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Re: Notes on scientifically comparative paleoposes
This has been a great discussion to follow. I have a few points to add.
1) When Mr. Paul published Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, and we all
got to see his reconstructions of Velociraptor (fig. 1-3) and T. rex (fig.
1-2), we all got it. More than anyone else, Mr. Paul brought these animals
to life as running, kicking, vital animals, not as awkward relics. The
standard poses we've been discussing were a big part of that, as he
researched how these animals would appear in high velocity runs.
No one should forget or attempt to diminish his contribution to our field,
it is singular and it was revolutionary. We all owe him a huge debt.
I would urge other paleoartists not to copy him.
2) I believe that all of us paleoartists would do best to think of our
careers in terms of making a contribution. I think we should follow Mr.
Paul's example - examine and measure the fossils in person, research the
anatomy, motion, and behavior of living animals (especially archosaurs) in
depth, research the paleoenvironments that the taxa in question inhabited,
research and master evolutionary theory, and then come up with novel
We can truly honor our heroes such as Mr. Paul or Charles Knight, not by
doing work that looks like theirs or follows their conventions, but by
striving to do work as original as theirs is. Of course few of us will
succeed, but there is no other way to make a permanent contribution to the
I think it would be better to study and work on one fossil for your whole
life and really master it than to draw a thousand fossils you?ve never
seen in person.
3) My understanding of Mr. Paul?s process is that he draws elevations ?
side views of the skeletons with the sagittal plane perfectly
perpendicular to the viewer?s line of sight - and sometimes dorsal views
and anterior views as well. The point of this is to eliminate the
distortions inherent in perspective drawing. Each bone is drawn to the
same scale, so the proportions can be compared and trusted.
His process is a brilliant innovation.
Mr. Paul?s process is so obviously superior that the reader may forget
that no three - dimensional object can be converted into a flat drawing
without distortions. Just as quick examples, the femurs do not lie
perfectly in a parasagittal plane and, thus, they must be foreshortened
even in an elevation view. The compound curvature of a dromaeosaur pubis
as it widens distally to form a pubic apron also cannot really be
appreciated in elevation.
Thus, in my experience, the only way to produce a representation that is
free of any distortion is to sculpt it. Dinosaurs, after all, were three -
dimensional. The resulting maquette can be photographed and/or drawn in
various positions for use in reconstruction drawings.
Consider Velociraptor. Mr. Pauls? elevation skeleton drawing (Predatory
Dinosaurs of the World pg. 363) gives us the gestalt of the animal in one
compelling image. On the other hand, anyone who has read ?Important
features of the dromaeosaurid skeleton? I and II (Norell, Mark A.;
Makovicky, Peter J. (1997). "Important features of the dromaeosaur
skeleton: information from a new specimen". American Museum Novitates
3215: 1?28. , Norell, Mark A.; Makovicky, Peter J. (1999). "Important
features of the dromaeosaurid skeleton II: information from newly
collected specimens of Velociraptor mongoliensis". American Museum
Novitates 3282: 1?45.) has received dozens of insights about the anatomy
by viewing photographs of the features form a variety of angles and
having them described in the text. The amount of information in the latter
is actually overwhelming, but I have sculpted entire dromaeosaur
skeletons, nailing down one feature after another as I worked, and I am
confident that I can trust the resulting sculptures.
The Norell papers also present evidence that Velociraptor?s tail was
flexible, at least in swishing laterally, and not rigid as Ostrom and Paul
have represented it. I have found that this information is not widely
known among paleoartists.
4) In my own career my main goal is to reconstruct extinct animals as
living organisms imbedded in their ecosystems. I read everything I can get
on tinamous and ratites, flightless birds, bird fossils, crocodilian
anatomy and zoology, and, thanks to the dml, I read every new paper on
maniraptorans. I?ve studied the ecology of birds in monsoonal climates,
the ecology of gliding animals, etc. I?ve attempted to understand the
rules regarding feather length vs. cervical column length in determining
whether living birds have long, slender, necks like a heron or fluffy
tennis ball necks like a sparrow or parrot.
None of that has much to do with whether the left or right foot is off the
ground or not.
There is so much new fossil information out there. Let?s get out there and
reconstruct the fossils as living organisms. I say we should be copying
ratites and shoe ? billed storks by sketching at the zoo. We should not be
copying our hero Gregory S. Paul.
Senior Principal Preparator
Department of Exhibition
American Museum of Natural History
81st Street at Central Park West
212 496 3544