Monday, November 9, 2009

Reconstruction Tips: Flukes Part 2

Welcome back to Reconstruction Tips!

Today I bring you the next installment of my ongoing Palaeo-art adventure...

Flukes go on Whales... NOT in your Art!

Part: 2


Previously on Flukes, I'd decided to attempt a restoration of a Prehistoric Whale for use by New Zealand Palaeontologist Dr. Ewan Fordyce. I started on this mission without asking Dr. Fordyce if he wanted any such art. I'd also dove in without much idea of what a Shark Toothed Dolphin looked like or how they were put together...

Giving me this initial version of such a beast.

Looking at it right now, I can't believe I actually showed this to Dr. Fordyce thinking he'd be even slightly impressed. That alone wish me to create anything for him. Fortunately for my sake he is a very kind man, and humoured this my first (but not last) botched attempt.

I knew that the dolphin's head was the weak link, but I had hoped that the post cranial 3Ding would save me. The body for the most part, except the Dorsal fin, didn't make Dr. Fordyce's attention at all. All we talked about was the skull, and how utterly I'd gotten it wrong!

Again I hadn't referenced any material what so ever, and tried to go off my fleeting memories of the Sharked Toothed Dolphin skulls I'd seen in New Zealand museums. Sadly it showed. A lot!

For round two on the Dolphin I made sure to go and get some references before I started.

Due to its being easily accessed and photographed, I snapped about 20 pictures of this skull here (skull C from my last articles skull challenge). Not because Dr. Fordyce wanted a reconstruction of this particular animal mind you. Rather it was the easiest for me to access on that day from the University of Otago's collections. This would lead to some minor problems with the second take on the Dolphin.

As Dr. Fordyce was most concerned by my complete miss on the teeth, this was where I redoubled my efforts. Funny enough they do make all the difference in the world...

Despite the fact it is quite amateurish, the shift toward accuracy helped Dr. Fordyce take me more serious on my offer of creating a reconstruction for him. If I had to venture, though he is far too much a gentleman to have said it out loud, Dr. Fordyce thought I had nothing to offer with my first version. I don't blame him.

This new version showed I could take criticism and feedback, and fix my restoration. Granted not all at once like a pro... However Dr. Fordyce didn't give up on me, and welcomed a third take.

I even took this second edition of the whale and created a very quick and rough "scene" to show that the model could be used in a number of contexts. This intrigued Dr. Fordyce somewhat. Though the whales themselves didn't.

Understandably, Dr. Fordyce, while encouraging of my improvements, was not entirely es tactic about my products. Don't get me wrong, Dr. Fordyce has been nothing but supportive of me in these efforts. If anything he has been overly patient, and honestly the one at fault has been me with my crappy whales...

At least I write this observation in hindsight. The art did get better (I save this for Part: 3 and 4).

One of the big changes in direction that Dr. Fordyce requested was that I model my whale on this skull here.

For those of you who partook in my skull ID challenge last post, this is skull B. Oddly no one guessed it. Skull C, the challenge favourite, though not formally the subject of current restoration project, did play a key role in my early efforts (as already mention). I used Skull C in my flukes banner simply due to having better photographs of it. Skull B is so much larger I have not been able to pull it out for a good photography session... yet hopefully.

Though both skulls are similar, there are still quite a few subtle differences. Some of which I've only managed to correct in my model this month!

A slightly different view of the skull (well actually a cast). Though I've seen the skull (or cast of it) in 3 museums across New Zealand (it is on permanent display in 2 of these), the skull is undescribed and the animal does not have a proper name as of yet.

It seems at moment highly likely this animal is a species of the genus Squalodon, but if not then it is definitely a part of the Squalodontidae family. However the point is at moment it is not current recognized by science, but odds are good that Dr. Fordyce will at some point will be doing a formal study and description of it.

Meaning I have a chance of him considering the use of one or more of my restorations with such a description. That is if I can get my Dolphin correct. So we enter into take: 3.

One of the first major changes I made was to the teeth arrangement. Though I got their essential placement correct, up until this month I had some critical mistakes in the actual teeth themselves. More on that in part 4 of Flukes...
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This was the version I returned to Dr. Fordyce with. You'll note superficially it looks closer to the Squalodon skull. Yet it doesn't quite feel like a whale or dolphin... Which I knew, but not having a lot of experience recreating them I couldn't figure out what was missing.
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Dr. Fordyce acknowledged my improvements, but then sagely summed up the problems I was having with the model. In reference to where my whale's lower jaw connects to the body and skull, Dr. Fordyce noted. "The teeth are much better," he paused. "but the jaws are just wrong. This whole animals looks almost reptilian, how you've recreated it."
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I didn't know what to say. Obviously I'd messed up, and this was still a crap Dolphin.
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Yet in a way I took out of this a compliment. Up until this time I'd only really created and made Dinosaurs and Marine Reptiles. Clearly I was getting good at those, if Dr. Fordyce could pick up on their influence in my Whale.
Of course it was also a huge problem! I'd taken my pre-existing strengths, techniques, and knowledge of reptilian subject matters and squeezed the whale into that mold. I wasn't going to be able to pretend to be a versatile palaeo-artist till I could get past my reptile only skill base...
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Thus teaching me a new key lesson of Palaeo-art!
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Rule #2 of Scientific Restorations:
Do not force a subject into your comfort zone. Take the risk, and abandon what you usually do. Reinvent yourself and your art around each and every new subject.
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So I embarked on the task of abandoning my comfort zone, and tried to learn how to make a whale of my whale! See how that went in part 3...

6 comments:

Albertonykus said...

That's some good advice there!

Rachael said...

It's a very brave thing to do Craig. All credit to you. It's so hard to build something from scratch with very little or no resource material. Unchartered waters in every sense!

Having an expert to please is a double edged sword. On one side you have information on tap and on the other you have the stress of meeting someone elses criteria. (Of which you're unsure at present)

I think the teeth are fantastic and you've really captured an underwater feeling. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

But where's the big beasty great white shark??
If it all gets too much you could just create a floating chunk of fin and say he's just been snapped up :-o

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

"Reinvent yourself"!
that's a good advice!

It feels good to have some "proper" feedback during a creative process, isn't it?

davidmaas said...

Have you got a skeletal reconstruction? Did you make one? That would be a great first step to clarify with the aid of a knowing scientist.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Albertonykus- Thanks, but there is more coming ;)

Rachael- As fun as it would be to do an aftermath of a shark attack on this guy, I just don't think that is the image of the whale Dr. Fordyce would be going for with a description :P

Dinorider- The proper feedback has some amazing pluses and some really depressing minuses. It means you get very honest and effective feedback about your work, and know right away what needs to be fixed. At the same time it often illustrates how little you know and understand, and can make even the most veteran palaeo nut feel like they know nothing...

David- I have the one really useless skeletal drawing of a Squalodon ever produced, and it was a little bit of help.

The issues I've been facing are 90% skull related, and 10% soft tissue unrelated to the skeleton (mostly the dorsal fin). The problem is there is no reliable technical drawings of Squalodon skulls out there. Hence why I've had to go and take my own photos for this purpose.

Interestingly in my quick catch up with Dr. Fordyce yesterday, he's had a "Eureka" moment of research, and thinks he has completely blown the old thinking on prehistoric whale shoulder placement out of the water... Meaning I need to fix my whale (possibly making it the most relevant extinct whale reconstruction in the world :P), but for a mistake I made referencing such a skeletal drawing... Kinda blows the mind eh :P

davidmaas said...

Cutting edge! Cool!