Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Book of Skulls

As many of you probably know (if you're a dedicated WPF reader), I've been brainstorming a book for the past 18-odd months. I really want it to be about dinosaurs, and I want it to show off my artistic abilities as well as my writing skulls. This last summer, I began to take that hypothetical book in a direction which I'm still fascinated with today: The Book of Skulls. The book would basically be full of dinosaur skulls (and possibly other archosaur skulls for comparison), both colored and B&W (facing pages). What excited me the most, though, is the color plan: each bone would be the same color in each skull. That is, the maxilla would be orange, no matter what animal is being illustrated. That way, readers could see how the same bone changes over time and because of dietary needs. The maxilla of Eoraptor (above) is a lot different than that of Lesothosaurus or Camarasaurus.
I have already completed over a dozen skulls, some in need of color, and I plan on representing every major dinosaur group. Some skulls are much more difficult than others. Ankylosaurs, for example, have skulls as wide (if not wider) as they are long, making a profile view of Euplocephalus something of a puzzle. Other skulls are known from fragmentary remains. When I drew Silesaurus' skull, I was having trouble deciding how to portray missing bones. My solution was to keep the missing sections white, while coloring in the known portions. In doing so, I realized just how little was known of Silesaurus' skull, although the outline is clearly there.


Other animals were a challenge because so many restorations exist for them. Archaeopteryx proved irritating because almost every paper I have, and every book that describes it, features an illustration by a different artist or author. In the end, I used Greg Paul, but simplified the texturing so that the colors would better stand out. Interior skulls bones, where known, were once colored dark blue, but I eventually settled on light gray, as dark blue took the focus away from the exterior bones, which are my focus.

A good majority of my restorations have been based on three main sources: The Dinosauria, 2nd Edition, Dinosaurs of the Air, and Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. I have also used, whenever possible, the actual descriptions (or updated redescriptions) of animals in question. Amurosaurus (above), Monolophosaurus, Nemegtosaurus, and Silesaurus, among others, got the "straight from the description" treatment. I haven't done any dromaeosaurs yet, but I Velociraptor will be based on my own skull cast, and Dromaeosaurus will come from Currie's most recent reappraisal. By the way, check out Amurosaurus up there. How do they know it had a crest like that, if all they found of a crest was that tiny piece of prefrontal? I found a lot of that as I was restoring skulls. That is, conjecture of overall skull shape, which bothered me. I've blogged before (over at the original WPF) about how I greatly dislike restoring animals known from shabby remains. The example I used back then was Masiakosaurus, who is still no better known, yet there it is, on a poster I have. The thing could've had crests, horns, etc. What did its upper jaw do to cope with the strange mandible? We don't know!
I also just learned a lot about cranial bones while I was engorged by this project. I learned, for example, that Guanlong (above) actually has a lot in common with Monolophosaurus (below), and I like the idea that the two may be conspecifics, the former being a juvenile of the latter. I've talked about this before, and Darren told me a little bit about it in the comments, but I'm still fuzzy on the details. The two skulls look surprisingly similar.

Now, I should mention that all of these skulls, as well as the ones I'm not posting here (there are way too many) are all in beta form. The color scheme is far from finalized, and I'm a bit shakey on some of the exact bone colors. Guanlong's formal description is where I got its skull, but the delineations between bones in the accompanying illustration were far from precise.

Anyway, let me know what you think of this idea, folks. I think this book would make for an interesting reference text, or just a fun dinosaur book. Each skull would have a brief explaination of the animal portrayed as well as specific comments relating to specialties of the skull's construction. And if anyone has a better Guanlong illustration, please send it to me!

6 comments:

Amanda said...

This is a very cool idea...

Amanda said...

By the way...you should check out Laelaps...Brian did a really really good post about the new Foot-long-a-saurus! I was gonna do one, too, like you, but I'm so slow with this stuff (and know FAR less than everyone else!). Anyway, it's really informative.

Brian said...

This is definitely a great idea, Zach (I know I'd buy a copy!). Even if you can't get an official publishing deal these days anyone can publish books themselves via resources on the internet and I think you should really go ahead and get this done. Of course, I'm saying this with little to show for my own book-writing efforts (my subject matter keeps evolving), but I think such a resource would be fantastic, especially for those who are not as familiar with osteology. Just be sure to get some sauropods and ornithischians in there, too. ;)

Zach Miller said...

Hey now, didn't you see Amurosaurus? :-) Thanks for the encouragement, Brian (and Amanda). Don't worry, I've already completed Jobaria, Diplodocus, Nemegtosaurus, and Camarasaurus, so sauropods are well-represented. I wish some primitive sauropd skulls would be discovered. I guess there's Shunosaurus...

Neil said...

I like this idea a lot Zach! Once you finish the dinos, this technique would be especially useful for making comparisons across other groups especially within Diapsids...

Flugsaurier said...

Well, I can assure you that Monolophosaurs and Guanlong are NOT conspecifics. FOr a start Guanlong at an adult (there are two specimens - one adult and one juvenile) is about half the size of Monolopho. Added to that Guanlong is rather clearly a basal tyrannosaur, but Monoloph. lies somewhere around the sinraptorids.
There are loads of differences between the bodies, and (I think) more than a few in the skulls - not least in the shape, 'structure' and orientation of the fenestrae.