Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Museum Visits - Royal Tyrrell Museum Part 2

If you've ever been to the Field Museum in Chicago, there are two things that you at least probably remember. One would be Sue the Tyrannosaurus, and the other is the Evolving Planet exhibit, which takes museum guests in a "walk through time." Today, our focus is not on the Field Museum, but on the second half of the Royal Tyrrell Museum and their own walk through time exhibit.

The first stop is the Burgess Shale, a fossil formation from the Cambrian era, approximately 500 Million Years Ago. Organisms, such as the predatory Anomalocaris shown above, were highly complex, nearly all of them easily mistakable for aliens from another planet. My favorite is the Opabinia. The room was very dark, so I apologize for the somewhat poor quality of the photo. 

Continuing our trip through the Paleozoic, there's a microscope for visitors to observe fossilized microorganisms. Neat. Past that, and you've reached the Devonian. Present is a really cool diorama of a Devonian "coral reef." 

Of course, a Devonian exhibit isn't complete without a Dunkleosteus. I can say without a doubt that Dunkleosteus is the most famous Devonian fish currently known. 

Back down at the main floor, and we've reached the Carboniferous era, about 360 MYA. Amphibians had now evolved, and tetrapods were now one step closer to conquering land. A little fun piece of trivia: the Carboniferous era marked the point in which atmospheric oxygen reached their highest. The result? Super-sized bugs like Arthropleura, a 6 foot long millipede.

The final stop in the Paleozoic era: the Permian. Eryops was one of the more famous prehistoric amphibians, making numerous appearances in (mainly vintage) dinosaur books.

Dimetrodon mounts. Another bit of trivia that some of you might already know: These reptiles are more closely related to mammals, us, than they are to dinosaurs! 

Exiting the Paleozoic era, and we're greeted by the Triassic. Up above are remains of Shonisaurus, one of the biggest genera of ichthyosaur. 

And that concludes part 2 of the Royal Tyrrell Museum! In part 3, we'll explore the Dinosaur Hall, the museum largest exhibit. Until next time!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

RaptorRex's Favorite Paleoartists

After the catastrophic mess left by the digital producers of the art featured in Brusatte's Dinosaurs, one really ought to appreciate the paleoartists who do take the actual time to do their own research and produce visually-appealing, scientifically accurate (for the time being) animals. In this post, I'll talk about who my top favorite paleoartists are, and hopefully raise awareness on the new Pixel Shack-esque trend taking over many of today's dinosaur books.

1. Todd Marshall 

Image Credit: Todd Marshall. Used for non-commercial purposes.

There seems to be a "love-it-or-hate-it" trend with Todd Marshall's artwork. His work is very frequent with Paleontologist Paul Sereno's, but a fair share of critics bring up his overuse of adding spikes. I do see a few works of his where such criticism is fairly applied (I.E. his Spinosaurus reconstruction), but more often than not I feel they are greatly over exaggerated. If All Yesterdays has taught us anything, it is that "a significant amount of morphological and behavioral characteristics are forever lost in time." Marshall's art is both stylish and realistic to me, making him one of my favorite artists, and to see more art by him in dinosaur books would be a wonder.

Image Credit: Todd Marshall. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Todd Marshall has his own website. You can visit it here:

2. Michael Skrepnick

Jobaria tiguidensis
Image Credit: Michael Skrepnick. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Artist commentary: Two dominant males assume an upright, combative posture and engage in an aggressive shovingmatch/intraspecific display. Komodo dragons and other modern monitors frequently engage in similar behaviours when resolving mating or territorial

Michael Skrepnick's art is fairly popular. He teamed up with Dr. Thomas Holtz to produce books for the Jurassic Park Institute in the early 2000's, and, unless time has changed, murals of his work can be found in the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Skrepnick has a real talent for producing incredibly life-like paleoart. Most impressive is how well his work holds up today, given the fact that much of it is from the early 2000's. Quite possibly one of my favorite aspects of his work is how well he renders feathered dinosaurs. Depicting feathered dinosaurs is always a challenge, and many that do (including myself), seem to always draw them unnatural. Skrepnick does not. The only real complaint I can point out on his various feathered dinosaurs are the lack of primaries. If natural histories want murals for their dinosaur halls, Michael Skrepnick should be one of their first choices.

Image Credit: Michael Skrepnick. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Skeleton-Musculature-Outer Integument of Sinosauropteryx prima 
Image Credit: Michael Skrepnick. Used for non-commercial purposes

Visit Skrepnick's website here:

3. Fabio Pastori

Image credit: Fabio Pastori. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Fabio Pastori is rather underrated, as far as I know. As of July 2015, Pastori has only illustrated one book: Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour (however, his artwork has been the cover of various Prehistoric Times magazines). A vibrant use of colors not unlike that of Luis V. Rey (another great paleoartist, but not featured in this post) makes for very pleasing to the eye artwork. One of the most common remarks your less science-focused enthusiasts will say are, "Feathered dinosaurs are simply not scary." Again, much of this stems from artists not drawing feathers properly. his Gorgosaurus is feathered, but it's no pushover:

Image credit: Fabio Pastori. Used for non-commercial purposes.

I'd say the best way to describe Pastori's work would be, "Think Luis Rey, but more realistic. And less digital." At his best, Fabio Pastori makes images that the most renowned museums would be proud of.

Chasmosaurus goes up against sub-adult Albertosaurus
Image credit: Fabio Pastori. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Utahraptor vs Gastonia 
(the addition of primaries make this blogger overflow with joy)
Image credit: Fabio Pastori. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Sinorinthosaurus milleni
(Hands down one of my favorite reconstructions of any feathered dinosaur)
Image credit: Fabio Pastori. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Visit Fabio Pastori's DeviantArt page here:
You can also visit his website here:

4. Julius Csotonyi

Image credit: Julius Csotonyi. Used for non-commercial purposes.

For all the flak I've given digital art, it can be done right in good hands. Julius Csotonyi is undeniable evidence of this. Like Skrepnick, Csotonyi take inspiration from Rudolph Zalinger's "Age of Reptiles" mural, and aspired to create realistic portrayals of prehistory. The result is digital art at its finest. Unsurprisingly, Julius Csotonyi's fantastic art was recognized by science magazines and museums throughout the world. To me, it's quite amazing how someone can portray every exquisite detail of a creature in the manner Csotonyi is able to. With his and Brian Switek's new book Prehistoric Predators hitting store shelves, readers can get a fresh break from those horrid CGI produced models.

Triassic turf war
Image credit: Julius Csotonyi. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Suchomimus and Kryptops
Image credit: Julius Csotonyi. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Csotonyi also made several of the dinosaurs seen on the Jurassic World website, including a striking Edmontosaurus and Pachycephalosaurus. Be sure to check those out if you haven't already.

Visit Csotonyi's website here:

5. Melnik Vitaliy 

Image credit: Melnik Vitaliy. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Vitaliy is a DeviantArt artist who, quite frankly, is one of the best in my opinion. Every piece by him is worthy of being in a book by even the most professional paleontologist. Just compare his tyrannosaurid to Pixel Shack's Tyrannosaurus, which does get featured in books by professional paleontologists:

Image credit: Melnik Vitaliy. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Image credit: Used for non-commercial purposes.

No arguments as to which one is superior. Unfortunately, the cost to make cheap CGI is considerably low compared to independent art, and, as one person said, "A lot of publishing paleontologists just do not care about how extinct animals looked and lived." It's an undeniable truth, and it's why so many books have so many paleoart failures. On the flip side of the coin, independent research gives you a higher probability of getting information from more trustworthy sources. 

Siats meekorum
Image credit: Melnik Vitaliy. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Visit Melnik Vitaliy's DeviantArt page here:

6. Alexander Lovegrove 

Suchomimus tenerensis
Image credit: Alexander Lovegrove. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Another artist I met by way of DeviantArt, Alexander Lovegrove does mainly theropod art, and it is absolutely stunning. If there's a remake of Tyrannosaurus: The Mesozoic Monsters (like what they did for The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs), Lovegrove matches Joyce Powzyk's style perfectly, albeit more updated. 

Daspletosaurus attacks!
Image credit: Alexander Lovegrove. Used for non-commercial purposes.

Visit Alexander Lovegrove's DeviantArt page here:

There are plenty of other artists out there that I consider to be top-notch (I.E. Luis Rey, Gregory S. Paul). I also wasn't able to cover sculpters, such as David Krentz (future post, maybe??). For now, I consider these 6 paleoartists to be the very best in my personal opinion. Hopefully, what this post has done is convince you to...
Image credit: Mark Witton.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

...Talk about a coffee table book!

Included for scale is Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger's book Discovering Dinosaurs. Check it out if you haven't already!

This massive beast was given to me as a present during Christmas of 2012. Costco was selling the book for a bargain price of just 19.99 back then. Pretty great deal for a book so large, but how does it hold up?

There's 217 pages total, not including the glossary or index. The book is divided into seven chapters, with each one having their own sub-chapter(s). Of note is the fact that the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras are each split into two whole chapters, middle and late. For obvious reasons, the Triassic isn't.

The author, Dr. Stephen Brusatte, is a rather prolific Vertebrate Paleontologist, best known for his research on the anatomy and evolution of dinosaurs. In 2007, he, along with Paleontologist Paul Sereno, described a brand new species of predatory dinosaur, Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis.  A credible source indeed, but the book was also supervised by Professor Michael Benton, another top mind in the field of Paleontology. As such, one would expect the information to be accurate. Unfortunately, there are quite a bit of inaccuracies, both due to lazy research and simply being outdated. As examples, Acrocanthosaurus is claimed to have lived in Asia, even though fossils have only been recovered from North America. To Brusatte's credit, he manages to make his writing fun to read, using words like"hypercarnivorous" and "monstrosity" to describe theropods. Realistic? Maybe not. But entertaining, it is.

Dinosaurs has two major flaws that keep it from being good. The first, and less severe, flaw are the size comparisons. Almost all of them oversize the dinosaur. For example:

As if that weren't bad enough, Psittacosaurus is shown as being larger than Protoceratops! It gets even better (worse?) though. Remember when Compsognathus was billed as (one of) the smallest dinosaur?

Yikes. But the worst offender? This:


That's right, Galimimus is now taller than Giganotosaurus, the dinosaur bigger than T. rex. One mistake is fine and hardly noticeable, but stuff like this is inexcusable.

The second flaw is unarguably what makes Dinosaurs a mediocre book. Pixel-Shack were in charge of making the digital illustrations. I'll be frank here: They're terrible. Simple as that. Where do I even start? I'll just let the art speak for itself:

(I remember one critic saying that Pixel-Shack has a habit of making their ceratopsians look like poo. Let that sink in for a moment.)

To be fair, there are some illustrations that I like. The full-page illustration of Carcharodontosaurus isn't so bad:

Dromaeosaurs undoubtedly got it the worst. Some, like Utahraptor, aren't even feathered at all:

Others lack primaries (note the bunny hands as well):

...And then a few are fully feathered, like Microraptor. It is truly staggering to see how bad someone can mess up dinosaurs. Apatosaurus has weird theropod-like teeth jutting out from its mouth. Dilophosaurus lacks the kink in its upper jaw. All of them have little detail put into them, almost as if they were unfinished.

  Worth mentioning is that Brusatte had no involvement in the art. To blame him would be grossly unfair. If you want to shake your fist angrily in the air, aim it at Pixel Shack. 


Dinosaurs could have been a decent book. Looking at just the writing, the inaccuracies are minor enough to not keep it from being good. Pixel Shack's horrid reconstructions are the downfall of this mega-sized book. It's some of the worst I've ever seen. Not to mention the size comparisons bother me to no end. If you want a book with the same information as Dinosaurs, get Keiron Pim's Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour. It has less art, but they at least resemble the dinosaurs they're supposed to be. For a better representation of Brusatte's work, watch T. rex Autopsy