Here you see 3 mammoths… from Prehistoric Park, 2000 BC and Carl Buell. The first two are 3D visualizations and the last is hand-painted. It’s also a differnet species, a Columbian Mammoth… but what’s interesting is the differing intentions of these works. The first intends to be scientifically accurate as well as entertaining. The second just wants to entertain, servicing the image we all already have in our heads as to what these creatures did and dramatically upping the ante. The third also dramatizes, but it is prime pursuit is accuracy. Of course, the process and budget also play a role: the first two approach the process of generating a visual image as a chain of re-usable assets and are the result of teams of artists. Carl creates this one image by himself, perhaps in dialog with specialists… its volume and form exists as an asset only in his head. A further illustration would be starting all over again, except for this (considerable) knowledge, and an animation would be unfeasible.
Of more direct interest here is the way the first two are presented; as “real” elements within the context of their respective fictions. As such, they represent an actual (albeit fictional) reality – this is what a mammoth looked like, this is what it moved like. You can see people interacting with these creatures, supporting the visual claim.
Carl’s piece is hand-drawn. Despite the high level-of-detail, it displays the artifacts of human creation – zoom in on the larger resolution graciously offered at his site and the hair-covered skin gives way to individual strokes of paint. Carl’s hand is there, and thus we know this is a construction. Even at reduced scale, we feel this fact.
In paleoart, this is an important differentiation. The above Trex portrait by Demetrios Vital inherently communicates that it is an idea… whereas BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs presents itself as real. I’m always amazed at the amount of information that paleologists gleen off of lumpy, crushed bits mineralized bone and find their sleuthing and debates at least as fascinating as the creatures that they are trying to understand. As an artist, its all too easy to slip into what looks cool, what seems right. I respect the dogma of the scientist who has to restrain these urges in favor of factual support. I also respect those artists and artist-scientists – and there’s an incredible wealth of artistic talent and experience out there!
So, while I love the Walking with Dinosaurs series and what its done for the genre, I eye warily its heritage and hope to present a technical groundwork that will make a constructed ‘hand-drawn’ alternative viable – and bind the many artists into the animated formats. For me, Prehistoric Park has placed itself precariously close to losing its educational ambitions and its necessary to question the goals of the format and the implications of the technical processes used.