionally duplicate themselves, with one image morphing into a branch that (as explained by Sagan) led to the evolution of life forms that are not human. These branches disappear after Sagan’s explanation, and the morphing of the original image, leading to human life, continues. When the final stage of human evolution – an image of an ape morphs into the shape of a long-haired human female – arrives, there is a branching to a shape representing “many collateral branches of the human family that became extinct in the last few million years,” re-using the same human-female image, albeit adjusting it to be somewhat less lithe. Sagan then suggests looking at the animated sequence again, to compress “4 billion years of human evolution into 40 seconds” and the sequence specifically depicting human evolution is quickly repeated, without Sagan’s narration or the branching.

As noted above, the presentation of the evolutionary process through morphing in the segment is extremely smooth, which is best evident in the final 40 seconds in which the sequence repeats. The initial presentation of the process, however, is accompanied by Sagan’s narration, which has a strong ani-morphic effect – in addition to establishing the link between the images and the scientific process they represent, attention is also inadvertently drawn to the small graphic details of the morphing images. At the beginning of the segment, for example, Sagan’s narration accompanies a still image of molecules. He notes that, “there were many kinds of molecules in the primordial soup, some were attracted to water on one side and repelled by it on the other. This –”

And only after the word “this” is heard, do the molecules start moving towards one another. Sagan continues:

“– drove them together into a tiny enclosed spherical shell, like a soup bubble, which protected the interior.”

Sagan’s narration works in tandem with the imagery, not merely reflecting what is happening on-screen, but also shaping the pacing. In particular, the word “drove” is pronounced with a lingering “O” while the molecules are connecting with each other, drawing attention not only to the scientific process the word describes, but also to the morphing process that occurs on the screen. The result clarifies and reveals both processes – evolution itself and the logic behind its animated illustration.  By explaining the scientific process, Sagan wanted his audience to understand its principles without losing their appreciation for its beauty, an effect similar to that which Blackton and the lightning-sketch artists wanted to achieve with their audiences. It should be noted that the ani-morphic effect of the narration on both the scientific and the animation process can be attributed to Sagan alone: unlike traditional animated productions, Blinn and his team did not work with a script while animating the segment, and were only given rough timing, so it is likely that the narration’s text was written long after the production of the segment – indeed, much of the script work on Cosmos was done at the last minute (Davidson, p. 323).

At certain points in the segment, the ani-morphing effect of Sagan’s narration on the morphing process is handled in a more sophisticated manner than Sagan’s description of what happens on the screen. For example, a little over 3 minutes into the 8-minute segments, Sagan explains that “amphibians, like fish, laid their eggs in water, where they were easily eaten. But then a splendid new invention came along: the hard-shelled egg, laid on the land, where there were as yet no predators.” While Sagan speaks, the animated amphibians laying their eggs are not depicted; instead, an amphibian is morphed (growing bigger, and then thinner) along with its environment, and the lower line representing the water from which the amphibian came  recedes, leaving only the line delineating the land. Although Sagan’s narration does not correspond directly to the images appearing and morphing on screen, there are still clues in these images that reveal the larger context of the evolutionary process described by Sagan – the changing environment. Sagan’s choice to describe the implications of the evolutionary process, rather than process itself, also draws attention to the changes happening on the screen, expanding the audience’s awareness of those changes in a bigger context, a higher level of demystification of the scientific process, stemming from the demystification of the morphing process.

Among the many ani-morphs generated by Sagan’s narration, the segment also features a single visual ani-morph in the noticeable disappearance of the image of a dinosaur, which is simply “erased” from the screen and replaced with an amphibian image seen earlier in the segment. Unlike Sagan’s narration, which emphasizes continuity in the evolutionary process, the noticeable way in which the dinosaur image disappears, rather than continuing to morph, demonstrates how this particular branch of evolution reached its end.

In the 40 seconds repeat of the evolutionary process that concludes the segment, without the narration and the presentation of different “branches,” is seemingly devoid of ani-morphs. The absence of the narration not only accelerates the morphing process from one image to the next (since there is now no need to stop and explain every new image that represents a different stage in evolution), but also makes it flow more naturally. The process itself becomes the central focus, rather than the minute details involved in depicting it. Moreover, by eliding the branches that depict non-human life or evolutionary dead-ends, the animated sequence creates an impression of an undisturbed line of both evolution and morphing. Sagan’s remark that “there’s an unbroken thread that stretches from those first cells to us,” which he makes shortly before the 40-second repeat, underscores an interpretation of the imagery as smooth, streamlined and never-ending process.

The abbreviated repetition, however, comes after the audience has been made aware of the details behind both the animated morphing and the evolutionary process. The beauty of morphing, which represents the beauty of the evolution, is presented in an undisturbed fashion – but only after the rationale behind it was exposed, visually (for the morphing process) and verbally (for the evolutionary process). Thus, a new kind of visual ani-morph arises from shortening and repeating the animation for the viewer. If, as Sagan  suggests, the line leading to the appearance of  humans is “unbroken,” then each of the evolutionary stages in the process as – represented by an individual image – is an ani-morph by itself, a stage in the process leading from the first cells (the first image) to the human figure (the final stage). It is another visual metaphor that brings together both the morphing and the evolutionary process.

Un-Ani-Morphing Evolution: Travels in Space and Time

An animated segment featuring the same morphing technique was also used in the eighth episode of the show, “Travels in Space and Time,” albeit set against a different background and narration that deal with a different aspect of evolution  than that of “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue.”

In this episode, and before the animated segment, Sagan explains that “matter is much older than life. Billions of years before the sun and Earth even formed, atoms were being synthesized in the insides of hot stars, and then returned to space when the stars blew themselves up. Newly formed planets were made of this stellar debris. The Earth and every living thing are made of star-stuff.” His explanation provides a new and expanded context for the segment, discussing the process of evolution as it applies to the entire universe, rather than just to life on Earth. The visual progression is similar to that of the second episode, but with two noticeable differences. First, the images do not appear against a black background, but against a still image of space filled with stars and planets. Second, the evolutionary line leading to the dinosaurs does not appear in the segment; instead, both the white-outlined image of the reptile stage of evolution and the background dissolve into a colour painting of dinosaurs – a highly pictorial image, which, unlike the white-outlined figures represented by the morphing images in the animated segment, is rich in detail of the dinosaurs themselves, as well as their natural environment. Sagan’s narration accompanies the camera which pans across the image, describing the dinosaurs:

Some were fast, dexterous and intelligent. A visitor from another world or time might have thought them the wave of the future. But after nearly 200 million years, they were suddenly all wiped out. Perhaps it was a great meteorite colliding with the Earth, spewing debris into the air, blotting out the sun and killing the plants that the dinosaurs ate. I wonder when they first sensed that something was wrong.

The scene of the dinosaurs then dissolves back into the animated segment. As with the previous episode, the evolutionary line leading to dinosaurs is cut abruptly, in a strongly ani-morphic manner. Including a naturalistic painting of the dinosaurs in their habitat removes viewers from the flow of the morphing images.  As argued above, the inclusion of ani-morphs serves a purpose. Giving  the dinosaurs a special focus outside of the main animation serves  to underscore how evolution  was affected by events that  taking place on a cosmic scale, particularly emphasized by Sagan’s speculation about their extinction due to a meteorite collision with Earth. On the other hand, the detailed presentation of the dinosaurs, along with Sagan’s question on when the dinosaurs “first sensed something was wrong,” also goes in a narrative direction that is completely different from the rest of the segment. Akin to McCay’s depiction of Gertie the dinosaur, it turns the creatures into characters with distinguishable appearances and emotions. The interjection of narrative elements into the segment indicates that Sagan appears to have aimed for an emotional impact on his audience, as well as the aesthetic and scientific appreciation upon which the program is predicated. An appeal to emotion allows the audience to further appreciate the scale of cosmic events, and their pivotal effect not only on evolution, but on the animals living at the time of the meteorite impact.

The cosmic scale is the focus of Sagan’s narration accompanying the segment in the “Travels in Space and Time,” and most of the time it is only loosely related to the images appearing on the screen. If Sagan’s narration served mostly as an ani-morphic device for the animated segments in both “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue” and in “Travels in Space and Time,” it serves primarily as an un-ani-morphic device aimed at taking the audience’s attention away from the ani-morphs in the segment, not for the sake of making the morphing process seem smooth and perfect, but in order to make it seem transparent and obvious, not a major event but rather a cosmic occurrence among many others. For example, when the cell image branches into a plant, followed by another branching into a bacterium, Sagan asks, “The reason evolution is not immediately obvious to everybody, is because it moves so slowly, and takes so long. How can creatures who live for only 70 years detect events that take 70 million years to unfold or 4 billion?” Here, the text of Sagan’s narration bears little or no relation to the images on the screen, discussing evolution in general terms, with almost no reference to the morphing process on the screen, hence with less overall ani-morphic effects than his narration of the segment in “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue” but also less attention to the animation process as a whole.

Even when describing the images that appear on the screen during the segment in “Travels in Space and Time,” Sagan’s narration places the description in a more general rather than specific context. For example, as the image morphs from early underwater life-forms into a fish, Sagan explains further, “There was a particular sequence of environmental accidents, and random mutations in the hereditary material, one particular timeline for life on Earth in this universe. As a result, the dominant organisms on the planet today come from fish.” Though  Sagan’s narration in this instance describes the image on the screen, it emphasizes the outcome of the evolutionary and morphing process, rather than the process itself, or even its immediate implications, which were already described in detail in  “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue.” Again, Sagan draws the audience’s attention not to the animated representation of the evolutionary process, but rather to the larger context to which it belongs. Similarly, Sagan’s narration of the animated segment in “Travels in Space and Time” often hints at alternate implications of the evolutionary process, while still describing the image on the screen. For example, when the image branches and morphs into a worm, Sagan wonders, “Perhaps the line to intelligent technological species would have passed through worms.”  Sagan’s speculation draws attention away from  volution as it actually occurred, to  alternate possibilities of how it could have transpired, but still emphasizes the cosmic scale of events by calling attention to the many possible events that could have instead happened, even under the same conditions.

 Despite initially explaining evolution as “fact, not a theory,” and using animation to support his stance, Sagan  nonetheless demonstrates through  his speculations in his narration for “Travels in Space and Time” how evolution is a flexible process, which can be changed by cosmic influence, not unlike the flexibility of the morphing images seen on the screen. If the narration accompanies the animated segment in “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue,” in “Travels in Space and Time,” the animation instead accompanies the narration, providing an illustration of an event that is an occurrence across space and time, and does not focus on individual events, such as species evolution. The program’s intent is perhaps best demonstrated by the way episode eight’s segment ends – instead of repeating the process and then placing its final stage on a branch of the evolutionary tree (as was done in “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue”), in “Travels in Space and Time” the same final stage – the image of the female human – fades into a star-filled background, emphasizing that the evolution of humankind is just one event among many in the cosmos.


If, as I have argued, the animated presentation of the evolutionary process in Cosmos aims to regulate reality for its audience– that is, to construct an animated environment that represents the process of evolution – then animated segments in Cosmos can be seen as demonstrating the principles espoused and practiced by Sagan in order to explain and invite his audience to believe in the same process.The animated segments made the process of evolution their main focus, and did not dwell on the particular narrative of its different stages. This decision is reflected not only in Sagan’s narration, but also in the segment’s design – the different stages of the evolutionary process were represented by outlined figures, carefully constructed to not focus on narrative, emotion, or personality. The intention is not to depict how particular life-forms lived (which could, of course, be a completely different subject); it was the story of how they evolved. Significantly, the notable exception of the story of the dinosaurs as told in “Travels in Space and Time,” only serves to emphasize how the rest of the animation in the same episode and the entire segment in “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue” focused on the evolutionary process rather than on the narrative of each stage within the same process.

Both episodes demonstrate why animation, and especially morphing, is an ideal means by which to represent the evolutionary process. While beautiful and engaging to watch, morphing is also an artistic reflection of the scientific process that it represents – each stage fluidly evolves into the next. In this respect, although visual ani-morphs are rare in the segment in both episodes, each of the images representing a different stage in the evolutionary process making the audience aware of the details in the voyage from the molecules to the appearance of human beings. At the same time, the strong ani-morphic qualities of Sagan’s narration not only explain the evolutionary process to a broad audience, but also serve as a tool for the demystification of the morphing process, also acting as a reflexive device that clarifies that the sequences are a representation of the process, not a documentation of the process itself.

Finally, the strategic choice of narrating the segment in an ani-morphic manner before presenting it undisturbed from start to finish in in “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue,” and to present it in an un-ani-morphic manner in “Travels in Space and Time,” demonstrates the importance of both explaining the evolutionary process and demystifying the animation process used to represent it, before allowing the audience to enjoy the beauty of the process through its animated representation. Sagan believed that his audience can find in evolution the same aesthetical appeal that can be found in religious creation myths, but he also believed that this aesthetical appeal must be accompanied with scientific understanding of the evolutionary process – and the demystification of the animation process used to represent it served him in advancing this understanding.

The author of this essay would like to kindly thank Dr. Jim Blinn for agreeing to share his memories about the production of the animated segment and his work on Cosmos. Any errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

Raz Greenberg has recieved his PhD from the Hebrew University, with his thesis focusing on animation as text. Articles based on his research have been published on The Journal of Film and Video, Literature Film Quarterly and Innovative Research in Japanese Studies.


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Mitchell, W. T. (1998) The Last Dinosaur Book: the Life and Times of a Cultural Icon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

© Raz Greenberg

Edited by Amy Ratelle