david's really interesting pages | Just another WordPress site

Bones is bones

In the folly of explorative spirit, I spent more time than I have available to me at the moment modeling Archie’s skull. All in all – spread out over the week – eight hours. And? I don’t like it. My goal was a sculptural form that conveys what it is that makes Archie Archie, while leaving out unnecessary details. My result is neither here nor there. One issue has been finding reference – the original material is all squished up, the skeletal mount here in Berlin is modeled for more volumetric purposes and the interior bits and pieces are just plain absent. But other than that, I missed the mark. Not enough abstraction, too much detail.

AAB; birds & bees


This is my first go at a hand out poster promoting the Ask a Biologist website, as requested by Dave Hone. Some out there might think of me as a destructive personality for doing something like this for free, but I’ll pass it on… Dave Hone’s then being destructive for doing the site on a shoestring budget. For the record,  I’ve abused reference photography that I found on the net, a font that I believe comes with Windows, but I’m not sure, and… And I don’t believe we should consider public service messages – to which I categorize outreach projects like this – as stringently as commercial gigs. Call me names if you like.

On to the poster:
I’ve stuck to the site’s C.I. as I find it very well-done and memorable. (Congrats to whomever – I stole your work here too.) I picked up on the potpourri character of the site by throwing some actual questions together – high and low brow formulations – that are reflected in a (hopefully) catchy headline. The site also invites you to browse answers and so encounter all sorts of weird information. I wanted to reflect that and so I included the question query numbers… I’m not sure people would be net-savvy enough to actually use them, so I added a hint in the same format – the “.com” by the logo. Not sure if this is good. I’m trying to extend a hand for those who might not know how to get to the site, but I think this is superfluous nowadays.

Anyway – would love to hear what you think, about the poster and about doing something like this for a beer. (Yes, you owe me a beer, Dave! But I won’t hold the high res version until getting it. Just send me change requests / feedback and I’ll send it.)

Nina talks copyright

YouTube Preview Image

Nina Paley has become synonymous with her critical view of copyright. She’s also a bold explorer of financial models based on open source. Anyone who’s followed her from the days of her fantastic feature film effort “Rita sings the blues” will know that her openness was at least in part an act of desperation. It’s one of the truly wonderful things about internet culture that her courage has been rewarded.

In light of recent comments by Greg Paul about his artwork, I think this new interview with Nina could be of value to the paleoart community. I doubt there will be much agreement, but it can’t hurt to soak up that energy and to consider alternative mindsets and how they’ve paid off right here, in the real world.

Seeing is Believing – not

One of the things that fascinates me about paleo-people is the layered depths of knowledge that is or isn’t taken for granted. I fondly remember climbing into a stone quarry with Richard Leheis, less in anticipation of finding a worthy fossil myself but in taking witness in this man’s literacy. Experienced fossil hunters can read stone. I slight bump in the surface of a slate sheet, combined with a slight discoloration at a broken edge and the knowledge of context (what type of stone is this from what historical epoch) combines (for Richard) into an incredibly accurate prediction of an animal or plant positioned in a certain way beneath this slab of stone are – to my eyes – absolutely nothing.

I’m an artist/animator. I have decent anatomical knowledge (Heinrich would correctly addend – mammalian anatomical knowledge) and little or no expertise in paleontology, biomechanics, etc… working hard to fill in those gaps and clever enough to say – hey, knowing what I don’t know is my greatest advantage! And reveling in those moments where my world is turned upside down. What choice would I have, other than to be grumpy about it?

Case in point… Archaeopteryx’s toe.


As you can see from this collage of artists as renowned and varied as Reichel, Paul, Heilmann, Frankford, Wellnhofer, Knight, Sibbick, deSeve (yeah, I even check out concept art from IceAge), mounts in Berlin and Eichsaett… more or less every reconstruction seems to show consensus concerning Archie’s toe. Namely – it’s bird-like and conducive to perching. Across the board.

What could you possibly have against that? I mean, look at the fossils:

There it is. Before your very eyes.

So – how does Scott Hartman come to this reconstruction?

I admit to a moment of smugness, thinking I’d caught Scott in an error so very untypical of him – his work commands my utmost respect. But how could he come to such a – literally – 180 degree difference to so many giants of paleoart? Well, if there’s any moral to today’s story, it’s this – stay humble. I contacted him to ask him about this, and good thing about that – preparing my question with a one-glimpse type graphic so as to steal as little of his time as necessary, but in retrospect it would have been more professional to (as Heinrich would say) read the f*cking paper. It’s all there, but Scott was kind enough to patiently roll it out for me. His answer is

Yes, the toes are clearly not retroverted in any specimen.  Middleton first showed that dinosaurs with reversed metatarsals (which appear to only be ones further up the tree towards birds) have a distinctive twist in the first metatarsal…if you think about it, developmentally this has to be so, since you can’t just rotate a single phalanx around the axis.

Archaeopteryx clearly lacks this.  Moreover, on the Thermopolis specimen the metatarsals are preserved much better, and you can clearly see that the first toe has rolled out of proper articulation with the metatarsal in order to appear reversed (and actually, ALL the toes are disarticulated…toes 2-4 rolled the opposite direction)

Taphonomically it works like this: the three dimensional skeleton gets flattened as sediment piles up.  The large curved toe claws end up having to get twisted to one side of the other because of their shape.  The number one toe is slightly offset to the inside (probably 15 degrees give or take).  As a result it tends to flatten the opposite way of the rest of the toes.
Anyhow, I know it sounds like I’m saying “don’t believe your lying eyes” with those other specimens, but the feet are not preserved well enough to show the actual articular capsule, and it was on the Thermop specimen (and it clearly shows you can’t articulate them while retroverted).
And the corresponding section of the paper:
Toes: As detailed by Mayr et al. (2005), and also assumed by Middleton (2002), the first toe of Archaeopteryx was not fully reversed as in modern birds (contra, for example, Wellnhofer, 1993). In the new specimen, it is spread medially on both feet (Fig. 13).
Metatarsal I attaches to the medial (not medioplantar, contra Elanowski, 2002) side of the second metatarsal, in approximately its distal quarter, whereas it attaches to the plantar surface of the tarsometatarsus in modern birds with a fully reversed hallux (Middle-
ton, 2001); its proximal section even protrudes slightly further dorsad than the second metatarsal (Fig. 13). Moreover, the shaft does not exhibit the torsion characteristic for birds with a fully reversed hallux (Middleton, 2001).
lessons learned:
1) My 3D reconstruction will be at least in the realm of accurate, as Scott gave me detailed visual feedback. Archaeopteryx was not a percher, was not a tree-dweller, was not a bird in the form that the word tends to conjure up. The species has just gotten a lot more interesting to me, as has the whole chapter of early avian evolution.
2) 3D reconstructions can communicate articulation much more precisely than 2d profiles can ever hope of doing. They also have the potential of illustrating all that scientific terminology in a direct, visual and possibly interactive way. I hope that I can contribute to so that I myself will be less lazy in wading through all those words, heeding more consistently Heinrich’s advice… read the literature.
3) Someone literate in articulation has to articulate these things. Someone who’s learned not to trust their eyes.
Papers Terminology…

  • The tenth skeletal specimen of Archaeopteryx
    Gerald Mayr, Burkhard Pohl, Scott Hartman , D. Stefan Peters
  • taphonomy = the study of decaying organisms over time and how they become fossilized
  • medial = towards the middle, (not just having to do with media)
  • I’ll try to do up a graphic of all those other terms once I have other things out of the way

“bullshit better than science”

sometimes renderings based on the absence of science are far more interesting

AWN; Tracking Time, Managing Your You

Find out my opinion of time tracking over at AWN.

Case in point…

The Illustrator’s Partnership (blog here) just sent me this:

Court Rejects Google Book Settlement


Yesterday, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin rejected the Book Rights Registry settlement between Google and the US Authors Guild. The $125 million commercial agreement would have rewarded both parties for the largest mass infringement of authors’ copyrights in history. Instead, the judge ruled it a business deal “too far.”

“A Reversal of Copyright Law” is what we called this agreement in our warning to illustrators September 29, 2009. Like the visual arts “databases” we opposed during the Orphan Works fight, we wrote:

“this agreement would allow both Google and a yet-to-be-created Book Rights Registry to commercially profit from an author’s work whenever they say they can’t locate the author.

“Both schemes would force authors to opt out of commercial operations that infringe their work or to ‘protect’ their work by opting-in to privately owned databases run by infringers. This Hobson’s Choice for authors reverses the principle of copyright law.”

Judge Chin held this to be the case. “A copyright owner’s right to exclude others from using his property is fundamental and beyond dispute,” he ruled. “[I]t is incongruous with the purpose of the copyright laws to place the onus on copyright owners to come forward to protect their rights when Google copied their works without first seeking their permission.”

The judge also noted objections to the “Adequacy of Class Representation.”  In short, this holds that neither Google, nor any organizations claiming to represent authors, nor the university libraries that gave Google “permission” to digitize their holdings, own the copyrights to the works this agreement would have allowed them to exploit.

Therefore, they have no standing to broker deals based on claims that they represent the “class” of authors.

The judge held this to be the case even where organizations asserted the right to “expropriate” “orphaned” royalties belonging to rightsholders. Noting that “After ten years, unclaimed funds may be distributed to literary-based charities,” the judge concluded:

“[A]t a minimum a fair question exists as to whether this Court or the Registry or the Fiduciary would be expropriating copyright interests belonging to authors who have not voluntarily transferred them. As Professor Nimmer has written: ‘By its terms Section 201(e) is not limited to acts by governmental bodies and officials. It includes acts of seizure, etc., by any ‘organization’ as well.‘ 3 Melville B. Nimmer & David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright §10.04 (Rev. Ed. 2010) (footnote omitted).” [Page 31 of the judge's ruling, emphasis added.]

In rejecting the settlement, Judge Chin also echoed the US Justice Department’s antitrust objections: The deal, he wrote, “would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission…” He suggested the settlement might win approval if it were revised to cover only those who opt into the agreement.

- Brad Holland and Cynthia Turner for the Board of the Illustrators’ Partnership

guilds, unions & cooperatives, oh my!

Everywhere, there are organizations representing artists. Canada, Australia, England, California… heck, France has gone so far that they’ve got artists representing organizations. Alone in Germany, my location, there are unions for freelancers, artist coops, digital worker’s and animation guilds – all of which are vying for my membership.

Heated debates spring up in fairly regular intervals with various flavors of recurring arguments: “if you’re any good at what you do then you don’t need a union“  vs “organization is necessary to establish fair practices“.

As I’ve been following these discussions amongst animators for some time, I thought I’d summarize what I want from an organization that represents my work, and what I don’t want.

Awareness, Politics and Public Relations
Yeah, forget the pricing standards. I find it much more important that a representation has the clout, position and understanding necessary to get a message out. To get the museums and journals and magazines to understand what value the visual element brings them, at what cost to the artist / scientist / team with what skill set required. To get the governments to understand the role of this work in the larger context of research, outreach, education and regional competitiveness. To trigger sincere discussions among artists, scientists and publishing channels.
I view this as an important extension of the “educating-my-clients” work that I have to do myself.

Legal consultation
Preparation of muster contracts and information about the meaning of the clauses, access to lawyers when I need one.

Not long ago, if an advertising agency accepted an unpaid pitch – as one of often 6 agencies – they’d be outed by the various journals in the industry as having contributed to this destructive practice. As a result, agencies were hesitant to accept such conditions and client corporations learned that this was an unacceptable thing to request. Even without naming names, knowing what is the going rate is an important parcel of information – one which feelancers are fairly unwilling to exchange themselves. It’s an important gage of your value to the client. Fortunately, Tess Kissinger has gone most of the way in gathering and sharing this information for paleoartists:

Copyrights, Contracts, & Guidelines for Dinosaur Artists & Paleontologists
by Tess Kissinger

It would be interesting to see how regional or technical differences affect rates, which could be gathered in the form of polls.

Training Offers
Freelancers are always educating themselves. Offerings that make this more possible are always welcome, especially if they are broken down into bits and pieces that don’t cost much because they are presented in the form of download-able tutorials, videos or muster files.
Of course nothing beats person-to-person exchanges, so perhaps a sponsored tour could be arranged, information to offerings from other institutions or Things like Mike Habib’s artist meeting at SVP are all very welcome.

Professional Confidence
I was surprised buy this one when I read it in  but indeed, 34% of Illustratoren Organisation rated this very important and 30.8% important.

Platform and exchange of information
There’s a whole gambit of community platform which is currently spread out amongst deviant art, artEvolved and a slew of blogs, sculptor and artist forums. Most established artists will certainly have their own internet platform but younger ones would certainly enjoy the opportunity to have a portfolio amongst other like-minded artists within a platform that invited potential clients to browse them – particularly if the whole thing is cross-indexed from various points of view: species, technique, artist location, reconstruction type, consulting scientist, paper references, etc. Activities such as speed-paints, challenges and themed galleries could create some community vibe and forums could create a structured venue to gather feedback and polish one’s craft. Access to papers might be more easily arranged. And of course, job forums could be posted, for whatever amount anyone pitches… the main thing is not to dictate prices but to make the environment in which they are pitched transparent.

Over at cgheute, German cg artists vote on how much they’d pay for the priviledge of representation. 55% say 10 to 20 Euros a month with only 5% willing to pay more than that. In a branch where the mean earnings hover around 300 Euros a day for experienced artists. We’re stingy bastards.

So… that’s my list. What’s yours?

What it is… paleoart.

‘Tis the season to list the do’s and don’ts of paleoart, and Andrea Cau has just posted a simple but interesting list of commandments at his blog. Beyond the potential of taking googlithic translations to seriously, here the list polished in English slightly by myself (which does not exclude misinterpretations):

I – Science is the source of paleoart
II – Thou shall take no reference beyond living creatures, as these represent the closest kin of extinct beasts
III – Thou shall not make any idol, model or inspiration paleoart between the past and living, but you will always be inspired by the only living creatures
IV – Thou shall not call a work “paleoart” in vain
V – Thou  shall honor anatomy and ecology
VI – Thou shall not plagiarize
VII – Thou shall not create mythology
VIII – Thou shall not create false reconstruction
IX – Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s techniques
X – Thou shall not desire to impress others

Okay, not sure if google was adept enough to take a swig at nr. III, (anyone able to translate that?) but I think the others were fairly close. I, II, IV, V and VIII all seem very straightforward, though I suspect any attempt to concretely define what they mean would lead to some interesting discussion.

IV has been a subject of some contention at artEvolved, with a polarization between the ‘illustrators’ such as myself and those who defend more artistic liberties such as Glendon – resolved at least for now as an issue of semantics.

Until last week, I would have said VI is clear-cut as well, but – well, now I’ll pass.

VII is an interesting formulation. I’d interpret this as a call to resist seeing what you wish to, and allow your work to be driven by what’s there. As such it echoes the others, but I like the way it rings out on its own.

With IX and X the peace fest ends, however…
why should I not covet cool techniques? Why shouldn’t I be driven by them, to learn and improve and inspire the next guy or gal? Particularly in an age of digital toolsets that offer little precedence, of 3D technologies that are perceived as ‘cold’ and expensive, but which offer an efficiency explosion? The science is so complex, the toolsets are so complex… I only see one chance of making all this proceed at a rate which is rewarding and fun… cooperation. I propose: IX – Thou shall open thy tool shed, and wield the tools of thy neighbor with respect, credit and reflection. (And no, I don’t mean those tools.)

And X is an alien thought to me, but this may well lie in the depths of google’s Italian… I’m in this to impress others. Unequivocally. I can understand a scientist being content to study bones, publish papers and dodge public opinion. But I have no chance of becoming a great paleologist, and am really not in it for that. I want to infect others with the impressions I’ve been given. I want kids, adults and aliens to look at this stuff with the amazement that I feel. So I weight this and push that and try to make a story out of it. I’d change this last one to something like: X – Thou shall tremor with excitement and endeavor to endow others with this same infliction.

I’s also probably ditch the biblical tone. :-) Your thoughts?

Link to Andrea’s blog.

epic GSP


We need little reminder that the state of funding for the natural sciences is not exactly rosy. We need little reminder that artists are faced with game-changing technical and social upheavals. But apparently we do need some reminder that there are brightly shining bits of glory here and there, often carried out on the backs of people who simply don’t want to accept that we are neglecting science and science education.

We need this reminder in the face of Greg Paul’s tirades against open community involvement… and I do not say that lightly. Greg Paul began with a completely sound campaign to respect copyright and to organize as artists for a better working conditions. Well – to be more precise, to respect his copyright and his conditions. And for all I can see, that’s where the arguments have been stranded. He made no attempt to clarify his positions, to define where the wiggly line between scientific reference and intellectual property nor to propose how a just pricing  system can accommodate for up-and-coming artists or those from countries with lower costs of living.

Greg Paul is the antithesis of how I view science – whereby I refer more to his means of (non) communication than any specific demand. He states ubiquitously and accepts no other opinion. He writes private cease and desist mails that one desist replying to the open forum to which he’s posted to. And he attacks people like Heinrich Mallison, Mark Witton and Wilbur Wateley for expressing opinion and requesting clarification.

The crux of the issue is that instead of rallying all the parties together to address the very real issues of neglected science and science outreach, he pits the artist against the scientist and the amateur against the professional. Following his arguments, Mark Witton is “ruining paleoartistry” by having illustrated some papers for friends. I certainly am for having illustrated blogs in non-monetary gratitude that such people are sharing their incredible knowledge with me and others via their unpaid(!) blogs. Which makes Mark and Dave Hone and Heinrich Mallison and Darren Naish all guilty of ruining paleo-literature. And PZ Meyers is soliciting useless, supine, negative, defeatist, inadequately informed nay saying, accomodationist, pessimistic artists just like me. (Actually – that suddenly sounds like a cool t-shirt.) It’s just all so short-sighted and self-centered that the very real issues are not done justice. I prefer to jive with Heinrich,  the artEvolved, Michael Habib and anyone else who is interested.

Mr. Paul’s emails:  first, second, third and the mail that broke the camel’s back; the artEvolved community responses and the no GSP logo above is yours to do with what you wish, rights or no rights. Its a symbol that I’ll no longer rely on his work as a source of information and that I will pose my figures in a species-specific extreme gait because that is a pose which conveys essential information about that animal and would not hold up to Mr.Paul’s copyright claims.

(Note: the lat mail from Paul hasn’t appeared in the archive yet, I’ll correct that link as soon as it does.)