Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Look Into the Wonderful World of Paleoart

As a dinosaur enthusiast (I'd love to call myself a Paleontologist, but no degree yet :( ), if there's one thing I'd have to say was the best part of Paleontology, it'd be the paleoart. There's all-star veterans like Luis Rey, Gregory S. Paul, and Mark Hallett who, since the dinosaur renaissance, have captured the awe of these prehistoric creatures through the use of art. Then there's fairly new artists like Julius Csotonyi , managing to create absurdly lifelike recreations via digitally.

Baryonyx, from Predatory Dinosaurs of the World by Gregory S. Paul

All artists mentioned are amazingly talented, but today, I want to focus on the people who don't have a degree in art. People in which art is not a profession, instead a hobby (this is NOT to say however, that professional artists are in it only for the money). In this post, three different artists are in highlight. 

First up is Kohki, a high school student from Japan! Bringing to the table is a beautifully drawn picture of a Tyrannosaurus hunting down a Triceratops.

Tyrannosaurus vs Triceratops, 2014
Used with permission

Excellent work, Kohki! It is very reminiscent of the artwork seen in Tyrannosaurus Rex And Its Kin: The Mesozoic Monsters, which I absolutely adore. 

Our second artist is a good friend of mine, Justin Banner! While his forte is Daikaiju, Banner has created several works of fantastic paleoart.

Suchomimus Drawings, 2015
Used with permission

Ornitholestes, 2015
Used with permission

Banner was accepted into the Cooper Union Summer Art Intensive as an animator! Congratulations, Justin!

Animated Rexy, 2015
Used with permission

You can see more of Justin Banner's work at http://pulsarium.deviantart.com/

The last artist is a gentleman that goes by the name of "Lythronax." What I find incredible about his work is that a majority is done with something as simple as a ballpoint pen

Eustreptospondylus oxoniensis, 2015
Used with permission

Rexy, 2015
Used with permission

Velociraptor antirrhopus nublarensis - Jurassic Park Remake Project, 2015
Used with permission

Lythronax has a thread dedicated to his paleoart on JPLegacy, so check him out on there!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review: Tyrannosaurus Rex And Its Kin: The Mesozoic Monsters

Today, dinosaur books are dominated by digital art and, more specifically, CGI. Whether or not this is for the better or worse is certainly up for debate, as Dorling Kindersley's Dinosaur! encyclopedia has shown that with a little bit of effort and dedication, CG images can work quite well, while Robert Mash's book How to Keep Dinosaurs has proven the opposite. Regardless on your position, today's books can make it easy to forget that back then, art in dinosaur books was hand-drawn. Forget computers and other fancy 21st Century technology, sometimes all you needed was paint and a canvas. The book in review today, Tyrannosaurus Rex And Its Kin: The Mesozoic Monsters demonstrates that clearly. On a side note, I feel it's worth noting that the majority of books reviewed on the site will be modern, mostly so it helps reader decide what to buy and what not to buy. Special exceptions will be made, like now, of course, so let's get on to the book itself.

The cover is a gorgeous illustration of the namesake dinosaur. From a time where attention to accuracy was usually not present in paleoart, I applaud Joyce Powzyk for rendering such a fantastic image of the tyrant lizard.

The book starts out with a synopsis of the "Mesozoic monsters," the carnosaurs. Being from 1989, the term carnosaur is used interchangeably with large theropod. Therefore, all dinosaurs referred to in the book are carnosaurs, though in reality only a small fraction can be described as "true" carnosaurs - the allosauroids. In total, a staggering 41 different types of theropods are directly mentioned, and out of those 41, 19 are given illustrations. Some are given more than one (Tyrannosaurus has 5). Keeping in mind the date, as well as the target audience, it's impressive that they included rather obscure dinosaurs like Rapator, Unquillosaurus, and Chingkankousaurus

Something else that the book does is list the species name along with the genus. Acrocanthosaurus is Acrocanthosaurus atokensis. Dilophosaurus is Dilophosaurus wetherilli. Eustreptospondylus is Eustreptospondylus oxoniensis, and so on. This is definitely something to congratulate the book for, seeing as how very few books will care to put the species name to a dinosaur that is not T. rex.

The text is interesting in that it is very speculative. Constantly, it presents theories and backs it up with fossil evidence. Almost humorously, in the page above it's said that, "Tyrannosaurus could tear huge chunks from its prey-chunks as big as a full-grown goat-and easily swallow them whole." Foreshadowing to Jurassic Park

I find myself liking Joyce Powzyk's Tyrannosaurus a lot. It's not completely reptilian like previous iterations and has the correct horizontal stance but is old enough to avoid having feathers slapped on. Plus, the red-black color scheme is neat.

Tarbosaurus also makes an appearance. Though the text would say otherwise, the pictures drive home the fact that these are just animals, not some bloodthirsty killing-machine like Indominus rex from Jurassic World.

One of my favorite illustrations in the whole book is this spread of an Albertosaurus. To me, it feels incredibly lifelike; It pictures dinosaurs as highly active creatures by putting the Albertosaurus in a dynamic but believable pose, and being one of the most accurate drawings in the book helps. Beautiful.

Spinosaurus unsurprisingly shows up, inaccurate T. rex head and all. Looking back, I never realized how uncommon it is to have dinosaurs attack crocodiles. In this case the Spinosaurus almost seems more curious than hungry.

Hooray for obscure dinosaur representation! Piatnitzkysaurus gets a full illustration. Those smaller dinosaurs? They're its young, but I thought they were small ornithopod dinosaurs at first.

Ceratosaurs are covered in fairly good detail, and Ceratosaurus himself receives a nice illustration. The Stegosaurus corpse (which you can see partially on the bottom left) is rather odd - the famous kite-shaped plates on its back are replaced mid-way with spikes that look like the thagomizers you would see on the tail. As far as I'm aware, the only other stegosaur that could have coexisted with Ceratosaurus was Kentrosaurus, and there's no sign of a shoulder-spike here. 

Another one of my favorite illustrations! The pug-like face of the Megalosaurus is reminiscent of the era, and to see a theropod swim is a real treat. Taking another look at ol' Megalosaurus, the more my mind flashes "abelisaur." Xenotarsosaurus, possibly?

Bottom line, Tyrannosaurus Rex and it's Kin: The Mesozoic Monsters is one of my favorite dinosaur books of all time. Well-written and, perhaps more importantly, well-researched text is crafted with wonderful traditional art that holds up well even nowadays. Outdated as it may seem, the book is well-worth getting solely for the art alone. Being such an old book, a used book store or online is your best option.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Museum Visits: Royal Tyrrell Museum Part 1

With my recent trip to Canada, I've had the opportunity to visit one of the most well-respected and paleontologically-important museums in the world: the Royal Tyrrell Museum. The museum, founded in 1985, was named in honor of Joseph B. Tyrrell, a Canadian geologist who would discover the fossilized remains of Albertosaurus sarcophagus in the Red Deer River Valley in 1884, which, would be the first dinosaur fossil found in that area. Since then, the museum houses one of the finest collections of fossils in the world.

   The front entrance of the museum is guarded by a well-crafted Albertosaurus statue. With excellent detail put into it, the statue is an indicator of the quality exhibits the museum boasts.

Inside, you're greeted by the first exhibit, Cretaceous Alberta. Extremely realistic statues showcase a family of Albertosaurus crossing a mud bank. Pictured above is a massive female Albertosaurus alongside her infant. With the discovery of a bone bed containing at least 22 different Albertosaurus specimens, it's been long speculated that Albertosaurus, as well as other tyrannosaurs, lived in packs. The idea of a gang-life is well-represented here.

A sub-adult Albertosaurus. Living in packs does make it much easier to bring down that duckbill dinosaur, or that pesky Eotriceratops.

Following the Cretaceous Alberta exhibit is Fossils in Focus. Here, the museum displays some of their most impressive specimens, like this extremely well-preserved mosasaur.

Very surprisingly, they even had the skull of Regaliceratops on display! Considering that the dinosaur hadn't even been discovered less than two weeks ago at the time of my visit, it was an exciting moment to be able to see the specimen up close.

Having trouble figuring out what this is? Pictured is a remarkably amazing specimen of a hadrosaur. Older than other hadrosaur fossils found in the area, there is a possibility that this could be a new species!

The recently discovered Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, named and described in 2013.

Don't let this familiar-looking face fool you. This is Eotriceratops, a close relative of its more famous cousin, Triceratops.

Gorgosaurus, another dinosaur with a more famous relative, Tyrannosaurus rex. It's been debated on whether or not Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus are the same genus, with most paleontologists agreeing there's enough difference to classify them as different.

The "Black Beauty" Tyrannosaurus specimen, so named because of its unique color gained from fossilization. 

The third exhibit happens to be my favorite - no surprise, considering theropods are my favorite suborder of dinosaurs. Titled Lords of the Land, the star is no doubt the massive Tyrannosaurus rex mount, gaping jaws open, ready to swallow unsuspecting prey. Viewing mounted skeletons, one can appreciate the sheer terror the animal must have instilled 65 million years ago. Talking to museum staff, I learned that a cast of this particular skeleton was used for "Rexy," the admittedly adorable T. rex seen in the 2006 film Night at the Museum and its following sequels.

Gorgosaurus and Ornithomimus specimens, both in the classic "dino death pose," respectively. The Gorgosaurus had died as a juvenile, not uncommon of dinosaurs.

Ornithomimus mounts. With no weapons at their disposal, these guys had to rely on their speed to escape the hungry jaws of a T. rex.

Say the word "raptor," and everyone knows exactly what you're talking about. Say the correct term, "Dromaeosaur," and you'll most likely cook up a collection of confused faces, unless you'd happen to be talking to a person like me. The "dromaeosaurs" of LOTL include Saurornitholestes and Dromaeosaurus, (respectively).

The actual Black Beauty skull is on display as well. I find it stunning how well-preserved some fossils can get, and how well they hold up after millions of years.

And that concludes part 1 of the Royal Tyrrell Museum! In Part 2, we'll take a trip all the back to the Burgess Shale, 505 million years ago in the Paleozoic era. In the words of John Arnold, 

"Hold on to your butts!"