Saturday, October 09, 2010

Why Alan Davies is bald and why Jack Dee could cup a hippo

If I've set the timer properly, this post will magically appear on my blog during the screening of tonight's extended episode of QI on BBC2. The reason I've done this is so as not to spoil the surprise when some images I drew appear on the show.

The episode is all about 'Humans' (in keeping with the 'H' theme of the series) and I was asked to provide illustrations of the four panellists - Alan Davies, Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr and Jack Dee - as they would look if they were cortical homunculi. Let me explain ...

A sensory cortical homunculus is an image of what a human being would look like if his/her proportions were set by their sensitivity. The size of the cortex areas of your brain depends on the complexity of the sensations processed by the body parts they control. The sensory cortex that processes sensation from your lips is bigger than the sensory cortex that processes sensation from your feet, even though your feet are bigger than your lips. Consequently the 'homunculus' reflects that. Hair, of course, has no sense of feel at all so the cortical homunculus doesn't have any.

To prepare myself for the job, I visited the Natural History Museum in London as they have a sculpture of just such a figure on display in the Hall of Human Biology. Here's a photo my son Liam helpfully took of it for me:
It's the figure on the left. The figure on the right is another cortical homunculus but is to do with the motor, rather than the sensory, areas of the brain.

So I then set to work on my illstrations and decided to do some photo manipulation rather than straight drawings as they'd be more impactful, especially when projected on the big screens behind the players. But 'impactful' isn't the word when it came to drawing the 'naughty bits'.

As you can see, the figure in the Natural History Museum has obvious genitalia and is very generously endowed (the motor homunculus has hardly anything, bless him, as those areas of our body aren't capable of much movement). So I knew I'd be tackling some large tackle, as it were. To make matters worse, a friend of mine who is involved in neuroscience told me that the tongues, nipples and genitals should actually be much bigger on the figure because they are very sensitive. I then spoke to another friend - sculptor and model maker John Coppinger - who made many of the exhibits for the Hall of Human Biology when he worked at the museum in the early 1980s. He told me that although he didn't sculpt the homunculi, he saw them being made and the artist was told by museum staff to bend the truth a little and to 'tone down' those parts of the body for public display. So, my homunculi were given bigger tongues and private parts ... but I sensitively added some over-sized fig leaves to protect the panellists' modesty. I also 'toned down' the male nipples too. They just looked ridiculous.

So there you go. I hope they made you laugh more than they made the panellists laugh. They seemed to take it as a personal insult with Jack Dee commenting, 'We might do a picture of Steve later. See how he likes it!'

I have to say, they were quite kind in the Green Room after. No fatwas were issued.

Images grabbed from i-Player and (c) BBC Television and Talkback Thames. My thanks to John Coppinger, Liz Townsend (QI), on-set photographer Brian Ritchie and to Mark Page (Photoswithattitude) for taking hi-res photos of hands for me to include.

1 comment:

Sami Mughal said...

good stuff! yet to see that episode but I have downloaded the QI XL, so you never know :)

keep up the good work!