Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Atlas of Dinosaurs, The Return

Our sole criterion for a book to qualify for the blog's Vintage Dinosaur Art series is that it is 20 years old. (And yes, because of that, I am very guilty of stretching the definition of 'vintage' to breaking point.) Atlas of Dinosaurs is rather newer than that, but as was plainly seen last week, it might as well be straight out of the 1980s. Following the panoramic illustrations in the previous post, I'd like to dedicate this one to depictions of individual animals. Warning: levels of plagiarism and the positions of eye sockets may vary.

For all the blatant copycatting, there are a few neat ideas here. Behold, tree-climbing Deinonychus! Well, why not? Although I'd be interested to know what the text says, taken in isolation, this is an intriguingly different take on the beast, laudibly free of blood, guts, roaring, and Bakker imitating. (You ever seen a Deinonychus with a huge beard and cowboy hat? They look ridiculous.) All the same, there are some serious problems. For one, it's completely unfeathered (far less acceptable in the late '90s-early '00s than in the early '90s). For another, its eyes have migrated forwards and now sit in the wrong holes. Oops.

It couldn't have been that long ago when I noted that Mononykus, along with Avimimus, was one of the very few non-avian theropods to be almost ubiquitously depicted with feathers since the 1980s, if not even earlier. (Proper feathers, that is - not just a few half-hearted quills on the head and a sandwich board reading 'MISSING LINK!!!!!') Unhappily, there are always exceptions. Behold, the full horror of lizardy, figure-skating Mononkyus! Are those feathers on its arms, or weird flaps of flabby excess skin? Why does it just have that single line of bristly things on its head? Why does its neck articulate with its jaw? Why? Why? WHY? Wah!

Mononykus might appear rather undignified, but at least it doesn't have testicles hanging from its chin - like the fellow above-left. This creature is Shuvosaurus, and is likely based on the original interpretation of the animal as a Triassic ornithomimosaur (it's now recognised as a non-dinosaur archosaur closely related to Effigia). At the bottom we have an even more problematic animal - Protoavis, here depicted, very unusually, without feathers. Beloved of BANDits, it's been described as a bird more 'advanced' than Archaeopteryx, but living in the Late Triassic. In reality, it's a handful of badly damaged bits and pieces that have proven very difficult to conclusively identify. Whatever the case, this version looks more like a 1980s troodontid, but given those animals' close relationship with birds, that's probably not so surprising.

Strangely, better-known animals often take on a more retro appearance than those only recently discovered, or known from scrappy material. This probably has something to do with the fact that a lot of decades-old artwork depicting these creatures was more readily to hand. Take the Sexy Rexy duo - while the foreground animal has a comparatively 'modern' stance (weirdly directed left foot aside), the background one appears to be based on Burian's famous Tarbosaurus. Both are made to look more 'reptilian' by having the upper tooth row extend under the eye socket, contrary to the animal's actual skull.

At the bottom, we have a mosasaur with that good ol' Knightian crest. Sometimes, I almost start to miss 'em. On the other hand, modern mosasaur restorations are much cooler-looking.

Furthering the retro-'80s theme, here we have a copy of Sibbick's unduly chunky Dilophosaurus from the Normanpedia. Sibbick's isn't the only historic example of Dilophosaurus drawn as a Big Generic Theropod, Now With Crests!, but like so many of his creations, it's the one that tends to get around. Sichkarya's version faithfully reproduces the Normanpedia pose, but manages to make it look even more, er, 'robust', like it's just swallowed a comedic money-grubbing computer programmer whole. Meanwhile, Dimorphodon actually looks less silly than the real thing. Go home Dimorphodon, etc.

In the end though, while the Dilophosaurus might harken back to the days of leg warmers and big hair, this Polacanthus is so retrograde that it's lost its favourite pipe and slippers and is very suspicious of those well-dressed men who've moved in together across the street. Having said that, it's not dragging its tail along, so that's something.

The brachiosaur on the above page is also quite retro, and the Compsognathus is quite Sibbickian. But of course, you aren't looking at those. Your eyes have been drawn to the white and pink Pteranodon, head retracted back to its body, pelican-stylee. It does look a bit barmy, and has its share of anatomical problems. Still, it somehow seems preferable to yet another boring, brown, Burian-style Pteranodon. At the very least, it's an inventive take. Which brings me to...

...The exact opposite. A Sibbick copy so unashamed, even the colour scheme is the same. Same red head. Same backward-facing skull nubbin. Same everything. If only some people were making a stand for originality in palaeoart - for quality, for accuracy, and against plagiarism. Why, it just so happens (TOPICAL!) that they are! I realise that I've linked to Mark, Darren and John's article on Facebook already, but if you haven't checked it out already then I must insist that you do; it's an indictment of all the ill-practice in palaeoart that I've spent the last few years whinging about.

But I digress. Thanks again to Vladimir Nikolov for all his trouble, and I hope this sojourn into the world of Russian books has proven to be entertaining. (If it hasn't, may I suggest sending crates of the finest Belgian beers to my address in order to improve future post quality.) Coming up next: the return of regular Vintage Dinosaur Art! Will it feature Sibbick rip-offs? Probably. Poor John Sibbick.


  1. Everything else about that Deinonychus aside, I'm surprised you haven't remarked on its fearfully dislocated shoulder. Ouch! I suggest a visit to a doctor at once.

    1. I was so distracted by the eyeball (which always happens) that I didn't even notice that...or at least, I didn't notice that it was THAT wrong.

    2. Oh god, that cannot be unseen.

  2. Anybody mind telling me where Dilophosaurus' right arm is attached? And why Polacanthus is doing the pinky-finger split? Wait, why does Polacanthus have a pinky finger?
    This book is so weird, are we sure it isn't deliberate? I can just imagine it, the artists sitting down going "Let's see how much of an expert our writer really is". The result is, of course, an absolute gem.

  3. id hapily see you spread into film tv and childrens toys


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