Sunday, 16 December 2012

From the Archives (VI): the woolly-haired shuffler

It is time to delve in the crypts of the Furahan Archives once more. There are body plans there that have never seen the light of day, and remnants of species long forgotten. Scribbled notes in a mixture of languages show that names of continents, animals or even the entire planet evolved as did the animals. The more prosaic version boils down to an unsorted stack of paper of all possible sizes and types.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
This post will deal with how the woolly-haired shuffler (Gigatheron inexorabilis) came into being. The two small doodles on the left show running animals with big heads that seem to have overlapping layers of skin or armour on their body. Their overall shapes suggest a warthog or a ram, and perhaps that is where the inspiration came from. The one on the right was done with felt-tipped pen, and mostly shows a head with interesting horns or teeth as well as a nice neck shield. There certainly is nothing resembling the overlapping dermal plates that came to characterise the shuffler.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
This one is rather similar, and the fact that it is a colour sketch means that I had starting thinking about elevating the idea to a full painting. The head has not changed much, but does not work well: the eyes are above the horns in the middle. Those horns have already developed the split tips that I still like, making the horns look as if they developed from entwined separate cores. The colours suggest dawn on a very cold plain, with some direct light coming in horizontally from the left. That colour scheme would probably have worked quite well, as it would have allowed the bits of snow that are scraped aside by the animal as well as the mountain in the background to be highlighted in pure white.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Some developmental sketches must be missing, as the head of the next one has already evolved to its final shape: the eyes have moved down and the lower teeth now form a perfect shovel. The shield and the face below the horns together form a triangle, while the shovel and parts of the contour of the horns form an oval framing the face. You often see such ovals, circles and spirals around major parts of the composition in art books. I have never consciously used such design elements while drawing, and am always a bit amazed that they are in fact there. Drawing involves rummaging around with many shapes until they sort of 'click in place', so i guess that the 'clicking in place' involves an unconscious search for lines and shapes.

What this drawing reveals is that I am not a painter at heart: I do not think in blobs of colour or light and dark, but in lines. This drawing was done on transparent paper, something I used to transfer a drawing onto the prepared board, ready for painting. I traced the final design with pencil on transparent paper, and then laid that, reversed, on the board. By tracing the lines once more with a soft pencil the tracing was transferred. Here, I cannot have been happy with the animal's body, which is clearly still being developed: the overlapping skirts are there, but they do not reach down very far, and the body is rather small.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Here is another colour sketch. This became the final design. The head is exactly the same, but the body has grown, making the animal much more impressive. There isn't much of a background: just a peak mimicking the shape of the shuffler's shoulders. The bits of colour show that I was thinking of using bits of unexpected colour here and there, something I had seen in the works of Frank Frazetta and that I wished to experiment with.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

And here is the final painting again. The shuffler's story probably does not end here though. When I will have the time in a month or two to pick up the project again, I will continue the digital make over of old paintings. The eyes may change, and so will the fur, I think. Some of you may remember that I mentioned a film in which Furaha would feature. That project is still alive, although progressing slowly, and the final version should feature a shuffler...


Arachnus said...

It's great to see more of your wonderful work. If I may ask, why is the shuffler's hair brown? Wouldn't it be white for the winter, to blend in with it's surroundings?

MK said...

The shuffler clearly is an herbivorous beast (there's a species profile on the Shuffler - click on the golden grassy square below the IFB square in the left to see it). Not only is it an herbivore, it's apparently the size of a mastodon!

If Earth's polar regions past or present is any analogy to Furaha, the shuffler is likely larger than most, if not all, beasts in its domain. Size will protect it after reaching maturity - as long as there aren't any predators the size of T-rex around. So no real need for it to be white for camouflage! Look at musk oxen and bison and woolly mammoths (there is plenty of evidence garnered from specimens preserved in permafrost. They are, or in the case of the mammoth, were generally in shades of brown in colour. It's often the predators in polar regions that generally have to blend in, not the herbivores.

Arachnus said...

What about juveniles? Surely they'd want to be a white color to avoid predators.

Jan said...

I think that reindeers have some camouflage, but muscoxes do not even try. Anyway there would certainly be some color change as the dermal plates get dry. I just wonder if arctic animals could use the sunlight for warming more effectively. There was a theory that polar bears hair works like fiber-optic cables, but it turns out to be a myth:

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

To all: I agree that the shuffler is large enough not to need camouflage. Its reddish hair may in fact help to make it more conspicuous, something of use in intraspecific communication. I do like the idea of young shufflers being white; that might help regardless of whether they are protected by adults or not. That idea sets off a whole string of related ideas, such as whether the neck shield and the horns only grow to full size at the age when the animal reaches maturity.
As for making better use of sunlight in polar climes, that is interesting as well. My first thought would be that the sun is so low on the horizon that it has little power, but would not a surface at right angles to its rays catch as much light as the same surface would when on the equator? (except for a difference of one planet radius). Need to think about that one.

Pity about the polar bear hairs; I had not heard the concept was false; I liked it better when it seemed true...