Archive for the 'paleo art' Category

The Dinosaurs of Copper Ridge

Be sure to subscribe to my new paleoart youtube channel and I hope you’ll help make future videos possible by purchasing poster of my illustrations:

Copper Ridge Diplodocus

Copper Ridge Diplodocus

Copper Ridge Diplodocus


Purchase a 9″x18″ (22.86 x 45.72cm) poster print of my copper ridge DIPLODOCUS illustration. Posters are $20 each and the price includes shipping within the US. International orders will be contaced to arrange payment for additional shipping costs.





Copper Ridge Allosaurus
Not to spoil the reveal, but here is the other illustration I did for the Copper Ridge Dinosaur Tracksite. It depicts an Allosaurus and it will be the focus of my next youtube video on the site.

allosaurpaint8adj1websized

Purchase a 9″x18″ (22.86 x 45.72cm) poster print of my copper ridge ALLOSAURUS illustration. Posters are $20 each and the price includes shipping within the US. International orders will be contaced to arrange payment for additional shipping costs.





Also, for a limited time I’m offering copies of my 2016 Paleoart Portfolio ONLY to Patreon supporters. Pledge $20 to receive a copy (you can edit or delete your pledge after your first month), and if you send me a message saying you’re willing to support me for 2 months or more at $20 I will draw your favourite prehistoric creature (heck, or living animal if you prefer) in the incover of your book.

Artbook CoverArtbookIncoverArtbookOpen2

Share Button

2015 in Review

2015 was a busy year. Here’s some of the stuff I finished during our last rotation around the sun…

Sort of as an experiment in minimalism, I made this music video for a track in collaboration with beatmaker BLAQ MASQ

I also recorded several other verses for musical collaborations, such as this one (the others have yet to be released):

I also designed and animated several minutes of animation for a TV documentary about viking mythology. Here’s a short clip of some of my animation. I plan on assembling all of it as a standalone short as soon as I can find the time:

On the front lines of paleoart, I launched the #buildabetterfaketheropod hashtag along with a pile of art poking fun at the dinosaurs/science of some dinosaur movie that came out this year and was sorta big.
FTCryponychusWeb

Somewhere around that same time I went out to Moab Utah to photograph and explore the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway, which I then created an illustration of for an interpretive sign commissioned by Utah BLM Paleontologist Rebecca Hunt-Foster.

MCDTPaleoscape-MediaSauropod

Later that summer I traveled out to Utah again to participate in my first paleontological field expedition, again with ReBecca Hunt-Foster, her husband John Foster, Sharon McMullen, Mikey Schiltz and Matt Wedel to survey a newly discovered secret site, cluttered with mid mesozoic dinosaur fossils and giant petrified trees! That was awesome. But I can’t say more because it’s all still super secret and I’d be beheaded in sacrifice to our great archosaur overlords if I said any more.

Sometime after I got back from that trip I did these two drawings for an upcoming paper on Apatosaur combat I’m a coauthor on with Matt Wedel, Mike Taylor and Darren Naish.
Apato neck shove matchApato neck smash!

I then finished a mixtape of new raps about fighting you with animals in the jungle called JUNGLECAT TECHNIQUE, and a new self produced album called Gather Bones. If you like my music, I hope you’ll consider supporting it on bandcamp.

wise men

Also at some point I did this reconstruction of an early Cretaceous angiosperm called Frenelopsis for Nathan Jud’s paper re-describing the taxa:
TenontoFrenelopsisWebBoosted

And I also did a bunch of drawings and concept art for Earth Beasts Awaken part 3, and a pile of sketches as rewards for my Patreon supporters, many of which can be seen in the photo galleries over on the historian facebook page
Cavern Glower

And now (like right now) I’m working on another illustrated sign for another Utah BLM dinosaur trackway site commissioned by ReBecca Hunt-Foster. I’m not going to share it right now though, because you have to support me on Patreon to see the behind the scenes stuff that isn’t finished yet, as well as special bonus content videos like this B-reel footage of the Snow Painter creature from Earth Beasts Awaken part 1 that I put together for my new Patreon supporters:

For those of you who have supported my work by buying art, making a donation or just sharing and hyping the hell out of it, thanks for the support!!!

Oh yeah, and I also put a ton of art up on my new Redbubble store, so you can even support my art by rockin’ it in the forms of various interdimensional style armors!!

Share Button

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway

As some of you know, I’ve been doing paleo art work in addition to finishing albums and developing the next Earth Beasts Awaken videos, and I’m excited to finally announce my most recently finished paleo project: an illustration of the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway commissioned by Utah BLM Paleontologist Rebecca Hunt-Foster for an interperetive trail sign overlooking the dinosaur trackways near Moab Utah. Here it is on site.

Photo by Rebecca Hunt-Foster

Photo by Rebecca Hunt-Foster

The printed sign you see above is pretty big, 30″x36″ (about a square meter), and the tracks drawn in my illustration had to match the view from where the sign was placed. So the finished illustration had to be really really detailed. In addition to that, the trackway preserves a huge number of footprints from an awesome diversity of animals – at least ten different kinds of footprints and other traces are present – and ReBecca wanted me to depict as many of these animals as possible without making the composition seem to unnaturally crowded, as the animals weren’t likely all there at the same time. Oh, and just to make things extra difficult, basically no good skeletal fossils are known from the same strata as the footprints (the Ruby Ranch member of the Cedar Mountain Formation – Early Cretaceous), so the animals all had to be reconstructed based on close relatives and specimens known from strata a few million years older or younger. All in all this illustration represents my largest, most challenging illustration to date.

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Paleoscape by Brian Engh

Extravagant Iguanodonts and distant large TheropodEarly NodosaurSauropod and ornithomimids

You can buy a 12″x18″ Print of my illustration here for $25. Price includes shipping within the US. International buyers will be contacted to arrange additional payment through paypal.





In order to reconstruct the panoramic view in my illustration so that it would match the real-life view from where the sign is now placed I had to go to Utah and photograph the site. So I drove out there and camped nearby, and visited the site multiple times a day for 3 days in order to figure out when the best time of day the sunlight was best for viewing the tracks. I found that sunrise was not only the best time to view the tracks, it was goddamn gorgeous and revealed details to me I would’ve never noticed other times of day when the light was higher. So I shot this panorama of the trackway at sunrise, and Rebecca and her husband John Foster (also a Paleontologist) and even their daughter Ruby paced out the best preserved tracks in front of the camera so I could later trace them over my panorama image, which is how I made trackway “field guide” that’s under the main illustration on the sign.

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Panorama (pre-Boardwalk)

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Panorama (pre-Boardwalk)

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Field Guide

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Field Guide

The other reason I was there was to try and make some sense of this intensely complex site and to try to figure out what, of all of it, would be the focus of my illustration. In the process of checking out the site I noticed so many awesome little details that I simply can’t write about it all here, so for now here’s a gallery of some of my favourite tracks:

ornithopod slipsauropod manus with thumb clawSauropod back foot with ridgesThe big theropodBig theropod overprinted by sauropodTurtle crawlgorgeous ornithomimid tracksFatty Ankylosaur Stomper (pes)

But even after visiting the site, walking that ancient lakeshore, searching for details which might give a clue as to what was really going on there, I still found myself perplexed. What was this environment? Why were the tracks of a huge diversity of animals exquisitely preserved there, while no recognizeable plant fossils could be found anywhere nearby? What were all the big plant eaters eating? Fortunately renowned Paleontologists Dr. Jim Kirkland and Dr. Ken Carpenter offered me some great input, along with Elizabeth Montgomery, a graduate student working on the geochemistry of the ancient lake, and with their guidance the look of the lake and the surrounding landscape began to take shape. Ken and Jim explained most patiently to me that the tectonic activity in the area hadn’t yet produced any mountain ranges or big rock outcrops that would be visible in the background as they are in modern times, but the tectonics further west did play a role in forming the lake. It appears that the lake was in a foreland basin, which is basically the gradually sloping wash of sediments that forms behind a mountain range that’s being pushed up by tectonic activity.

ForelandBasinSystem

The lake, it appears, was the lowest point for many miles around, and at around 20 miles in length was likely the largest body of permanent water in the area. The ancient sediments in the area indicate a fairly arid environment, perhaps something like the dry open savannah in modern east-central Africa, which might explain why animals were converging on the shore of the lake. Perhaps most interesting though, is that Elizabeth’s geochemical analysis indicates that the lake was likely semi-saline with a unique alkaline water chemistry that caused it to precipitate dolomite, which is basically dissolved limestone, and that combo of dolomites and clay and algae on the shore of the lake made for a particularly resilient concrete-like mud that baked in the desert sun as the lake’s water level dropped, then became harder than the surrounding stone when it was eventually buried in sand by a big flood. According to Elizabeth’s work, there are only two lakes today with a similar water chemistry to that ancient Dinosaur lake: Lake Changara in the altiplano of Chile, and Bosten Lake in China.

Llamas grazing near the inflow to Changara Lake in Chile - Wikipedia commons

Llamas grazing near the inflow to Changara Lake in Chile – Wikipedia commons

Both of these lakes have something really interesting ecologically going on. Despite being semi-saline, lots of animals visit the part of the lake where fresh water flows into it, because the fresh water pushes a lot of the salt and lime deeper into the lake. The fresh water and rich nutrients mixing also support a profusion of soft water plants and algae, which feed various animals (and which may not fossilize readily). Intriguingly, while tracing the layer of rock that forms the lake shore I got the distinct impression that there may have been an inflow channel just alongside the most concentrated area of dinosaur tracks and crocodile slides…

Water lillies (early cretaceous!) and reeds (post mesozoic) near the inflow of Bosten Lake, China

Water lillies (early cretaceous!) and reeds (post mesozoic) near the inflow of Bosten Lake, China

Could it have been that the animals were converging on the one spot where they could find fresh water and perhaps even some aquatic salad during the dry season? While we may never know every detail of this ancient lake’s ecology and geology, it’s nonetheless awesome to be able to visit a place where you can still see the very specific movements of individual animals that lived and died over a hundred million years before our time, recorded in the landscape before you. I strongly encourage any of you who might happen to visit Moab Utah to check out the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway. I don’t think you’ll be dissapointed by all the work ReBecca and a handful of other paleoartists including Mark Witton and Jeffrey Martz and BLM staff put into the interperetive trail around the site, and if you’re tuned into the landscape and what it’s telling you, I gaurantee you’ll be blown away by some of the things you’ll see recorded in the mud of that ancient lakeshore…

Big pencil drawing wiht iguanodon thumbs up for scale

Want to wear some dinosaurs? You can also get my Mill Canyon art on all kinds of printed goods, from t-shirts to leggings, mugs, totes & more on my Redbubble store

Share Button

EARTH BEASTS UPDATE

Despite what I say in the video I’ve been having some technical trouble with paypal’s recurring donation feature so really the best way to make a recurring monthly donation is through my Patreon page:
MY PATREON PAGE

OR, you can make a one time donation on Paypal:




I hope you’ll consider making a small recurring monthly donation to support my work on a monthly basis. Small donations add up, and it is entirely within your power as my audience to determine whether or not I can make my videos and art fully independently, or if I have to submit myself to the existing media structure in order to make a living.

Frame from footage shot for an upcoming Earth Beasts Awaken Video

Frame from footage shot for an upcoming Earth Beasts Awaken Video

Share Button

Want some battling Apatosaurs on your wall?

I don’t have time at the moment to do a full blog post on the science and art that went into these illustrations, but if you check out the recent posts by Mike Taylor on SVPOW you’ll get a pretty good overview of the the ideas that we’ve been working on. That said, I’m about to order a big batch of posters of some of my recent art, so I just wanted to put up a post where you can order a copy of either of these pencil drawings:

Apato neck shove match
Order a n 12″x17″ (30.48cm x 43.18cm) print of Apato Shove Match! (above image) for $15 here:





Apato neck smash!
Order an 11″x17″ (27.94 x 43.18cm) print of Apato Neck SMASH! (above image) for $15 here:





Shipping is free within the US. If you’re outside of the US I’ll send you a paypal payment request for the exact cost of shipping along with a customs/tracking number.

Thanks for checking out my art!!

Share Button

#BuildaBetterFakeTheropod …WITH SCIENCE!

If you’ve been following me on twitter you’ll no doubt have found your feed infested with bizarre fictitious dinosaurs with the hashtag #BuildABetterFakeTheropod. The idea behind the hashtag was to try and come up with better, more scientifically inspired fake dinosaur designs than Jurassic World’s dated, unrealistic looking gray behemoth “Indominus rex.” Turns out, coming up with something more interesting and more science based isn’t very hard, because paleontologists have already done a ton of hard work over the last 20 years discovering and describing and educating the public about a diverse menagerie strange and wonderful lifeforms all of which suggests a world of speculative biology ripe for movie-monster exploitation. Over the course of the last few weeks I’ve posted a bunch of illustrations to my twitter and I thought I ought to explain some of the science that inspired a few of them in more than 140 characters.

“Cryptonychus arborealis” a semi arboreal Dromeosaur (“raptor”) from a tropical rain forest environment:

FTCryponychusWeb

It’s apparently pretty hard to become a fossil. While some environments lend themselves to making fossils more than others, many environments aren’t so good at it, and some are really really bad at it. Tropical rainforests are one of those environments that can be really really bad at making fossils. Constant heat and humidity encourage an abundance of decomposers, and a thick mass of vegetation binds up all the available soil, so things rarely get buried in the mineral rich mud, sand or clay that help preserve remains. What that means is that there are vast swathes of some of the most bio-diverse ancient ecologies that we will never know anything about… That means LOTS of dinosaurs that just rotted and were forgotten. Forever. Now that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate about what might’ve been living in such environments, as many things from environments that were good at making fossils likely had relatives in environments that were not so good at making fossils (as many living things do today).

So, think of humans, or cheetahs. Both are widespread predators (well, cheetahs used to be widespread – once ranging throughout southern Europe, India & the Middle East) who evolved to hunt by chasing things down in an open Savannah environment. But both humans and cheetahs aren’t the only hunting primates or big cats around. We live at the same time as animals that share a common ancestor with us. In the tropical jungles of Africa there are both leopards and chimpanzees, both of which hunt in trees. Now, when I consider that the Velociraptor and Utahraptor that we know about hunted in open floodplains & semiarid woodland environments (good at makin fossils), and they share ancestry with smaller “raptor” dinos that appear to be arboreal (tree climbing) forms (some of which were likely gliders or fliers), I gotta wonder: were their weird big jungle raptors that hunted in way up trees?? My “Cryptonychus” (meaning “hidden claw”) is an attempt to come up with something like that. As it’s name (and hopefully the art) implies, it is a large ambush hunter, with a shaggy coat of feathers to camouflage it amongst the mossy vines an branches as it creeps slowly through the trees until if finds a perch near a game trail or nest. Then it waits… Silent. Motionless. Until the prey comes just… close… enough!

Giant Heron-like Ornithomimid
FTSpearBillWeb

Ornithomimids are the group of Dinosaurs that looked sorta like ostriches but weren’t. The group includes Gallimimus, which was included (albeit featherless) in the first Jurassic Park movie and (even less accurately) in the new movie. Deinocheirus was a weird giant member of this group, and the recent discovery of more of its skeleton shows us that the ornithomimids could get BIG (like around T-rex big) and weird (it had a goddamn hump or sail or something)!

Deinocheirus figure from Natrure

One of the features that made it weird was that, unlike the rest of the (known) ornithomimids, Deinocheirus has a peculiar spoon shaped bill, likely for cropping plant matter or sifting nutritious crud out of the water like ducks do. The rest of the group has more pointed beaks, similar to that of modern generalist feeders like chickens and ostriches and the like. So, if this lineage of dinosaurs evolved a range of bills from sorta-pointy, to really-spoony, why not extra-pointy? It is not uncommon in evolutionary history to see groups of generalist feeders give rise to species or whole groups more specialized for feeding a certain way, which seems to be what Deinocheirus was doing. Perhaps somewhere, lurking in the depths of time, still waiting to be discovered or missed by fossilization completely, there were Ornithomimids adapted to spear and gulp down smaller animals as modern herons do… Oh, and by the way, herons are pretty closely related to spoonbills (they’re both Pelicaniformes).


Early Jurassic “Sinosaur-Line” Theropods

FTChasersWeb

There is a big hole in the fossil record between the smaller late Triassic ceolophysoid theropods and the big giants (Like Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus) that appear in the fossil record in the middle Jurassic. The medium to large sized early Jurassic theropods that have been found (such as Dilophosaurus and Sinosaurus) are rare and many are highly fragmentary, yet they seem to indicate some interesting things were going on. Many of them have strange crests on their heads, and their overall body plan appears to be transitioning from a long and low body plan, to one with more robust legs, arms, heads and necks, likely for taking down larger prey. The creatures in the above drawing are my attempt to visualize a powerful-yet-speedy intermediate form, with ample strength to dispatch human-sized prey, but long powerful legs to chase down even off road vehicles. I, for one, would love to see a chase scene where a pair (or more!) of hungry theropods easily keep pace with a speeding off-road vehicle and the human prey within has to avoid being pulled from a broken window or opened top as the vehicle bounces and lurches in its struggle to navigate the rugged terrain, effortlessly handled by the ancient hunters.

If you like this kind of speculative monster design stuff let me know, & I hope you’ll share it aroundI. If people like it I’ll do another post on a few of my other #buildabetterfaketheropod designs.

Share Button

#BuildABetterFakeTheropod

If you’re gonna make up a dinosaur (or other prehistoric creature) for what is ostensibly a science-fiction movie, it should be spectacular visually, frighteningly foreign yet believable in it’s character and behavior, and it should be based at least loosely on the mountain of surprising and fascinating knowledge about dinosaur anatomy and behavior that scientists and artists around the world have worked tirelessly to discover and communicate over the last several decades. In light of a new Jurassic Park movie coming out that apparently disregards all of that study and discovery, (even with regards to the not-made-up dinosaurs it features) I started drawing made-up dinosaurs that I think would be cool to see in a movie and I’ve been posting them to my twitter feed with the hashtag #BuildABetterFakeTheropod. I’ve decided that for the next week I’m gonna put a new one up every day, in the hopes that people will be intrigued about actual dinosaur science in the process. At the end of the week I’ll throw up a full gallery with all of them.

To start us off, here’s a speculative long-horned relative of the Abelisaur Majungasaurus, dripping with blood from a recent battle, possibly with a rival male. His neck is a swollen mass of fat and connective tissue meant to protect him from the bites, thrusts and slashes of his opponents…

Longhorn Abelisaur

While that horn on it’s head might look a bit ridiculous, it’s only an exaggeration of a feature known from a real Theropod dinosaur, Majungasaurus. Check out the horn-like knob at the top of it’s skull, and bear in mind that the rough knobby bone tissue indicates that there was soft tissue (possibly horn) anchored firmly to it. Also, the particularly robust skull bones are typical of animals whose heads take a lot of impact, which has lead Paleontologists to speculate that Majungasuaurus, and other Abelisaurs such as Carnotaurus may have bashed their heads into things.

Witmer Lab Majungasaurus

Given that spectacular head crests are know from other theropod dinosaurs, it seems reasonable to speculate that long-horned forms may have existed, or that the horn tissue that rotted away greatly enlarged what we see in the bone. Also such features easily result from simple genetic modification by humans (such as selective breeding as in the case domestic livestock). Most importantly, IT WOULD BE AWESOME TO WATCH THEM BATTLE EACH OTHER, or other dinosaurs, or threaten humans with their territorial behavior in a well directed feature film (all of which would be completely in line with modern dinosaur science).

Or if you prefer completely made up mythological prehistoric monsters, only aesthetically inspired by actual paleontology, then there’s this:

Share Button

my talk on reconstructing Aquilops at Nerd Nite SF

About a month ago I did a talk on my dinosaur illustration process, and the video of my talk is now online. The talk centers around the reconstruction of the new species of dinosaur Aquilops americanus that I was hired to do by Andy Farke and Matt Wedel for the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology.


Aquilops americanus a new species of basal ceratopsian dinosaur.

Aquilops americanus, a new species of basal ceratopsian dinosaur.

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!!:





If you want to see many of the images in my talk more clearly and read more about reconstructing Aquilops, be sure to check out my blog post Introducing Aquilops americanus.

Also, check out Nerd Nite’s website if you want to learn more about Nerd Nite events & find out when and where they’re taking place.

Oh, and here’s that ceratopsian family tree video from the end of my talk in full HD glory:

If you’d like to use the ceratopsian skull wall video in a presentation or whatever, feel free to download and use it:
DOWNLOAD UMNH CERATOPSIAN SKULL FAMILY TREE VIDEO
(right click to download)

Share Button

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

Share Button

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.

Share Button

Next Page »