Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Canadian paleontologists tell their stories in "Dino Trails"

A great new series of short documentaries on Canadian paleontology was just released on YouTube by TELUS Optik. "Dino Trails," a project by filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk, kicks off with a profile of Phil Currie and Eva Koppelhus. This episode also features our own Victoria Arbour, who talks a bit about our favorite clobberin' thyreophorans. Subsequent episodes give a chance to see the Suncor nodosaur in prep, tag along on a fossil hunt with Wendy Sloboda of Wendiceratops fame, and spend a nice chunk of time with the Tumbler Ridge dinosaur tracks, featuring friend of LITC Lisa Buckley. And so much more!

I appreciated Yanchyk's focus on the stories of discovery, study, and the people who do it. As researchers tell their stories, a running theme of the importance of protecting our fossil heritage emerges, and they offer impassioned arguments for their various fields of study. Sit back and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Private Lives of Animals: Prehistoric Animals - Part 1

It Came From the 1970s! Originally published in Italy in 1971, Prehistoric Animals is part of the Privates Lives of Animals series, which otherwise featured entirely extant wildlife. When I posted a little something from this book on Facebook, it quickly became apparent that a number of people, including palaeontologists and artists, remember this book very fondly from their childhoods. It isn't surprising - the art in this book combines a surprisingly high level of technical proficiency with flagrant Knight/Zallinger/Burian copying and a healthy dollop of pulp. Why, they even managed to get Burian himself involved. Many thanks to Benjamin Hillier for sending me this one - it's a corker! (Just see how many 'homages' you can spot to classic palaeoart pieces on the cover alone.)


Friday, March 10, 2017

The Stomping Grounds: A Dinosaur Art Zine

Recently, there has been some back-and-forth on Facebook about what capital-P paleoart is, as John Conway proposed some guidelines for the Paleoartists group. While certain genres of dinosaur art - for instance Jurassic Park fan art - aren't too hard to rule out, other forms are a harder call. The group has been debating whether fantastical pieces based on close anatomical study of ancient life are allowable. Others have mused about how stylized something can be and still count as paleoart. I've certainly wondered that about Mammoth is Mopey. And it's a balancing act we've played at LITC, for instance with our 2013 All Yesterdays competition. But while we may debate the place and the value of Rigorous Paleoart vs. "mere" illustrations of prehistoric life, I think we can all agree that it's good for pop culture to be permeated with more depictions of prehistoric beasts based on contemporary paleontology.

This leads us to the subject of today's post. As I was traipsing through the dinosaur realms of DeviantArt recently, I came across a wonderful stylized Amargasaurus illustration by Tanya Kozak, AKA Virsiris. It looked like it could have been a still from a dinosaur cartoon I'd definitely watch. The description said that the illustration was part of Stomping Grounds, a dinosaur art zine. I followed the link to Gumroad and picked up a copy. It's sold on a pay-what-you-want scheme.

Carnotaurus © Tanya Kozak, shared here with the artist's permission.

Released about a year ago,Stomping Grounds couldn't be simpler in its execution. It is focused solely on illustration, without any text besides credits for the creators. I'd have appreciated a bit of background information on the species and the artist's rationale for each illustration, and I'd think it would justify a bump up from pay-what-you-want to a set price to cover the additional layout work required.

The zine is decidedly not filled with capital-P paleoart, but that's not the intent. This is a celebration of dinosaurs. Kozak invited a range of artists, many of whom work in animation, to contribute. So it's not surprising that the art bursts with character, like Squeedge's slavering Cryolophosaurus in pink plumage or Kari Fry's Dracorex standoff. My personal favorite was Neogeen's Troodon flock, dramatically rendered in red and drab green, all fully feathered. More than any other piece in the collection, Neogeen's suggests a wider world and I'd love to see it stretched out into a comic or animated piece. Kozak, whose Amargasaurus led me to the zine in the first place, has a few pieces in the zine, with standouts like a fierce Mosasaurus , a Carnotaurus with subtly but effectively exaggerated features, and a fuzzy, ready-for-cartoon-villainy Dilophosaurus.

The zine is well worth picking up and throwing a few buck the artists' way. It's heartening to see artists who aren't scientific illustrators continuing to absorb the good news of our current paleontological golden age. Head to Gumroad to download for free or name your price.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Utahraptor Project competition

As many of you out there in Chasmoland will already be well aware, one of the most tantalising bonebed discoveries of the last decade was the that of a huge trove of Utahraptor skeletons in (fittingly enough) Utah. Fossilised alongside the remains of at least two iguanodontian ornithopods are the bones of numerous Utahraptor individuals at different growth stages, which promise to finally reveal what this formerly rather engimatic animal really looked like. (Suffice it to say, it certainly wasn't the monstrous steroidal Deinonychus that you remember from your childhood.)

The site was discovered by Matt Stikes back in 2001, and the huge block o' bones was subsequently excavated by Jim Kirkland (who described Utahraptor), Don DeBlieux and Scott Madsen along with numerous volunteers. The block is now being prepared in the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah, under the auspices of Madsen (as Chief Preparator). You can read the full story of the project - from discovery, to excavation, to preparation - over on the official Utahraptor Project site, where there's also a handy index of Utahraptor-related press...not to mention this lovely video featuring Jim himself.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

We have been living in a golden age of paleontological research for long enough that many in the paleontology community don't remember anything but the golden age. A vibrant community of researchers, journalists, artists, and enthusiasts has come of age in a time when exciting new discoveries are announced on a regular basis: challenging our preconceptions, fueling our wonder, stoking our creativity. This has all occurred with the rise of the internet, allowing us to share in the bounty on listservs, forums, art communities, and social media. It's led to a blossoming of new paleoart; surely, there is more high quality artistry dedicated to prehistoric life being produced now than at any other time.

And yet, as Witton, Naish, and Conway wrote in their essential 2014 commentary, "State of the Palaeoart," "many standard practises associated with palaeoart production are ethically and legally problematic, stifle its scientific and cultural growth, and have a negative impact on the financial viability of its creators." That viability has been a big question, especially since March of 2011, when paleoart legend Gregory S. Paul sparked a period of intense debate on the Dinosaur Mailing List. I won't rehash it here, but my big takeaway from this was a concern for paleoartists: is it even possible to make a living in the field? If so, how many people can the industry sustain?

To know this, we need to know what we're talking about, and there are many question marks. Who is creating paleoart? What are they creating? For what purpose? Who are they working for? How do they charge? How much do they make? Well, let's find out, shall we?

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists is now open and taking responses. Matt Celeskey and Mark Witton were critical to the early development of the survey. I then brought in another round of reviewers, Bob Nicholls, Brian Engh, and Emily Willoughby. I'm grateful to all for their excellent feedback.

If you create paleoart, please take the survey. No matter your level of prestige, seniority in the field, your status as a professional or hobbyist, or how many works you've produced, I want your input. If you're unsure if you qualify, shove down that imposter syndrome and dive in. It's completely anonymous, and the information collected will help you and your peers navigate the field more confidently.

If you know a paleoartist, I ask you to shoot the link to them: bit.ly/paleoartsurvey. If you know a paleoartist who is not very active online or on social media, I beg of you to email the link to them. We need their input.

If you're a blogger, Youtuber, tweeter, or Tumblr-er, I would greatly appreciate your help in blasting the word out. Feel free to share the promotional graphic below, featuring a beautiful illustration from LITC's own Natee, in posts and on social media.

Promotional graphic for the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

I'll keep the survey active for at least a month, so I'll occasionally post updates here, and I'll keep making noise elsewhere on the web, too. After that? I'll be reporting the results here at LITC, pursuing journal publication, and possibly completing a poster.

That link again is bit.ly/paleoartsurvey. We need data! Help get the data.