To imagine the four-legged whale Maiacetus, I made a quick maquette out of Fimo, keeping it in scale to printouts of the skeleton drawings. The baby maquette was easier to make; it didn't even need legs, because I knew I would photograph it mostly underwater.
After painting the maquettes, I placed them on a blackened cookie sheet covered with about a half inch of water. The C-stand holds a white umbrella to try to get some fill light into the shadow.
Here's the resulting photo, with small waves creating reflections. The reason I added the tail flukes was that I read an argument for them on a science discussion forum online. There are no bones in a whale's tail flukes, so it seemed reasonable to speculate that flukes might have been emerging in this cetacean ancestor.
But just to be sure, I contacted Dr. Philip Gingerich, who made the fossil discovery, and he said the evidence of the tail bones definitely rules out flukes. So off they came.
With the help of the reference photos, along with plein air studies that I had made of lakeside scenes, I did the final oil painting.
ADDENDUM--At the request of art director M. K. reading the blog, here's how the final page looked. Thanks to Donna Miller, art director for Ranger Rick, who fit everything together!
To see all the Ranger Rick posts back to back, link.