Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vintageish Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Worlds - Part 3

Although I've mostly focussed on the Steve Kirk spectaculars in Dinosaur Worlds so far, the supplementary illustrations (or "small featured creatures") definitely merit closer inspection. Many of them are the work of James Robins, a skilled and rather under-appreciated artist whose meticulous, often surprisingly prescient approach deserves praise aplenty.

Robins was one of the few artists working in the mid-'90s to depict theropod forelimbs in their correct 'neutral' position, as seen in the above Oviraptor (also shown below with a Big Red Button Tylocephale). There's even a small flap of skin akin to a patagium on the animal's forelimb. Just as with Wayne Barlowe's Oviraptor, the only reason this creation looks so jarringly wrong to us now, in a 'plucked chicken' sort of way, is that it is so good for its time. If you draw an oviraptorosaur honestly, based on as many references are as available to you, you won't be able to help but make it appear birdlike. It's a shame that mid-'90s (or perhaps, pre-Sinosauropteryx) conventions stopped Robins short of feathering the beast, but it's a lovely illustration nevertheless.

As proof that the Oviraptor wasn't simply a one-off, may I present this Liliensternus, complete with inward-facing palms (and vestigial digits, and speculative head crests). The strongly divergent 'thumbs' are a little odd-looking, but it's still a beauty; I love the alternating black and white bands on the tail.

Robins also turns his hand to non-dinosaurian archosaurs, and the results are really rather cool, if sometimes a little unusual. His take on a generic rauisuchian (or 'rausuchian', as the caption would have it) is uncommonly sleek and 'Paulian' - in that it resembles Paul's theropods - for a restoration of such an animal. Whatever one might think of it (and it probably could do with a few more osteoderms), it's certainly an interesting break from convention, and quite thought-provoking in that applies an artistic style normally restricted to dinosaurs to another archosaur clade. Rauisuchians certainly did display a few interesting anatomical convergences with theropod dinosaurs, in spite of being distantly related (insert Teratosaurus reference here).

Robins' Sarcosuchus is, as one might expect, rather more traditional. It might not have literally been a dirty great crocodile, but it certainly would have resembled one in life - to anyone viewing it from a reasonably safe distance, anyway. This is an excellently painted illustration that manages to exude menace - and more than that, personality - in spite of its 'diagnostic' purpose.

Excellent as Robins' pieces are, they don't constitute every non-Kirk illustration in Dinosaur Worlds. Unfortunately. Additional illustrations are credited to James Field, although the style of the illustrations seems to vary so much that it's hard to believe he was behind all of them. I mean, some of them are actually rather accomplished (like the cover), whereas others feature three-fingered tyrannosaurs haphazardly based on Dinamation robots.

Oh boy. BLOOD! GUTS! CERATOPSIAGEDDON! SUPERFLUOUS MANUAL DIGITS! Not to mention a landscape devoid of any vegetation whatsoever. The centrosaurs look rather familiar, too, particularly with that skin texture - but don't ask me where they came from. Hopefully, I'll end up buying the book featuring the originals for a pittance on eBay. It's what tends to happen.

Elsewhere, the same artist rather derails a series of theropod portraits that are intended to show off the animals' unusual facial adornments - by giving Allosaurus a Monitor Lizard Face in true retro-Zallingerian fashion, rather than the adorable lacrimal hornlets it surely should have. Note also the slightly-wrong-crested Monolophosaurus (an early appearance for this dinosaur in a children's book), alongside "OH HAI!" Carnotaurus. Since the artist had at least some recourse to skeletal references - given the other heads on show here - it's surprising that Allosaurus should end up hornless.

Rather less surprising is that poor old Archaeopteryx receives yet another pretty dreadful portrait to add to the ever-growing heap. The plumage on this one doesn't so much resemble feathers as fishlike scales on a Chinese dragon; note also that, as the artist was presumably copying from a single source, the animal is inevitably shown with its wings outstretched. It does help make the 'sinking' picture unintentionally amusing (it's swimming, surely? I mean, you can almost hear the appropriate soundtrack). Worth contrasting with Kirk's from the same book, I think.

Still, I'd hate to go out on a downer, so here's another Robins - this time, taking a peek under the skin of Tyrannosaurus (in similar fashion to his previously featured Plateosaurus). Again, I'd hate to comment on the arrangement of the various internal organs, but the skeleton looks pretty damn good for 1996 - I'm sure those neutrally positioned forelimbs help. Robins certainly knows his stuff, and I'd love to see some of his more recent work - for whatever reason, it's been eluding me these last few years. If anyone can help me find some latter day Robins, I'd be very grateful. For I am astonishingly lazy.

Next week: something else! Hopefully. I seem to be spending my entire life filling in forms at the moment. But I'll try.


  1. That is going to be my earworm for the duration of the evening now, I think.

    I love James Robins' work. Beautifully drawn dinosaurs in very finely hatched ink lines and water-based media. No surprises there, I suppose.

  2. In my opinion, the T-rex vs Centros is a "modified" version of t-rex vs Triceratops' drawing by Giuliano Fornari from my fav 80's book Dinosaurs and how they lived
    and so is the allosaur head "borrowed" from that book. I loved the reptilian quality to the dinos in that book.

    1. I've just bought (what I hope is) that book on eBay, so hopefully we'll soon see!

  3. I would gladly scan it for you, but its a Dutch language edition at my parents house in Hungary, and I live in Switzerland.
    I miss that book, its what gotten me into dinosaurs in the late 80's. Cant wait till you get it and see some picture up here. I loved how the Triceratops was drawn with crocodile like slit eyes.

  4. The Liliansternus appears to be modeled off of Dilophosaurus. Also, I noticed that the Centrosaurus had two frill horns on its head. Is that usual?

  5. Those centrosaurs appear to be stuck in mud or something similar. So what could the two tyrannosaurs be so boldly striding upon with their giant cassowary feet? I guess if the choice was between being stepped upon or being eaten...

    @Benjivenator - have a look at the skull in the taxobox on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrosaurus . Depictions of Centrosaurus/Monoclonius in earlier popular books were inaccurate, being based on juvenile specimens (or, more usually, copied from someone else's erroneus work).

  6. My guess is the Centrosaurs died when trying to cross a river and now the rexes have a feast at its side. Problem here is that Centrosaurus almost certainly wasn't migratory given its limited geographic range, making dangerous endavours like a whole herd crossing a river unlikely.

  7. "Additional illustrations are credited to James Field, although the style of the illustrations seems to vary so much that it's hard to believe he was behind all of them. I mean, some of them are actually rather accomplished (like the cover), whereas others feature three-fingered tyrannosaurs haphazardly based on Dinamation robots."

    Actually, while the cover is by James Field (as are all the large non-Kirkian drawings), the 3-fingered tyrannosaurs + the theropod portraits + "poor old Archaeopteryx" are by John James (as are all the small non-Robinsian drawings, including the Oviraptor/Velociraptor fight).

    1. I knew they couldn't be by the same guy. Odd that James is only credited for 'step by step sequences'.

  8. "If anyone can help me find some latter day Robins, I'd be very grateful. For I am astonishingly lazy."

    AFAIK, there are the following links AWA this Sinosauropteryx: http://cdn.physorg.com/newman/gfx/news/hires/SinosauropteryxJimRobins.jpg

    "James Robins Illustrator: Dinosaurs": http://www.jr-illustration.co.uk/illustrator/dinos.html

    "Interview with Jim Robins": http://archosaurmusings.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/interview-with-jim-robbins/

    1. I didn't realise Dave Hone had interviewed him before. Thank you (from me also) for the links, Hadiaz.

    2. I'd completely forgotten about that interview (I have been reading AM for the required amount of time). I did find the James Robins website, but I thought there wasn't a great deal of dinosaur material on there. Given that he apparently doesn't earn anything from palaeoart these days, that makes sense...

  9. I really love James Robins' work, he is in fact one of my favorite paleoartists, if not the favorite. I like his plain but precise style, and his preference for mix ink line with color "spot" seems to me a missing link between scientific art and comic that I love.
    Yes, an underappreciated artist indeed.


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