Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Usborne Book of Dinosaurs

Whenever I mention Luis Rey in the context of being a palaeoartist whose work I'm rather fond of, I am normally met with a wrinkled nose, an arched eyebrow and an exclamation along the lines of 'really!?!'. Certainly Rey has his fair share of detractors, and one of the most common criticisms of his more recent work is that he's taken leave of his senses in Photoshop, cloning dinosaurs here, smearing photomanipulations there, and generally making a bit of a mess. There seems to be a quite widely held opinion that Rey's work is better when he sticks to paint and pencils. With that in mind, hopefully even the most ardent Rey-o-phobes will be interested in (and maybe even appreciate) seeing some early Rey – from 1993, in fact – in The Usborne Book of Dinosaurs.



Rey's style has remained consistent over the years – bright colours, dynamic poses, and chunky hornlets are definitely the order of the day. The cover tyrannosaur is instantly recognisable and quite lovely, with a convincing weightiness (no shrink-wrapping here) and excellent attention to detail, particularly when it comes to musculature and superficial details such as the birdlike elastic skin between the toes. (And so my worrisome theropod foot fetish is exposed yet again.) Through fortuitous coincidence - namely, the arms are facing the right way - it's actually aged rather well.


Inside we find a Coelophysis in a rather similar pose, decked out in a dashing red-and-black colour scheme (“Coelophysis looks very bright here,” an accompanying caption notes), complete with non-more-Rey yellow mouth. There's a dynamism to this piece that's quite lovely. It's also occurred to me that depicting Coelophysis with catlike slit pupils is something of a trope – it's entirely a stylistic choice, but one that seems to be followed by quite a number of artists. Whatever – I like the rather mad, staring look that Rey imbues it with.


Rey's recent foray into the territory of feathered Tyrannosaurus was met with disdain by some, inviting unfavourable comparisons with hypothetical enormous, bipedal porcupine hybrids and Sonic the Hedgehog. (I can see why, although they ain't so bad. You've at least got to love a bold take.) In light of all that, it's interesting to revisit the rather more sleek 1990s version, complete with chunky facial crustiness and nodular torso decoration. Rey's Rexy is particularly notable for its gorgeous legs – I mean, really, they're right up to here. Gigantic thighs and drumsticks that could keep every McDonald's in the US supplied with chicken nuggets for, ooh, a good five minutes or so – marvellous. Plus, bonus retro-'90s Spinosaurus as a bonus! And of course Spinosaurus was significantly smaller than T. rex, especially when convenient for action figure ranges.


Some of the most impressive creations in this book are, peculiarly enough, also the most obviously scientifically obsolescent, and also show up the sort of dross that we gladly lapped up in other books in the early '90s. Rey's 1993 Deinonychus seem so remarkably birdlike for their time only because Rey actually paid attention to the animal's skeleton; much as with Barlowe's Oviraptor, their appearance is less awesomebro reptilian killing machine, more unfortunate plucking victim. In Rey's case, this aspect is accentuated by the seemingly naked skin on the body, even extended to what appear to be 'goosebumps' on the thighs. One gets the impression that Rey would've feathered this dinobird, if not for the wishes of the publisher. (These days, he would flat-out refuse to paint such a thing, and indeed, by his own admission, he has.)

An interesting aside: although Rey has since ditched this look for a more turkey- or vulture-like take on Deinonychus, this colour scheme lives on in his illustrations (and models) of Velociraptor.



As per usual, if it's feathers you be wantin', you'd better weigh anchor at the Archaeopteryx page; the Urvogel is typically found failing to fit in with a bunch of dirty pterosaurs, as here. Because flying animals. One might well expect a Sparkleraptor given Rey's usual bold tendencies, and the great man surely delivers. This Archaeopteryx appears to be taking part in a carnival parade – it'd surely be more at home in Rio than in Solnhofen. “It ran along like a small meat-eating dinosaur,” the caption informs us. Well, I never...


Rey's eye for an arresting perspective is put to good use in what otherwise might have been a rather hackneyed image of Maiasaura, stuck with a nest full of bawling, pop-eyed sproglings as per bloody usual. The mother's enormous head appears to loom out of the page at us, a trick also used (albeit more literally) by John Sibbick in his Nat Geo pop-up book. Note also the pesky (I presume) troodont, yet again caught short ahead of the village fete, or perhaps just feeling extra-broody.


Speaking of heads looming out of the page...there's something quite unnerving, in the best sort of way, about having a sauropod peer in for a closer look at the viewer. Having been conditioned to view sauropods as 'gentle giants' analogous to loveable giraffoid moo-cows, it can be disconcerting to be reminded that they would have possessed that 'otherness' that all reptiles have from our mammalian point of view. This perspective emphasises the sheer strangeness of sauropods. You can't see it in this scan, but Rey also gets his hands and feet right – by no means a given back in the early '90s. The nostril placement is very retro, of course (if normal for the time), but you've got to love the snazzy colours.


A head-on perspective also suits Pacychephalosaurus, naturally, and Rey's illustration draws attention to the extraordinarily broad hips, as well as the fantastically spiky surface of the creature's skull. This illustration is worth comparing with a similar Rey piece in the Holtz-o-pedia; of the two, I think I prefer this one for its more straightforward, ground-level look at the animal, although the other one certainly boasts the more dazzling patterning.


 

And finally...Triceratops has at it. This is an absolutely gorgeous spread, and is perhaps all the better for its reining in of some of Rey's excesses – apart from where they are quite at home, namely on that stunning frill. The fine superficial details in the animals' scaly, folded skin, remarkably vicious-looking beaks, and rows of osteoderms are also to be commended. Some aesthetic tropes on show here may have since gone out of fashion (and I did notice the slightly shrunken hand), but this remains beautiful stuff, and proof – one would hope – that Rey's Worth It.

Coming next week: nothing from me, 'cos I'm off to the Netherlands where I hope to spend as much time drinking Belgian beers as possible. But I'll be back...

12 comments:

  1. One of the things I appreciate about Rey, largely due to his brashness of his style, s that his work really does communicate the idea of "what if?" rather than saying "this is how these animals may have looked." It's proudly speculative and unconcerned with being naturalistic. Maybe not the approach you want all paleoartists to take, but one that certainly has its place.

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  2. "...one of the most common criticisms of his more recent work is that he's taken leave of his senses in Photoshop, cloning dinosaurs here, smearing photomanipulations there, and generally making a bit of a mess. There seems to be a quite widely held opinion that Rey's work is better when he sticks to paint and pencils."

    My work here is done. :D

    And yes, I enjoyed this look back at earlier work, nuddy deinonychosaurs nonwithstanding.

    "It's also occurred to me that depicting Coelophysis with catlike slit pupils is something of a trope – it's entirely a stylistic choice..."

    Aside from whether the animal is intended to be diurnal, nocturnal, or otherwise, Shirley?

    http://www.visionsciences.org/abstract_detail.php?id=981

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    1. Vyrmis, that pretty much sums up my feelings, too. I also enjoyed seeing his earlier work here.

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    2. Vyrmis - Well, naturally, but it's ultimately an artistic choice. (No one's looked into this sort of thing for Coelophysis...right?)

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  4. @Marc Vincent

    "With that in mind, hopefully even the most ardent Rey-o-phobes will be interested in (and maybe even appreciate) seeing some early Rey"

    When you come back, will you review Rey's other pre-photoshop books? Off the top of my head, there's "Extreme Dinosaurs", "A Field Guide to Dinosaurs: The Essential Handbook for Travelers in the Mesozoic", "Maximum Triceratops", & "Dactyls! Dragons of the Air".

    "An interesting aside: although Rey has since ditched this look for a more turkey- or vulture-like take on Deinonychus, this colour scheme lives on in his illustrations (and models) of Velociraptor."

    I'd say the take you're referring to is more Bucorvus-like (Deinonychus: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/files/2012/11/Luis-Rey-chicken-Deinonychus-Nov-2012-340-px-tiny.jpg ) (Bucorvus: http://ppcdn.500px.org/1873748/f78c7b75e77dc02afab8ca27d3d73f0f5e35c128/4.jpg ), which makes sense, given that they're probably both ground-running pack-hunters.

    -Hadiaz

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    1. I'd never really thought of that before, even though it was staring me in the face. Huh. By the way...ground hornbills are pack hunters?

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    2. Quoting Tudge ( http://www.amazon.com/Bird-Natural-History-Birds-Where/dp/B007K4GP1W/ref=la_B000APQE3M_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1354947277&sr=1-2 ): "The sociality that is encouraged by the diet tends to spill over into all aspects of life. So it is that hornbills are fruit eaters and also, as we will see in Chapter 7, are outstandingly social breeders, with various kinds of social arrangements. But also among hornbills we see an interesting twist—where the innate sociality has in turn become adapted to a quite different kind of feeding. For among the biggest of all hornbills, and in various ways distinct from the rest, are the two species of ground-hornbills from Africa. Ground-hornbills are not mere fruit eaters: they are formidable predators. The beak is like an icepick. They can hack their way into a tortoise. The Northern species is among the biggest of all avian predators. The ancestors of ground-hornbills were presumably fruit eaters, and that, perhaps, is how they first evolved their sociality. Now, as predators, they hunt in packs. Typically they chase some hapless creature like a hare into a bush and then some act as beaters while others lie in wait and deliver the coup de grace. The packs are usually family groups. They can be seen as strategic predators like wolves or perhaps as problem families, terrorizing the neighborhood."

      -Hadiaz

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  5. Unrelated to this post, except perhaps in terms of bright cold schemes, I wanted to share something with you.

    http://ralphsmonsters.blogspot.com/2014/02/world-best-chocolate-tyrannosaurus.html

    This is, I believe the world's best chocolate tyrannosaurus. I'm the head sculptor at Carlo's Bakery, where the show Cake Boss is filmed. I made this there.

    I also previously submitted a salty saltasaurus piece.

    Thought you'd be interested.

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  6. Rey's work has aged rather well in my opinion

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  7. I haven't seen Rey's early work before. It's truly beautiful stuff-very dynamic, very colorful

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