Sauropods and Storms

Posted by Nima On Saturday, May 8, 2010 34 comments

Greetings Paleo Fans! Last few weeks have been a bit slow, but the news of the eruption in Iceland and the insane economic collapse in Greece jolted just about everything I was thinking of... where was I again?

Well, in case you haven't noticed yet, ArtEvolved is getting a revamp! It's actually been an ongoing process, but now the title banner is also up for some radical changes, and we're getting ready to do several series of new posts on all aspects of paleo-art, the do's and don'ts, the importance of imagination and style to mesh with the science, and even the philosophy behind paleo-art iteslf! If you thought it was all about throwing some dinosaurs together with some trees and volcanoes (LMAO), prepare to be blown away!

With that said, there's also been an interesting array of developments here at the Paleo Kingdom....

...including the FIRST EVER life restoration of Hudiesaurus sinojapanorum, the mysterious "King of Jurassic China".

Wait a second... you've never heard of Hudiesaurus? Well you're not alone. This giant mamenchisaurid is one of China's most mysterious dinosaurs, and this only adds to the mystique. We've all heard of those one-hit-wonders that dominate the pop charts and ride the wave of public hysteria for a few weeks only to fade away immediately afterward. This little-known giant is what you might call a one-bone-wonder.

That's right. It's only known from one bone. A dorsal vertebra to be exact, probably the animal's first dorsal.

A dinosaur is forever. Well, not quite. Maybe for some of us.

Well that's precious little to base a new species on, let alone a new genus, but it was different enough from previously known mamenchisaurs that Dong Zhiming, China's leading sauropod paleontologist, classified it as a separate genus from the already over-crowded taxon Mamenchisaurus in 1997.

There are also a few other remains attributed to Hudiesaurus - mainly an arm and some teeth from a smaller individual, though these were found quite far away from the vertebra and there's no proof that they belonged to another Hudiesaurus. In all likelihood these may just be the remains of an unrelated sauropod that happened to get buried in the same formation.

Estimating the size of Hudiesaurus presents a notoriously difficult challenge. Even with better-known (and larger) behemoths like Argentinosaurus, where most of the dorsal vertebrae and a good portion of the sacrum are known, size estimates vary wildly. You have huge estimates like Greg Paul's (which probably inspired the 120-foot long museum reconstruction in Atlanta, Georgia), and much smaller ones like Ken Carpenter's, which is basically a blown-up Saltasaurus clone. There are literally hundreds of variables that could be changed in the animal's appearance and it would be hard to say "this one is the most accurate". Now imagine pulling that off with just one bone. Fortunately, the Hudiesaurus dorsal does show some very close similarities with Mamenchisaurus (which is known from nearly complete remains), and it's fairly reasonable to assume that the two animals had the same basic super-neckalicious shape, so the overall proportions are not that hard to calculate - unlike the case of Argentinosaurus, where NONE of its close relatives are known from anything even approaching a complete skeleton.

 Nice, but could you estimate the size and shape of a dinosaur using just this?

Though there have been several controversies surrounding the size of Hudiesaurus, it's reasonable to assume that it got a good bit larger than most species of Mamenchisaurus, reaching perhaps 100 feet (30m) rather than the 70-something foot range typical of most Mamenchisaurus specimens. It still probably didn't exceed 20 tons, as most mamenchisaurs were basically compact bodies with crazy-long necks. But what a neck it must have had...

Here's the first concept, darkened to enhance visibility:

It's a bit of unintentional "what if" regarding that smaller specimen: a mother Hudiesaurus with a teenager. It's a bit ironic considering mother's day is practically here. Here they are surveying the landscape from a cliff in a Lion King-ish scene - which normally would seem WAY overdone, but in this case I made a tasteful exception ;)

Next there came some experimentation with the patterns:

Stripes or spots alone seem pretty bland in most cases, but together they are one killer combination.

It quickly turned out that without a dramatic background this piece would be a bit bland, most of the area is background anyway, and most of that is the sky. You know what that means... clouds, and lots of 'em!

Arrgh.... the pixels.... they buuurn!

Okay, now perhaps those are a bit too crazy for reality TV. There is a storm approaching, almost volcanic in its fury. Every tree was drawn individually, that's a whole forest-covered river basin down there. This is the last calm before the storm, these dinosaurs have less than half an hour to get out of the way before disaster strikes, and the few pterosaurs still flying through the area are noticeably nervous. Now for the fun part... don't you just love digital editing software!

That's more like it. A lot less grainyness in the sky, courtesy of the miracle we call the "blur" button. I don't do a lot of digital manipulation in most of my pencil drawings, but this one was was practically screaming to get the "wash" treatment.The clouds look more dynamic and have more of that realistic fuzzy look to them.

Now run for your lives, don't get trapped, zapped, drowned and fossilized! For at least one Hudiesaurus, it was indeed too late ;)