Kulindadromeus images

While I’m sure huge parts of the internet are currently going mad over the new ornithischian Kulindadromeus and the implications for fuzzy dinosaurs (or otherwise) there current crop of pictures available isn’t that great. Inevitably those in the paper are small and crammed into the limited space (in the main paper at least, I’ve not yet got hold of the supplementary files and am writing this before the paper is released) and the press images are focused on the beautiful life reconstructions. However, Pascal Godefroit was kind enough to pass onto me a pile of images that he said I could use. Many have made their way onto my Guardian piece on the subject, but even there they have to stay small to fit the website’s style and some of the detail is lacking, so I’ll put them up here instead.

Obviously these images come directly from Pascal and are copyright to him and his team and should not be reproduced without his direct permission. Anyway, they do show some nice details of various parts of these specimens and the different integumentary structures (both scales and filaments) rather well and I imagine will be of some interest. I won’t add any more description here since I’ve already written a couple of thousand words on this animal today and I suspect most readers will be angling for the paper to do their detailed reading anyway. Enjoy.

feathers on femur 3Multiple filaments associated with the femur

 

SONY DSCMultiple filaments associated with the humerus.

 

foot + scalesSmall scales associated with the pes.

 

head+integumentSmall filaments associated with the skull.

 

integument on proximal tibia 2Filaments at the proximal tibia.

 

scales on distal tibia 2Scales on the distal tibia.

 

SONY DSCClose up of tooth series.

 

Huge thanks to Pascal for lending me these images and letting me put them online and obviously my congratulations on the discovery.

Flugsaurier 2015: Portsmouth, UK

Way back in 2001 the first real symposium dedicated solely to pterosaurs (rather than a subset of another conference) was convened in Toulouse thanks largely to the organisation of Eric Buffetaut. By all accounts it was a success and spawned the well known and much cited 2003 Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs special volume. The event however was something of a one-off, and I don’t think there was any great plans to have another later conference.

At the end of my time in Germany however, I wanted to arrange a conference and with the museum home to some legendary pterosaur specimens and the retiring Peter Wellnhofer, this ultimately led to Flugsaurier 2007 in Munich. Both a celebration of all things pterosaurian and a tribute to Peter’s career, this was attended by nearly 50 people with delegates from North and South America, Asia, Australia and Europe, and later spawned the 2008 Festschrift for Peter. At the meeting it was agreed that this would be an excellent series to continue and so Flugsaurier 2010 in Beijing was immediately announced, and then this was followed by a shift to South America and Rio 2013 collectively covering three of the great centres for pterosaur finds and research. Each meeting has seen a swathe of researchers descend on the host institute and the unveiling of some up to the minute research and important new finds.

Now though, Flugsaurier returns to Europe and will be in Portsmouth in 2015 from August 25th-30th. Dave Martill is the main organiser of this one at his parent university, ably assisted (well, we think so) by a small army of associates. As has become usual for Flugsaurier, the conference will consist of talks and posters about pterosaurs, workshops and round-table discussions, specimen viewings and fieldtrips. It is NOT limited to academics, and we have a good record of artists, non-pterosaur specialists, curators, and the general public attending as delegates as well as early-career researchers like MSc and PhD students presenting their work. As a generally small meeting, it is rather informal and there’s lots of break-outs and discussions between presentations and through the breaks and evenings and much to talk over.

All the major details are on the website for the event here, and the first circular is already out and online here. Do please share these links with the wider academic and social community (we have tried and failed to get e-mails to the DML and VertPal list so if someone could send out the links, that would be wonderful, thanks), there is a group on Facebook, an @Flugsaurier2015 twitter feed and also we’re using the hashtag #flugsaurier2015 to keep people up to date. More information will follow soon, but the basics are up and online and registration will open shortly.

Some of the best interactions and exchanges we have had at previous meetings have come from those who normally only dabble in pterosaurs and are bringing external ideas and methods into the community so while obviously there is a *lot* of winged reptile stuff going round, it’s not just a meeting of the usual pterosaur suspects. Indeed in this case we really hope for a bit more of that at this one as thanks to some cunning timing, the meeting will run just before SVPCA in the neighbouring city of Southampton.

Yes, you can attend two palaeontological conferences in succession! SVPCA, for those that have never been, is a meeting for vertebrate palaeontology and comparative anatomy. Although very UK centric, SVPCA always attracts a number of European delegates and even those from further afield (Matt Wedel and Don Henderson regularly attend for example) but is also a small meeting (generally around 130 people) and as such is an informal and fun community. There’s no parallel sessions and a relaxed and fun atmosphere (last year we had a presentation done in song with guitar backing!) and it also includes a day for preparators and conservators on top of covering everything from fish to hominids over the run time. SVPCA is also a special haven for palaeoart people (Bob Nicholls, Luis Rey, Mark Witton and John Conway are always there, and those with big outreach profiles like Darren Naish and Dougal Dixon also always attend). In short, those who might be considering a major journey from across the ocean for just a few days of pterosaurs and think it a bit much money and commitment, well the opportunity to combine it with SVPCA hopefully makes it a still greater proposition.

The fieldtrips will also be run in such a way as to maximise this too. A pre-conference excursion to the Isle of Wight on August 25th will effectively start Flugsaurier, and then a post-conference weekend field trip to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site on August 29th and 30th will be run jointly with SVPCA as a prelude to that meeting.

Hopefully then there’s some excellent scope for friends, colleagues, researchers and interested people from all over the world to take the opportunity to come to the UK and both meetings. Pterosaurs may not be your first or only love, but the integration with SVPCA makes a superb opportunity to combine the two and see two whole vertebrate meetings. Both are relatively cheap, and with an international community heading over for Flugsaurier as well as a European crowd for SVPCA, it will hopefully be both intimate and wide-ranging.

As a quick aside, note that the plan was always for Flugsaurier to be on a cycle of every three years, but we quickly realised that this cycle specifically ran with the huge ICVM and was sucking up some of our potential delegates who naturally did not want to make two big international trips per year on top of the usual SVPCA / SVP trips. So this one comes just two years after Rio, but we should return to the previous cycle after this and hopefully someone will be volunteering to host Flugsaurier 2018.

I do hope to see an excellent turn out for both (apparently we’re running at nearly two dozen registered for Flugsaurier already in just the first few days of putting out the first circular) and that will grow quickly I’m sure. Roll on 2015!

London Zoo

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This review is a very long time coming given how many times I have visited this place over the years. In addition to many childhood trips, I worked as a volunteer keeper here at weekends for several years and as a result know the place fairly intimately. The lack of a review was largely down to not having any accessible photos during most of my blogging past, but a visit in April this year took care of that. In many ways it makes this summary all the more appropriate since a huge amount has changed in the last few years. Although London has always undergone upgrades and renovations, some of the most recent alterations have rather starkly changed the face of the zoo and the difference say between now and ten years ago is a world away to say the different between 1984 and 2004.

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London historically has some major issues when it comes to these kinds of changes which makes the transformation all the more remarkable. Situated in Regent’s Park, it doesn’t actually own the land it is on and instead effectively enjoys rent-free tenancy from the crown, but it also means they can’t expand with public rights of way across the zoo, and the presence of both a road and canal through it, limit the footprint further and the locations of possible new builds or rebuilds. Many of the buildings are also old and creaking, making the costs of maintenance and upgrades very expensive, while prices in London for building work are obviously much greater than in many places. On top of that many of the buildings are historically important and have listed status, which means even minor changes, let alone major alterations or replacing the building, are often impossible. Put that all together with the funding crisis the zoo suffered for many years (staff were made redundant, buildings closed, animals moved on) and it’s incredible that not only are they still afloat, but have in fact been rejuvenated.

392065_n Some of the repurposing has been very intelligently done. Much of the Charles Clore Pavilion (effectively the small mammal house and nocturnal section) has been knocked together to form a single, large walk-through South American enclosure with birds, armadillos, sloths, tamandua, marmosets and others wandering freely, while the basement still houses the nocturnal animals, and the perimeter contains a series of other small critters like squirrels and tree shrews. It has totally changed the scope and style of the building, but without huge changes to the structure that would be costly, and allowing the fundamental purpose (small mammals) to remain the same (keeping staff and facilities in situ too).

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This is still very much a city zoo, meaning it is generally small but packs a lot in. One major improvement (if originally most a money-saving effort) was the removal of most of the larger animals and the zoo no longer has the rhinos and elephants of before, while things like big cats and apes are fewer in number and have much larger enclosures. Even so, ‘traditional’ species like giraffe, (Asiatic) lions, gorilla and vultures are still in residence, but the focus has turned to smaller animals in many cases when it comes to things like large mammals and birds, though the presence of Komodo dragons, tigers, hunting dogs, okapi and llama hardly means that it is all ‘tiny’ species though these are in abundance.

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For a long time it boasted the most diverse (in terms of species) collection in the UK, if not Europe, and while I don’t know if this is still the case, it must certainly come close. This is assisted by the presence of the Clore, insect house (the Millennium building), aquarium, reptile house and an aviary for small birds, and so there is a huge amount of species covered between these. While here too there are plenty of ‘traditional’ species that the public will hoover up, even to the jaded zoo go-er like me, seeing things like Congo pygmy goose, Philippines crocodile and frogmouths were all new and great to see. 198019857637_o

One can also get much closer to many animals than in many places. In addition to the Clore, the children’s zoo, two small aviaries, the giant Snowden aviary and butterfly house all had walk-through sections while new viewing platforms for the giraffe and well designed new set-ups for the tiger and gorillas give much better access (while still giving the animals privacy) than before. So although much of the zoo is still original in many ways (there are no shortage of bricks, concrete and historic buildings), and preserves its feel and tradition, it is no longer the stark and unfriendly place as it was so often portrayed in the bad old days.

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While certainly I do have a bias in all of this with my connections to the zoo, it is hard not to consider it still one of the premier collections in the world. It is a modern flourishing zoo, and given that it has maintained its position as one of the top zoos for research and conservation work (it was originally founded as part of the Zoological Society which sits in the grounds) while reworking the grounds and facilities, and housing a vast collection of important species, it is hard to find any real flaw in the place these days. No matter your interest in zoos – interesting species, common species, research, education, conservation, history and design there is something important and compelling here. Sure there are things to improve and change, but one can say that of any zoo, however good it is, but if you are a zoo aficionado, London really is one of the places to visit.

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Welcoming Zhanghenglong

It has been a while coming on the Musings, but here’s something that’s bordering on traditional palaeontology. However, it is based on ornithischians, so obviously doesn’t quite count. That is a joke before I start getting all the complaints in the comments – I’m genuinely pleased to finally be on a paper that focuses on the other side of the Dinosauria after all my saurischian work. Anyway, long term readers will remember this post from back in 2011 about creating plaster jackets in the field. This was from a trip down in Henan were we turned up a number of specimens (and interestingly, Xu Xing was called away up to Zhucheng becuase of the discovery of what would turn out be Zhuchengtyrannus). At the time we had something that looked like a hadrosaur of some sort, and the blocks you can see us removing in the other post form the core of the new paper.

So say hello to Zhanghenglong, a basal hadrosauroid from the Late Cretaceous. Somewhat inevitably there’s not much of it, though there is a good maxilla (shown below) and dentary, as well as dorsal vertebrae, ribs, a scapula and a tibia. Phylogenetically it comes out as a hadrosauroid, but very close to the base of Hadrosauridae and gives some additional support to the idea of an Asian origin for hadrosaur groups with the nearest relatives to hadrosaurs being from Asia, as are the earliest lambeosaurines at at least a couple of members of the hadrosaurines. Happily the full paper is at PLoS ONE so all the information is fully accessible if you want more.

 

Xing H, Wang D, Han F, Sullivan C, Ma Q, et al. (2014) A New Basal Hadrosauroid Dinosaur (Dinosauria: Ornithopoda) with Transitional Features from the Late Cretaceous of Henan Province, China. PLoS ONE 9(6): e98821. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098821

Sauropods and pterosaurs

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Following on from the recent interview with Julius Csotonyi and Steve White about the new palaeoart book, I wanted to take a closer look at one image in particular. This is both because it is covered fairly extensively in the book by Julius who writes about its genesis and production and because it is, in part, a result of discussions between him and myself.

Julius was kind enough to ask for my advice and suggestions and I was naturally happy to give him some feedback and thoughts for artworks that appear in the book. Here though we are going to chat about one in particular as it’s so unusual: a fish-eye view of a group of sauropods making their way through the Morrison. One adult is using its bulk to push down and ultimately snap a tree, while Stegosaurus and Ceratosaurus appear in the background and some small pterosaurs take flight. While obviously presented one way up in the book, the image can be rotated in either direction and to any degree and should still work fine. I’m not aware of any other image quite like it, and its certainly dramatic.

Ultimately this started in Canada. Although we’d been in contact before, when I was visiting the Tyrrell as part of the “Project Daspletosaurus” work (by the way that is still ongoing, there’s a draft manuscript now and I’m working on the figures) and Julius was also down. Both of us attended the fossil preparation symposium and this gave us some good opportunities to chat in the breaks and talk palaeoart. Two things that were covered in particular are areas I have an interest in: behaviour and aspect ratios.

The former is perhaps no big surprise given my work on signaling, feeding, and similar areas. Some themes are rather understandable in palaeoart, when you’re working to commission or trying to make money, you will tend to produce things that are popular and that means lots of fighting animals, and carnivory and dramatic scenes (crossing rivers, laying eggs), but too little of things like sleeping, generally wandering around, and other behaviours that might make up most of the time of many dinosaurs and so they do tend to be rather bypassed when they would at least make a change from the endless rounds of violence that we normally see

The other one might well sound a bit odd, but it’s actually linked to the point of some things being overly familiar. Both digital art and physical art often produce works that are pretty close to A4 in proportions, and while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, personally I find things that are in odd ratios (either very long or very tall) draw the eye in a very different way and can make you see and appreciate things rather differently. Perhaps it’s just a question of personal taste, but I do really like them and think it’s worth exploring more.

I’m not sure if Julius felt the same way already, or was convinced by my magnificent and elegant arguments, but he was looking for some ideas for the book and so we went through a few possibilities and that was the last I’d head of it. We did discuss the pterosaur and squid picture a fair bit shown above, which resulted from a Solnhofen specimen at the Tyrrell I’m working on (and while we’re at it, there is a wee error in the book on this, it’s not skimming, and nor is it supposed to be) and I was occasionally asked about details on various pterosaurs and dinosaurs. Then one day, my inbox unexpectedly contained the first version of the fisheye image with a note to say it was inspired by our conversations in Alberta. It was a most pleasant surprise and at this point I’ll hand over to Julius to explain how and why he went for this particular composition.

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JC: A couple of things came together to generate the unusual composition of this piece. Ultimately, I’d have to blame Dave Hone for it. When I approached him about what he’d like to see in new paleoart, since I was working on a series of new pieces for the book at the time, we had a lively discussion about both dinosaur behaviour and artistic technique. It undoubtedly helped to be surrounded by dozens of archosaur skeletons in the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Dinosaur Hall as we did so; it makes it that much easier to imagine a heavily gesticulated reenactment of dinosaur behaviour when the bones of the subjects are staring you down from ten or twenty feet above eye level.

Dave voiced some great ideas about species interactions that had been relatively less explored by paleoartists in the past, including hypothetical tree-tippling feeding strategies of giant sauropods such as Apatosaurus. I have only seen a few reconstructions of this sort of behaviour, including an especially impactful one by paleoartist John Sibbick. However, in addition to biological subjects, Dave and I also discussed in a general context the appeal of applying unusual aspect ratios for artwork. Most of my collaboration with paleontologists involves an exchange of paleontological knowledge. The choice of the most effective artistic composition is usually left to me, though it is typically constrained by the requirements of the medium in which a piece is to be published. For example, it’s useful to keep in mind the aspect ratio of journal covers to encourage selection of a figure as cover image.

For the current paleoart book, however, there was some more room for flexibility, and I am happy to consider people’s creative ideas for composition, and Dave was eager to express his interest in a departure from the norm of presentation format. For example, we talked about some unusually long and narrow canvases as interesting ways of depicting some sweeping scenes.

The intent was to convey the huge size of the tree-tipping sauropods, so a view from a low angle looking up at looming animals seemed like a logical move. Normally, sauropods are terribly suited to depiction on low-aspect-ratio media (such as the nearly square shape of the planned book’s pages), so two solutions presented themselves: (1) foreshortening from a frontal view and (2) distortion, as from a wide-angle lens. The second option better suited the goal of depicting things in an unusual way, so I flew with it.

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It then occurred to me that the most extreme wide-angle perspective distortion, showing all 360 degrees of the landscape arranged around the entire sky, would not only provide the best fit to a square page, but would also make for a very intriguing composition, with the long bodied sauropod wrapped around the image, following the curving horizon. Think of a reflective silver ball. If you were to set it down on the ground and stare into it from above, the reflection that you’d see on its surface represents the kind of image I’m describing. This was actually something that I had explored earlier in a 2005 pencil sketch of Seismosaurus (Diplodocus) and Allosaurus, and I’d been hoping to do something more substantial with it since. Well, here was the opportunity.

I chose to place one of the feet of an Apatosaurus very near to the viewer in the image, because the resulting high degree of perspective would best convey the imposing size of the sauropod. This masochistic decision naturally required calculation of the greatest amount of perspective distortion of the animal’s body, and it took quite a few drafts to figure out how to properly wrap a receding sauropod around a circularized horizon. However, I found that an even greater challenge was the assignment of the angle of incident light on surfaces throughout a painting that is governed by Non-Euclidean geometry. The path of sunbeams on the Riemannian geometry of the surface of a sphere do not appear linear when mapped onto flat representations, but as curves whose degree of curvature depends on the distance that they approach zenith (the center of the image). I overlaid on the image a kind of field diagram of light rays from the sun to various target surfaces, which helped to render not only the correct phase of objects (analogous to the phases of the moon in various positions in its orbit) but also the shapes and directions of shadows cast by these objects onto the ground.

Once the shape and lighting of the central sauropod was established, the rest of the scene was relatively easier to set up, because the remaining animals and plants were farther away, and therefore closer to the horizon, which in turn meant that they exhibited much less distortion and a narrower range of degree of light path curvature. Lacking an extensive academic artistic background, I’ve had to rely on principles of optics that I studied in physics courses during my undergraduate science program, and this project certainly required me to put some of this training to use.

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DH: Obviously the result here is stunning, I’m unaware of any other piece of palaeoart that uses a perspective like this and it does show off the sauropods from a most unusual angle as well as getting in some stunning detail and including a nice piece of possible behaviour. There are some details in there two, there’s a pair of stegosaurs, a Ceratosaurus skulking in the background, and a small pterosaur overhead with a some more escaping in the background. In the book, there’s also a companion piece to this in a much more orthodox view that shows an apatosaur group also mowing down a few trees, as well as a longer and more detailed description of all the work in perspective, lighting, and techniques that have gone into this piece.

Importantly though, I think it brings something new to the table. We can grow goatees and put on berets and stroke our chins to debate the meaning of ‘art’ almost indefinitely, but this is something that goes beyond what we would normally consider palaeoart. Jon Conway has advocated the term ‘palaeontography’  for much of what we would currently term ‘palaeoart’, suggesting that (if I understand him correctly) that most works are often illustrative rather than artistic to draw a nice comparison, as with say wildlife illustration) . That’s not to criticise or dismiss any other form of palaeoart in any way, (if so, I’d be throwing out most of the Julius’s book, and the vast majority of what I’ve covered here on the Musings before) – I value the work, the skill and the aesthetics of much palaeoart (it hangs on my wall because I like looking at it), and the importance of these things for science communication or generally interesting people in the subject. Nor do I think we should stop producing mainstream works and move into things like this as a primary output.

However, there are those who I think would dismiss palaeoart as ‘merely’ illustration (I’ve seen wildlife compositions and landscapes similarly dismissed), and this piece I think provides a resounding answer to that accusation. Yes there is talent, skill and artistic merit to huge amounts of palaeoart, but if works like this can help bridge that gap and help more people take this field more seriously, well that I think is most welcome for everyone involved in palaeontology. This piece is good because the image is well composed, has a fundamental aesthetic to it, the anatomy and scientific details are accurate, and there’s a clear skill in the technique and execution to it, but it is undoubtedly also highly creative and original and worthy of some extra note.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Julius Csotonyi and Steve White

Fans of palaeoart will have kept up with the various interviews I have done over the years with a wide variety of artists who favour the realm of long-dead organisms. Today, however this is more directed to the specifics of the big new book in this field: The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi. This obviously follows on from the popular ‘Dinosaur Art‘ of 2012, and like that, this is published by Titan and is edited by Steve White. Since I have written a few lines for the book and some of the work is based on things Julius and I have collaborated on, it seemed inappropriate to write a review (though it is great, honest), but being no strangers to answering my questions, Julius and Steve were kind enough to give me some of their time to be interviewed, and of course this is beset with images from the new book, and my thanks to them both for providing the words and images. (As ever, everything is copyright to Julius, so no taking it now).

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So, what is in the book?

 JC: Some words and lots of pictures (snicker, snicker). Lots of new stuff, actually. I created some of the artwork (nearly two dozen paintings) specifically for the book, and these have not previously been published in museum exhibits or books. There’s also a large complement of images that were commissioned by researchers for press releases on newly described taxa or novel research within the past couple of years. Many of these have only sparsely been seen before. What I’m really happy about, and which differs completely from Dinosaur Art (2012) is the enormous number of pieces that have only appeared in museum exhibits around the world, making it highly unlikely for the average person to have seen them all. These include the life-sized murals for the Royal Ontario Museum (the “Ultimate Dinosaurs” exhibit, 2012) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (Dinosaur Hall, 2011), a wide array of traditional and digital drawings for several different exhibits at the Royal Tyrrell Museum (2007-2012), the unusual Permian landscapes for Gondwana Studios in Australia (2013) and the broad interval of time (Devonian to Pleistocene) covered by murals for the Hall of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (2012). Close to three quarters of the pieces have been published since 2012. I’ve also updated several older pieces to agree better with available information.

SW: Without wanting to sound crass, pretty much what it says on the cover. It’s a career-spanning retrospective of Julius’ paleoart career; again, we’ve tried to include a certain amount of factual material, focusing, as with did with DA, on perhaps the lesser known or more unusual creatures that might not be too familiar to the casual enthusiast.

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Steve, how is this different to Dinosaur Art, either conceptually or overall, aside from featuring just one artist?

SW: Well, the very obvious difference is the myopic focus on the actual work of a single artist this volume afforded us. DA was a little more generic in feel; in this one, Julius was able to go into considerable depth on his style and methodology. The previous volume didn’t really give us room for that.

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To Steve, with the contributors to DA, what led to focusing on Julius first in terms of the next run in this series? And Julius, did you approach this differently to DA with more scope? Was there anything you wanted to show?

SW: The theory behind Julius’ volume is the hope that it will be the launch for a possible library of titles. There was some discussion after DA came out over where we go next (I was told I had put Titan in the ‘dinosaur business’) and I had thought we’d go for another multi-artist volume but it was decided to adopt the single-artist approach. That was followed by conversations on who would be the initial illustrator, which fell roughly into two camps; those who wanted an artbook and those who wanted a dinosaur book. it was felt Julius spanned both arguments. From a purely commercial perspective, lots of dinosaurs is going to be a big pull; this isn’t a true dinosaur book, so to speak, the science being pretty incidental in the text, but there is enough to make any enthusiast pick it up, which they will just for the art. And, of course, with Julius’ work, is very driven by the science anyway, as he stays very close to developments. So, I’m hoping that if this volume does well, I’ll be allowed to go after someone who have perhaps seen perhaps in more ‘artistic’ terms. Anyone who knows anything about Paleoart will probably be able to hazard guesses on who I mean…

Julius also had the advantage of a backlog of work capable of filling a volume of the size we anticipated!

JC: Compared to Dinosaur Art, I had a chance to create a considerable amount of new work. Unlike for commissions, I had more freedom to decide on the subject matter and to experiment with artistic style and format of presentation. There were a few different kinds of scenes that I wanted to explore, unusual kinds of interactions between species – more of them hypothetical, if plausible, than would generally be the case with commissions – and to play around with portraying scenes from unusual angles. Many of these new experimental pieces were inspired by conversations with paleontologists such as yourself. The encounter scene between Sinornithosaurus and Liaoningosaurus (below) stands out as a good example, as does the Apatosaurus tree-tipping scene [Ed: this last one will be getting its own post shortly].

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Is there some kind of theme to the book?

 JC: The book is separated into four sections: a Q&A section followed by the artwork, which falls into three broad temporal intervals: Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. This allows there to be a way of organizing the work that is familiar to many paleontology enthusiasts while keeping the media and styles of the artwork sufficiently shuffled to maintain an ever-changing presentation.

SW: We did want to do a sort of temporal/geological approach so that casual readers could immerse themselves in a visual representation of the evolution of life on Earth. This was largely because Julius had done enough art from throughout Time and it was this that very much drove the layout and look of the book.

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Julius, how have you developed since DA came out, either in style, technique or interest?

JC: When DA came out, I was in the height of applying the technique of photographic compositing. Since then, I’ve felt an increasing interest to move back toward manual painting (at least digitally, but also some more traditional non-digital artwork). I still do a lot of photographic compositing, and a lot of new material appears in the book, but I’ve also taken the opportunity offered by the book project of creating noncommissioned work to flex my traditional painting muscles some more, and a lot of the newest material in the book is digitally painted. I’ve received some favourable responses to this kind of artwork, but traditional painting has also always given me more of a thrill to do than does building up a scene photographically. In terms of interest, I think that my interests have broadened since the publication of DA, and I am currently involved in producing more pre-Mesozoic work than I did before. It’s a time interval that I’ve neglected earlier, and I’m eager to explore some of the earlier, weirder points in earth’s history.

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What is your favourite part of / picture in the book?

JC: Like any artist, I look at older pieces and I find myself frowning at things I would now do differently as my knowledge changes and new information is published, However, from an artistic standpoint, there are quite a few new pieces that have given me a lot of enjoyment to produce. There’s a Sinornithosaurus piece that was absolutely fun to create because of the freer, more expressive style of paining that I used in it than I’m used to. Certainly one of my favourite new pieces to create was a painting of a group of Apatosaurus feeding on trees that they have toppled using their bulk. This one was fun from its inception – it was generated from a lively discussion that you and I had in Dinosaur Hall at the Royal Tyrrell Museum last year – through to its design and completion. It features a very unusual perspective, demonstrating what we would see from ground level through a bug’s eyes, showing the full 360 degrees of rotation and the entire range of sky to horizon. It was a challenge to generate the appropriate amount of distortion in the trees and dinosaurs, but I’m reasonably happy with the final result, both in the composition and the amount of detail that it contains.

SW: I have to say, my fave images are the very newest. I think those are the ones where you really see everything that he has learnt as an artist really come together. I am thinking particularly of the Acheroraptor piece, which I really loved, and the Sinornthiosaur one as well.

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What is next for each of you?

SW: I’m actually just wrapping up my third artbook as editor, although this one is somewhat different, thematically, as it focuses on aviation art. This isn’t a multi-artist volume though, but the work of Adam Tooby, who’s very much on the cutting age of this particular discipline, using digital art in an otherwise very traditional medium. I guess in some ways there is a slight crossover with paleoart in that they are both very much at the edge of Fine Art (in my opinion anyway); but they both produce artwork of incredible quality but largely overlooked. I am very happy with this one and looking forward to seeing the final result.

In the meantime, my comics day job keeps me pretty busy, but I am wondering about future artbooks. They are a lot of work for me on top of my full-time editor job and I couldn’t do them without my line editor in Titan Books, Jo Boylett, who’s the real power behind the throne. But we have discussed future titles. DA has done so very well for us so another multi-title volume could be a possibility; I even have a theme for it, but we’ll see. And, as I mentioned, if Julius’ book does as well as we expect, it could hopefully allow me to do another single artist book.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t mind actually do some of my art now and then. Still want to do my shark book…

JC: At the moment, I am working on a number of museum exhibits, book contributions and research press release images. I think that even aside from the book, 2014 will probably be a pretty productive year for new artwork. Some of this will come from collaborative work between myself and my wife, Alexandra Lefort, who is not only an accomplished planetary scientist, but also a talented artist herself, focusing mainly on wildlife (hence the opportunity for collaboration) [see the above picture]. A major overhaul/update of my art website is also in the works (also largely due to Alexandra’s skills and efforts), and I will be making a lot of my pieces available as prints on my growing print website. As time permits (sigh…), I also want to post new entries to my science blog, Evolutionary Routes.

In terms of the direction of my artwork, I mentioned an increasing interest in painting (both traditional and digital) over photographic compositing, and I think that quite a few of my upcoming pieces will reflect this attraction to a somewhat more painterly style. I’ve also become increasingly interested in using my artwork to promote biological conservation efforts. One of the ways in which I wish to apply traditional painting techniques is to generate original artwork to help raise funds to protect vulnerable to endangered organisms such as sharks, or fragile ecosystems. There are many possible avenues to explore in this arena. And as time permits, I’d really like to get out on some paleontological digs and get dirty.

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Constructing hypotheses on behaviour in the fossil record

Those keeping up with papers on palaeoethology may well have noticed that a number of papers have gone online in the Journal of Zoology of late with a common theme. Darren Naish has a paper on the behaviour of fossil birds, Andy Farke has one on combat in ornithischians, and Pete Falkingham has a paper on interpretation of trackways. This is not a coincidence, but part of a special issue of the journal out today on behaviour in the fossil record and all of these contributions will eventually be published together with a number of others in a collection I have assembled as a guest editor. The volume has ended up rather dinosaur-biased which is unfortunate as a number of other papers were promised from other fields (including on whales and the Burgess shale) which never appeared and giving the set a more dino-centric appearance than I had planned or hoped for.

Adding to this is in fact my own paper in the volume. This was something I had been working on for a while before being asked to compile the special issue (indeed the fact that I was working on it, and it was intended got the journal may have precipitated the invitation) and in the context was the perfect home for the paper. As with similar cases I had nothing to do with my own manuscript and it was submitted separated and edited and refereed independently by the journal, and only after acceptance could it be added to the list. Most of the papers are reviews of one form or another, and in my case the paper written with my friend Chris Faulkes looks primarily at issues of hypothesis creation on behaviours for fossil taxa.

Our main contention is that in the past palaeontologists have been a bit over zealous in the production of hypotheses and the way in which they have been generated has made them difficult to assess or even simply discuss and in at least a few cases hould probably not have been suggested at all. We don’t think it inappropriate to generate hypotheses that cannot be immediately tested, or those that are difficult generally to assess, but a hypothesis must have at least some support behind it to make it valid in the first place, and poor uses of terms, lack of specificity, or even use of fundamentally flawed concepts have meant that there are problematic ideas in the scientific literature.

Mutual sexual selection is perhaps a good example here. I’ve now penned a number of papers with various authors about the issues surrounding this idea and how it may fit into archosaur evolution. The point is not whether or not we are right about this, but more the fact that this was something hinted at by Darwin, written about by Huxley and extensively studied by numerous ethologists for decades, and yet many palaeontological papers discussed sexual selection purely in terms of dimorphism, or the fact that sexually selected features should feature on only one gender, or indeed that sexual selection should be mutually exclusive of other functions. None of these things are true, so hypotheses that rely on one of these as are starting point are going to be fundamentally flawed, or at least problematic.

Thus the paper sets out to identify some key areas where we feel mistakes have tended to be made (myself drawing on examples from dinosaurs and pterosaurs, Chris from his area of expertise the mammals) and to also then try to find a set of guidelines that might help the better generation of hypotheses allowing for reduced confusion and better testing. Naturally we think this is going to benefit researchers, but given the rampant hypothesising that often accompanies any online discussions of the behaviours and ecology of extinct animals online and in other informal venues, it might just help clean up some of the more egregious suggestions that can be put forwards based on the most tenuous of links. Some of it may sound excessively simple and even obvious, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been an issue in the past. I actually had a chat with an ecologist the other day who bemoaned a similar set of problems in her field, and I think the issue is more one of advancement and general improvement that systematic errors or poor science.

Naturally we did try hard not to pick on individual papers (or people) but we did also want to point to some specific examples of the kinds of problems we were discussing and so a few things get the finger pointed at them, but they have mostly had specific rebuttals in the literature already, or were very much generic issues. Hopefully then, we’ve not bent any noses out of joint. I was certainly grateful to Andy Farke for reading an earlier version to check for overall tone and to see if it was working the way we wanted. Anyway, here are a few of the things we looked at.

Terms need to be more specific. Talking about ‘parental care’ say in general terms isn’t very helpful when this can encompass pre- or post-natal care, or both, and differing degrees of commitment from parents over very different timescales. So a statement like ‘X showed parental care and Y didn’t’ may not mean much if the parental care shown was minimal, or two papers might say this where one is referring to all parental care, and the other only post-natal, making them hard to compare.

Overlooking counterexamples or complexity. Descriptions of species or clades as ‘social’ has been creeping into the literature on dinosaurs and yet even if you do somehow have super evidence for sociality in a species, applying that to other taxa, or even other member of the same species is not necessarily a great idea. While we do have highly social species that basically can’t function when not in a group (like some molerats) even famously social animals like lions often spend part or much of their time apart, and some like cheetahs can be incredibly plastic, switching from social to solitary multiple times in their lives, and yet it would be a big mistake to suggest tigers are fundamentally social because their nearest relatives the lions are.

Extreme examples or oddities are useful to provide context or even limits on ideas. Some species have incredibly specific requirements or only live in certain environments, while others are much more adaptable. You don’t really find sand cats outside of deserts or dry environments, and while lions show up in quite a few places, you can get puma in everything from high mountains to praries, deserts and rainforests, yet there’s not especially obvious about their osteological anatomy that they could occupy so many more environments.

Make sure the analogy or reasoning behind it is actually correct. Not too long ago it was suggested that azhdarchids had long necks to reach into carcasses of large dinosaurs. However, given that the heads of the biggest azhdarchids (estimated at getting on for 2 m) are longer already than the longest sauropod ribs we know of (2 m) then any kind of neck is redundant in this context, let alone a long one, and vultures do fine with absolutely short necks and heads while feeding on carcasses of animals many times their size. The analogy that the hypothesis is being based on is fundamentally false and if that is the sole support for it as a concept, then it’s really not much of a hypothesis.

The short version of much of this could well be summarised as “look more at the behaviour of extant organisms”. I know Darren bangs this drum a lot on TetZoo and I’ve said it in plenty of talks and to lots of people if less so online. It is confounding when people say that such-and-such behaviour isn’t seen in reptiles when it plainly is, or that only animals with feature Y can do this behaviour when it’s known in numerous species, that are just less specialised towards it (or even show no obvious adaptations – like tree-climbing crocs). True this may not be common or normal, but to assume that it’s impossible, or that there is a perfectly consistent correlation is incorrect.

Part of the difficulty is a lack of good data on many of these things. Ethologists can simply observe behaviours and therefore don’t necessarily go looking for osteological or other correlates that we might be able to detect in the fossil record. That does make things harder, but we need to try and avoid getting trapped by ‘we don’t know if this correlates therefore this hypothesis is valid since we don’t know’. I am actually not against (in principle) hypotheses that are difficult if not currently impossible to test, but as with the azhdarchid neck example, there is a difference between something that can’t be tested, and something which is not even supported at the most basic of level. A hypothesis has to have some support, and some specificity about that will go a long way to making things much more clear and amenable to testing and allow a great fit of existing and future data.

What is most remarkable is how far things have come so quickly. So many modern analyses are using things like FEA and functional morphological analyses, are looking for correlates of behaviour (or aspects of ecology that link to behaviour), and more and better comparisons to extant forms and their anatomy are being used. Such important work or our understanding of the biology of extinct animals should not be let down by poor hypotheses and we do hope that, while things are improving already, this will help better communication and understanding of ideas.

 

D. W. E. Hone and C. G. Faulkes 2014 A proposed framework for establishing and evaluating hypotheses about the behaviour of extinct organisms (292: 260–267)

 

 

 

 

A new German ‘Darwinopterid’ pterosaur

Regular readers of the Pterosaur.net blog will have already seen this post and might well have put two and two together and realised that this is ‘Darwinopterus’-like pterosaur from the Solnhofen. We are still waiting some kind of proper description on this (and it’ll need a name too) but it has had a mention in the literature and been on show a number a times. It’s incomplete and disarticulated, but it’s far from a bad specimen and very obviously has the classic features one would expect – a combined nasoantorbital fenestra, a big head, and yet some rather more basal features in the wings and feet.

Darwinopterus is the key taxon that helps us join up the basal pterosaurs and pterodactyloids, and there’s been a series of taxa named from the Chinese Daohugou beds that lived alongside this genus (a number of which are probably synonyms to be honest) as had made China the centre for this. Still, a couple of specimens from the UK have been found (or rather, rediscovered) that suggest these forms might have been more widely distributed and once they appeared in China, the Solnhofen and surrounding beds then became an anomaly – they were full of both pterodactyloids and basal forms, so surely the intermediates might have also hung around and been present given the numbers seen in China.

Now though a second one has turned up in Germany and it’s a lovely specimen of what is a small, and juvenile animal. The preservation is superb, and as Helmut Tischlinger has been working on it, there’s obviously some exceptional images, but there’s also some interesting features.

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The short paper covering this animal is in German, so I might well be repeating things already said in the manuscript, but I’m going from only the English abstract and figure captions and my own thoughts, so this might be badly mangling or even completely replicating things already written. If so, my apologies to the authors or anyone else who has read the paper.

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For me the more obviously interesting features all lie in the back end of the animal. First off as you can see below the distal phalanx of one wing had had a nasty break and then healed with a mass of bone that least the end at a rather major angle compared to the proximal part. There are a few pterosaur pathological wings out there, but this is quite a big one.

Secondly the tail is rather short. In my paper on pterosaur tails with Lu Junchang we suggested that Darwinopterus might have a tail of rather intermediate length between the classic ‘long’ and ‘short’ tails and this specimen might be going the same way. Not only that, but the tail also seems to have relatively short zygopophyses that are barely as long as the abutting centrum, whereas Darwinopterus at least has very Rhamphorhynchus-like ones that are very long.

The fifth toe also seems to be something of an intermediate – it is not a small nub like the pterodactyloids, but nor is the second phalanx that long and it’s not curved either as in other basal forms. Finally, the wing metacarpal looks to my eye to be rather longer than in other non-pterodactyloids. In other words, at least some of these features look to me not just to lie between the non-pterodactyloids and pterodactyloids, but actually somewhere between what we see in Darwinopterus-like animals and the pterodactyloids.

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In short, this is not just a lovely-looking and intriguing specimen, but it certainly helps to fill in the ‘missing’ part of the Solnhofen and surrounding beds (this one is from Painten). Moreover, at first glance at least, it offers some tantalising prospects for looking at the evolution of characters towards the origin of the pterodactyloids and the changes especially to the wing metacarpals, tail and feet (all key characters for wings / control surfaces) and what this may have meant for their biology. More on this and other specimens is coming, so there’s some interesting work to be done and much to find out.

Tischlinger & Frey. 2014. A new pterosaur with mosaic characters of basal and pterodactyloid pterosauria from the Upper Kimmeridgian of Painten (Upper Palatinate, Germany). Archaeopteryx, 31: 1-13.

 

Edit: Helmut has asked me to clarify that in the paper he and Dino do not say this is an animal likely to be specifically part of the Wukonogpteridae (i.e. Darwinopetus and kin) but suggest it is closer to the pterodactyloids.

A new website

banner-v5Longtime readers will know that the Musings is in not so much hibernation as torpor, roused occasionally with some small titbits, but mostly sitting around with relatively little action. I still have posts on pterosaurs over at Pterosaur.net blog and most of my output now is via the Lost Worlds, and continue to put things up on other sites, especially Ask A Biologist.

However, for all my output online, and the sites that I have created and invested in, something for me, has always been left on the side. For years I never had a personal site at all, or just a few lines on the homepage of whichever institute I was at, but recently I’ve had an ugly google sites page that was just black on white text and a few images. It was horrible to update and format and an all round pain. As you’ve already guessed from the above picture, I now have a new online home: davehone.co.uk

This doesn’t supplant any of my outreach efforts, although there’s a blog and twitter feed, it’s there basically as a one-stop-shop for various things. There’s pages for my research, outreach, a gallery is coming, and there’s a full list of my papers and PDFs too. It also looks really nice, and finally I have something that actually looks professional associated with my work. There may not be that much of interest there for many readers, but I’m rather proud of it (I had a hand in the design of the site and the banner, though credit of course goes to David Orr for what is up there) and it’s hopefully worth a look.

 

 

Gobivenator

So the near endless procession of incredible and incredibly preserved dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of Mongolia continues. This time it’s a troodontid, newly named Gobivenator mongoliensis by Taka Tsuihiji and colleagues in Naturwissenschaften. Although the paper concentrates on the issues of palatal evolution (alongside a short description), the thing for me is just how exquisite the specimen is. It’s one of the best preserved things I’ve seen from Mongolia, and given things like the fighting dinosaurs, nesting oviraptorosaurs and the rest, that’s saying something.

I have actually seen this specimen firsthand while visiting Japan back in 2011 and it really is superb. Also worth nothing is the quality of the preparation – although at one level it’s quite easy, a nice fine and fragile sandstone with strong and well-preserved bones – the delicate nature of the specimen (especially an intact skull with all the palate, braincase etc. intact and in situ) is something you don’t want to damage. Handling the material to take photographs was fraught with panic trying to avoid damaging anything.

And on that note, yes there are photos. Taka has generously said he’d let me publish a few of mine online, and show some non-standard views. However, he is planning a monograph on this (and so he should!) so he asked I not reveal too much, so I’ve stuck to a general shot of the prepared pieces, back by a shot of the tail (so nearly complete and yet not quite, curses!) and a shot of the dorsal ribs. Nothing too incredible, but whether or not you’ve seen the paper, I think this gives a better impression as to the sheer quality of the preservation and the state of the material, it really is a beauty.

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The Archosaur Musings 2013 Awards

It’s getting harder and harder for me to write these sadly, with my ever increasing teaching loads, and broader than ever outreach commitments, I don’t have much time to read as many blog pieces and media coverage as I used to, and a look though a few end-of-year reviews suggests there’s a few discoveries and papers I’d missed which is rather annoying. Still, it is good to at least try and look back over the last year and give a bit of a personal perspective and try and have a bit of fun.

Continue reading ‘The Archosaur Musings 2013 Awards’

Interview with Andrey Atuchin

Xenoceratops

Today’s palaeoart interview is with Andrey Atuchin. He has rather stormed onto the scene recently with a string of beautiful artworks, especially with some of the recent new discoveries coming out of Utah. As forever, the works here are his and used with permission so please to do not reuse them or take them without his express permission.

Lythronax

How long have you been an artist?

Frankly, I think that I have never been an artist at all. 
I drew from early childhood as far back I can remember. Maybe I had some artistic ability and my classmates often asked me to draw something, they thought that I was cool in drawing. Later I became interested in scientific illustration. The style of scientific illustration attracted me, with attention to details and scientific accuracy. I’m really fond of these books with illustrations, the encyclopedia, the catalogues of animals. I started drawing my own illustrations, just for fun. Being a teenager, I started collecting insects. Also, after reading an antique book of Professor Neumayr «Erdgeschichte» (translated Russian edition of 1903), I was interested in finding and collecting fossils. I painted beetles, which I collected and I loved to paint them as in an encyclopedia. One day I brought my drawings to the art-school and showed to teachers. I wanted them to teach me how to draw well. The teachers took me to art-school without an exam, so now I can boast a pair of years of study at an art school. I also took personal lessons in drawing.
 
Nasutoceratops
How long have you been producing paleoart?
I was interested in dinosaurs as far I can remember from my early childhood, as well as in nature, animals, space, astronomy and science in general. Once, when I was 5 or 6 years old, my older sister brought me from Moscow a set of plastic toy dinosaurs and other ancient animals (made in Poland). I remember that moment, and these animals fascinated me. 
 Lythronax2
What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?
 In the same years, I drew my first paleoart (if I can call it that). I drew a scene where paleontologists dig a dinosaur skeleton and then lifted by helicopter. I guess I saw it on the news on TV. After that, rare books and articles in popular science magazines fueled my interest in this theme. Articles about Soviet paleontological expeditions to Mongolia, novels: “Plutonia” by Obruchev and “Lost World” by Conan Doyle. 
As for the paleoart with fleshed-out dinosaurs that I remember, the first drawings I made in 1994-95 under the influence of the film “Jurassic Park”, I think it was the Tyrannosaurus that attacks the ornithomimids. 
Translated foreign books about dinosaurs began to pass in our country, probably on a wave of popularity of dinosaurs after the movie. As I said, I loved the encyclopedias but Russian books about dinosaurs were a rarity, especially in provincial regions and in my town, I did not even know that there is such a wonderful book with pictures of Zdenek Burian somewhere. One day in the book-store I saw an amazing and terrific book – an illustrated encyclopedia of dinosaurs by Dougal Dixon. I had never seen such book: many different dinosaurs with their Latin names, colorful images, description, and most importantly – the figures of a skeletons and skulls. This book has been read so much by me that it is falling apart. So you could understand my feelings when someday I have received the offer to illustrate Dougal Dixon’s new illustrated encyclopedia of dinosaurs in 2004 . I didn’t believe it … such amazing coincidence.
The lack of books with good illustrations also prompted me to start drawing illustrations by myself. I just wanted to read a good book about dinosaurs and started drawing dinosaurs how I wanted to see them in a book. I really liked the style and technique of illustrations by Denys Ovenden and I put this style as the basis of my own artworks.
 Leninia
What is your favorite piece of paleoart that you have produced?
 I do not really like my own artworks. My trouble is that I’m a perfectionist, I am always not happy with the result. I am very self-critical yet and I would never put on the wall most of my artworks. But occasionally I like something, for example Nasutoceratops or Lythronax
 
Who is your favorite paleoartist or piece of paleoart?
 I truly love many artists. Also, now there are many new young artists and sculptors who are very talented. I was also fortunate to have the pleasure of working with some of them on joint projects, such as with Julius Csotonyi, Alain Beneteau or talented 3d artist Vlad Konstantinov. Nevertheless, my most favorite paleoartist is Douglas Henderson. The Real Genius of Paleoart in my opinion. His great works are full with the spirit of ancient landscapes, very atmospheric and always breathtaking. Animals in his paintings are an integral part of the landscape, and the scenery is majestic. This is the windows in the extinct ancient worlds.
 Europelta
What is your favorite dinosaur / archosaur?
 In fact, I do not have a favorite dinosaur or another animal. Rather, I love the groups of dinosaurs. I love hadrosaurs, ceratopsians, and abelisaurs and some others. I often and gladly draw dinosaurs from these groups for publishing.
Also, I think that my favorite dinosaur or archosaur is the one that I’m working on at the time, or one that has not been published yet and it needs to work with professional paleontologists to create the reconstruction together. This is what actually favorite for me. I make my favourite as all that I’m working on (or at least I try to). 
 
Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?
 All of them, I think, or at least a huge amount. I now have tons of ideas in my head, but I have to admit that I’m just not able to implement them due to time constraints.
Liopleurodon_rossicus
 
What do you think is the most important part of good paleoart?
First of all it needs to study the subject, and many sciences. I know some perfect wildlife artists or scientific natural history illustrators who are professional ornithologists, entomologists or just amateur naturalists. That is the best way to do professional artwork. My biological education helps me in my work as I know the animals, their anatomy, behavior, evolution, ecology, and more. Study science books and original publications about dinosaurs. Consult with paleontologists often, and collaborate and work together with them. Sometimes I study the real bones, take part in expeditions and excavations, and prepare fossils. In fact I was a scientific researcher at first, and I have learned as an artist in the second turn to qualitatively depict animals. 
Insofar as it is an art then also a good technique is important, knowledge of composition and other artistic skills. 
Paleoart shows pictures of the distant past that is available to us only in the form of scarce fossils, so one of the main problems for any paleoartist is to produce a naturalistic depiction of the animals so that they look lively and believable to the audience. Many extinct animals look unlike modern animals, very strange and unusual, but it is above all living organisms and is necessary to represent them appropriately. 
In general the paleoart is unity, interconnection of science, paleontology and art, projected through the paleoartist’s personality.
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