ON SCREEN from
"Squid Coming to Life"
from the October 2019 issue Evo-Devo
The theme of the October 2019 Labocine issue is "Evo-Devo," the moniker of a biological field that focuses on evolutionary development. The issue features a collection of films relating to a growing field of research that seeks to answer questions about the driving forces behind evolution and development, from the microscopic scale of a cell to that of an organism. Research within the field of Evo-Devo furthers our understanding of the intricacies of how particular life forms develop from a relatively common library of genes, and how the signaling of proteins dictates the ultimate end result as an organism.
Squid Coming to Life is a seven-minute short film directed by developmental biologist Nipam Patel. Deploying a range of microscopy and imaging techniques, students at the Marine Biological Laboratory at the University of Chicago helped gather the images featured in the film. The film gives insight into the research process of the Evo-Devo biologists and follows the development of a squid, beginning at the most basic cellular level to its more recognizable cephalopod form.
The opening visuals of the film begin at a microscopic level and feature a relatively nondescript but rapidly dividing cell, with the camera panning in towards the bubbling sphere. An orchestral musical score welcomes the viewer into the seen; string instruments and percussion match the quick pace of development and draw notions of progress and expansion.
Imagery then shifts to a sea of milky white embryos, encased in thin translucent orbs. The embryos shift and rotate freely, with some already exhibiting a characteristic oblong squid-like shape. The music shifts in this scene to a more ambient track, corresponding to a moment of patience as the fragile embryos continue to grow. The film diverts to a procession of 3-D models with neon coloring highlighting different elements of the squid’s anatomy.
Viewers are welcomed back into the sea of egg capsules and tiny infantile squids, which are now further developed with eye balls, indications of coloring, and pulsating mantles. This part of the film favors a pared back score, formed mainly of twinkling percussion notes and simple plucks of strings. A particularly melodic string segment accentuates the psychedelic shifting of the squid’s chromatophores, or spots that appear to shrink and swell in a squid’s efforts to camouflage.
The musical score of the film, created by Kristina Dutton and Nathan Clevenger, perfectly accentuates shifts in the developmental phases of the squid, highlighting key physical characteristics of these different phases. Squid Coming to Life expresses the aesthetics of the biological world from cellular level, where all organisms look roughly the same, to the subtle differences that emerge at the embryonic stage and beyond, giving insight into some of the queries Evo-Devo biologists pose in their work.