Monday, March 9, 2015

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (BBC Fact Finders)

After our sojourn to the 1960s in the last post, I'm afraid it's back to 1990 for this one, with all of the Sibbick rip-offs that that tends to entail. Part of the BBC Fact Finders series (other titles included Egypt, Weather, Seashore and Nutkins on Pets, which presumably featured stalwart children's TV presenter Terry Nutkins, or else has a very baffling title), Dinosaurs is a very typical book of the post-Normanpedia, pre-Jurassic Park era (the Sibbickian?). Greg Paul-type dinosaurs haven't yet taken over here, and the illustrators freely cobble together copies of different artists' work into the same piece, which leads to some wonderful juxtapositions. And a funky-looking Triceratops on the cover.

This Triceratops version of John Goodman is presumably the result of a perspective fudge, where the artist had to guess what the animal would look like face-on, having only seen photos of the skull from other angles. Either that, or they just thought they'd connect the ends of the snout to the flared jugals, although that still doesn't quite account for the wide face. In any case, it's definitely entered the Valley that is Uncanny. More fascinatingly, the bottom left-hand corner features a photograph of the former Hypsilophodon mount at the Natural History Museum - the specimen has now been remounted and sits in a corner of the ever-crowded dinosaur gallery where very few people notice it. Which is a shame.

With perspective fudges in mind, here's a Baryonyx with stegosaur hips. Depicting Baryonyx as an occasional quadruped wasn't considered too unreasonable in the 1980s (and was handled quite well in a few illustrations and a certain toy), Say what you like about Spinosaurus - Baryonyx was considerably leggier. Depicting theropods with enormously wide hips was also quite common, and was likely the result of a lack of three-dimensional references available to illustrators back in the day. The head and noodly neck of this Baryonyx don't quite look like they belong to the body, and the wrinkly look appears to have been based on an illustration that appeared alongside the original paper describing the animal (although I can't remember who the artist was - help, please!). Also noteworthy here is the backdrop - although the varied topography is welcome, the vegetation is very sparse, and this is quite typical of the illustrations in this book...

...Such as this one, featuring a highly 1980s-looking Deinonychus. It's odd-looking nowadays (especially those reversed first toes...huh?), but the colour scheme's quite natty, and at least the artist hasn't resorted to copying either Bakker's 'original', or Sibbick's freaky aye-aye fingered monstrosity. Why, there's even a hint of birdy wrist-flexion in the right arm (or am I being effusive again?). And those are some seriously meaty thighs. KFC would be proud to coat those in grease, stick them in a bucket, and sell it to people with questionable tastes.

Thankfully, not all of the illustrations dump saurians in a barren landscape full of intriguing rock formations; here, Diplodocus is shown rearing among the trees in a lush, jungley flood plain. Hurrah! This is a particularly dynamic depiction for a book like this - it might not be galloping along like a pin-headed enormo-giraffe, but nor is it hanging around in a swamp, dragging its tail awkwardly about and looking gloomy. On the other hand, it's also a bit weird, particularly for the polydactyly evident on the hands - there are no fewer than six fingers, and every single one has a claw. Blimey. It also has that wrinkle-tastic look that many sauropods sported back then, no doubt inspired by some combination of pachyderms and the work of Sibbick, Gurche et al.

Inhabiting a similar verdant fernscape is this Hypsilophodon, featuring in what might just be the best illustration in the book (by Norma Burgin, since you asked, as were the above three). The anatomy might not be perfect, but it's good enough to get the overall appearance and, dare I say it, 'feel' of the animal just right; there is a convincing dynamism about it, and the illustrator doesn't forget to include the little ornithischian's adorable frowny face. It's also lovely to see an illustration of this animal in which the 'terrified wide-eyed gazelle' analogy isn't rammed home (we'll just ignore the huge photo of grazing gazelle on the opposite page, ahem). It's always good to see Hypsilophodon considered cool enough to stand on its own, rather than being chased by some bigger, toothier, sexier animal.

Speaking of's Sexy Rexy, in a pose apparently based on the old tripodal mount at the American Museum of Natural History, complete with brandished claws. It almost looks as if the old fella wants to push against the frame of the image. It's a bit of a strange illustration to appear in a book from 1990, although these images were still lingering about in pop palaeo, mostly the result of the sheer number of old books still in circulation.

Rexy puts in another appearance in a piece painted by a different illustrator (David Holmes), in which a number of Cretaceous dinosaurs inhabit a barren, desert landscape for reasons probably related to it being difficult to get the plants right. This is one of those portmanteau images I mentioned earlier, in which Sibbick's Parasaurolophus casually share a scene with an anachronistic T. rex copied from another artist's work (although again, I can't remember who! Aaargh! Overload!). For some reason, the front Parasaurolophus has four toes on one foot, in spite of the Sibbick original correctly having only three. Maybe the artist was working from a miniature reproduction propped up on the other side of the room.

Similarly, this Early Cretaceous scene (by Ray Burrows) borrows simultaneously from Sibbick (the Polacanthus) and other artists, and features a Megalosaurus who really, really doesn't belong here, but hey - this is the UK, and you can't argue with tradition. That's why we still have a monarchy, in spite of it making no sense whatsoever. The tripodal Iguanodon also seem to be lost - they are presumably looking for a route back to the 1970s, and should probably follow the tottering theropod Time Lord back to his TARDIS.

As far as oblivious ornithopods go, one can't also help but wonder how this Camptosaurus didn't see this enormous allosaur coming, given the apparent scarcity of tall foliage in this landscape. It may be that, owing to the identical colour, the herbivore mistook the predator for one of its fellows. And that's why ornithopods evolved such elaborate crests, you see - to Recognise members of their own Species! Now, if only someone would propose that as a serious hypothesis.

And finally...giant mounds are what you make, nesting on the moon! I had to include this one after Niroot pointed out that the Maiasaura had a few more noggin nodules than were strictly necessary. Quite fascinating.


  1. "but hey - this is the UK, and you can't argue with tradition. That's why we still have a monarchy, in spite of it making no sense whatsoever."

    Haha I heard your voice saying that in my head as I read it, Marc.

  2. 1990 was 25 years ago, so as far as I'm concerned, it's officially, no apologies, capital-V Vintage.

  3. That Triceratops is somewhat like a..ceratopsian Jabba the Hutt more like,,,

  4. I think they knew about the Triceratops. Why else would you put a photograph of an actual Triceratops skull next to that picture but to mock the artist? Or maybe that's just why I'd do it, because, you know, evil.

  5. Great post!!!! Great Blog!!!
    A hug from brazil

  6. I love this blog, but not the new header. Flat designs instead of three dimensional renderings doesn't work for me. Especially with this subject. Especially with all the pink. Still great, though.


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