Archive for the 'Palaeoart' Category

Hawkins’ St George and the, errr, ‘dragon’

I was recently introduced to the image below and thought it was something I should share. Given my interest in pterosaurs and palaeoart I was rather surpised by it as I was completely unaware of its existence. That is is by a British artist with a major influence on early depicitons of fossil animals only added to my surpise that it had passed me by. Perhaps it is well known and I’ve simply managed to miss it, but I rather supect it may not be common knowledge at all since it was apparently not created for a palaeontological audience.

The picture in question was made in 1783 by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, he of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs fame. Hawkins designed these, and many other sculptures, and produced all manner of artworks that were used to show off dinosaurs and other ancient beasts. In this case this wasn’t ever a palaeoart pic as such but really an illustration of the legend of St George and the dragon only with the latter having a very prehistoric bent. Those who know the Crystal Palace animals will reconise the pictured ‘pterodactyl’ as being a very close representative of the pterosaurs that sit on a rock above the dinosaurs. This animal is rather larger than these and would be big for a pterosaur known at the time, (and huge for a Pterodactylus) but despite some oddities (the back of the head in particular, and the very long tails) is very clearly pterosaurian.

Given the number of prominent scientists of the age who are at some level creationists (including Richard Owen, Hawkins’ employer on the Crystal Palace sculptures) it is tempting to assume that this was an influence in illustrating such a religious figure with something that’s perhaps less a fictional dragon and more real, if extinct, creature. Is there an attempt here to give credence to the legend by suggesting the dragon was real, if a little out of time? I can’t help suspect so, though I don’t know Hawkins’ intent, perhaps it was simply a case of a nice bit of inspiration for him to be able to use one set of ideas on a second project. Either way, for me it’s a rather interesting piece of early pterosaur illustration and one that deserves to be better known.


Guest Post: Producing Protoceratops art

The little ceratopsian Protoceratops (and indeed art on Protoceratops) has been a big thing for me in recent years as I’ve been lucky enough to work on some very special specimens and have them illustrated in life.  As is so often the case though, one new specimen begets some new opportunities and today sees the publication of a new paper on the ongoing issue of sexual selection and social dominance signals using some of these specimens in the dataset. The paper is freely available online here and I’ve also written about it here, but the paper also contains some lovely new palaeoart of signaling dinosaurs by Rebecca Gelernter who has kindly agreed to talk about her work here.


When I plan a piece of paleoart, I try to make the animal I’m restoring as complete as possible. I want to make it look like a real, tangible creature with adaptations that make sense for its life history. I particularly enjoy showing behavior, which made this a really intriguing project to work on.

First off, I had to figure out what my Protoceratops should look like. Anatomically, this was pretty straightforward, thanks to the wealth of fossil photos, papers, and books Dave had on hand. Factor in his enthusiastic feedback and that’s all the background you could ever need. At Dave’s request, I was depicting the animals without any filaments or other non-scale integument, so after familiarizing myself with the fine points of ceratopsian feet and beaks, all that remained was to design the color scheme.

Proto Sketches

I decided that the facial markings should be only part of the body with elaborate markings, as the frill and jugal bosses were proposed display structures. When designing markings for extinct animals, I like to thumbnail several different possibilities based closely on living creatures and remix them into something new. For Protoceratops, I mostly looked at antelope facial markings, and the final design features elements of bongo and sable. The jugal bosses are an eye-catching white, and the all-important frill is a splash of those ever-popular display colors, orange and red. I imagine that the animal would flush the frill with blood during an encounter with a potential mate or rival for flashier color. I used a camouflage-friendly beige for the animal’s base color, broken up by a line of darker splotches down each side that become bolder and more regular on the tail, another potential display structure. I used white again on the tip and ventral side of the tail to create a starker contrast, with more orange to draw attention to the ridge formed by the tall neural spines.


Dave asked for the piece to show two adult Protoceratops having a confrontation, while a group of less flashy subadults goes about its business in the background. I selected a pose that showed off the display structures: tail up, frill angled toward the other individual. I angled one adult’s head toward the viewer and one away to show that the display colors are limited to the front – no point wasting resources to color the side of your head that you can’t show off. I wanted the piece to be taller and narrower than your standard portrait orientation, so I raised the point of view above the two main animals and arranged the background players some distance away on another dune. Dave suggested adding the crisscrossing footprints in the staging area to suggest that this type of interaction has happened there before. I placed the animals in a particularly empty bit of desert, with just a few small, scrubby plants in the background.

I’d recently gotten good results from painting over a graphite drawing in Photoshop, so I was eager to try that again. There are different ways of doing this, but the technique I usually use is to set the graphite original to “multiply” and leave that layer on top, painting on a few different layers stacked underneath it. It’s an interesting change from using purely traditional media, and I’m looking forward to trying new things with it.

So there you have it: my process for making (definitely) accurate, (hopefully) interesting paleoart. If you’d like to see more of my work, I’m on all the usual sites under the name Near Bird Studios.

Interview with Jez Gibson-Harris

Big Al 1

To those interested in palaeoart and the world of dinosaur reconstructions, the name Jez Gibson-Harris might not be familiar at all, and yet I can guarantee that almost everyone reading this has seen a number of his models and puppets since he and his crew put together all the live-action animals used in Walking with Dinosaurs and various subsequent sequels (and you’ll also know his work from the Dark Crystal not to mention Star Wars). Jez was kind enough to answer some questions about building model dinosaurs and getting them on screen, and he also handed over a nice pile of photos of various creations for me to share (though as ever, please don’t use these without his permission).


What is your background in model making?

I always made stuff when I was young, kits, sculptures, toys, jewellery then at College in Richmond in the late 1970’s I did a one year Art foundation course: so much fun, so many different techniques to experiment with. I then started a Jewellery and Silver Smithing course which I left after a couple of terms and joined a special effects makeup company that had just finished working on The Empire Strikes Back. I worked on The Dark Crystal and Return of the Jedi, building the famous Jabba the Hutt and later worked on Greystoke the Legend of Tarzan, The Never Ending Story 1 & 2, Willow, Tomorrow Never Dies and many more.

In 1986 I set up Crawley Creatures Ltd. in the Oxfordshire village of Crawley near Witney with a partner, Nigel Trevessey. We worked closely with Oxford Scientific Films working on Natural History films, documentaries and commercials and made models and animatronics for commercials and TV shows all over Europe. Nigel returned to freelancing in 1992 and went on to supervise the fantastic model build of Hogwarts for the Harry Potter films.

Lost World Iguanadon

How did you get into recreating dinosaurs and prehistoric animals?

In 1996 I was approached by a BBC researcher to make a pilot documentary film for ex-Horizon Producer, Tim Haines. The pilot was Walking with Dinosaurs. We built a couple of maquettes a half scale Liopleurodon head and close-up body parts, including a large pair of feet to make footprints.

Tim Haines documentary background and exacting standards ensured that the real, grassless, backgrounds, the animatronics, models and CG all worked together to create a truly believable natural environment. The series was one of the most popular TV programmes at the time and won multiple awards including a Millenium Products Award, an Emmy and Baftas.

The success of this series spawned a genre of programmes over a ten year period depicting early life; Walking with Beasts, Ballard of Big Al, Sea Monsters, Walking with Early Life, The Giant Claw, Walking with Giants and Prehistoric Park. We also worked on the first three series of Primeval and more recently on Prehistoric Autopsy with Dr. Alice Roberts.

We made a T. rex head for a TV pilot of the Lost World, when we worked ay OSF, the series started at Pinewood Studios but was cancelled after six weeks into the build. I think our link with documentaries and OSF and our background of realistic looking work got the attention of the BBC researcher and as is often the case with the TV and Film industries you get pigeon holed, but what a nice area to get pigeon holed into!!

I am fascinated by natural history and paleontology, I have always loved museums, so much so that I have now designed a range of fossil chocolates (I have to admit that I love chocolate just as much as dinosaurs!). So we do a lot of dinosaurs for museums now as CG takes over more of the film and TV work. We have worked for The Natural History Museum London, Oxford University Museum (my favourite), The Eden Project, Gondwana das Prehistorium in Reden, Saarbreuken, Germany and the yet to be opened Dinosauropolis in Athens.

Beasts Smilodon passive

How do you start a new animal?

Usually we will receive a brief from an Art Director and we will do our own research for the latest museum reconstructions, or artists visuals, trips to museums to photograph fossils or skeletal reconstructions. We have a library of books that utilise as well as looking at internet sources.

A production company will usually have a researcher available who will look for the most recent scientific papers and studies and look to key palaeontologists whose field the beast we are reconstructing falls into, to provide us with feed back to images we send as we start to build our creatures.


What are the major techniques that you use?

We will start off with an armature, usually a metal framework, covered in chicken wire, hessian scrim and plaster all coated with shellac. The armature will be smaller than the intended finished surface, allowing for a layer of water based clay or wax based modelling material that will be sculpted to the smooth or wrinkled and textured skin surface that is required.

If we are making a large creature or model, we will usually sculpt a smaller scale maquette, (usually 1/10th scale). The maquette will enable us to create the pose and proportions of the creature quickly and get feedback from our client and any scientific advisers before the full scale figure is tackled.

When making a very large model we have the facility to laser scan the maquette, surface the scanned data in GeoMagic software, which allows us to manipulate the model in CAD. These files can then be sent to a 5 Axis machining company where we can get a full sized armature machined in polystyrene.

When the full sized armature is returned to us we can then begin the clay sculpture. The finished clay surface is then sealed and a GRP (glass reinforced plastic) layer is applied, usually the mould is made in several joining sections and once cured this will for a hard jacket mould that will have all the surface texture from the sculpture embedded into its surface. When the mould has cured the parts are removed and cleaned and the sculpture is destroyed. Casts are taken from the mould in various flexible elastomers such as silicones or polyurethanes.

Stegocerus mid (Large)


What do you have to consider from scientific sources and how do you decide where there in uncertainty such as with colours?

We will always aim for our models to be the best and most up-to-date reconstructions around so we encourage critical feedback especially at the sculpture stage when it is relatively easy to make alterations. We will produce a colour scheme based on discussions and this will be changed until an agreement is made.

Skin texture, colour schemes and feathers etc. on dinosaurs are tricky, there is no information on colour or sounds or behaviour and scant fossil evidence, as far as I am aware, of skin texture and feathering on larger specimens.

Scientists are able to argue the case for their views and understanding as to what the colour, feathering styles etc. may have been but from a filmic or TV point of view a creative decision has to be made to get the visuals on the screen and it is often a ‘best guess’ approach. The ‘best guess’ decision will usually be based on a modern analogy of the creature, our understanding of the environment that the creature may have lived in, whether the creature is a herbivore or carnivore, it’s size, whether the creature is bird, reptile, marine-reptile or crocodile like in its make-up, all this will be factored into the decision.

beasts austral male 4

What to have to consider from the perspective of filming?

Time is usually very short on a production so after discussions and hopefully a story board from the production company, we know exactly what we need to build and what the camera will need to see. Time and materials are very expensive so ideally we will only build what needs to be seen which is why a storyboard is so important. Sometimes we can build models to a smaller scale if there is no referenced give away in the shot. If we are filming at a studio or on location we have to think ahead about logistics of moving a large model or for freighting and crating and the logistics of moving and operating in the environment on the shoot

How many people would be involved in a typical build?

Because of the nature of the contacts for film, TV and museum work the deadlines are usually very short and labour intensive. So, as well as using our fulltime staff we rely on a network of Freelance Specialists to assist in delivering the models to the screen.

At present we are building a well known, very large, full-sized creature. We have three sculptors, seven mould-makers a mechanical engineer, and a CAD engineer in addition to the two office staff. Shortly we will be hiring two body fabricators. Fabricators really make soft mechanics, using specialist foams and lycra fabrics they will design and make a flexible under-structure that the sculpted skin surface will attach to, but still enable the skin to bend and flex realistically in all the right places, similar to the under-structure of costumes used in programs such as the Telly-Tubbies and their ilk.

Later in the process we will bring in a couple of Art-Finishers to prepare and then paint the assembled finished creature skins.

sm turtle uw day5 (Large)

What is the creation from your team that you are most proud of?

This is a difficult question for many reasons. One of my first jobs in the industry was working for the Jim Henson Company on the film the Dark Crystal and I was making Mystic characters. The team of people we were working with was so creative and exciting that I will never forget it.

Jabba the Hutt has to be one of my best achievements, working with a small team of six people we made one of the most famous villains in cinema and for such a prestigious film, I still get asked for autographs by Star Wars fans.

Greystoke was my next film and our supervisor Rick Baker won an Oscar for the work we all contributed to. The quality of the ape suits and the performances of the costume wearers was very special.

But those three films were in my freelance days and so the creations I’m most proud of from Crawley Creatures point of view is the work we produced for the BBC/Discovery Channel series of Walking with Dinosaurs. It was a very bold concept at a time when animatronics and CG had not been used a great deal in TV. With a small budget, from a special effects point of view, a very small build crew and production crew we felt very much part of the whole process from start to finish and that involvement was very creatively rewarding. The series was a huge worldwide hit and it got a lot more people very interested in dinosaurs and we won several awards for our work, which was nice!

Celeophysis 1 cu2 (Large)

Protoceratops take shelter – new palaeoart

Although PLOS has many things to recommend it, one thing they don’t do is give you a lot of notice about publication and so actually the production of my recent paper on Protoceratops came shortly before the manuscript went online. As a result, although the paper had been around in various guises for several years, it was a bit too short notice to have everything ready for its publication, including both a press release from me and the following artwork.

protoceratops juvenile-correct1The superb illustrator Andrey Atuchin had very generously got involved in producing an illustration to come out alongside the paper, but his recent illness coupled with the limited notice put everything back. However, I am delighted that he has now completed his new work and allowed me to put it up here.

Above is a simple (but fantastic) vignette of a single Protoceratops. This represents the age class of the block of four young animals that were the feature of the paper, with the reduced size of the frill and the overall proportions of the animal that does differ from what we see in adult animals. Although juvenile dinosaurs are often rare, there is a natural tendency for only full adults to be illustrated, or we see young animals only in the context of their parents or part of a herd and it’s great to be able to focus on a single animal, especially when the adult is already so familiar.

Protoceratops final artwork01

This then makes the whole composition below rather unusual and of course very fitting for the paper. We see the group of juveniles together, devoid of adult supervision or as part of a herd but in their apparently natural aggregation. The environment of course reflects the Mongolian Late Cretaceous with a very sandy region and little real plant life. The overall composition though hints at the wider issues of the paper in a nicely understated way – the group are largely at rest, though remain vigilant and the fact that there are multiple individuals means even those not directly scanning the environment are not that vulnerable and the group as a whole are looking in multiple directions. Staying vigilant is especially important for young and vulnerable dinosaurs lacking the size, experience and defences of adults, and so they must with here a pair of Velociraptor on the horizon.

My thanks of course to Andrey (who retains the copyright on these, please don’t share without permission) for this wonderful rendition of group living in the Cretaceous and nice of him to sneak some theropods in there so I can forget about my fall from grace and pretend that this is not just about ornithischians. It’s a wonderful piece and it really does convey not just the contents of the paper, but the issues at the heart of it, and even if you disagree with the hypotheses, it’s certainly evocative and really does show the concepts magnificently.





Sauropods and pterosaurs


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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].


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.


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.


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.


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.


Interview with Andrey Atuchin


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.


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.
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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.

Golden book of dinosaurs version 2.0

I don’t think the Golden books were ever quite as big in the UK as they were in the U.S., but we certainly had them over here and I do recall coming across the now classic Golden Book of Dinosaurs as a child. As with many such books it was well illustrated with many pictures and relatively little text, and it certainly had appeal – almost everyone I know who has mentioned it has warm memories of the book.

It is then a tough act to follow, even in the modern age where there are huge numbers of competing titles and this is the route taken by Bob Bakker and Luis Rey. To pay tribute to the old, but make it modern and contemporary, and also keep it ‘competitive’ is no easy task, but I think they have done admirably. The text is crisp and simple and easy to read and is written in a manner that I am absolutely sure will appeal to a great many children with some evocative ideas and explanations. What is also nice is that it doesn’t shay away in places from a little technical language or complex ideas (like fenestra in skulls to separate mammals from reptiles) that help go beyond the mere basics.

There are some annoyances though. Yes, excitement and interesting hypotheses can help draw people in and especially when aimed at a young audience it can be difficult to make things clear and simple but also keep them accurate, but there are places where the text leans on minority or untested hypotheses (sauropods battling with their necks and whip-cracking tails) and some irritating and unnecessary terminology (Bakker’s awful predilection for calling pterosaurs “dactyls”).

The art however is very Luis Rey. I know not everyone likes his style, and if not, well this won’t be for you. But for those who do, it’s a typically wonderful mix of the dramatic, bold and bright with good anatomical details and getting in plenty of feathers and the like in all the right places. There are updated versions of older pictures (like the brooding oviraptorosaur) and plenty of new ones, not least the cover set to mimic the original book.

Overall though this book is aimed at children and needs to be judged with that in mind. With that forefront the book is great – I’m sure young children will devour it and it will generate both interest and understanding of dinosaurs. As a way to excite those who are already keen or draw in those who have yet to experience dinosaurs I am sure this will do a great job and that’s exactly something I can’t say for too many kids books on dinosaurs. Great job guys.

Interview with Scott Hartman

Deinonychus4articleWell it’s been quite a while but this was never forgotten, so I’m delighted to get the palaeoart interviews rumbling to life again by bringing you a one on one with Scott Hartman, most famous for his dinosaur skeletals but also well into the more ‘traditional’ branches of life reconstructions. There’s plenty on his website and DeviantArt pages, but Scott has also been good enough to share some new and upcoming stuff too. As ever, everything is copyright to Scott so play nice and no sharing without asking him first, it’s his work not mine.

How long have you been an artist?

I’m afraid I don’t have a straightforward answer to that – while I drew a bit growing up I never really kept up with it. For a long time I approached technical illustration as a tool rather than art; even my life reconstructions were originally little more than a way to show off anatomy for quite a while. I guess the transition probably occurred when I started to do artwork regularly to help supply the Wyoming Dinosaur Center with imagery for displays; since I was doing “arty” things on a regular basis I started to learn new techniques, began to think more about composition, lighting, etc. So in terms of when I felt I had personally become an artist then it’s been a decade or so.


How long have you been producing palaeoart?

Based on my previous answer I have to say that it’s been for longer than I’ve been an artist! The first paleoart pieces I produced that were shown in art shows was back in 1995, but they were…well, let’s just say I still had much to learn. The first skeletal reconstructions I produced that I would consider sufficiently professional so as to stand on their own was 1997, while the first life reconstructions that I would still want to take responsibility for probably date to around 2001-2002.

scelidosaurus WIP

What first got you interested in dinosaurs and art?

I have always been interested in dinosaurs – some of my earliest memories include having the Little Golden Book of Dinosaurs read to me (often several times a day). I guess from there I never really grew up. Art, on the other hand, was really just a re-occuring fancy until my work with dinosaurs demanded I take it more seriously, and from there it has grown into its own interest rather later than I imagine occurs from other artists. I expect this put me at something of a disadvantage compared to the many talented young artists I see out there that dedicate far more time to honing their craft, but luckily I’ve play a bit of catch-up later in life.


What is your favourite piece of palaeo art that you have produced?

I guess it would be Dawn Fisher (above), which depicts Unenlagia fishing in the early morning hours. It’s not really a complicated painting, but it’s one of the few pieces where I truly approached it as a compositional piece rather than a technical reconstruction, and lo and behold it turned out with the tone and feel that I had originally envisioned. I have a few others pieces that I’ve also been working on from an “art-first” perspective, but alas they are also more complex and I haven’t had time to finish them (so far!).

Othnielioaurus rutting sneak peak

Who is your favourite palaeoartist or piece of palaeoart?

There are just so many ways to take (and answer) who my favorite paleoartist is – my favorite as a person? My favorite in terms of technique? In terms of accuracy? I’ve done this long enough to have several paleoartists that I am lucky enough to enjoy as friends, while the internet has also allowed for an even larger influx of new talent to be seen that perhaps would have been missed in previous decades. All of which sounds like I’m wussing out really. I guess if I had to pick one name it would be David Krentz, as I’ve always found his artwork delightful and he’s been a fantastic coworker on a myriad of different projects, from education to film and TV. My favorite piece of paleoart requires no such beating around the bush; it’s Mike Trcic’s Daspletosaurus sculpture that he did back when he was working on the original Jurassic Park dinosaurs. I’m sure a lot of it was timing (I originally laid eyes on it at my first SVP way back in Seattle), that it was one of the first paleo sculptures I’d seen in person, and the way it encapsulated much of the paleoart revolution up until then, but no other piece has made such a strong visceral impression on me. I’m just sad I didn’t have the means to pick one up back when they were available.


What is your favourite dinosaur / archosaur?
I always have a soft-spot for the animals I’ve spent time working with, including Archaeopteryx, Supersaurus, Camarasaurus, and Medusaceratops. I’m also pretty darn fascinated with all things archosaurian in the Triassic (and even the synapsids, but this clearly is neither the time nor place to talk about those one-window wannabees).

Darwin speed painting

Is there any animal you would like to paint but have not?

All of them? I really love coming up with new visions of prehistoric life, but there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get it done. And I’m about to have a lot less free time this fall.

What do you think is the most important part of good palaeoart?

Obviously good technique is important, but I feel that what makes paleoart fascinating is that it’s always in a state of tension between what constrains an artist (data and plausibility) and the freedom to follow his or her imagination. Being able to navigate that tension to produce something that is simultaneously data-driven yet fresh and imaginative is the intangible “it” that the best paleoart has in my view.

Ceratosaurus vs Allosaurus - juvenile smackdown web-sized

Nasutoceratops art

Well the new ceratopsian Nasutoceratops has been named and the paper is out. If you want to read a bit about it, I have a post up over on the Guardian here. Since that’s already written, I wanted to do something a bit different here and thanks to Mark Loewen, I’ve been supplied with a series of nice images and art of the beastie and it’d be a shame not to use them here.

Nasutoceratops skeletal drawing by Lukas Panzarin
Here’s Lukas Panzarin’s skeletal of the animal (note that most of the skull is known).

Nasutoceratops stipples by Sammantha Zimmerman
Here’s Samantha Zimmerman’s lovely scientific illustration of the skull in two views which really shows off the shape and pattern of the horns well.

Nasutoceratops titusi on black by Lukas Panzarin
Lukas Panzarin is back again with this life reconstruction of the head.

Nasutoceratops titusi by Raul Martin 300 dpi
Next we have a Raul Martin piece of the whole animal, making its way through a swamp.

Nasutoceratops titusi by Andrey Atuchin
And finally Andrey Atuchin’s effort, another life reconstruction, this time with a nice tyrannosaur half hidden in the background.

All in all some beautiful stuff, but I had no room for it on the Lost Worlds, so I’m pleased to get it up somewhere. Thanks to the team for sharing and great stuff from all the artists.

Knight statues


I’ve found a bit of time to get back to the planned Berlin posts and thought I’d kick off with these. Anyone with an interest in reconstructions of dinosaurs will know the name of Charles R. Knight and his work in books and murals. These however are rather obviously statues, but ones that are apparently identical in all but the number of dimensions to his most famous pieces. I’ve seen things like these before in storage in Munich as was told these were produced alongside his murals, though whether by him or not I don’t know. Still, they are really rather nice and quite literally add another dimension to how these are normally seen.

If you know a bit more about this series (I’ve seen a Stegosaurus too, but unpainted) please let me know. I’m intrigued as to what they are. Did Knight create them as models to work from? Were they sculpted by him or another artist? My suspicion is that they were produced after the murals and then cast and sold onto museums, but I really don’t know.


My very own Zhuchengtyrannus

As I have noted on here before, the Japanese really do love their toy dinosaurs and produce really high quality models on a regular basis and of all kinds of obscure and wonderful critters. So when a couple of weeks back I got a cryptic e-mail from Matt Lammana of the Carnegie about having a gift for me from China connected with one of ‘my’ dinosaurs, I did have to wonder if, just possibly, there might be a Zhuchengtyrannus out there. Last night I found out that indeed there was. It had arrived through the post while I was away at SVPCA (more to come there) and well, how can I not be more chuffed. There’s a real toy Zhuchengtyrannus!!

It’s tiny (just 10 cm or so) but obviously well modeled and the paint job ain’t too bad either. Rather obviously taking the lead from Yutyrannus, it’s on the fuzzy side of feathering too. Now obviously the holotype is incomplete to say the least, and so we’re left with a rather typical tyrannosaurine for a model really. Still, I *know* it’s a Zhuchengtyrannus as, if you look closely, you can see it’s written on the base.

My thanks of course to Matt for this wonderful little present, made my day to say the least. On a not entirely unrelated note, there’s a palaeoart event going on at the NHM next week in conjunction with the Dino Art book launch. See here for more details. I hope to be in attendance but Luis Rey, Bob Nicholls, John Sibbick and others will be there.

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