Monday, January 26, 2015

New Valentine Design!

Well, Cupid is getting ready to step up to the plate, so best to start thinking about how you're going to tell twelve people - or any other multiple of twelve - how much they mean to you. To that end I've drawn a valentine with a dinosaur on it, based on a great little one-liner thought up by my life partner, spouse, and BFF, Jennie.

but what about that odd multiples of twelve bit up above? Well, you can actually purchase this card with three other designs - by Randall Munroe, Zach Weinersmith, and Rosemary Mosco no less - in a set of twelve. So whether the objects of your affection fancy planetary physics, entomology, parasitology, or palaeontology, you are covered. Pick 'em up from the XKCD store!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Walk Through Dinosaurland

Jim Lawson of Paleo: Tales of the Late Cretaceous has a new comic project called A Walk Through Dinosaurland. It looks great!

The funding goal has been met, but that shouldn't stop you from grabbing some perks. Hat tip to Palaeoblog for the catch.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vintage-ish Dinosaur Art: Travels with Dinosaurs

After a long break from the series, I'm back with my first Vintage Dinosaur Art post in almost two years. Inspired by the cartoony style of Marc's post on Dinosaurs! A Spot-the-Difference Puzzle Book, I scanned a recent acquisition of my own, Travels with Dinosaurs. The book itself has scant information about the publication, but searching the web leads me to a publication date of 1997, making this not-quite-vintage, but it certainly is in spirit, so off we go.

The book was written by children's author Vezio Melgari and illustrated by Giovanni Giannini and Violayne Hulné. There's sadly no indication how Giannini and Hulné collaborated on the illustrations, which strongly resemble the work of Richard Scarry. Melgari's story is about a group of young animals - mainly of the canine persuasion, with a cat or two thrown in the mix - who are taken on a virtual reality trip through time by the Professor Alfred S. Wolfsbane, "specialist in several sciences and wizard of the computer world." It was the nineties! Of course, for our purposes, we're more concerned with how the dinosaurs are presented than we are in the story.

The first trip is to visit the "floating giants," AKA sauropods. Though Apatosaurus is depicted in its classic mid-century habit of standing half-submerged in water, it is referred to by the correct name, and the text even makes reference to the obsolescence of "Brontosaurus". The spread is a good introduction to the book's primary color aesthetic and odd mix of outmoded and contemporary ideas, as well as its admirable dedication to including smaller fauna in the mix, generally well labeled, as in the fish swimming around the sauropods' legs here.

The sauropods of Travels with Dinosaurs: Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Brachiosaurus.

Next up are various hadrosaurs, singled out for their "strange heads", since the variety of hadrosaur headgear has always been a popular focal point of picture books. Most interesting here is "Anatosaurus", which by the late nineties had been officially folded into Edmontosaurus for about a decade. It's standing in a familiar Knightian bipedal position (and creeping up on a tree fern in an unsavory way). The landscape combines the old and new again, repeating the old trope of barren, volcano-populated landscapes but also nodding to the Cretaceous flourishing of angiosperms.

The strange heads: Edmontosaurus FKA Anatosaurus, Corythosaurus, and Parasaurolophus

Thyreophorans get their spotlight next. Stegosaurus is featured front and center, as expected, rearing on two legs and munching on foliage, an old tradition. Velociraptor makes an appearance, menaced by Ankylosaurus and high-tailing it back to Asia (and presumably its own time, a couple million years previous). At least it's recognizable as a velociraptor-ish animal, rather than a generic post-JP raptor. Kentrosaurus is stripped of its teeth, which was never the case; though its original description only included a single tooth, and only fragments of teeth or emerging teeth thereafter, I'm not sure that toothless Kentrosaurus was ever a big theory - gladly corrected if it was.

Ankylosaurus, Kentrosaurus, and Stegosaurus represent Thyreophora

Appropriately enough, Triceratops takes center stage for the ceratopsians, with fellow old standby horn-faces Monoclonius and Styracosaurus playing back up. Check out the pretty-well-rendered noggin morphology of the baby Triceratops, huddled in the lower right-hand corner.

Styracosaurus, Triceratops, and Monoclonius, natch

The carnivores, appropriately enough, are represented by those twin titans of terror, Tyrannosaurus and... Iguanodon. Yeah, Iguanodon, tearing into Mosasaurus. Prof. Wolfsbane calls it "one of the largest carnivores... among the land dinosaurs," only bested by Tyrannosaurus. I don't know where this came from, other than Louis Figuier's famous, anachronistic Megalosaurus v. Iguanodon battle, in which it can safely be presumed that Iguanodon is merely fighting for its life, not trying to nom on its opponent. If anyone knows of any other depictions of a predatory Iguanodon, please let me know what I've missed. It's almost as if Melgari smooshed Megalosaurus and Iguanodon into a single wuzzlesaur, with the stereotypical skulking gait and predatory nature of the former and the thumb-spike of the latter. I love the glee on the face of Rexy, as if he's just thrilled that Iguanodon has changed teams and wants in on the action.

The terrible predators, Tyrannosaurus and Iguanodon.

The book's pterosaurs were cast in the old-school, leathery-demon mold, with little attention paid to scale or temporal accuracy. And hey, since we're at the seaside, Ichthyornis prepares for a water landing, and there's a typical Hesperornis. Look at it dive.

"Hey, big bats!"

Archaeopteryx, in classic sparkleraptor garb, is relegated to a spread dedicated to various birds (and a couple tapirs). It's presumably the Cenozoic now, therefore we're green and fresh and inviting rather than volcanic and barren. Palaelodus stands in the background, pink and misspelled. Prof. Wolfsbane's son Walt has gone missing, and some of his supposed friends choose to imagine him chased down by a ravenous Tyrannosaurus, menaced by Mastodonosaurus, or best of all, fed by Brachiosaurus to Mosasaurus. Poor Prof. Wolfsbane, I can only imagine his reaction.

Birds, tapirs, and dark fantasies

The last spread I'll share is the "record breakers," in which dubious facts and stale old canards are transmitted to a willing and impressionable junior readership. Here, we learn that Allosaurus was the "fiercest and most voracious" dinosaur, because science, and it certainly does seem excited by those jammie dodgers. Ouranosaurus gets to have the longest crest, Tanystropheus is lumped in with dinosaurs because why not, and golly: Composognathus is the size of a chicken.


So to sum up: whimsical illustrations that combine old views, somewhat contemporary knowledge, and head-scratching inaccuracies. Had Melgari gone with a lighter adventure narrative that didn't purport to be an encyclopedia-lite, poetic license would have been understandable, but instead we have a book that is mostly memorable for its bizarre un-facts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Prehistoric Prognostications 2014: The Results

At the end of 2013, we called for predictions for the palaeontological discoveries of 2014, and due to my pathetic love affair with alliteration, we called the post Prehistoric Prognostications. After the LITC crew made their guesses, we compiled those from commenters. Check those posts out for the full field of predictions. This post is all about sharing those that came the closest. Please let me know if you notice any I missed - I tried my best to be complete, but the fact is that in this palaeontological golden age we're living in, there's just a heck of a lot that happens that doesn't get much press.

First up, among LITC contributors, Asher's remark that "More Deinocheirus material would be nice" was indeed fulfilled. We got it, and it was great. He got more carcharodontosaur material as well, with the publication of Datanglong guanxiensis.

Thomas Diehl came pretty darn close to the Spinosaurus publication, predicting a "marine spinosaurid. Though given that I think the claws were for locomotion, pulling the animal forward in the mud, this might be somewhat unlikely if I'm right." It may not have been marine, but Thomas's guess is close enough to the assertions of Ibrahim et al's contentious blockbuster publication that it warrants notice.

Elijah Shandseight's desire for "a big psittacosaurid" was fulfilled, though the Siberian material has not been published yet. A bit muddier is his hope for new stegosaurids: Amargastegos, Eoplophysis, Ferganastegos, Natronasaurus, and Weurhosaurus mongoliensis were all erected by Roman Ulansky [PDF link] but these seem a little shady.

Giraffatitan and Matthew Haynes also mentioned Spinosaurus, hoping for a relatively complete specimen, but since the new research was published on various parts of different individuals, it sadly doesn't count. Also close was Giraffatitan's hope for "Quills/Protofeathers on an ornithopod or thyreophoran," which is close to the discovery of Kulindadromeus, though the animal is a basal neornithischian, not an ornithopod; and Leinkupal isn't a "diplodocid in Mid-Late Cretaceous rocks" but as it hails from the early Cretaceous it certainly warrants a mention as the latest surviving specimen of the family.

Luis Miguez tossed a softball with a hope for "more Chinese diminutive birdie-things" and lo, there was the microraptorine Changyuraptor; the enantornithines Fortunguavis, Grabauornis, Longusunguis, and Eopengornis; the ornithuromorphs Gansus zheni and Iteravis huchzermeyeri, and more... there were a bunch.

20firebird hoped for "More of little-known dinosaurs like Utahraptor and Amphicoelias fragillimus (for A. fragillimus it's more proof it existed in the first place)", and while it hasn't been published yet, Jim Kirkland's team finally pulled a huge slab of Utahraptors from a hillside in Utah at the end of the year.

Matthew Inabinett predicted "fragmentary remains of a new giant (30+ m) sauropod" and Dreadnoughtus came super-close, with an estimated length of 26m and enough fossil remains to qualify as significantly more than "fragmentary." Still, I'll count it! [Edit: Actually, there was that Argentinosaurus femur, which makes this a bullseye, thanks to Matthew Haynes for catching it]. Matthew's predicton of "more bizarre palaeofauna from Madagascar" was also fulfilled, with the happy publication of a nice gondwanatherian skull, Vintana sertichi. Like Asher, his desire for another carcharodontosaur was fulfilled by D. guanxiensis.

Not a bad crop of discoveries for 2014! I considered repeating this for this year, but it seems a bit redundant, since we may as well just copy and paste last year's failed predictions and repeat them. Maybe in the future we'll do it again!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs! A Spot-the-Difference Puzzle Book

There have been a great many 'dinosaur puzzle books' aimed at children over the years, the vast majority of which have been the sort of throwaway fare you'd find in a kiddies' goody bag alongside some cheap 'n' nasty plastic toys, largely devoid of any educational content. Dinosaurs! A Spot-the-Difference Puzzle Book (1995, no relation to anything involving David Norman) is a different matter entirely. Not only is it quite lavishly illustrated, the differences between each pair of pictures are used to highlight interesting aspects of dinosaur science. It's a wonderful conceit, even if the book takes a few strange turns along the way.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Academy Award for Best Costuming Goes To...

Jurassic World!

I teamed up with Rosemary Mosco of Bird and Moon fame to illustrate this comic she wrote, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the interepid dromaeosaurs who endure hours in stifling rubbery costumes to deliver the awesomebro thrills the world craves.

Comic written by Rosemary Mosco and illustrated by David Orr
It was awesome to work with Rosemary! I'm sure many of you are fans of her already; be sure to check out her on-line shop. You can also support her at Patreon.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A redesign for 2015

With a new year comes a new design for LITC, keeping up with our roughly two year schedule for such things. I decided to go in a pop art direction this time around, after playing with different treatments, all centered around the new logo design. That logo, as revealed a few weeks back, is a sort of "back-to-basics" approach which places a big-headed chasmosaurine in a heart. When working on the header, I liked the idea of using multi-colored, comics-inspired panels and it worked nicely with a cropped detail of our new chasmosaur mascot. If you're reading this on a feed reader, hop on over to the blog site itself to see the design in its bright and shiny glory.

As announced last month, I've finally made some blog-specific merchandise featuring the new logo, available in pink and black or in all white. Both versions are available on a wide variety of products, from garments to mugs to device skins and cases. All proceeds from these items will go to support our activities: purchasing books, visiting museums, and possible future web-hosting related costs.

A beautiful LITC mug! I swear, that's what it is, even though the handle isn't visible.

A snazzy LITC shirt!

Thanks for all of the support you've given us over the first five years of LITC, and here's looking forward to many more!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art...Guide? How to Draw Dinosaurs

Merry cold snap, everyone! If you're stuck in the same rubbish hemisphere as me, you may well deem it a good time to hunker down and take up a new, indoor hobby. While gorging yourself on whatever highly calorific confectionery and ethanol-heavy beverages you've recently acquired is certainly an option, far healthier and more creative choices are available. Perhaps, as a fan of artwork depicting prehistoric animals, you'd like to consider creating your very own 'palaeontography' with which to attract baffling comments from sarcastic creationists and feather-haters on deviantArt. If so, this retro-tastic 1990 book from Usborne is here to help.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The March of the Dinosprites

Last week I shared some pixel art dinosaurs I was working on and said I'd been continuing them as a series. It's a fun little project to kick off 2015, with a new one shared every Friday, and added to my Redbubble shop as well. I've decided to call the series Dinosprites, because it seems like a pretty catchy name.

I'll mainly be sharing this at Facebook and Twitter, but I'll probably post the full series here in a few months when this series is complete.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Interview: The Saurian Development Team

A year ago, frustrated by the truth that the dinosaur experience I want will probably never be a goal of filmmakers, I wrote The Chase, a necessary bit of spleen-venting in the wake of Talking With Dinosaurs 3D. If you've followed my writing on Jurassic Park and other big dinosaur projects in the pop culture over the years, you'll admittedly see a bumpy ride. I've been variously resigned to the status quo, cautiously optimistic about rumored projects, and utterly deflated by studio mismanagement of promising projects (what did David Krentz do in a past life, anyway?). What was the experience I wanted from these big dinosaur projects? Let's let slightly-younger me tell you. Take it away, knucklehead:
What I want is an immersive, I-just-time-travelled-to-the-Mesozoic feel, with a great score and as little anthropomorphism as possible. There's no way that film gets made anytime soon.

There's hope, though. Who knows what will be possible as the technology gets cheaper and dinosaur fanatics get more motivated to make something on their own? Or perhaps expecting a feature film is the wrong way to look at it. Maybe the dream of an immersive exploration of prehistory is better left to game designers, like the folks behind Saurian.

The Hell Creek ecosystem, as seen in Saurian.

Currently in development, Saurian is a survival-based game seeking to recreate the Hell Creek ecosystem of the end-Cretaceous. It's clearly a labor of love, and as news and in-progress work has been shared, I've been getting more excited. With the release of their first gameplay trailer, I thought it was a great time to interview the team about the project.

At IndieDB you write that your goal is to create "the most captivating dinosaur experience ever developed for commercial gaming, giving the player the first true chance to live like a dinosaur." What games, films, or other pieces of art or entertainment are inspirations in this quest?

Nick Turinetti, Project Lead: We’re obviously huge dinosaur fans to be making a game like this, so between all of us we’ve probably gotten our hands on every game that’s featured dinosaurs in one way or another over the past 15 years. Having said that, in our collective opinion most of them were not terribly impressive. Two games that have directly featured dinosaurs that have had real influence on Saurian would be “Big Al Game” from BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs website (sadly no longer available) and Be the Dinosaur which was actually developed as part of a museum exhibit of the same name. Other non-dinosaur video games that have been especially influential are Far Cry 3 and 4, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim and Dark Souls. As far as films go, we’re all fans of the original Jurassic Park. We never go a day without quoting it half a dozen times at each other. Phil Tippett’s short film Prehistoric Beast is still probably the best dinosaur film ever made, and its mood and tension are something we aspire to. Peter Jackson’s King Kong and James Cameron’s Avatar with their expansive world building have also been major sources of inspiration.

Thescelosaurus, showing off its quilly finery (top) and seeking refuge (bottom).

Are there specific pieces of paleoart that have served as inspirations for the vision of Saurian?

Tom Parker, Environment and Level Design: All of our artists are inspired beyond anything else by the collective works of Doug Henderson. If we could achieve a visual style with Saurian that resembled a Henderson painting in motion then we would consider our job well done. His Leptoceratops piece in particular captures a sense of environmental scale that we adore. His animals look like they are a part of the environment and not separate from it, which is something we want to capture. Our other key influence would be the so-called “All Yesterdays” movement, particularly the titular book and the palaeoart of Matt Martyniuk. We take on this philosophy of experimenting with interesting visual design without ever contradicting the fossil evidence. Matt Wedel of SV-POW! once said “If you go bold, you won’t be right; whatever you dream up is not going to the same as whatever outlandish structure the animal actually had. On the other hand, if you don’t go bold, you’ll still be wrong, and now you’ll be boring, too”, and this has also played a role in our creature design. I don’t know if this counts as inspiration, but we are extremely grateful for the skeletal reconstructions of Scott Hartman which allow us to get our animals as accurately proportioned as possible. Other influential palaeoartists include classics like Charles R. Knight, Zdenek Burian and James Gurney. Like Henderson, these artists are all masters of incorporating the animals into their environments.

Henderson and Tippett are certainly perfect inspirations. Prehistoric Beast really hasn’t been equalled. In every frame you can feel the love of Tippett’s team. In what ways do you hope to evoke its mood and tension?

Nick: It might sound silly but I find Prehistoric Beast legitimately chilling, and a lot of that has to do with the way Tippett portrayed the tyrannosaur; a sly, cunning predator who skulks in the shadows despite being the size of a bus, making even a peaceful meadow a dangerous place to be alone. That’s the sort of mood and tension we’d want to evoke in Saurian, both for someone playing as a predator like Tyrannosaurus or as its potential prey. Even in the game’s current (very early) state, I think we’ve started to capture it. Being chased by a T. rex is scary, but watching it move through a forest clearing and knowing it’s looking for you is scarier. Being alone in the same meadow and not being able to see it or know where it might be automatically puts a player on edge as well. I never want a player to feel completely “safe” when playing Saurian, there should always be something out there to keep you on your toes.

Triceratops takes the stage.

Why was Hell Creek chosen as the setting? Were other localities considered?

Tom: Hell Creek has always been the plan. There are a few reasons as to why it is the best choice for this kind of project. Firstly it offers a quality combination animals such as Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Pachycephalosaurus and Ankylosaurus that are extremely popular and instantly recognisable to the general public along with other more unique fauna that offer an interesting variety. Secondly, the formation is one of the absolute most studied and published-on in the world in terms of flora and palaeoenvironment. This is important to us as it makes our job of restoring the environment much easier and less ambiguous than other, less well-documented ages.

Nick: Another benefit is that the Hell Creek Formation records a comparatively short period of time compared to many other formations, so we can be reasonably confident that all of the animals found there did in fact form one community.

You recently brought RJ Palmer on board. How did you come to recruit him, and what has he brought to the process, besides the obvious role of creature design?

RJ Palmer, Concept Artist: I found these guys from some tumblr post that was going around. I showed them my dinosaur drawings and shoved my way onto the team. I like to think I bring an outside perspective to the group as I joined later in development and can look at things with the eye of an artist and not a scientist. I bring some connections to the party such as helping with expanding our audience.

Nick: RJ’s fresh perspective has helped push us outside of our comfort zone when it comes to creature design, and we’ve definitely improved because of it. He’s also been really good at asking the tough questions in our design process, making sure we’ve fully explored all options.

RJ Palmer's Quetzalcoatlus design, here nomming on a champsosaur.

I'm assuming that the score used in the pre-alpha gameplay trailer is not final. What do you foresee concerning the sound design? What are the challenges of bringing the environment to life through sound?

Dillon Gotham, Sound Designer: For what the future entails, many important animals (both in public conscience and in ecological importance) to be voiced are small, which present their own challenges compared to large animals, and while animals tend to be silent on the hunt, when fighting conspecifics they are not. Simple, repetitive attack sounds will not do. As for the general challenges of Saurian’s sound design, currently none of the team is reliably able to record audio in the field; it is primarily audio libraries that are available for me to work with. But that does not mean the world of Saurian and its inhabitants have to sound like it. Saurian must sound unique and charismatic, yet also as naturalistic as it looks. For animals, this means mixing and masking their individual elements to become its own character. Because the stars of the game are archosaurs, in the process of creating sound effects for Saurian I add modern archosaurs to the mix and emphasize them whenever reasonable, but there are limits; as an example, passerine birds evolved after the K/Pg mass extinction; they are almost entirely off limits as they more often than not live up to the name of “songbird.” This also means I also need to ensure there’s no songbirds in background sounds!

I've been pondering the failures and clumsy handling of dinosaur media recently - for example, the addition of voices to WWD3D and the meddling that compromised Dinosaur Revolution. It seems that the revolutionary role Jurassic Park played in dinosaur pop culture has many of us hungry for that next big moment, and all of these fumbles are more dispiriting for it. I personally think that it is going to come from gaming (Saurian is certainly the most promising project I’ve seen). Do you think there is hope for traditional storytelling media such as film and animation to tell a dinosaur story that captures popular imagination and makes dinosaur enthusiasts happy?

Bryan Phillips, Animator: When I set about animating one of Saurian’s animals, I tend to stay away from established media such as Jurassic Park and Walking With Dinosaurs, oddly enough shows like Big Cat Diary play a much larger role in creating the character of the animals in Saurian. We’re also probably the only game developer out there to have our own Emu and he plays a large role in the animation behind our bipeds. I do believe there is hope for new works, the trick is staying grounded in the fact that these aren’t monsters, they were living, breathing animals who in practice were likely no different than animals living today.

Tom: A big thing for us from the outset has been that we were not interested in creating a game where extinct animals are nothing more than glorified canon fodder. They are essentially treated in video games in the same manner as zombies and aliens. We feel strongly that this should not be the case. Dinosaurs are in our opinion some of the most interesting animals to have ever walked the planet and deserve to shine on their own merits.

Nick: I think there is still hope that film and animation could tell a dinosaur story that appeals to the general public, the problem is that Jurassic Park and its framework loom so large in popular culture that people have a hard time thinking outside the park (terrible pun, I know). So many films and games just vomit out cheap Jurassic Park knock offs that people have come to expect that as “normal”. My suspicion is that it will take a generation to really work JP out of the public conscious now that Jurassic World is a thing, and that’s a bit disappointing because there are so many other good stories out there that don’t have Jurassic Park’s baggage. I would love to see Raptor Red or Cretaceous Dawn turned into a visual experience.

An Ankylosaurus meetup (top); Saurian Animator Bryan Phillips with Gerry, the trusty model (bottom).

How has the online community contributed to the process of Saurian? When I think of when I was a kid, I would have been blown away to have the access I do now to dinosaur experts and paleontologists.

Nick: I think its safe to say Saurian would still be a pipe-dream were it not for the incredible access to information and experts the internet provides. We’ve had the good fortune of having a small support network of university students with access to most major scientific publications, but we’re huge supporters of Open Access. We’ve also had the ability to ask questions directly of paleo workers as well, including Denver Fowler, Matt Wedel, Gregory Wilson and John Hutchinson, all of whom have been extremely helpful with their critique and input. Beyond access to information, Saurian’s development team would still be a bunch of really talented people all still wishing they could find other people interested in making a game were it not for the online communities we’re all part of. Except Bryan. He’d be doing it all by himself regardless.

Many thanks to the whole team for taking the time to answer my questions. I'll definitely be watching their progress eagerly. Be sure to follow Saurian's evolution at IndieDB, Facebook, and Twitter. Also check out their recent interview with Brian Switek at Dinologue. All images in this post kindly provided by the Saurian team and posted with permission.