Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dinosaurs: In Your Face! - review

If there is any palaeoartist whose work is inherently suited to 3D, then it's Luis Rey. Thanks to his use of bright colours and wild perspectives, Rey's work often seems to be jumping from the page anyway. The combination of Rey's face-meltingly bright dino art, Robert Bakker's exuberant enthusiasm and very silly glasses is simply irresistible, not to mention ingenious. This is not only a fantastic kids' book, but far too much fun for any adult with a geeky bone in their body.

As such, I just had to review it for LITC - and pose for the below photo, thus permanently reversing any gains that dinosaur enthusiasts have made in terms of public perception of their hobby. You are very welcome. (As usual, all images are copyright Random House and the artist and shouldn't be reproduced without their permission, unless it's for a review in which case you can get away with claiming fair use, right? Right?)

 Back to the task at hand. There are far too many dinosaur books aimed at children that are filled to the brim with terrible, terrible art - usually, these days, embarrassing digital stuff that ends up resembling concept art for an N64 game circa 1997. No doubt this is justified on the grounds that, hey, it's for kids, yeah? So, who cares? Well, damn it, children deserve good dinosaur books too. Although a lot of people aren't so fond of Luis Rey's style, he could never be accused of not doing his homework; in short, he knows his anatomy, and this is high-quality stuff. As is traditional, the book opens with a 'size comparison parade' of various giant dinosaurs, along with an elephant and, brilliantly, a human riding said elephant. It's beautifully executed, the 3D works excellently and Rey adds typical characterful touches, including a diminutive dromaeosaur and hypsilophodont running away to the left (out of frame here), both giving the viewer a knowing glance.

This book is an excellent showcase of Rey's work, and popping on the 3D glasses instantly turns the pictures into wonderful dioramas - in spite of the book's title, there are actually next to no 'poke-in-the-eye' moments. Instead, the effect tends to be of meticulously arranged cardboard cutouts, like a pop-up book you can't break - which is fine by me. If you're only really familiar with Rey from the Holtz encyclopedia or Dinosaur Art, his illustrations of non-dinosaur animals (including prehistoric humans, one of whom sports a rather Bakker-esque bushy beard) will be of great interest, especially as the drab colours of large mammals naturally force him to rein in his usual bold style.

As for the text - well, it's Bakker, so you probably already know what to expect. It can get a little twee at times, and he indulges in some plausible speculation that isn't signposted as such (see above), but then it is a children's book, and there is a need for the text to match up to Rey's exciting, dynamic illustrations. Being a palaeontologist, Bakker - like Holtz in his encyclopedia - has no qualms in explicitly stating that birds are dinosaurs (see below), which is definitely to be applauded in a book aimed at kids. Some people might take issue with his declaration that "modern-day birds are descendants of raptors", but it's perhaps worth considering that he could mean maniraptors as a whole as opposed to just dromaeosaurs. He should also be applauded for his frequent mentions, in characteristically lively prose, of the fossil evidence behind (most of) the assertions about dinosaur behaviour, which really adds to the exciting feel of the book - these events really happened. Fellow Brits will also find the pronunciation guides rather amusing ("pay-lee-uhn-TAH-luh-just", "GLIP-tuh-dahnz" - Americans, bless 'em).

If your delightful progeny are of the sort who get in my way when I'm visiting a natural history museum, and eat up any dinosaur books they can lay their hands on, then you absolutely have to buy them this book. Consider that an order. They'll absolutely bloody love it and, what's more, it's cheap for such a quality product - in the UK, under a fiver on Amazon. Even if you're a grown-up dinosaur fan with a healthy appreciation of lovely, vibrant palaeoart and good old-fashioned bi-colour 3D glasses with a scaly pattern printed on them, you're bound to have fun with this book. Let's face it, you'd only spend the money on bottles of ale otherwise, and they aren't good for you, you know. Or so I'm often told.

Please do heed this warning, however - this book does have one unutterably terrifying in-your-face 3D image, and it happens to be a sojourn into the darkest depths of the Uncanny Valley. I have semi-legally scanned it in the name of providing readers of this blog with an advanced warning - better you know it's coming, than to suddenly turn the page and be confronted with...that face.

Actually, I'm tempted to turn it into a Halloween mask. What do you think?

7 comments:

  1. I've got a lot to say about this post.

    "No doubt this is justified on the grounds that, hey, it's for kids, yeah? So, who cares?"

    There's a funny joke about ppl using that logic at 9:00 of this link's video (which I now refer to whenever anyone uses that logic): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njSEqYY9opE

    "Although a lot of people aren't so fond of Luis Rey's style, he could never be accused of not doing his homework; in short, he knows his anatomy, and this is high-quality stuff."

    That's 1 of my favorite aspects of Rey's art (besides the dynamism): The attention to anatomical detail.

    "As for the text - well, it's Bakker, so you probably already know what to expect."

    Yeah, awesomeness! :)

    "and he indulges in some plausible speculation that isn't signposted as such (see above),"

    That's a good example of what I like about Bakker (among other things): He knows A LOT about living animals (more so than most paleontologists). I've only seen 1 other paleontologist compare theropod sails to lizard sails (See the Naish quote).

    "Some people might take issue with his declaration that "modern-day birds are descendants of raptors", but it's perhaps worth considering that he could mean maniraptors as a whole as opposed to just dromaeosaurs."

    That's probably the case, given that, in his blog posts, he usually refers to the ancestors of birds as "raptor-type" or "raptor-like" dinos (E.g. http://blog.hmns.org/tag/archosaurs/ )

    "Even if you're a grown-up dinosaur fan with a healthy appreciation of lovely, vibrant palaeoart and good old-fashioned bi-colour 3D glasses with a scaly pattern printed on them, you're bound to have fun with this book."

    I actually have all 3 of the non-3D books that make up this 1.

    BTW, in reference to the 3D glasses, I still have the pair I got w/Dinosaurs! magazine.

    "Actually, I'm tempted to turn it into a Halloween mask. What do you think?"

    What I'm wondering (besides who the heck they got to pose for that pic) is what dromaeosaurid genus that is behind the kid? I'd guess Deinonychus or Velociraptor, but I'm not at all sure.

    Quoting Naish ( http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2010/09/09/concavenator-incredible-allosauroid/ ): "I have one more thing to say: what were the tall neural spines for? Ortega et al. (2010) conclude that we just can’t say, though they note that thermoregulatory, display or energy storage functions have all been suggested. I tend to prefer the display option, but only by analogy with the extant tall-spined reptiles that everyone seems to ignore whenever they talk about tall neural spines. Sure, maybe these structures were partially buried in fat or muscle, but the implication from some that they simply must have been like this, and that the existence of ‘dorsal sails’ is a total no-no (Bailey 1997) ignores the fact that all tetrapods aren’t mammals. There are living reptiles with dorsal sails: I really must get photos of sail-backed chameleon neural spines some time [adjacent photo shows body of Meller's chameleon Chamaeleo melleri - best I can do at short notice. Photo by Adrian Pingstone, from wikipedia]."

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    1. I'm happy that you're a Rey fan - I am too, but he seems to have a lot of detractors.

      Alas, I don't have the Dinosaurs! 3D glasses myself anymore. However, they won't quite work here anyway, as the pictures are red/blue rather than red/green. That said, if you DO happen to have a pair of red/blue glasses from another source, the scans above will provide a nice little preview of the book! (The Spinosaurus is one of the best.)

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  2. 'Some people might take issue with his declaration that "modern-day birds are descendants of raptors", but it's perhaps worth considering that he could mean maniraptors as a whole as opposed to just dromaeosaurs.'

    Except birds are maniraptors. BY DEFINITION. I mean, I guess the statement's still true, but it's like saying humans are descendants of primates.

    'Fellow Brits will also find the pronunciation guides rather amusing'

    I can assure you this sentiment goes both ways. Phrasebooks in general have a bias toward nonrhotic UK accents, and are constantly telling us there are "R"s where there clearly are none.

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    1. That remark may just have been a little mischief on my part. ;)

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  3. "that face" kinda looks like Sam Rockwell to me...
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_hUu42MZRiGk/Smkb4APZkoI/AAAAAAAAA84/PbITtv_0QUw/s320/rockwell.jpg

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    1. Good heavens, that's uncanny. Pun unintended.

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    2. Sam Rockwell's face...ON A CHILD.

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