Fighting apatosaur art #6: the ones that got away

September 30, 2015

Here’s the last post (at least for now) in the Fighting Apatosaur Art series — and we’re back to Brian Engh, who we started with.

Early in the process of putting together artwork to illustrate our apatosaur neck combat hypothesis, Brian tried out a whole bunch of outlandish concepts. Here are two that he showed us, but which were too speculative to push forward with. First, necks as big, floppy display structures:


As a piece of art, I really like this one: the boldness, the vivid contrasts, the alien quality of the animals. But as a palaeobiological hypothesis, it doesn’t really work: so much of the neck morphology in apatosaurs is to do with absorbing ventral forces that soft-tissue display structures down there don’t make a whole lot of sense.

Here’s the other one — which Brian titles “Apatosaur inflato-porcupine fish neck-bag”.


I particularly like the way the theropod being rolled around on the ground and repeatedly spiked. It’s no more than it deserves.

Does the idea of an inflatable neck make sense? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were sauropods that did something like this — plenty of extant animals inflate parts of their body for display purposes, after all — but I don’t think it would have been apatosaurs. Again, the characteristic features of the neck don’t seem well matched to this scenario.

Well, that’s all the apatosaur neck-combat art we have. If there’s to be a part 7 in this series, it will be made of artwork that you, dear readers, have contributed. Fire away!


14 Responses to “Fighting apatosaur art #6: the ones that got away”

  1. WarrenB Says:

    Blimey. Roosters from hell.

    … and with all the theropod thwacking, there goes the last of my ideas for the fighting apatosaurs challenge.

    It’s all very pretty, though. I’ve greatly enjoyed this series of posts and I’m looking forward to #7 in the future, whether I get a look-in or not.

  2. God I wish I could draw. If I could draw then I could draw rearing pink diplodocids with implausible alien neck display frills.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Paul, the only possible response to “I wish I could draw” is “Then draw!” People like Brian and Bob weren’t born as artists, they practiced and learned until they got that way. There is no shame in drawing bad pictures, and doing so repeatedly is probably the one way to ever reach the point of drawing good ones.

  4. dale Says:

    If you want to draw then I recommend [Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain]. It’ll teach you everything you really need to know — just one single book. It works. It teaches you NOT to draw but to take photographic images from your mind and transfer them to paper etc. When I started at chapter – 1, I couldn’t draw a human face. When I was 1/2 way through the book, I could cover a piece of paper with charcoal and produce exquisite human portaiture using only an erasor. That’s because there are no lines to draw in Nature … only light and shade. It’s a hard habit to kick but once you do, you won’t see the world the same way again. And that’s the point of the book. DON’T TRY TO DRAW !!!

    On the apatosaurs, Art needs to push the boundaries just like Science. It allows a bigger more complete picture for retrospection.

    Just saying.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, dale. I just bought a second-hand copy for 1p (plus £2.80 postage).

  6. You’re right, of course, that getting stuck in is the way forward. The bit I struggle with is the “take photographic images from your mind”. Like this guy – though nowhere near as extreme – I have trouble looking at an object and retaining an image of it in my head. Still, a bright pink sauropod is enough of an inspiration for me to give it a go and that book looks fun.

  7. brian engh Says:

    For me, all improvement in drawing ability has come from putting something on the page, looking at it, and then trying to figure out what’s wrong with it and how to correct it. It is the specificity of, and tenacious adherence to that analytic process, as well as the individual artist’s definition of “wrong” that separates artists in ability and style.

    Case in point: while I still like the idea of pink wattle necked diplodocids, I realized while making the above sketch that the overall perspective of the drawing failed to make them look big and towering, and that I had accidentally made the torso of the one on the right look saggy and deflated. When working in pen you can’t erase or rework, so I abandoned the sketch. Despite being a failure as a finished piece, it still served some very important purposes: 1) preliminarily explore the general visual effect of a pink super-wattle-necked rearing diplodocid and 2) communicate the basic idea to my collaborators for the purpose of exploring similar ideas in future pieces (such as Apatosaur neck smashing).

    So remember as you bash your head repeatedly into a thousand tiny obstacles that even if the drawings you make are totally awful to look at as pieces of art, they may still be useful, even if only to start your campfire.

  8. Khalil B. Says:

    Seeing as how Apatosaurines were desgined for rigorous neck combat, could other Sauropods have fought with their necks? Also, is it possible that the inflatable neck sac and/or the porcupine neck could have been possible in Diplodocines/other non Apatosaurine Sauropods?

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    I think neck-based combat in other sauropods was possible, but nothing else optimised for it like apatosaurines did. It’s like the difference between peacocks and other birds. Most birds display their tail feathers, but peacocks went all out for it.

    I wouldn’t discount inflatable neck sacs, in fact I think It’s unlikely that sauropods evolved >150 genera across 150 million years on seven continents without some species evolving inflatable sacs.

    The porcupine thing, though, I don’t know. The combination of the inflatable sac together with the spikes seems like an unhappy marriage.

  10. Khalil B. Says:

    Thanks for the reply Mike. May I also ask of what you guys at SVPOW think of this piece:
    I love the idea of feathers on non-bird Ornithodirans in general, but feathers on Sauropodomorphs almost gives me shivers due to how regal and original it makes them look. Do you think that this piece by Robert N. is plausible for such a large animal? I know that feathers can both heat and cool an animal, but I don’t know if that would be to effective for a whale sized animal, so I was just wondering if it wouldn’t be to “laughable” and/or unlikely for large feather displays on Sauropods. Thanks.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Matt actually discussed the bearded apatosaur artwork here. I certainly don’t see any intrinsic problem in protofeathers (not flight feathers) on sauropods, though we have to admit that the absence of evidence so far does constitute gradually growing evidence of absence. That said, if we’re right about apatosaur necks being used in combat, then having them also be feather-bearing display structures might be less likely.

  12. Khalil B. Says:

    Thanks for the feedback Mike. Have a nice day ^^.

  13. WarrenB Says:

    Bit late, but on the topic of self-taught drawing, there’s a potential reading list here:

  14. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, WarrenB!

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