Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thoughts on Palaeoart II

By Peter

(This post is really a continuation of this post on my blog.)

What does correct palaeoart look like? Is it Sir Charles Knight's pencils or Luis V. Rey's colourful paint? How can you capture what an animal nobody has ever seen before looks like?

This is the basic problem that artists face when reconstructing extinct animals and plants. Interpreting skeletal material, skin impressions, and footprints, they try to create life! This is not an easy job. Mistakes are made, evidence is reinterpreted, ideas and theories change. As ideas change, so must palaeoart.

In a previous post on Bond's Blog, I took the example of Minmi paravertebra and discovered a huge range of reconstructions of this small dinosaur (even with over 95% of the skeleton found!) I would understand such variation in reconstruction for creatures such as Deinocheirus, where we have only found its arms. But for a well known extinct animal, why is there such variation in our reconstructions of it?

For example, I have searched the net for photos of another well known dinosaur: Edmontosaurus regalis.

Skull length, neck length, arm length and positioning, muscle thickness and placement, feet and hand differences, even body pose... This variety in anatomy mixed with the subjective colour and texture amounts to a series of pictures that look like different animals.

Is one reconstruction better than others? What does "better" mean? If we equate "better" with "more accurate," then yes, some are more accurate than others. Accuracy comes with time, new discoveries and new ideas. Is the goal of a palaeoartist to be as accurate as possible?

What are the goals of a palaeoartist? Leave your comments below!

Artist Credits:
1. Charles R. Knight (at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History)
2. Karen Carr (2008 Dinosaur Society Hadrosaur)
3. Charles R. Knight (1897 Hadrosaurus from Century Magazine)
4. Joseph Smit (1905 Hadrosaurus from Nebula to Man)
5. Rudolph Zallinger (from the Age of Reptiles at Peabody Museum)
6. Dorling Kindersley (with DK images)
7. Unknown artist (from In Hand
8. Neil Riehle (2000 Edmontosaurus)
9. Unknown artist (Edmontosaurus from KidsFront)
10. Unknown artist (for the National Geographic Society)
11. Unknown artist (from the Jurassic Park Institute)
12. Unknown artist (Edmontosaurus from Urwelt Museum Neiderhell in Germany)
13. Joe Tucciarone
14. Todd Marshal (Edmontosaurus annectens)
15. Mineo Shiraishi
16. Micheal Berglund (for Bob Bakker and the Huston Museum of Natural Science)


Mike Keesey said...

The primary goal is accuracy. The secondary goal is aesthetic. Great paleo-art accomplished both.

Instead of being in competition, accuracy can serve the interest of aesthetics. In some ways, nature is a better designer than any of us.

Prehistoric Insanity said...

Accuracy can not be the end goal in a true sense, as we don't know (nor will we ever be sure in most cases) what accurate is.

I'd say the goal is attempt to explore the different avenues of what COULD be accurate. Thinking of Palaeo-Art as a form of visual experinment. Some proving more correct than others, but none of them ultimately being THE correct answer.

Glendon Mellow said...

Another goal of the paleoartist is recognition: let's see some credits and citation links for all that cool artwork, man!

Mike Keesey said...

Accuracy can not be the end goal in a true sense, as we don't know (nor will we ever be sure in most cases) what accurate is.

It's not a reachable goal, but it's an approachable goal. With scientific illustration, as in science, that's what you get.

Metalraptor said...

Not to be technical, but you have pictures of Protohadros and Brachylophosaurus mixed up with the other pictures of Edmontosaurus (and "Trachodon")

Accuracy is the primary goal, coolness/badassness/beauty is the second. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Peter Bond said...

Thanks Glendon, I have now added the credits of the art at the bottom of the post. Very important!

Thanks Metalraptor, you're right! The last picture is of a Brachylophosaur, not an Edmontosaur. It's Leonardo! My bad! You will have to help me out though in leting me know which pic is Protohadros? (Honestly, I don't know anything about Protohadros.)

Glendon Mellow said...

Awesome. Thanks Bond.

That Mineo Shiraishi kicks tail.

Accuracy matters, but sometimes creative licence can more easily peak interest.

Jurassic Park is inaccurate in many ways (I'm thinking of the method of throwing humans and dinos together) yet it excited the public's imagination about dinosaurs in a way that couldn't have happened without that movie.

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

well, "accuracy" changes all the time when we talk about science.

btw I like your dino-cartoons, Peter

Mike Keesey said...

Accuracy changes, but not randomly. It approaches a goal. Sometimes the route to that goal isn't exactly direct, and sometimes the way seems blocked, but it's still a worthy goal.

As for Jurassic Park piquing interest, that's true, but it's science fiction. They're allowed to bend the rules in the interest of speculation. That said, the only rules they needed to bend had to do with the quality of DNA preserved in amber and the feasibility of creating a suitable developmental environment for long-extinct organisms. Many other rules were bent when there was no real need to bend them. (Although, I should add, it's still much, much better than many other movies in this regard.)

Zachary said...

Like Mike said, for me, accuracy is the ultimate goal. Accuracy can change, but the art has to change with it. For example, now we have to paint feathers on all our heterodontosaurs. Just last week, that wasn't the case.

Accuracy can be accomplished in the skeleton and musculature, but after that, unless amazing circumstances exist (like integument or soft tissue preservation), it's all aesthetic, but even then, I'm very conservative in my approach to most dinosaurs.

Nima said...

You have to get good at drawing 3D forms and foreshortening first.

Then study the skeletons, put only as much muscle as would make sense given the size of the crests and scars on the bones...

the skin... I'd go on the surviving impressions, but a bit of creative license goes a LONG way.

As for what SORT of creative license makes sense, I'd just AVOID inventing any soft tissue structure that looks maladaptive or hinders the animal (like attaching pterosaur wings to the feet, bat-style like in old paintings). Many people still copy this error though.

Metalraptor said...

Hey, thanks Peter. Anyway, the picture of Protohadros is the second one in the Great Hadrosaur Picture Rush, the one by Karen Carr. I remember it because it appeared in a book on Texas dinosaurs a while back, and is about the only good picture of Protohadros out there.

As for what is Protohadros, I must admit that's much more difficult. Protohadros was a large ornithopod native to Texas, living at the very end of the Early Cretaceous period, right before the big extinction in the Turonian that knocked off the stegosaurs, a lot of the pterosaurs, and others. There are two major specimens known, a skull from Flower Mound, and possibly a nearly complete skeleton found in the new Arlington Archosaur Site. I actually blogged about it over at the blog I share with a friend. To sum up the site in a nutshell, it isn't known for sure if it is Protohadros, as the type specimen is only known from the skull, but it is sure shaping up to be that way, as Protohadros is the only large ornithopod known from this time in Texas. As for phylogeny, this is still being debated. Some say its a really advanced iguanodont that looks like a hadrosaur, others say its a really primitive hadrosaur. The jury is still out.

Anyway, glad I could help. I love the site, the artwork you do is awesome!

Minsc said...

Just stumbled upon this site, but I thought I'd join in the discussion here, if no one minds...

Paleo-art is just that - Art based on prehistoric life. Now, the level of "accuracy" that should be expected, in addition to the very valid points already made here, has to take into account the type of artist.

Is this person trying to depict this animal as science has described it? Are they trying to depict this animal with a new or little-known theory in mind? Or are they trying to depict something that has not been discovered yet, sort of like the origins of the Spielburg's giant Velociraptors in Jurassic Park?

For those of you who may not be aware, Spielburg invented those raptors because he wasn't happy with the small-sized Velociraptors in the fossil record. It wasn't until just before the first Jurassic Park was slated to hit the theaters that Spielburg's giant raptors were discovered and dubbed Utahraptor.

My point here is that, as long as they aren't drawing something that is quite obviously not what they are naming it, do we really have any right to say that just because a depiction is not "accurate," that it's not Paleo-art?

Peter Bond said...

Glad to see you here, Minsc! Your idea that Paleoart depends on the type of artist and their ultimate goal for the image is excellent. I agree that style and, in the same vein, medium chosen by an artist greatly affects the final result.

So the question is: Can we sacrifice accuracy for style?

Minsc said...

Unless Accuracy is your intent, then I think, yes. We can sacrifice accuracy in favor of style.

My opinion anyhow. :P