Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Evolution of a Microraptor

I've actually had a few people recently comment on my accurate cast shadows in my artwork, so I thought I'd share a little secret.

I have some difficulty composing accurate cast shadows in my head, though I've gotten much, much better at it over the years, thanks in large part to Jon who has been tirelessly critiquing my shading since 2006. He has an almost uncanny ability to rotate three-dimensional objects in his head, an ability that I don't have to quite that degree. However, I have more recently acquired an additional skill in my toolbox for shading, something I learned from the great James Gurney.

Recently I set out to reconstruct a four-and-a-half-year-old picture of mine that had fallen far out of date both in terms of accuracy and artistic proficiency:

This picture was drawn for a publication that, then in its infancy, is now finally bordering on the cusp of maturation, but after the Microraptor color study I knew I had to redo this one to bring it up-to-date. I wanted the composition to remain nearly the same, but the animal itself needed a makeover, and this included the cast shadow.

Lo and behold - I'm actually not terrible at sculpting. Who knew?

Of course, this sculpt involved just the barest of details, and will probably never be "completed" in the sense of being a finished sculpture, but I did my best to make it anatomically accurate and it certainly served its intended purpose. The basic lateral anatomy is based on the original drawing in Xu Xing 2003:

And then beefed up with what I know of dromaeosaurid and bird anatomy with a very lightweight type of modeling clay.

Using the guideline of the model, I could then create the finished image with cast shadows intact.

Obviously this sort of process is far too time-consuming to use on everything I draw, but it's kind of fun for more important paintings that need to be as accurate and consistent as possible.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

'All Yesterdays' Book Review

Many of you are probably aware of the new paleoart book All Yesterdays, written by Darren Naish of TetZoo, John Conway, C.M. Koseman, and Scott Hartman, and illustrated by the latter three. Right now only the Kindle edition is available on Amazon, but the print version should be out soon, last I asked. In any case, I'd eagerly awaited this book for some time, and wanted to write a review for Amazon after it was released. I thought I'd post my review here as well in the hopes of inciting the interest in my paleo-minded followers.

Conway's illustration of Protoceratops in a tree serves as the book's cover, and demonstrates the idea that animals can do things they don't necessarily do all the time

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Neck is a Lie

Matt Wedel of SV-POW has a pair of old articles on how necks lie, illustrating in a general sense that the skeletal structure of an animal is often at odds with its physical appearance. No part of the skeleton emphasizes this discrepancy more than the neck, especially in birds. These have always been some of my favorite SV-POW posts, not just because of how crazy it is to see a budgie's cervicals overlap its trachea, but because the prevaricative nature of the neck has a great deal of application to paleontographic reconstructions of dinosaurs.

Ardeidae, the heron family, demonstrates an excellent variety in neck shapes and neck capabilities. Most of us are familiar with larger heron species, like the great blue and the great egret. Both of these birds are very large, and have extremely long, serpentine necks. But these necks don't lie - by paleontography standards, they are almost "shrink-wrapped" in appearance, and clearly show the accurate contour of the vertebral column.

Look at that glorious S-curve.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Rains of Rögling

Here is my rendition of the purported baby megalosauroid, Sciurumimus, perched on a rock by the Bavarian sea as it waits patiently for its mother to return to it. Two pterodactylid pterosaurs comb the beach in the background. From the late Jurassic Rögling Formation of Germany, ~150 mya.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Deinonychosaur footprints

My newest illustration was finally released today, so I'm free to upload! This is an illustration for discovery of a series of new trackways of deinonychosaur footprints from the Liujiaxia Dinosaur National Geological Park, Yongjing County, Gansu Province in China. The footprints range quite a bit in size, indicating several different taxa which could include troodontids as well as dromaeosaurs. Some are found in close proximity to titanosaur footprints (drawn based on Huanghetitan here). The deinonychosaur is represented here as a dromaeosaur genus similar in size and morphology to Deinonychus. Detail of deinonych:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bird Panoply

Set of small bird illustrations of common birds of the NJ area.

Deinonychus with Wren

Just a teensy little sketch drawn into my dad's card for Father's Day, but I thought it was cute enough to scan.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mei long is not always sleeping

This is my entry to the current art contest at Hell Creek forums. The challenge for this round was "Year of the Dragon", which means that we had to draw any prehistoric animal with "dragon" somewhere in its name. So I drew the tiny troodontid Mei long, the famous sleeping dragon. I'd wanted to draw this animal for a while, so it was a good excuse to put some more effort into it than I normally would've.

Mei long is well-known from its beautiful holotype, which shows the animal perfectly preserved in a sleeping position when it had died, presumably from volcanic ash. The curled holotype is tiny - probably no larger than a softball - but many people don't seem to realize that it represents a very young juvenile. The adult animal was probably a strapping troodontid around the size of a duck. I've reconstructed two adult Meis here, a male and a female, running through a rare patch of Liaoning deciduous trees. The male is nearer to the viewer and is almost identical to his mate save for brighter rufus display patches and a reddish facial streak. Many birds, such as woodpeckers, exhibit a similar sort of dimorphism.

I wanted to draw this cute little troodontid doing something other than sleeping, for once. Even though its holotype fossil is one of the most gorgeous paravians to come out of China (and that's saying something), reconstructing it in this position every time is overlooking the beauty the animal surely exhibited in wakefulness as well. This long-legged, pheasant-sized troodontid was probably a fleet of foot, agile little predator that may've darted through the undergrowth and over logs, flashing glints of shiny feathers in the sunlight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jeholornis in the Morning Light

My final feathered dinosaur illustration for the book I'm working on. This is the basal bird Jeholornis from the Jehol Group of early Cretaceous of China (of the Jiufotang formation, around 120 million years ago). This species is meant to represent the original J. prima, though the tail fronds are based on the well-preserved tail of J. palmapenis, which may not be a distinct species.

Jeholornis was fairly similar in anatomy to the more well-known Archaeopteryx, but differs in being decidedly more "birdlike" in several respects. It had very few teeth, more well-developed shoulder girdles, longer forelimbs, and claw morphology that indicates perching ability. The hallux may or may not be reversed, and more likely than not is representative of a state of partial reversal.

The type fossil of J. prima is interesting in that it preserved a collection of fossilized seeds in crop area. It is unknown what plant they belonged to, but here I've reconstructed it eating the seeds of a fallen branch of the Ginkgo tree, which it very likely would have done. The morphology of the mandible, dentaries and teeth indicate that Jeholornis was well-adapted for feeding on seeds. The seed-eating lifestyle would allow more carotenoids to be present in the animal's diet than would a stricter carnivorous lifestyle, so I've taken some liberties here in giving it some slightly brighter colors on the head and tailfan, which was likely used for display.

It is depicted alongside the Jehol dragonfly Aeschnidium.

High-res version here.