I like your old stuff better than your new stuff #2

Vintage art, circa sometime in the mid 90’s. This is the second version of a piece depicting a predator chasing two Leaellynasaurs across a river. (Acrylic on Board)

The first version had an Abelisaur, back when some research indicated a closer tie between South American and Australian fauna in the Early Cretaceous, until Allosaurus seemed to be a safer bet. Now I’d need to do a version with an Australovenator , feathered of course!

I was already stubbornly feathering my Leaellynasaurs for cold conditions back then, despite no direct evidence of any insulation.

Apologies for the poor photography…Image

Not my best work.. and probably heading upwards of 15 years old! But fun to post during a busy patch.

Bellubrunnus Work in Progress Animation.

Apologies for the lack of updates, I’ve been really busy in the background on various projects. Here’s a work in progress animation of the Bellubrunnus painting.

In retrospect I should have spent more time on the composition, it really could have used another animal in there for example.

Anyway, enjoy another peek at my scattalogical process!

Bellubrunnus: Cute Fuzzy Death from Above

In the midst of painting my first pterosaur for Dave Hone he approached me asking if I could do an ‘emergency painting’ for another little critter who’s description was much closer to publication. Bellubrunnus rothgaengeri is a fossil of a juvenile pterosaur closely related to Rhamphorhynchus.

As usual it was hard to say no when Dave showed me the fossil. I’m not at the bleeding edge of pterosaur knowledge but I could recognize several interesting features I couldn’t recall seeing in other animals. The first thing to leap out was the forward curving wing tips, giving the wings quite a different shape from classic pterosaurs. Dave also pointed out that Bellubrunnus had more flexibility in its tail than related species. Be sure to check out Dave’s post on Bellubrunnus at the Musings which I’m sure covers more of the anatomical detail.

So I began sketching away.. actually this sketch was what I sent Dave as a reply when he asked if I wanted the task!

Which he liked. I then made a few more to try out positioning and posture, keeping in mind we needed to clearly show the important anatomical features, the shape of the wing and the flexibility in the tail. I took inspiration from bird photography for the next one.

I really liked it but Dave pulled the whole scientific thing, turns out it was primarily a piscivore(preyed on fish), curse you evidence! I certainly wanted to avoid the old skimming pterosaur trope, and Dave was quite happy with the first gestural sketch I’d done as it showed the features that differentiated Bella from its relatives, so we went with that as a general guide, though we needed to lose the tree as the fossil indicated a coastal habitat.

Fleshing out the initial anatomy went pretty well, though we hit a few snags with the orientation of the fingers and my new favorite body part the ‘uropatagium’. Yup, I spent much time on Skype stuttering trying to pronounce ‘uropatagium’… which is the broad skin between the legs. It’s a bizarre bit of anatomy that attaches to the outside toes which then fold back over the sole of the foot.

Anyway, after much too-ing and fro-ing we got the anatomy in a happy place and I could render it all up. Here’s the final piece.(click to embiggen)

I did joke that I was incapable of producing a painting without an approaching storm in the background.. seems to be holding true for now!

Spinosaurus Mum takes a break..

Well, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and kept throwing more time and energy into the Spinosaurus sketch! In some ways it touches back to the first paleo gig I did a few years ago for Tor Bertin who was reviewing Spinosaur material.

Back then I’d hoped to paint the living animal, but had to satisfied with doing some studies of the jaws instead.(I still had more fun than any sane person should have)

Recently inspired by the skeletal reconstruction by Scott Hartman with Andre Cau and Jamie Headden I thought I’d have a stab at painting the new look properly.

Hopefully I did the guys’ hard work some service, the new sail extends much further down the tail. The pose has no scientific verification, though I did opt for something different than the usual explosive action poses we usually find Spinosaurus in.(at least it isn’t beating up Tyrannosaurus!)

What can I say? It’s a mum, eating a snack on her break. With a cheeky Ornithocheirid pterosaur waiting for some scraps. You might have noticed the little guy has changed since the last post, well, I discovered there wasn’t really a way for it to be clinging on with the wings in that position. Here’s a before and after…

Listen to the Impartial…

A while back I pointed out the importance of listening to the scientist when making scientific illustration, they know their stuff, it’s their job. It’s also important to listen to a trusted friend or two, someone who brings a fresh pair of eyes, preferably they haven’t had contact with the artwork before.. You may not always like what they have to say, but if you’re making visual communication like art or illustration then having a small sample audience can give you an idea if your message is getting across. It’ll become clear very quickly when something doesn’t ‘read right’.

One of the benefits of marriage is you get a convenient audience/viewer/victim to show artwork to. I’m lucky in that Sanja, though now the best book keeper in Tasmania, used to do a fair bit of art herself. I’m also lucky that when it comes to saying stuff about my work, Sanja will just come out with something that strikes her as wrong, usually starting tactfully with “Is that supposed to be…”.

At that point I’ll usually roll my eyes in exasperation, knowing that Sanja has pointed out a critical aspect of the work that I’ve overlooked, knew I could have done better or just plain fluffed.

So with Sanja’s comment on my last post in mind I’ve adjusted the sail on the Spinosaur, which I knew wasn’t right but needed that impartial eye to sort drive it home. Here’s a little update to show the new angle, with the ‘undercoat’ exposed to see just how much the thing has shifted!

For those without a trusted feedback person, you can go far doing a few tricks that allow you to see your work in a different light.

Horizontal Flipping of the image often fools the brain into thinking it’s seeing something new. In software this is pretty easy, in the real world use a mirror to view your artwork(an old trick). It’s pretty amazing how composition issues suddenly appear!

Desaturation really helps sort out your values. I use an adjustment layer in Photoshop which I can just turn on and off to see a black and white version of my painting so I can make sure I’m using a full range of values.

The Old Squint Test, yup, narrow your eyes and look through your lashes. This obscures detail and makes the values and composition much more important to reading the image.

Take a step back. Yep, you can literally and figuratively get too close to what you’re doing. Getting stuck into the rewarding stuff like detail too early can lead to overlooking your main masses, values and composition. In software zoom out and make the image a thumbnail. Does it still ‘read’ well? Zooming out of the image allows you to assess perspective more effectively too.

Even better, take a step away from your monitor/canvas/paper, walk around the room, have a 30 minute break and come back. Does the image still work?

Experienced visual communicators will be pretty familiar with these techniques, and likely have even more to draw upon. Check out David Maas’ blog for a look at how a real pro dismembers an artwork in truly analytical fashion.

Now I just need a palaeontologist to come along and tell me the spine didn’t have that much flexibility…..

The Long Beach: a short animated film

It’s about time I released this film into the wilds of the internet.

Made by the talented Mauricio Milne-Jones and myself in 2006 and based on a short story and script by Helen van Rooijen (good on ya Mum!).

The original short story had no dialogue in it and I wanted to keep it that way to reach a wider audience and allow the narrative to come from the actions of the characters. It seemed more elegant that way.

It’s definitely one to relax and watch with a glass of red, weighing in at almost 12 minutes it’s a long short! While it’s not ‘arty’ by any stretch of the imagination it does ask you to put things together a bit.

It did ok at festivals for a long sentimental film that asks the audience to think a bit, if it were a short punchy comedy it would have done much better!

A big thanks to everyone who contributed, Alicia, Duncan, Matt D, Grace, Nando, Nina, the use of facilities at Blue Rocket Productions (and you David G!). Plus some helpful advice from Adam.

For those to whom like to know these things, made using 3DS Max, Lightwave and a bunch of Adobe products!

Oh, and if you see this broadcast on TV in the USA, let me know, I’d love to know who the distributor is so I can kick their backsides!

Sketchbook: Muttaburrasaurus, is it cold in here?… and what the?

One of the benefits of rendering in 3D/AE is it gives you a little time to scrawl on your notepad while the computer makes a pretty picture. So I scrawled a Muttaburrasaurus.

I’ve been gestating this idea for a very long time and hope it’ll be an updated version of this physical painting… uh, eventually. Why is he fluffy? The highly scientific and evidence based reason that “it’s cold”.

And what the heck is this? Not a dinosaur…….?

..and what has it got to do with steampunk monkeys?

Run Like a Champsosaurus!

It probably won’t stop you getting horribly consumed!

I seem to be a bit fixated on feeding large predators innocent bystanders at the moment.(please post psychological analysis in the comments section)

Champsosaurus is a new discovery for me. I was looking for a victim for the predator in my next painting and stumbled across this little guy. It belongs to a line of reptiles that developed parallel to crocodiles and looked a lot like them, likely with a similar lifestyle. Though they lacked the armored scutes and had much more lizard like skin. Choristodera experts feel free to critique his anatomy.

The freaky bulging skull with little eyes stuffed down the front and nostrils pushed all the way to the end of the snout had instant appeal.

I have to admit, I’m almost sorry that he’s about to become a meal……… almost.

Weapon: Tarbosaurus

It’s been a few months since I did a painting for Dave Hone’s paper on selective feeding behaviour of tyrannosaurs. When Dave first approached me I have to admit I was looking forward to painting some dinosaur carnage. Instead the paper was about a Tarbosaur delicately nipping stuff  it had found lying around, so I had to satisfy myself with a quick and dirty scrawling of reptilian mayhem….

Until now.

click for enbiggenment

I think the title is self explanatory.(must resist explaining) Sanja found this one a little uncomfortable to look at, especially the look in the poor Saurolphus’ eye….. not a good place to be.

When Dave’s paper was released much of the media jumped all over it as if it was all about Tyrannosaurs exclusively scavenging. So I thought I’d do my bit to tip the scale, at least artistically.

Luckily a bit of science came out just in time for my Tarbosaur reconstruction, with W. Scott Persons and Philip J. Currie detailing how Tyrannosaurs had some serious ‘junk in their trunk’ with massive tail muscles adding some serious er, horsepower(?) to therapod locomotion.

To the huge number of people who participated in last week’s competition, ‘What the heck is this?’ the truth is now revealed, it’s a big fat dino-callus. Dr. Mark Witton nailed it!

Mark wins a poster print from my new poster/art/print store over there ——->

The rest of you can buy things if you fall down and bump your head and suddenly feel like owning posters of prehistoric things.(it might happen)

While you recover, here’s a couple of full res images from the painting. (actually, you might have to click on them, they don’t fit in the blog!)

I’ll be back soon with some work in progress shots and making of stuff…..

Heavy Metal Archeopteryx: The Wall in the Wilderness (or ‘What I did on my Summer Vacation’)

Last week my family packed it’s bags, resuscitated the car and did a grand road trip of Tasmania. With the kids in tow we ended up visiting lots of places which had ‘world’ or ‘land’ in the title, including ‘Sea Horse World’, ‘World of Marbles’, ‘Platypus House’ and ‘Tasmazia’,(ok, those last two don’t, but really they should) most of which turned out to be pretty fun for all of us. Highlights included having Echidnas walk around our feet, $500 Marbles containing planets and black holes made of glass, Sea Dragons and more wildlife than you can poke with a stick.

We also took in some natural wonders, Cradle Mountain and the amazing Marakoopa Caves (with glow worms!)

For the dinophiles we visited Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery. It’s an impressive little museum with what might just be the most dinosaur skeletons per square meter in a single display anywhere. Packed into 20m x 30m are at least 7 skeletons, multiple skulls, fossilized eggs as well as several life sized reconstructions.(yes I was pathetically excited)

Last stop was the beautiful Lake St. Clair, isolated in World Heritage Reserve. Only a couple of kilometers down the road was an attraction which I admittedly hadn’t been all that interested in, but which Sanja was really keen to see: The Wall in the Wilderness.

The Wall is a 100m long relief sculpture by artist Greg Duncan, made from rare Huon Pine. Wood from Huon Pine trees is only allowed to be sourced from the forest floor as they can live 3000 years or more and grow incredibly slowly. The Wall depicts the history of the Tasmanian Central Highlands.

I’m not the biggest fan of that era but my lack of interest dissolved in the foyer where I was greeted by this:

Sculpture by Greg Duncan

I may have been shoving a little to get past Sanja to the door.

The Gallery houses not only ‘The Wall’ but also some of Greg’s other work. The sculptures themselves are close to photo real in their execution and depict wildlife and themes from the local region.

‘The Wall’ itself is a work in progress.

Yep, you pay good money to go and see an unfinished sculpture. The good news is that it’s worth every cent!

No part of ‘The Wall’ is untouched, and visitors get to see the roughed in, highly textured parts as well as those that are finished in Greg’s photo real style. The process itself was to me more interesting than seeing a completed piece.

Greg has been clever ‘monetizing’ the process of creating his colossal sculpture, and by inviting the public he’s also giving many people a chance to see how sculpture comes together.

It was a pretty cool cherry on top of our road trip.