Monday, February 28, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Flash Card Bonanza

I recently scanned a whole bunch of dinosaur flash cards to Flickr. They were published by a company called Media Materials in 1989, and unfortunately the artist is unknown. I reckon that there's more than one responsible, unless it's a single artist who got tired of the project when coloring time came along, because some of the backgrounds are simply sloppy.

The set surveys most of the major dinosaur families, with the ever-popular theropods making up almost half. My set is missing eight; a current eBay auction for the set indicates there were originally thirty. I thought it was a little suspicious that Stegosaurus and Triceratops were left out of the party.

As for the artwork, it's not very remarkable, for the most part reflecting old tropes in dinosaur restoration, including the kangaroo-stance Iguanodon.

Iguanodon

Megalosaurus is depicted, as it so often is, as an odd, skulking hunchback. This is another meme I'm going to have to explore in more detail. When I think of Megalosaurus, two images pop into my mind: Buckland's jawbone, and this old pose of the theropod sneaking around.

Megalosaurus

For Allosaurus, the artist played it safe and ripped offKnight's classic pose.

Allosaurus

It's also not exactly up-to-date, with Teratosaurus, then known to be a non-dinosaur rauisuchian, popping in. Of course, these are meant for reading instruction, so researching the literature probably didn't rank high on the list of priorities.

Teratosaurus

Spinosaurus, not well known in the eighties, looks a bit like a Dimetrodon that's been hit by the notion to rise up on its hind legs and go for a sprint, and is clearly based on the Lapparent and Lavocat reconstruction from 1955 (more on this, and the changing understanding of the big guy in a recent post at The Bite Stuff). He also looks like he's just done something naughty and is fleeing the scene.

Spinosaurus

You get a bit of submerged sauropod action, too. Such a beloved old chestnut.
Brachiosaurus

There's more where these came from, included in the set linked above as well as the ever-growing Vintage Dinosaur Art pool.

Submit your Paleontology blog post to the Boneyard 2.7

Boneyard 2.7 goes up... tomorrow. That's right, tomorrow. David Tana is hosting at Superoceras. Send in your blog posts about paleontology or related fields! Email submissions to boneyardblogcarnival(at)gmail(dot)com.

The Boneyard Blog Carnival

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mesozoic Miscellany #21

The Big Stories

Brontomerus thundered onto the scene this week, with two posts at SV-POW introducing the new early Cretaceous sauropod. It's gotten a lot of press, including pieces by Superoceras, Pterosauria, 80 Beats, Dinosaur Tracking, Live Science, Discovery, Everything Dinosaur, Palaeoblog, and me. Here's a fantastic short video from University College London, featuring paper co-author Mike Taylor.



That's not all, though. The journal Palaios announced that the March issue will include a study that looks at the purported burrow in which a specimen of the hypsilophodontid Oryctodromeus was entombed. From the abstract, "To test whether this skeletal arrangement reflected in situ burial from within or transport into the burrow, we constructed a half-scale burrow model using PVC pipes and conducted a series of sediment infilling experiments with appropriately scaled, disarticulated rabbit skeletons." Cool, Mythbusters-esque way to test this!

The seed cones of conifers were also the subject of recent research soon to be published in the Proceedings fo the Royal Society B. Andrew Leslie of the University of Chicago looked at the evolutionary trends of seed cones since the Pennsylvanian, noting an increased investment in protective structures since the Jurassic, which may be tied to the feeding behavior of the giant sauropods. Read Switek's piece at Dinosaur Tracking.

The Tate Geological Museum at Casper College in Wyoming has announced the discovery of a Tyrannosaurus rex, which looks like it's going to be a wonderful specimen. They promise to follow the excavation closely beginning this summer.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Saurian: I definitely relate to Saurian's appreciation for the scientists, writers, and artists who brought the new ideas of the Dinosaur Renaissance to light, as well as his continuing love of all of the obsolete representations of years past.

The Bite Stuff: Jaime Headden looks at those wonderfully long vertebrae of Spinosaurus and suggests an alternate alignment, giving the big lug a very different look.

The Great Cretaceous Walk: Tony Martin shares memories of the Dinosaur Dreaming coastal dig site in Australia.

Paleochick's Digs: Watch some knucklehead get his rear-end handed to him by an enraged mother duck.

ART Evolved: A simple tutorial for creating silhouettes from photos of wildlife, written to help folks contribute to PhyloPic. I'm a pen tool man myself, but it's an acquired taste! Also a must read: Scott Person's guide to reconstructing theropod tails.

House of Bones: Jeff Martz begins a series on taxonomy and systematics.

Whales, Camps, and Trails: Big thanks to Michael Ryan at Palaeoblog for sharing a link to this new blog written by Clive Coy and dedicated to legendary dino-hunter Roy Chapman Andrews. While you're at it, check out the University of Alberta's slideshow of a recent Cryolophosaurus excavation in Antarctica, shared by Coy and Ryan.

Twit Picks
Stuff I linked to at Twitter in the last week or so:
Tumblin'
Thank you to I Effing Love Dinosaurs for sharing this piece by illustrator Joey Chou, a nice take on the meme of titanic fossilized beasts hidden just under the Earth's surface.



Paleoart of the Week

The wonderful Brontomerus restoration got a lot of attention this week, but I'd also like to draw your attention to Andrey Atuchin's wonderful Europasaurus, created for the International Europasaurus Paleo-Artwork Contest.


Europasaurus by Andrey Atuchin, via DeviantArt. Used with the artist's permission.

Outrageously Off-Topic Indulgence

With gusto, I recommend Dan Carlin's podcasts. Insightful political and historical commentary from a firmly independent point of view.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Extant Theropod Appreciation #8: Eagles

Tawney Eagle_DSC0081
The Tawny Eagle, Aquila rapax. Another gem from Dan Ripplinger, from Flickr.

Look at an eagle and know: this bird means business. All birds "mean business," of course. But it's hard not to project human qualities onto this bird. The eyes seem to perfectly project a sense of determination and tenacity. It's such a striking feature that it inspired one of Jim Henson's most memorable creations. Sam the Eagle doesn't need to do anything and you've got a pretty solid idea of what he's like as a character.

sam the eagle
Photo by Barry Johnson, via Flickr.

David Attenborough's Eagle: The Master of the Sky is one of many nature programs shared by BBCWorldwide's Youtube channel. It's one of his best. A sequence about Bald Eagles in Alaska is a particularly stunning portrayal of their social lives. As the gathered birds snatch dying salmon from a volcanically heated river, they vie with each other for the fish. It's a highly ritualized competition, far removed from the chaos one might think of when imagining predators competing for a kill.

This sequence is just the beginning; it's immediately followed by bits on the Crowned Eagle of Africa, picking monkeys out of trees, and a Golden Eagle in Greece who solves the problem of a tortoise's shell by carrying the poor creature high in the air and dropping it onto the rocks below. Two Black Eagles cooperate to hunt cagey rock hyraxes in Africa. African Fish-eagles harass flamingos until they're too exhausted to escape their talons. To watch the diversity of lifestyles and behaviors the eagles have adapted to as a genus, it's difficult to imagine why anyone would have ever consigned their saurian forbears to lives of bellicose drudgery. No doubt that the time-traveler visiting the Mesozoic would find that many of our most electric ideas about dinosaur behavior pale in comparison to the ways they truly interacted.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

PhyloPic, a new site from T. Michael Keesey

Just a quick note here to urge you to check out a new site called Phylopic. It's a project by T. Michael Keesey, and as he writes at his blog Three Pound Monkey Brain, it is an open database of Creative Commons licensed silhouettes of all sorts of organisms. It's going to be useful to folks who put together diagrams and other graphics for science communication, and it needs contributions! This is a great way for artists and designers to pitch in and help scientists improve their visuals and make the process easier. Check it out, spread the word, and pitch in.

They be like "he the 'Pod," but I'm really a thunder-thighs


Brontomerus plays dromaeosaur hacky-sack (poorly, it must be said). Illustration by Francisco Gascó, from the Acta Palaeontologica Polonica paper.

Yup, I'm bring back the pop culture reference post title in a big way for the arrival of Matt Wedel, Mike Taylor, and Richard Cifelli's description of Brontomerus mcintoshi, a new camarasauromorph sauropod from early Cretaceous Utah. Brontomerus means "thunder thighs" and refers to the fact that its ilium appears to have anchored one heck of a robust musculature.

The description is accompanied with the absolutely wickedly cool illustration above by Francisco Gascó, which certainly is in line with Wedel's advice to Brian Engh concerning his recent Sauroposeidon piece. This is an image that is going to grab some eyeballs, and those eyeballs will hopefully stick around to learn a bit about the Cedar Mountain Formation from which Brontomerus hails. It will probably also find a home on many desktop backgrounds. Like the poor dromaeosaur above, the mighty Ron Swanson has been booted from my own desktop.

As Taylor and Wedel are part of the SV-POW crew, they've written an introductory post about the paper and promise much more content to come. More at Dinosaur Tracking as well, but you knoew that.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to point you to a new blog called Paleo Illustrato written by Stu Pond, who writes about Gascó's illustration today. The blog's been on its feet for just under a couple weeks, and I'm looking forward to following Pond on his journey to explore paleoart and enter the field himself.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stephen Czerkas in Discover, 1989

If you've been following this blog for a while, it probably won't come as a shock to learn that I collect old magazines that feature dinosaurs. Many antique shops have stacks of vintage magazines, and those covering dinosaurs in some way make up a decent portion of my "to scan" stack.

One of these recent acquisitions was an issue of Discover from March of 1989, featuring a profile of Stephen Czerkas by long-time dinosaur writer Don Lessem, roughly coinciding with the publication of Czerkas's book, My Life with Dinosaurs. Czerkas was an up-and-coming dinosaur researcher and sculptor who had done creature design on the 1978 B-movie Planet of Dinosaurs. Lessem's article focused on Czerkas as a paleontology outsider, one of those researchers who has knowledge, but not the degrees to show for it.

Plenty of paleontologists arrive at their profession by unconventional routes within or without of academia, and have made valuable contributions to the science. As in any field of study, those scientists have an uphill battle and face greater scrutiny - and occasionally bias - when presenting their ideas to their peers.

Stephen Czerkas with Deinonychus models

Preceding the article is the above photo of Czerkas in his workshop. It's striking just how similar these Deinonychus models are to what, just a few years later, would be called Velociraptor in Jurassic Park (a subject Brian Switek touches on today at Dinosaur Tracking). The movie wasn't even in production yet, and I can't find any connection between Czerkas' work and that of Stan Winston Studios, who created the movie's villains. But as Czerkas is not listed as a consultant on the movie, this may be a simple case of convergent evolution.

Reading this article in 2011, it's impossible not to view it through glasses stained by the "Archaeoraptor" fiasco of a decade ago. Czerkas's place in the history of paleontology will forever be connected with the controversy; google his name and you'll turn up droves of creationist blogs and websites that attempt to discredit evolutionary theory with "Archaeoraptor," the faked "missing link" between dinosaurs and birds.

Czerkas and his wife, Sylvia, bought "Archaeoraptor" for their Dinosaur Museum in Blanding, UT, promoting it to National Geographic, who had an exclusive story planned about its impact on our understanding of bird evolution. The problem was, the fossil was a mashup, eventually revealed to have been composed of Yanornis, Microraptor, and another critter. What makes the Czerkases' championing of the fossil infuriating rather than sad was that they didn't listen to Phil Currie and Tim Rowe's concerns about its legitimacy. Apparently blinded by the coming glory, they pushed on. The story was published. The fossil was analyzed further. It was discredited, and Czerkas ended up apologizing for his "idiot, bone-stupid mistake."

"Archaeoraptor" was an avoidable controversy, and one of its most annoying consequences was that it offered another arrow for the creationist quiver. It's a flimsy arrow, as all of their arrows are. The problem is the size of the quiver and the amount of time it takes to demonstrate the weakness of their many arguments. That "Archaeoraptor" is used at all baffles me. It's a clear indication that many creationists simply don't care about the rules of logic. "Archaeoraptor" was embarrassing for the paleontological community. For a minute. Once other scientists took a good look at it, it became a victory which shows why science is such a powerful tool for understanding our world: it has built-in mechanisms to remove bias and to correct mistakes. Want to poke fun at "arrogant evolutionists" for a mistake? Fine. I understand schadenfreude. It's fun. But it seems counterproductive to slam a group of people for their human fallibility when your own faction happens to be populated by fallible humans, too. That's the kind of thing that comes back to bite you on the proverbial rear end.

"Archaeoraptor" also serves as a lesson in the dangers of the black market fossil trade. In a 2002 article about "Archaeoraptor," paleontologist Kevin Padian explained to National Geographic how the tragic tale started, and it's such a perfect summation of the thorny issue, it deserves to be quoted at length here.
"The lesson in this should be the importance of conserving fossils and protecting them," said Padian. "Chinese villagers who found the specimen don't make a lot of money, and they don't know what these animals look like. There was no hoax. These are poor people trying to make a little extra money by selling fossils on the black market."

It's illegal to export fossils out of China, but a thriving black market exists, driven by poverty, powered by bribery, and feeding a seemingly inexhaustible desire for fossils among hobbyists.

Huge quantities of fossils are illegally excavated and smuggled out each year. And no wonder; the Archaeoraptor fossil sold in the United States for $80,000.

This is an internationally important region," said Padian. "The workers there are very poor; if they were better rewarded for working with scientists there would be no need to enhance the fossils, or for a black market at all. The international community needs to take steps to protect these fossils."
Looking back on Lessem's article twenty-odd years later, Czerkas's career has unfortunately done little to raise the general respectability of non-credentialed paleontologists. Oddly enough, even though "Archaeoraptor" never became the crown jewel in his museum and was a source of great embarrassment, it is featured prominently in Cerkas's anti-BAD* essay at the museum's site [PDF]. It lays out his view, which holds that dromaeosaurs aren't dinosaurs at all, and the fact that the opposite is the consensus is a figment dreamt up by cladists.

I suppose I should close on a happier note, though. Czerkas may not have been involved with Jurassic Park, but he has stamped his name on celluloid history. The early 80's Harryhausen-esque B-movie Planet of Dinosaurs included his model work. Here's a sample of it.



* "Birds Are Dinosaurs"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Chocolat D'Aiguebelle Trading Cards



If you have seen my recently begun tumblog, you probably get the idea that I love old packaging design. Combine that with dinosaurs and other paleo subjects, and I'm just about as happy as a tapeworm in a hog's belly. Copyright Expired hosts a very cool set of trading cards from 1905 issued by the D'Aiguebelle chocolate company. All images here come from that site, which is run by David Goldman.


This guy, who would be more properly identified as Scaphognathus, made an appearance in last week's Vintage Dinosaur Art post, too. And he'll probably be back at some point. This pose is one of those memes, like the bird-chasing Ornitholestes, that pops up over and over and over again.

A site devoted to old painted roadside advertisements at Elve.net provides some interesting background to the company.
"To make ends meet after the French Revolution the monks of Notre-dame d'Aiguebelle were forced to look for more income than their traditional occupations in agriculture could yield. A monk with a sweet tooth suggested to go for chocolat. His idea proved to be a very good one. It was soon necessary to build a dedicated production plant. The Chocolat d'Aiguebelle became one of the bigger chocolate brands in France during the early 1900s."


Their choice of iguanodon is based on Dollo's studies of the mass death site at Bernissart, Belgium. This is a great representation of the "kangaroo-stance" that was the prevailing view of ornithopods around the turn of the 20th century. Equally interesting are the Iguanodons in the background image, whose behavior seems to be modeled after the marine iguanas of Galapagos, save for the fact that one of them is depicted eating fish!


"Brontosaurus" will forever be associated with improper head association, and the D'Aiguebelle Bronto is no exception. Is it just me, or does it look like this guy's been saddled with the skull of a mammalian carnivore?


The set also includes plenty of members of the Paleogene, including this mammoth and the Dinornis below.



More information on these cards and more at Cardmine.co.uk, which says that these cards are "some of the highest quality chromolithographs to be found anywhere in the world." This set is one I'd love to see with my own eyes sometime.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mesozoic Miscellany #20

The Big Stories

Not a lot this week, but Discovery has run a story about a new ornithischian discovered in the wastes of Antarctica. Augustana College's William Hammer says, "I don't know if we have a head, but we have a leg and a foot. It will take us a year to get a handle on what we've got." There are parts of a Cryolophosaurus and a sauropod, as well. Not much yet, but I can't wait to read the eventual description.

This year marks the 150th year since the debut of Archaeopteryx, one of the most important fossil discoveries of all time. Read recent posts about the celebration and our feathered friends' impact at Dinosaur Tracking, Archosaur Musings, and Pick & Scalpel.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Not specifically, dinosaur related, but paleontologist and Dinosaur Train host Scott Sampson has written a new post at The Whirlpool of Life, musing about the strengths and weaknesses of the biophilia hypothesis. Always good reading.

Dan Chure has been chronicling the construction of the new visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument, with a surprise appearance by M.C. Escher this week!

Have you met Riley the Paleontologist yet? Head over to Superoceras and check out one of his awesome vids.

At SV-POW!, Mike Taylor has been compiling a checklist for scientists making new taxonomic acts in papers. He's posted an update to explain why he's limiting its scope to genera and species. Interesting read for anyone seeking to learn more about taxonomy.

Ichthyosaurs, turtle poo, UFO's... where else by The Great Cretaceous Walk? Ichnologist Tony Martin keeps hitting home runs.

Speaking of ichnology, Brian Switek writes about some African footprint traces, probably left by a dromaeosaur. Switek writes, "While they can be difficult to interpret, the new tracks may also tell us something about the behavior of this yet-unknown dinosaur. There appear to be at least five different trackways, Mudroch and co-authors state, which were made at three different times. Two sets of early tracks were overlain by another pair of tracks of about the same size. This might indicate that two animals were moving together in one direction and then turned around, stepping on their own tracks."

Twit Picks
Stuff I linked to at Twitter in the last week or so.
Tumblin'

Tumbloggers, would it kill you to cite your images? Being one myself, I can definitively tell you, "No. It won't." So start doing it, for crying out loud.

JUST SAY WHERE YOU FOUND THE IMAGE.

Here's what I was going to share here, but instead I decided to throw a hissy fit. If you know who did it, feel free to share it.

Paleoart of the Week

In honor of Archaeopteryx, I present this incredible piece of graffiti art.
ARCHAEOPTERYX
Shared by Marcelo Gacitúa at flickr.

Outrageously Off-Topic Indulgence

My good buddy Mike Adams just released a record called Oscillate Wisely. It's really good, and from the reviews I've read on the web, you don't even have to know the guy to like it! Here's a "live performance" video of one of Mike's songs my other buddies Will and Nathan.


Sample and buy it here! It was released by my other buddy Jared's label, Flannelgraph. I got some buddies.

The Science-Art Discussion at ScienceOnline

About a month ago, I took part in the ScienceOnline conference, and with Glendon Mellow and John Hawks I moderated a discussion on the intersection between science and art.

The conference has made the video of the session available, and I'm happy to share it here. John and Glendon share some fascinating insights, and I'm not altogether embarrassed by what I had to say. Of course, talking about Victoria Arbour's Gwawinapterus and Brian Engh's Sauroposeidon couple is easy and fun.

Science-Art H264 Widescreen 960x540 from Smartley-Dunn on Vimeo.

I'm wearing an Arctodus simus t-shirt from the Field Museum, if you're wondering. For more of my posts on the conference, click here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ankylosaurus and Dimetrodon Slug It Out!

In 1977, the year I began, the Chivers Jelly company ran an advertising promotion which enticed consumers into purchasing their delicious gelatin products with that time-honored prize of little plastic prehistoric beasts. It also came with a book called "How The World Began," which hopefully was a bit more accurate than the lurid print ad they ran.
Chivers Jelly How The World Began Ad 1977
Image shared by Combombphotos at Flickr.

I love the Dimetrodon vs. Ankylosaurus battle. Such a wildly anachronistic fantasy. Seriously: drawing me fighting an Ankylosaurus would be less anachronistic by about 200 million years. That is staggering. It's also less likely: I'd rather be good buddies with the big lug than scrap with him.

Ankylosaurus Vs. Dimetrodon!

Of course, I shouldn't make any hasty presumptions: this may very well be a stolen moment from an interspecies courtship ritual. This would certainly fit in with the ouevre of its illustrator, British comic artist Frank Langford, best known for his saucy romance comics. He also drew the space opera comic strip The Angry Planet. More on Langford at the romance comics blog Sequential Crush.

So, do you want to see what the Chiver's Jelly toys looked like? Of course you do. Little plastic dinosaurs: there is no more effective way to make children cajole their parents into buying them sweet treats.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prepare you ears for Dinosaur Rock by Gary Sohmer's Windjammer

In 1983, a rock band called Gary Sohmer's Windjammer delved into the dark arts to summon forth ancient dread powers that had been slumbering for 65 million years. They used them not to destroy civilization, but to create a singularly monstrous work of rock and roll.



More recently, Sohmers has served as the pop culture specialist on Antiques Roadshow. You can watch one of his stand up routines. It's not very funny.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Peer Review Radio Goes Paleo

Fellow podcast devourers, you've got more paleo content to feast on. Ottowa-based Peer Review Radio's latest episode is entirely dedicated to old bones. Gary Vecchiarelli, Brian Switek, Ron Maslanka, and Glendon Mellow join hosts Adrian Ebsary and Elizabeth Ross to offer different perspectives on why paleontology matters.

Keep up with Peer Review Radio with their podcast feed, Twitter feed, and Facebook page.

Interview with paleoartist Nobu Tamura


Sericipterus by Nobu Tamura. Used with the artist's permission.

If you've ever googled a prehistoric critter, you've more than likely seen Nobu Tamura's work. Besides his work on the website Palaeocritti, which serves as a repository for information on all sorts of extinct creatures. Nobu has also contributed mightily to the Wikimedia Commons, providing his work for use by just about anyone on the web under creative commons licenses. Read on to find out about his work, his feelings on creative commons, and what inspired him to artistically resurrect so many of Earth's lost inhabitants.

Is art a hobby for you, or do you do art in a professional sense, too?

Oh no, it’s just a hobby. I would probably not be able to do a living as a professional artist!

Your work has become pretty ubiquitous on the web. Was it a conscious decision to make it as widely available as possible?

Not really... it all started late 2006 or early 2007 when I stumbled across a few dinosaur articles on the english wikipedia and noticed that there were no illustration in them. Articles on the same dinosaurs on any other website had lots of images, so why not in wikipedia? I understood that it was for copyright reasons.You can’t upload images on wikipedia without a written permission from the artist, but there is no problem if you are the actual author and choose to release it for public use. So I’ve decided to give it a shot. I haven't drawn anything since childhood and young adulthood, and certainly not dinosaurs, so I was a bit rusty on that front but I’ve decided to try nonetheless. I bought a few pencils and grabbed a few books on dinosaurs to make a few sketches based on other artists, and especially skeletal reconstructions by Greg Paul.

I posted them in the relevant articles on wikipedia but saw them quickly removed by more knowledgeable contributors because they were mostly inaccurate and based on outdated representations from the 80s and 90s. But these contributors helped me to get them right and I am greatly indebted to them to have taught me the ABC of dinosaur anatomy. After that I’ve submitted more and more drawings and this became a little hobby of mine, a very enjoyable one in fact. So to go back to your question, it was not a conscious decision to make my work widely available and the fact that you now see my illustrations all over the web stems more from the success of wikipedia, than my own. Since wikipedia requires all its images to be licensed for public use, anybody could in principle use them provided that the license terms are respected.

When a new taxon is announced, do you respond pretty quickly by beginning work on a restoration?

This depends on how busy I am at the moment of the announcement. It took me a few months before reading about Concavenator and Linheraptor and make their restorations last year, but I responded pretty quickly over Koreaceratops and Titanoceratops because their respective papers got published online when I was on vacation or something. As any paleo-enthusiast, I become pretty excited when a new taxon is announced and this generally triggers the need to draw it, but I have to deal with other priorities in life as well.

What was your initial idea behind starting Palaeocritti?

The initial idea behind Palaeocritti was a website where you can find all the most relevant information on extinct taxa. Before doing a reconstruction of a prehistoric animal, I generally do a bit of research to be able to draw it as accurately as possible. And where do you look for these information? In the primary sources, i.e. peer-reviewed scientific publications. For instance somebody asked me to do a reconstruction of, I think, the temnospondyl Peltobatrachus. At first, I couldn’t find anything on the web or on any popular books at the library save a few dubious representations (which turn out to be very incorrect). So I’ve hunted down the scientific literature by consulting different database such as paleodb.org, palaeos.com, jstor.org, bioone.org and this was quite a time consuming process. I thought it would be nice to have a website where you can find all these information concentrated in one spot. Besides general info such as size, location of discovery, phylogenetical placement, etc., I also wanted to see how much of the animal was actually known and how much was inferred from related taxa, and I wanted to be able to retrieve easily all the most relevant publications on the subject, especially the most recent ones, that can be consulted for details, get the measure of the animals by studying skeletal reconstructions made by specialists and see different up-to-date artist views, find at a glance which animals lived at the same time and same location, what was the environment, etc.

In sum, a website that would be a cross between Palaeodb, Palaeos, Dinodata and the now defunct Dinosauricon and Paleograveyard. That’s why I have created Palaeocritti (the name has been actually suggested by my fellow paleoartist and wikipedian Stanton Fink) in the hope that it would be useful to others. The problem with this project is that it turns out to be a daunting task for only a few individuals to perform and and I am always on the lookout for potential contributors.


Halisaurus by Nobu Tamura. Used with the artist's permission.

You've drawn a huge variety of animals. Are there any that are particularly fun to illustrate?

That’s a tough question. Dinosaurs, especially the feathery ones, are of course always fun to draw but I also have some fondness for the lesser known animals such as prehistoric fish, invertebrates and amphibians. I also like drawing animals in series, such as the one I made on ceratopsians, ancient whales, prehistoric frogs, basal tyrannosaurids, etc... which add a bit of continuity in my work. I don’t think I can actually say which critter I enjoyed drawing more than another. They are in fact all quite different, some are more challenging to draw than others, some requires more work, but they are all pretty fun to illustrate.

Building on your first answer - As an artist who presumably feels some parental feelings for your creations, what's your take on the new territory of creative commons licenses and copyright on the web? Glendon Mellow has been very vocal in trying to raise the awareness of bloggers when it comes to crediting artists whose work they use, and has come to your defense specifically.

Many thanks to Glendon for taking my defense on that issue. All my images are licensed under creative commons, and anybody can use them as long as proper credit is given. This is a very simple thing to do since you don’t even need to contact the author (although it’s always nice to know when your artwork is being used somewhere). I find that most people act quite respectfully on that matter and some even goes to the trouble of specifically asking permission to use particular artworks (which I always grant gracefully). However there is always these few others who either by ignorance of the rules or just plain laziness don’t even bother to pay the artist the courtesy of acknowledgment. Such behavior is, I think, akin to copyright infringement. This is a bit sad and a creative common license can’t unfortunately prevent this to happen. But in the end, it never pays off to use artwork without permission. This is a recipe for trouble, because in the wild world of the world wide web, somebody is bound to notice sooner or later, as in the case you just mentioned.

Are there any instances when you've asked someone to remove your artwork from a post or web page?

I don’t think I ever did that. To tell you the truth, I don’t really skim the web to see where my artwork get posted. But as an anecdote, I once stumbled on somebody trying to sell on ebay tee-shirts with dinosaur illustrations from different artists including one of mine, without any sort of acknowledgment. By the time I figured how to file a formal complaint, it was gone. Somebody else has probably noticed it too and had the sale removed.

What artists in this field of paleontological restoration do you look up to the most? What is it about their work that inspires or challenges you?

I think, as a paleoartist, I’ll never be thankful enough to all the artists who specialize in skeletal drawings and reconstructions. They provide the backbone for any accurate scientific reconstruction of an extinct animal. Among them, Scott Hartman is my favorite, but I also greatly indebted to Greg Paul, Ville Sinkkonen, Jaime Headden, John Conway, Mike Hanson, to cite a few. As for inspiration, I admire the visionary views of the precursors Charles R. Knight and Rudolf Zallinger. Some of my favorite artists are John Sibbick, Mark Hallett, Mauricio Anton, Doug Henderson and Raúl Martín. Among the newcomers, Julius Csotonyi, Felipe Elias and Tuomas Koivurinne have my vote. I am inspired by the way they are making the animals believable by putting them in a context and rendering them seemingly natural rather than giving them a fantastic look by overdoing on dramatic effects, adding an abundance of unnecessary details or using flashy colors.


Balaur bondoc by Nobu Tamura. Used with the artist's permission.

For more of Nobu's work, please make sure to browse his DeviantArt gallery and Wikipedia, as well as Palaeocritti, of course. You'll see that he's already done reconstructions of new taxa such as Teratophoneus, Neptunidraco, Leonerasaurus, and Linhenykus. He's like a one-man paleoart quick-response task force!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Naturgeschichte Geologie und Paläontologie

Natural History Book from 1888

Valeriana Solaris has shared some great scans from an old German natural history text on her DeviantArt account, bundled together in a .zip file. Naturgeschichte Geologie und Paläontologie was published in 1888 by J.A. Schreiber, and its dinosaurs are heavily indebted to Cope's Laelaps and Waterhouse Hawkins' famous Crystal Palace sculptures of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon.


Though this book is dated 1888, I wonder if the engravings are from an earlier edition, as with the digs at Bernissart in 1878, the knowledge of Iguanodon had increased and it was now believed to have a bipedal "kangaroo stance."



A scene from the Triassic includes an early, almost bear-like take on the temnospondyl Mastodonsaurus and Belodon, a phytosaur.





The book also includes excuisite reproductions of famous German fossils such as Archaeopteryx, Compsognathus, and Pterodactylus.



The book's treatment of the Holocene is particularly strong, a dramatic scene of mastodons and musk oxen grazing in a mountainous landscape as a caveman defends his family against a marauding bear.




Valeria has shared these at high resolution for use by collage artists and other creative types. Head over to her DeviantArt account to check out the large files. She has also written a blog post about it.

Updated 2/5/11: Added more context to the Iguanodon illustration.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mesozoic Miscellany #18

Happy Darwin Day!
The Worm Stone
Awesome LEGO Darwin by Kaptain Kobold, via Flickr.

Big Stories

You may remember back in September when a Brazilian newspaper reporter mistakenly leaked the name of Tapuiasaurus macedoi, a new titanosaur. Well, it's formally published now in PLoS ONE, and it's a valuable find. The abstract states, Tapuiasaurus "preserves the most complete skull among titanosaurians, further revealing that their low and elongated diplodocid-like skull morphology appeared much earlier than previously thought." More at Dinosaur Tracking.

Albinykus is this week's addition to the alvarezsaur roster. Switek also wrote about this guy at Dinosaur Tracking. About the incomplete, though unique remains, he writes, "Both legs seem to straddle the sandstone block, with parts of the hip preserved between them. Whatever killed it and preserved this dinosaur kept it in a seated position, just like a bird."

Around the Dinosaur Blogosphere

At The Bite Stuff, Jaime Headden takes a look at the debate over sauropod neck posture.

Trish Arnold wrote about that Terra Nova preview that aired during the Super Bowl.

Get a sneak peak at that plucky little tyrannosaur Traumador's new video series at The Tyrannosaur Chronicles.

The Darwinapterus paper that came out a few weeks ago, featuring an egg associated with what appears to be a female skeleton, has received the TetZoo treatment.

Gary from Project Dryptosaurus was on a radio show! Check it out.

Dave Hone wrote about anomalous theropod teeth from the Jurassic at Archosaur Musings.

At the Great Cretaceous Walk, the amazing, charming, Tony "Master of Ichnology" Martin* writes about Cyclone Yasi and how it relates to interpretations of gastroliths from the Cretaceous period.

At Other Branch, Ian provided another report on a dinosaur book from days of yore: this time, the Humongous Book of Dinosaurs.

And here at LITC, I released a set of dinosaur valentines and was a guest on the podcast "Meet the Skeptics!"

Twit Picks
Tumblin'

This illustration, by Eduardo San Gil, was shared by Rampaged Reality. +1 for citing the artist!
The T-Rex diet  (02.11)

Paleoart of the Week

Since beginning this weekly digest, I haven't featured Matt Martyniuk here, so I will now right this wrong. This week's pick is a recent piece from Matt's DeviantArt account which is drawn from research. He writes:
Recent studies have shown that the wing and foot claws of dromaeosaurs were ideal for climbing trees, a behavior probably restricted mainly to juveniles in larger species like D. antirrhopus. But that probably wouldn't stop a near adult Deinonychus from attempting to climb as high as it could to avoid the attention of a 6 tonne sauropod killer as it passes through a gully in search of fresh water.
I was thinking about this research this week as I watched a couple of nuthatches in my yard. Nice to see an excellent piece of paleoart coincide with my idle musings!



Outrageously Off-Topic Indulgence

Amy Sedaris!


*I'm so sorry I typoed your name!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gary Vecchiarelli on Creataceous Chaos Radio

Since I've been writing LITC, I've been asked by a few readers about whether there are any paleontology podcasts or radio shows, or even any that are dedicated to dinosaurs in particular. I've even tossed the question out to the general audience, hoping to hit a goldmine.

Thanks to Gary Vecchiarelli of Project Dryptosaurus, I now know of at least one: Cretaceous Chaos, a radio show on WAUG out of Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. Gary was interviewed on the show last weekend, and it's an enjoyable listen - the sound is a bit sketchy when the interview begins, but it gets better. Gary talks about his background and the evolution of Project Drypto. Head over to the show's Facebook page to learn more. While you're at it, click the ol' "Like" button at the Project Drypto fan page.

To listen to the episode, click here [big MP3 file].

Troody

Troody
Photo by numbacruncha2, via Flickr.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the unveiling of Troody, a bipedal robot based on Troodon formosus developed by Peter Dilworth of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. Dilworth was concerned with solving the problems of bipedal locomotion in robots, and in a canny move to draw attention to his work and get youth interested in robotics, he chose to work on the theropod body plan. Gregory S. Paul served as his consultant.

In a Scientific American article from July of that year, Dilworth discusses the challenges of creating a bipedal robot that moves in a biologically believable way.
With one look at Troody's smooth movements... it is clear that the researchers have succeeded. "A lot of people comment on how it [Troody] looks very biological," Dilworth says. "That's one thing that I strive for, and it's a result of the way we do the control system in the robot, a technique which uses springs in series with the motors, which softens the way the robot feels."
Later in the article, Dilworth expresses his hope to improve on Troody, creating more life-like, feathered version. These plans haven't panned out. Another prototype robot, this time a Protoceratops named Butch, was produced by Dilworth's Dinosaur Robots Inc., a company he founded to create attractions for museums and other exhibit venues. Paul and Hall Train Studios participated in the venture as well, but the site is inactive, and I can't find any media references to Butch from after 2004 or so. Dilworth is currently working in the toy industry at WowWee, the makers of Robosapien and Roboraptor. Troody is living out her retirement as part of the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination traveling exhibit, which is currently scheduled to open in Seattle in March.

A video accompanied Gizmodo's 2006 post about Troody. It's eight minutes long. If you feel the need to spice it up a bit (and I would totally understand why), go ahead and simultaneously play the video of Giorgio Moroder's "Moody Trudy," included below. It's only a couple minutes long, so you'll have to replay it a few times to make it through. The video is pretty dry, but with Moroder's little bubblegum ditty as accompaniment, it's delightful!





More on Troody: NatGeo, Hizook, MIT.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hear Me Make Word Sounds With Mouth

I was recently interviewed by a podcast called Meet The Skeptics, and the episode is now avaliable to hear! Head on over for a conversation between Chris and myself about dinosaurs, skepticism, and more. It was a heck of a lot of fun to talk to him, and his editing skills made me sound kind of articulate. This was the first time I've ever really talked paleontology publically, so please let me know what you think I could have expressed more clearly or included. Scott Elyard has already provided a couple good constructive criticisms, both for my bungling of the pronunciation of Masiakasaurus and for a missed opportunity to include cladistics as a way to test hypotheses in paleontological studies.

I've enjoyed listening to MTS over the last few months, and heartily recommend listening back on his earlier episodes if you have not done so. Chris records nice, casual interviews with giants in the critical thinking world, such as Eugenie Scott and James Randi, as well as schlubs like me. The tone of the show is personal and friendly, and I'm glad he's doing it. And honored to be part of it.

One thing I wish he would have kept was when I had a fit of coughing and hacking after taking a sip of my Vernor's Ginger Ale too early. If you've ever had a Vernor's, you'll know what I mean.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

LITC Presents: Dinosaur Valentines!

February 14th, known in some parts of the world as Valentine's Day, is quickly approaching. In honor of this most widely beloved of holidays, I've whipped up a set of dinosaur valentines ready to print and clip.

I've made PDFs available through Google Docs, in two versions: one suitable for all ages, and a slightly saucier version. If you'd prefer to express your affection digitally, grab them individually from Flickr: they're divided into nice and naughty sets.

Here are previews of the three designs:

Nesting Troodons...

Dromaeosaurus and Camarasaurus...

and Carnotaurus and Triceratops.

Yeah, yeah, the pairings aren't strictly accurate, time- and place-wise. They're valentines, not posters for SVP. Show the object of your affection your feelings and share your affection for dinosaurs at the same time. It's efficient!

If you like these, thank Jennie. Not only was it her idea in the first, she helped me pick out the "naughty" caption for the Troodons when I was hopelessly stumped and thinking about ditching the naughty version completely.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What Every One Should Know About Paleontology

After a question was posed on the Dinosaur Mailing List regarding the basic information the general public needs to know about paleontology, Dr. Tom Holtz replied with a comprehensive breakdown of what the science has taught us about the history of life on Earth. It has been cross posted on other blogs today, including Superoceras, Archosaur Musings, and SV-POW (UPDATED: Project Drypto, Crurotarsi, RMDRC Paleo Lab, too). Please be sure to click on the link of your choice to read the entirety of Dr. Holtz's piece. I'm not going to include it all here, but I would like to share my perspective on the subject.

When Dr. Holtz's email came through, I was working on a design project on my sofa, facing the south window of our living room. The window looks out on a small dogwood tree that holds a bird feeder - one of the those long tubes full of nyjer thistle seed. A suet cage is sequestered on a shepherd's hook, necessary to keep the squirrels from hogging the scrumptious blocks of fat-encased seeds all for themselves. Naturally, once Dr. Holtz reached the Mesozoic era, covered the evolution of dinosaurs, mammals, and flowering plants. It was impossible not to notice the resonance of the email with what I was watching: all players in the scene before me were members of lineages who began in the Mesozoic. Finch, squirrel, and dogwood: all important parts of the little ecosystem of my yard, all reminders of a heritage stretching back tens of millions of years or more.

Charles Darwin didn't invent the idea of evolution. But his mechanisms of natural and sexual selection were what forced us as a species to take an honest look at our place in nature. It hasn't been an easy understanding to grapple with - we're still arguing over it, after all. Though the opponents of evolutionary education grasp at more and more desperate ways to undermine it, the evidence has piled up to the extent that the absurdity of their arguments is plain to any reasonable person. I'm like plenty of other people: I whine and moan at the state of science education in my home country. The fact that emotion can persuade so much more easily than logical arguments can be discouraging. But the fact is that the scientific story of life on Earth can create an emotional connection, too. I've felt it. Others have felt it. And that's a hopeful thought.

Mr Darwin
Photo by Stu the Limey, via Flickr.

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Richard Roe

Dinosaur Days

Dinosaur Days, a Random House title from 1985, is mostly focused on reading skills, walking kids through sounding out the imposing names of dinosaurs. Providing the somewhat cartoony drawings is Richard Roe, a mysterious figure who doesn't have much of a web presence. Just a few listings for other titles he illustrated. Many of the drawings are two-page spreads depicting dramatic interactions between the animals, such as this angry Triceratops chasing off a pair of ornithomimosaurs.

One Angry Trike

Probably due to the star power of T. rex, Dinosaur Days to the Hell Creek biota of late Cretaceous North America. Here's the big guy squaring off against an Ankylosaurus.

T. rex vs. Ankylosaur

I can't get enough of illustrated dinosaur carnage, especially in these old children's titles. This is one of the best ones I've seen. Roe opts to capture the moment just before the great teeth of T. rex puncture the flesh of the poor Edmontosaurus he's caught.

T. rex Chomps Down

Coming in second to the carnage above in terms of pure entertainment value is the following illustration, depicting one of the easiest dinosaur digs imaginable: the tyrannosaur skull just lifts right out as if buried in a sandbox. I love the way the paleontologist is maneuvering it with a single hand.

Easiest Dig Ever

As always, head over to the Vintage Dinosaur Art Flickr group to browse a huge library of artwork from the entire history of dinosaur paleontology.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Terra Nova Super Bowl Commercial

Here's the quick spot for Terra Nova that played during the sporting event tonight. There's a brachiosaur, what appears to be a very fleet-footed Carnotaurus, and some good ol' fashioned "Spielberg gawking."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mesozoic Miscellany #17

The Big Story
Willo the Thescelosaurus has had its heart ripped out. Playing the part of Kali in this very Temple of Doom-ish scenario is NC State's Timothy Cleland, lead author of a study with Michael Stoskopf and Mary Schweitzer. They found that the "soft tissue remains" purported to be a stain left by the poor ornithischian's heart is just an ironstone concretion. More from Paleochick's Digs, Dinosaur Tracking, and Pterosauria.

Around the Dinosaur Blogosphere

First up: new month, new Boneyard! Only this time around, it's the Shell Midden. Why? Because that's how Kevin Zelnio rolls, holmes. Head over to the hallowed halls of Deep-Sea News for this month's periodical of paleontology.

At Project Dryptosaurus, Gary wrote about a dinosaur footprint from New Jersey.

Brian Switek wrote a great "State of the Ceratopsians" report at Dinosaur Tracking, talking to Andy Farke and John Scannella about the current debate over Triceratops, Torosaurus, and Nedoceratops.

Archosaur Musings has written a pair of posts on Scelidosaurus recently: one and two.

If further indulgence in armored dinosaurs is what you're craving, head over to Pseudoplocephalus. The Brainy One herself offers a look at the "spiked tail club" meme in restorations of ankylosaurs.

And if you want even more, check out the Dinosaur Toy Blog's review of David Krentz's Sachania model, which "bears all the verve and spirit of a grizzly bear. Heavy perhaps, but nonetheless ready to smash the living crap out of anything in its way." I heartily agree!

Saurian wrote about his first field trip of 2010, drawing attention to how the economic downturn has had an effect on fossil-hunting: quarrying activities have ceased at the site, leaving much of the fossil material hidden under snow-compacted clay.

Matt Wedel of SV-POW continued that blog's series of tutorials for aspiring paleontologists this week, offering advice to those who want to do research, but lose heart when it seems that all of the interesting stuff has been studied.

Twit Picks
Stuff I've linked to from Twitter in the last week or so:
Tumblin'
I Effing Love Dinosaurs shared this gem.



It comes from a book called A Creationist's View of Dinosaurs and the Theory of Evolution.

Paleoart of the Week
We're doing a toofer for today, just because I feel like it. First up, Matt Van Rooijen unveiled a new piece this week, a follow-up to his Tarbosaurus feeding traces illustration from last year. This time, Tarbosaurus is bringing the pain to a poor Saurolophus. He also wrote a bit on his process and the woes of grappling with color space.


Next up, Draw a Dinosaur Day happened this week, and it ambushed me. I hoped to do one, but I've been happily busy with freelance design work, so I couldn't. It took David Tana by surprise too, but he rose to the task with his handsome Triceratops. Please be sure to check out David's own weekly roundup, too!


Outrageously Off-Topic Indulgence
52 years ago this week, the world lost Buddy Holly. Here's one of my favorites from him. There's no better way to start a road trip, or any other exciting endeavor. That's not just my opinion: that's a fact.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Boneyard 2.6: The Shell Midden!

What's the Shell Midden? It's what Kevin Zelnio is calling Boneyard 2.6 over at Deep-Sea News. Head over to read the most diverse edition of the Boneyard yet! Welcome to all of the new submitters, and please don't hesitate to submit to future Boneyards. Because it ain't just about dinosaurs, after all.

Next month is being hosted by David Tana at Superoceras. Write, submit, and share with the world.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Carnotaurus and Friends at the Kenosha Dinosaur Discovery Museum

As part of a family of die-hard Green Bay Packers fans, I've spent my share of time in the great Dairy State, Wisconsin. Having grown up in Northwest Indiana, my family would take yearly trips to visit family, see Packers training camp, and watch games when they still played in Milwaukee twice a year. I've been to the Dells. I've eaten at the Mars Cheese Castle. But I never knew that the city of Kenosha was home to a small population of immigrants from the Mesozoic, in the Dinosaur Discovery Museum. Dr. Thomas Carr of Carthage College, describer of the recent tyrannosaurs Teratophoneus and Bistahieversor, is the museum's curator. The Carthage Institute of Paleobiology ioperates a laboratory at the museum, as well.

According to the museum's website, the exhibit gallery "has more meat-eating dinosaurs on display than any other museum in the nation. Nine of the dinosaurs can be seen only at our Museum."

The photos below are by Scott Anselmo. He's got some nice frontal shots of Carnotaurus, showing just how narrow that skull was, for as boxy as it is in profile.

Carnotaurus

To its credit, the museum states up front that the skeletons on display are casts, and uses color to illustrate which bones are known from the skeletons and which were missing. I understand that many want to see the actual fossils, but it doesn't bother me at all. Cast or mounted fossil, I'd love to check out that Carnotaurus or the Suchomimus below. Just reminds me of how many dinosaur mounts I haven't seen.

Suchomimus

They've even got little Eoraptor, recently traded from team theropod to team sauropod.

Eoraptor

Visit Scott's Flickr photo set for more of the Dinosaur Discovery Museum's collection.