The Big One: Christoph Hoppenbrock’s Massive Palaeoart

Illustration Museums Paleoart Gallery

How many European dinosaurs is it possible to cram into a single image? Well, when asked by the Dinosaurier-Park Münchehagen to produce an artwork for their new ‘Big 5’ exhibition on European theropods (touring Europe soon!), artist Christoph Hoppenbrock thought he’d have a go at including just about all of them. All of the dinosaurs. And a smattering of otherMesozoicanimals, too. What’s more, he was given free rein to have a little fun in the process. The result is a real delight to behold, and surely a must-have poster for dinosaur enthusiasts across the continent (I might have to get one for my new flat). What’s more, Christoph was even happy to answer a few daft questions about the piece for me. How very kind of him.

Christoph Hoppenbrock mural for The Big 5
The mural/poster in all its glory. All artwork shared with Christoph’s permission.

Turns out that he spent all of Spring 2019 on this thing (while working on other projects, naturally), with much time spent on researching the animals and contemporaneous flora. It’s an interesting work in that, while the animals are somewhat stylised and a little ‘cartoonish’, they remain largely anatomically correct and are clearly the product of an artist who’s done their homework. As Christoph explains,

“On the one hand this illo is meant to be paleo-FUN (I and my client Nils Knötschke from Dinopark Münchehagen decided) but in the end we were really counting toes and halluces to keep it correct!”

Christoph collaborated with Nils and a number of other scientists on the project (including Marco Schade of the LMU Munich, who gave him a long list of dinosaurs to kick things off and plenty of background info along the way). In addition, Christoph’s work had to meet the approval of scientists from not only the Dinopark, but all of the museums that will host the touring exhibition, namely the Landesmuseum Hannover, Museum für Naturkunde Münster, Dinoparque Lourinha and our very own Dinosaur Isle Museum all the way over in sunny Sandown, Isle of Wight. In that context, the remarkable attention to detail is perhaps less surprising. Even so, there was still plenty of room for a little post-All Yesterdays informed speculation, with numerous animals sporting fleshy appendages and fluffy coats to varyingly controversial degrees.

Concavenator by Cristoph Hoppenbrock
“Feathers? Me? But what will Darren Naish say?”

The allosauroid Concavenator, for example, sports a coating of fuzz based on those occasionally contested bumpy bits on its arms. Shock, horror! Of course, this being ‘palaeo-fun’, Christoph couldn’t help but include plenty of pop culture references, and Concavenator‘s coat actually counts as one of these; it’s a combination of the Wombles and the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. Still – it’s those tasty, tasty speculative reconstructions that I’m really interested in, and fortunately Christoph provides a handy, not entirely exhaustive list:

  • Hypsilophodon eating lichen from the back of a sauropod

  • Scipionyx with feathery tail that resembles a theropod face scaring off a pterosaur

  • Backstory of young Scipionyx: fossilized guts were found, so let’s have a look at them (actually true, only snake eating is speculated)

  • Albino Hypsilophodon

  • Neovenator disguising itself with branches just like caimans sometimes do (maybe I over-speculated here)

  • Fat Neovenator storing body fat in tail area like lizard

  • Stenopelix burying its head in some pine cones (backstory: we do not know what its head looks like, since it was never found)

Cretaceous detail by Cristoph Hoppenbrock
Sauropods may not have exhibited the best personal hygiene.

As far as palaeoart influences go, Christoph professes to having ‘inhaled the palaeo-themed culture’ for his entire life, and therefore the influences on his work must be wide-ranging (and often unconscious). There are nods to palaeoart tropes in this work, including, as he puts it, “ALLOSAURS HUNTING THE LONGNECK…LOOK GIANT PTEROSAUR EATING BABY DINOSAUR…CERATOPSIAN WALL VS. FRUSTRATED THEROPOD” (the latter on a smaller scale than usual). I also spotted a bit of Raptor Prey Restraint going on, although it’s not a direct reference to Emily Willoughby’s work. As far as homages to specific artists and artworks go, Christoph tends to favour the old-school classics. Notably, he depicts Scuirumimus posed similarly to Burian’s famous Tarbosaurus:

Sciurumimus by Cristoph Hoppenbrock
Cute attack.

While a confrontation between Dacentrurus and a ceratosaur pays homage to a similar scene from Album of Dinosaurs, as illustrated by Rod Ruth. Apparently, the book’s a favourite from Cristoph’s childhood. I love the two Furry Gits (Teutonodon) hitching a ride.

Dacentrurus by Cristoph Hoppenbrock
Dacentrurus fends off a Ceratosaurus….type thing.

Furthermore, certain dinosaurs ‘local’ to the Dinopark sport colour schemes originally devised by Joschua Knüppe, modern-day Germanic god of palaeoart. With his blessing, of course. These include Wiehenvenator and Europasaurus, shown below.

Wiehenvenator and Europasaurus by Christoph Hoppenbrock
Spot the Knüppes.

So, has Christoph enjoyed the whole experience? As if you need to ask.

“I am really just very hyped about this…as a dinosaur enthusiast I really enjoyed almost every part of this project (apart from the ridiculous 3 Gigabytes that made the file quite hard to handle in the end)! I guess the best part for me was to be back in paleoart, meeting all those scientists and museum people, and to plough through my own paleo library researching all day long. (I think I am fulfilling some of my childhood dreams with this illustration and I am planning to make more.)

Also I enjoyed hiding all those pop culture references in this, and adding a little humour.

Not to forget: adding famous and not-yet-famous-enough primates to this picture was special fun! Lemmy(suchus)! Slash! Paleoneurologist Tilly Edinger (fled from Nazi Germany in 1938)! Or notorious adventurer, Austro-Hungarian spy and paleontologist Franz Baron Nopcsa, who named a turtle fossil after the shape of his boyfriend’s butt around 100 years ago! Maybe I should have added even more…”

European predatory dinosaurs and their world. Also, bearded man holds pamphlet. Get out of the way, you.

I think you’ve added quite enough, mate. If you want to see Christoph’s work in super-sized format, you’ll need to head to the Dinopark, or else wait until the ‘Big 5’ exhibition heads to a museum nearer you (I’m dead keen on seeing it at Sandown!). Otherwise, it’s available as an A1 or A0 poster from the Dinopark online shop, where you can also buy natty hats, if you want to try and look like a secret agent. They can keep the hats, but as I’ve already mentioned, I’m sure a poster would liven up my new flat no end. This is a glorious piece of work, so completely packed with ever-more-nerdy details and in-jokes that one could easily keep coming back to it and find something new. Thanks to Christoph for sharing it with us! And if you want to know the names of ALL the animals featured in this piece, well, they’re on the back of the poster…

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