Mike gets a shot of a sauropod sacrum in the AMNH basement.

…with sauropod bones!

Lots of basements have them. Some basements have had them for decades, and other basements have been newly constructed to house them. So you can take advantage of that retro chic while taking your basement into the 21st century!

What the heck am I talking about?

Matt ponders the mysteries of evolution in the AMNH basement.

One of the nifty features of WordPress is that you can track the search terms that people are using to find your blog. After Mike put up his “Suboptimal location of Mamenchisaurus” post, we noticed that one of the top search terms bringing people to SV-POW! was ‘basement’. Yeah, that’s right, ‘basement’. In fact, ‘basement’ is the 5th highest search term of all time that has brought people to SV-POW! And that’s not unusual–in fact, of the top 5 search terms bringing people here, only one is sauropod-related (Brachiosaurus, at number 2).

As of this posting, here are the Top 10 non-sauropod search terms of all time that have led people to SV-POW!, listed by rank, and including the number of hits in parentheses:

1. rabbit (18,235)

3. leopard seal (12,797) — this explains why “Sorting out Cetiosaurus nomenclature”, which even Mike admits is the most boring topic we’ve ever covered here, is the 11th most popular post of all time on this blog!

4. flamingo (10,974)

5. basement (9743)

12. twinkie (3434)

14. flamingos (3102) — double dipping for the “Necks lie” post!

20. pig skull (2099)

21. savannah monitor (2078)

22. varanus exanthematicus (1936) — double dipping for “Four complete, articulated, extant sauropod skeletons–yes, really!”

24. shish kebab (1660) — double dipping for “Sauropods were corn-on-the-cob, not shish kebabs”.

Mike and Darren discover a new dwarf sauropod in the basement at Oxford.

We’re apparently getting a lot of hits from people who want to remodel their basements. I’m all for that (the remodeling, and the extra hits), so I’m embracing it. You want basements, we got ‘em. We’ll drown you in pictures of sauropod vertebrae in basements. Did I say basement? Basement, basement, basement!

(Why am I pushing basement and not rabbit, flamingo, or leopard seal? Partly because basement used to be our number 1 search term and I want to see its fortunes rise again. Partly because those other things are at least biological, and it cracks me up to have a common architectural term bringing people to the blog. And partly because I want to upstage John and his freezers.)

Basement Renovation Instructions

This short guide will help you with your project.

Is your basement in a museum?

If YES, then:

1. Fill it with sauropod vertebrae.

2. Call us.

If NO, then:

1. Fill it with anything you like except sauropod vertebrae.

2. Support your local museum.

Don’t forget: basement!

How can it be?

IMG_0517

All credit to the Yale Peabody Museum for having the courage to display this historically important object in their public gallery instead of hiding it in a basement. It’s the skull from the original mount of the Brontosaurus (= Apatosaurus) excelsus holotype YPM 1980.

Needless to say, it bears no resemblance at all to the actual skull of Apatosaurus, and the one they now have on the mount is much, much better:

IMG_0500-skull

But how did the YPM people ever arrive at this double-plus-ugly skull above? We see a similar skull in Marsh’s (1891) second attempt at restoring the skeleton of Brontosaurus:

Marsh1891-plateXVI-Apatosaurus-skull

But even this is not as ugly and Just Plain Wrong as the physical model they made. (Marsh’s first restoration of the Brontosaurus skeleton, in 1893, had a much less clear skull.)

So how did the YPM come to make such a monstrosity? What was it based on? Tune in next time for the surprising details!

Bizarrely, we’ve never really featured the  YPM 1980 mount here on SV-POW! — we’ve often shown individual bones, but the mounted skeleton appears only in the background of the much less impressive Morosaurus (= Camarasaurus) lentus mount. We’ll fix that real soon.

 

A while back, Matt mentioned some of the surprising search-terms that lead people to SV-POW!. For reasons that will shortly become clear, I was checking out what’s being searched for now, and I thought I may as well issue this update. Here are the all-time top ten:

Search Views
brachiosaurus 18,484
rabbit 18,274
leopard seal 13,103
basement 12,507
flamingo 12,363
sauroposeidon 11,821
amphicoelias fragillimus 9,841
svpow 9,708
diplodocus 7,203
sv pow 7,053

It’s nice to see good old Brachiosaurus up there at the top: a proper sauropod, and possibly my favourite (not counting the two that I’ve named myself, and which I have an obvious special affection for). But then you have to drop down to number six before you hit another sauropod (Sauroposeidon). Those top two sauropods are reasonable: we’ve written a lot about them here. The third top sauropod is Amphicoelias fragillimus, which is more surprising as we’ve not written that much about it. I guess it just reflects a lot of interest in that beast. Boring old Diplodocus is the fourth and last sauropod in the top ten. The next few are Argentinosaurus (#11), Amphicoelias (#12), Giraffatitan (#16). Apatosaurus (#18)

Unsurprisingly, SV-POW! itself crops up twice in the top ten: once as “svpow” (#8) and once as “sv pow” (#10). It’s also #15 as “sv-pow”.

Meanwhile, four of the top five slots are still held by terms that have nothing to do with sauropods. “Rabbit” can only be due to this post on sauropod neck posture; “Leopard seal” is due to the inclusion of a single sensational (but off-topic) photo in a post on Cetiosaurus nomenclature. “Basement” is another one-hit wonder, thanks to a poorly located Mamenchisaurus cast. “Flamingo” is more of a mystery. I think it must be due to the passing flamingo in the classic Necks Lie post.

Other oddities include “twinkie” at #17, “shish kebab” at #25, “corn” at #34, “corn dog” at #42 and “corn on the cob” at #77 (probably all due to the same post on sauropod neck fatness). Rather sadly, “big ass” comes in at #89. I doubt that the 602 people who came here by searching for that found what they were looking for.

Plateosaurus is pathetic

January 16, 2013

DSCN5593-giraffatitan-vs-plateosaurus

This photograph is of what I consider the closest thing to the Platonic Ideal sauropod vertebra: it’s the eighth cervical of our old friend the Giraffatitan brancai paralectotype MB.R.2181. (previously known as “Brachiosaurusbrancai HM S II — yes, it’s changed genus and specimen number, both recently, but independently.)

And if you look very carefully, down at the bottom, you can see the same vertebra, C8, of the prosauropod Plateosaurus. Pfft.

This photo was taken down in the basement of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, on the same 2008 trip where Matt took the “Mike in Love” photo from two days ago. For anyone who didn’t recognise the specific vertebra I was in love with in that picture, shame on you! It is of course our old friend the ?8th dorsal vertebra of the same specimen, which we’ve discussed in detail here on account of its unique spinoparapophyseal laminae, its unexpectedly missing infradiapophyseal lamina and its bizarre perforate anterior centroparapophyseal laminae.

Mike in love

January 14, 2013

DSCN5581-mike-in-love

Matt took this photo in the basement of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, back in 2008 when we were there as part of the field-trip associated with the Bonn sauropod conference.

Hopefully all you long-time SV-POW! readers will recognise the specific vertebra that I’m in love with.

As you’ll know from all the recent AMNH basement (and YPM gallery) photos, Matt and I spent last week in New York (with a day-trip to New Haven). The week immediately before that, I spent in Boston with Index Data, my day-job employers. Both weeks were fantastic — lots of fun and very productive. But they did mean that between the scheduled activities and getting a big manuscript finally submitted, I’ve been very much out of touch, and I’m only now catching up with what’s happened in The Rest Of The World while I’ve been sequestered in various basements photographing sauropod vertebrae.

Matt measuring the width across the preacetabular lobes of the fused ilia on the sacrum of the referred “Morosaurus” sp. specimen, AMNH 690, illustrated by Osborn (1094: fig 2A-E). Behold the wonder that is the Big Bone Room.

The two big events in the Open Access world while I was away were the launch of PeerJ and the release of the Finch Report. I’ll write about PeerJ in future, but today I want to say a few words on the Finch Report. I’ve deliberately not read anyone else’s coverage of the report yet, in the hope of forming an uninfluenced perspective. I’ll be very interested, once I’ve finished writing this, to see what people like Cameron Neylon, Stephen Curry and Peter Murray-Rust have said about it.

What is the Finch Report, you may ask? The introduction explains:

The report recommends actions which can be taken in the UK which would help to promote much greater and faster access, while recognising that research and publications are international. It envisages that several different channels for communicating research results will remain important over the next few years, but recommends a clear policy direction in the UK towards support for open access publishing.

So the first point to make is that it’s very good news about the overall direction. In fact, it would be easy to overlook this. The swing that’s happened over the last six months has been slow enough to miss, but the cumulative effect of myriad small shifts has been enormous: where there used to be a lot of skepticsm about open access, pretty much everyone is now accepting that it’s inevitable. (See this compilation of quotes from US congressmen, UK government ministers, publishers, editors and professors.) The questions now are about what form ubiquitous open access will take, not whether it’s coming. It is.

But there’s an oddity in that introduction which is a harbinger of something that’s going to be a recurring theme in the report:

[Open access publishing] means that publishers receive their revenues from authors rather than readers, and so research articles become freely accessible to everyone immediately upon publication.

People who have been following closely will recognise this as the definition of Gold Open Access — the scheme where the author (or her institution) pays a one-time publication fee in exchange for the publisher making the result open to the world. The other road, known as Green OA, is where an author publishes in a subscription journal but deposits a copy of the paper in a repository, where it becomes freely available after an embargo period, typically six to twelve months. That Green OA is not mentioned at this point is arguably fair enough; but that OA is tacitly equated with Gold only feels much more significant. It’s as though Green is being written out of history.

More on this point later.

Green and Gold Chrysogonum virginianum Flower 3008 by Derek Ramsey, from Wikimedia Commons.

The actual report is 140 pages long, and I don’t expect it to be widely read. But The executive summary is published as a separate document, and at 11 pages is much more digestible. And its heart is in the right place, as this key quote from p4 tells us:

The principle that the results of research that has been publicly funded should be freely accessible in the public domain is a compelling one, and fundamentally unanswerable.

Amen. Of course, that is the bedrock. But more practically, on page 3, we read:

Our aim has been to identify key goals and guiding principles in a period of transition towards wider access. We have sought ways both to accelerate that transition and also to sustain what is valuable in a complex ecology with many different agents and stakeholders.

I do want to acknowledge that this is a hard task indeed. It’s easy to pontificate on how things ought to be (I do it all the time on this blog); but it’s much harder to figure out how to get there from here. I’m impressed that the Finch group set out to answer this much harder question.

But I am not quite so impressed at their success in doing so. And here’s why. In the foreword (on page 2) we read this:

This report … is the product of a year’s work by a committed and knowledgeable group of individuals drawn from academia, research funders and publishing. … Members of the group represented different constituencies who have legitimately different interests and different priorities, in relation to the publication of research and its subsequent use.

My most fundamental issue with the report, and with the group that released it, is this. I don’t understand why barrier-based publishers were included in the process. The report contains much language about co-operation and shared goals, but the truth as we all know is that publishers’ interests are directly opposed to those of authors, and indeed of everyone else. Who does the Finch Group represent? I assumed the UK Government, and therefore the citizens of the UK — but if it’s trying to represent all the groups involved in academic activity, there’s a conflict of interests that by its nature must prevent everyone else from clearly stating what they want from publishers.

This isn’t an idle speculation:  the report itself contains various places where is suddenly says something odd, something that doesn’t quite fit, or is in conflict with the general message. It’s hard not to imagine these as having been forced into the report by the publishers at the table (according to the membership list, Bob Campbell, senior publisher at Wiley Blackwell; Steve Hall, managing director of IoP Publishing; and Wim van del Stelt, executive VP of corporate strategy at Springer). And I just don’t understand why the publishers were given a seat at the table.

And so we find statements like this, from p5:

The pace of the transition to open access has not been as rapid as many had hoped, for a number of reasons. First, there are tensions between the interests of key stakeholders in the research communications system. Publishers, whether commercial or not-for-profit, wish to sustain high-quality services, and the revenues that enable them to do so.

This is very tactfully put, if I might say so. Distilled to its essence, the is saying that while the UK government, universities, libraries, hospitals and citizens want open access, publishers want to keep the walls that give them their big profits. The bit about “high-quality services” is just a fig-leaf, and a rather transparent one at that. Reading on, still in p5:

There are potential risks to each of the key groups of players in the transition to open access: rising costs or shrinking revenues, and inability to sustain high-quality services to authors and readers.

Those all sounds like risks to the same group: publishers. And again, there is no reason I can see why these need be our problem. We know that publishing will survive in a form that’s useful to academia — the success of BioMed Central and PLoS, and the birth of ventures like eLife and PeerJ show us that — so why would it be the any part of our responsibility to make sure that the old, slow, expensive, barrier-based publishers continue to thrive?

Reading on:

Most important, there are risks to the intricate ecology of research and communication, and the support that is provided to researchers, enabling them to perform to best standards, under established publishing regimes.

I don’t understand this at all. What support? Something that publishers provide? I just don’t get what point is being made here, and can only assume that this “intricate ecology” section is one of the passages that the publishers had inserted. I wonder whether it’s a subtle attempted land-grab, trying to take the credit for peer-review? At any rate, it’s wildly unconvincing.

And so we come to the actual recommendations of the report. There are ten of these altogether, on pages 6-7, and they begin as follows:

We therefore recommend that:

i. a clear policy direction should be set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid journals, funded by APCs, as the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when it is publicly funded;

So there it is: The Finch Report says that Gold Open Access is the way forward.

And despite my carping about publishers’ involvement in the process, and their dilution of the output, I’m pretty happy with that recommendation. Of course, there are a hundred questions about who will pay for OA (though they will be considerably less pressing in a world where $99 buy you all the publishing you can eat at PeerJ). Lots of details to be ironed out. But the bottom line is that paying at publication time is a sensible approach. It gives us what we want (freedom to use research), and provides publishers with a realistic revenue stream that, unlike subscriptions, is subject to market forces. (I will enlarge on this point in a subsequent post.)

To briefly summarise the ten recommendations:

i. Overall policy should be to move to Gold OA.
ii. Funders should provide money for Gold OA charges.
iii. Re-use rights, especially non-commercial, should be provided.
iv. Funding of subscriptions should continue during transition.
v. Walk-in access should be “pursued with vigour”
vi. We must work together to negotiate and fund licences.
vii. Subscription price negotiations should take into account the forthcoming transition to OA.
viii. Experimentation is needed on OA monographs.
ix. Repositories should be developed in “a valuable role complementary to formal publishing”.
x. Funders should be careful about mandating short embargo limits.

Mostly good stuff. I’m not happy about the emphasis on non-commercial forms of re-use in (iii), and of course walk-in access (v) is spectacularly dumb. (vi) seems a bit vacuous, but harmless I suppose — I’m not sure what point it’s trying to make.  (ix) is quietly sinister in its drive-by relegation of repositories to a subsidiary role, and of course (x) is pure publisher-food. Still, even with these caveats, the overall thrust is good.

Well, this has already gone on much longer than I intended, so I will leave further analysis for next time. For now, I am inclined to award the Finch Report a solid B+. I’ll be interested to see how that assessment stands up when I’ve read some other people’s analysis.

Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.

You may recall a story from the Onion Our Dumb Century book, allegedly from 1904, about the skeleton of Satan being discovered in Wyoming. Mike used his occult powers to put together this scan from freely available online sources:

If you scrutinize the above image carefully, you’ll see that ‘Satan’ is an Allosaurus (I’m no theropod booster, but I always thought that was a little harsh on T. rex).

Why am I telling you this? Because last week Mike and I were toiling in the big bone room in the basement of the AMNH when we came across AMNH 666.

It’s an ilium. (Of course it would have to be an appendicular element. Vertebrae are from on high [or dorsal, if you prefer].)

Of Allosaurus!

The stomach-churning color here could be a manifestation of diabolical power, or just what happens when you try to photograph a pink specimen label on a yellow-orange forklift.

After this harrowing encounter, we cleansed our bodies, minds, and souls with street-vendor hot dogs and The Avengers.* That particular mode of exorcism may not be the most effective–I felt distinctly dodgy that evening. But the next day we received illumination at the Altar of Sauropod Awesomeness and were soon back to what we jokingly refer to as normal.

* The best way to see The Avengers is by going up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building shortly beforehand, so big swathes of the Manhattan skyline will still be in your mental RAM during the big final battle. I understand it’s not an option for everyone.

I only became aware of the term Academic Spring the other day but I instantly loved it. The OA wars have heated up significantly in the past few weeks, and Academic Spring crystallizes a lot of what is going on.

Although we always welcome new readers, and no-one who cares about science can afford to be ignorant about access to scholarly publications, we do sometimes feel that at SV-POW! we are mostly preaching to the converted. But access is not just a problem for scientists and academics, it’s a problem for everyone, including physicians, patient groups, engineers, small business owners, students, and, frankly, anydamnbody who wants to inspect the fruits of the research their taxes paid for. So it’s important to get the message out, broadly, to the most people possible, in as many venues as possible, until Joe and Jane Citizen get mad enough about the situation to demand better behavior by their elected representatives and better service from the corporations that allegedly have their interests at heart.

To that end, Mike has a new piece up at The Independent today. Because he couldn’t assume that his readers would be familiar with the OA wars or Academic Spring, he had to lay out the whole case in a limited number of words. I think he did a bang-up job. Because the piece is so self-contained (although it has some choice links that are worth following up), it serves as a front-line report for those of us familiar with the OA wars, and a solid overview for everyone else. Go check it out.

Finally, since you haven’t gotten a lot of sauropod action lately, here are some small Giraffatitan humeri in the basement of the  Museum für Naturkunde with Vanessa Graff for scale. You can tell these are small ones because they’re Vanessa-sized or smaller; the big ones are taller than I am…and they’re still from subadults. Must blog sometime about the awesomeness of the basement full o’ sauropods at the MfN, but not today. Excelsior!

If you’re a scientist, then one of the things you need to do is prepare high-quality images for your papers.  And, especially if you’re a palaeontologist, or in some other science that involves specimens, that’s often going to mean manipulating photographs.  So image editing has become one of those “grey skills”, like word processing and phylogenetic analysis, that you need to have a little of, even if you’re not specialising in that direction.

Here at SV-POW!, none of us is anything remotely approaching wizardly when it comes to image-editing.  But we’ve done enough of it that we have a few tips to pass on, so this is the first in an occasional series that will offer some random but relevant hints.  (Matt and I both use GIMP, a free image-editing program, but I’m sure PhotoShop has the all the same facilities and more.)

Today: thirty-second colour-balancing.  It’s a technique that comes in handy every now and then, especially if you take a lot of specimen photographs in poorly lit basements that make everything look greenish.  It came up because in the previous post Matt included this photo of a partially dissected turkey neck:

All the orange made my eyeballs hurt.

So you can spend hours on colour-balancing a photo carefully, and that can be appropriate if you’re preparing a figure for publication.  But to fix a photo like this one in thirty seconds, here’s what I do.

Load the image.

Bring up the Layers window and use it to duplicate the layer:

With the top layer selected, choose Colours -> Auto -> Equalize. (There is also a Colours -> Auto -> White Balance option, but I never find that it gives good results.)

Equalize will make the top layer look truly horrible:

Now go back to the Layers window, and play with the top layer’s opacity, so that you get a blend of the original and equalised images:

In this case, I found that 50% opacity looked about the best:

(While it’s still no oil-painting, it’s much better than the all-orange-all-the-time original.)

With the top layer still selected, choose Layers -> Merge Down to make the layers into one, and save the result.

It really does take about thirty seconds total, including the time to start up and shut down the image editor.  (Yes, GIMP starts up more quickly than PhotoShop!)

Update (11 April 2012)

If you’re wondering why this is “part 0″, it’s because it was originally posted as a stand-alone article, and we only realised much later that it fits into the tutorial sequence — in particular, the planned multi-part tutorial on preparing illustrations.

 

After a couple of relatively hardcore posts on ilial osteology, we though it would be good to look at something lighter this time.  If you’re interested in dinosaurs, or indeed alive, you will hardly have been able to avoid seeing Francisco Gascó’s glorious life restoration of Brontomerus.  Here it is again, in case you’ve been in a coma:

As well as being Figure 12 of the paper (Taylor et al. 2011), it’s popped up absolutely everywhere in media coverage: among many others, it was used by the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph and Independent in the UK; by USA Today, Fox News and National Geographic in the USA; by Spiegel in Germany; and by SVT (the state-funded national TV station) in Sweden.  There’s no question that this image contributed hugely to selling the paper to the secular media.  It’s probably responsible for 80% of all the coverage our work got, and I’m confident that it’s going to quickly become one of those images that everyone recognises, like the tyrannosaur/styracosaur fight on the cover of The Dinosaur Heresies and indeed Charles Knight’s classic swamp-bound Brontosaurus.

So it was a huge win for us, and it’s worth looking at how it came about.

Back in 2004, Matt gave a talk at the SVP annual meeting, entitled Skeletal pneumaticity in saurischian dinosaurs and its implications for mass estimates.  The material in this talk became a chapter in the Wilson and Curry Rogers edited volume of sauropod papers (Wedel 2005).  Some time in 2006, Matt heard about the Paleonturology competition, which is all about making palaeontology accessible for teenagers, especially in Spain: anyone who’d had a paper published in 2005 was invited to submit it, and the judges would choose the one that seemed most amenable to being rewritten in a compelling way for non-specialists.  Matt’s 2005 paper won the 2006 competition, and the rewritten version of that paper was translated into Spanish and published in a very nice booklet which I am pleased to have a copy of (Wedel 2007).  In 2007, Matt was invited to the Fundación Dinópolis in Teruel, Spain, to receive his award, launch the booklet, and act as a judge for the 2007 competition.

The relevance of all this now finally becomes apparent: while in Teruel, Matt met Francisco “Paco” Gascó, and looked through some of his portfolio of palaeo-art — including, for example, this rearing Camarasaurus:

So Matt had Paco in mind as a promising palaeo-artist.  Then towards the end of May 2008, when we were readying the Brontomerus paper for submission (not to Acta Palaontologica Polonica — to a different journal, which didn’t take it) I wrote to Matt saying:

I’m attaching a tentative skeletal reconstruction that I did.  [...]  Now I’m thinking: should we approach a palaeoartist to see if we can get a life restoration done in time for the launch?  The eponymous thunder thighs hardly make an impact in the skeleton, after all.

And Matt quickly replied suggesting that Paco could be the person to do it.  He sent a few samples, including the Camarasaurus above, and I was sold.   A couple of days later, Matt suggested the idea to Paco, he was up for it, and so we were all systems go.

At that time, Paco (who is now getting towards the back end of his Ph.D) was a humble recent graduate, which was great because it meant that Matt and I got to boss him about — something that he accepted with enormous good grace as we went through a sequence of some 44 images on the way to the pair that we ended up with.

By this time, Matt and I had already realised that we wanted the artwork to show kicking.  So we started out by asking Paco to mock up three very rough sketches of how he thought a Brontomerus-kicking-a-predator scene might be composed.  Here is one of the three — pretty representative:

Although this scenario is pretty sweet, it’s not really what we wanted as it shows Brontomerus kicking backwards like a horse, rather than forwards like a footballer.  (That’s a soccer player, for those of you in the USA.)  So Matt offered this concept sketch:

(It’s well worth clicking through and seeing the details.)

It’s interesting to see how much of the final image was already in place even in that very early sketch: the basic pose of the adult sauropod, the juvenile behind, the theropod getting its arse kicked — even if at this stage it was a juvenile Acrocanthosaurus rather than a mature Utahraptor.

With this reference in the back of his mind, Paco started work on a 3D model of the sauropod that would be the core of the composition.  He was quickly able to show us a first draft that had all the pieces in place to look convincing at least as a generalised sauropod:

Already at this stage, I was pushing for the uniquely Brontomerus-like aspects of the anatomy to be made more apparent, so I sent back this modified and uglified version of the image to give a sense of where we wanted to be heading:

(You might want to open this image and the previous one in two tabs and switch back and forth between them.)

The purpose of the modified version, of course, was to show how high the ilium would sit on the torso and how it brings forward the anterior margin of the leg muscles.  We wanted the thigh to be much more thundrous!  This was part of a merciless campaign of anatomical criticism of many, many aspects of the in-progress restoration — for example, the cross-sectional shape of the neck, which at this point had a crest on top and flat sides.  (You’ll notice that in the final version, the neck has the distinctive subtriangular cross-section that is produced by the ventrolateral excursion of the cervical ribs in sauropods.)

While that stream of refinement was going on, Paca was starting to skin the model.  Here’s the first version we saw that had skin texture:

Seeing this was an exciting moment in the progress of the project.  It was the first time that the artwork started to look like actual art, and the sauropod to look like an actual sauropod.  We knew then that we were on the way to somewhere good.

That feeling intensified the first time Paco showed us the complete cast of our little drama: mother, baby, and evil raptor, all skinned and showing rather fetching stripes which survived in more or less this form through to the final version:

By this stage, most of the anatomical problems are getting ironed out: the flat-sided shape of the neck has gone, replaced by a broader and wrinklier ventral aspect; and the ilium was higher on the torso, with the shape of the dorsal margin more closely reflecting that of the Brontomerus holotype ilium.

Note the care that Paco took with the juvenile: it’s not just a scaled-down copy of the adult, but proportioned subtly differently in a way that reflects what we know of sauropod ontogeny: the limbs grow isometrically, but the neck is positively allometric, so that Baby Bronto’s neck is noticably shorter in proportion.  At this stage, the baby is too big — more than half Mama’s size, whereas the sizes of the elements from the Hotel Mesa quarry suggested that he should be closer to a third of her size.

At the same time that Paco was working on the details of the models, we were all still batting around composition ideas, trying to find the best way to put our three actors together.  This version of Paco’s was similar in concept to Matt’s earlier sketch, but different in a lot of details: the baby is running away rather than sheltering, the theropod is rather bigger than before, and has morphed from an acrocanthosaur to a raptor; and it’s upside-down in an attempt to show that it’s not in control of the situation:

I wasn’t convinced by this version, because the theropod seems to have been spun 180 degrees on the spot as well as kicked upside-down: I felt that he needed to be in a posture that more naturally emerges from having been facing Mama when he was kicked, so I ‘shopped Paco’s sketch into this version:

As well as turning the baby around (something that didn’t really help). I flipped the raptor and tried, clumsily, to convey that Mama had broken its neck.  Of course, that didn’t really work, because the extension at the base of the neck is habitual for most tetrapods anyway, but it at least gave us a sense of the direction we wanted to go in.

OK, so back to the model.  Paco had sent us a simple lateral-view render of Mama alone, as well as the group shown above, so that we could more easily critique its anatomy in isolation.  Here is that simple render, followed by the vandalism I did on it to show changes that we still wanted.  (See what I mean about Paco being patient?)

As you can see  (and as you’ll see more clearly if you flip back and forth between the two images), I was asking for two changes.  The simpler was that I wanted to see the distinctive profile of the Brontomerus scapula showing through the skin.  The more interesting is in the profile of the tail.  It’s been shown in many sauropods that there is a distinctive upwards kink at the base of the tail, so that the dorsal profile of the body does not progress smoothly from hips to tail, and I wanted to see that in Brontomerus.  At the same time, the tail needed to have more flesh on it and the ischium should have been producing a visible bulge in the ventral margin behind the hips.

The next version addressed these points (though the scapula outline was not yet right):

But picky as I am I still wasn’t satisfied…

I made a few changes here — again, in a hacky way using the GIMP, with the result not in any way intended as in improvement in itself, but as a sketch of how the model could be improved.  I shifted the tail up a little, smoothed the dorsal profile so that there was no longer a sort of dip at the base of the tail, and smoothed out the rear margin of the top of the thigh, so that there was no longer a “buttock”, but a hint of caudofemoralis musculature connecting the tail-base with the thigh.

Once Paco had made the necessary changes to the model, the next render looked superb — and very recognisable as the basis of the now-ubiquitous final version:

At this point, work on the main model was essentially complete, and Matt and I were both really happy with the result.  For people who’ve spent as much time gazing at the Brontomerus ilium and scapula as we have, this is very obviously Brontomerus and not just a generic sauropod.  Now it was time to put the model together with the composition ideas we’d been playing with:

We went through several versions of this, mostly varying in the posture of the theropod, but this is the one that led to the final piece.  For the first time, we were all happy with Baby Bronto in this one, too: he’s about the right size, and has a sort of skittering look to him, as though he wants to be elsewhere but doesn’t want to leave Mama.  (Am I anthopomorphising?  Very well; I contain multitudes.)  It’s a bit too close to the adult, though, so we can’t quite see its shape.  This was fixed in the next version, which also contained a backdrop for the first time:

Now we’re really getting somewhere.  You’ll notice that the raptor’s head is bent further back this time, hopefully conveying that its neck is broken.  But because I was really keen on getting it across that the raptor is DOWN and it’s NOT getting up again, I once again vandalised Paco’s work, this time with buckets of blood:

What I wanted to convey was: if this raptor wasn’t already secondarily flightless, it is now.  Still, I admit that the amount of blood, and the vividness of its colour, are a little over the top.  So in the final version, Paco took some of the blood back out, and toned it down to a more realistic colour.  The other important difference is that the raptor was moved a bit closer to the sauropod — not because that’s necessarily a better composition, but because we expected newspapers and other media outlets to crop the image mercilessly, and we wanted to give them best chance of keeping all the key element in frame when they did.

And so we arrive at the final version, as it appeared in the paper:

The very last thing we did was ask Paco for a second render of the same scene, so that media outlets would have a choice of artwork and wouldn’t all need to use the exact same image.  That was doable because all three dinosaurs, with their skin-textures, were built as a 3D model, which can be viewed from any angle.  But producing a finished artwork from this is not trivial: once an angle is chosen and the animals rendered, there is still a lot of post-production work to be done in putting in the background, the blood, the dust and so on.  So we didn’t ask for a complete array of 128 of these — just the one addition.  After reviewing a few candidate exported renders, we settled on one from a more anterolateral perspective, and Paco worked his magic to yield this alternative take:

I hardly have words to tell you how much I love this.  Several times, looking at it, I’ve found myself laughing out loud at how comprehensively the theropod is getting owned.  It’s OVER for that would-be predator.  It’s DONE.  The only question is whether Mama is going to put it out of its misery by stomping it flat, or whether it’ll be left to bleed out.  Either way, it picked on the wrong victim for dinner.

Part of what I love so much about this is that Brontomerus looks like an animal, not like a monster.  It works anatomically, feels like something that lives and breathes … and, indeed, kicks.

Let me close by clearly stating that 99% of all the Awesome here is the work of Paco — a talented and hardworking guy, who made Matt’s vision come to life.  My own input was basically restricted to whining.  I hope we’ll be seeing this image for many years to come, and that plenty more of Paco’s pieces make it out into the wide world where they belong.

For more of Paco’s stuff, please see his blog, El Pakozoico (TARDIS alert!), and his deviantART page.

References

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