Sunday, May 4, 2014

Snake attacks baby dinosaurs

A few years ago, paleontologists found direct fossil evidence of a dramatic scene where a giant snake invaded a nest of baby sauropods.

When I was proposing illustration ideas to the editors of Ranger Rick for their May issue about baby dinosaurs, I suggested that we reconstruct this fossil.

Here's the final oil painting. I chose an orange and cyan color gamut for a weird look, and I used photographic effects, such as lens flares to add a sense of vérité.

I referred to this fossil photo, along with a line drawing in the scientific paper showing the position of the snake, eggs, and hatchling.
I did a series of quick sketches in colored pencil, fountain pen, and watercolor to explore variations of angles, lighting ideas, and value organizations. These sketches were based on a beautiful sculpted reconstruction by Tyler Keillor.

But I wanted to sculpt my own interpretation of it, so I made a maquette out of plasticine modeling clay. I used that because I planned to recycle the material rather than saving it. Note the lens flare effects when it was set up out in real sunlight.


My Shop said...
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Laura said...

Oh no, poor baby dinosaurs. :( But beautiful art all the same. :D I love seeing your process, from layout sketches to sculpture to finished painting. You make everything look so beautiful, even dinos getting gulped by giant snakes. ;D I love all the detail and attention to shape and structure in this. Keep up the wonderful works!

Just out of curiosity, I was wondering what type of sauropod the babies are. I think it's interesting that the snake doesn't seem to have teeth (or maybe they're there and I didn't notice them). ;) Very cool!

Anonymous said...

Lovely. When looking at things like this I'm always imagining just what happened to them to make this scene freeze in time. The article said they were suddenly buried in sediment, but I still wonder what.

@Laura: The article says the sauropod seems to be a Titanosaur.

Dan dos Santos said...
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Dan dos Santos said...

Great piece, james!

I'm curious about your decision to leave the lens flare over the snake's head though. It seems like an unusual compositional choice.

Did you leave it there because you felt it looked inaccurate otherwise?

I suspect you're far more attuned to a lighting inaccuracy than the typical artist.

(To clarify, I'm referring to it's positioning.. not it's inclusion.)

James Gurney said...

Dan, thanks! I suppose I could have put the flares anywhere on the lens axis on that diagonal line away from the light source, which was from the upper left. I needed to show them against dark background forms, and I put them on the head because it seemed like a place no one would deliberately put such FX--which made them seem hopefully more random and accidental.