Friday, March 24, 2017

2017 Survey of Paleoartists: One Week Left!

Just a quick note: there's one week left to respond to the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists. If you missed my earlier post on the survey, please read it to learn more. And head to bit.ly/paleoartsurvey to take it! It will only take a few minutes, and is relevant for hobbyist and professional alike.

A look at the results so far is pretty interesting, and I look forward to publishing what we find out. So far, we've had 331 respondents from 33 countries. If you're a paleoartist, please add your voice, and share the link far and wide.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Canadian paleontologists tell their stories in "Dino Trails"

A great new series of short documentaries on Canadian paleontology was just released on YouTube by TELUS Optik. "Dino Trails," a project by filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk, kicks off with a profile of Phil Currie and Eva Koppelhus. This episode also features our own Victoria Arbour, who talks a bit about our favorite clobberin' thyreophorans. Subsequent episodes give a chance to see the Suncor nodosaur in prep, tag along on a fossil hunt with Wendy Sloboda of Wendiceratops fame, and spend a nice chunk of time with the Tumbler Ridge dinosaur tracks, featuring friend of LITC Lisa Buckley. And so much more!

I appreciated Yanchyk's focus on the stories of discovery, study, and the people who do it. As researchers tell their stories, a running theme of the importance of protecting our fossil heritage emerges, and they offer impassioned arguments for their various fields of study. Sit back and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Private Lives of Animals: Prehistoric Animals - Part 1

It Came From the 1970s! Originally published in Italy in 1971, Prehistoric Animals is part of the Privates Lives of Animals series, which otherwise featured entirely extant wildlife. When I posted a little something from this book on Facebook, it quickly became apparent that a number of people, including palaeontologists and artists, remember this book very fondly from their childhoods. It isn't surprising - the art in this book combines a surprisingly high level of technical proficiency with flagrant Knight/Zallinger/Burian copying and a healthy dollop of pulp. Why, they even managed to get Burian himself involved. Many thanks to Benjamin Hillier for sending me this one - it's a corker! (Just see how many 'homages' you can spot to classic palaeoart pieces on the cover alone.)


Friday, March 10, 2017

The Stomping Grounds: A Dinosaur Art Zine

Recently, there has been some back-and-forth on Facebook about what capital-P paleoart is, as John Conway proposed some guidelines for the Paleoartists group. While certain genres of dinosaur art - for instance Jurassic Park fan art - aren't too hard to rule out, other forms are a harder call. The group has been debating whether fantastical pieces based on close anatomical study of ancient life are allowable. Others have mused about how stylized something can be and still count as paleoart. I've certainly wondered that about Mammoth is Mopey. And it's a balancing act we've played at LITC, for instance with our 2013 All Yesterdays competition. But while we may debate the place and the value of Rigorous Paleoart vs. "mere" illustrations of prehistoric life, I think we can all agree that it's good for pop culture to be permeated with more depictions of prehistoric beasts based on contemporary paleontology.

This leads us to the subject of today's post. As I was traipsing through the dinosaur realms of DeviantArt recently, I came across a wonderful stylized Amargasaurus illustration by Tanya Kozak, AKA Virsiris. It looked like it could have been a still from a dinosaur cartoon I'd definitely watch. The description said that the illustration was part of Stomping Grounds, a dinosaur art zine. I followed the link to Gumroad and picked up a copy. It's sold on a pay-what-you-want scheme.

Carnotaurus © Tanya Kozak, shared here with the artist's permission.

Released about a year ago,Stomping Grounds couldn't be simpler in its execution. It is focused solely on illustration, without any text besides credits for the creators. I'd have appreciated a bit of background information on the species and the artist's rationale for each illustration, and I'd think it would justify a bump up from pay-what-you-want to a set price to cover the additional layout work required.

The zine is decidedly not filled with capital-P paleoart, but that's not the intent. This is a celebration of dinosaurs. Kozak invited a range of artists, many of whom work in animation, to contribute. So it's not surprising that the art bursts with character, like Squeedge's slavering Cryolophosaurus in pink plumage or Kari Fry's Dracorex standoff. My personal favorite was Neogeen's Troodon flock, dramatically rendered in red and drab green, all fully feathered. More than any other piece in the collection, Neogeen's suggests a wider world and I'd love to see it stretched out into a comic or animated piece. Kozak, whose Amargasaurus led me to the zine in the first place, has a few pieces in the zine, with standouts like a fierce Mosasaurus , a Carnotaurus with subtly but effectively exaggerated features, and a fuzzy, ready-for-cartoon-villainy Dilophosaurus.

The zine is well worth picking up and throwing a few buck the artists' way. It's heartening to see artists who aren't scientific illustrators continuing to absorb the good news of our current paleontological golden age. Head to Gumroad to download for free or name your price.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Utahraptor Project competition

As many of you out there in Chasmoland will already be well aware, one of the most tantalising bonebed discoveries of the last decade was the that of a huge trove of Utahraptor skeletons in (fittingly enough) Utah. Fossilised alongside the remains of at least two iguanodontian ornithopods are the bones of numerous Utahraptor individuals at different growth stages, which promise to finally reveal what this formerly rather engimatic animal really looked like. (Suffice it to say, it certainly wasn't the monstrous steroidal Deinonychus that you remember from your childhood.)

The site was discovered by Matt Stikes back in 2001, and the huge block o' bones was subsequently excavated by Jim Kirkland (who described Utahraptor), Don DeBlieux and Scott Madsen along with numerous volunteers. The block is now being prepared in the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah, under the auspices of Madsen (as Chief Preparator). You can read the full story of the project - from discovery, to excavation, to preparation - over on the official Utahraptor Project site, where there's also a handy index of Utahraptor-related press...not to mention this lovely video featuring Jim himself.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

We have been living in a golden age of paleontological research for long enough that many in the paleontology community don't remember anything but the golden age. A vibrant community of researchers, journalists, artists, and enthusiasts has come of age in a time when exciting new discoveries are announced on a regular basis: challenging our preconceptions, fueling our wonder, stoking our creativity. This has all occurred with the rise of the internet, allowing us to share in the bounty on listservs, forums, art communities, and social media. It's led to a blossoming of new paleoart; surely, there is more high quality artistry dedicated to prehistoric life being produced now than at any other time.

And yet, as Witton, Naish, and Conway wrote in their essential 2014 commentary, "State of the Palaeoart," "many standard practises associated with palaeoart production are ethically and legally problematic, stifle its scientific and cultural growth, and have a negative impact on the financial viability of its creators." That viability has been a big question, especially since March of 2011, when paleoart legend Gregory S. Paul sparked a period of intense debate on the Dinosaur Mailing List. I won't rehash it here, but my big takeaway from this was a concern for paleoartists: is it even possible to make a living in the field? If so, how many people can the industry sustain?

To know this, we need to know what we're talking about, and there are many question marks. Who is creating paleoart? What are they creating? For what purpose? Who are they working for? How do they charge? How much do they make? Well, let's find out, shall we?

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists is now open and taking responses. Matt Celeskey and Mark Witton were critical to the early development of the survey. I then brought in another round of reviewers, Bob Nicholls, Brian Engh, and Emily Willoughby. I'm grateful to all for their excellent feedback.

If you create paleoart, please take the survey. No matter your level of prestige, seniority in the field, your status as a professional or hobbyist, or how many works you've produced, I want your input. If you're unsure if you qualify, shove down that imposter syndrome and dive in. It's completely anonymous, and the information collected will help you and your peers navigate the field more confidently.

If you know a paleoartist, I ask you to shoot the link to them: bit.ly/paleoartsurvey. If you know a paleoartist who is not very active online or on social media, I beg of you to email the link to them. We need their input.

If you're a blogger, Youtuber, tweeter, or Tumblr-er, I would greatly appreciate your help in blasting the word out. Feel free to share the promotional graphic below, featuring a beautiful illustration from LITC's own Natee, in posts and on social media.

Promotional graphic for the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

I'll keep the survey active for at least a month, so I'll occasionally post updates here, and I'll keep making noise elsewhere on the web, too. After that? I'll be reporting the results here at LITC, pursuing journal publication, and possibly completing a poster.

That link again is bit.ly/paleoartsurvey. We need data! Help get the data.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

This Mesozoic Month: February 2017

Though I typically post these on the first, I'm running February's roundup a day early to make room for the launch of the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists tomorrow. Come back tomorrow to read about, and take, the survey!

In the News

Early in February, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology spoke out against the Trump regime's hotly-debated immigration ban from nine majority-Muslim countries. Check out the full statement here.

Isaberrysaurus mollensis is a newly described primitive neornithischian from the Early Jurassic Los Molles Formation. Discovered with a belly full of cycad seeds, it was initially thought to occupy a more basal spot in ornithischia on account of its rather stegosaurian noggin. Read more from Franz Anthony at Earth Archives.

It barely missed the cut last month, so I'll include it this time. Saccorhytus coronarius is the newly discovered, 540 million year old contender for earliest deuterostome. As NPR's All Things Considered put it, S. coronarius was "basically a giant gaping mouth with spikes and some extra holes — probably for oozing waste." Sounds like I've got my Halloween costume figured out. Read more from Smithsonian, Phys Org, and CNN.

At Laelaps, Brian Switek introduces us to Keilhauia nui, a Jurassic ichthyosaur discovered in Svalbard, Norway and notable among its kin for the fact that its hips were preserved with it. Now we just need to enlist Weird Al to parody Shakira to make this story blow up.

Bulbasaurus phylloxyron illustration by Matt Celeskey, distributed with press materials for the PeerJ publication.

Bulbasaurus phylloxyron is a new, gnarly-looking dicynodont from the Karoo basin of South Africa, described by Christian Kammerer in PeerJ. And there's a Pokémon connection, so it actually made the news! Read more from Everything Dinosaur, Shaena Montanari for Forbes, Jon Tennant for PloS Paleo Community, and Sarah Sloat for Inverse. Matt Celeskey's restoration, above, is a beauty.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

LITC's Asher Elbein has been a busy guy. First: his terrific piece for Audubon on how modern paleontology is harnessing the power of lasers to study fossils: in this case, research published in December on the early Cretaceous bird Confuciusornis, indicating it was capable of flight and adapted for arboreality. After that appetizer, dive into his new piece for the Bitter Southerner, in which he writes about the largely obscured history of the continent of Appalachia. Though many of the Mesozoic fossils of the eastern US are scrappy, Asher writes, "...put enough scraps together, and you can catch a glimpse of something more: the shape of a body, the shape of a forest, the shape of a land lost beneath fathomless time."

Popular Mechanics ran a brief article on the Paleobiology Database Navigator, a tool that allows users to explore fossil localities by geological timeframe, taxa, or location. It's pretty great, check it out if you haven't already.

Thea Boodhoo tells the story of her involvement with the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs and lays out the background of the institute's mission to raise up a new generation of Mongolian paleontologists.

Learn about the fossils of Big Bend National Park from the Mary Anning's Revenge crew. It's like... maybe public lands are super-important and worth preserving? Is that a crazy, fringe idea these days?

Continuing the public lands theme, Robert Gay visits the PLoS Paleo Community blog to tell the story of Bears Ears National Monument's fossil treasures. I previously linked to a post on BENM in January, but it's too good a story to miss.

At Archosaur Musings, Dave Hone has launched a new series in which paleontologists discuss favorite or unsung scientific papers. He kicks it off with Mike Taylor, who writes about the process of publishing his paper with Matt Wedel on sauropod neck length.

"Scientist-led palaeoart should be the best there is," says Mark Witton, "carefully-executed, evidence-led syntheses of research conclusions in compelling artworks." So it's incredibly frustrating when paleoart commissioned by a scientist and created under their guidance fails in fundamental ways. Read Mark's full commentary at his blog.

There's a new paleontology-infused podcast in town: Common Descent.

Darren Naish shares a write-up of his talk at last autumn's Popularising Palaeontology event at King's College London. Head to Tet Zoo to read about his talk on paleoart memes. You can check out more about the workshop, including videos of the talks, at the Popularising Palaeontology website.

Jillian Noyes celebrates the enduring power of Disney's "Rite of Spring" segment of Fantasia at Extinct.

Did you know about Peru's Talara tar pits? Brian Switek waxes rhapsodic about their beautiful, jet-black bounty, as well as discussing some other tar pit sites that don't get the attention La Brea receives. In another post championing an unsung fossil, he gives some overdue love to Torvosaurus' smaller cousin Marshosaurus, a mid-sized Morrison predator only known from some bits of jaw and hip.

At Musings of a Clumsy Palaeontologist, Liz Martin-Silverstone is celebrating 150 years of Canadian paleontology, a rich history that kicked off with the discovery of a Dimetrodon on Prince Edward Island in 1845. Read her first post in the series here.

The Empty Wallets Club

Some juicy new books and art to pick up this month! I figure they're deserving of their very own section here. We'll see if there's enough every month to keep it around.

Anthony Martin's new book was released on February 7. Pick up The Evolution Underground to learn about the natural history of burrowing animals. Also check out Tony's post on the book at his Life Traces of the Georgia Coast blog.

If you haven't been to Chris DiPiazza's on-line store, do yourself a favor and check it out. I am particularly enamored of his successful effort to counter the "tiny arms" slander T. rex is prone to receive.

Some great stuff has been coming out from the 252MYA crew. Just a few recent pieces: Greer Strother's Hatzegopteryx poster. Franz Anthony's Ediacaran Biota tee. Julio Lacerda's Age of Fishes poster. I'll also note that 252MYA's licensing arm is now live, so there's literally no reason any media needs to resort to atrocious CG abominations instead of good paleoart.

Brian Engh is selling his paleoart book to Patreon supporters who pledge at the $20 per month level or higher, and if you commit to keeping that pledge level for at least two months, he'll draw a custom illustration of your choosing on the inside cover! And while you're here, dim the lights and check out Brian's second video dedicated to the dinosaur trackmakers of Copper Ridge. He also touches on gnarly injuries, the vital role of predators, the importance of public lands. Details on his book promotion at the end of the video.

It's not in the 252mya shop at the moment, but Gabriel Ugueto has added to his growing selection of Mesozoic fauna posters. Now available at Redbubble: Wessex dinosaurs and pterosaurs and one dedicated to the fauna of the Las Hoyas Formation of Spain. Dude's got a selfie next to the word "prolific" in the Merriam-Webster's.

Sharon Wegner-Larson released another great fossil-based design this month: Triceratops Rocks. Minerals, ginkgo leaves, and one of the coolest skulls of all time, what's not to love?

Emily Willoughby, Jonathan Kane, and Mike Keesey's new book God's Word or Human Reason?: An Inside Perspective on Creationism is now available. A limited number of signed hardcover copies are available from Emily for $40 through Paypal, too. The book, as you may guess from the subtitle, lays out evidence for evolution from a group of authors who were at one time creationists. Also, I had the distinct honor of designing the cover!

Crowdfunding Spotlight

A panel from page 11 of Paleocene © Mike Keesey. Shared here with the artist's permission.

More from Mike Keesey, why not? I love his comic Paleocene. Set in the devastated post K-T world, the opening chapter of the comic (he completed page 20 recently) has set the stage for a story about a clan of stem-primates as they struggle for survival. It even involves issues of class. I love the writing, the color, the atmosphere... it's just great. To support him in this and other endeavors, sign on to be a patron at his Patreon page.

A Moment of Paleoart Zen

I felt like going non-dinosaurian this time around, and this terrific new illustration by Vladimir Nikolov fit the bill perfectly. At Facebook, he offers this description:

An unfortunate individual of the aetosaurian species Stagonolepis robertsoni is falling to its death, while a nearby passing Ornithosuchus woodwardi is suddenly offered a free lunch. In nature, in great many occasions, someone's loss and pain is someone else's gain. The scene takes place during the Late Triassic in what is now Scotland.
The Last Fall © Vladimir Nikolov. Shared here with the artist's permission.

You can check it out at DeviantArt and leave him a constructive comment, too.

That's a wrap for February. As ever, your comments and shares on social media are greatly appreciated. And seriously, come back tomorrow for the launch of the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Return to Evolving Planet

A line of people snakes through the north entryway, populated mostly by locals taking advantage of a promotion offering free entry for state residents. From the middle of a group of twentysomethings, I hear a man's voice express mild disappointment as he peers past the ticket counters at the famous tyrant dinosaur beyond.

"I thought she'd be bigger."

"Just wait 'til you're below her," I respond.

Queen Sue. Photo by David Orr.

After attending the Wild Things conference this weekend, conversing with all sorts of people about conservation and urban ecology in the Midwest US, I grabbed the chance to visit the Field Museum.

The Field is one of my favorite places to spend a day indoors. In a previous post, I did a walkthrough of the Field's dinosaur hall (with more photos here). I thought that this time, I might aim a more critical eye at the exhibit, especially concerning the role of paleoart. Due to the heavy weekend crowd, I didn't even try for exhaustive documentation, but I think I got enough to be worth sharing here, and I'll supplement with some of my older photos. I'd also recommend Ben Miller's thoughtful walkthrough and review of the entire Evolving Planet exhibit at Extinct Monsters.

A Pteranodon model with the John Gurche "Sue" mural in the background.

The most visible pieces of 2-D paleoart in the Field are the Charles R. Knight murals, mounted high around the perimeter of the dinosaur hall as well as select positions along the exhibit's length. They surely deserve prominent display (the first paleoart visitors encounter would be Gurche's Sue mural overlooking the queen herself). I would love to see more contemporary artists given more prominence. Perhaps a revisit of classic Knight scenarios and compositions, with information given about the evolution of ideas in the last century of paleontological study.

Daspletosaurus mount with classic Knight Tyrannosaurus v. Triceratops in the background.
A mount of Parasaurolophus with retro Knight hadrosaurs in the background.
Pteranodon skeletal model with retro Tylosaurus and Archelon in the background.

Is that sacrilege? Maybe it is, but for the collection's importance to the history of paleoart, these pieces arguably work at cross-purposes to the content of the exhibit. In Evolving Planet, aside from "how do we know this?" passages on informational panels intended to counter creationist prejudices visitors may bring with them, the story of the science isn't foregrounded.* So it's a bit counterproductive to have so much antiquated scientific illustration present, without equally prominent discussion of how the science has progressed. In a museum where space is at a premium, it may be a pipe dream, but it's a pipe dream I like.

This is not to say that the art's vintage is entirely unremarked upon: for instance, Knight's place in the history of the science is called out in one of the informational panels, opposite the Stegosaurus mount.

Charles R. Knight's Stegosaurus

The exhibit isn't entirely devoid of newer art. The didactic panels accompanying fossil mounts include serviceable, if sometimes shrink-wrappy, occasionally GSP-posed, illustrations of the animals.

Illustration of Edmontonia, in a familiar pose.
Illustration of a skinny-necked Rapetosaurus juvenile.

There's no information on the artist. The style is sometimes too airbrushy, which doesn't do much for me personally.

Illustration of Stegoceras
Majungatholus, er, Majungasaurus illustration.

Some of the panels also include cladistic diagrams, which are helpful to ground the animals in their evolutionary context. There's even an explanation of what a cladogram is, and tough words like "Marginocephalians." Contrast this with a panel earlier in the exhibit, in which the Ediacaran biota is referred to simply as the "earliest animals." Such concision is understandable. But the amount of fine-grain information provided in the dinosaur hall implicitly confirms a visitor's idea that these animals are of the utmost importance.

Sauropod cladogram, with a scrawny-necked Apatosaurus in the middle.
Marginocephalian cladogram, featuring Triceratops. Protoceratops, and Anchiceratops illustrations. No pachycephalosaurs for you!.

In the small pocket of the hall dedicated to the evolution of birds, casts of Archaeopteryx and Sinornis fossils are accompanied by fully feathered models, as well as illustrations of Deinonychus and Sinornithosaurus in the old-school, grudgingly feathered mode.

A lightly feathered Sinornithosaurus illustration.
A similarly lightly feathered Deinonychus illustration.
The Archaeopteryx model.
The grumpy Sinornis model.

The theropods aren't the only 3-D work on display. The Parasaurolophus vocalization model is pretty great, and after visitors meet the iconic Herrerasaurus model upon entry to the dinosaur hall, they even get the chance to breeze by a big model of a plant.

Hey, look! A bennettitales model!

"Evolving Planet" is a great exhibit, and one I recommend to anyone visiting Chicago. Attentive visitors will definitely walk out of it with new knowledge of and appreciation for evolutionary history. Though this post may seem a bit nit-picky, it was valuable for me to visit with the intention of doing more than ogling the mounts one more time. After all, the exhibit turns 11 this year. It's reached the age of the exhibit it replaced, "Life Through Time." So it's only natural that it is starting to show its age. I think it's a good time to imagine the next form a paleontological exhibit may take at the Field. My wishlist? More on bird evolution in the dinosaur hall. And throughout, more contemporary paleoart integrated with displayed fossil specimens, more on the stories of how discoveries have been made and how they've enriched our understanding of life's history.

But hey, you can't complain too much when Tiktaalik is at the party.

Model of Tiktaalik roseae at the Field Museum.

* To see an exhibit at the Field that explicitly brings the scientific process into its narrative (see their compact-but-wonderful Lichens exhibit).

Friday, February 17, 2017

Guest Post: The Music of Walking with Dinosaurs

Once again, we welcome Rohan Long to the blog for a guest post. Rohan is a zoology teaching guy at University of Melbourne. You can find him on Twitter @zoologyrohan and listen to his new musical project, Bronzewing, at bronzewing.bandcamp.com. You may recall his post last year almost a year ago, reviewing Crichton's The Lost World. This time, Rohan came to us with the idea of discussing the music of 1999's seminal CG documentary Walking with Dinosaurs, and we happily accepted the offer.


When you start to unpack it, Walking With Dinosaurs is a strange beast; a fictional animated series earnestly presenting itself as a nature documentary. The series’ aesthetic cues are drawn foremost from the BBC school of classic documentaries – and with good reason; if the creators strayed too far from the genre as it’s traditionally presented, the spell would be broken, and the audience may well ask itself why Kenneth Branagh is playing Attenborough over a bunch of puppets and primitive CGI. Unsurprisingly, the first incarnation of the show, released in 1999, was also aesthetically and musically influenced by cultural juggernaut Jurassic Park which was released six years earlier.

Ornitholestes from 1999's Walking With Dinosaurs. Somehow, Benjamin Bartlett avoided the obvious choice of producing a punk theme for this critter.

When it comes to establishing the feel of a real nature documentary, the soundtrack must surely be one of the most crucial elements. The score by Benjamin Bartlett draws from similar stylistic touchstones to the show’s visual aesthetic – a little John Williams here, a touch of Edward William’s 1979 score to Life On Earth there. It must have been an interesting brief for a composer as most importantly, the soundtrack was required to sound like a nature documentary soundtrack. As with the overall look of the show, if the soundtrack didn’t fit the established expectations of what a nature documentary should sound like, the illusion of authenticity would be shattered. So in a sense, this soundtrack can be thought of as a work of pastiche.

I bought the soundtrack CD in the early 2000s but didn’t actually listen to it until much later. Let me set the scene: I was working on a dinosaur dig with which I have a long association and was relaxing at the end of a very hard day. For the second time in as many days I had been working “in the hole” – manually extracting big chunks of rock from the fossil layer with sledge hammers and chisels so the rest of the crew could break them down, looking for fossils. That night, a combination of very strenuous work and a couple of quality Australian lagers had brought about an almost zen-like state of calm stillness in me. The crew was watching the WWD episode that features the dinosaurs from our site (because of course that’s what you’d do after looking for dinosaur fossils all day). I’d seen this episode quite a few times by this point, but this time something clicked. The music cut through to my receptive mind and I appreciated it for the first time.

The music that first captivated me that evening was from the episode Spirits of the Ice Forest about the polar dinosaurs of south-eastern Australia with which I have a warm familiarity. The main motif comprises a sweeping middle-eastern section which then gives way to some icy, atmospheric textures. The follow-on track Antarctic Spring develops this theme and the incorporation of some delay-affected tuned percussion makes it sound a bit modern and cool.

I think Bartlett is using a stereotypically middle-eastern sounding scale on these pieces as musical shorthand to symbolise a generic “other” – you know, because Australia is weird because it’s different to the northern hemisphere! Perhaps it would have made more sense for these themes to have incorporated elements of our actual indigenous music. It’s kind of lazy and very Eurocentric, but I enjoy the music on its own merits so I mostly forgive Bartlett for this.

One thing Bartlett does very well is huge, affecting pieces that make full use of the orchestra. Islands of Green for example, uses slow-building swells of strings interspersed with steady, rhythmic bass notes and a shimmering celesta to illustrate the hardships of marine reptiles in the late Jurassic. Cruel Sea from the same episode is more stripped back but has a similar feel, this time with strings, orchestral harp and brass forming a slow, melancholy waltz. These pieces work very well as standalone songs, as opposed to tracks like say, Torosaurus Locks Horns or Canyon Of Terror which are purely dramatic tension delivery devices.

I think Bartlett does a great job on this unique project, but there are weak spots. On the Time Of The Titans episode he seems to be trying to emulate the feel of William’s themes for Jurassic Park and like Williams, lapses into obvious grandiosity and unnecessary whimsy when scoring the sauropod scenes. Minor complaints aside, the soundtrack works as a very listenable album of music in addition to scoring the series very effectively.

You might notice that the first track mentions in parentheses that it is narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Happily (or disappointingly, depending on your view), Branagh only appears on that first track, the rest is unspoiled by narration. Mind you, although I think that track clashes somewhat with the rest of the album, I’ve got to admit that it does make a great opener for mix CDs – *orchestra swell* Imagine you can travel back in time, to a time long before man...

Postscript: If you’re interested in this music or soundtrack composition in general, have a read of this in-depth interview from 2000 with Bartlett on the process of composing and recording the music for WWD.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (Herbert S Zim) - Part 2

As you'll no doubt recall, the last time I posted on LITC, it was to share my #cleaneating cooking tips and various photographs of myself flashing my pristinely white teeth while preparing cabbage-based dishes in a mysteriously desaturated, blandly rustic-looking netherworld. Nah, only joking - it was all about an old dinosaur book from the 1950s, written by Herbert Zim and illustrated by James Gordon Irving. Here are some more intriguing excerpts from said book, ranging from your usual Knightian hadrosaurs to a 5' 8" American. I should also point out that my teeth are far from perfect. I am British, after all. Oh, and thanks again to Charles Leon for sending me the scans!