Friday, January 14, 2011

ScienceOnline special: A Tale of Two Diablos

I recently wrote a piece for the SciAm Guest Blog. It was called "How To Name a Dinosaur," and it was a joy to be invited, a joy to write, and a joy to have some nice words said about it. It was also a joy to be able to include the work of one of my favorite up-and-comers in the paleoart world, Matt Van Rooijen.

See, my favorite recent dinosaur name is Diabloceratops. Matt's drawn Diabloceratops. I remembered that, wanted to put his name out there, and as we have a relationship already, asking permission to use it was a formality. Hear this, bloggers: it's good to have friendly relationships with artists. Credit them, link to them, purchase them tasty beverages and cozy knitted outerware. They are your collaborators.

Diabloceratops, illustrated by Matt Van Rooijen. Used with his permission.

Then, a funny thing happened. One of the commenters was Jim Kirkland, who happened to have been an author on Diablo's description. It was really cool to see - any time a real, honest-to-gosh scientist looks my way, I feel real nifty. But I was a bit dismayed when he wrote that Matt's art was "...nearly identical to Brad Wolverton's original art for our press release on Diabloceratops."

I don't agree. I don't think that Matt's illustration looks anything like Brad's - which, it must be said, is fantastic - save for the fact that A) It's the same animal, and B) it's viewed from a similar angle. "Nearly identical?" I don't see it. Compare Matt's, featured above, with Brad's for yourself.

My point here is most emphatically not to disparage Kirkland. I have a lot of respect for him, and hugely appreciate his ability to do public outreach. It's heartening that he's so willing to stick up for the artist who helped him publicize such a cool dinosaur. I also felt the need to stand up for Matt and left a comment of my own to that effect. I also notified Matt to let him address it, which he did, quite graciously, in the comments. It's a non-controversy, really. A nontroversy, if you will. A nontro, for the brevity-inclined.

Still, that gulf between Kirkland's perception and mine is fascinating to me. What do you think? Are they really that similar? Does the fact that Kirkland is a scientist have anything to do with how he saw the two? As moderating a panel at ScienceOnline is more about listening than talking, I'd like to hear the perspective of scientists on this - how do they view the relationship between themselves and the artists and designers that help communicate their research? Does this apparent Mama Grizzly urge to defend her cub seem familiar? If I get to touch on this during the discussion, and anything fruitful comes of it, I'll be sure to expand on this in the near future.


  1. It's weird, I thought I kinda agreed with Kirkland until I clicked your link. There's a completely different image I remember with many of the early press articles that DID look almost identical to Van Rooijen's. But now I can't seem to find it anywhere on Google Images. Huh.

    Either way, I still don't think an identical image is a bad thing. I suspect both probably used a similar source photo or diagram of the skull with the same angle. That doesn't mean one copied the other, it means both are faithful and accurate reconstructions of the same specimen.

  2. I have to agree with your praise of Jim Kirkland. Copyright is little respected these days and for artists it's hard enough to make a crust without someone pinching your work. So it was great he stood up for Brad.

    PS- shall I expect my cosy knitted outerwear and tasty beverage in the post? ;-)

  3. I personally don't see much resemblance, but in any case it's not always a bad thing for reconstructions to be similar.

  4. I felt the need to deal reply in long form:

    would love feedback.

  5. They look about as alike as any other two artists' restorations of any given ceratopsid. I have all the respect in the world for Dr. Kirkland, but I call bullshit on that comparison.

    I mean, look at mine:

    It doesn't have any color, but it's basically the same in terms of anatomy. Isn't that the point? If you're following the anatomy closely, you're going to end up with a similar image.

  6. This is such an important post, David. I love that Kirkland defended his illustrator - and I love that Van Rooijen can point to the development of his artwork on his blog as to the source of his originality.

    I agree with Zach and Matt in this thread.

    The second important point (second; and also lesser) to come out of this is that a sketchblog detailing processes is something many artists fear. They fear putting up lesser work in front of people. Yet here we see an excellent reason for having the process transparent and for all to see. It's honest and raw.

  7. I'm glad everyone's had such good comments to this. I was hesitant to post it, for fear of invoking Kirkland's wrath! But I think everyone is being really fair to all parties. And it's about more than a simple difference in perception. Kind of glad we didn't touch on this point at ScienceOnline because it may have derailed things.

    I think the point about sketchblogs is a good one, Glendon. It's kind of similar to science blogs offering an inside look at the process of science. I've learned a lot by watching how different artists work. I think whatever each individual is comfortable with is cool.


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