Monday, October 4, 2010

US Television, Beast Legends, Episode 1.4 "Winged Lion"

Beast Legends
Season One, Episode Four, Winged Lion
Original Air Date:  Thursday, September 30, 2010

In this weeks episode, the team researches and creates the winged lion, or as it is also known, the griffin.

Steve and Francis begin in Germany where they are searching for the bones while the rest of the team is at home in the lab researching the griffin legends.

The Griffin can be traced back even farther than Greek legends to Mesopotamia onward to the Mongolian area of Central Asia.  Scott suggests that they break the project into two parts.  Since there is an eagle in the front and a lion in the back, he suggests starting with a cave lion.  Currently, there aren't lions in Mongolia but there were cave lions that went into extinction 10,000 years ago. 

Steve and Francis are looking for the bones of a cave lion found in Zoolithen Cave in Burggaillenreuth, Germany.  They enter a deep cave protected by scientists for the valuable information contained within it.  Dr. Cajus G. Diedrich takes them into the dark and dangerous cave.  They want to see the bones to help determine the size of their griffin.  Only 1% of the bones found in the cave were lion bones.  They find cave bear bones but must continue down through dark and tight crevices to reach the few precious lion bones the cave contains.  They turn off their torches and the cave is literally pitch black.  Steve describes a scenario of how it might have been for the sleeping bears when the lions came to prey upon them.  Francis takes some time to make some amazing drawings of the bears and lions but he still would like to get the scale of lion to human. 

Four hours later and two hundred feet down into the earth and they have still only found bear bones.  When they feel ready to give up, they find the lion bones.  They find leg and 'finger' bones and are able to get some scale with them to give the team in the lab. 

The team decides to divide to gather more research quicker.  Steve heads to the far east of the region to work on the front of the griffin while Francis takes the size evidence back to the Beast Lab.  The cave lion was about 10 1/2 feet long, 4.3 in the length of the tail and about 5 foot tall from floor to shoulders.  The entire height, including the head is 6 1/2 feet and the weight is an estimated 700 pounds!  Francis begins sketching their lion on a large piece of paper on the floor.  When he finishes the drawing, he gets on the floor next to it and, as Scott comments, he truly would be a nice, small snack for the cave lion.  As Mike begins work on the griffin on the computer using the sketches and size measurements, Scott rips the head off Francis' amazing drawing saying they now just need to find out about the head.

Steve is in western Mongolia to find out which of the nine species of eagle currently living in Mongolia would be the perfect choice for the front half of the griffin.  With the help of Vyenyera "Venus" Shyndaulyet (translator), Steve heads into Olgii, Mongolia in search of eagles.  The area is snowy, cold and remote.  Venus takes Steve to meet one of the most skilled eagle hunters the area has to offer, Manna Raimkhan.  Manna has a 2 year-old Golden Eagle trained as a hunter.  Steve uploads footage of this magnificent bird to the rest of the team in the Beast Lab.  Mike removes the lion's head on the computer and replaces it with that of the Golden Eagle.

Next, Steve goes to see an eagle in action to better figure out how the griffin would be hunting.  The hunters split up and the one at the base of the mountains scares the prey out from behind the rocks.  The hunters that make their way to the top of the mountain release the eagle.  Golden eagles can spot moving prey from 1,000 feet in the air and from one mile away.  Steve gets footage of the eagle's eye which will be a crucial part of the griffin.  Mike adds the eagles eyes to their griffin on the computer and Kathryn notes that the next step will be to give the griffin ears.

Griffin ears throughout history have been of various shapes.  Some like those of a cat or dog.  Others are long like horses ears.  In Orono, Ontario, Canada, Francis and Scott go to Jungle Cat World to get an up close and personal look at a lion so Francis can sketch the ears for their mythical griffin.  Upon seeing the ears, both men feel they really don't fit the griffin.  They agree an ear that swoops down or is flatter would be more appropriate to a creature that flies through the air with the speed and skill of the griffin.  Mike adds the ears Francis sketched to the computer version of the griffin.

Next, we have to decide about the legs that will carry our griffin when it is walking on the ground.  Historical accounts of the griffin have been inconsistent as to what the legs looked like.  Some have four lion paws.  Others have the front talons of an eagle and the back legs of a lion.  How the Beast Legends griffin will be designed rests with the manner in which an eagle attacks.  The computer version is updated with eagle legs in the front complete with talons for grasping and lion paws with claws for ripping in the back.

Steve is able to get more footage of Manna's awesome eagle as it is eating.  He describes how the eagle is tearing at its food and swallowing what it is eating noting that the griffin should have some of those same characteristics.

The next task is to figure out the size of the wings.  They need wings that will be large enough and strong enough to raise the massive body of the griffin off the ground and carry it through the air.  The size of the prey must also be taken into account as griffins were described as being able to swoop down and pick up horses. 

Steve and Scott meet up in Mongolia to track down a rare breed of horse that might be the right size for griffin prey so they can figure out just how big to make the wings.  In Ulanbaatar, the capitol city of Mongolia, where the temperature is now 35 below, they meet to visit a sanctuary just outside Ulanbaatar.  There, they will be seeing Przewalski's Horses, a rare animal that has literally been brought back from the brink of extinction.  At Hustai National Park in Mongolia, they embark on the task of finding one of a couple hundred horses in the almost 200 square mile park.  Several hours after entering the park, Steve finally spots a few of the rare and gorgeous horses.  They photograph and observe the short and stocky horses.  The animals stand about 4 feet tall and weigh around 600 pounds.  Scott figures that to lift a Przewalski's horse and the weight of its own body, a griffin would need a wingspan of approximately 25 feet.  Mike updates their computer griffin with the new information.

The final bit of research:  where does the griffin live.  Steve looks at an eagles nest to get inspiration for the griffin's home.  Still in frigid Mongolia with Manna the eagle hunter, Steve enjoys a drink of fermented mare's milk and inquires about seeing the nearest eagles nest.  The next day, they locate an eagles nest high on a cliff but they cannot get to it because of the winter weather.  Since they cannot get to the nest, they decide to construct a full-size griffin nest themselves.  Mike re-creates the nest on the computer.

Finally, the team sits down to watch their Beast Movie and see their griffin in action.

As much as I love giant sharks, Kraken's and fire dragons, I'd have to say that this episode has become my favorite thus far.  I loved seeing the Przewalski's horses.  As usual, Francis' drawings were a highlight of the show for me.  He's an amazing artist and I love watching him do his sketches throughout the show.  Also, I think that the griffin was also the most realistic looking of all the Beast Legends creatures thus far.  There might not be too many griffins that pick up motorcycles.  However, this is a modern griffin we're talking about. 

Beast Legends airs every Thursday night at 10 P.M. (9 p.m. Central) on the SyFy Channel. 
Episode Five, Wildman of Vietnam airs on October 7, 2010.

For More Information:
Official Web Site:
Official SyFy Site:
TV Rage:
Francis Manapul's Official Website:

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