Monday, October 14, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Archosauria - Part 2

While nothing could match the feathered theropods in terms of sheer prescience, there were illustrations of other animals in Archosauria that were groundbreaking in their own, perhaps more subtle ways (and now you know I'm not referring to the ceratopsians). McLoughlin may have been skimpy on the sauropodomorphs, but what he did provide was a tantalising glimpse into an exciting new era of palaeoart.


(Yes, I'm finally doing jump breaks.)


While his assertion that Plateosaurus was an habitual quadruped may now be outdated, he nevertheless correctly shows the animal with the palms of its hands turned inwards, while the tail is held out stiffly behind. Even into the 1980s, this was an animal frequently depicted as a rotund, tail-dragging beast, on its way to becoming a much more massive rotund, tail-dragging beast. This illustration is also one of my favourites as it's a particularly excellent example of McLoughlin's drawing technique. And I love me a crazy stripy pattern. Reminds me of the jumpers I wear when I don a fake moustache and thick-rimmed glasses and hang around Camden.


As if that wasn't wild enough...sauropods being active!?! Rearing bipedally!?!?! Those hands don't quite work, but for 1979 this is rather radical. McLoughlin pours righteous scorn on the 'stodgy professors'' view of swamp-bound lardopods, meticulously pointing out the many ways in which sauropods had clearly evolved as terrestrial animals. The head on this Diplodocus may look a little shrink-wrapped now, but at the time it was at least a welcome break from artists sticking a generic, frowning lizardy face on top and calling it a day.


Even better is this Brachiosaurus, which couldn't be further from the old Zallingerian (oh yes) restorations if it sported a dapper Mad Men outfit and smoked a pipe. In fact, there's something uncommonly terrifying about this restoration, which I can imagine is down to two factors: McLoughlin's clever use of perspective in making it seem intimidatingly tall, and its overt muscular rippliness. I'm sure it's the latter that really bothers me. To quote Kenneth Scott in The Making of Doom 3 (2004), "As monsters go, you eventually need something with muscle. It plays on every nerd's fear of being beat up." Of course, to imagine sauropods as threatening is plain silly - everyone knows that giant herbivorous animals are always entirely placid, friendly, and up for petting and/or being used as transport, and that a giant herbivore ain't never hurt nobody.


To further illustrate his points on sauropod anatomy, McLoughlin illustrates some sauropod anatomy. Here we see Camarasaurus modelling "hollowed-out, weight-saving vertebrae and [a] suspension-bridge pelvic girdle". At the end of the sauropod chapter, McLoughlin contemplates how great pine forests evolved alongside the mighty sauropods, and his mind starts to wander:
"Perhaps amid the roar and crash of logging operations, the old forests recall the company of their vanished coevolvers; the rich, warm piny breath and gentle stupid eyes of the sauropods seem so much more elegantly suited to these cathedral woods than the bully-whiskered presence of the woodsman, the screaming violence of his saw."
 I hereby vow to crowbar the phrase 'bully-whiskered' into a blog post in the near future.


The depiction of 'cheeks' on ornithopods has become so commonplace now that some authors are arguing against their de facto inclusion, on the grounds that there is no hard evidence for their existence; that lizardy 'lips' are just as plausible. The skull illustrations here are intended to show the similarities between the skulls of Hypsilophodon and a pronghorn, chiefly in having a sunken tooth row, in support of the argument for dinosaurian cheeks. While McLoughlin's Hypsilophodon is beautifully drawn, it is unduly doe-eyed as a bony bar that shaded the eye (similar to that in eagles) is missing. Remarkably few artists remember this feature, perhaps because it's tempting to make the animal all small-'n'-cute - Luis Rey's depictions might look comically serious, but that's only because they're accurate.


Just as with his sauropods, McLoughlin's Iguanodon is brave departure from the tail-dragging, sour-faced mega-lizard of lore, although he continues the pre-Renaissance tradition of underestimating the robustness of the forelimbs. Extra amusement is added by the exaggerated spikiness of the thumbs, with which McLoughlin asserts the animal "must have struck at the eyes of carnivores". Why so many people presumed these were purely defensive weapons, I don't know; it might be just another meme. Still, the idea of Iguanodon as an eye-gouger is surely the stuff that '80s-'90s Paul Verhoeven films were made of. Ah, if only he was directing the next Jurassic Park...or World...or whatever.


As has been noted elsewhere, McLoughlin gave all his ornithopods (and ceratopsians) ungulate-like horizontal pupils, which makes them all look not only a little mammalian, but also rather creepy. On the other hand, I'm not aware of any significant reason that they couldn't have had such pupils (but do comment if you know better), and they are, even today, quite uncommon in depictions of these animals. In the above montage, McLoughlin contrasts his cheeky Edmontosaurus (formerly known as Anatotitan, formerly known as Anatosaurus) with a lipped, 'great fossil lizard' version, and it's hard to deny that his looks a lot more plausible. The further illustrated hadrosaur heads are lovely too, and notable for a rare depiction of sailing Saurolophus.


But...oh no! When McLoughlin attempts a full-bodied hadrosaur, things go, if not terribly wrong, then at least significantly askew in a disconcertingly surreal fashion. While rightly positing that hadrosaurs were not the swamp- or marsh-dwellers that they were long supposed to be, he nevertheless goes too far in his belief that they were graceful 'reptilian antelope'. Landlubbers they most certainly were, and quite graceful to boot, but there's no getting away from the fact that these were multi-tonne behemoths with big bellies and weight-bearing hooves to match. Having said that, McLoughlin is to be applauded for noticing that hadrosaur hind limbs "sprang the animal on its way", long before many others stopped portraying them as an easy lunch for the less discerning tyrannosaur.

Next time: I finally bring up those ceratopsians! Oh yes, those ceratopsians.

7 comments:

  1. I enjoyed that quote of McLoughlin's on the pine forest. Prose-like -- or even poetic -- writing that doesn't feel contrived seems relatively rare in books of this nature.

    Do I spy a ghostly sauropod with a fish's tail showing through on the verso of that Brachiosaurus illustration?

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    1. I also appreciated McLoughlin's turn of phrase there and look forward to Marc subtley shoehorning adjectives such as "bully-whiskered" into a post in the near future. LiTC has certainly been lacking in idiosyncratic references to facial hair lately.

      Regarding ornithopods with ungulate-like pupils, I think it's generally the grazers (low-feeders) that have near-horizontal pupils whilst browsers tend to have round pupils. Horizontal pupils enable an animal to better watch for danger whilst feeding with its head down. So, it seems to make sense that ornithopods which habitually spent time with their head close to the ground would have horizontal pupils but less so for those that browsed at a higher level.

      I think McLoughlin would make an excellent patron of the All Yesterdays "movement".

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    2. I think there's a lot to say regarding McLoughlin and the All Yesterdays 'movement', especially All Your Yesterdays. It's why I'm holding off my AYY post until I've finished with Archosauria.

      Niroot: it is indeed - part of McLoughlin's look at outdated representations of sauropods.

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  2. @Marc Vincent

    "Of course, to imagine sauropods as threatening is plain silly - everyone knows that giant herbivorous animals are always entirely placid, friendly, and up for petting and/or being used as transport, and that a giant herbivore ain't never hurt nobody."

    That stereotype always annoyed me as a kid, especially since rhinos were my living animals at the time.

    "The depiction of 'cheeks' on ornithopods has become so commonplace now that some authors are arguing against their de facto inclusion, on the grounds that there is no hard evidence for their existence; that lizardy 'lips' are just as plausible."

    Seriously? That seems awfully silly nowadays, especially given that ornithopods (unlike lizards) have chewing teeth. What's the point of having chewing teeth if you don't have cheeks to prevent food from falling out of your mouth while chewing?

    "Why so many people presumed these were purely defensive weapons, I don't know; it might be just another meme."

    To be fair, that's what I've read from Iguanodon experts (E.g. "The thumb was without doubt an impressive, stiletto-like weapon of defence": http://www.amazon.com/Dinosaurs-Very-Short-Introduction-Introductions/dp/0192804197/ref=la_B001HCTX9Y_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381806972&sr=1-1 ).

    -Hadiaz

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  3. As usual, an interesting look at the beginning of the dino renaissance reflected in art. The animals O'Loughlin depict are beautiful, but as you allude (alluding on the public domain -shameful!), they were not the Mesozoic equivalents of cheetahs or antelopes. For a start, they were (mostly) behemoths, and one would expect their bones designed to carry weight, not bounce, bend, skip and pirouette! Bakker's brachiosaurs galloping across the plains and his T-rex balancing on one leg while attacking a ceratopsian always struck me as far-fetched. Still, we can forgive. At the beginning of every revolution things go too far, and after the Robespierresque artists had decapitated every aquatic brontosaur and pot-belled tyrannosaur we finally settled on something far more moderate and balanced.

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    1. 'Alluding on the public domain?' Have I referenced something (other than the book in question) without intending to?

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    2. No, just a joke - suggesting a lurid connotation to the word 'allude' - a joke that has apparently plummeted, stone-like to the bottom of some black pond. Forgive my unusual humour.

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