Milestones

On July 1, Evolutionary Routes completed its first tour around the solar system, turning one year old. It is rewarding to watch the readership of the blog increasing, and some thoughtful comments being contributed. A big thank you goes out to all of my readers, and to those who have taken the additional time to leave comments, which are always welcome.

As I commented on a previous post, a large part of my work entails scientific illustration. As a result, some of the first year of blog writing was displaced by the demands of mural illustration projects for museums and publications. I described my production process of the murals for the new Hall of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in a previous post.

One of the unusual dinosaurs unearthed from Saharan Africa, Ouranosaurus, poses in front of a mural restoration of its Cretaceous environment at the ROM’s Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana exhibition. Unlike the remaining four murals, this mural is projected onto a screen and makes use of moving imagery, i.e. dynamically changing clouds that I illustrated on a separate layer from the rest of the background. Artwork by Julius Csotonyi; Photograph by Alexandra Lefort.

More recently, another exhibit featuring my paleoart (artwork that endeavors to reconstruct prehistoric subjects) opened at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana, was curated by Dr. David Evans and Dr. Matthew Vavrek. This project focused on the unusual dinosaur fauna of the southern hemisphere, a subject that few northern hemisphere museums have covered, and none to date in Canada to this extent. What’s great about this exhibit from an evolutionary biology standpoint is that it weaves together the fascinating geological and paleontological records that describe how the development and ultimate break-up of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana affected the evolution of the bizarre assemblage of dinosaurs that are being unearthed in the southern hemisphere. The exhibition winds through a large space, telling the story of prehistoric environments from sites in Argentina, Niger, Madagascar and Patagonia, comparing and contrasting these southern ecosystems to more familiar northern counterparts, such as the Hell Creek formation in North America Most of the dinosaurs featured in the exhibit have only been described within the last ten years. Among the unusual genera (which can be viewed here) displayed in the exhibit are the spined sauropod Amargasaurus, sail-backed Ouranosaurus, crocodile-jawed Suchomimus, enormous sauropod Futalognkosaurus, horned theropods Carnotaurus and Majungasaurus and the enormous predator Giganotosaurus.

Casts of Triassic animals in the ROM’s exhibit stand in front of a mural reconstruction of their Argentinian environment. Animals include Herrerasaurus, Pisanosaurus, Eoraptor and Prestosuchus (the latter not a dinosaur, but a rauisuchian archosaur). Artwork by Julius Csotonyi; Photograph by Alexandra Lefort.

For this project, I created five large murals of dinosaurs and contemporaneous flora and fauna in environmental reconstructions (up to 15 x 150 feet, or 5 x 50 m, in size), as well as seventeen dinosaur vignette illustrations for accompanying information panels. The murals feature mostly full sized restorations of dinosaurs, positioned beside and behind the skeletons, and in the same positions as the skeletal mounts, allowing visitors to compare the skeletal anatomy to the fleshed-out restorations at the same scale.

Visitors examine skeletons from Cretaceous Madagascar. Behind them, a mural features Majungasaurus ambushing a young Rapetosaurus, as a Rahonavis glides off in escape, while a Masiakasaurus toys with a Beelzebufo. Artwork by Julius Csotonyi; Photograph by Alexandra Lefort.

The exhibition also features full sized casts of 17 dinosaurs, produced by Peter May’s renowned team of Research Casting International. Unusual for museums, but becoming more extensively utilized, the exhibit also features augmented reality components, such as rotatable digital tablets that allow users to visualize how the dinosaur would have looked fleshed out and moving, and reactive wall displays that incorporate motion sensors to selectively animate plant and animal components of the murals as visitors approach them. To create these innovative components of the exhibit, layered files of the murals and dinosaur illustrations were used in the generation of animated 3-dimensional models by a team of modellers at Meld Media, and the extraordinary artists Andrey Atuchin and Vlad Konstantinov.

Yours truly playing with one of the swivelling digital tablets installed to allow visitors to see what the mounted skeletons (in this case, Tyrannosaurus) would have looked like in life, fleshed out, with tails whipping and jaws snapping. Artwork by Julius Csotonyi, Andrey Atuchin and Vlad Konstantinov; Photograph by Alexandra Lefort.

Speaking of annual milestones, because July 1 is also Canada’s national birthday, I’ll wish my fellow Canadians a (slightly belated) happy 145th Canada Day. And, since the Fourth of July is just peeking around the corner, I will end this post with a wish for happy national birthday festivities to our neighbors in the U.S.A.

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2 Responses to Milestones

  1. Sm says:

    The Majungasaurus is beautiful.

  2. BJ Murphy says:

    What are your thoughts on the recent discovery of likelihood that all early ancestors of dinosaurs were, in fact, feathered?

    http://io9.com/5923231/paleontologists-now-say-all-dinosaurs-had-feathers

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