Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gryposaurus, Part 1

Today we continue the behind the scenes look at the new paintings for the October issue of Ranger Rick magazine.

The next creature I needed to visualize was a duck-billed dinosaur called a Gryposaurus (and I misspelled the name). As you can see from my colored pencil sketch, I wasn't too sure what the forms would look like. Even though I was looking at lots of fossils, he looks lumpy and unconvincing. If I went ahead on the final painting, it would only have looked about 10% better.

I think you really learn a form through your fingers (that's why I love museums that have casts of great sculptures that you can run your hands over). By making a tiny sculpture of this particular dinosaur, using Fimo over tin foil and armature wire, I came to know my subject.

I kept checking it against the drawing. That nasal bone is not quite high enough.

I painted it with acrylic, darkening around the eyes. Many animals have dark color around their eyes for the same reason that football players smudge stuff around their eyes: to cut down on glare.

Tomorrow I'll show you how I photographed the maquette and proceeded with the painting.


Super Villain said...

another advantage of being able to attend the gurney creature workshop!

seeing all these orginal artworks and maquettes. and being able to hold and study them.

what awsome work and awsome workshop to attend!

Andrew said...

Awesome as always. I'm actually in the process of sculpting a stegosaurus, mostly for kicks (and to have a nice little dinosaur model to keep on the shelf.

I'd like to actually ask a question that was put forward yesterday that I don't think got answered -- What happens with all these little maquettes you make? Do you eventually toss them, or is there a slowly growing pile of half-made dinosaurs, snakes, creatures from other worlds, and ruins of fictional architecture in your closet?

James Gurney said...

Hi, Drew, sorry I didn't get to your question yesterday. Yes, usually I hang onto small maquettes. They go up on a shelf or in a drawer in case I need to use them again. I once visited Ray Harryhausen's studio in London, and it's full of maquettes and puppets and armatures.

i, me said...

JG: There was a book called 'the hand' that goes into the relation between the hand and brain ( i think harold speed touched on this too)

As an interesting side note -in the book "The brain that changes itself" (about neuroplasticity) there is a non drug cure for ADD that involves having students memorize long poems and learn a new alphabet (like urdu) and this is key - BY HAND not computer -
in the 19th century and up til the 60s of course, there was a heavy emphasis on both memorization (your grandparents can probably still recite the poems they learned) and penmenship but they were jettison by 'progressives'.

Douglas Ferreira said...

all the posts are absolutelly great!thanks for sharing this,and best wishes again from this side of the planet!

armandcabrera said...


I'm curious to know if you ever use 3d software for previsualization techniques
Like 3D Studio, Zbrush or Maya. While the organic stuff would be a bit more problematic to recreate the geomtery would be very fast and easy.

James Gurney said...

ime, I think that multi-sensory learning is a great teaching tool, and the smart teachers have always done it.

Thanks, Douglas, thanks you're enjoying these posts.

Hey, Armand--I haven't had time to explore the 3D programs, though they intrigue me. I wonder if you can get all the nuances of lighting, with various colors of key and fill and reflected light, and blue overhead light to interact with shadows. I also wonder how they work with shading and surfaces: specularity and absorption and all that.

Seeing how a form interacts with these lighting and shading features is the main reason I build maquettes, so the 3D programs would have to really deliver to beat physical models set up in natural light.

woos said...

Hi James!
Thanks a million for posting these. I learn SO MUCH from the way you work! Do you ever make maquettes of people? I have seen that you use models, but is there ever an occasion where you will sculpt a reference for a person instead?

Steve said...

In regard to Armand's question about the imaging software, I feel -- based on years of working with schoolkids -- that humans are "wired" to make sense of the world in a tactile way. I believe that when Jim builds the maquettes, a feedback loop is activated between his hands and the visualizing portion of his brain that simply can't happen by looking at a screen. Given that it is those same hands that will later use a brush to paint the image, it would be a great advantage to have felt the shape of the subject right through the fingertips. And, recalling Jim's upside down portrait of Lincoln, he just might paint with both hands!

Unknown said...

You are giving so much good advice, I feel like you are giving your book away for free. Thanks for all of the demonstrations!

Did you ever do an in depth post on making moquettes (types of clay, technique, etc.)? Could you point me to it if you did? Thanks.

James Gurney said...

Woos, yes, I've done maquettes of key characters in the Dinotopia books, like Arthur Denison and Lee Crabb, as well as generic character heads of various sorts. Those maquettes appear in Imaginative Realism, and some of them are on the blog if you dig back a ways.

Jon, yes, I've made a schematic maquette ( of Waterfall City, as well as a couple of close-up details that are more finished. One of them is in the exhibition that will be at the Delaware Art Museum early in 2010.

Jeremy, I don't think I've gone into a whole lot of detail yet about maquette construction, but I'll try to give more nuts and bolts in the upcoming posts about the other Ranger Rick critters. There are some guys on ConceptArt who know a lot more about maquette building than I do. Mine are rough and fast.

Steve, I agree with you about the feedback loops. When I was working with the creature design class on drawing the goat-man Pan, I got to hold Billy the goat for about three hours, and everyone came up and patted him (Billy loved the attention). Now each of us knows exactly how a goat is put together in a way that no amount of photos ever could.

armandcabrera said...


If anything there is too much control over all those aspects especially the lighting. The drawback is you have to set all of them yourself.
I guess the limitations are the tech itself. Clay doesn't require a power cord.