Introducing Aquilops americanus

YO. NEW SPECIES OF DINOSAUR. RIGHT HERE.

Aquilops americanus a new species of basal ceratopsian dinosaur.

Aquilops americanus, a new species of basal ceratopsian dinosaur.

Click HERE for a “field guide” to everything in the above image.

Also you can support original paleo art by purchasing a poster (12″x18″ – 30.48cm x 45.72cm) of the above illustration RIGHT HERE for $25. FREE shipping within the US!!:





For an overview on the new species and it’s significance head over to Andy Farke’s blog post at PLOS, and/or check out the paper. For a rundown on Matt Wedel’s involvement in the story of Aquilops’ check out his blog post at SV-POW, and stay tuned for his post about reconstructing the skull. Here on DMWD I’m gonna talk about how we went from a few squashed noggin bones to all the stuff you see in these here color pictures.
Aquilops americanus group detail

The journey that lead to the above illustration all started a while back when the world’s two most powerful paleontologists/galactic warriors, Andy Farke and Matt Wedel, hit me up about illustrating a new species of dinosaur they were working on publishing. Basically they were like, “We have the only known remains of a creature nobody’s seen in 106 million years and we want you to be the first guy show people how it might’ve looked, which will help us explain to people why it’s so goddamn awesome.” To me it was the paleontological equivalent of getting asked to combine forces with Jackie Chan and Jet Li to make a kung fu movie with crazy stunts in it, but I didn’t even have to get kicked repeatedly in the neck or thrown through a bunch of panes of glass, i just had to light fireworks and blow stuff up all around them to help make them look extra good while they kick the shit out of all the badguys who hate science and dinosaurs.

So I said yes.

First step was to check out Aquilops‘ smooshed little skull, and also a cast of the much more complete/less crushed skull of Archaeoceratops, which Andy determined was it’s closest known relative. I took a bunch of pictures of both skulls from various angles to help me wrap my brain around how these animal’s heads were shaped. I cannot even express what a huge difference seeing the fossils in person made to my ability to visualize how Aquilops’ skull might’ve looked un-crushed, and how the soft tissues would’ve attached and surrounded it in life.

Aquilops Skull DorsolateralAquilops Skull DorsalAquilops Skull VentralArchaeoceratops Skull AnteriolateralArchaeoceratops Lateral with Andy Farke in it's jawsAquilops chillin with Archaeoceratops

Based on this personal examination along with Matt Wedel’s skull reconstruction I came up with several rough life restorations of Aquilops’ head, experimenting with various soft tissue displays, thicknesses, and interpretations on the odd little blade of bone sticking out of Aquilops’ beak. While I’m at it, big shout out to Dave Hone for posting up high-res images of this exquisitely preserved Psittacosaurus from China. Those stunning soft tissue impressions, along with impressions left by other ceratopsians were extensively referenced when illustrating Aquilops’ skin and other soft tissues. When we had a settled on a look for the fleshed out head, I mocked up an array of possible color schemes.

Aquilops Color Array

One of the ideas that influenced our choice of color palette was the idea that horned dinosaur’s headgear likely evolved for both display and defense, so we thought it would make sense if Aquilops had some showy coloration, but not so showy that it would be unable to hide from predators. Accordingly I looked to modern lizards for inspiration on color schemes, as many of them have stunning color displays despite being low on the food chain and able to blend into the right hiding spots. Once a color scheme was chosen, I rendered the full head reconstruction featured in the paper:

Aquilops americanus Head Reconstruction by Brian Engh

While all this was going on, we were also trying to dig up information on the paleoeocology of Unit VII in the Cloverly formation where Aquilops was found, in order to get a better idea of what the world this animal lived in might’ve looked like. I was fortunate to make contact with Nathan Jud, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, and (so far as we know) the only person currently studying the plants found in Cloverly’s unit VII. He supplied me with several images of gorgeous plant fossils he collected, as well as input as to close modern analogues. The fossils record a seasonally dry woodland, with relatively low ambient humidity, a high water table (it was near a lake) and an undergrowth composed of several species of small leafed ferns (see my “field guide” above), as well as a primitive angiosperm similar to modern Ambrosia (Ragweed). The trees were a species of ancient redwood, with cones identical to modern Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens and needles identical to modern Giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum. When I found out from Nathan that the trees were a kind of redwood I got excited because I live in northern California with redwoods all around my house, and I have visited the Giant Sequoias on a number of occasions, and they are both some of the most awesome trees ever. When I met with Matt and Andy we had talked about depicting Aquilops living in a small group near some kind of cover, and I thought it would be really cool to have them using a burrow sheltered by the roots of a fallen redwood, as I have seen various extant dinosaurs (birds), mammals and reptiles use tree roots that way. So I went out and took a bunch of pictures of various root structures, with my flip flops placed on them as a dinosaur stand in/makeshift scale bar.
AquiFLOPS

Once I had a rough composition worked out I sent sketches to Nathan to work out the most reasonable placement and growing modes of the various plants in relationship to the fallen log and the light that would’ve been made available by the tree’s toppling.

Another key piece of the composition is the predatory mammal Gobiconodon ostrami, and the hatchling Aquilops. We thought it would be cool to include a mammalian predator because so often Mesozoic mammals are thought of as diminutive and primitive, yet Gobiconodon was certainly large enough to prey on small dinosaurs, and had highly advanced (and downright scary looking) teeth. It’s jaws were equipped with multi-cusped blade like molars and premolars, and fang-like conical incisors for which the genus is named. While we can’t know exactly what Gobiconodon was eating, it certainly had a mouth capable of processing flesh and small bones, as well as large claws on it’s paws, and a robust skeleton with substantial muscle attachments.

GobiconodonWeb

While the hatchling Aquilops and the adults emerging from the shadowy burrow are entirely speculative they are based on what we know about Aquilops’ close relatives. Several growth phases are known from various other ceratopsian species, and they consistently show young with reduced frills and jugal (cheek) horns, and adults with more elongated skulls, wider jugals and expanded frills. Also, we thought it would be a good idea to show a good number of baby Aquilops, as large clutches of young seem to be the norm for most dinosaurs, ceratopsians included. The strategy seems to have been “make a lot of babies and let the predators sort ‘em out”, so we thought it’d make sense to show that happening, and by a relatively small mammalian predator no less. After all, in an ecosystem with Acrocanthosaurus, Deinonychus and Gobiconodon, Aquilops was pretty low on the food chain.

Perhaps Aquilops’ odd rostral protuberance helped them to dig and defend burrows, or engage in intraspecific combat. Perhaps Aquilops grew much larger than the holotype specimen, and could thus fend off larger predators. Perhaps Gobiconodon fed exclusively on insects. Ultimately there are many things that we simply don’t know and many things we can’t know, but it is my hope that rather than presenting Aquilops as just another fossil we’ve managed to present you with the fossil attached inseparably to the idea that it was a once-living creature, with instincts, and habits and needs. A character speaking to us, through the record of geology, an unfathomable 106 million years in the future.

Dinosaurs are rad.
Aquilops Pencil Render

Earth Beasts Awaken Shirts!!!

I just finished auctioning off a bunch of hand painted shirts. It went really well and I owe everyone who bid a big thanks for all the support. I am deeply honored to be able to make things for all of you with your generous support. Here is the pitch video explaining how the auction worked, and showing a few of the T-shirt designs.

HandPaintedShirt

BIDDING ON HAND PAINTED SHIRTS HAS ENDED but you can still check out the shirts, and stay tuned for new ones on my facebook page here:
https://www.facebook.com/HistorianHimself

I’m also selling these stencil-painted shirts for $15 RIGHT HERE!!

STENCIL SHIRT

PICK A SIZE





Don’t like material bullshit but still want to help monsters destroy humanity and drive the few survivors insane with their blood curdling roars, shrieks, and bellowing mating calls? You can make a donation toward the cause by clicking this button here (donations over $10 bucks get a drawing from me as a thank-you):





ShellbackCloseup
Also, you can still order Earth Beasts Awaken art prints here:
EARTH BEASTS AWAKEN POSTER PRINTS!!!!!

You could’ve been looking at something new right now…

National Geographic recently released a slew of gorgeous new paleoart and other press images with the announcement of a new paper on the awesome and enigmatic dinosaur Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. Though the imagery is awesome, the paper and the new reconstruction of Spinosaurus has proven somewhat controversial, and in discussing the new paleo art with a friend, he pointed out to me that one of the illustrations bears remarkable similarities to one of my own…

Here’s the press image released by National Geographic

…and here is my old Spinosaur image I did for Tor Bertin’s 2010 paper reviewing the Spinosauridae which can be found on PalArch here:
Kem Kem Assemblage by Brian Engh

I think the new piece is technically gorgeous, and I’m pretty smug about the fact that my first published piece of paleo-art is the first image ever made (to my knowledge) of a Spinosaur hunting while swimming in an underwater ecosystem and that it might be influencing (some say even getting ripped off by?) the good people at National Geographic (who I’ve looked up to for years!). Admittedly, the similarities get me a little riled up, but I know all too well that, as an artist, an image or sound that took someone else hours or days or years to create can so easily be dropped into a folder full of reference material where it dissolves into the sea of human experience that everything we do is drawn from. That’s just part of the process, and partially derivative works naturally result.

Like most paleoartists, when I do an illustration I amass piles of images of wildlife and fossils taken or prepared by hard working and skilled photographers and paleontologists and museum staff and I never even think to give any of those people credit if I don’t know them personally. For example, here’s an awesome image of a crocodile, gleaned from somewhere in the sprawling reaches of the internet that definitely influenced my Spinosaurus illustration to some degree…

070764-450-freshwater-crocodile

So, whether something is derivative doesn’t really matter right? Maybe not. But there is a distinction to be made with regards to how directly derived a work is. To me at least, the more directly derived an image is from a previous work of the same or similar creative medium, then the less artistic integrity that piece has. When that photographer took that picture of a crocodile their end-goal was presumably to take a picture of a crocodile. When I grabbed that Image I wasn’t thinking “ooh goody, I’ll paint this crocodile almost exactly as I see it!” Rather, I absorbed information from that image into my imagination in order to accomplish a completely different end goal: depict something nobody has ever seen before.

Reference images of living animals and fossils weren’t the only information I took in. In an attempt to figure out the ideal perspective I also made a quick little sculpture of a Spinosaurus out of polymer clay, and then photographed it in a little aquarium partially submerged in water. Here are a few of those shots.

SpinosaurSculpture2 SpinosaurSculpture1

Then, to figure out the lighting, and get a really good feel for the environment, I went to a river near my house with a GoPro camera and took a bunch of video footage of fish and turtles and light coming through the water. Here are a few frames that directly translated into the look of various parts of my image:
SpinosaurHabitatReference

It was a great day, I saw amazing things that filled me with ideas and surprised me, like this male Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata) who was so focused on trying to mate with a hunkered down female that I was able to put my camera right next to them to take this video (please forgive the blurriness, the early generations of GoPro had a major design flaw such that they couldn’t record clear images under water):

Going outside to explore a modern riparian environment with my Spinosaurus illustration in mind inspired me to incorporate snails feeding on algae, fish feeding (the one in the foreground of my illustration is eyeing a snail), as well as the turtles hanging out casually, despite large predators cruising through. If I moved slowly, like the Spinosaurus in my illustration, carp and turtles would swim all around me, even brushing past my legs and arms. One western pond turtle even tried to eat me!

The curved fish-eye lens perspective was also inspired by the ultra-wide angle lens of my little GoPro camera.

The reason I share all of this is because it was all essential to making my illustration different from any illustration of Spinosaurus that came before it. I’m not smart enough to just blast out a totally new perspective on an extinct animal without first doing a ton of research and exploration first. Yet finding that new perspective, and breathing life into new hypothesis is exactly my goal. Credit, reference, payment and financial security are all nice, but I really don’t care that much about any of that stuff (possibly to the detriment of my career). What’s important is art and science, and pushing both to the next level by gathering more evidence, exploring deeper into the imagination, and coming back with new ideas, insights and questions. The problem with the new Spinosaurus art is that it doesn’t do anything I didn’t do four years ago, other than display a slightly newer (albeit questionable) reconstruction of the animal. As people who enjoy science and art you all should be disappointed not that my image (maybe) got copied, but that the new image fails to contribute a new perspective or idea to the body of Spinosaurus paleo art. You could be looking at something totally new, from a different angle, or depicting a different hunting strategy, or at least with a substantially different composition. Instead you’re looking at a bluer, slightly better drawn version of my old ideas.

But at least lots of people get to see it.

To any paleontologists reading this: if you discover something new I hope you will consider contacting me to do a reconstruction or life restoration for you. If you are limited by budget but have a fascinating paper, article or discovery that would benefit from a compelling illustration I will still work with you. Also, bear in mind, I am four years better at art than I was when I made that Spinosaurus illustration, and I am brimming with new ideas I haven’t yet had the opportunity to illustrate. I have some new stuff in the works that I’ll be posting on when it’s published, and in the meantime here are a few of my more recent works.

Earth Beasts Awaken Posters ON SALE NOW!!!

If you liked Earth Beasts Awaken part 1 and part 2 and you want to help part 3 be as epic as possible, you can help fund the upcoming video by buying some Earth Beasts Awaken posters!

The posters are 12″x18″ (30.48cm x 45.72cm) and are printed on nice heavy cardstock.

You can order them INDIVIDUALLY FOR $15 EACH, or if you scroll to the bottom of this post you can order ALL 5 FOR $65.

Prices include shipping within the United States. If you are outside of the US I’ll send you a paypal payment request for additional shipping once your order has shipped.

Old Mountain Back
Old Mountain Back:





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Finskull The Poisonous!
Finskull The Poisonous:





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Terrorsoar In Cave
The Terrorsoar in the Cave:





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The Snow Painter
The Snow Painter:





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King Gingko Crest
King Ginkgo Crest (to be featured in part 3!!)





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Like them all?? BUY ALL FIVE POSTERS for the discounted price of $65!





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Want to support the project but don’t have any wall-space? You can donate directly to the project here:





Thanks again to all of you for your ongoing support and feedback. If you can’t afford to support my work financially, sharing the link to this post is probably just as helpful. The more people who contribute, the less each individual needs to give. And of course, the more money I can raise, the more monsters I can bring to life. Thanks again.

-historian

EARTH BEASTS AWAKEN part 2: CALL TO AWAKEN

EARTH BEASTS AWAKEN PART 2: CALL TO AWAKEN IS FINALLY DONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Many thanks to everyone who helped make this project possible. I am honored to have friends who are willing to help me make things, and that there are people in the world who like my work enough to support it by sharing it and giving me feedback and buying my art!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BIG UPS!!!!!!!!!!

enjoy.

download Call to Awaken 2014 REMIX.mp3
(right click to download)

…And you can also download the instrumental (with monster SFX) here:
download Call to Awaken 2014 INSTRUMENTAL REMIX.mp3
(right click to download)

In Mountains – EARTH BEASTS AWAKEN Part 1

Back in 2009 I released my first musical album, a project called Earth Beasts Awaken. I had basically no idea what I was doing, but I knew I really wanted to make music videos that incorporated epic storytelling, rap, thunderous beats, and giant monsters. It wasn’t made well – it was my first musical effort – but for some reason people on the internet didn’t totally hate it, and even a few people found it, enjoyed it, and let me know.

Now, years later, I’ve finally developed the skill-set and pulled together the resources to make those music videos. The video you see below is the first installment in three part series of music videos based on tracks from that album. The tracks have been re-mixed and re-recorded, and the videos are all shot on location with practical creatures and environments… Enjoy…

download In Mountains 2014 REMIX.mp3
(right click to download)

Thank you all for your ongoing support and feedback, especially those of you who bought the hand painted CDs I sold to get this project off the ground. It’s been immeasurably important to my development as an artist and has helped me to stay the course even through projects like this one that take many months or years to complete.

…and stay tuned for a teaser trailer for part two…

and oh how we’ll croak…

Here’s another video I’ve been meaning to finish for many months and finally managed to. Beat produced and video editing by me. My friend Jeremy Owen shot the performance and I shot the masks and creatures. Hope you like it.

download Bagheera.mp3
(right click to download)

i came to stack the carcasses

This video has nothing to do with my upcoming album Gather Bones. It’s one of several tracks that I put together last spring in order to sharpen my skills for finishing Gather Bones, but I never got around to finishing it until recently. Part of the reason it took so long is because my timing wasn’t great and I could only get baby mantises, so I had to raise them until they were big enough to film killing and eating things.

download Stack Carcasses (beat by Buddah Killah).mp3
(right click to download)

Old Black Coffin (Gather Bones preview track)

Download Old Black Coffin.mp3

download Old Black Coffin.mp3
(right click to download)

This track features Drew McGowan on fiddle and Kim Megowan on backup vocals. Beat and lyrics by historian.

Gather Bones album teaser

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