Saturday, 25 August 2012

A marblebill in progress (also known as the becdacier)

No time this fortnight to write anything elaborate, unfortunately. Some posts take much more time than others. The ones that take most time are those that require checking the physical aspect of some matters, not just because finding sources and digesting the content takes time, but usually also because I then need to do some programming of my own or I have to make some specific illustrations. In short, the heavy science bits take a lot of time. Over the years I have written quite a few words on such subjects, and I started wondering whether I should perhaps bundle them, work them over, write some new chapters, and produce a book on the biomechanics of alien life. Something like 'Darwinian creativity in a Newtonian Universe'. The title is probably much too enigmatic for the book to sell, but perhaps it could be a subtitle. Mind you, it would be completely separate from the Furaha book. But would anyone buy it? Let me hear what you think.

Anyone, I have been working on an update of the marblebill. I showed you another such update once before, and the marblebill is on the Furaha website but featured previously on this blog as well. You may recognise some general update principles. The eyes on stalks are now less prominent, but certainly still occur in various species. There is also eye specialisation. The images below are taken from the sculpting program Sculptris, a free programme I recommend unreservedly.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

The marblebill is an arboreal brachiating predator, and has two forward facing eyes to help it judge distances and fixate its prey. As is the case for dragonflies, the size of the ommatidia (the individual eyelets in a compound eye) depends on where you are in the eye: they are smaller in the part of the eye facing directly forward. This increases visual resolution at the price of sensitivity to light. The marblebill is a diurnal creature, which makes sense I think: you would need impossibly good vision to allow an animal to hurl itself from branch to branch at high speed at night.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

There is another pair of eyes, the 'oculi posteriores'. Note that these were not posteriorly placed in ancestral hexapods, whose four eyes were placed around the head. What became the anterior eyes were once the bottom ones, and the posterior ones are the former upper ones. Anyway, in the marblebill lineage the upper ones, alresdy in the posterior position, over time migrated outwards, providing an all around vision, not just in the horizontal but in the vertical plane as well. For an animal living in three dimensions this is more important than for a grazing animal. One result is that it would not be easy to sneak up on a marblebill. Not that there is any other predator up there in the trees that would perform such sneakish acts anyway: it would be too dangerous. The marblebill also does not need much vertical vision for its territorial disputes, as these involve no sneaking whatsoever, but are announced frighteningly loudly. But detecting prey is another matter, and for that these eyes are superb.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

Here is the painting in progress. I used to work out perspective and draw everything completely without any aid except for the occasional ruler, but I now make use of what the digital age has to offer. So I exported the sculpted head into Vue infinite, made certain the lighting came from the correct direction, adjusted the perspective angle and produced two renders. Cut out the head, place them on a separate layer in Painter 12 (to be deleted later), and everything is in place to start painting. Now all I need is the time to do so...

15 comments:

rodlox said...

Cool modifications to the Marblebill. And I enjoyed reading about the evolutionary background of its eyes.

Speaking of reading, I would buy at least two of the science-speculation/science anthologies you asked if you should make. So yes, there is an audience for it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting creature!! The placement of the eyes is bizarre, seen from our Earthly perspective.

I found an old Russian SF cartoon that was created by a man named Gennady Tishchenko, and as a large number of imaginative alien organisms appear in it, I think you might like to take a look at it. Unfortunately, it is in Russian, so I can't understand exactly what that characters are saying to each other, but the visuals are rather nice...

Here are the two parts of the charming little animation-Vampires of Geona and
Masters of Geona. You can visit Gennady Tishchenko's web site here.

A number of interesting alien organisms appear in this animation. There are many alien plants and sessile "plantimals", including an ambush predator that appears in a dream sequence. Presumably the "plantimals" are sessile animals with some plant-like characteristics. Alien dinosaurs are common, including ones with three extendable jaws (snap, snap, snap!!), vampiric pterodactyls, and a carnivorous stegosaurus-like creature that the main character kills with a blaster. Some exotic ambush predators appear, including a chameleon-like creature that can disguise itself as a blobby brown object wrapped around a tree branch and a creature that hides in a pond, leaving only its eye stalks poking out. A particular favorite of mine are the slug-like organisms who come out of their nest and transform into little blobby things on short legs, and then panic, change back, and hide in their nest...

The human explorers' technology makes sense, too. A hard armor suit with a radio and air supply makes a lot of sense for exploring an alien environment (although you don't actually need a supply of oxygen, since Geona is habitable). The saucer ship the explorers use as a base is pretty neat, as are the antigravity flitters they use to get around. The explorers seem quite heavily armed for a scouting expedition, but the unknown hazards on an alien planet justifies that level of armament. An overpowered laser blaster can be a lifesaver if you are cornered by a deadly alien organism...

This little animation also demonstrates the effect of introducing humans onto a speculative alien planet- the story will probably begin to focus on the interactions between humans and the alien ecosystem, whether hostile or friendly. Without humans, you can focus on the alien ecosystem exclusively. Once the humans are introduced, you must describe their technology, mission, etc. and what they do on your alien planet. A scientific expedition probably will take great measures to avoid harming the environment, but a colonization mission can't help but change the environment. The advantage of introducing humans is that you can explore the wonders of an alien environment through the eyes of human characters, which can make the setting even richer...

Christopher Phoenix

Spugpow said...

While I miss the eyestalks somewhat, the new marblebills are still extremely cool. The bipinnate feet are an especially nice touch; did you have any specific reason for including them?

Convergent speculation again: http://www.nevillepage.com/wp-content/gallery/characters/1.jpg

I would buy your biomechanics book. There are relatively easy ways of publishing books online: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-18438_7-20010547-82/how-to-self-publish-an-ebook/

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Rodlox: two copies sold already; that's a start!

Christopher: That is indeed an interesting animation. I do not speak Russian either, but it does seem that two characters have American accents, and they look like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. There is a nice coincidence here, as the known species of marblebill include Iaculator Weismuelleri and I. Schwarzeneggrii; perhaps I ought to add I. stallonii...
Regarding the introduction of humans, the only reason there are any of Furaha is for precisely the reason you mention: it adds a human viewpoint and adds layers of complexity.

Spugpow: three copies sold! Good. I decided to alter the feet. For years I have wondered about the branching pattern of toes. In books on fish-amphibian evolution there are always pictures of early leg skeletons, and almost always they are followed by a diagram of toes all radiating in parallel from a common wrist. But when I look at the original skeletons, I often see a bone like a metacarpal that gives rise to finger bones placed at its end, but there are also 'fingers' radiating from halfway the metacarpal (it would be easier to draw a picture). Anyway, I decided that that would make an intriguing alternate branching pattern, and redoing the hexapods was a good opportunity to introduce this pattern. One of these years I will have to write a 'why toes are good' post.

I saw that Neville Page worked on Avatar, and that may be where the four eyes came from in his design. In my case the idea was much older than Avatar. Until now I had decided to lose two of the four ancestral eyes of hexapods, but in their recent rejuvenation I decided to reinstall them in terrestrial lineages.


Anonymous said...

4 copies. i would buy it too.

Anonymous said...

Make that 5

Anonymous said...

another copy here

Nicky said...

Awesome job! It's a head start for many fans, and a sign of the arrival of more creatures to be explained to come.

Bo said...

And 6....
I wonder though how 4 eyes would work in practice. Especially focussing the eyes opposite to each other would give a kind of split personality on the animal. I'd certainly would want to meet one. It would not matter to me if it was only in a virtual world.

May i be so blunt to propose a little of a catchier title? Something like "Biomechanics out of this world" would may be sell better. But isn't it already too much about sales in this world?

Groetjes,
Bob

Anonymous said...

Wondering about focusing in a chameleon i stumbled on a nice article.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7854450

Groetjes,
Bob

Anonymous said...

Hello, Sigmund- I discovered that if you click the little button marked "CC" at the bottom of the video window, you get subtitles. Now I feel really dumb. The story makes a lot more sense if understand what the characters are saying- go check it out if you have the time!!

Indeed, the two characters who look like Schwarzenegger and Stallone are Americans, and the captions describe them as speaking Russian with an American accent. It would be a nice tribute to this little-known SF animation to name a species of marbebill I. stalloni. Certainly Gennady Tishchenko did a better job designing an odd alien planet than Star Trek has ever done.

Are you ever going to write a blog post about the human presence on Furah? I was wondering what kind of technology the humans posses, how they achieve interstellar travel, and what their interactions with the local ecosystems are. I remember you mentioning something about gravity-cancelling sleds in a much earlier post...

Christopher Phoenix

Evan Black said...

There's an interesting thing I've noticed when you've shared updated imagery in these posts: for a time they look somehow "wrong." It's a strange thing to say because you, as the artist, have the ultimate word regarding the appearance of Furahan life. I think it stems more from the fact that I've had the original picture available so I was able to develop some familiarity with the marblebill; now that some details of its features have changed, I just need to reprogram my patterns of recognition. I really enjoy the details of the new beak, in particular the wrinkles and folds that show traces of how the lower/front eyes have re-situated to best serve the marblebill.

Concerning the specialization for detail at the expense of light sensitivity, I wonder if the 'oculi posteriores' would possibly specialize in the other direction, giving the marblebill what night vision it may need at night.

Great work as usual, and I love to see how the physiology of the creatures of Furaha continues to evolve as biomechanical discoveries come about.

The book sounds like a fun idea, and I wonder how you'd market it. Would it be for aspiring writers, geared to help them explore more realistic creations of their own, or would it be narrower/broader in its appeal? I'd certainly buy it, but I'd be curious to know more about how and why it's being published. I've bought a lot of books about aliens over the years, and the motivation for writing the book has always been a key aspect of whether or not I'm pleased with my purchase.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Hi Evan,

You are right about the altered designs: they do take getting used to. Perhaps I should post them as mirror images. Holding up a painting to the mirror is an old trick to get a fresh look at a design, as you probably know (nowadays it can be done without mirrors...)

About the posterior eyes: that is a good idea. I imagined them having not as god a resolution as the anterior eyes, and that almost automatically brings with it a better sensitivity, so the posterior eyes would be more or less preset for vision under poor light.

As for the book, I admit I had not thought about it that much. The general person who visits our websites?

Evan Black said...

Sometimes I hold my pictures up to a mirror (or the digital equivalent), and I'm amazed how different they look. It can sometimes seem like I didn't even draw that picture.

That's a fascinating dichotomy between eyes with good night vision but poor acuity and eyes with poor night vision but excellent detail. That alone would be worth treatment in a blog post, IMO.

If the book is just a labor of love where you'd really just like to self publish and pay for the cost of materials, then a niche audience such as ours would be just fine. If you're hoping to actually make some money out of it, you might have to broaden the target a bit. That's just my two cents...

Petr said...

Oh! I would definitely buy the encyclopedy of furahan wildlife too if one existed! Sorry for the late reply XD