Vintage Dinosaur Art: Troodon: The Smartest Dinosaur

Vintage Dinosaur Art

It’s time for another entry into Don and Donna month, which will take more than a month but time is meaningless. Today, we look at a volume in the mid-90s Carolrhoda dinosaur series on specific dinosaurs, this one focusing on that big-eyed, big-brained, not at all venomous pint-sized predator that looked very different way back when.

Sorry Mrs. Newhard, they didn’t do a thorough enough job censoring out your name.

As reconstructed by Donna Braginetz, Troodon looks pretty much what you’d expect for the time, but it does resist falling into a few traps. For one thing, it doesn’t resemble the famous 3D model made by Ron Séguin very much. That model (and its Dinosauroid collorary, on the subject of which: read on) was highly influential. Pictures and knock-offs of it were found all over dino books around this time. The Séguin version had slick, smooth, loose skin and slit snake eyes. The Braginetz version has fine scales and round bird pupils. Again, chief among Donna’s influences is Greg Paul, if the integument, musculature and limbs are anything to go by.

Diving into all the ways the Troodon looks outdated now is probably unnecessary. We’re not even completely sure what Troodon even is; the genus name has had a bizarre and convoluted history (it even had a stint as a pachycephalosaur) to the point where the geuns name (assigned to some pretty non-diagnostic teeth) has dubious validity. The animal reconstructed on these pages is probably based mostly on Stenonychosaurus, which was merged into Troodon at the time and didn’t get re-separated until recently.

If I compare the work in this book to the previous one I reviewed, on ornithomimids, I’d say the illustrations in this one are a bit more dynamic and exciting. Here, there’s a tense scene where Orodromeus realizes it’s being stalked… Orodromeus is a rare kind of dinosaur to be recieving any kind of attention at all, although, like Tenontosaurus, its role here is mainly as chow for the main character. Nevertheless, Braginetz has really made it pop, especially given the tricky perspective. Again, the fine Greg Paul scales really stand out. It’s always exciting when an artists depicts the moment before the action goes down. This scene bookends the book: the last illustration shows how this plays out.

Let’s tick two staples of this book series off at once: the size chart and the gratuitous T. rex cameo. Compared to the other size charts in this series this one is more traditional, a parade of different kinds of dinosaur, all depicted neutrally and all facing the same way, with a silhouette guy standing there. It’s the same T. rex again we found in the Ornithomimus book, but in a more neutral pose. The sauropodomorphs are well-observed but slightly fall victim to the tropes of the time, being extremely lean and even a bit, gasp, shrinkwrapped. The brachiosaur’s skin is definitely elephantine. The brachiosaur’s nostrills are situated interestingly halfway between up on the skull, as was orthodoxy for many years, and on the tip of the snout, as is favoured by current thought.

The same Parasaurolophus also returns again, cementing the idea of the Donnasaurs as recurring characters. I love Albertosaurus in particular and how well, again, Braginetz differentiates it from T. rex. It’s not just a smaller T. rex. Seeing them together like this really shows you how differently these two were built. I’m also fond of the striped Dryosaurus. There’s a Donnasaur I’d have liked to see more of.

I’ve said before that Donna Braginetz seems most comfortable drawing dinosaurs in side view. For this one, she allows herself to play with different perspectives. This view shows off the animal’s binocular vision. The hands are particularly well done for this one, showing off the grasping claws that the maniraptorans were named after. Today, these claws would be depicted covered in wings. This would make the animal look more accurate and believable, but it would also obscure the shape of the hands, which can now be seen unobstructed. Scientific progress is truly a mixed blessing, and while it hasn’t been too kind to this particular book series, Braginetz always had the anatomy of the creatures down pat.

The landscapes play second fiddle here, but a real Braginetz trademark is the blur on the background, ensuring the attention is always drawn to the animal at hand.

The whole situation with the eggs found in the Two Medicine formation is a bit of a mess. Eggs which were previously thought to belong to Orodromeus are now considered troodontid eggs instead, so the scenario depicted here may be an Oviraptor-like case of false accusation. Nevertheless, a troodontid hunting babies is perfectly plausible.

The concluding scene is my favorite illustration in the book. Evening has fallen and Orodromeus can’t outrun its attackers anymore. Silhouettes, sunsets and drama, you love to see it. Great work from Donna Braginetz once again. This is one of her most dynamic and atmospheric pieces I’ve seen.

Do you know what the best thing is with this book? The one thing that sets it apart from any other book that mentions Troodon, Stenonychosaurus, Saurornithoides or any of its kin? There’s no dinosauroid anywhere. Don Lessem has succeeded in filling up an entire book full of interesting palaeontology without having to fall back on that silly old chestnut. The Dinosauroid was copied pretty much uncritically all across the board during this time, despite obvious problems with the idea (anthropocentrism, anyone?). A contemporaneous reader might even have expected to run into it, especially in a book that advertizes Troodon‘s intelligence. Lessem categorically resists the urge. For that alone, he deserves major props. More Don and Donna next time!

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