Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Long Road to Failure

A long, long, long time ago, my buddy Will Baird (of the Dragon’s Tales) suggested collaborating on an interesting spec project: the alternate Permian, a place where the Permio-Triassic extinction never happened (or at least happened much slower) and non-mammalian synapsids came to rule the world instead of reptilian archosaurs. This idea intrigued me, but it also intimidated me—I knew virtually nothing about those critters. We focused first on developing a neodicynodont that we lovingly called the “walrodont” because it converged on walruses. Here’s the initial skeletal I did so long ago.

The walrodont went through more changes than any other creature in our bestiary, as I was never convinced it could be real. Many versions exist, but only a few survive. We also collaborated on some more neodicynodonts illustrating a host of semi-aquatic roles. These included the compact, big-headed hippodont; the lithe, long-toed desmodont; and the transitional form between those two, the sirenodont. You can see the desmodont and hippodont here. The sirenodont is in PDF form so I've that one out. It's not bad, let's say that.

We initially focused on a few other critters too, namely what the gorgonopsids would be doing. I suggested they would evolve into dog and bear roles, and this shaggy, amphicyonoid critter came out of that idea. Notice the prominent canines. Gorgons already have big ol’ canines, but I liked the idea that they would become hypertrophied in at least a few species. Big canines are a consistent theme in synapsid evolution.

Will said it was too furry (I agreed), and I thought the anatomy looked forced. I decided to make it sleeker and less furry, with an emphasis on pectoral musculature so the beastie could pin down its prey before delivering the death blow. This is the sketch that followed those new rules, along with a juvenile Dromaeosuchus, or sprint-o-croc, another Alt-Permian beastie. I realized that the “ursonopsid” (as we were calling it) looked more like a barbourofelid nimravid, so I started calling it the “barbouronopsid.”

We decided that this particular barbouronopsid would chase down the beach-loving desmodonts and sirenodonts, but what ate the walrodont? Well, how about a big marine hovasaur? Hovasaurs are basal diapsids with long, webbed feet and dorsoventrally expanded tails. I took an average-sized hovasaur and made it longer, and gave it orca colors because orcas are awesome. These would be the key players in the Art Evolved piece. I started with this sketch:

I used the power of Photoshop for the rest. This process went through several troubled stages. I went into this project with the goal of creating a piece without outlines, and while I succeeded in that effort, it’s clearly something I need to practice.

I modeled the landscape (OMG—context!) after a cliffside beach near my house. The final picture was supposed to have a little Euparkeria-type archosaur eating a shellfish, but there wasn’t really enough room. I have no idea what Permian vegetation looks like, but Will consulted me there, thus the giant fern-things on the top of the bluff, and the weird seaweed towers in the water. And look at those crinoids! I purposefully used big, exaggerated strokes on the crinoids. My goal was to make them look a bit “out of focus,” but because I don’t know how to use Photoshop, I don’t think that’s how it looks.

The water was modeled after Wind Waker. In fact, the whole goddamn piece was supposed to have a Wind Waker color scheme to it, but it just looks wierd and incomplete. So there you have it, folks: the long road to an EPIC FAIL. Definately not one of my best pieces, though I learned a lot by doing this, so that's...some consolation. I guess.


Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Dude for an early attempt at photoshop (I mean early in what I'm sure is going to be a long relationship with the program :P) this is really good!

It is an intensely complicated, and often counter intuitive piece of software. You'll get the hang of it (especially from dissatifaction in pieces such as this one... it'll drive you to perfection)

You can find comfort in looking at my not so great early pieces at

You can't run till you crawl, and thusly you can't photoshop till you paint (as in the program paint :P). It'll come to you, I promise!

Glendon Mellow said...

Zach, quit beating yourself up, man! You've totally got a saturated colour Windwaker vibe going here.

It's not necessary for this piece, but one of the helpful things I am discovering about painting in Photoshop, is putting a base colour down, and then painting over it with varying levels of opacity. The Imagine FX magazine and website have a ton of great tutorials.

I think this piece is ambitious, and the bright colours first brought to my mind a mural, or children's book.

Metalraptor said...

I like the various creatures in the drawing. One question though, wouldn't the marine hovasaurs become more adapted for life in the sea over time? Like, for example, turning their webbed feet into flippers?

Mike Keesey said...

Very cool ideas! I love the form of dicynodont heads -- neat to see someone play with that form.

Neil said...

Love the marine hovasaur, especially the color scheme!

ScottE said...

Just now getting around to commenting on this, but, Zach, the artist who doesn't fail never succeeds.

Practice, practice, practice.

Peter Bond said...

Like everyone is saying, Zach, don't worry if you aren't overly happy with your art. An artist's greatest critic is usually the artist!

I really like your first recreation of the Gorgon creature! It really seems to have a presence.

Nima said...

Don't sweat it so hard Zach. My first therapsid drawings were downright atrocious. Plus I've never been good with photoshop (though Pixia is a different story!)

Dude, mistakes make for better art later on anyway. GSP's first drawings (which he's been humble enough to put in his autobiography up on his website) were full of errors (though they still looked nice) and were not of publishable quality. But today he's got over 30 years worth of the most cutting-edge dino art out there.

The same is true with music, ironically - Beethoven thought his first symphony sucked, so he wrote much better ones. Weber and Rossini also didn't think too highly of their early operas, saying: "runty puppies and first operas should be drowned". And their later operas sold out to PACKED opera houses in countries hundreds of miles away!

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

I liked the concept art! playing with the "what-if"s of life brings a great deal of possibilities.