So the Walking With Dinosaurs film is finally here, and they ruined it with silly voiceovers. To cheer you up, here's some more from the 1996 Don Lessem classic Dinosaur Worlds, featuring the work of under-appreciated palaeo illustrator Steve Kirk. You can thank me by sending Christmas presents, if you like. Most years I just get a tangerine and some varnish for my tiny wooden crutch. (By the way, Michelle Taylor is to blame for the 'Nu-Vintage' thing, having suggested it on our Facebook page; please direct all your complaints there.)
As noted last time, the book is structured around a series of panoramas by Kirk, and it's these that I'd like to focus on for this second outing. (Please disregard whatever I might have said about a clade-based approach. Ahem.) One praiseworthy aspect of these panoramas is that, without coming across all EXTREEEME, they each take an interesting perspective, literally, on the worlds they depict. So, rather than a wide view of various members of the contemporary fauna milling about and possibly eating each other, Kirk takes us above the trees, down in the dirt and in this case, underwater and nose-to-nose with a Sarcosuchus. There's a bit of hot dino-on-dino action in this painting, to be sure, but it's pushed to the background. The focus here is most definitely on the gigantic crocodyliform as it cruises through its lush, aquatic habitat. In this way, Kirk creates an image of an ecosystem, rather than a stage on which prehistoric animals can roar and spit and poke etc. at each other. Attention to detail extends to the fish and plants, at least some of which are identified in the book (Lepidotes and Brachyphyllum, to name two).
The small Triassic theropod Megapnosaurus (formerly known as Syntarsus) features quite heavily in Dinosaur Worlds, appearing in several illustrations, and most prominently in this striking spread. By providing us with a tiny-stinking-mammal's eye view on the scene, Kirk makes these modestly-sized predators appear far more threatening than they might have done; I'm also very fond of the dinosaurs' vibrant, stripy colour scheme and rather blank, reptilian expression. Note also the background Massospondylus casually strolling by in outdated quadrupedal mode; there's a Lesothosaurus milling around to the left of it, but my scanner has unfortunately cut it out (and I can only apologise for the dirty great page folds, too). The filthy protorats are identified as Megazostrodon, to be pronounced 'MEG-a-ZOSS-tro-dahn'. Tee hee.
It's not only African Triassic dinosaurs that get a look in, mind you. In the above piece, Kirk gives us a pterosaur's-eye-view of a rather unfortunate Plateosaurus, stuck fast in the mire and about to become easy pickings for a keen-eyed Liliensternus. Although frequently depicted with Dilophosaurus-like crests, these are largely speculative and the animal has been reconstructed without them. Unusually, the crocodile-like phytosaur Rutiodon is here relegated to a background role, becoming part of the wider fauna - its fearsome appearance usually prompts artists to place it front and centre (often leaping out of the water and snapping its jaws at some jittery little dinosaur). I should also point out that quadrupedalism is now regarded as impossible for Plateosaurus, otherwise a certain someone (let's call them 'Dr M') might leave a grumpy comment.
Speaking of Dr. M, I couldn't help but think of him when I saw this 'inside Plateosaurus' illustration in the book's glossary (presumably by James Robins). I'm not at all comfortable pontificating on what sauropodomorph guts should look like, but these appear pretty good to me.
A further elevated view is provided in this piece, in which the viewer gazes upon a clearing in which Chinese sauropods are feasting. Omeisaurus steals the limelight, with Shunosaurus ambling about in the middleground, while the theropod Gasosaurus threatens from afar (just out of scanner range to the right). While the Omeisaurus is decked out in a rather predictable shade of Elephantine Grey™, I do like the dappled-green-backed Shunosaurus. You know, we don't see so much of Shunosaurus in palaeoart these days, which is a shame given its inherent strangeness and capacity for painful-looking theropod whuppin'. That's what I'd like to see - Shunosaurus putting the boot in. Perhaps by wearing a dirty great Doc Marten on its tail accessory and giving a theropod a kick up the jacksie. (Look, you just encouraged me with that 'salty saltasaur' thing. You only have yourselves to blame. So there.)
In the end, there will have to be at least one spread dedicated to the theme of sauropods looking really, really enormous, with forelimbs to make steroidal wrestlers weep and tiny heads disappearing into the cloud cover. This is Kirk's stab at that, featuring Argentinosaurus, and it's pretty damn cool. Although rocking some rather stunning tiger stripes, Mapusaurus is still reduced to a puny-looking bystander in this piece. (Of course, at this point the animal hadn't even been excavated, and is here identified as a 'descendant of Giganotosaurus'.) Curious palaeoart tropes in this piece include the 'seam' down the necks of the sauropods, as also noticed by Darren Naish in the 'giraffoid barosaurs', and the excess unguals (slightly odd, as Kirk gets the count right elsewhere). Nevertheless, a spectacular piece.
I couldn't feature Kirk's piece without also including this extra supplementary illustration, featuring Argentinosaurus 'bulldozing' contemporary flora while puny theropods do their best not to get stepped on. This piece shows unusual attention to detail for a mid-'90s piece, particularly in features such as the sauropod's concave hands. The responsible artist isn't made entirely clear, although James Field is credited for 'all other major illustrations', so perhaps it was him.
And finally...I'm particularly unhappy about what my scanner has done to this piece, as it's one of the most visually stunning and inventive illustrations in the book. Most notably, a beautifully painted forest and mountainscape has been removed completely from the top right (just above Muttaburrasaurus). All the same, what a gorgeous piece - the glistening eyes, the frost, the thin layer of ice giving way under the foot of the lead animal, the intricate silhouettes of the trees that, er, you can't see. Plus, a reminder of the days before Leaellynasaura was inevitably granted a fabulous fur coat to keep out the cold. Brrr...