Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Predatory Dinosaurs of the World - Part 2

It's back - Greg Paul's 1988 magnum opus, Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. As we established in the first post, it's long deserved its prime position in the Palaeoart Hall of Fame, having been not only highly prescient but also hugely influential on almost everyone interested in reconstructing Mesozoic theropods. It was stuffed with the sort of truly fantastic and uniquely observed artwork you just didn't see anywhere else - theropods fighting ritualistically, having a nap, and gathering in family groups around a carcass.



Really, I've just included the above piece (featuring Allosaurus) because it's really, really cool. The animals (for all their dated, pronated forearms) remain incredibly convincing, the result of not only Paul's meticulous attention to anatomical detail, but his equally careful and intricate approach to scalation and skin texture. This is also a beautiful portrayal of everyday dinosaur life, placing the viewer right in the midst of this allosaur gathering, eye-to-eye with one of the beasts. It's hugely evocative and endlessly fascinating to look at.


Not that I don't appreciate a more typical hunting scene, of course. Here, Gorgosaurus confronts Styracosaurus (or should that be Albertosaurus and...hnngghh...Monoclonius). Based on the multiple dates, this would appear to be an earlier piece that has been reworked for the book - a commendably brave practice on Paul's part. No backup copies here...


There has been much discussion recently on the subject of theropod 'lips'. In the last couple of decades, it seems that most reconstructions of theropods (especially large ones) have depicted them with their upper teeth visible when the mouth is closed. However, most reconstructions prior to that gave the animals lizardy 'lips' that completely concealed the teeth, an idea that has recently become popular again. It's lead people to wonder - who popularised the 'overhanging teeth' look? The Jurassic Park T. rex can surely shoulder a lot of the blame, although it was the only creature to sport such a look in a film full of 'lippy' dinosaurs. PDW makes things clearer - Paul advocates 'lips', but his tyrannosaurs still have protruding teeth (as above). It seems likely that the JP Rexy was influenced by Paul in this respect, leading to the proliferation of goofy-toothed theropods in artwork. (Incidentally, Paul would appear to have since become an advocate of full 'lips' on tyrannosaurs, too.)


Given that so many Paulian palaeoart memes are now being rejected as outdated, it's amusing to consider that, where he was most ahead of his time, contemporary artists failed (or refused) to follow. As a kid, I saw plenty of images of a scaly Compsognathus chasing after Archaeopteryx, but never a fuzzy version. Of course, Compsognathus is far from the only small coelurosaur to receive this treatment...


...for here is Ornitholestes, resplendent in spotted black plumage. While John McLoughlin had drawn a fuzzy Ornitholestes nine years earlier, this illustration is still hugely prescient for 1988. Even in Walking With Dinosaurs (1999), Ornitholetes is depicted as a scaly creature with quills only on the back of its neck. Equally unusual in this illustration is the depiction of the animal climbing a tree, Paul's point being that a great many small theropods would probably have had no trouble clambering around in branches had the occasion called for it (pertinent in the context of the origins of avian flight). Even given the impossi-hands in the illustration, it's an intriguing thought, and the arboreality of various theropod lineages continues to be hotly contested in the literature and elsewhere.

Never mind the nose horn.


In a comment on my previous post on PDW, Herman D asked if I could upload a scan of Paul's Deinonychus chick. Well, here it is, another beautifully fluffy little theropod. Taking a cue from modern animals, Paul's raptor babies sport spotty plumage quite different from that of the adults, the better to remain inconspicuous. Just lovely.



Much as Paul's decision to apply plumage to his non-avian coelurosaurs was admirably far-sighted, he did make some peculiar decisions when depicting birds (or, theropods popularly thought of as birds. Quiet at the back). Scantily-clad phorusrhacids aside, the accurately-attached feathers on the arms of his Archaeopteryx don't seem to quite match the minimal, figure-hugging plumage on the body. That triangular wedge of a pelvis is quite alarming.

Of course, one can't fault the consistency in Paul's style - after all, his dromaeosaurs look much like this, too. However, it does highlight that, even if Paul remains one of the most important paleoartists in the history of the genre, his much-copied approach is just that - his particular approach. That's the point made in All Yesterdays, but it bears repeating. Artists can learn a great deal from Paul's anatomical rigour, but shouldn't constrain themselves to aping his popular style, as so many have done over the last 20 years. I'm sure the man himself would agree.

Then again...those eyespots on the wings! The marvellous concept of these animals resolving their disputes through ritualistic display! Sometimes, one can't help but be a Paul fanboy.


And finally...many readers will be familiar with the copious taxonomic lumping in PDW (Velociraptor antirrhopus, anyone?), but I wonder how many of you remember that Paul even found room for dinosauromorphs like Lagosuchus (above) in the book - as the earliest dinosaurs ('paleodinosaurs'). It's an idea he's abandoned since, but it remains fascinatingly unorthodox. I bet he wound everyone up with that one.

8 comments:

  1. "In a comment on my previous post on PDW, Herman D asked if I could upload a scan of Paul's Deinonychus chick. Well, here it is, another beautifully fluffy little theropod."

    Many thanks again for that! :) You mentioned GSPaul reworking earlier pieces. The same goes for this 1 (I.e. The version that appears in Sloan's "Feathered Dinosaurs" has non-pronated forearms).

    "Really, I've just included the above piece (featuring Allosaurus) because it's really, really cool."

    Like GSPaul's feathered dinos, this piece is also very prescient (I.e. Bakker 1997 & Bakker/Bir 2004).

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  2. I like the way Paul draws Archaeopteryx flying! It actually looks like a flying bird!

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  3. I love his lagosuchus which given what we now know may actually have been plausible(that is with a little prompting alright or embryos can be induced to form file mentors integumentary or so I've heard.)

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    1. Also what is wrong with the genus name monoclonius?

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    2. Nothing, but that's Styracosaurus. Of course, Paul lumped all the centrosaurines again in the Field Guide, but into Centrosaurus on that occasion.

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  4. My favorite part of this book is on page 13, where Paul explains the value of having this book be so profusely illustrated:

    "As for the full life illustrations, the idea is to use art to translate scientific thoughts and concepts into visual images. Besides, dinosaurs look neat."

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    1. He can be a bit caustic on occasion, but let it not be said he has no sense of humor!

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    2. This is by far the best read of all his books that I've seen. On occasion it can even be - dare I say it - a hoot.

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