Saturday, December 8, 2012

All Yesterdays: the live conference room spectacular

If you're a dinosaur enthusiast with the means to access the internet, you've surely heard all about All Yesterdays by now. It's managed to garner quite the publicity, appearing everywhere from io9 (whoever they are) to the website of the terrifyingly popular British tabloid the Daily Mail, where it inevitably attracted comments from Young Earth Creationists (of course). There may be plenty of reviews already out there, but the champagne wasn't smashed across the bow of All Yesterdays until December 7, when it was launched in London by John Conway, C M Kosemen and Darren Naish. And wouldn't you know it, Niroot and I turned up - attracted by the promise of an intriguing presentation, book signings and free box wine. No disappointments!

A very spiky Triceratops, by John Conway.


The night opened with a lecture from Dr Naish of raccoon corpse-identifying TV fame. Darren delivered a highly insightful, but concise history of palaeoart - its origins, evolution, and of course its pitfalls. He reminded us of something that's all too easy to forget - that the first life reconstructions of prehistoric animals arrived at about the same time as the first skeletal reconstructions, and the two have gone hand in hand. Animals were being restored when the science of palaeontology was still in its infancy, and spectacular reconstructions like the Crystal Palace models raised the bar in terms of what the public expected to see.

In other words, dinosaur life restorations have been in demand since the word 'dinosaur' was coined, and now more than ever. In attempting to explain some of the 'memes' of palaeoart - blatant copies of previous works, repeated again and again - Darren mentioned how artists are often on tight deadlines, paid little, and have trouble gleaning advice from scientists disinterested in life restorations. (Publisher pressure is also a factor - during the Q&A, Luis Rey informed a fellow audience member that he had been asked to illustrate unfeathered feathered dinosaurs, but had declined.) There are also precious few 'how to' guides when it comes to restoring prehistoric animals, with Greg Paul being the last person to provide one, some years ago now.

I hope you're keeping up. L-R: Conway, Kosemen, Naish.
Darren described the current palaeoart era as the "Age of Paul". However, some people have adopted Paul's sleek style and run too far with it, in the process creating "zombie dinosaurs" - emaciated husk-o-saurs with virtually every bone on show through a paper-thin draping of skin. There is also a certain conformity, or conservatism, in palaeoart, with animals retaining certain looks and stereotyped behaviours in every work that they feature in. This was something that C M Kosemen (aka Nemo Ramjet) would pick up on later on.

After Naish came Conway, who talked us through both the process of restoring an animal and phylogenetic bracketing, and how things had changed since the "bad old days of the Clumpers". With the focus on Velociraptor, he illustrated how and why approaches to reconstruct the animal had changed over the years. Nothing that most readers of this blog won't already be familiar with, but John is an absolute delight to listen to, and the presentation was clear and straightforward enough that I'm sure the non-scientists/enthusiasts in the audience were very well informed.

John Conway gives Niroot a very manly hug.
Last up was Nemo, who talked about what he dubbed 'lenses of distortion' - the glasses that everyone looks through when they envisage a long-dead animal. Scientific consensus and pop culture feed into one another, and both exert a grip on people's imaginations that can prevent boldness and necessary speculation (or educated guesses). He argued that there was a need to 'de-mystify' the past by encouraging people to think more creatively when they produce palaeoart. There was also talk of 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns' which, I must confess, really did remind me of Donald Rumsfeld.

As you can probably tell, my note-taking got progressively worse as the evening wore on (hence Darren's talk getting the most words...sorry!). Fortunately, all of the presentations were recorded and will soon be uploaded to the internet for posterity. Hurrah!

"So, how long would you like the penis?"

Following the lectures, the book-signing marathon could commence. Here's mine, so that I can gloat and you can be WELL envious. Er, unless you were there.

Tanystropheus, Naish: Tyrannosaurus, Conway: Retro T. rex, Kosemen.

Darren inks an Olorotitan for Niroot.
All Yesterdays is a fantastic book (but more on that to come), and this was a marvellous event that not only critically examined palaeoart, but celebrated it. Darren noted that it's important to remember the history of palaeoart - something that's certainly reflected in the book on one memorable occasion - even as we look to innovate and progress. Hopefully, All Yesterdays will prove potent inspiration for the next generation.

Thanks to all involved for a top evening, and the box wine wasn't that bad either (at least I didn't think so)!

Stegosaurus, doing something...unspeakable. By C M Kosemen.

8 comments:

  1. Great to hear the night went so well!

    If only I could have attended-- oh, the joys of living half a world away. I'm sure I speak for the rest of us "New Worlders" when I say, we're ready to pounce when those talks upload.

    Very jealous of your signed copy, Marc. Those are some great signatures! Tany certainly steals the spotlight.

    I wonder if the guys would have signed my kindle..

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  2. Very nice write-up, thanks, and glad you enjoyed the event.. and the wine we provided :) The 'known unknowns' etc was indeed directly lifted from Rumsfeld's presentation - another example of memism.

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  3. I'm even more envious than I was yesterday. Terrific report!

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    1. It occurred to me rather late that I ought to have got a signed (and drawn) copy of the book for you too, David. I'm so sorry.

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  4. I normally go for the print book, but the price on the download is so good! Do you know if it's possible to download Kindle files without a Kindle, just on to your computer?

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    1. Yes there's a kindle app for pc or mac

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    2. And for iPad, iPod, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, etc etc.

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  5. I don't think Darren has a business card, but if so, it should say "TV's raccoon corpse identifier" on it.

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