Monday, May 25, 2009

Questions about Pterosaurs #1

With the next fantastic gallery coming up in just over a month - the Pterosaurs, I am sure there are many artists out there (like me) unsure of the specifics of pterosaur anatomy and current scientific theory. I thought we'd like to start a series of posts that answer questions about pterosaurs, all with the hope of creating a more accurate and wicked reconstruction of these winged beasts!

I will start with a question I've been really curious about. Hopefully some of our members, as well as scientists-in-the-know, might help answer it - either in the comment section or in a new "answer" post.

The question is this: Where does the bottom of a pterosaur's wing attach to it's body?

If this fossil impression at the London Natural History Museum is accurate (and real?), then it looks like the bottom of the wing attaches on the Pteranodon's leg at about the knee. I have also seen many life-restorations of pterosaurs with the base of the wing connecting at the hips and others where it connects at the ankle! Which is correct?

Are these artistic interpretations based on any fossil evidence? Is there a difference between earlier and later pterosaurs, or between different groups?

As someone trying to create an accurate reconstruction of these amazing animals, we need to know how their wing attaches! Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

Photos were taken by me in 2002 at the Natural History Museum in London.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Charles R. Knight's Autobiography

ART Evolved is a blog about bringing the past to life, and Charles Knight is arguably one of the most influential artists in reconstructing the past. Until we begin writing biographies of palaeo-artists, check out the Open Source Paleontologist for a review of Knight's Autobiography.

I can't wait to read it!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Long Road to Failure

A long, long, long time ago, my buddy Will Baird (of the Dragon’s Tales) suggested collaborating on an interesting spec project: the alternate Permian, a place where the Permio-Triassic extinction never happened (or at least happened much slower) and non-mammalian synapsids came to rule the world instead of reptilian archosaurs. This idea intrigued me, but it also intimidated me—I knew virtually nothing about those critters. We focused first on developing a neodicynodont that we lovingly called the “walrodont” because it converged on walruses. Here’s the initial skeletal I did so long ago.

The walrodont went through more changes than any other creature in our bestiary, as I was never convinced it could be real. Many versions exist, but only a few survive. We also collaborated on some more neodicynodonts illustrating a host of semi-aquatic roles. These included the compact, big-headed hippodont; the lithe, long-toed desmodont; and the transitional form between those two, the sirenodont. You can see the desmodont and hippodont here. The sirenodont is in PDF form so I've that one out. It's not bad, let's say that.

We initially focused on a few other critters too, namely what the gorgonopsids would be doing. I suggested they would evolve into dog and bear roles, and this shaggy, amphicyonoid critter came out of that idea. Notice the prominent canines. Gorgons already have big ol’ canines, but I liked the idea that they would become hypertrophied in at least a few species. Big canines are a consistent theme in synapsid evolution.

Will said it was too furry (I agreed), and I thought the anatomy looked forced. I decided to make it sleeker and less furry, with an emphasis on pectoral musculature so the beastie could pin down its prey before delivering the death blow. This is the sketch that followed those new rules, along with a juvenile Dromaeosuchus, or sprint-o-croc, another Alt-Permian beastie. I realized that the “ursonopsid” (as we were calling it) looked more like a barbourofelid nimravid, so I started calling it the “barbouronopsid.”

We decided that this particular barbouronopsid would chase down the beach-loving desmodonts and sirenodonts, but what ate the walrodont? Well, how about a big marine hovasaur? Hovasaurs are basal diapsids with long, webbed feet and dorsoventrally expanded tails. I took an average-sized hovasaur and made it longer, and gave it orca colors because orcas are awesome. These would be the key players in the Art Evolved piece. I started with this sketch:

I used the power of Photoshop for the rest. This process went through several troubled stages. I went into this project with the goal of creating a piece without outlines, and while I succeeded in that effort, it’s clearly something I need to practice.

I modeled the landscape (OMG—context!) after a cliffside beach near my house. The final picture was supposed to have a little Euparkeria-type archosaur eating a shellfish, but there wasn’t really enough room. I have no idea what Permian vegetation looks like, but Will consulted me there, thus the giant fern-things on the top of the bluff, and the weird seaweed towers in the water. And look at those crinoids! I purposefully used big, exaggerated strokes on the crinoids. My goal was to make them look a bit “out of focus,” but because I don’t know how to use Photoshop, I don’t think that’s how it looks.

The water was modeled after Wind Waker. In fact, the whole goddamn piece was supposed to have a Wind Waker color scheme to it, but it just looks wierd and incomplete. So there you have it, folks: the long road to an EPIC FAIL. Definately not one of my best pieces, though I learned a lot by doing this, so that's...some consolation. I guess.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Synapsid Gallery

Welcome to...
Though we often picture modern reptiles as being primitive among vertebrates, this couldn't be further from the truth. The majority of reptiles we see living around us today are the highly diverged and specialized products of millions of years of evolution of the reptilian form. If one traces the reptile family tree back to its roots, you'd hardly recognize most of the earliest forms to claim membership in this group.
Among some of the strangest of these early reptiles were the Synapsids. Not only were they bizarre creatures compared to modern animals, but even more bizarre they are closest related to today's mammals rather than other reptiles.
At the same time, this is not to say that most of them are our direct ancestors. They are rather a major offshoot off the reptilian tree that branched out into an amazing array of diversity as the most successful land animals of their era, only to be devastated and cut down by major extinctions to a few lone twigs. One of these surviving twigs would eventually manage to sprout into a new branch of diversity, our own lineage the modern mammals.
The true heyday of the Synapsids was the Permian, in which they dominated nearly every terrestrial ecosystem and niche in the manner we are used to with dinosaurs or mammals. During this time they evolved into all shapes and sizes, ate plants and meat (or a combination of both), and conquered many environments for the first time by vertebrates.
Despite being less known then Dinosaurs, they were in every way as amazing (though very different and unique in their own ways!). They too evolved all manner of odd ornamentation ranging from sail backs, to elaborate horns and crests, small heads, and even the first ever sabre teeth. Though they would not match the colossal size of the Dinosaurs, these primitive "stem-mammals" would achieve sizes that match those of many of today's largest land animals, and were the first to ever reach such sizes.
If not for the combination of a number of devastating geologic processes and events at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago they may very well have flourished and prospered longer. However they would nearly be completely extinguished by the worst mass extinction of earth's history.

Despite this tragic end they are far from forgotten today. So come back with us, back 250 million or more years to once again witness our strange relatives...

Lobalopex mordax by Zach Miller

Caesids by Zach Miller

Moschops by James Robins

This is drawn from this angle to get a feeling for its peculiar sprawling stance and huge body. The only extant comparison of a creature approaching this size, but nothing like the bulk, would be the Komodo Dragon, which after all spends a lot of time resting its body on the ground.

Dicynodont QMF15.990 by James Robins

A reconstruction of the as yet un-named Dicynodont QMF15.990, from Cretaceous deposits in Queensland, Australia....yes Cretaceous.....!!!

Bathygnathus borealis by Steven Francis-Coombs
Here's what remains of Bathygnathus borealis, with an outline of its skull (speculative). The one and only specimen represents a sphenacodontid synapsid. It was originally described as the lower jaw, but it turned out later that it was part of the upper jaw. It was discovered on Prince Edward Island.

Sunset on the Karoo by Craig Dylke

A pack of Gorgonopsids settle in for the night, as twilight creeps over Permian South Africa 249 mya.

This picture was composed completely from 3D CG in the program Carrara. This scene gains much from being viewed in a larger version.
There will be "a making of" post about this piece appearing on ART Evolved soon.

Cotylorhynchus Romeri by Rachael Revelle

Whilst Cotylorhynchus could grow to 6 metres in length and weighed up to 2 tons it had a disproportionately small head.

Lycaenops ornatus by Sean Craven

The Xeno-Permian by Zach Miller
A look at a world where Synapsids didn't go extinct 250 million years ago...

Proto-Mammal Fallacy by Glendon Mellow

The Hunt By Nima Sassani
A pack of Inostrancevia take down a Scutosaurus.

Estemmenosuchus by Peter Bond

Gorgonopsid by Peter Bond

Dimetrodon milleri by Peter Bond

Dimetrodon milleri by Peter Bond

 Vananops brevirostris by David Tana

Varanops brevirostris, one of the last surviving pelycosaurs from the early Late Permian. 
Pen on paper, scanned, colored in Adobe Photoshop

Submissions for the Synapsid gallery will still be taken, but due to formatting issues caused by blogger, will be posted in buddles of five. So be sure to get yours in sooner then later to guranteed a spot in the first updates.

Our next gallery will be the flying reptiles, the Pterosaurs. Try to have your entry in by July 1st! Also be sure to "soar" by to check out the entries for this gallery...

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Minor Delay

The title of this post will give away the fact that this is not the Synapsid Gallery.

Due to the current lack of submissions (cough cough), I'm holding off putting up such a sparsely populated Time Capsule.

Many people have told me that they need more time, and that is perfectly fine. Afterall this is meant to be fun, and so the deadlines are meant more as a rough target, rather then a true cut off. So if you're midway through your creation, or for that matter been meaning to do one and putting it off, there is still time.

The main reason I'm delaying the post is the major formatting issues caused by adding pictures to an already existing post in blogger. Some have noted that the Ceratopsian gallery has many "problems" with its formatting. These were caused by repeated reentry into the post and adding more pictures. Sadly some of the glitches can not be removed (at least with my minimal html knowledge). I'm trying to prevent such a headache happening with this new gallery by an economy of uploads (the Ceratopsian had 10-12 waves of adding pictures).

Once I receive 10 entries for the Synapsid Gallery I will post it. So if you definitely want to be on the Gallery's initial launch please get your entry in soon. The good news is I'm only halfway to this goal so many of you can still make the cut, and if I get more then 5 around the time of posting they'll all be included. It's just a headache to reformat the whole thing due to single uploads.

Of course further pieces beyond these 10 will be added, but you may have to wait for other late entries to come in, as again I wish to try and keep the formatting issues on the final post to a minimum this time.

Thanks for your understanding, and a big thank you to those who've gotten their entries in! Also a preemptive thank to all of you about to send in their submissions (even if their late :P).