Vintage Dinosaur Art: World Atlas of Dinosaurs – Part 1

Vintage Dinosaur Art

It’s 2023, and we have a rule here. It’s an arbitrary rule, but here we are: We count everything as “vintage” that is 20 years old or older. That means, try not to die of shock here, that everything up to 2003 is now eligible for a Vintage Dinosaur Art review. Them’s the breaks. A whole new millennium is opening up for us!

Now, when I think of what dinosaur books look like in the 21st century, I mostly think of this:A roaring CGI T. rex jumping from the cover to eat you, the cover text promising bloody murder, dinosaur fight clubs and record breakage. Some of these are written on comission by perfectly respectable authors like Naish, Dixon and Brusatte – we all have bills to pay. For all that the 90s have a reputation of being the EXTREME!!!!!1111 decade, the 2000s and 2010s were equally preoccupied with harder, better, faster, stronger. There are also counter-trends that go completely the other way with cutesy, hypersimplified dinosaurs, but this is the dinosaur mainstream.

Where dinosaur art is concerned, the main trend in the new millennium is of course the rise of CGI and 3D modeling. Tools to create CGI became widely available and any artist willing to put in the hours became able to produce 3D dinosaurs, and some of these we’ve seen reproduced again and again. With respect to the memory of the late Dinoraúl, stock 3D images in books are inherently less interesting to me than custom-produced 2D art, whether created by digital or traditional means. This is why I suspect the 21st century will not be as rich a hunting ground for Vintage Dinosaur Art as the 80s and 90s are. Not that there aren’t cool things to discover.

Here’s a fairly typical but un-terrible book from 2003, once again distributed in the Netherlands by Deltas. It’s called the World Atlas of Dinosaurs in its original British form, translated into Dutch with a generic title. It combines 90s tropes with post-Walking With Dinosaurs new millennium tropes. One of the old tropes is, unfortunately, a familiar story. The arstists aren’t credited. Facepalm. Instead, the book credits only the stock libraries that the photographs and graphics are taken from, a baffling move that only the geniuses at Deltas could have come up with. Guys, this is 2003. You need to do better. It’s a crying shame, because the artwork in this book is generally pretty good, and we can even guess who is behind some of it. But for the most part, I’m grasping at straws here. As is often the case in a work with several illustrators, some of them are better at palaeoart than others, but I mostly can’t tell you their names. I can only hope some of you might recognize someone’s work.

Hang on. Looking at the graphic-design-is-my-passion cover, there’s a definite lack of a T. rex that is trying to eat you. This Herrerasaurus is hardly the stuff of nightmares. Where’s our roary snappy T. rex?

Ah, there it is.

The book reminds me of an updated version of Reuzen uit de Oertijd, an Australian book I reviewed a while back. Images and text collaged together, while all the illustrations come from different artists with a varying degree of talent. The result is a chaotic and eclectic book. This image is here to show off some variety in dinosaur heads, and is it ever a time capsule! Tsintaosaurus still has its infamous phallic crest, Velociraptor already has been given feathers all over while Ornithomimus only gets some conservative fuzz on top. This early attempt at feathering Velociraptor is quite game, with the birdlike wattly red skin around the face a particularly nice touch. The finely detailed scales and spikes on Carnotaurus are nice, as well. The skin on the other two is oddly leathery. This piece seems heavily inspired by Luis Rey, more on which later.

In the early 2000s, there was a new player on the palaeomedia scene that would put its stamp on popular books: Walking With Dinosaurs. This influence was probably a net positive, as that show aimed to portray dinosaurs in a naturalistic, documentary light as opposed to some of the monsterization that came with Jurassic Park. Of course, it does mean that the show’s many tropes – and inaccuracies – would carry over into books around this time. Postosuchus is a prime example of an animal made famous by WWD, and I bet it wouldn’t show up in a book like this if it wasn’t for that show. These Coelophysis look very much like their WWD counterparts, too. Thanks to Zain Ahmed in the comments, we know this piece is by Todd Marshall.

These purple Plateosaurus are part of the same spread, completing the trifecta of Triassic Walking With Dinosaurs characters, nevermind that Plateosaurus is from a different continent. Apart from being purple and quite, quite fabulous, these represent the overreliance on the Paulian tropes of the time. The anatomy of the bones and muscles is well-observed, yes, and the spikes are a nice touch, but these animals are skinny to the point of malnutrition. Also, the environment is slightly undercooked. In that way, this is the sort of reconstruction the All Yesterdays movement was created to move away from. But I dig a purple dinosaur. Barney and Megatron from Beast Wars were getting lonely.

The artwork in this book is pretty concistently pretty good. This is a nice atmospheric piece at least, with Majungasaurus, pardon me, Majungatholus devouring a cadaver in a Kinght throwback. The bird, Rahonavis, looks strangely gnarly and spiky. I love the coulours on the animals and the swamp. There is something odd about Majunga’s anatomy, though. I can’t quite put my finger on it but its legs don’t look quite right to me. It also doesn’t quite blend into its environment.

Confuciusornis rather than tired old Archaeopteryx represents the avialan side of the dinosaur story. The idea that birds are surviving dinosaurs has become well-established at this point. This reconstruction still borrows a lot of tropes from old Archaeopteryx reconstructions, including the flamboyant colour scheme and the spread out wings with claws on, rather than the wing being part of the claw.

Speaking of. Oof. The fist couple of reconstructions of the freshly-minted Incisivosaurus were all in exactly this pose, from exactly this angle and looking exactly this silly. It’s a point against the artist – whoever they may be – that they copied this trend so slavishly. I don’t mind the buck teeth so much – showing those off was always the point with this reconstruction – but the bizarre wings with claws are a misfire. Awkward reconstructions like this were godsends to feather-haters and people who insisted that Sicence Ruined Dinosaurs.

Finally, we’ve arrived at some artwork that I can comfortably accredit to an artist. I know a Luis Rey piece when I see one. As ever, his work is impeccable, and even Rey-naysayers will find little to object to here. I’m not sure the pose of Piatnitzkysaurus completely works for me, but it does give that sweet, sweet sauropod some imposing sense of scale. The text rather optimistically declares that a theropod wouldn’t hesitate to attack something three times its size. Sure. The spinosaurs below – Irritator – are fantastic, as we can expect. Luis was some years away from illustrating his magnum opus – Thom Holtz’ Dinosaurus – but he proves himself the man for the job here.

Poor Luis. Not the first or last time his work goes uncredited. At least I hope they paid him.

Here’s another scene from WWD, or at least from WWD-related media. Remember that time when Nigel Marven filmed the legedary encounter between Giganotosaurus and Argentinosaurus, two mythical South American titans that never would have met? This piece is by Todd Marshall, the same illustrator who did the WWD-lifted Triassic piece above, I think. Similar to that, this suffers from shrinkwrapping, but I still quite love it. It’s very dynamic and dramatic, and the animals have been restored with lots of attention to detail. We all love a good chin wattle. The Giganotosaurus on the right is a particularly gnarly monster, and I love how Agentinosuarus has been restored with Saltasaurus-like osteoderms. Unfortunately, the fact that the animals are so lithe, and there not being much in the way of environment, means that the massive scale of these animals isn’t really being conveyed.

I’d say the artwork in this book overall is above average, but this T. rex piece is sadly below average. There’s something missing from these reconstructions to make them fully recognizable as T. rex, and I keep coming back to the head. Especially the head shape of the one on the right is just not right, with that strange, triangle shaped snout. These two also suffer mightly from too-humanoid-leg syndrome. A surprising number of artists really struggle to represent digitigrade legs well. The overall reconstruction is sub-Sibbickian in a way that really feels done by 2003.

I think this might also be Luis, this time with some flank-butting pachycephalosaurs, though I’m not a hundred percent sure. It’s excellent work in any case. His attention to detail, combined with his dynamic sensibility, makes his work a cut above the rest in books like this. This is one of those books that attempt to make the colour schemes consistent for the same species, even if they are illustrated by different artists. Elswhere in the book, we can see another green Pachycephalosaurus with a red head, from a different illustrator. That’s always a nice touch.

Let’s finish off part one with a giant croc attack. Not much to say about this, I love it!

It’s a pretty big book, so join me next time for part two. This book is a lot of fun. If only I knew the names of the artists, besides Luis Rey! You’ll hear me make that complaint a lot more. Anyway, World Atlas of Dinosaurs will return.

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  • Reply
    Zain Ahmed
    January 25, 2023 at 8:51 am

    I’d recognise this book and its gnarly art anywhere: in Canada, US, and most likely UK its the The Usborne World Atlas of Dinosaurs, and I know that among the artists uncredited is Todd Marshall.

    • Reply
      Zain Ahmed
      January 25, 2023 at 8:55 am

      He’s the one who did the Chinle, Argie/Giga, snd Plateosaurus pieces here.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2023 at 9:39 am

    I appreciate the way the sauropod being chewed on by Sarcosuchus has almost a faux-moustache due to the fine black stripes on its muzzle. Walrus boy.

  • Reply
    Christopher Mason
    February 9, 2023 at 8:43 am

    You can tell it’s a book of the early 2000s by the fact that Megaraptor is there. It was all the rage back in the day… and then the moment they discovered it was not, in fact, a massive dromaeosaur, they were all like “Stuff you like a Christmas Turkey!” and acted like it never actually existed.

    Like, seriously, when was the last time you saw a Megaraptor in a dinosaur book? Thought so.

  • Reply
    Darren Naish
    February 17, 2023 at 8:53 am

    So, your version doesn’t credit anyone correctly? I only have UK editions (I was consultant, together with Dave Martill), and they list all the authors, artists and consultants right at the front. Quite a few of the images in the book were modified or replaced for different editions – the one you have here includes more Todd Marshall art than the first edition (which has more Luis Rey in it). A disagreement on how ‘elaborate’ our dinosaurs should be explains why the Spinosaurus is digitally modified relative to Todd’s original.

    • Reply
      Niels Hazeborg
      February 18, 2023 at 4:52 am

      Thank you for your insight. My Dutch edition has a credits page but it only credits the photographs and tables, basically everything but the illustrations. I also haven’t found your name or Dave’s anywhere, nor, for that matter, the name of the actual authors. Sadly, this is normal for Deltas.

  • Reply
    Ryan DeLonge
    March 28, 2023 at 12:39 pm

    Had this book in English growing up. Loved it and the art has forever stood out to me.

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