Here’s part two of our tentative exploration into the early 2000s with the World Atlas of Dinosaurs. Lots of Todd Marshall and Luis Rey to discover, but also I will tell you the real reason I couldn’t resist this book when I found it. Without further ado:
Here’s one half of a Tendaguru spread by Todd Marshall. It depicts ceratosaurs in a bout of speculative intraspecific combat. The animals themselves are entirely speculative; the only ceratosaur material from Tanzania is teeth, as the text notes. Marhsall imagines them as simply bigger versions of the American Ceratosaurus.
The Giraffatitan (explicitly mentioned to be the African Brachiosaurus) on the next page is painted from an unusual perspective, keeping its head down a little. This makes it look less giant and majestic than it’s usually depicted, and strangely humble instead. Points for originality. Marshall still makes it buky and muscular and avoids the worst of the shrinkwrapping he can sometimes be guilty of. What I always look for in sauropod depictions is if the artist get the feet right, and Todd Marshall doesn’t put a foot wrong here. Pun totally intended.
Spinosaurus, fishing on the shoreline. A certain movie came out a few years before which depicted Spinosaurus doing very different things indeed. This book keeps things a bit more in line with the science. Nevertheless, this Spinosaurus is very much of its time: basically giant Baryonyx with a sail. As such, it’s alright. I like Marshall’s colour schemes, and he strikes a nice balance between the badass, monstrous side that appeals to my inner ten-year-old and naturalistic believablility. Those claws look viscious.
Neovenator puts in a very memorable appearance, chasing some equally well-done ornitischians (the limitations of my scanner aren’t doing this piece any favours). The Isle of Wight theropod doesn’t often get a chance to look this impressive. Todd Marshall makes it look like basically a cross between Allosaurus and T. rex. Marshall really nails the eye here, a mad, piercing, cold-hearted avian stare. An extremely cool theropod, one of Marshall’s best pieces in the book. The ornitischians it chases remind me very much of the blue-headed green Othnielia from Walking with Dinosaurs.
Here’s something cool. Feathered therizinosaurus were a new concept in 2003 (Beipiaosaurus, the first known feathered therizinosaur, was described in 1999). A Walking With Dinosaurs spinoff from the same year depicted it naked, so Marshall is on the vanguard here. It really is a good attempt, not quite the shaggy mountains that would become the norm later (and that we’re now seeing some pushback against) but well within the realms of believability. Not even a million miles away from how it looked on Prehistoric Planet. The fact that it’s peacefully chewing the scenery rather than getting involved in slashy battles against Tarbosaurus is a nice plus, as well. Good one.
Here’s another Luis Rey piece, and it’s a piece that could only have been made at a very particular, very brief window in time between the discovery of Microraptor and the discovery that it was black and shiny all over. When we interviewed Luis for the podcast, he defended his use of colour and argued his dinosaurs were never too colourful, but he did slightly jump the gun on this one.
What Luis did nail was the lovely iridesence, which he beautifully illustrates in the tail. Not an easy feat. The perching one on the right looks especially nice, and Luis was quicker on the uptake than most around this time with incorporating the claws into the wing organically.
Here’s Luis V. Rex (actually Tarbosaurus but who can resist a pun) chasing an ornithomimid which bumps into the margins of my scanner. Luis can be derisive of his older work but this really is top notch stuff. The feathering on Gallimimus is conservative by modern standards but the feathery collar and the lovely wattle are great Rey trademarks, although the beak that you just about can’t see here is red rather than the traditional Rey yellow. I’m not sure about the stripes, though. The Tarbosaurus is just about the best tyrannosaur you could hope to see around this time, with the bosses and grooves on its face wonderfully pronounced and wicked purple highlights. It’s geat, dynamic and dramatic.
With this illustration and the next, we are coming up on the real reason I just had to buy and review this book. Here we see some Saltasaurus nesting in the desert. It’s not quite up there with Mashall and Rey – the very barren landscape doesn’t do it any favours. The sauropods look almost like ankylosaurs, small and low-slung as the artist has depicted them. But, again, they’ve got the feet right.
From the same artist, here is an early attempt at a feathered troodontid. It’s the kind of reconstruction that walks so later ones could run. We’re still looking at an essentially reptilian creature with angy eyebrows that has feathers put on as if it’s wearing a coat. It would be a while before we would see truly birdlike penneraptorans in mainstream books, and I feel like most current ones are still stuck in this phase. Still, it’s good that artists around this time were making an attempt. It was an important step towards better reconstructions. The Maiasaura, meanwhile, is stuck in the past simply for being very Sibbickian.
Now here’s why I bought the book when I found it at a second-hand bookstore. If you’ll forgive me the slightly unironed appearance, I own this duvet cover featuring these very illustrations! Seeing the original illustrations definitely fired some confused neurons in my brain. The frustrating thing is that I still don’t know who the artist is. Thanks, Deltas. It’s not a very good duvet cover, but it’s got feathered dinosaurs on.
It’s a magical Liopleurodon, Charlie! Of course, the ultimate Walking With Dinosaurs breakout star gets a shining appearance, and it is all too clear where the illustrator got their inspiration from. It’s a bit blatant, but it’s nice to see the impact of WWD in a way that doesn’t mean everything gets taken over by CG.
As you have seen, most of the artwork in this book has a pretty high standard, mostly thanks to the effort of the reliable Todd Marshall and Luis Rey. But there’s some missteps as well, none more so than this bafflingly awful spread towards the end of the book. We see three identical dull grey brachiosaurs unconvincingly copy-pasted into what I suspect is a stock background. And for an encore, they are wading like sauropods from the Burian generation. Just bad choices all around. This would not pass quality control if there was any. The text tries to sell us that these animals are wading, not to support their weight, but to cool off. Sure. The biggest blemish upon an otherwise good book, proving that what there is to like about it is down to the artists rather than the editors.
And that’s the World Atlas of Dinosaurs, proof that at least not all post-WWD post-turn-of-the-century art in mainstream dinosaur books needed to be terrible, or CG, or terrible CG. The only thing that really lets it down is the lack of proper accreditation. According to a comment by Darren (who worked as a consultant for this) under page one, this is not a problem in the original English version, so it is clearly Deltas who are in the wrong here. It is time one of the largest purveyors of educational books in the Benelux starts setting a better example.
I’m still skeptical that the 21st century will be a goldmine for LITC, but 2003 can still be considered a good year for dinosaur books. I’ve got a few more in the pipeline from the same year. But first, I want to get back some older stuff. I think it’s time for some good old-fashioned Burian rip-offs from Europe.