Ceratopsian Madness!

Posted by Nima On Monday, March 23, 2009 25 comments

Great things come in twos - and so following the completion of the Pachyrhinosaurus, I was elated to find out that not only was Prehistoric Times magazine asking for artwork for its upcoming Styracosaurus edition (issue #89), but also that the ArtEvolved blog had a Ceratopsian gallery! And this time Styracosaurus was definitely looking like the most likely pick to be the star attraction.

There was only one problem - NOBODY on the internet seemed to be able to draw it right. (Well ALMOST nobody - I'll admit I didn't see Angie's lovely painting of Styracosaurus when I was working on my own restoration of this amazing beast.)

There are two good skulls of this bad boy known - one is the HUGE type specimen, Styracosaurus albertensis, shown below left. The other one is the "Styracosaurus parksi" specimen, a smaller skull from a complete skeleton mounted at the AMNH (below right).

I used both of these skulls for reference, though I planned to make my version more like the S. albertensis skull at left (despite the reckless revisionism of some in the field, I still consider the two to be separate species due to major variations in the frill openings [fenestrae for all you formal nitpickers out there] and the frill spikes.) Notice that the type specimen has the outer four spikes fused into pairs, joined for part of their length. This trait is somewhat weaker in the S.parksi skull, but regardless, it is often totally overlooked.

But there's one big problem with the type specimen on the left - it's badly crushed. And many artists unfortunately tend to restore the live animal the same way - with a flattened shovel-like head and a drooping frill on the same angular as the front half of the face. This - as we can tell from the S.parksi specimen and MANY other uncrushed skulls from other ceratopsian genera - is NOT how the animal should have appeared in life (it also would have limited the creature's jaw-opening ability more than is realistic, but that's another issue for another post). In REAL LIFE, the frill would have pointed a bit more upwards relative to the snout.

LEFT: an outdated (and rather ugly) restoration of Styracosaurus based on the crushed skull, with the incline of the snout and frill shown in red along the skull roof line and the nostril line. Also, notice how the dino is straining to cover its back with that frill like a turtle retracting its head into its shell. Yet the very fact that the frill was mostly filled with soft tissue made it useless as armor - it was primarily a display device! I doubt the animal could even hold its neck in such a strained position. The artist is a "C. Douglas", a name which does not ring any bells. Sadly, most dinosaur books show Styracosaurus in a similar "duck-and-cover" position.

RIGHT: a much better (and newer) restoration of Styracosaurus by Greg Paul (circa 1988). The frill is shown in its live (un-crushed) state, where it has nearly a 45-degree difference with the angle of the snout; and the neck is no longer crouched back, but held out straight as it should be. The frill is held high, and the snout is lowered - the ideal NATURAL galloping/charging position. Also note the fused bases (circled) of the outer two spikes on either side of the head. Most illustrations of Styracosaurus (and by most, I mean over 99%) leave out this MAJOR feature. If you're drawing S. parksi, this isn't as big of an issue, but we're talking about the type species, where it IS.

You might also notice the sprawling (and thus dislocated) arms in the old restoration on the left, but it goes without saying that such an error isn't even debatable.

So here we got something interesting - To draw a DECENT Styracosaurus, you got 3 rules:

1. The frill is angled upward from the incline of the snout (as much as 45 degrees!)
2. The outer spikes are fused at the base into pairs
3. No sprawl (duh!)

For the actual drawing, I wanted a complete background - all the trees, rocks, etc. that one might expect from the Late Cretaceous. That means both conifers and angiosperms. And the angiosperms, based on fossils, were small, not much more than a foot (30 cm) in diameter. I also put lots of leaf litter on the ground and pebbles in the river. I wanted this place to look like there were DECADES of deciduous leaf shedding and post-flood erosion already there. Then there was the icing on the cake - a river simulating the effect of some very clear, cool water. This was probably the trickiest and most tedious part, and made drawing the dinosaurs look effortless.

I also initially went for a fog effect and light shading (but later I decided to make things darker and fill up the foggy spaces with more plants and Styracosaurus). I decided to make the outer spikes slightly less fused than Greg Paul's version (some of the compression of the spikes in the type specimen is due to vertical crushing of the entire frill, but they are still fused at the base, so I took that into account).

I decided not to add any crocodiles or pterosaurs here - the scene already seemed crowded without them. I also debated whether to put in a predator (most likely an Albertosaurus/Gorgosaurus). But I figured that since Greg Paul had already used that idea TWICE, I wanted to keep this picture original and simple. So there is no predator in the drawing, the assumption being that the predator is YOU. That's right, the alpha male of the herd is pointing his nose horn straight at you (I gave him a pretty intense frill pattern beyond the standard eyespots you see in most new restorations of Styracosaurus).

And yes, I said alpha male - shamelessly at that ;) I don't see any reason to assume that ceratopsians HAD to have a matriarchal herd structure like elephants or other big herbivores today. There is really no one universal social structure among all species of birds today, and the same was likely true of dinosaurs. And in the absence of enough specimens to prove sexual dimorphism in Styracosaurus bone beds, my guess is just as good as anyone else's.

To up the realism a bit more, I added some babies, and some fish in the river. Oh yeah, and some annoyingly meticulous eraser sunbeams and splash effects.

Whew! So here AT LAST, for your viewing pleasure, is my Styracosaurus herd.

This will also be published in Prehistoric Times, so keep an eye out for issue #89!

And here's a close-up shot.

In the Beginning...

Posted by Nima On Sunday, March 22, 2009 3 comments

The beginning... of this ambitious enterprise... in that art which has proven not just hard to master, but much harder to master WELL.

Welcome to the realm of the Paleo King! This is my official blog for all my dinosaur and paleo-art related ideas, thoughts, and random rants. And to start it all off...

Here's my first drawing for the year of 2009.It's a Pachyrhinosaurus. And no, I wasn't satisfied with the old-school lump-nosed version based on the few largely reconstructed skulls that exist. So I restored this beast with a massive cluster of horns that were anchored onto the lump. Now THIS is badass. The idea has been around for a few years; the Royal (how appropriate!) Tyrell museum has a couple of statues of Pachyrhinosaurus outdoors, that have this same crazy horn configuration.

Sculpture by Brian Cooley, courtesy Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Project

One thing's for sure - any predator would NOT want to come anywhere near those horns.

I always liked galloping poses for horned dinosaurs, and even though most scientists agree that they could gallop, there are VERY few good illustrations of galloping ceratopsians. Plus some museums still have their ceratopsian skeletons in that outdated sprawling-arm pose (seriously guys, it can cost maybe $300 max to weld a new frame and remount the bones. Don't tell me that no museum has that in their trustee funds...) So here I took things a step further, and had this galloping Pachyrhinosaurus practically in the air.

Pachyrhinosaurus was the last in a long line of short-frilled ceratopsians known as Centrosaurines. This sub-family included earlier forms like Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus, though Pachyrhinosaurus itself probably evolved from Achelousaurus, which in turn evolved from Einiosaurus.... They lost the traditional nose horn of their ancestors and compressed it into a massive bony boss which may have supported far thicker horns.

This particular dinosaur is one of the Pipestone Creek specimens. The species is Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai. Here's a pic of the actual skeleton.

Funny thing is, I actually drew this guy once before, as the old hornless version back in 1999 - pointy funnybones and all. Yeah, we've come a LOOOONG way since then.

The "lump" or "boss" was actually a pretty complex structure that covered not just the nose, but also the forehead just above the eyes. Here I drew it as a sort of boxy battering ram. The wrinkled front part of the boss was the most fun - all organic and disturbingly wrinkled and grooved as it ballooned into the huge brick on the forehead. And of course we have the obligatory cycads and conifer tree!

And don't ask why the hands are missing the 5th finger, the fourth finger is hooved, or why the bottom of the face looks squashed. When I drew them I was in middle school and I had incredibly CRAPPY book illustrations to use for reference. All in all I'd say it was great for its time, but once I saw the work of Gregory Paul, David Peters, and many other professional artists (especially the skeletals!), I was a bit embarrassed - it was very easy to figure out where I'd gone wrong.

Problem fixed. The new drawing at the top of this post takes into account all of these details. I made sure of it ;)

So welcome to my blog and the Paleo Kingdom. And prepare to be stunned :)

P.S. - don't forget to check out my new site, HERE.