Friday, September 26, 2014

Further adventures in Russian: Atlas of Dinosaurs, part 1

Following last week's 'Russian interlude', palaeoartist and (I'm very happy to say) LITC reader Vladimir Nikolov has offered up another slice of Russian-language non-quite-vintage dinosaur art. Behold, one and all, the glorious Atlas of Dinosaurs and other Fossil Animals. It's a far more recent book than you might think...or hope.

This second edition dates from 2001, but you might be surprised to learn that the first edition was published as recently as 1998. While the cover is dominated by a dirty great mammoth (boo!), that hadrosaur in the top left is conspicuously Burianesque for a book from the '90s. Based on the cover, one could reasonably expect illustrator A N Sichkarya's work inside the book to be similarly old-fashioned, but the truth is far more wonderfully complicated than that.

Given that the book slogs through the entirety of the history of animal life on Earth, I asked Vladimir to just scan the Mesozoic bits - it's them what we's interested in. Sichkarya illustrates a series of panoramas, each depicting a packed assembly of fauna typical of a given time period. Predictably, the Early-Middle Triassic scene (above) is one of the emptiest, and actually looks a lot more natural as a result. The animals could be worse; the Lystrosaurus look rather familiar, but I do like the birdlike sit-standing posture of the Staurikosaurus (number 6). It's also nice to see Mastodonsaurus, with its freaky jaw-piercing tusks, make an appearance...although the tusks aren't really shown here.

Early-Middle Triassic scenes are always a bit dull, though, and thankfully there's a bit more action afoot in the Late Triassic. Two plateosaurs (4) are threatened by an Herrerasaurus that seems to be running like Scooby Doo, Coelophysis pops in to make its contractually obliged appearance at bottom left, and a phytosaur is threatened by two...what are those, exactly? As it happens, they're supposed to be rauisuchians. Now, while rauisuchians did resemble large theropod dinosaurs in some respects, this illustration may be taking things a bit too far. I mean...they've got legs up to here. While not labelled as such, one can't help but wonder if they're based on outdated depictions of the rauisuchian Teratosaurus, which was once thought to be a primitive 'carnosaur'.

On to the Early-Middle Jurassic now, and a herd of Barapasaurus ambling away from a lush forest and into a featureless wasteland for some reason. These tail-dragging beasts definitely owe a debt to much earlier palaeoart, as does the nondescript 'carnosaur' directly below them. Interestingly, a group of 'protosuchians' here fill in for the more usual heterodontosaurs or Lesothosaurus in the 'small to medium reptile' category. [EDIT: Oops - they're actually Scutellosaurus, the basal thyreophoran dinosaur. Thanks to Mark Robinson for pointing this out, and apologies to Vladimir, who did label them correctly for me! Point still stands about the unusual choice, though...ish.]

Now this is more like it. So many 'big name' dinosaurs lived together in the Late Jurassic - Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, etc. - that artists often have trouble cramming them all into 'panorama'-type scenes. In this case, Sichkarya has seemingly thrown perspective out of the window, his Burianesque plesiosaurs apparently able to scramble their way up sheer cliff faces. The horribly confusing jumble isn't helped by the fact that a lot of the animals are copied from an assortment of other artists' work. At the back, there's a weirdly ribbon-necked Hallett-style Diplodocus (marked "Seismosaurus"), its body contorting like it's trying to get into the back seat of a small three-door hatchback. At the front, we have a rather Sibbick (circa Normanpedia)-like Diplodocus, contrastingly retro, tail-dragging and hunch-backed. To the left, we have a Gurney Giganotosaurus repurposed as an Allosaurus, its skull and jaw going in different directions as it chases hoppity-hopping Ornitholestes and a very blue Archaeopteryx-like bird. And smack in the middle, there's a bipedal Stegosaurus saying "huh?" and a sauropod chilling in the ocean with Jaws and a show-off ichthyosaur. It's baffling.

By comparison, the Early-Middle Cretaceous scene seems quite peaceful and uncomplicated. With the exception of Iguanodon (top right), which is seemingly here because, hey, you've got to have Iguanodon, these are all Asian beasties; the big animal is Probactrosaurus, with Psittacosaurus at bottom left and the pterosaur Noripterus overhead. While the Probactrosaurus definitely looks familiar, I can't quite place the original artist - any help would, as always, be much appreciated (it has a rather Jim Robins air about it, I think). Noripterus, aka "Phobetor", was a dsungaripterid pterosaur, so it's a little odd that it's here been restored as a chubby, dumpy version of Sibbick's Quetzalcoatlus. Cute, though. Oh, and non-specific champsosaurs to add some colour. Hooray.

And's the Late Cretaceous! As easily deduced by the appearance of Sexy Rexy's not quite so sexy relative, Tarbosaurus. Having said that, this Tarbosaurus is definitely based on Mark Hallett's '70s and '80s depictions of The King™, complete with angry triangular horns and dashing dorsal spines. As with the previous scene, this piece predominantly depicts Asian (in fact, Mongolian) animals, with Saurolophus filling in the back (in a very 1960s tripodal guise) and Velociraptor and Oviraptor also making an appearance. While the ill-proportioned Oviraptor is a little harder to place, the 'I'm hard, me' arm-dangling Velociraptor is directly based on Sibbick's highly reptilian Normanpedia take on the beast. With the ankylosaur being (of course) Saichania, and the crocodile being Shamosuchus, this just leaves the mystery birds in the middle. As it happens, they're intended to represent Presbyornis, which lived in the, er, Eocene. Although they could just as well be a Presbyornis-like bird, I guess.

And addition to the 'panorama' spreads, the book also contains a large number of freaky-deaky 'profile' images of dinosaurs, many of which make them look suspiciously lizard-like by sticking the eye in the wrong hole in the skull. Easy mistake, I suppose. Somehow, this is all the more troubling in the case of typically cute-as-buttons Hypsilophodon than with magical floaty Megalosaurus. But more on them next time!


  1. Nice review! Some of these are pretty bizarre. The creepy hypsilophodon looks like it's had a rynchosaur head frankensteined on (which doesn't make it look any better) and the tarbosaur kind of reminds my how I used to draw tyrannosaurids... when I was about thirteen. Especially with the spiky lacrimals at the back of the skull. (Well, that was my mistake, anyway)

    The probactrosaurus... Looks like the front half of Sibbick's bactrosaurus (with slight forelimb reposing) stuck on the rear half of his edmontosaurus, both from the same Normanpedia ensemble piece. This 'un partially shown at the bottom here:

  2. Thanks for another fine dish, Marc. I agree with Warren about the Probactrosaurus being a Normanpedia Sibbick copy. I couldn't find mine so I'll take his word that it's actually Bactrosaurus.

    In the third pic after the cover (Early-Middle Jurassic) the group of animals in the lower left (#5) are identified as Scutellosaurus. The lone creature below them is the 'protosuchian' (actually Protosuchus itself).

    Look fwd to Part два!

    1. Thanks for the correction - I've amended the post.

    2. To be honest I've never had a glimpse at the normanpedia, except for past LITC posts! But I know the individual animal from the Orbis Dinosaurs! mag, and recognised how the different parts fit together into a single 'crestless hadrosaur parade'.

      As for bactrosaurus with or without a 'pro', I had a look at the little silhouette lineup at the bottom of that last image, in the past article I linked to. :)


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