Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reviews of Dinosaur Art the book

Hopefully you've all heard about the upcoming Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart book. If not it is looking like THE book on palaeo-art by the modern greats.
Dave Hone posts his thoughts on the book here, and Brian Switek has a short review here.

We are hopefully soon going to do our own review of the book in the next week or two, depending on how the postal system goes. So stay tuned for a palaeo-artist take on this volume here on ART Evolved soon...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Velociraptor Mongoliensis: 1:1 Sculpture

Hello All,

My name is Nicholas Fonseca. I am new to Art Evolved, and I am excited to share my first post.

I am sharing with you my life reconstruction of Velociraptor mongoliensis.
I based this reconstruction on photos and dimensions of the "Fighting Dinosaur" Specimen: GI 100/25.

I wanted to create an image of Velociraptor as animal not a movie monster. Too many times dinosaurs, and Velociraptor in particular are portrayed jaws agape in a ferocious leap onto prey. I chose instead to pose this animal crouching over a nest of its eggs. I feel this creates a naturalistic view of Velociraptor, as an animal that not only needs to hunt prey "or hapless scientists" but also to rear its young thus ensuring the survival of it's genetic progeny.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sculptors of Beijing's Dinosaur Park

As promised here is one of the many palaeo-art related gems I encountered on my Chinese expedition. I thought I'd start on a light hearted and more comedic entry, and the Beijing Natural History Museum's Dinosaur Park fits that bill perfectly.

Overall the Natural History Museum in its public halls and galleries is a fantastic kids museum, and is a lot of fun. The quality of the casts in the skeleton hall are not of a good enough grade to satisfy a hardcore technical palaeo-nut, would be my only warning. I frankly loved it, and it held up a good hour long visit (as the signs were all in Chinese, and my wife wanted to push on our day this was all I could afford, but it was just the right amount I'd say unless you can read characters).

In the basement of the museum though is a series of three themed rooms filled with the most fun and silly Dinosaur display I've seen in a while. I'll let the pictures tell most of the story, but in a nutshell what I loved about all the models you are about to see is that none of them were robots. All of them were giant static statues, that felt more like giant action figures from my childhood than something that should be in a museum. That's exactly what they were in a sense, copies of the bad dollar store Dinosaurs we 80 kids all used to get. I suspect the sculptors were provided such toys directly from the factories that produced those toys as their references (I could be wrong, but that's what they felt like).

David Hone covered two of the highlights of this display here and here, but upon visiting I found several more that I had to share.

By Unknown Sculptor
If you know who this artist was though could you please let us know so we can properly credit their work
 The only technically correct thing about the exhibit was this nice welcoming sign.
(Blogger's photo captioning suddenly won't work for me here, so all these sculptors are credited to their unknown artist, and as usual please let me know should you happen to know who their creator was)

I totally owned a small version of this guy! Apart from being a 100 times larger and badly painted this was a weird flash of nostalgia for me...

This has to be the happiest victim herbivorous Dinosaur in the history of victim plant eaters. 
 This guy feels like he is out of an old skool painting.
A nice collection of (inaccurate) Chinese Sauropods.

 This combo had to be the single best highlight of the whole "Park". The demonic theropod about to chow down on a cartoon smiling Sauropod.

Dr. Who and the Phylopics Panic!!!

I had an unexpected surprise this morning while checking my Facebook. Someone had posted this digital poster on Dr. Thomas Holtz's wall for an upcoming Dr. Who episode.
By James Gray
Now for most people the excitement would be over everyone's favourite immortal time traveller taking on Dinosaurs (a second time, hopefully this time will be a lot better than the first time in the 70's :P).

However for me there was an immediate huge distraction about the poster. The Dinosaur shadow menacing the Doctor was one of the silhouettes I had created for Phylopic... Now I have no problem with its use here, as it is free domain on Phylopics (though I'd always only anticipated its use by researchers). The real question I had was this an official promotion by the BBC or not. As let's face it that would be some real boasting rights to be part of an official Dr. Who printed teaser (even if they had a legitimate reason not to pay me).

While it looked real enough, it turns out to fan art by artist James Gray. Oh well. It did the trick of getting that episode firmly entrenched in my head as one I have to see.

By myself (Craig Dylke)
It is freely avaliable copyright free at Phylopics here.
This very brief "incident" left me reflecting on my involvement in Phylopics for a couple minutes though. I've been very actively promoting and encouraging people to make images for the site. Yet this poster demonstrated it wasn't just scientists who might use the images freely available on the site. It is open to everyone.

When I initially got involved in Phylopics and promoted it, I'd only honestly envisioned researchers and science workers using the images. Yes that was dumb of me, but today I had a low level reality check. Anyone and everyone could use those images. Was this something I wanted or should be encouraging others to do?

Of course this was a dumb (but sadly predictable) knee jerk reaction. The whole point of Phylopics is that anyone who wants access to scientifically accurate (silhouetted) images can now have access to them for free. I'd rather non-science parties using and accessing these accurate free images rather than producing or acquiring inadequate material to further muddy the waters!

So yes, among these users might be TV/Movie producers, book publishers, and/or museums. Yes in an ideal world I would rather these sorts of parties have to pay and/or at least credit me. However at the end of the day the images in question are just a silhouettes. They really are not that hard to make for us or these various parties. I'd rather they take correct ones from a credible source, instead of them drawing up their own with (probably) less of an eye for accuracy.

Also as silhouettes they are of very limited use to most people. This Doctor Who poster demonstrates the one function this Albertosaur will be to an illustrator, as a shadow... James Gray couldn't ever extend this to show the Dinosaur itself. At least not without infringing on my other images copyrights (so in a sense this is a great means of encouraging people to get my other images and pay me. You know if the world worked like make belief :P... also you know if he wasn't infringing on the BBC's Doctor Who copyrights too...)

The only functional use these silhouettes is as a simplistic diagnostic diagram. Yes books, shows, and movies use these all the time. Yes they could use them from Phylopic. Yes they could do so without paying the artists who created them (though I think some of the licences do require them to at least credit them). Yet at the end of the day these aren't the money making images in any of these media. No one is going to buy the book because of the silhouette pictures comparing a human's size to a Dinosaur's in the corner of the article. No one is going to buy the movie because of the technical readout that pops up on the computer for a moment when Mr. Spock is briefing the crew on the carnivores of Dinosaur Planet.

So why freak out about it? (This question being addressed as much to my momentary paranoid self as to you the reader). Yes pick your battles, and fight them hard. Just make sure you know what the battles are about. Phylopics is a different battle than breaking out as an artist. It is about science outreach and empowerment. We can't hope to get more paying science art gigs if scientists can't communicate or getting their research out there.

Phylopics is a great way to quickly and easily contribute free art to scientists that doesn't take a lot of your time, and that would be of very limited commerical use by itself. Yes other non-science parties might use, but who cares. Really that is a bonus getting out correct visual information. I still stand by Phylopics and its mission. I still stick to it mostly benefiting science and researchers. I just have to acknowledge there could be some more use by nonexpected parties than what I was originally advertising to everyone.

So still please consider making some silhouettes for Phylopics today. Just keep in mind how they might get used in addition to science. I still think it is worth the trade off!

Julio Lacerda the Causal Paleoartist

Another great palaeo-artist with a blog is Julio Lacerda. I've been following him awhile, but just embarrassingly realized there has been no noise or commotion made about his efforts here on AE.

By Julio Laceria
So be sure to go check out his great art and well explained posts about his work here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Judging a book by its cover...

Over on Archosaur Musings Dr. Dave Hone just reviewed the 2nd edition of The Complete Dinosaur. In the comment section an interesting an exchange between Dr. Hone and SVPOW's Dr. Mike Taylor caught my interest.

Dr. Taylor's voiced his dislike of the book's cover due to the art being "cartoonish" in his opinion, and Dr. Hone disagreed with him on. I'll quote the whole thing in a moment, but here is the cover for your contemplation first. Pay attention to your reaction to it. Does this strike you as "professional" level art or something else...
By Bob Walters & Jeff Breeden
Here is the exact discussion (keeping in mind they are friends and this was in a joking tone)...

Mike Taylor- It’s a real shame that the 2nd edition, like the 1st, has a cartoon cover. When I started to be seriously interested in palaeo, I passed over the original TCD because it didn’t look like a serious work. When I finally read it a couple of years later, I realised what I’d been missing — probably the single most useful book I could have read at that stage. I hope the new cover doesn’t lead too many others into making the same mistake.

Dave Hone- I don’t think it’s a cartoon Mike. It’s a proper piece of dinosaur art, and certainly no less ‘serious’ than a great many dinosaur book (The Dinosauria has something not too dissimilar). A simple flick through should make it obvious about the content too given all the references and technical figures..
Nope, I just disagree. I really don’t think it is.
Well, then our profound debate seems to be at an end.
Unless a third party would like to break the tie?

Well it is simply a matter of opinion/ taste. Though to continue just a little Mike, in your original comment you do rather imply that you judged the book by it’s cover. I can’t help feeling that phrase rings a bell somehow… ;)

A few "third parties" ended up weighing in, myself among them. The final verdict on whether this piece was "good" or not is not really important, as Dr. Hone accurately pointed out it is more a matter of taste and opinion. What interested me was the issue Dr. Taylor touches on. How stylization of palaeo-art can affect people's opinion of it (and in this case the book it is attached too).

Overall the composition of this cover art is pretty standard and, apart from perhaps some thickness issues with the Diabloceratops forelimbs, isn't a bad reconstruction. What Dr. Taylor is mostly picking up on is the colour palette choice by the artist. Every colour is bright and vivid, giving it the "cartoony" appearance.

When you take the colour away there is nothing cartoonish or simplistic about this drawing. With colour though I do agree that the palette choices give this piece a surreal and unrealistic appearance.

Whether this is good or bad is up to you. It can be said safely to not be photo realistic.

Does this sort of stylization hurt you or your pieces credibility though?

Obviously if you were trying to impress someone like Dr. Taylor it would.

Yet I know many scientists who currently don't hold an opinion like Dr. Taylor. Dr. Hone obviously being one of them. In addition to him, I know of at least three more that in the past year approached me for possible book covers due to my own stylized work.

I personally was floored when they approached me, and I wonder if the Complete Dinosaur artist had a similar request for this book. In my world if you are a palaeontologist seeking a book cover you'd ask for some of the very best palaeo-art from the top names.

It turns out for years this is exactly what authors have been doing. In the rough words of one of my potential clients "Sure we could go for a more conservative and 'realistic' piece by say Micheal Skrepnick or Julius Csotonyi, but everyone has those these days. You're book just blends into the crowd that way. Lately we've been going for artists and pieces with some character and quirkiness to make our books stand out."

I'm not complaining about this trend in any case myself :P However I found Dr. Taylor's reaction to such a quirky piece very interesting. It certainly attracted his attention, but not in a good way. That said I think I see what my clients are thinking this (and I suspect this book's team were thinking as well). Any attention is good.

In looking through my own books I find that Micheal Skrepnick can be found on nearly 1/3 of all the covers. I certainly adore his art, and I personally was noting how he is the king of modern palaeo-book covers, but from the individual book's point of view this could be a bad thing. I do find when I'm, too rarely, presented with a bookstore self with a wide selection of Dinosaur volumes the Skrepnick covered books don't leap out at me. I have to read the titles and blurbs to be attracted. (Sadly I can only think of three bookstores where I can cite this "test", two were in museums and one a university bookstore... if only it were more common).

I can only speculate on whether the Complete Dinosaur's cover was chosen for this reason or not, but I have suspicions.

Does this covers unusual colour scheme catch your attention? What is your reaction to it? Overall do you judge or pick your palaeo-books in any part due to their covers?

Monday, August 6, 2012

China Palaeo-art August starts

I just returned from a two week trip to mainland China, and while I was there I naturally visited all the museums I could. All the while recording the art I saw along the way.

I'm still in the midst of sorting all 3000 of the photos I took (I take a LOT of panoramas, so it'll condense to probably more like 1000ish). As I go I'll be sharing some of the unique things I discovered.

It has been very interesting moving to Asia (I currently live in Hong Kong these days), as I'm finding they have a totally different set of palaeo-artists in their books and museums we just don't get to see in the West (while many of our well known artists still appear here too). I'll try to share some of them over the next month.

My first example is this beautiful sculpture from the Beijing Museum of Natural History's Chengjiang display. Sadly the signs were all in Chinese (and my wife couldn't find a reference to it while skimming for it) so I couldn't find the name of the sculptor. If it was listed or written anywhere. In any case it is a lovely piece of art.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Back in Business

Hey everyone.

Contrary to rumour we have not suffered a mass extinction here on ART Evolved. Definitely some selective pressures working against art posts in the lives of the admins, but we survive to art another day.

That said its only me holding the fort for the next month. I'm hoping to get you some interesting stuff (including introducing you to the work of an outstanding palaeo-artist well known in China, but virtually non-existent in the West). We also have some new people to our community wanting to share their stuff, and I'm hoping to either get them on the blog's membership or posted soon.

So stay tuned for a palaeo-art packed end of summer here on ART Evolved...