Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vintageish Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Worlds - Part 1

First published in 1996 (hence its filing under 'vintageish'), Dinosaur Worlds promises 'new dinosaurs, new discoveries', and indeed, much of the book deals with animals that were relatively new to science at the time (or brand new, in some cases). Authored by Don Lessem (inevitably nicknamed 'Dino Don'), it's a richly illustrated, surprisingly chunky, and highly accessible trip through dinosaur palaeontology in the mid '90s.

The bulk of the illustrations are supplied by Steve Kirk (whose work I've looked at previously), and as such are of a very high standard. It's not clear who illustrated the cover - it's not credited - but it doesn't really do the rest of the book justice. Although mostly rather good for the time, there's something a bit off about it, which I'm going to put down to the placement of the eye - it seems just a little too high to me. That's the thing about eyes, though - they catch the viewer's attention.

The book's structured around a series of panoramas by Kirk, each featuring a particular Mesozoic ecosystem. One of my favourites is a strikingly vibrant vision of Alberta in the Late Cretaceous (above), in which an Albertosaurus and Corythosaurus seemingly try and outdo each other with blindingly psychedelic colour schemes. Which is not to say that I dislike it - on the contrary, I'm always up for a colour riot...within reason. (That's right, a reasonable riot - nothing much larger than a brick hurled at the Taste Police, thank you.) The scene is absolutely rammed with different animals - slightly out of scanner range, a flock of wading birds takes off, while a Pteranodon soars along in the distance. It's the sort of grouping that's been criticised for being 'unnatural' in appearance, but I think that can be excused if the illustration is serving a certain purpose. It's quite amusing how the conventionally grey Centrosaurus suddenly becomes so conspicuous (incongruous, even).

Another particularly striking panorama is this one, which my scanner's puny dimensions have rather ruined. You'll have to take my word for it that the right hand page is dominated by a head-on view of the torso of a big Diplodocus. The unusual, slightly elevated perspective is a nice touch, giving us an allosaur's-eye-view on the scene. The featured Allosaurus is very well drawn for a mid-'90s work, and I like the sense of panic it seems to express. Caught alone among a group of giant sauropods is not where you want to be.

Lovely as it is, time hasn't been so kind on all of Steve Kirk's work. The absurdly big and possibly very strange dromaeosaur Utahraptor was all the rage back in the '90s (and remains quite popular, so I hear), because it was HUGE and EXTREME and PACKS OF THEM MAY HAVE SLAUGHTERED SAUROPODS TO CERTAIN DOOM and RRAAARRGGH. They may look strange now, but Kirk's maniraptors were almost as good as they got back in 1996. The anonymous victim, here identified as a 'Camarasaurus-like sauropod', may be based on Cedarosaurus, which had yet to be formally named at the time. The dromaeosaurs' colour scheme is very fetching and, according to Facebook commenter Jiří Schön, may have inspired that seen on some of the 'raptors' in the Jurassic Park game Trespasser.

Perhaps because of its sheer awesomebroness - and the fact that it was quite new to science at the time - Utahraptor receives a great deal of attention in Dinosaur Worlds. The above illustration serves to highlight that the animal had at least one impressive talon on the end of each limb. In fact, the animal seems to be showing them off - "that's right, four giant claws. Up yours, Baryonyx."

Rather less conventional than a depiction of several dromaeosaurs ganging up on a bus-sized prey item is this illustration, in which a Utahraptor leaps on the back of a Gastonia in order to, er, well, I don't know really. It looks for all the world like the predator is trying to hitch a ride, perhaps while holding on to the two large shoulder spines for grip. Of course, given the intelligence that dromaeosaurs are often credited with in popular media, it's not difficult to imagine them riding on the backs of ankylosaurs in order to save energy. Perhaps Utahraptor packs would herd a group of Gastonia into single file and use them to traverse arid terrain. I mean, judging by the expression on the face of this Gastonia, the herbivores probably weren't too happy about it, but then have you ever met a jolly camel? Exactly.

It's not all Utahraptor, all the time, however; of course, the book features a decent number of other maniraptors, including this eerily bug-eyed Oviraptor. Actually, while the eye may be slightly too large (although I'm sure one could query that), I love the glassy, staring, highly birdlike quality that Kirk imbues it with. In other words, I like it when artists give dinosaurs convincingly expressionless, slightly unnerving faces. One can also appreciate the unusual perspective on the ornithomimosaur, and the depiction of Oviraptor as a doting parent, rather than a heartless robber having its head stoved in by a Protoceratops. Actually, it was about the time of this book's publication that attitudes towards oviraptorosaurs in palaeoart were beginning to change.

As an amusing aside, one comic-like series of panels depicts an Oviraptor parent (with a Citipati-like crest) being attacked by three apparently insane juvenile Velociraptor. Of course, our hero is having none of it, and decapitates(!) two of its assailants before feeding them to its squealing, suspiciously fully-crested hatchlings. Can this be a daring portrayal of nest parasitism in which a group of tiny, crested oviraptorosaurs displace the hatchlings of a much larger oviraptorosaur? No.

As is typical for the mid-'90s, the only feathered maniraptors to be found are birds, including our beloved Urvogel. This is a gorgeously painted scene by Kirk, and it would be fantastic to see more aerial perspectives of the Jurassic Solnhofen. Given its no doubt fairly weak (although disputed) flying abilities, it does seem a bit odd that Archaeopteryx would be hanging around at such a lofty altitude as this. The poor little Sparkleraptor, out of its element, looks understandably wary of the surrounding pterosaurs - the leathery-winged gits seem far more at home up here. Nevertheless, another wonderful illustration, and an Archaeopteryx that doesn't suffer from 'wings...but with hands!'.

Equally beautiful is this Kirk scene featuring Cryolophosaurus, another then-newish dinosaur, strolling along a moonlit beach (two smaller theropods are feeding on a carcass just to the right, which has caught the animal's attention). The star creature is exceptionally well illustrated for the time (as other illustrations in the same book only make clear), although as it follows the 'bequiffed allosaur' look favoured in early reconstructions, it is of course dated now. As I recently said of some of Wayne Barlowe's work, there is a wonderful tranquillity about this scene, the likes of which we rarely see in children's dinosaur books - and especially those from the 1990s. Kirk's careful use of perspective, especially in depicting the animal's gait, is also to be commended. Besides, this piece hasn't dated half as much as...

...this early attempt at Giganotosaurus by another artist whose name isn't made entirely clear (it might be Jim Robins). The same artist's work also featured in Dinosaurs!, and certainly constituted some of the higher-quality material in that magazine. His dinosaurs are quite Paulian and svelte, but not excessively so, and very well-researched for their time (his Oviraptor is depicted with inward-facing palms, for example). Given this, one can only imagine that he was just told "it's a big honkin' theropod" and left to get on with it. The result: this rather tyrannosaur-like thing. Nicely painted all the same.

You might have noticed that I are been mainly looking at theropods this week. Next week: other, inferior dinosaur clades!


  1. I believe the illustrator of the last illustration is indeed James Robins. He also shared illustrating duties with Bob Nicholls for Dinosaur (Roar Publishing, 2008). I'm fond of his work and hope you will feature more examples of it from Dinosaur Worlds in future parts.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. I did vaguely recollect the name, and he is also credited for "ecology diagrams and small featured creatures" in this book, which provided a clue...

  2. Agreed that James Robins provided some of the better material for 'Dinosaurs!' (Worst thing about it was that it turned up late in the series, IIRC, and featured too infrequently) and agreed in the hope that he's featured here again, in future!

    The first spread: I've mentioned before how I feel about very bright dinosaurs (and then some), but this works... somehow. Maybe because the patterns on the animals look like they would still break up the outline, at a distance. Maybe.

    Gastonia rodeo: that almost looks like it was cribbed from Raptor Red. The 'incorrect' diagram of Bakker's 'how to eat ankylosaurs' poster. (needs a big red X hovering over it somewhere)

  3. The featherless dinosaurs may be outdated, but I love Kirk's color schemes. These are some of my favorite utahraptor and oviraptor depictions, despite being dated. (I can see the similarity to the raptors in the Trespasser game as well).

  4. Thanks Marc, that certainly brightened up my morning. The first pic (after the cover) hurt my eyes. The only parts of the colour gamut that appear to have not been represented are ultramarine and a really nice deep purple. And great to see fungi getting the recognition they deserve with at least two in the lower left and possibly a third infecting the skin of the Corythosaurus.

    I must say that I'm thoroughly over packs of dromaeosaurs/troodonts leaping upon the sides of anything huge and mobile. Just who do they think they are? Why aren't they using the proper safety equipment? Not a single carabiner in sight. Sheesh...

    Although, perhaps you are onto something, Marc, and they are not trying to catch enough food to last them their lifetime but are simply trying to hitch a ride like some terrestrial remora.

    The illustrations were nicely executed for the most part and I like the wide-angle lens perspective for the Archaeoptertyx and friends pic, but how did he get so high? Well, he is a maniraptoran so perhaps he hitched a ride on something larger (I've heard they are wont to do this).

    The Cryolophosaurs scene is nicely evocative, too.

  5. I LOVED this book for its ecosystem-by-ecosystem approach. I seem to recall the diagrams being really neat too.

    1. That's 1 of the main reasons why DW is 1 of my favorite children's dino books (See my Amazon review odor the other reasons: ).

    2. I said "odor", but I meant "for".

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  7. @Marc Vincent

    "Authored by Don Lessem (inevitably nicknamed 'Dino Don'), it's a richly illustrated, surprisingly chunky, and highly accessible trip through dinosaur palaeontology in the mid '90s."

    Many thanks for taking my advice & reviewing DW. As I've said b-4, it's a very good book that deserves more attention.

    "It's not clear who illustrated the cover - it's not credited - but it doesn't really do the rest of the book justice."

    It's by James Field. As you may have noticed, his dinos are the derpiest in DW. Off the top of my head, his Syntarsus pair may be the derpiest of all.

    "Rather less conventional than a depiction of several dromaeosaurs ganging up on a bus-sized prey item is this illustration,"

    I've noticed that, of all the paleoart tropes you've discussed here, you seem to be the most critical of ankylosaurids clubbing tyrannosaurids & dromaeosaurid packs attacking megaherbivores (which is understandable, given how exaggerated/poorly illustrated they often are). What I'm wondering is if there are any examples of said tropes you do like for being realistic/well illustrated? The following Sibbick illustrations come to mind as older, good quality examples of said tropes (Older ones b/c there are obviously more newer ones).

    "As an amusing aside, one comic-like series of panels depicts an Oviraptor parent (with a Citipati-like crest) being attacked by three apparently insane juvenile Velociraptor."

    That's 1 of "several weird bits throughout DW" (from my Amazon review), in this case for the nonsensical scenario, although John James' bad paleoart doesn't help either. Off the top of my head, the worst example may be his Alberta chapter comic in which Albertosaurus is depicted as Dinamation T.rex ripoff w/3-fingered hands.

    "The result: this rather tyrannosaur-like thing."

    Not only that, but the relative sizes of Giganotosaurus & T.rex were mixed up in the pic's inset.

    1. Those Sibbick illustrations are very good for their time (the relative sizes of the animals in his NHM Deinonychus v Tenontosaurus scene actually makes some sort of sense). As you say, it's not that I have a problem with the mere concepts, but rather the fact that they are often badly executed.

  8. James Gurney's early reconstructions of Giganotosaurus in "The World Beneath" also had a distinctly tyrannosaurian air to them. Bix even makes some remark about the three fingered hands being their most distinguishing feature from Tyrannosaurus!

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  10. Also Kirk's Allosaurus from "Dinosaurs The Real Monsters" perfectly matches with Trespasser's Albertosaurus. The only one who's missing in my collection is the brown T-rex from "Dinosaurs A Fold Out Book".

  11. There's a photo of a seven-year old me with my Wishbone doll happily reading this book


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