LIVE BLOGGING: Post #5: fern-covered hills

Posted by Nima On Tuesday, October 20, 2009 8 comments


Here is the next installment of my live blog on the sauropods of Dashanpu.

Basically I more or less completed the outlines of the whole Shunosaurus herd and drew some ferns and other foliage on the rolling hills behind them. The cool thing about using heavy "legal" texture paper is that is allows much better shading and "fog" techniques. These will be easier to spot in the final version (I'm never going back to cheap untextured copy paper again). I also corrected some minor details in the Omeisaurus (and I plan to add more of them). The rocks in the lake also got a facelift.

As for Marica's question on this being a miniature: it's an 8.5 x 11" sheet like most of my pieces here... but it's more of a "miniature" because I drew the dinosaurs from a far distance so they look small. On the paper, those Shunosaurus are barely bigger than a postage stamp! Usually I would go for more of a "close-up shot" but this time I wanted to go panoramic and capture the massive scale of the habitat these sauropods lived in. Sometimes it's about the overall scene just as much as the animals in it. Those super-tall tree trunks will be conifers soon.

Til next time ;)


Leo said...

Great work as usual.
One question: aren't those bellies a bit too 'slim'? Why don't you chose a more "barrel-like" design? In a front view like this one animals may appear as two-dimensional figures.


Nima said...

Thanks for the comment!

The belly of Omeisaurus was not exceptionally huge or wide. It was a rather slim sauropod, and the main specimen of O. tianfuensis is estimated to have weighed only about 8-10 tons (lighter than a large Diplodocus). Even its long and slender relative Mamenchisaurus had a bigger belly. These "euhelopodids" or "mamenchisaurs" were not a very bulky family of sauropods, and even though many of the larger species approached or exceeded Brachiosaurus in length, they had far smaller torsos, sometimes not much bigger than a large mammoth or straight-tusked elephant.

By comparison, Brachiosaurs were a lot more massive (but their deep bellies also give the illusion of having less width than they actually do), and giant Titanosaurs were the fattest of all (things like six-foot wide sacrals and twenty-foot wide rib cages were actually not that uncommon, and there are at least six gargantuan species known for having torsos that were probably almost as wide as they were long!)

Though the Omeisaurus in profile has a rather prominent belly for its kind, methinks.

Michael O. Erickson said...

Awesome! It's coming along very nicely.

I noticed on the first post of this extravaganza, you said "aside from Greg Paul, I don't know of a single artist who even comes close to doing these majestic creatures justice." Although you may have already seen it, I figured I might as well point out John Sibbick's Omeisaurus. A copy-paste ULR doesn't seem to work, but you can find it by going to his website, clicking on "Images for Hire", and then clicking "Dinosaurs". If you sort through the pages, it's the one titled "Omeisaurus and Huayangosaurus".

Nima said...

I've seen John Sibbick's illustration. And it doesn't do any damage to my previous statement about Greg Paul.

Sibbick's Omeisaurus does not look like an Omeisaurus. It could just as well be anything else. It's a plodding hulk in the same vein as Charles Knight's and Rudolph Zallinger's old paintings. Like both of them, it seems Sibbick is content to simply use older illustrations as reference rather than high-fidelity skeletals. Practically the entire skeleton of O. tianfuensis is known, and it doesn't look anything like the beast Sibbick drew.

So what are the errors there?

1. Crazy arched back like a Knight diplodocid or the "Sinclair Oil logo" dinosaur. Omeisaurus did not have such a strong arch, nor that infamous dip over the shoulders and in fact the skeleton itself is mounted incorrectly with the front torso rotated far too low (as with practically every other sauropod skeleton in China as of today).

2. It's too bulky. Whether or not you prefer Bakker to Paul, I doubt Bakker would have drawn something so ponderous. Even his fat Apatosaurs are nimble and active unlike this lumberer. The REAL Omeisaurus was the Jesse Owens of sauropods - slim, tall, and probably faster than most other creatures in its size class. Sibbick's interpretation is a plodding reptilian hulk with a gland disorder than can barely lift its tail off the ground (no offense to people with gland disorders - or tails for that matter). The neck is way too bulky (especially at the base) considering how slim and low-spined the actual vertebrae are!

3. And speaking of that tail, why is it the typical "brontosaurus" type we see in 1950s paintings and not a shorter, narrower one as the bones indicate? It also lacks a club, but that's still open for debating.

4. Leg proportions are totally off (not to mention 3x more flesh than the leg bones and cnemial crests even had room for!)

4. The hands are AWFUL. Just elephant hands with more fat and and some claws. No accuracy there at all. Sibbick lives in London (or near it, if I remember correctly). The British Museum has a diplodocus with the hands in correct "celery stalk" eusauropod/neosauropod position. Is it so hard to just go to the museum and take a look? Sibbick has been a professional artist for something like 30 years... which makes me wonder, has this guy actually bothered to look at mounted skeletons RECENTLY?

No offense to Sibbick or his fans, but even though he's a very talented and successful artist, he doesn't do justice to a LOT of dinosaurs. Not just Omeisaurus. I various images he's bulked up Apatosaurus past even titanosaur parameters, done Brachiosaurus with an almost semi-sprawling forelimb gate, put Kentrosaurus' already tiny arms in a FULL sprawl, and he even deletes fingers from ceratopsids! The Huayangosaurus in the picture also looks too big, but given the dismal proportions job on Omeisaurus, there's no way of telling if the Omeisaurus in the foreground is fully grown.

BTW I hope to have updates posted soon.

Michael O. Erickson said...

I admit Sibbick makes errors. And his Omeisaurus is no exception. However, I think some of what you pointed out is not quite fair.

I guess I'll start from the top.

"It's a plodding hulk in the same vein as Charles Knight's and Rudolph Zallinger's old paintings. Like both of them, it seems Sibbick is content to simply use older illustrations as reference rather than high-fidelity skeletals"

Wait a second! Are you saying that Charles Knight just "copied older illustrations" rather than using high-fidelity skeletals? Charles Knight NEVER copied anyone else's illustrations. ALL his pieces were ORIGINAL. As for not using high-fidelity skeletals as reference, Knight produced HIS OWN skeletal drawings based on mounts in the American Museum of Natural History - which were certainly considered "high-fidelity" in their day. He also made the effort to give his dinosaurs real animal anatomies and behaviors. If they are "plodding hulks", it's only because that's what the scientists of his day believed. He worked closely with H. F. Osborn, and so any errors present in his work are really Osborn's, not his.

And getting back to John Sibbick, he does sometimes produce his own high-fidelity skeletals.

Although not often enough, I'll admit.

"Omeisaurus did not have such a strong arch, nor that infamous dip over the shoulders and in fact the skeleton itself is mounted incorrectly with the front torso rotated far too low"

Perhaps Sibbick does not realize this. In which case the arched back present in his drawing simply reflects the mounted skeleton and it is not his fault.

"The hands are AWFUL. Just elephant hands with more fat and and some claws. No accuracy there at all."

The hands are too thick, yes, but can't you AT LEAST give him credit for giving the hands the correct "hollowed-out" region at the back? Tons of artists don't even do that.

"Sibbick lives in London (or near it, if I remember correctly). The British Museum has a diplodocus with the hands in correct 'celery stalk' eusauropod/neosauropod position. Is it so hard to just go to the museum and take a look?"

The hands also have three (or four, I forgot) claws on them. No accuracy there at all.

"done Brachiosaurus with an almost semi-sprawling forelimb gate"

That's because the Berlin mount used to have sprawled forelimbs. Sibbick apparently didn't realize that the skeleton was mounted incorrectly.

(BTW, don't you mean Giraffatitan?)

"put Kentrosaurus' already tiny arms in a FULL sprawl"

Same thing, he was innocently fallowing a well-known mounted skeleton (the one in Berlin).

I don't want to sound like some kind of crazed defender of John Sibbick, but I think we need to be fair here.

Nima said...

That's precisely the problem with doing dogmatically off of skeletons instead of asking questions and drawing your own conclusions.

It's a well-known fact that at any given time there are many museums with outdated mounts, while at the same time the latest published research PROVES they are outdated. Now either the museums have a low budget, or the curators can't get approval from the trustees to update the mounts, or perhaps even the curators and scientists are stodgy and hostile to change. The Smithsonian NMNH is notorious for this phenomenon, as I found out several times between 1996 and 2000.

Or, as in the base of the Berlin skeletons, the city was under communist control for the better part of half a century, and the Party didn't care to spend money on such 'revisionist bourgeois pursuits' - but million-dollar suits for top Stasi bureaucrats? That was FINE lol! Whatever the reason, there are a thousand things that can go wrong with a museum mount. Stubborn curators, badly trained staff, lack of funds, stuck-up officials and trustees... so any artist copying the mounts verbatim should keep that in mind.

Now if the mounts reflected current thinking at the time of the illustrations, that's one thing. Nobody's expecting Sibbick to be another Bakker and shake up the field - he's not a scientist after all. But they didn't reflect the latest research in the 80s and 90s which is when he did most of those illustrations. Not a single serious paleontologist of that time still restored tail-dragging, sprawling dinosaurs with the exception of Dale Russell and E.C. Olson and a few other holdouts (Ely Kish is a great example of a very talented artist who nevertheless produced some very inaccurate work, seemingly because of taking verbatim dictation from ONE very conservative paleontologist and not using a wide sample of the latest research).

As for the hands in Sibbick's piece, there is NO hollowed out region. All that's there is splayed digits and a seemingly double jointed wrist - which make the whole issue moot. There's a bit less padding on the hands than the feet, but it's sadly mostly still there. The bottom edge of the "hollow" is a straight line, not a crescent, so this is just a shadow, not a true concavity.

The London Diplodocus may have fake extra hand claws, but at least the metacarpals are in a somewhat erect position. Again, a paleo-artist should do his research to be able to discern this. Sibbick's Omeisaurus hands look more elephantine and less sauropod, and now that you mention it the flat lifted not-so-hollow area with the shadow also makes them look all-out plantigrade!

Nima said...

I am not in any way bashing Sibbick as an artist - indeed some of his scenes are downright breathtaking. Others - not so much. He has a flair for light and texture that's unique in paleo-art. It's just the anatomy that he usually gets wrong, it looks like he faithfully copies whatever's mounted in a museum and slapping piles of extra flesh on it rather than basing it on the latest research. Either that or he may really be copying Knight and Zallinger (you are right about those two doing their own research and it being new for the time, but according to Greg Paul they both just painted largely from imagination and didn't consider skeletals that important - the same with Zdnek Burian).

As for Omeisaurus, in China the latest research often STILL gets the posture wrong, so until that gets fixed, they'll be grinding out more of the same old distended Sinclair Oil sauropod mounts.

Granted that, if he wants accuracy he should at least update his old restorations instead of offering the same old ones for hire. My point is his version does not even compare to Greg Paul's in anatomical accuracy, and I believe artists should at least do SOME research before putting pencil to paper besides just copying Knight, Burian, and some outdated mounts.

Then there are some artists that - pardon the expression - just don't seem to get it, and don't even get basic proportions and poses right. Many of these guys frankly make Sibbick look like a modern-day Michelangelo, and don't even consult with paleontologists or take inference from NEW dino art, let alone do independent research - Josef Moravec is probably the most popular example. Even his newest stuff is straight out of Burian and Knight, which in the 21st century is rather sad. Almost as if Bakker, Paul, and all the research and re-restoration of the last 35 years had never happened at all.

And I know you're not a die-hard defender of Sibbick, but to answer your original question (or was it one?), I do not think Sibbick's version does justice to Omeisaurus. So I stand by my original statement until somebody besides Greg Paul produces some really high-fidelity Omeisaurus art that's actually accessible.

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