Exposing the Occult Alchemy of Paleo-illustration!

Posted by Nima On Saturday, April 30, 2011 6 comments

This will be hopefully my last post on the Greg Paul situation for now. It's also my repository for the distillation of a LOT of twisted and confused thoughts I've been having on this subject recently... so bear with me if some of this doesn't make sense. I really need to get back to grinding out those dinosaurs. Especially those Forgotten Giants.

But one more issue remains to be raised - moving beyond the bitter rants of one man.

Practically, how will this fiasco affect paleo-art? Honestly, probably not that much. People are furious with Gregory S. Paul, but the majority of artists aren't going to change how they do things just to please him - largely because they weren't doing anything illegal in the first place! Those who genuinely want to rip him off will continue to do so. Those who felt bad for him now largely don't want anything to do with him. And even scientists who used his skeletal restorations as the basis for their own non-commercial published skeletals in peer reviewed journals, are seriously considering never consulting his work as a reference again.

And thus he will eventually implode and fade away into irrelevance rather than dominating the bizz.

In fact, in the same vein as what Zach Miller coined as his internet meme: "No Greg Paul skeletals were referenced for the production of this illustration", I have made a neat little logo to go with the meme which you can stick on ANY dinosaur artwork you produce which does not use any Greg Paul references (preferably high-quality accurate work than can be compared with Paul's in the same paragraph, but hey feel free to use it however you want, I'm not copyrighting this bad boy).

I took a random picture I found online of one of those cheesy old-school "NO MSG" neon signs you see in Chinese restaurants in most big cities in North America. Then I just messed around with it a little bit in MS Paint and Pixia. And voila - NO GSP!

That's right kids. Use this logo every time you want the world to know you didn't use any reference from GSP. But don't use GSP. Don't "steal" the magician's secrets!

So first let's finally evaluate Mr. Paul's claims and demands in a nutshell.

1. Plagiarism is horrible and should be punished, stop copying Greg Paul works for profit! VALID. Even so, I have never seen a single book or museum illustration that was a ripoff of Greg Paul's work - most are just lousy rehashes of either Jurassic Park dinosaurs or the same old tail-dragging slop by obscure Knight-clone painters from 50 years ago. He's exaggerating the pervasiveness of the problem.

2. Stop undercutting and devaluing paleoart! VALID, to an extent - new artists need to have complete information. And total newcomers to the industry can't realistically demand veteran wages.

3. Companies and museums, STOP gouging artists and running way over budget on excessively large projects, pleading poverty, etc. and if you want the Greg Paul look, hire Greg Paul for a fair price. VALID.

4. Artists, stop imitating the "Greg Paul look". IMPRACTICAL - just as some artists are Jurassic Park fans who only draw Horizon/JP-style dinosaurs, there are other artists who consider "Greg Paul" style the most appealing or accurate (Oyvind Padron/Dewlap/John Conway/etc.). That said, most artists are not making money from dinosaurs, their "Greg Paul look" isn't even competing on the market and is no threat to Greg Paul!

5. Stop using Greg Paul skeletals as references unless you're prepared to pay a fee for each skeletal! BOGUS. Many paleo-artists have already bought Paul's newest book, the Princeton Field Guide, just so that they can have a big source of reference skeletals for future projects! Now they have to pay extra for right to merely get creative ideas from them? Get real, Greg. Even the IRS doesn't tax the same thing twice.

6. Do your own skeletals if you need anatomical references for your dinosaur scenes! FAIL. There isn't even one artist who did skeletals for every single dinosaur before doing it in a scene, including Greg Paul. Everyone has used the schematics of others before. It's just how science works. You can't privatize anatomical knowledge - that's like the Gray's Anatomy publishers saying nobody can use their book as a reference to draw humans!

7. When making skeletals, go to the museums and take your own photos, measure every bone inch by inch - don't reference anyone else. INSANE. Nobody can afford to fly to every museum, measure it all by hand. Greg Paul himself doesn't do this most of the time - he actually copies and traces bones (surprise, surprise!) from other people's scale diagrams published in scientific papers. Here's proof, copy it and pass it around!

8. Don't use the same poses as Greg Paul in your skeletals (left foot pushing off, alternating strides in quadrupeds), invent your own pose or he will sue you! NONSENSE. Greg Paul can't sue anybody for using a pose, there are NO legal grounds for it -  they are natural poses that represent the natural extremes of limb movements in dinosaurs based on living animals! Good thing Scott Hartman isn't thinking of "owning" whatever new pose he decides to go with.

9. If you think all of the above is unreasonable, get out of paleo-art, you all suck anyway, leave it all to Greg Paul! IRRESPONSIBLE AND PARANOID. The Paleo-art field is in need of unity, not division. Nobody has a monopoly on poses, referencing, or science. A scientist should actually appreciate that others reference his schematics, rather than stealing the credit themselves! Some people never use Greg Paul skeletals as reference, this doesn't make them crappy painters. Others do, this doesn't make them frauds or plagiarizers.

Science versus art is not the issue here - art is depiction, it can involve science or not. Science however is not a vacuum or a sealed box. When you consider that Greg Paul skeletals have been published in his peer-reviewed scientific papers, it becomes impractical to privatize them when it comes to non-profit uses.

If I want to use a specific copyrighted Greg Paul image for commercial purposes I will be glad to cough up royalties. But we're not talking about that anymore. Now we're talking about general things like poses, and indirect anatomical referencing using Greg Paul as merely one reference out of many in original works by others (NOT Greg Paul reproductions). Many of which are non-commercial in nature in any case. Charging for similar poses? SUING for similar poses? Really?

Craig Dylke of ArtEvolved had this to say about Paul's legal threats:

As for the lawsuits I wouldn't worry about them. Talking to one of my lawyer buddies (yes I socialize with lawyers!) about the philosophical and legal implications of Paul's emails, he informed me this is CLEARLY a case of a desperate man with no legal leg to stand on. If he could successful sue people, he WOULD be sueing them instead of mass emailing vague and insane threats to scare people away from his industry. If he had a real case he'd have lawyers more than eager to launch the proceedings. 

Don't take the threats seriously (unless you really are plagiarizing and profiting from his work without permission). Drawing a dinosaur that just happens to look like it could be a Greg Paul dinosaur is not a crime, and good luck trying to prove to a judge and jury that have no clue about dinosaur anatomy that the thing was actually copied from a specific genuine Greg Paul work.

So the confusion is that Greg Paul seems to be unable to decide if skeletals are devices of science (i.e. freely available for educational and anatomical reference purposes that do NOT involve copying or reproduction of his work), or should we treat it as forbidden trade secrets like the recipe for Cola-Cola?

Consider that for 30 years Greg Paul has published his work and inspired a whole "school" of budding paleoartists, and even pro artists with radically different style STILL use his work as anatomical background reference rather than digging through libraries for scientific journals and papers (I'm not naming names, but most still do). Now suddenly all that free exchange of information and acknowledgments is to be stopped?

Greg Paul the scientific artist vs. Greg Paul the occult Alchemist!

If the skeletals are indeed forbidden trade secrets like the formulas of a Dark Ages alchemist (ignoring the fact that you can buy them in book form so they're not really secret at all) then there's basically a dead-end to their usefulness. People may buy and look at these books, but can't use the illustrations for reference... so it's just supposed to sit and look pretty on a shelf! Reminds me of people who buy a fancy gold-edged history book or even a holy text, and they never read it, it just sits on their shelf gathering dust. The tomes of medieval magicians and alchemists still exist and you can even buy English translations of them some places - but will anybody ever use them in our time, apart from the fringes?

I'd love to avoid that fate with the Princeton Field Guide. But as it stands, it WILL gather dust on my shelf.

I'm not afraid of getting sued for referencing Greg Paul - rather, I'm just so sick of this charade, of confusing indirect referencing for outright plagiarism, of condemning legal "homages" as immoral, and of all the antagonistic drama that hangs around the guy both on and off the DML, that I'm not going to use GSP skeletals as references any more. Not that I ever used them to any great degree, much less for any of my recent work. Even despite the fact that he gave me a huge pile of large-format skeletal printouts of his as a free gift in 1998, ostensibly to do with as I pleased, I'm not going to use those as references in my works either. But as a matter of moving past this mess, I'm going to make it clear that Greg Paul is now superfluous as far as referencing is concerned. I just don't want to be tangled up in his problems. Maybe the same isn't true from you point of view - that's just mine.

*I will post scans of GSP skeletals on this blog WHEN RELEVANT for purely educational purposes, as many science bloggers already do. Most of them are ones he gave me in person, but I'm not using these as reference. I can already draw my own full dinosaur scenes without references, thank you very much. Don't rip him off, but don't feel guilty about learning from his work either.

*I will NOT use them as primary or even secondary references for my skeletals, regardless of how the finished product ends up looking. I don't need tertiary references.

*I will not cave in and adopt a different pose. The pose is not GSP's property, and I already draw my dinosaurs facing the other way, with SHADED speculative bones, that's as far as I'm willing to go aside from adding my own logo to my skeletals (which I will do in the future).

*I will expose his current errors at every turn. They are there, and you do deserve to know WHAT they are before you go ahead with using Greg Paul's often over-simplified and stylized skeletals for reference.

You want source material for your drawings? Ask for papers on the DML or email any of the PhD's you are fans of. They're overall very nice people and won't bite your head off like Greg might. In fact, if I have what you're looking for (thanks to some very generous people I have a pretty good sized cache of dinosaur papers), I can email you the paper you want too. Then you can have ORIGINAL published reference figures that are not privatized or "trade secreted", and you no longer need Greg Paul's (sometimes erroneous) skeletals. And you won't be charged money for any of it!

Which brings us to the meaty point. Look here, Greg Paul's methodology has become one that suppresses the free flow of scientific information in the form of visual schematics of dinosaur anatomy. He's suppressing it by default because nobody's going to pay a fee for every species they need a skeletal reference for. Most artists are far from rich, they're struggling (ironically the same predicament Greg Paul is in, which led to his initial outburst of rage at being underbid and cheated). So they can't pay. And he doesn't have a wealthy duke as a patron. In the end this vast store of skeletal drawings becomes simply a form of forbidden occult knowledge like the formulas of medieval alchemists or the secret engineering methods of the master masons who built Europe's great cathedrals.

But they lived in a time when science was not freely accessible, and those with specialized skills guarded them jealously. They were paid by kings and nobility. There was no free access to information, no peer review, no scientific method. Any science that was known was tangled up in secret initiations and occult rites, and you had to pay a pretty high price to use it - and then, only through the medium of the trade-guilds or individuals that controlled this knowledge, who kept secret how they were able to do what they did. Discovering new methods of making strong alloys was simply a by-product of their search for the elixir of life, or the formula for making gold. And if the secret got out, the person who learned it could be arrested.

But wait.... that sounds oddly reminiscent of some things in Greg Paul's own portfolio. There are plenty of arcane inconsistencies whose symbolic meanings one can only guess at, and the ultimate reason for this is unknown. For example, his standards for illustrating a complete skeletal when much of the animal is not known. I'm talking skeletals with every bone drawn, nothing shaded to indicate it's speculative, but the real fossils are only a small fraction of the body. Why does he do that? How can we explain things like his Huabeisaurus? Only a handful of bones were listed in the description paper, yet there's a complete skeleton in the Princeton Field Guide. How about Pleurocoelus? That thing's far from complete, it's basically just fragments of juveniles, and yet we see a nearly complete skeletal from Greg Paul, with FOUR toe claws on each foot, no less! Yet other dinosaurs that are far more completely known (like Phuwiangosaurus and Isisaurus) are things he refuses to draw skeletals for, claiming that they're "too incomplete". Malawisaurus only got a skull pic from GSP, even though it's known from 90% of the skeleton, from at least 6 specimens!

So is the Circle completed? It the Great Work still uncapped and misunderstood? Is Greg Paul's sacred geometry only achieved by slashing up and re-arranging everything we thought we knew about holotypes and description papers, seemingly without rhyme or reason to the evidence? Does the alchemist simply lead us on a wild goose chase for consistent science, only to feed us a sometimes beautiful artifice that only mimics its appearance (or at least did back in 1995?) Are his constant changes to his mysteriously haunting schematics really anatomical updates, or simply a dark process of continual change to detect plagiarism and keep jealous demons banished and rival alchemists confused every few years? What are his methods for determining when to do a speculative full skeletal and when to leave parts blacked out? Is this some kind of hidden secret art, which one must be inducted into for years before becoming an Adept? I've heard some very conflicting figures and reasons for why he decides not to do skeletals for some very complete and taxonomically significant dinosaurs. Anyone who knows some details of what he at least claims are his standards is welcome to post it in the comments.


dsc said...

I don't believe that GSP meant it in this sense, regarding to the "skeletals as reference" part. (However, I've not read every word he wrote about that)

The problem is that there's much confusion with the meaning of the word "reference". Some people will use the world "reference" to mean something more like "model" -- akin to the photographic "reference" that illustrators such as Norman Rockwell and Gil Elvgren produced from their *models*, instead of having models posing for hours and multiple sessions every day.

This is a fairly common usage or understanding of the word "reference", a very literal copy. The more correct meaning of "reference", though, in my opinion, isn't that, but rather more like having blueprints and/or pictures of few cars and then drawing a racing scene, where the objects/cars have not been just copied and painted over, or made as a collage, but "3d rendered" from 2d schematics or "rotated" from photos, all fitting to a previously idealized composition.

I find hard to believe that GSP could really be arguing against that sort of use, just "reading" the graphic description of the physical measures of the animals and then applying it into a whole different picture.

Zach Armstrong said...

Uh...I didn't create the meme. Zach Miller did, we're two different people ;)

Traumador said...

dsc- Sadly Mr. Paul really does mean just looking at his Dinosaurs counts as a reference.

In my recent finale on the Paul emails I cover exactly what the man means and intends, and it is frankly kind of insane.


Nima said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nima said...

@ Zach Armstrong

Sorry man, I corrected it. I was kind of sleepy when I wrote that part ;) I probably made the error because I was also thinking of your pointing out a few months ago of GSP's bizarre convoluted standards for how much fossil material he needs to be able to restore a dinosaur. Was it 50% of the skeleton or 30% with hip material or something like that?

@ Traumador

Yeah, sadly GSP doesn't even want us looking at his dinosaurs for reference, even if our dinosaurs come out looking nothing like his.

Of course I haven't been looking at his dinosaurs for reference for a long time now, and I've been documenting how I've used other sources or my restorations because:

(1) Certain people have been maliciously calling me a GSP clone/copycat without any understanding of what the word means (seriously, check out Oyvind Padron's stuff. THAT is far closer to GSP's style and aesthetics than my work ever was).

(2) I'm mainly working on titanosaurs now, most of which GSP has never restored in any form (or has messed up their proportions as with Rapetosaurus and Huabeisaurus) and therefore it's up to me to figure out their true shapes for pretty much the first time ever in most cases.

My copy of the PFG is pretty much sitting on the shelf unopened for now. So if my dinosaurs in the future look anything like Greg Paul's, the fact that I'm not using him as reference AND that I'm documenting what I DID use for reference (original description papers) must drive him mad. He gave everyone his own tools in 1987, those of us that have learned the tools are now moving beyond the basics and going to surpass him, some have already done so.

Zach Armstrong said...

@Nima: No problem, just thought Zach Miller would like to get the credit rightfully due him :)

As for GSP's standards on skeletals: I don't think he's ever mentioned a specific percentage, but he did have this to say about the Princton Field Guide (from here, eighth paragraph down), "Malawisaurus and Phuwiangosaurus are less well known and in some cases lacking major shoulder and pelvic elements so I did not find them worth the production time available (I was particularly reluctant to do new skeletons when the pelvis is not known)."

Of course, this didn't stop him from doing Futalognkosaurus which was missing shoulder elements, or even Spinosaurus which has no shoulder or pelvic elements.

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