Working under a USDA grant, we worked with Auburn’s Poultry Science department to create the world’s first virtual chicken. Intended to replace the numerous chickens sacrificed every year at the altar of Poultry Science students learning anatomy. This 8 minute video covers the anatomy of a female chicken’s reproductive tract and documents the 25 hours journey of egg creation.

The world’s first virtual chicken, created by Auburn University’s Media Production Group, will be featured in an upcoming episode of Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities, a British television series from famed naturalist and filmmaker Sir David Attenborough.

Developed under a USDA grant in conjunction with Auburn’s Department of Poultry Science, this innovative interactive presentation allows students to study poultry anatomy without sacrificing actual birds. Highly detailed drawings and animations display the anatomy of a hen’s reproductive tract and high-tech motion graphics portray the development and journey of the egg.

“Initially, we patterned the project after The Virtual Human,” said director and writer Bruce Kuerten, “but it quickly became apparent that we needed to see the process of egg formation and not just the anatomy of a hen’s reproductive tract.”

Auburn’s Media Production Group worked closely with Pat Curtis, professor and director of the Department of Poultry Science, and several of her leading researchers.  Animator and illustrator Jason Adams employed a variety of techniques to communicate what is essentially an unseen process.  “When you get to the specifics of how an egg moves through the tract, how the various parts are formed, the scholars not only helped us with dissections and endoscopic images, but they reviewed every frame we created.  In some cases, we managed to present a perspective no one has ever seen,” Adams said.

The Attenborough series explores intriguing aspects of the life histories of animals. Each part of the series features two animals linked by a common theme.

Attenborough’s producers sought out footage from The Virtual Chicken for an episode entitled “Incredible Shells,” which examines tortoise shells and egg shells. Producer Hilary Jeffkins called the MPG video “perfect to explain the formation of the egg within a bird and how the shell is added.” The animation “really helps us explain the structure of the shell in a very clear way,” she said.

Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities airs on UKTV in February 2017, on BBC in early 2018 and will be available worldwide in late 2018.

“That footage from our program should be included in such a distinguished television series is a testimony to the quality of Auburn scholarship and the talent of our very skilled artists,” Kuerten said.  “It’s a privilege to work with them both.”