Monday, August 3, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals

Given that the last book I reviewed was so very bland and predictable (complete with the obligatory post-Normanpedia Sibbickisms), I was very happy to come upon this wonderful, ageing collection of barely held-together cloth boards on eBay. This international edition of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals dates from 1972, but in its original form it would appear to go all the way back to 1959. What with its glorious collection of Zallingerian swamp beasts and Knightian lizard-headed tyrannosaurs (all painted by R F Peterson), it's an absolute treat for fans of truly vintage dinosauriana...even if some of the artwork isn't terribly accomplished.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mesozoic Miscellany 76

The Big News

Fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda was honored for her years of work with the description of Wendiceratops pinhornensis. While it's always fun to see a new ceratopsian with some new configuration of headgear published, this is especially interesting because it's the earliest known centrosaurine ceratopsid. Read more: Integrative Paleontologists, Laelaps, Royal Ontario Museum.

The publication of a new Cretaceous snake, Tetrapodophis, was met with a mix of delight, surprise, and facepalms. While snakes experimented with a variety of limb configurations during the cretaceous, Tetrapodophis was the first found that reveals four limbs. They're small, and probably more useful for grasping than locomotion, but they're there. Unfortunately, the provenance and legality of the fossil is questionable. I'm going to go ahead and just suggest reading Dr. Shaena Montanari's article for Forbes Science, which explains both the potential significance of the find as well as a good dissection of the ethical and legal concerns.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

At Pseudoplocephalus, Victoria Arbour shares pics from her visit to Dinosaurs Unearthed.

Not Mesozoic and I don't care! Gareth Monger's cute Hallucigenia.

Check out Rebecca Groom's life-size Velociraptor plushie!

Speaking of plushies of the prehistoric orientation, check out the Kickstarter campaign by Jungle Plush. The company says they strive "to make our plushies in a way so that any young dino enthusiast can easily identify and learn about their favorite dinosaur, all while having fun at the same time." And it looks like the campaign has funded! There are a few more days to chip in, however.

What can be said about the spinal cords of extinct animals? Liz Martin's got some ideas.

Fernanda Castano has a post specially crafted for all you lovers of paleontology's history: Owen, Dickens, and the Invention of Dinosaurs.

At The Integrative Paleontologists, Andy Farke interviews Mike Keesey about his terrific website, Phylopic.

Dave Hone is publishing a book about tyrannosaurs!

Speaking of the tyrants, Mark Witton cops to a bit of a bias towards them in his art of late...

At Method Quarterly, Laura Bliss writes a nice triptych of interviews, providing an introduction to paleoart for the uninitiated. Read what Doug Henderson, Mark Witton, and Emily Willoughby have to say.

Paleoart Pick

I love paleoart that tells a story. Certainly, restorations that Marc refers to as "spotter's guide" style (isolated against a white background) have their place, and I often love them. But a well-thought out paleoart story captures the atmosphere of a lost world, has the feeling of a dream made real. Emily Willoughby is a master of this, as shown in her recent take on Zhenyuanlong suni, a new dromaeosaur from China. Read more about the story she is telling over at her DeviantArt page.

Zhenyuanlong suni, © Emily Willoughby. Shared with the artist's permission.

Filthy Lucre Corner

Blame Mammoth is Mopey for the lag in round-ups. It's pretty well been a full-time job since March. Once the campaign was funded, production and fulfillment ate up most of my and Jennie's time. But this week, with the completion and release of the expanded ebook, things are easing up quite a bit. Now my main task is to complete the custom illustration perks, which are proving to be quite a bit of fun. I've been spending time with a studious dromaeosaur, a notorious Triassic weirdo, some charismatic canids. I'll be sure to share them here when they're done!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Vintageish Dinosaur Art: The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Dinosaurs

Did you know that if you placed every dinosaur book written by Michael Benton end-to-end, they would stretch three times around the equator? Along with good ol' Dougal 'Dixie' Dixon, Benton is surely one of the most prolific authors of popular books on extinct saurians. Similarly to Dixon, the sheer number of Benton-authored books means that the quality of the illustrations contained within them varies greatly. While not dreadful, the art in The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Dinosaurs isn't particularly memorable; it's the sort of serviceable, highly Sibbick-inspired artwork you'd expect to see in a randomly selected dino book from the mid-'90s. That said, it's still interesting to spot all those beloved '90s tropes, some of which still refuse to die. (Oh, and I have cheated a bit - this book's from 1996, so isn't quite old enough to qualify for VDA. Then again...rules, who needs 'em?)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Lost World (Ladybird)

Ladybird books are a firm favourite of mine, since (like many other Brits) I have very fond memories of learning to read with them as a child - not just those bought for me at the time, but also hand-me-downs, which were all the more special. Their factual dinosaur book remains a favourite - laughably outdated these days, but still beautifully illustrated by LITC stalwart Bernard Robinson. Ladybird also published simplified versions of classic tales; as a child, I had their version of Robinson Crusoe. Until last week, I had no idea that these included The Lost World, and happily it's just as lavishly illustrated (by Martin Aitchison, this time) and entertaining as ever.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Finback and the Shark: A Process Blog

I recently took a trip up to Seymour, Texas, in order to report on an intermittent, ongoing fossil dig happening up on the famous Early Permian deposits on the Craddock Ranch. My main source (and, admittedly, the reason I pitched the story in the first place) was Robert Bakker, and over the course of the two day trip, I ended up spending quite a bit of time shooting the breeze with him about fossils, religion, and various other topics. I'll be placing an edited, condensed version of our interview here in the coming days, but right now I wanted to share something else--some pieces of art inspired by those conversations.

The overwhelming majority of fossils from the Craddock belong to Dimetrodon, which was remarkably common in the seasonal floodplains and channels of the period. I'd never drawn Dimetrodon before, and decided to look for a movement analogue in order to get a feel for the animal. I ended up settling on big monitor lizards and Argentinian Tegus as a stand in, and watched a bunch of videos on Youtube of big lizards cavorting around. Dimetrodon is, of course, a stem-mammal and not a squamate, but the body plans seem at least marginally similar.

I soon started doodling. The resulting sketches are my attempts to get to grips with Dimetrodon anatomy and some wild ideas about what they got up to on a day to day basis, including a very speculative hatchling (clockwise, 4th from top.) Other highlights include display pushups (5th from top) and a Dimetrodon taking a dip on a hot day (2nd from top.)

Copyright 2015 Asher Elbein
Out of all of these sketches, I liked the rearing Dimetrodon the most. Big lizards can be surprisingly fleet footed, especially when it comes to wheeling around, shaking prey, or threatening predators. For an example, see this Youtube video of a Tegu fighting off a much, much larger dog. 

There remained the question of what would prompt the animal to wheel in such a aesthetically pleasing fashion. The answer lay, again, with Bakker--his studies of the Seymour deposits have led him to propose that Dimetrodon was a generalist that happily attacked amphibians and the sinuous, poison-spined Xenacanthus river sharks. As evidence for this, he points to the amount of chewed up shark remains in the deposit, as well as the fact that the massive populations of Dimetrodon in the area had to be eating something, and there simply weren't enough big herbivores in most of the rocks to go around. Also, the majority of the shed Dimetrodon teeth they find lie in aquatic, marshy or pond deposits, suggesting that Dimetrodon spent a good bit of time feeding there.

For the painting, I envisioned a big bull Dimetrodon attracted to a drying pond by the splashing of trapped sharks and amphibians. As a tip of the hat to my lizardy inspiration, I gave it the broad, flapping jowels of an Argentine Tegu, a sexually dimorphic trait, and a snout scarred by repeated tussles with other Xenacanthus sharks. This particular fellow has made a habit of killing sharks, and has gotten fairly good at it, but still gets tagged occasionally. In this frozen moment, he's shaking the shark hard enough that he's actually all but left the ground.

Copyright 2015 Asher Elbein
With the final pose settled on, more details were added with soft pencils.

Copyright 2015 Asher Elbein

Finally, I scanned the finished sketch into Adobe Photoshop and began cleaning it up and painting it. I eventually decided that I might as well go all the way and settled on a showy, Tegu-like color scheme. Dimetrodon was pretty clearly a somewhat flamboyant animal, and as a big predator of aquatic game may not have needed much in the way of camouflage. The final image, after much fussing, fuming, and some momentary, computer-freeze related terror, is below. I'm rather proud of it.

Copyright 2015 Asher Elbein 

Dimetrodon, as it turns out, is quite fun to draw, and is a much more fascinating beast than is popularly credited. I can't wait to share the finished article in a few months.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

King Craptor's "Jur-Ass-Kick World" Review

In the interest of providing another opinion on Jurassic World, which is something the world sorely needs, we at LITC are giving a guest post to one "King Craptor."

I liked that movie so much I gave it the title "Jur-Ass-Kick World"! The dinosaurs were mostly strong and it was very exciting to see the people die. I liked it that dinosaurs died to, like the brontosauruses that died, those were better dead than alive, and it was exciting to see how dead they were.

I liked the mean pterodactyls that attacked the people. Those pterodactyls were pretty scary. I liked the mean mossasaurus that ate the pterodactyl. I liked that the babysitter died. I don't like to admit when I'm wrong, but I sure was wrong about pterodactyls. I thought they sucked but they didn't suck. They were badass. VERY COOL.

Indomnus was the show stopper of course! I was excited every time that naughty freak showed up on the screen to wreck havoc. I was sad when mossasaurus killed it, but I know that the mean guys will make another Indomnus. Maybe a bunch of them! I liked the raptors best when they were chums with Indomnus, I don't know what kind of crazy juice they were drinking to be buddies with Starlord anyway, I had a hard time suspending my disbeliefs about that. THANKS HOLLYWOOD.

If I have to pick which people were my favorite people were the mean people with guns. I don't know why more people aren't mean, it's fun to watch. But I still get to see all those people get ripped up by dinosaurs and it is entertaining.

Jimmy Fallon tickles my funny bones, so that gyroscope scene was just extra gravy on the whole cake for old King Craptor. I still want him to be ripped to meat pieces by a gross killer dinosaur though.

So over all, I approve, go see the move already! It's the opposite of garbage! Double A+!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Asher's Jurassic World Review: More Teeth

This is the second of LITC's Jurassic World reviews. A prior take on this film can be read here

Let's get this out of the way as quickly as possible: no, Jurassic World isn't very good. When judged by the metrics of ambition and imagination, it fails and keeps failing up until the final reel. And yet the depth of its failure is such that it somehow manages to come out the other side into an odd kind of success, as onscreen events take on a crazy momentum that leads to the kind of finale you almost certainly won't see coming.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bloody hell, it's T. rex Autopsy

If you happened to dislike a certain highly profitable movie that was released recently (and I know a few people who would have good reason to), you may be consoled that there is an antidote at hand. Someone's only gone and made a TV show that involves the intricate dissection of an anatomically correct Tyrannosaurus carcass - a programme that combines the most up-to-date science with stunning practical effects work. It also features Steve Brusatte digging his way through gory theropod innards, which I will accept as fair penitence for that horrible coffee table book. It's National Geographic's T. rex Autopsy!

The life-size T. rex model. Photo from Nat Geo's official site, copyright Nat Geo Channels/Christopher Albert, and used on the assumption that they'll probably be cool with it...

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Marc's Jurassic World review: not your father's de-extinction theme park

Aptly enough, Jurassic World feels like a theme park ride, and certainly not one of the sedate, trundle-along-in-a-gyrosphere variety. It's a high-tech, towering, gleaming steel roller coaster, with a breakneck pace that very rarely relents (only when they need to force a little character development in). It's certainly enormous fun, a spectacle worthy of being seen on the biggest screen possible. What it isn't is a Jurassic Park movie.

I've tried to keep it brief, but as a warning, this might get unusually wordy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Prehistoric Animals (Hamlyn)

There can't be very many small, 'spotter's guide'-type dinosaur books that tuck a lovely surprise into their final few pages, after endless illustrations of animals standing around gawping in front of white backdrops - but, why look, here comes one now. Prehistoric Animals (first ed 1969, this ed 1974) is about as generic as they come, but offers up a pleasantly painterly few spreads towards the rear. It's just a shame that the artists aren't properly credited...