Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Damned Dromaeosaurs of Stock Image Island

If you have not read Witton, Naish, and Conway's State of the Palaeoart, make a point of doing so. The article is the culmination of a discussion that seems to have begun in earnest back in the spring of 2011, when the Dinosaur Mailing List played host to complaints from Gregory S. Paul about other artists copying his famous mid-stride skeletal pose. Though GSP kicked off a righteous ruckus with his assertion that he owned that pose, the argument was also a chance for people to air their opinions about why it's so difficult for artists to rely on paleoart to sustain, or even significantly contribute to, their career. I wrote about the brouhaha in two posts here, The Great Debate in Paleoart and Essential Links in the Paleoart-pocalypse. My post today is a deliberate follow-up to Witton et al's recent publication, in which the authors propose actions that invested parties can take to ensure that the paleoart the public sees in the news is original, creative, and accurate.

From Witton et al. (2014).

Earlier this month, Discovery News covered new research published in PLOS Biology which takes an embryological approach to resolving the relationship between modern birds and their ancestors, focusing on the development of the bones of the wrist. Certainly, a topic worthy of coverage. Unfortunately, they chose to illustrate the story with one of the most laughable restorations of Velociraptor I've ever seen. Here it is, reproduced with watermark from ThinkStock.

Image from ThinkStock. Image number 481455933.

Just soak in that for a few minutes.

Without paleoart, there is no paleontology outreach. It must be held to a higher standard than illustration done for entertainment. Bad images are being marketed on stock image services, then used by journalistic publications to illustrate stories like the one linked above. Using a sloppy, lazy, otherwise ill-conceived restoration to illustrate a science article diminishes the whole enterprise. Readers will remember that bizarre Velociraptor with its hastily slapped-on plumage more than the details of the research.

There is another, equally important effect of the use of these images: it takes money out of the wallets of conscientious artists whose work is passed over for garbage. A publication or website needs an image with an article (which says it all, really) but for some reason, decides the selection of the art doesn't require the amount of consideration as the article itself. The public loses. Responsible artists lose.

After sharing the above artwork on Twitter, I decided it was imperative that I delve into stock image services to see what other abominations I might find. As I trawled the services, the undisputed champion and holder of the Crown of Derpitude was Velociraptor. Sure, other taxa were victims of shoddy renders, boring compositions, and unintentionally comic poses. But Velociraptor was so badly botched, so often, that it demanded to be featured here overwhelmingly. My best guess is that the offending illustrators had a hard time accepting the idea of feathers covering the Jurassic Park raptors in their heads, so they just tacked 'em on as whimsy dictated. Whatever the reason, these illustrators have knocked out an army of pitiable creatures ugly enough to make Chickensaurus look exquisitely bred by comparison. I hereby dub these misbegotten beasts "Velocicraptors." Since the Mesozoic roots of birds is one of dinosaur paleontology's great stories to tell right now, these wretches are capable of doing real damage to public understanding of just how that evolution occurred. So I'm not pulling any punches.

On to the bloodbath!

The first two are fairly typical: botched feather attachment, bunny-hands, and in the second one, I'm not sure if the illustrator ever looked at the skull of the animal. You know, the way one might. If they wanted to make it look like the animal.

Image from ThinkStock. Image number 183993135.

Image from ShutterStock. Image number 172091483.

Speaking of skulls: that's not an eye socket.

Image from ShutterStock. Image number 1142484.

Here, naked and bunny-handed Velocicraptor is being chased by Tyrannosaurus. The pursuer actually outshines the quarry here, with bizarrely elongated fingers.

Image from ThinkStock. Image number 507796691.

This scene is stunning: It's as if we've been transported to the Cretaceous and have happened upon a family of curiously glossy Velocicraptors. As the mewling craplings beg for sustaining milk (why not?), mother cries out in agony, cursed as she is with woefully disjointed arms.

Image fromShutterStock. Image number 172091483.

My best guess: the Pilsbury Doughboy's defective clone is super-proud of his pet Velocicraptor, with its oddly undersized head, hands, and feet.

Image from ShutterStock. Image number 56398084.

Also in the "keep 'em scaly" camp is this super-reptilian fellow.

Image from Dreamstime. Image number 8751082.

Though Velocicraptors muscle out most of the competition, there are notable disasters for other taxa, too. Here's a Styracosaurus, seeming to channel the spirit of the Crystal Palace saurians.

Image from Dreamstime. Image number 783455.

According to the image's page, this low-slung Ankylosaurus is a "Photorealistic 3 D rendering, scientifically correct... with full bone skeleton superimposed." No indication of what bones actually constitute real finds and which are speculative, no scale bar, but you know. Scientifically correct.

Image from Dreamstime. Image number 31682514.

Remember ol' mohawked "Syntarsus?" Although the image's tags lead me to suspect this is a photo taken at this dinosaur sculpture park, I'm including it because it could plausibly be chosen to illustrate a story, and it's real derpy.

Image from Dreamstime. Image number 15948656.

Something about this noodle-necked Edmontosaurus is really unsettling to me.

Image from Dreamstime. Image number 22729752.

This poor, shrink-wrapped Compsognathus. Can someone toss it a few Slim Jims? It may not help: I'm guessing it ate one of those mushrooms and is afflicted with some awful wasting disease.

Image from Dreamstime. Image number 44911286.

We'll close out here with one last Velocicraptor image, which is particularly heart-warming to me, as it reminds me of one of my favorite images in the Vintage Dinosaur Art series, the Iguanodon Conga Line. Needs a few more 'craptors, but it's almost there.

Image from Shutterstock. Image number 55365946.

If you think this is mean-spirited, that's fine. We've been accused of such things over the course of the Vintage Dinosaur Art series, occasionally warranted, usually not. But my target today is people selling scientifically inaccurate scientific illustrations, which is plain wrong. I'm not dashing over to DeviantArt and insulting artists' work for kicks. My advice to publications turning to stock image sites as sources for illustrations? Emily Willoughby, Alvaro Rozalen, and Chris Masnaghetti are on StockTrek.

I have to admit that searching for stock images is by far my least favorite task in my work. So this was rough. I need a bubble bath and some pumpkin pie - maybe at the same time. So while I go do that, for crying out loud, support original paleoart.

Use of images in this post constitutes Fair Use for purpose of critique.


  1. Hmm. Not sure it my post went through, so...

    A number of the horrid 3D models in these stock images are available on the cheap from DAZ3D's web site, for use in programs like Poser. They have some slightly better models which I've seen being used in other publications, but, yeah...these are bad in general and horrible for those trying to make paleoart profitable and provide accurate, high-quality illustrations.

  2. That Ankylosaurus doesn't really look that bad to me.

    1. For sure, My thinking with that one was how it stresses that it's *scientifically accurate*, but doesn't include any of the scientific content that would be useful, and it's a weird technical figure/ life restoration hybrid. Trying to mix up the kinds of images included.

  3. That "Brontosaurus" in the background is almost as bad as the Syn..., er, Megap..., er, Coelophysis rhodesiensis. (And, of course, having both in the same scene is even worse.)

  4. I know the 3D artist who did the better models you show cased. He goes by the alias DinoRaul, and his stuff actually isn't bad. Some of them are quite memed (as we can see here), and not always well researched (his Tylosaurus is painful in its disproportions), but some of his ornithischians are quite impressive.

    Still he's a nice enough guy. He mostly makes his Dinos to meet mass demand, both within the 3D community (as was noted he is the guy selling on DAZ) and to book publishers. Sadly both these markets are after more memey slanted Dinos :(

    1. Excellent info, thanks for that context; certainly not all are bad. Glad to have some idea of provenance; chasing it down on the stock sites proved impossible.

  5. Urgh, I feel unwell. Perhaps it is us who ate the mushrooms and these images are just part of collective bad trip that we're having.

    I was going to make the point that the ones with the creepy spindly arms and hands look like they use the same base for the 3D model but that seems to have been covered if they're the ones by the same person.

    Pumpkin pie is not on the menu but I think that a good strong cup of tea is certainly in order.

    1. You do what you need to do to make the hurting go away. Tea, pie, something stronger...

  6. David Orr: "The first two are fairly typical: botched feather attachment, bunny-hands, and in the second one, I'm not sure if the illustrator ever looked at the skull of the animal. You know, the way one might. If they wanted to make it look like the animal."

    I think the 2nd 1 is supposed to be Deinonychus ( http://www.ontarget3d.com/site/Products/386-deinonychusdr-for-poser.aspx ), although that doesn't excuse the other problems.

    BTW, many thanks for this article. This is basically what I think Witton should've done in his "Support Original Palaeoart: we take it to the mainstream" article (I.e. Both telling ppl "what makes palaeoart good and bad" & showing them specific examples). Also, don't forget to tear into Pixel-shack at some point. I tried to do so in my most recent review ( http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2014/10/my-5th-pair-of-reviews.html ), but I think you guys would do it better.


    1. Another aggravating side of this is that what the modeler intended is not always how the images are marketed on the sites. So, I can attest that all of the 'craptors here did come up in searches for Velociraptor, and were titled as such. There are other versions of some of them too, called various taxa.

      As for p-shack, I actually edited out a passage on them. I decided to look at the broader issue of unreliable images on these sites. So I didn't go after individuals (though of course they should be deeply ashamed) or name names. It's as much temperament as it is virtue, tbh. These sort of posts are a little nerve-wracking! I'll be sure to share your AE post in the next Miscellany.

  7. He seleccionado este blog por sus merecimientos para recibir el premio Dardos, cuyas estipulaciones están en este post: http://www.locosporlageologia.com.ar/un-nuevo-reconocimiento-para-locos-por-la-geologia-el-premio-dardos/ Cordiales saludos Graciela


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