Friday, June 3, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Predatory Dinosaurs of the World - Part 1

It is widely documented - not least by this blog - that a very few popular dinosaur books published over the last century stand out as real 'landmarks'. Books that are incalculably influential, for good or ill (and often a bit of both), giving rise to countless copycats and wannabes and spreading peculiar styles and memes far and wide in the world of palaeoart. Greg Paul's infamous Predatory Dinosaurs of the World is undoubtedly one such book, arguably doing more to spread the Paulian style than any other of his works. It's so well known that, for a long time, it seemed like a bit of a waste of time covering it; surely it's already been done to protofeathered death? I'm glad I changed my mind.

In recent years, artists have been keen to move on from Paul's style, which has come to be seen as just as dated, in its own way, as the Zallingerian behemoths were in the 1970s and 80s. This still seems a little incredible to me. PDW was published in 1988, when I was less than a year old. To me, growing up with often rather Sibbickian depictions of dinosaurs, Paul's reconstructions still look like The Future. It helps, of course, that Paul was one of the first palaeoartists to be truly anatomically rigorous, making his dinosaurs immensely more convincing than almost everything else around at the time. When I was a kid, they looked like they'd descended from another planet. A particularly awesome planet. Like Bakker before him, Paul's work is often filled with a dynamism and energy that few others had dared to explore up to that point.

Take this scene, for example. Here, a group of T. rex have managed to corner a Triceratops. One of the predators sinks its teeth into the animal's thigh - a potentially crippling blow. Both animals are illustrated with remarkable fidelity, with everything from the Triceratops' frill and epocippitals to the tyrannosaurs' horny bosses and birdlike stance brought to life with the utmost precision. For 1988, they're really not that shrinkwrapped, either - both Rexy and his quarry look beefy and muscular. Other than the tyrannosaur that appears to be (properly) running on the right of the scene (and where it's obviously dated, e.g. the arms), this remains very convincing.

Running tyrannosaurs were a Bakker favourite, and in PDW Paul reckons on Rexy being at least as fast as a racehorse, but the consensus today is that this is very unlikely, given the animals' sheer size. Still, they were definitely, as Paul says, much better equipped for speed than animals of similar size today...not to mention their potential prey.

PDW is notable for Paul's illustrations of theropods engaging in all sorts of interesting behaviours, including lounging around as large predators are wont to do. In the above scene, two Daspletosaurus tussle in a mating bout, "kicking at each other like overgrown ostriches". Paul employs skilful use of perspective here, particularly around the animals' heads; although his art is often criticised as having a 'flat' look, Paul's attention to detail means that animals do not take on unsightly, undignified appearances when swivelled out of lateral view.

Now, it's at this point that I am obliged to mention Paul's ever-controversial taxonomic rejiggles, for the caption to the above piece includes the eyebrow-raising 'Tyrannosaurus torosus'. Some of Paul's lumps and splits, usually published in popular works, have been backed up later by other authors in the technical literature; Giraffatitan comes to mind. Unfortunately, given the nature of books like PDW, Paul seldom goes into a great amount of detail as to why he decides that animals should be shuffled in or out of certain genera. Early in PDW, Paul bemoans the state of dinosaur taxonomy, and therefore makes it clear that he is going to offer "a new reorganisation of predatory dinosaur taxonomy and systematics, even though the phylogenetic conclusions it is based on are not yet firm". Hence 'Tyrannosaurus torosus', 'Ornithomimus bullatus', and...that other one I'll get to in a moment. All offered quite unapologetically. You can see why some scientists might tear their hair out.

Unfortunately, this unusual taxonomy has often threatened to obscure just how much this book was ahead of its time. Not all of Paul's revisions in terms of nomenclature might have stood the test of time (and the man himself has abandoned many of them), but many of his ideas about theropod physiology and life appearance certainly have. The above Coelophysis rhodesiensis (another lump that's since gained acceptance - this is the beastie formerly known as 'Syntarsus') sports a crazy hairdo that's undoubtedly modelled on Bakker's version, but check out the other nice touches too. There are those neck wattles (which appear on a number of Paul's theropods), and even a slightly silly looking ruff around the base of the neck. It's probably unduly lean, but you've got to admire the willingness to treat theropods in this way. Why can't some of them have looked a bit ridiculous?

Paul even illustrates a melanistic theropod, inspired directly by black panthers, in a twist that is ironically reminiscent of the work artists have been producing in the light of All Yesterdays. Sinking its sickle claws into an alarmed Tenontosaurus, this is, of course, Deinonychus...or should that be Velociraptor antirrhopus. People ascribe the steroidal Velociraptor in JP to Paul's reclassification of Deninonychus in PDW, while forgetting that Paul illustrated the animal - along with all other dromaeosaurs - with a covering of feathers. Too conservative by modern standards, but strikingly progressive for the time. If only Stan Winston Studios had been allowed to model the JP raptors more closely on Paul's, we might not still be seeing godawful scaly monstrosities all over the place.

Actual Velociraptor also puts in an appearance, of course, here depicted confronting Saurornithoides (lumped by Paul into Troodon). Note the feathery coats. Paul expends many words on the close link between dromaeosaurs, troodonts and modern birds, the evidence for which is now so overwhelming that to deny it, you'd have to keep sticking your fingers in your ears and singing merry songs about collagen fibres and rauisuchids proving something or other.

Saurornithoides is also the subject of a rather scary, open-mouthed, front-on mugshot. Dromaeosaur and troodont heads do show up Paul's more shrinkwrappy tendencies. In PDW, these animals are depicted with tiny, blunt hornlets projecting out in front of their eyes. These 'hornlets' persisted in palaeoart throughout the '90s, often (ironically) reinforcing the reptilian character of other people's more scaly reconstructions. However, they likely supported a soft tissue 'ridge' adjoining the back of the orbit, as also seen in modern birds. Still, this is a very cool drawing - I can't wonder if inspired John Conway's Huaxiagnathus painting, consciously or otherwise.

Oviraptor also gets a headshot, and this one remains stunning and remarkably up-to-date, mostly thanks to those beautiful fluffy filaments. The patterning on the crest is gorgeous, and inspired countless imitators. Hard to believe that this was drawn in 1987.

And finally (for now)...Greg Paul does Cenozoic theropods! In this case, Phorusrhacos. Unfortunately, these really do look rather amusingly shrink-wrapped and under-feathered, like they were illustrated with the explicit purpose of undermining the Paulian approach to reconstruction. Still, a wonderful curio and a fitting addition to a book entitled Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, as Paul himself acknowledges.

Next time - more of this sort of thing! But first, T. rex Succeeding competition entrants! (Don't forget, you still have until Monday...)


  1. Don't hate me for this but it's only now, reading this post, that I've learned that Rex/Trike battle pic is a Paulian piece. I always thought it was Sibbick's work.

    1. No hate! We're all on a journey of learning... in our own way, at our own pace. No one has all the answers!

  2. When I was in high school that image of a melanistic "Velociraptor" antirrhopus coolly dispatching its prey was the guiding light of how I viewed the future of dinosaur reconstructions. We've come a long way, but that definitely tugs on the nostalgia strings.

    1. For me it was the squabble between the Velociraptor and the Troodontids. It was the first time I'd ever seen a reconstruction of velociraptor that emphasized how small and compact and birdlike it really was. It was like a light went on in my head looking at it.

    2. GSPaul's Velociraptor/Deinonychus illustrations are probably my favorites of all his work, especially those you & Asher mentioned above. Those spotted coat patterns (among other things) added that extra bit of realism that made said illustrations come alive for me. B-4 2000, I had only seen a little of his color work & none of his black-&-white work AFAICR. The 1st time I saw a significant amount of the latter in 1 place was Sloan's "Feathered Dinosaurs" (which included several V/D illustrations like Asher's favorite).

  3. "It's so well known that, for a long time, it seemed like a bit of a waste of time covering it; surely it's already been done to protofeathered death?"

    I wouldn't worry about that. True classics never get old (hence why they're called "classics"). ;) Also, as much as love seeing you guys criticize classically bad paleoart, I love seeing you guys praise classically good paleoart even more. Maybe you should do Bakker's older work too. I'd love to see your commentary on his dancing ornithopods, leaping ceratopsians, & "Raptor Red" illustrations (especially the Utahraptor ones & Dramatis Personae).

  4. Oh dear! 'Vintage dinosaur art' - 1988! I must be getting old. Good on you, Marc. Fabulous stuff as usual. Lean feathered terror chickens inspired your generation as mud -bound lardosaurs inspired another generation (including myself). But art of all ages brings us to the same place: the love of dinosaurs.

  5. @Marc Vincent

    I don't suppose you'd be able to upload the Deinonychus chick from Chapter 7, would you? It's 1 of my favorites, yet I've never seen it online. Many thanks in advance.

  6. I find it interesting that, in a lot of ways, the dinosaurs of Dinosaur Revolution are strikingly Paulian. Particularly the Allosaurus. Even the DR Tyrannosaurus is a Paulian Rex with some spikes and an unusual color scheme. Really shows how far pop culture has to come before they're depicting dinosaurs in a modern way.

    No offense to those responsible for DR's animals, I love them. They just strike me as very conservative 80's Paul/Hallet/Rey than extravagant and unusual modern Conway/Witton. I'm waiting for the documentary that does dinosaurs like the new big names in palaeoart rather than the big names of the Dinosaur Renaissance

  7. Gregory S. Paul: fortune favors the brave. It is worth noting that in his creative zenith of the 80's & 90's other artists - the Hallets and Hendersons of the world - did not jump on board with fully feathered theropods. And I am 100% positive that Paul would have gotten crucified in social media if it was around back then as well. As it is I'm sure a lot of luminaries of the time were dismissive of his portrayals "overspeculation" or "no evidence" bandied about. But who do we remember now? Those critics or Paul?


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