Monday, November 17, 2014

The Cretaceous Tortoise and Hare

Once upon a time, in the autumn of 2011, I submitted an artwork requested by one Scott Persons of the University of Alberta via Art Evolved...

Three years later, the resulting set of three illustrations -- a race between an Olorotitan and a Tarbosaurus -- was finally published in the press release for a study of hadrosaur locomotion by Dr. Phil Currie and Scott Persons, which I expect a number of our readers are already familiar with, either independently or via the Chasmosaurs Facebook page. There is also a podcast about the research. Here, for your delectation and privilege (or indeed indifference and ennui, so please you) are the illustrations at a much larger size, which can be opened out in a new tab/window for full-view if you wish. Much of the comic expression in the dinosaurs' eyes are missed in reduction -- something which I hadn't accounted for when I drew them.

The Aesop analogy subsequently repeated in the article was one which had actually occurred to Scott as a result of my original submission, as quoted in my linked Himmapaanensis post above: '...this is a charming twist (and one I had not anticipated). I like it very much!' I readily confess that my simple little ego was considerably flattered by this.

There is also a story behind the flag-waving Protoceratops, who was originally accompanied by a much more incongruous figure (again, for the sake of this post's conciseness, please see the first link for this). I don't know, you'd think I had a penchant for such a thing...

Prints of the illustrations were donated to the silent auction at the Alberta Dinosaur Research Institute fundraising dinner this past weekend. Sean Willett of the Dragon Tongues podcast (whom Marc and I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking to at the first TetZooCon, and for whom David recently completed a new logo) had very kindly placed a bid on them. He informs me that the prints finally sold for over $100.

Photograph by Sean Willett

Of course, given that it has been three years since their creation, there are several things I would do differently now. So consider this the appropriate disclaimer/apology for any obvious shortcomings. I do know, however, that I would relish more such opportunities for playful pictures accompanying serious research in formal publications. Can we make this A Thing, please?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: A New Look at Dinosaurs, National Geographic, August 1978

Anyone who knows the slightest thing about the history of dinosaur science will tell you that the '60s and '70s constituted a pivotal period - the 'Dinosaur Renaissance', during which the old ideas about dinosaurs being 'great fossil lizards' (as John McLoughlin memorably put it) were overturned, and a new, more exciting picture emerged. In August 1978, National Geographic published an article by none other than John Ostrom, the man who named Deinonychus and helped lead this new wave in palaeontology. Accompanying the article were a series of paintings by Roy Andersen, and they provide a wonderful insight into how the palaeoart of the time still owed a great deal to the past, even as artists strove to capture something of the Renaissance.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mesozoic Miscellany 68

The Big News

Vintana sertichi is a new Gondwanatherian mammal from Madagascar, and in expanding our knowledge of the clade beyond assorted jaw-y and tooth-y bits, it's a pretty significant discovery. It's one of the largest mesozoic mammals discovered, coming in second to the mighty Repenomamus. More on V. sertichi from the New York Times, NSF, National Geographic, Palaeoblog, and the Guardian.

Kulindadromeus on Twitter claims that the reconstructions we've seen are way off, however. Supposedly, this was what the critter looked like:

Last time around, I'd intended to include another new ankylosaur with a generic name starting with "Z" (the previous being Ziapelta). But that other splashy new research distracted me. So, I'm making up for it now. Zaraapelta is a new ankylosaurid from the Nemegt formation in Mongolia. Danielle Dufault created a gorgeous illustration for the press release, so be sure to gaze on its splendor. And be sure to read the post on it at Everything Dinosaur.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

John Hutchinson, who has given us so much insight by showing the contents of his freezer, has had a dreadful health scare. He wrote an affecting post about his adversity, which I can't recommend highly enough.

At DinoGoss, more cathartic ranting against crappy practices in paleo-toys. This time, Matt is training the crosshairs on the toy industry'penchant for rip-offs.

Fans of the spaghetti-necked Tanystropheus, hie thee to Nobu Tamura's Paleoexhibit blog.

Necks lie! And SV-POW tells all.

Pete Von Sholly had a bit of fun at the expense of people who allow their canine companions to defecate willy-nilly.

At TetZoo, Darren has begun writing a series on phytosaurs.

Rebecca Groom wrote about a plush Elginerpeton at the Dino Toy blog.

Extant Theropod Appreciation

I used to do occasional posts on those living theropods we like to call "birds," and I've decided it would be a great idea to bring it back as part of the Mesozoic Miscellany Series. For the first one, I'll strongly urge you to visit Tony Martin's Life Traces of the Georgia Coast blog for a ghoulish story of a decapitated gull.

Paleoart Pick

I mentioned the new "Z" ankylosaurs up above, so this led me to decide on Sydney Mohr, creator of the first reconstruction of Ziapelta, for this round-up's paleoart feature. Here is a terrific piece called "Campanian Scene." Check out more of Sydney's work at DeviantArt.

Illustration © Sydney Mohr, used with permission.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mesozoic Miscellany 67

The Big News: Mega-Freaky Deinocheirus edition

The publication of new Deinocheirus mirificus material, finally fleshing out the body that was attached to those enormous arms, made a huge splash last week. Or, I should say, finally officially fleshing it out. We've known about the new Deinocheirus in broad strokes in a back-channel, unofficial sense, since last year, after paleontologists and other attendees of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's 2013 meeting had a peek at it. It only took an additional year for the thing to actually be published. Our new Deinocheirus builds on what Brian Switek described last November: a weird, hump-backed, giant ornithomimosaur. Since then, the head has turned up. How the head was procured from the black market has not been explained in detail, and that's a story I'm really interested in hearing.

More about our new superstar dinosaur: Ed Yong wrote about it at not Exactly Rocket Science. Ian Sample covered it for The Guardian. PRI interviewed Steven Brussatte about it. BoingBoing's Rob Beshizza called it adorable. The Associated Press put the image of a Barney/ Jar Jar Binks hybrid in our minds, threatening our collective sanity. Andrea Cau's multi-part series on the beast begins here.

Finally, see John Conway's wonderful illustration of a Deinocheirus pair, and buy a print for someone you love.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

You've probably seen the "tiny Brontosauruses" illusion meme pop up on Facebook or Twitter; if not, check it out at SV-POW. At this point, the original source of it is irretrievably lost, as it's reshared over and over. Search "tiny brontosauruses" on Twitter and marvel at all the spammy accounts claiming it as their own. And all the people who don't really care where it came from, because who really worries about something silly as who creates images? That's so last century.

A cool bit of Triassica: Thousands of burrows ranging from 14 to 40 cm (~5 to ~15 inches) in diameter have been found in the ~210 million year old Petrified Forest Member of the Chinle Formation in the vicinity of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. They had been provisionally assigned to lungfish, though more research was needed. At the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Vancouver, Stephen Hasiotis presented a poster offering a new interpretation of the burrows: tetrapods, perhaps small therapsids, due to similarities to Permian burrows.

If you like your dinosaurs on the campy side, see Kevin Dart's "Queen of Dinosaur Island" poster art Michael Ryan shared at Palaeoblog.

Check out the amazing winners of the Dinosaur Toy Forum's Diorama Contest. Really creative use of photography across the board.

Jaime Headden posted a wonderfully illustrated big-picture piece about toothed birds at the Bite Stuff.

Albertonykus was able to visit the National Geographic Museum's Spinosaurus exhibit, and has a report. I'm hoping to have the chance to see the exhibit in February, fingers crossed!

Meet the Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month! At the University College London's Museums and Collections Blog, Mark Carnall writes about the unloved Devonian ray-finned fish Cheirolepis.

Paleoart Pick

Robert Bakker presented a poster at the GSA meeting: Stegosaurian Martial Arts: A Jurassic Carnivore Stabbed by a Tail Spike, Evidence for Dynamic Interactions between a Live Herbivore and a Live Predator. And he illustrated it, too! Here's the newest Bakker original, seemingly a single screencapped moment from an animated battle.

Illustration © Robert Bakker.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The BBC Book of Dinosaurs

In terms of saurian-related output, the BBC is best known these days for Walking With Dinosaurs, the super-expensive CG-laden Brannagh-narrated behemoth, sire of numerous tie-in books (and a movie that we won't mention). Nine years earlier, however, Auntie Beeb saw fit to give its endorsement to this little lost nugget of dinosauriana - The BBC Book of Dinosaurs. Authored by Paul Appleby and illustrated by Gill Tomblin, this rather obscure book is sweetly nostalgic for those of us raised on slightly shonky early '90s dinosaur books...even if we'd never actually seen it until now.

Monday, October 27, 2014 Needs You!

Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger, known for their terrific paleoart studio, have launched a multimedia educational website called In order to pack it full of cool content, they need a bit of help, and have launched a Kickstarter campaign. Here's their video.

The site is up, though not updated with a lot of content, but the Kickstarter project video here gives a good taste of what they'd like to do. I especially liked the illustrated title cards for the different series, which strike a great balance between "accurate" and cartoony, and the hand drawn lettering is terrific. There's a lot of potential, so hop over and throw some money their way - or at least spread the word so fellow paleo-geeks can help out. As an admirer of their work, I'd love to see what they can do with full funding.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dragon Tongues

I recently had the pleasure of being commissioned to create a new logo for the Dragon Tongues podcast, and since I'll take any opportunity to share relevant work from my livelihood at LITC, here it is.

Dragon Tongues is the creation of Sean Willett, and it's highly recommended if you haven't had the chance to hear it. As luck would have it, Sean and I were both fans of each other's work, and the process was a lot of fun from start to finish. We met via a video chat (the future is truly here, isn't it?) and hashed out some basic ideas. Besides the need for the work to stand out on the iTunes podcast browser, I knew that it needed to have an aaspect of intimacy to it. Sean does an incredible job recording and producing his podcast, with the result feeling like you're an audience of one, listening to an expert storyteller.

That sense of intimacy and a respect for scientific and natural history were guiding lights as I developed a few different ideas. All involved Megalosaurus in some way, to honor its important role in early dinosaur paleontology. Of theses ideas, Sean was smitten with the design you see here, featuring a juvenile and parent megalosaur in front of a mountain range that bears a strong resemblance to a certain iconic fossil.

Anyhow, go listen to the show! Visit the official website, find it on iTunes, follow Sean and the show on Twitter, and pick up a tee shirt at Redbubble.

Oddly enough, I have another commission for a soon-to-be-announced paleontology podcast I'm really excited to hear, and to share here. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mesozoic Miscellany 66

In the News

Venezuela has gained another non-avian dinosaur taxon, making 2014 something of a boom year for the early Jurassic La Quinta Formation. Following the publication of Laquintasaura venezuelae in August, we now welcome Tachiraptor admirabilis to the fold. Mike at Everything Dinosaur has terrific pieces on both taxa: read his takes on L. venezuelae and T. admirabilis. Because of my recent post on dreadful stock image dinosaurs, please note that each of these publications were accompanied by commissioned illustrations for their press releases (by Mark Witton and Maurílio Oliviera, respectively), resulting in the public reading stories illustrated in thoroughly non-embarrassing ways. Which is always nice.

A late Cretaceous ankylosaur from New Mexico was described in PLoS One in September, dubbed Ziapelta sanjuanensis. Lead author Victoria Arbour wrote at Pseudoplocephalus that this new armor-bearer "doesn't seem to be particularly closely related to the other ankylosaurid from the Kirtland Formation, Nodocephalosaurus. Instead, it's a close relative of Euoplocephalus and friends from Alberta." Read more on Ziapelta and its implications for ankylosaur evolution from Brian Switek.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Mary Anning's name is well-known, but what about other early female pioneers in paleontology? Fernanda Castano fills in the blanks at Letters from Gondwana with a post about Mignon Talbot and Tilly Edinger.

At Hawkmoth, Amy McDermott wrote about communing with Sue.

Zach Miller has returned to paleontology blogging, with his new posts at Waxing Paleontological. Hop over to welcome him back, and to read why he is greatly annoyed by the practice of naming new taxa after place names. So, our first news item up top is perfectly suited to peeve him.

Over the summer and fall, Mark Wildman has written a fossil hunting diary at Saurian. Read about his amble for ammonites in From the Toarcian to the Callovian: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and the addendum, which is essential to you intrepid explorers looking to replicate his journey.

Herman Diaz continues his book review posts at ART Evolved, and recently gave the thumbs up to Prehistoric Monsters and a big thumbs down to Brussatte and Benson's Dinosaurs. If you find yourself nodding along, be sure to click through to Amazon to upvote the reviews.

Robert Alicea still occasionally draws dinosaurs at Doodle of Boredom, such as a recent, adorable Allosaurus hug.

At the Dino Toy Blog, Gwangi writes about a 90's Velociraptor figure that *wasn't* influenced by the omnipresent JP design.

Matt Martyniuk also offered a critical look at a feathered theropod toy at Dinogoss with a look at a museum-endorsed dromaeosaur figure that nonetheless gets the feathers wrong.

Paleoart Pick

Why not continue the theme of feathered Mesozoic dinosaurs and how to restore them? Here's a terrific graphic by artist Mette Aumala, AKA Osmatar at DeviantArt. It's been shared around social media recently, as well as being tipped to us by reader Lew Lashmit. I love the subtlety of the humor.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: 100 Questions and Answers - Dinosaurs

Picture yourself back in the early '90s - specifically, 1993. Double denim is still acceptable, Jurassic Park is proving to be a boon for the manufacturers of hollow, gawping dinosaur toys, and endless, near-identical children's books on prehistoric animals line the still plentiful bookshops. What a wonderful time to be alive. 100 Questions and Answers: Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals is a very typical book of the age, which is to say that it's filled with shameless John Sibbick rip-offs. But hey, there's still some entertainment to be had along the way. Unless you're John Sibbick.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Tales of Prehistoric Life by Daniel Loxton

This spring, Daniel Loxton published his third and final children's book in the Tales of Prehistoric Life series: Plesiosaur Peril, the story of the dangerous life of a young Cryptoclidus in the Jurassic. It was proceeded by Ankylosaur Attack (2011) and Pterosaur Trouble (2013). Today I'll cover all three. The TL;DR version: they're great.

Daniel Loxton's name is probably recognizable to the portion of our readers who also follow skeptical media. He cowrote Abominable Science with Donald Prothero as well as writing and illustrating the children's book Evolution: How We And All Living Things Came to Be. Loxton is also well-known for his work editing the Junior Skeptic section of Skeptic Magazine. Illustrator Jim WW Smith, who has also worked for Junior Skeptic, provides work on the models for the Tales of Prehistoric Life series. Loxton provides the finishing textures and colors, as well as photographing environments.

I especially appreciate Loxton's series for taking up the mantle of the Rourke titles we've covered so many times during the Vintage Dinosaur Art series. Like the Rourke collection, each Tales of Prehistoric Life book is a narrative story, detailing interactions between temporally and geographically appropriate animals. I love this approach. When grounded in modern paleontological understanding of the life and times of the animals involved, it's both engaging and educational. Like the Rourke titles of yesteryear, each book in this series also wraps up with a brief explanation of the scientific grounding of the story.

The Cryptoclidus family swims through a teeming Jurassic sea. © Daniel Loxton.

The animal interactions are firmly in the realm of plausibility. There are moments that seem a bit of a stretch, such as a veritable army of Saurornitholestes laying seige to the Quetzalcoatlus hero of Pterosaur Trouble. However, there's nothing more outlandish than Dinosaur Revolution's more slapstick moments. Since I'm on the record of admiring much of what that series did, you can predict my reaction here. When the Quetzalcoatus quad-launches to escape his attackers, one of them inadvertently hitches a ride before being flung onto the head shield of a Triceratops, and I couldn't help but crack a smile.

3D dinosaur art is too often only mentioned when picking out the worst offenders, so it's easy to forget that it is often done very well, and Loxton's work here is a prime example. For the most part, the animals are integrated into their photographic environments very smoothly, and interact with them believably - there is a sense of weight and heft to the animals as they walk on sand, browse vegetation, or fall into water. The experience is an immersive one, with illustrations filling entire spreads. The point of view is often right in the middle of the action. Loxton's attention to detail rewards free exploration of the environments and their inhabitants. Feathers float on the air in the midst of combat. Age and experience are obvious, as in an old ankylosaur with battle-damaged armor or a pycnofibre-covered pterosaur.

Quetzalcoatlus soars over the late Cretaceous world. © Daniel Loxton.

An Ankylosaurus couple browses in the forest. © Daniel Loxton.

Coloration is handled conservatively. There are no Rey-style color schemes. Proto-birds and dromaeosaurs are given the most colorful integument. I particularly liked the ruddy tones of Saurornitholestes, reminiscent of the Brown Thrashers who inhabit a similar woodland habitat in my neck of the... er, woods. I also enjoyed touches like subtle sexually dimorphic coloring on the Triceratops, and a seaweedy-green on the Cryptoclidus family at the heart of the most recent book. The tyrannosaurs who appear in Ankylosaur Attack and Pterosaur Trouble could do with some plumage and a splash of color (as well as some more neck musculature, which to my eye looked a little skinny). On the other hand, it's refreshing for the tyrant king to step out of the spotlight.

A Saurornitholestes pack smells something big and tasty on the wind. © Daniel Loxton.

Loxton's choices in depicting behavior are the strongest aspect of the stories, as pains are taken to focus on details of Mesozoic life lent us by recent paleontological research. Quetzalcoatlus falls prey to small dromaeosaurs because of tooth marks found on actual fossils of the great azhdarchid. It bears repeating that the pterosaur is depicted performing a quad-launch, too (a touch which pleased Mark Witton greatly). The family unit in Plesiosaur Peril is based on evidence that these marine reptiles were viviparous. It's a stretch to lump Loxton's book series in with the All Yesterdays Movement. But it is certainly complimentary in its dedication to anatomical fidelity and reasonable inference, while offering views of prehistoric life which reflects the way extant animals act rather than what Hollywood dinosaurs are asked to perform for the masses. There's no need to layer on excessive personification or spectacle after spectacle. Loxton's adherence to this is the main reason the books succeed.

The Cryptoclidus family feeds on belemnites. © Daniel Loxton.

My only major critique is that a more readable typeface for the body copy of the books could have been chosen, but that's a small quibble in the big scheme of things. This is as good as prehistoric fiction gets. The life restorations are exactly the kind that the new generation of paleontology fans should have access to: contemporary, not stuck in decades-old knowledge. All books in the series are available at major booksellers or via Skeptic.

Around the web: Check out Loxton's post about Plesiosaur Peril at SkepticBlog. Darren Naish wrote a detailed post about the book at TetZoo - fitting since he served as technical consultant for the whole series. Adam Stuart Smith reviewed Plesiosaur Peril at Dispersal of Darwin's Michael Barton reviewed Plesiosaur Peril in March (and reviewed the other titles in the series previously). Ankylosaur Attack recieved positive reviews from Quill and Quire, Kirkus, and SkepticDad.