We’re back again today with the ecelctic Reuzen Uit De Oertijd, or Discoveries’ Dinosaurs, the Australian not-quite-Eyewitness-level nineties nostalgiavaganza featuring a plethora of works by different artists. Many of you told us you remember this one from your childhoods, so I hope I’m not going to ruin your opinion of it too much. Since last we spoke, I have returned this book to its actual owner, so all I’ve got left is the scans. I’m sure there’s enough in here to have fun with. Here at LITC, we always talk about the thropods first and the herbivores second, because we like to save the best for last.
Let’s kick things off with John Francis. He is in a way one of the more average artists working on this book. His work is not remarkable or even all that scientifically well-informed, but it’s pretty nice. Easy on the eyes, nice textures, cool rearing Diplodocus. It is, of course, a completely 90s Sibbickian/Robinsonian grey elephant with too many claws on the front feet, but I’ll take the grey elephants of the Dino Rennaissance over the swamp monsters from before any day. All in all, on the better side of average.
This is by Simone End, and I find it intriguing. At first glance, the Brachiosaurus is, not to put too fine a point on it, considerably uglier than the Diplodocus above, but the hands are at least more correct this time. Although lacking the typical hyperreal, tangible skin texture that Sibbick is famous for, the sauropod’s elephantine skin again betrays some of his influence, which I could confirm if we can find an actual, literal Normanpedia rip-off from the same artist…
James McKinnon, meanwhile, is consistently the artist whose work I find hardest to criticize. I wish there was more of him in the book. Here’s a wonderful (though too small) landscape with some different Dinosaur Park hadrosaurs. They are neatly colour coded for convenience, which is pretty funny. Oddly, the text attempts to use this artwork to explain niche partitioning, of all things. It compares the different species of saurolophine and lambeosaurine hadrosaurs to the different animals of the African savannah, with low-browsing zebra and high-browsing giraffe eating different foods. I’m not sure how that comparison is relevant? I’m sure that in the Late Cretaceous there was plenty of niche partitioning between hadrosaurus and ceratopsians, but I’m not sure if it also goes for different species of hadrosaurs all of similar size and build.
Peter Schouten is another excellent artist who I wish was featured more in the book. There are so many different artists in here that it’s hard for the book to really develop its own identity, and none of the artists really get a chance to really showcase their talents over a varierty of work. This is a beautiful Ouranosaurus with adorable pups, great attention to detail (the hands are spot-on) and a magnificently striking colour scheme – rare in this book. I love how the pups have more cryptic colouration than the parent, just like so many hoofed animals. Schouten not only gives it a real tangiblity, he also really sells the animal’s bulk and size. It’s slightly let down by the anatomy cutout trying to rationalize the sail-as-temerature-control-adaptation hypothesis, which has now fallen out of favour.
This is the same Styracosaurus featured on the front cover, rendered in fabulous Rey-o-vision by Christer Eriksson. Like Eriksson’s other works, it’s very over the top and played for wow factor rather than scientfic accuracy. For today’s standards – and in sharp contrast with Rey, again – the animal is ever so grey and drab and, again, elephantine. It’s striking enough for the front cover, but I probably would have chosen a different image.
Ooooh, here’s a corker! Apparently, some people were still doing John McLoughlin-ceratopsids in 1995! Look at the neck on that feller! It’s not going all-out McLouglin berserk, not quite attatching the neck up to the tip to the frill, but how on Earth could the artist think this was a plausible look for Triceratops? If you missed what the McLoughlin-stuff was about, here’s Darren giving you the run-down once more, and here’s Marc reviewing the offending chapter in the original book. Even if you disregard the buffalo neck, Frank Knight’s take on Triceratops is most peculiar. with a wonky overbite and very mammalian soft tissue. How does that mouth even work? And if you’re gonna borrow anything from McLoughlin, why this, his worst hypothesis, instead of, say, feathered theropods?
Christer Eriksson is at it again, with some crashy bashy dome heads! It isn’t enough just to let two Pachycephalosaurus ram it out full-frontally, oh no. How about we let one ram the other off of a honkin’ cliff? As it was often so eloquently said in the 90s: Booyah! So many delightfully wrong little details, too. Observe the opposing tumbs on the hands. And the feet. Super humanoid arms and legs and knees and shoulders. Would that more bad palaeoart was as cuckoo bananas as this! Any semblance of accuracy and good taste just went tumbling down the cliff along with the losing pachycephalosaur, and many a palaeontologist will want to throw themselves in after. Bless you, Eriksson, you’re killing me.
And then there’s Colin Newman, whose creatures look like they came off the set of The Muppet Show.
Let’s close this thing off with another 90s dinosaur book cliché: a Parade of Dinosaurs. This one comes courtesty of Simone End, and there is again a cartoonish quality about their work. The T. rex especially is a rubbery, grotesque movie monster, and it’s been given needly snake teeth for good measure. What I do like is that the Ouranosaurus has the same colour scheme as Peter Schouten’s, above. That points towards at least some concentrated effort to making the colours consistent, which I always like. It’s not done across the board, though: the three different Rexes we’ve seen all have different colour schemes.
And that’s Reuzen Uit De Oertijd. It’s not amazing. It’s not as bad as some people think. Most of all, it’s average; the hardest category of books to talk about. It employs a variety of styles and views on dinosaurs in its art, from the heavily monsterized and sensationalized work of Christer Eriksson to the naturalism of James McKinnon and from the cartoonish feel of Colin Newman to the hyperrealism of Peter Schouten. This wide range makes it interesting, but also hard to pin down. What’s my verdict? In the end, I have to settle for “middle of the road”.
Next up from me, something decidedly NOT middle of the road. From Australia, we’ll be going to a completely different part of the globe. Put on your ushanka and grab your hammer and sickle, comrades, as we meet one of the most temperamental palaeoartists in history!