Category Archives: Paleoart

Review: The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi

By Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Hi everybody! PK here and it’s book-reviewing time! As you probably know by now, Titan Books has released another tome of paleoart earlier this year in May 20, and once again Earthling Nature was offered a chance to get a copy and review it for everyone’s delight. What happened, however, is that the timing was a much unfortunate one with the World Cup messing absolutely everything in Rio, so I haven’t actually received my copy yet (at the time of this writing), but I did receive things that were posted in May these days, so I’m still hopeful.

Fortunately, I have a PDF version which I could read while waiting, so my impressions written here are based on that; it just means I can’t praise the paper and illustration quality and such as much as I did previously, but bear with me anyways.

Dinosaur attacks are mandatory for paleoart covers.

Dinosaur attacks are mandatory for paleoart covers.

The new book in question, entitled The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi, is a little reminiscent of Titan’s previous book on paleoart, Dinosaur Art – The World’s Greatest Paleoart, released in 2012 (and which you can view our critique right here), the difference being that instead of being a collection of works from 10 paleoartists, this time it focuses solely on the art – and some biography – of one of them: the Hungarian-born, Canadian-raised artist Julius Csotonyi. You know, like it’s said in the title.

I’ll start right off the bat saying that Csotonyi’s work is much impressive and definitely was one of the highlights of Dinosaur Art, so I think he is indeed one of the prime choices for a book solely focused on his work, and the text also provide interesting insights on these works as well as rather inspirational accounts of his rise to paleoartistic success. I mean, creating dinosaur murals for a museum? That’s some paleoart-nirvana right there.

Also, this picture. Nothing else needs to be said.

Also, this picture. Nothing else needs to be said.

Like Dinosaur Art, the book is full with beautiful artworks depicting prehistoric life from many time periods, some small and some spreading though pages as they should be to enjoy the details, plus there are examples of the usual start in childhood at dinosaur drawing in the beginning of it all, but what caught my attention the most was the presence of step-by-step pictures, showing the process of making a bunch of confusing lines like those of sketches become the saurian-masterpiece everyone loves. For those unfamiliar with Csotonyi ‘s style, he uses mostly digital tools, like a good modern paleoartist usually does; sometimes he uses brushes for a more traditional look, sometimes photomanipulation to achieve more realism, but the resulting picture always have that particular look and can be instantly recognized.

Mostly the reconstructed creatures possess striking patterns, but not striking colors; that, to me, is a key difference when dealing with realism with dinosaurs, and usually the more an artist make huge dinosaur colorful the less I’m inclined to judge their work as a reliable window to prehistoric life*. In this respect, Csotonyi achieves a good balance in the tone of colors, so the animals are neither boring nor garish to behold. The scenes depicted throughout the book vary, with some in the school of “dramatic prehistoric conflict”, others are more neutral and peaceful, and there are some which are anatomy and bones studies, so there’s something for every taste. It’s also worth noting that Csotonyi actually revisits older pictures and update their looks, as it was the case of the Anchiornis, which is important as depictions of dinosaurs will invariably change,and editing then as such is a good manner to make your picture still relevant.

Reenactment of Jaws Included.

Reenactment of Jaws Included.

I do have one or two points that I personally have mixed feelings about : the pictures where he uses actual photos for the landscape aren’t as good as those where he actually makes the scenery, and I understand it’s easier to do that than making the entire scene, but in some of these cases the shadows of the animals get a little in the eye, and it looks too much like the creature was in fact inserted into the scene rather than being part of it. On another point, some of the skins used in the photo manipulations can be a little jarring; the Edaphosaurus with a tuatara’s scaly skin and face being a good example of this. Then again, those can be regarded as very minor points as they don’t detract of the overall quality, so I’m not one bit bothered, and neither should you, as the book remains a incredible piece.

"Alright, alright! You can keep it! Geez."

“Alright, alright! You can keep it! Geez.”

In closing thoughts, The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi is yet another excellent book for everyone interested in dinosaurs and prehistoric life, depicted here in an evocative but not in a “dinosaurs are monsters” light, and it’s definitely worth checking. I promise that when (if) I get my copy I’ll update this review. Also, you can click here to go to his website give him a good ol’ Iguanodon thumbs-up.

 

*And don’t give me the “oh, but birds are dinosaurs, and they’re colorful, so dinosaurs must have been ALL colorful!” BS. It’s just embarrassing.

1 Comment

Filed under Paleoart, Paleontology, Reviews

The Dos and Don’ts of the Aspiring Paleoartist – part 2

By Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Hi everybody, it’s me again with some more paleoartistic tips mixed with ranting since the first one was quite well received by our readers. Long overdue, as usual. Last time we saw examples of plagiarism and why it’s bad to do it, emaciated reconstructions by taking skeleton references too literal and the perils of overloading details.

Actually, before we move on to new tips I’d like to elaborate a bit more on the skeleton reference topic since I felt I didn’t talk enough about it. After all it is a vital part of paleoart since without them we’d be still stuck with draconian monsters (or worse: creationism) so it deserves to be further discussed. So let me put it right off the bat, short and simple: skeletons are a good way to know about the creature, but they’re a terrible way to know what the creature looks like.

Sure they allow us to know their overall size and shape, but they can only reveal so much on their own because skeletons hardly resemble the animal they’re supposed to be on the outside.

If that’s how nature worked, we would’ve have to rename our planet as “Hell”. Various “GSP style” cenozoic animals, pictures by TheMacronian (Cat & Horse), yoult (chicken) and nemo-ramjet (human).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being unfair because we know what these  animals look like in real life, while dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, not. The path of reconstructing things we only have bones to work with is a rocky one and involves a lot of guessing, true, but what the heck, I think we can afford to have better guesses than just add skin over bones and call it a day.

I know those pictures are actually intended to be just humorous, but they also remind us of how far off we probably are of knowing what dinosaurs truly looked like. Trust me on this one: in the future, as out knowledge on dinosaurs advance,  many of the pictures we love to label as accurate will join the ranks of laughably outdated reconstructions.

In the meantime we might as well try and improve it the best we can, so let’s move on to the tips properly, such as…

– Slit pupils are Okay!

Long ago you’d see many pictures where dinosaurs had eyes with slit pupils, a feature that’s easily identifiable as a reptilian characteristic. Of course, that was before the feathered dinosaur revolution came into scene and their relationship with birds was settled for good; the slit-pupil eyes gradually fell in favor to the round-pupil eyes of the likes of birds. Nowadays it’s considerably harder to find pictures of slit-pupil dinosaurs, even if there’s no good reason to think they didn’t had them.

It’s understandable that some like to hint the close relationship with birds by making all dinosaurs – specially feathered ones- have round pupils but first you have to consider that slit pupils aren’t exclusive to reptiles: fishes, amphibians, even some mammals, like that one obscure creature the internet knows nothing about, identified only as “cat”, have them.

As demonstrated by Branquinho. Picture by me.

But then again, we’re talking about dinosaurs here; are there any birds with slit pupils?

If you asked sometime ago I would have to answer “no” because I did search about it and couldn’t find anything at all. Because of that this rather minor tip was left out of the previous one. Then I re-searched and again nothing turned up, which made me think that maybe it was because slit pupils were somehow unsuitable for flight; either that or we are unfortunate to live in an epoch where no birds with such eyes exist.

But later I re-researched and I found out that indeed there’s one particular bird with slit pupils. It’s  the black skimmer (Rynchops niger) from the Americas.

It also has the standard sea bird colors. Extracted from bird-friends.com

Unfortunately for us the skimmer has very dark brown irises, which make it mighty difficult to see the slit pupils, but there are a few pictures over the internet where you can make out the details. Not only it proves that slit pupils aren’t a handicap for flying, birds aren’t an exception either:

Have you also noticed how hard it is to see dinosaur with brown eyes? Picture (cropped) by Dan Pancamo, extracted from wikipedia.org

In other words, you definitely shouldn’t be shy to make some of your dinosaurs have slit pupils when making dinosaur pictures for fearing it makes them somehow “inaccurate”. If anything, not giving some slit pupils is the inaccuracy.

– Movement does not equal to quality!

As much as the Dinosaur Renascence was a great breakthrough in our understanding of dinosaurs, even I have to recognize it also brought a lot of annoying trends. One in particular is the emphasis in movement.

Sorry, let me rephrase this: the extreme emphasis in extreme movement.

If you ever had the chance to see Bakker’s book “The Dinosaur Heresies”, the bible of the dinosaur renascence, you’ll know what I mean. The dinosaurs pictured have very dynamic poses, so dynamic in fact that they probably need a string attached to the ground so they don’t jump out of orbit.

Even the predator is confused by what the Psittacosaurus in the middle is doing. Picture by Robert Bakker, extracted from his book, The Dinosaur Heresies.

It wasn’t so bad at the time of its release; it was fresh and mind-blowing, but after years of nothing but marathonist dinosaurs, it kind of lost the appeal. It really did. I’m also not so sure if it can be taken as accurate, such as the galloping Chasmosaurus previously seen, and I do intend in talking about this in a later post.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that, while I understand it’s exciting to make and see dinosaurs as dynamic as possible, we’re not in the Brontosaurus Age anymore, or the nineties, we don’t need to prove anything. We already know dinosaurs weren’t lethargic, and we’re moving on to a new vision on these creatures. Making them appear running at 300 km/h with their jaws wide open all the time does as much harm for their image as the spiked and skinny reconstructions I pointed out last time.

The problem it seems is that dinosaurs to this day are labeled as “monsters”, so their actions need to be shown in an over-the-top fashion to highlight their monstrous monstrosity, thus perpetrating their monster status, and people accept this kind of image. As a consequence we often see dinosaur-centered documentaries that prefer to focus solely on the violence that such monstrous monsters provide, sometimes at the expense of accuracy. I swear I couldn’t bear to watch one episode of Jurassic Fight Club for the word “killer” was repeated incessantly in a span of less than 5 minutes.

Science is optional. Picture by “Jed”, extracted from earlsetchingemporium.blogspot

This reminds me of a conversation RSN had with his friend Rafael Albo (and I hope he’s okay with his mention here) about this issue, in which he said something along the lines of “well if a magazine like National Geographic were to show pictures of lions they definitely would prefer to show them fighting rather than sleeping”. Except that’s not necessarily true: a quick search for lion pictures by NG (or anyone else, really) will reveal that the majority of them are the animals being playful or resting. In other words, acting like real living things would.

“This KILLER is a heartless KILLER who likes to KILL his KILLS with KILLING efficience! KILL KILLING KILLER KILL!” Picture by National Geographic, extracted from animals.nationalgeographic.com

Amazingly, dinosaurs too had their moments of relaxation, playfulness, even (preposterous!) boredom. Modern paleoartists (and as consequence, their audience) should divorce dinosaurs of their image as monstrous beasts in a hellish struggle and begin to see them like real animals, because as much it’s hard to imagine, that’s what they were. A restrained scene can be just as inspirational, but because of the overexposure of the more artistically-oriented depictions (dynamic/spiked) the average person tends to mistake the latter as a realistic approach.

It’s not about obliterating dynamic scenes, but not shying away of picturing their softer side just as much. Avimimus feeding babies, picture by John Conway, not sure where extracted from.

Hey, since we’re at it, let’s talk about…

– Photorealism vs. Lifeness (And why you should shoot for the latter)

This is probably one of the hardest tips I ever gave, simply because since we don’t know for sure how dinosaurs looked like, so I’ll try to summarise it saying that  trying to make them “photorealistic” is an ungrateful task of herculean proportions that probably will never stop looking out of place, so if you can’t make it LOOK real, the solution is to make it SEEM real. And that’s hard.

I’ll give an fair example (i.e. not comparing different artists), using John Sibbick’s Styracosaurus.  Same author, same technique, only years apart. The one on the left is the iconic Styracosaurus that is actually part of a larger scene depicting short-frilled ceratopsians like Centrosaurus and Triceratops (when he was still considered to be a short-frilled ceratopsian), dating from about 1985. The one on the right is a more recent one, I have no idea from what year it is exactly (90’s? Early 2000’s?), but it’s once again Styracosaurus hanging out with other short frilled ceratopsians (and Triceratops, again).

The odd thing is, the recent one has the wrong posture of the front legs. Pictures by John Sibbick, extracted from Dinosaurs! – Discover the giants of the prehistoric world #19 (Left) and The Concise Dinosaur Encyclopedia (Right)

Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone asked me to choose which one depicts a real Styracosaurus, I definitely would say it’s the former. I find that to be one of the most intringuing things about Sibbick’s older art: they are actually more realistic than his most recent ones despite of being grossly outdated.

So I kept thinking of why was that, and I’m positive that, for one, it’s not because I grew up with the older ones because I’m not that old and I in fact grew up seeing his newer art (well, relatively new). After some time I concluded that, although he didn’t make it accurately, he made a very convincingly depiction.

That’s the key word for this tip: convincingly. It’s entirely possible to create a paleoart picture making the creatures the most accurate as possible, but still end up with something that looks rather artificial, simply not conveying life to the creature (at the same time it’s possible to make a VERY good one at the expense of accuracy, but that’s not desirable if you’re trying to take it seriously). I mean, there’s a reason as to why to this day the great masters of paleoart like Charles Knight, Rudolph Zallinger and Zdenek Burian (my personal favorite out of the thee) are considered such great artists: their dinosaurs are anything but accurate, but they managed to apply all of their knowledge on what a living thing looks and acts like and  all of the elements the composes  a natural scene in such an effective manner that it’s almost like they travelled in time and painted the animals in their enviroments.

Yo have NO idea how cranky I got with the news about cloning dinosaurs being impossible. Come’on science, try hard! Picture by Zdenek Burian, extracted from zburian.blogspot.com

Sibbick can also be considered a great master os paleoart of the same rank, but as I said, his older art does a much better job of depicting dinosaurs as living beings: It’s almost possible to touch and feel the leathery texture of their hides and the dirt encrusted in their scales, the rustling of the foliage as it moves, and the heat of its breath. Yet the recent depiction severly lacks the same essence despite using the same gouache media and visual details like the clouds of dust. It would be delightful if Sibbick went to mimick his old style while making it up to date.

Also have nothing to do with the media used; While I do think that paint has a certain feeling of being touchable and bitable* that’s virtually unrivalled by digital media, it is possible to create paleoart in a convincingly manner with it.

Of course, it’s also possible to make catastrophically terrible too. With the ascencion of computer photomanipulation it became easier to texture creatures using various real animal photograph references as bases, so wouldn’t make them look more realistic? No. I say this technique has mixed results at best that most of the time, in my opnion, are awkward-looking and still doesn’t quite look like something alive. That would be such a case where, despite using “real” things to compose a scene, it ends up looking artificial when sewed together.

One artist that uses mainly digital media while still making dinosaurs look convincg is John Conway, and you can (and definitely should) check his gallery here . Yes, that would be the same who featured in Dinosaur Art – The World’s Greatest Paleoart (which I reviewed here), and who I consider one, if not the, best modern paleoartist. Ironic since, as stated in the book, he doesn’t aim for super-realism, and ends up being one of the few who depict dinosaurs realistically.

But Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V does get in the eyes. Picture by Conway, extracted from http://johnconway.co

Despite having the characteristics of a picture made with Photoshop (which some might consider ugly), the results are astonisihng to say the less, by the simple fact that “less is more”. Without resorting to superdetailed features, he’s able to show dinosaurs in such a way that they too convey the sensation of touch, albeit in a more stylized manner than Sibbick’s.

So these are the tips I one again have to offer. I think this time around it was less of a rant… Eh. Once again I hope these were helpful enough for all of you who want to get into paleoart as business or just as a hobby.

Thanks for reading!

* Excuse me, that’s a personal term I use.

4 Comments

Filed under Paleoart

Review: Dinosaur Art – The World’s Greatest Paleoart

By Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Hey everybody, PK here once more. It was LONG time since my last proper article, but it’s not like my life (or yours) exist solely around EN. I, for one, enjoyed the break. Today I’m here to review one of the spotlights of the year for dinosaur publications; like other dinosaur blogs out there EN was granted the chance to receive and review Dinosaur Art – The World’s Greatest Paleoart by Titan Books, containing the artwork of 10 contemporary paleoartists ranging from veterans like Gregory Paul and John Sibbick to newcomers like John Conway and Julius Csotonyi.

It was originally going to be a collaboration post with RSN, but since the mail agencies in Brazil went on strike (which is pretty much the standard situation at this point), his copy might take some more time to arrive*, so I’ll just go on and make my review solo so I don’t disappoint anyone.

Giant crocodiles are dinosaurs too.

Right off the bat I can say the cover is a good indicative of the quality level the book offers, with a gorgeously detailed and a now somewhat classic scene of a supercroc attacking a dinosaur in the dustcover, in this case, Deinosuchus and Albertosaurus, by Raul Martin. While he’s certainly one of the best choices of cover for this book (as opposed to… I’ll talk about him in due time). It strikes me as odd though because the scene seems to emphasize the crocodile more. It’s DINOSAUR Art after all, and the star is about to be eaten by his humongous cousin.

But hey, that’s just the dust jacket. Removing it will reveal two superb illustrations in negative: on the front there are two Homalocephale skeletons fighting by John Sibbick, and a group of Albertosaurus, one Edmontonia, one Edmontosaurus and what seems to be a Velociraptor super-jumping above them in the back by Julius Csotonyi. I thought it looked beautiful in the glossy-black paper and deserved to be shared.

The dinosaurs gather around the Mesozoic monolith.

The text about the history of paleontology and paleoart is relatively short, or may feel so despite spanning through four pages, three columns each, but the reading is so fluid that you’ll be at the end before you notice. That’s not to say it’s bad, I really liked it and thought it did a good job in giving a little of backstory about the changes in our views on dinosaurs and the mission paleoartists are tasked with in a concise manner.

Each artist interview has a collection of pictures that in some cases occupies the entire page, some are two-page spreads, and some even have folding pages that open to reveal a much grander scene. From sketches and studies to museum murals depicting various species together, the quality of the pictures is also impressive: most of them you find around the internet, but see, their resolution make them no justice since you can’t see the finer details that compose it as they appear in the book. I mean, just looking at the cover with the Deinosuchus, a picture so easily found by googling it, I realize that even the higher resolution available fails miserably to show the level of quality the picture really possess.

The Cretaceous was pretty in spring. Troodons under magnolia, picture by John Conway.

In the interviews we get to know about the artists own history, from the first attempts at drawing dinosaurs with nothing but a pencil, paper and loads of child-like imagination to the pursuit of professional career (with art being or not their main goal), their opinions on different media and the adaptation to the digital tools, influences and opinions of their approach in their own work. Along the interviews there is usually a profile for a specific creature that’s important for the artist in question (i.e. Giraffatitan for GSP, Smilodon for Mauricio Antón), but they’re unfortunate for being placed right in the middle of the interview, messing with the reading flow.

Glad to see prehistoric mammal still count as “dinosaurs”. Smilodons and Columbian Mammoths, picture by Mauricio Antón.

Now, I was going to make a more elaborated critique on each artist, but I decided it would take too much time and/or delay this review even further than it needs to be, so I might still do it as a separated post, so for the time being I’ll just say I feel disappointed about the choice of one of them: Todd Marshall.

I mean, I can see the reasons he probably was included. I know about some complaints about many other great paleoartists like Mark Hallet and Larry Felder who were left out of the books, but I understand this was probably done because the book focus more in contemporary paleoartists, and we don’t hear much, if at all, from these artists nowadays; Peter Schouten is also a notably absence despite still active, but that could be because (much for RSN’s utter disgust) he’s comparatively more of obscure and very much underappreciated. Even though they included this Robert Nicholls person who I’ve never heard about before (but I was pleased with his work nonetheless). Still, I’m not much of a fan of Marshall’s reconstructions since I think they aren’t on par with the rest, I definitely wouldn’t have included him. Well, more on this on the later post.

In closing words, considering the overall quality of a book this size with high-resolution illustrations in high quality paper (man, that paper), it’s absolutely great value for money (but that could just be me since it would cost over 200 bucks if it was ever released in Brazil) and a real treat for anyone who’s into dinosaurs or is yet to discover is into dinosaurs.

Just go and see it for yourself, it’s really worth it!

Reenactment of The Matrix included. Sinusonasus fighting. Picture by Luis Rey.

* As I wrote this the strike seems to have ended, but they still might delay the delivery. Efficiency.

2 Comments

Filed under Paleoart, Paleontology

Horrible Dinosaur Expos: Via Brasil

By Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Hey everybody, once again things are a little slow on my side because I couldn’t decide what my next article would be, because what I was going to talk about proved to be rather polemical within EN, so until then here’s a little something to general amusement and despair.

As you can guess from the title, this post is about a dinosaur expo, a terrible one at that. See unlike other countries paleontology as a whole in Brazil is rather lacking, so dinosaur expos are hard to come by. Good dinosaur expos are even harder.

I do remember one exceptional expo that took place when Jurassic Park was first released in Brazil, but it’s possible I thought because I was 4 at the time and dinosaurs were awesome no matter what, but I don’t have many memories of it. Specially because the huge, roaring animatronic beasts terrified me. To this day I’m not entirely sure if it was Dinamation’s exhibit, and I’m still unable to find the photos we took there (where I remember always appearing with a cringe of sheer terror mixed with marvel).

So after that everything went downhill because every dinosaur expo I came across ranged from “kind of bad” to “crap”. And no, I’m not being harsh, “crap” is the perfect analogy for some of them. Really.

That being said, let’s take a look of one which I actually bothered taking pictures of. This one took place in Shopping Via Brasil (which seemingly sprung out of nowhere) in Irajá, Rio de Janeiro, in 2011 I believe.

Not picture because I just took photos inside the thing: the ugliest Velociraptor right at the mall’s entrance, the huge and hideous Tyrannosaurus skull with an actual picture of a Tyrannosaurus skull right behind it (how come nobody looked at it and said “hey, they don’t look like each other”), the entrance ticket with Jurassic Park’s logo and a mini-cinema exhibiting Disney’s Dinosaur…. Yeah

How come they couldn’t afford a second one so they could bash heads? What a letdown.

Apart from the deformed and slightly human-like arms, this Stegoceras is not that bad since they actually tried to make the skull have mostly the right shape. Also the atrocity is lessened by what was right next to him: the disembodied neck of a “Camarasaurus” (with the head of a Diplodocus) that stood in the back of what looked like a circus arena….

I like JP style Raptors when it comes to entertainment, but that’s too much.

This is what the Velociraptor at the mall entrance looked like. What can I say? The lack of feathers is the last of the concerns here. How can these even be called “raptors” if they didn’t even bothered to give them the trademark feet claws? I swear I thought they were Herrarasaurus, which would make everything a bit less shameful.

“AAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!”

This one got me by surprise, I would never expect to see Therizinosaurus in such low-end expo. It’s also interesting because unlike the Velociraptors they did used feathers to coat the model. Very badly, but feathered nonetheless. Maybe he has such aghast expression because he know they stole the zebra-therizinosaurus idea from either Luis Rey or that CGI model from Dorling Kindersley. I’m guessing the latter.

If they had another and made it hairy they could pass it as Coelodonta.

I’ll never understand why they put an rhinoceros in the exhibit… Wait, that’s Styracosaurus? Yipes, moving on…

Mammoth: the Tenontosaurus of the Pleistocene.

What you mean Ice Age beasts aren’t dinosaurs? At least compared to the dinosaurs, these are quite tolerable. The mammoth is as good as one can make a mammoth look good when covering it with hair, but the static Smilodon will always remind me of another appalling expo that seemingly consisted entirely of Smilodons scattered in dark rooms lit by pulsating lights and walls covered by palm tree leaves made of fabric.

And you were thinking I was being harsh when I said some were crap.

And there was a crocodile-like Dimetrodon next to them for no good reason.

Can we go back to man-in-suit theropods after that?

No, that’s not the perspective being wonky, this is what this mockery of a Tyrannosaurus looked like in profile. I have nothing to add to this other that the most infuriating part was that…

For a change, there’s nothing dead laying before him.

… There was a much bigger and impressive (and slightly less inaccurate) animatronic Tyrannosaurus right next. This was the last thing in the expo, and with good reason it seems. Even with the huge feet and sounds stolen directly from Jurassic Park, this one was life-sized, which made it best than most I’ve seen…. And look, there’s the hideous skull behind him.

As with other exhibits, this one wasn’t the longest, but thankfully it wasn’t the most expensive, and I could learn a lesson out of it: research about the expo before you go.

I have hopes one day Brazil will once again see a decent dinosaur exhibit like the one I barely remember, but until then the average brazilian is stuck with sucky depictions while us dinomaniacs can only laugh and facepalm.

Stay tuned for my next article. See ya!

1 Comment

Filed under Paleoart, Paleontology

The Dos and Don’ts of the Aspiring Paleoartist – part 1

by Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Finally, our very first true paleoart post! Long overdue since the creation of this blog. Actually it looks more of a ranting post, but… Here I present my personal opinions of what is wrong with modern paleoart as well as giving some tips to make it right. See, everywhere I look for paleoartistic tips (from professionals, no less) they are pretty much the same, and not helpful at all. That is, from the ones I came across, but maybe some good soul out there give true helpful tips.

Instant classic image; also applies to illustrations. Taken from optimisticpainter.wordpress.com

As an enthusiast of prehistoric life, I often see myself dissatisfied with the majority of modern reconstructions for extinct animals, and dinosaurs are understandably the prime victims of being portrayed as barely living things. And that doesn’t have anything to do with this “well, see, dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals were unlike anything alive today, so they must have been really weird!” BS. True, they are different from today animals, but that doesn’t mean they are complete aliens.

So here I present some of my critics about what’s wrong with modern depictions of prehistoric life and personal tips to what can be made to improve it.

– Don’t steal it!

The most banal but useful of all tips. Maybe it’s some kind of rite of passage to copy the works of other, usually more famous paleoartists; it’s only natural since copying can give useful insight of how to develop your own style and make your own pictures later, but that’s about what it’s good for: studying.

If you downright steal someone else work, even if you try to alter a little, people WILL find out, specially the keen eyed who had seen tons of paleoartistc pictures.

Top- Robert Bakker, 1971.
Bottom- Zdenek Burian, 1976.

Left- James Gurney, 90’s?
Right- John Sibbick, 1985.

Top Left- Chris Butler, 1991.
Top Right- Mark Hallett, 1990.
Bottom Left- Chris Butler, 1991?.
Bottom Right- Whoever did the dinosaurs in The Macmillan Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals, 1988.

Top Left- Fabio Pastori, 2008.
Top Right- John Gurche, 80-90’s?.
Center Left- Fabio Pastori, 2009.
Center Right- Tony McVey, 90’s?.
Bottom Left- Mark Hallet, 1994.
Bottom Center- Fabio Pastori, 2008.
Bottom Right- Luis Rey, 90’s?.

Shame on that Pastori guy. Damn.

Previously this sort of stealing wasn’t so much a taboo for paleoart. Zdenek Burian for example, had to rely heavely in references others brought to him, so I can understand that he didn’t had much to work with when he made the Chasmosaurus painting back when there was no fancy internet and search engines. Still, even if it was out of necessity, it still sort of detracts the essence of the resulting work because it causes this déjà vu feeling.

Nowadays this problem is lessened because references are one google away, so anything that have remains other than teeth and isolated vertebrae should give a good idea as to what must be done. Still resorting to plagiarize someone else only says you’re slacking. Of course, I let one-time ocurrences to pass for certain artists. *

The extremely-obscure-where-it-wasn’t-released collection “Descobrindo o Mundo dos Dinossauros” (Discovering the World of Dinosaurs, translating the portuguese version. Originality at its peak) by the spanish publisher Salvat during the 2000’s  is the greatest example of overstealing: the entire series is composed of a seemingly unending stealpalooza, the main victims being John Sibbick and Jurassic Park’s concept artist Mark “Crash” McCreey. There are just so many obviously stolen pictures in all the 40 issues I can’t just point them all out, so I’ll just leave one where they did abstolutely nothing to try covering it up. And that’s not even the worst part: the larger one is suposed to be an Argentinosaurus.

Quality!

Quality!

Also on the same note, please, PLEASE don’t use this picture of Turok for ANYTHING.

fffff

Attack of the were-o-saurus!

I lost count of places I’ve seen this thing already.

– Flesh it properly!

The single most glaring and common gaffe of a paleoartist is taking the skeleton reference a little too literal, resulting in a creature that looks little more than a skeleton with a thin layer of skin over it. Bonus points if said creature have huge, bulging leg muscles.

One such artist known for this is Gregory S. Paul. If you’re into paleoart or dinosaurs in general you must have seen his work around. Honestly, I don’t care much about him. I know there have been some discussion about him lately, I’m not exactly sure about what, but seems to be about his skeletal reconstructions and a rather harsh commentary about other paleoartists, but I’m not going there. The real issue with GSP and people who adopted a similar style is how the animal looks like a starved walking corpse: the skull fenestrae, the vertebrae, the hips, the shoulder blades… They’re all there!

r

Plateosaurus longiceps, by Gregory S. Paul.

I mean, Ok, I get it, you used skeletal reference. That’s nice, but can you feed the poor animal now? Doing this only deprives your picture from conveying any life. If you look at any dinosaur analog you like, be it bird, reptile or even mammal, you’ll see they have a relatively “smooth” appearance- that is, if you remove the feather/fur coating. Their bones are visible only at certain parts of their bodies, and even then those are not entirely visible.

Featherless chicken breed. Taken from newscientist.com.

Don’t worry, he’s not sick and nobody pulled his feathers: this special breed combines the gene of other breeds who naturally lack feathers in certain parts of their bodies. Some argue that the lack of feathers make them vulnerable to sunburns and parasites, other says the lack of feathers is an advantage, but the point I’m trying to make is that despite the seemingly unnatural appearance, the skeleton is not visible, and muscles are balanced. I mean, the legs surely are muscular, but they look nothing like some of the monstrosities on steroids you often risk coming across when looking at dinosaur pictures.

Daspletosaurus, by an unknown artist, made somewhere around the 2000’s I think. I have no idea who the artist is, but I simply abhor his work.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I absolutely hate everything by GSP. For one I’m especially fond of this Yangchuanosaurus picture, despite some gaffes like the visible fenestrae:

yango

Yangchuanosaurus shangyuensis, by Gregory S. Paul

Speaking of visible fenestrae, that’s a big no-no. Facial features are one of the key elements for paleoart, especially since some artists prefer to make portraits that focus on the animals head, so if you want to make a good dinosaur or any other prehistoric animal picture you should remember to make the creature having an appropriate face. Starting by not making fenestrae visible since that just doesn’t happen.

If Bakker teached me anything as a kid in Paleoworld, a true paleontology classic TV show from the 90’s (Dinosaur Revolution got NOTHING on this) is that the tiny holes you see along some animals skull around the mouth are the attachments for lips; having bigger holes near the eyes suggest that the animal in question is particularly lippy.

Green iguana and horse and their skulls, compared to Allosaurus and Diplodocus.

So taking the above example and comparing to those of dinosaurs, one can infer that the theropod Allosaurus had lizard lips (maybe even teeth-covering ones at that), while the sauropod Diplodocus had a face more similar to that of the horse, unlike the creepy, bare-toothed creature you see below…

Coming straight out of the ground is only mildy unsettling.

That’s also one of the few reasons why you rarely can go wrong when picturing prehistoric mammals: there’s plenty of analogs alive today, so you can use any of the closest related species or similar creatures as references…

All entelodontids pictures out there are variations of this one.

… Mostly. The above creature is a Archaeotherium, from a now-extinct family of omnivorous, pig-like creatures affectionally nicknamed “hell pigs”. Paleoartists have a particular penchant for making them as scary as possible, as you can see, their mouths are perpetually open, and seemingly devoid of lips. The rare occasions they are depicted with their mouths closed, they tend to show their teeth, ranging from just the upper canines to all of the front teeth… Except that if you just take a look at his skull and compare to his living close relatives – pigs and hippos- , you’ll figure it is supposed to have the same kind of fleshy muzzle these have.

Warthog, hippo and Archaeotherium skulls. Just wonder if all we knew about hippos came from their fossils.

Oh, and ceratopsians are still the odd ones: they have both big and tiny lip attachments. What does that mean? I don’t know, but my best guess is that they had cheeks, but unlike the ones you commonly see around, they probably didn’t ended right at the beak margin.

Triceratops skull. Taken from brantworks.com.

That also remind me of someone who criticized the presence of “eyebrows” on dinosaurs in certain pictures because there’s “no evidence for this”… Are you kidding me? Have you never seen an eagle?

Bald eagle and the permanent frowning. Taken from nationalgeographic.com.

One of the main features of eagles and similar predatory birds: the mean look. This effect is created by a pair of bone knobs in front of each eye that sustain the skin that form the brow. This same structure is found in other birds as well as some modern reptiles and many dinosaurs, specially theropods, although there are non-theropods examples. Interestingly enough, in lizards the knobs are smaller, but even these are able to make sizeable eyebrows.

Bald eagle skull. Taken from skullsunlimited.com. Sure it’s just a replica, so what?

So if you have the skeletal reference but don’t consider what it looks like in modern living animals, you’ll have things like these models of Mei Long from the American Museum of Natural History… I wish I could grab a better picture, but if you look hard enough you’ll see he ended up with those silly knobs right in front of the eyes. He’s not the only one from the same exhibit to end up like that either.

Mei Long from the AMNH. Photo by Roderick Mickens, taken from dinosaurs.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.

– ….But don’t be exaggerated!

On the opposite spectrum of the sickly, skeletal creatures from the likes of GSP are the overly fleshed ones. Sometimes, at the wrong places. This happen when the artist want to make a creature more “interesting” and draws “inspiration” from living animals who sport such details, specially reptiles and exotic birds.

One such artist is the dreaded and sometimes loved (but not here, go away) Todd Marshall. The problem with his pictures is that he knows no restraint: all of his dinosaurs have huge serrated dewlaps and are covered in spikes everywhere.

Spinosaurus aegypticus by Todd Marshall. Alternatively, it could bethe devil himself. At least the sail is immaculate in this one…

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with adding details such as these. Heck, we do have evidence that Diplodocus and Ceratosaurus had a row of spikes along their backs, Carnotaurus had parallel rows of nodules and skin impressions in Edmontosaurus show he had a considerable-sized dewlap. But it couldn’t hurt to know when it’s appropriated and when it’s over the top.

Okay, so you have the (male) green iguana (Iguana iguana), and he has a row of spikes along the back and a big dewlap which too have some edgy scales. So while it may seem acceptable to recreate this aspect for dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, one should consider these characteristics are not as common as they seem. The serrated dewlap and spiked back are more specific to the iguana genus; most lizards don’t have any of these details, some have a ridge along the back, some have dewlaps. But very few have both. Heck, that’s not even universal for other iguana species. The marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), for example, have a row of spikes in their backs, but with smaller spikes and they have no dewlap, while the rhinoceros iguana (Cyclura cornuta) too have no dewlap and even smaller spikes in the back.

Green, marine and rhinoceros iguanas.

So basically what i’m saying is that it’s perfectly fine to add details, but you should do so sparingly, sometimes creatures don’t have any. If you recreate every single creature with as many details you can fit, instead of a mesozoic scene you have Pandora from Avatar.

Psittacosaurus skeleton, taken from wikipedia. Take a look at the ROW of quills at the TAIL.

Another problem with exaggeration is when you have the evidence for a detail, but decide to amplify it, sometimes to less than realistic proportions. One examples I can cite is the Psitaccosaurus. As most might know by now, he had a row of quills in their tails, as you can see in the above picture.

Psittacosaurus by Heather “Kyoht” Baeder.

…So where does one take this from?!

Anyway, for now those are the tips I have to give, but more will be posted eventually. I hope these were helpful enough for all of you who want to get into paleoart as business or just as a hobby.

Thanks for reading!

For more about paleoart, you might want to see:

*I edited out Sergey’s mention since he himself cleared his case in the comments. If any other artist don’t wish to have their work pictured here, feel free to say so.

26 Comments

Filed under Paleoart

The Stiff-Tailed Dinosaur Syndrome

by Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Hello everyone, PK here, which means it’s time for some good old paleoartistic criticism and bashing of current ideas! So enjoy today’s topic: dinosaurs tails.

As everyone knows, for the longest time since their formal description in the mid-19th century, dinosaurs were thought to be tail-draggers in the same fashion as reptiles, because reptiles are lazy and so should be dinosaurs since they were reptiles. Or so it seemed, as it was about in the 70’s when the “dinosaur renaissance” came into scene, replacing the slow-moving and swamp-dwelling giant lizards for active, warm-blooded animals.

And considering the topic, the most important of all these changes is that they now had their tails off the ground, but then things sort of went downhill from there: artists started to depict their dinosaurs with increasingly elevated tails, to the point where, in the last 10 years or so, dinosaurs are always pictured as having their tails completely parallel to the ground and almost pointing upwards!

I, for one, am convinced that this idea was something paleoartists – both amateur and professionals – simply misunderstood. Namely – while dinosaurs may very well been able to maintain their tails parallel to the ground, they may not have done so at all the time.

There’s one important factor about dinosaurs that I have the slight feeling some artists overhead, or just plain ignore for a more dramatic effect, is that dinosaurs are animals just like the ones that live today, and as such, dinosaurs most certainly would get very tired sometimes. See, there is not a single animal in the world that maintains any of its limbs in a certain position for too long, and dinosaurs would be no exception: maintaining their tails elevated in a horizontal posture for so long would be exhaustive.

In other words, dinosaurs were able maintain their tails above the ground, but just enough; namely, they had droopy tails for the most part.

I went to brainstorm with RSN about this possibility, and he reminded me of an important detail: some dinosaurs were found with fossilized tendons on their tails. So naturally I had to research about that and what it would mean for the droopy-tail idea. One such evidence is found in the first ever Corythosaurus remains discovered by Barnum Brown in 1912, which is nice because for me ornithopods are the worst offenders of the rigid-tail idea. Now, please, take a look at this picture:

Picture of a giant helmeted duck.

Corythosaurus casuarius skeleton, by Barnum Brown, 1916.

Not only the creature’s skeleton was found almost complete, skin impressions are also present, but take a closer look at the tail; specifically the base, right above the ischium. Those distinct line markings you see were made by tendons which, supposedly, helped the animal maintain his tail in the same horizontal position as seen in this skeleton. But where exactly does this leave the idea that dinosaurs had droopy tails then? Go ahead, I’ll give you a few seconds…

You see it yet? Ok, I’ll make it more clear with this other picture:

Corythosaurus

Drawing of the fossil, by Barnum Brown, 1916.

Yes, as you can see, those tendons were present mainly at the very base of the tail. Not only that, but consider the caudal vertebrae also have a slight irregular shape when lined horizontally, but not so much if you curve it downwards – this also happens in other dinosaurs such as sauropods. In other words, the tendons only helped the Corythosaurus to maintain the first half or so of its tail elevated.

From what could be inquired from mummified hadrosaurid findings, duck-billed dinosaurs (as they are informally called) had a longer digestive system than other plant-eating dinosaurs. The elevated tail base means there is some more free room for processing the plant matter. Maybe not for much, but it was a very welcome addition.

But naturally dinosaurs didn’t had tails to digest plants. Tails are primarily used for balance, and in some animals it can also serve as a weapon, other might use them to call attention of mates or signalizing for each other in a group. Some animals, however, have no need for any of these, so what usually happen is that the tails have so little impact on its lifestyle that they quickly degenerate, resulting in stumps or completely disappearing. Just like what happened to us humans.

But dinosaurs had big tails – except for those who became birds and other not-quite-bird-yet small theropods such as Epidexipteryx – it’s one of their trademarks that make them so different from any other large animal today. But not all dinosaurs used their tails for balancing.

Epidexipteryx hui skeleton, discovered in 2008. Notice the shortened tail, compensated by the elongated feathers. Photo from National Geographic.

For example, armored dinosaurs such as ankylosaurids, nodosaurids and stegosaurids. With a low profile and sturdy legs, having a tail for balance isn’t needed, but they still had well formed tails for a single reason: they were mortal weapons. Stegosaurids had piercing spikes, nodosaurids had rows of sharp blades and ankylosaurids had a mass of bone at the tip that formed a fearsome weapon against predators.

Tail club of Euoplocephalus tutus, an ankylosaurid. Photo by Ghedoghedo, from Wikipedia, 2011.

Sauropods, at least the ones without extreme long neck lenghts, wouldn’t need such a long tail for counterbalancing; their torso might have been enough. These would then be free to be used as weapons since they couldn’t back-off predators with sheer size alone, and surely enough, some sauropods such as Diplodocus had elongated tails that ended in thin bones that could be used as whips, and the chinese Shunosaurus had a bone club similar to that of ankylosaurids. Both dinosaurs, while much larger than any living terrestrial animal, are visibly rather small for sauropod standards.

Skeletal reconstruction of the Spinophorosaurus nigerensis from Africa, which closely resembles the chinese Shunosaurus both in size and weaponry. Souce: Remes K, Ortega F, Fierro I, Joger U, Kosma R, et al. (2009).

On the same note, brachiosaurids had huge front legs which supported an extreme neck, but their tails were very small compared to other sauropods. So small in fact, they couldn’t be used for anything and one wouldn’t be surprised if their tails became stumps had they survived long enough.

Brachiosaurus brancai (now Giraffatitan brancai). Picture by Paul Olsen, 1988.

Now there are the odd ones: Ceratopsians. The larger ceratopsian that dominated North America in the late Cretaceous period landscape are known for their huge frills and huge horns and sturdy bodies… and for having rather pathetic-looking tails. These were relatively short and thin, and it’s hard to imagine that ceratopsians used them for counterbalancing their skull – which is in some way confusing since they might have been quite heavy even with the “windows” on the frills to decrease the weight.

And even odder ones: Pachycephalosaurids. These dinosaurs are known for their thick skulls which they used for head-butting contests (yes), but they are also known for the woven net of tendons at the tip of their tails. The total opposite of what usually happens.

So where do ornithopods such as Corythosaurus fall in all of this? My guess is that they used them for balance, but only when running on their hind legs. See, duck-billed dinosaurs had very small arms compared to his legs, with hoof-like hands, which is good evidence that they could walk on four legs as well as two legs.

A grazing Corythosaurus did not need their tails to be parallel to the ground; their arms would enable them to stand with a droopy tail. But on the sign of danger, things change: unsuitable to handle the stress that running on all four would cause, they would stand on two legs and run; the tail tendons then would enable the animal lift his tail to counterbalance its body while running. In this respect, the dinosaur would then function more like a theropod rather than a ceratopsian, per se. When away from danger, the tendons relax and the animal tail goes back to its droopy position. Corythosaurus would then look something like this (thanks RSN for the picture!):

Corythosaurus in relaxed position (above) and running from danger (below). Picture by Rafael Silva do Nascimento, 2011.

So there you have it. Dinosaurs had many uses for their tails, and just because they had tendons and warm blood it doesn’t mean they had steel rod for tails. While Corythosaurus is used as a starting point for the idea, keep in mind other dinosaurs also could have droopy tail, including the ones that used their tails for balance such as theropods.

So if you ever see a picture of a dinosaur, any kind of dinosaur, standing still or having a nice stroll, and said dinosaur is doing it while having their tails completely parallel to the ground, you’re allowed to shout “WRONG!”, because that dinosaur must be tired as heck of having his tail like that.

Hope everyone enjoyed reading my article; if you have any questions just comment and I’ll answer it.

Thanks for reading!

– – –

References:

Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur. Available on-line in: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihifMrV3-pY>. Acess on December 1st, 2011.

Paul, G. S. et al. 2010: The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs. Princeton University Press.

Wikipedia. Corythosaurus. Available on-line in: <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corythosaurus>. Acess on December 1st, 2011.

Leave a comment

Filed under Paleoart, Paleontology