Saturday, 25 May 2013

Predatory penguin's evolution in Brussels' future evolution back on course.

Regular readers may have noted a predilection for incomprehensible titles, or let's say titles that need a lot of knowledge to be comprehensible. This one fits that bill, I think. The previous post dealt with models of future animals in the Brussels museum of natural history. One thing that struck me was that the model of a Neopygoscelis, a penguin descendant, differed quite a bit from the earlier published design. The feet had expanded at the cost of the flippers, an evolution that I would not have expected. The designers, Marc Boulay and Jean-Sébastien Steyer, explained that the actual models had been produced without much control by themselves, explaining the changes. Marc and Sébastien are working on a book about future evolution that will appear in 2014, as told here previously (you can read starting here or here).

My discussion of the odd 'evolution' of the Neopygoscelis model persuaded them to send me two photographs of Neopygoscelis as it will appear in the book, meaning 'Furahan Biology and Allied Matters' gets another exclusive preview of that work.

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The photograph above shows clearly that the model maker had evolved the enormous hind legs of the museum model quite separately from the designers' ideas. The ratio of flipper to feet size clearly shows that the flippers are still the primary propulsion method of this animal. The feet with their long nails do look formidable though, but not as a propulsion organ. The eyes are large, so the animal does not seem that large to me; the size of 4 m as stated for tye museum model seems too large for this particular animal. Note that the nails differ in size between the two animals, so I guess that we are looking at sexual dimorphism here, with one a male and one a female. I do not know which one is which, though: Marc and Sébastien sent me the photographs, but no accompanying text. That is probably wise: always leave the reader wishing for more...

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The image above shows a pair of Neopygoscelis in their habitat in photorealistic mode. A very nice addition. So there are now three versions of Neopygoscelis: the digital illustration  originally shown in the magazine, the grey model in the museum that we should probably regard as a largely 'unauthorised' version, and the one in this post, that will make it into the book. That is, unless the designers feel a last-minute need to change something before the book goes to press.

I have in the past reworked oil paintings, sometimes more than once, but doing so was a big job: it involved scraping off layers of paint before adding new ones, so the process was quite destructive. Working digitally means you can do the same thing without losing anything. Most older Furaha animals were designed for visual attraction than a coherent body plan, but I am remedying that slowly, whole keeping visual appeal intact -in fact I try to improve it-. There is always a temptation to go back and push and pull at a design some more. Obviously, the same temptation works for the designers of 'Demain: les animaux du futur', but there is one big difference: there is a publisher, so there is a deadline, and so at some point the image is finished and you cannot go back any more; what a luxury.

I can't wait for the book. When it appears I will write about it here, and perhaps earlier than that as well...  


Anonymous said...

I just found out that Marc Boulay just posted a new video on his website that promotes Cossima productions and near the end of the video it shows some new pics from the Les Animaux Du Futur project ( .

Evan Black said...

I can really see the difference now. The original Neopygoscelis seems much more plausible as a descendant of the penguin. Where did that modeler get the idea to put big, bulky hind legs on the model?

Based on the trend among birds that males are typically the more flamboyant in appearance, I would guess the one with the golden belly and the larger claws is the male. Of course, that one also seems to be the larger of the two, which goes against trends among birds, so it could possibly go either way.

At some point I'd like to begin producing photorealistic images of Nereus, because they seems to be the most engaging, but there's a big learning curve for me. I don't know if I'll ever accomplish it.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Anonymous: well spotted! There is in fact another video on Marc's site solely about 'Demain: les animaux du futur', also providing some spoilers. Both contain images of what looks like Neopygoscelis in a modern giant aquarium, with human visitors silhouetted against the glass (Marc, my compliments: c'est génial!). So Neopygoscelis is very large and had big eyes; is it a deep sea species?

Evan: I am not so certain whether you should strive for photorealism or continue using conventional art. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

The advantages of CGI are obvious: once you have produced a scene or a model, you can of course change camera settings etc. to produce as many scenes as you want. But CGI quite often results in a visually 'dead' appearance, unless you are exceedingly good at it. But to be that good, you need the talent and experience of someone like Marc Boulay or of the artists in a volume such as "Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart" (and some of those still do not really work!).
You may counter that by saying that there are quality differences in conventional art too. There are indeed, but at present I contend that conventional art allows such freedom of expression that perhaps 5 to 10 % of artists produce inspiring work, against perhaps 0.5% of CGI artists.

Your own Nereus work is not just very attractive but also immediately recognisable as your work; it does not need every leaf in a scene to be visible. Why change that for a scene that risks being, well, interchangeable?

Anonymous said...

I noticed from the video that there was another kind of fully aquatic penguin that seemed to resemble a humpback whale. Maybe it's a kind of filter feeder or something. I also noticed that the predatory parrot has feathers now (at least it appears to from the head shot). Maybe you should do a short summary of what appears in those videos.

Evan Black said...

I don't know that I want to go to CGI (though that may be fun too) so much as I'd like to develop a more realistic-- and perhaps even painterly-- style at a later stage in the project. I think you mentioned at one point that the style of art has a certain cartoony quality, which isn't bad at all at this point. It's just that in my mind I imagine the project eventually looking more like wildlife paintings, which have a more detail-oriented style. The Dinosaur Art book you mentioned is a perfect example of what I'd like to see for Nereus, and I'm hoping to improve my skills enough to move the project's artwork in that direction eventually.

mithril said...

i find it interesting that people keep speculating about Penguins becoming Whale/dolphin analogs. despite the many hurdles egg laying Avians would have in becoming purely aquatic (for one, evolving either viviparity or Ovo-viviparity.. live birth or storing eggs within the body until hatching.)

heck, even the Speculative Dinosaur Project has done a bit of that, with the "Penguins of DEATH" filling a Leopard Seal type niche, though most of the Penguins in SPEC are not too dissimilar to real world ones. (of course, in SPEC the dolphin type niches went mostly to Mosasaurs, and whale type niches went to Giant Squid..)

is it just people wanting non-mammal versions of whales and dolphins, and a relative lack of air breathing non-mammals sufficiently aquatic for the job?

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Anonymous: I might, but I think I'll leave the summary to others. While it would be fun to do so, I've got my own paintings etc. to do (as of now, I am working on a rusp painting).

Mithril: you may be right, but something else may play a role: I know that Marc etc. have been working on this project since at east 1999. What that means, and I am talking from experience here, is that you treasure the inventions you made then, regardless of whether they became 'common' afterwards. So people inventing animals right now ought to take 'history' into consideration; but those who were there when inventions in speculative biology became history ought to be forgiven for sticking to their ideas. That's worth remembering.

Evan, mon ami, you wrote 'painterly'.
Now there's the rub: manage that, and whatever technique you use, it will work.

Evan Black said...

I've tried literal paints, and I just don't have the talent/experience with it. I'll have to do my best with digital 'painting.'

Nicky said...

Shark penguin all the way!!!

Bewildermunster said...

Thanks for sharing; they do look much more realistic in those pics.

Jan said...

Penguin fins got me thinking about eurypterides, they have similat fins, but also legs and claws.
Nice versatility for speculative biologists. Could something similar be possible if, for example, neocarnivores go marine?

Petr said...

awesome post!

Anonymous said...

Sense it looks like no one else is going to I guess I'll just list the future animals from Marc's project that we know of so far (at least by appearance because I won't know all of their names). These are are creatures listed in order shown on the website trailer ( .

melexorbius cossima: Crawling bird with quill-like head feathers.

Neopygoscelis dentatus: predatory aquatic penguins

Diatrymimum boiseï: predatory parrot (with feathers this time)

Humpback whale-like fused mouth squids (I think they're squids based on close ups)

Arthrodon: Deep sea sharks with bioluminescent lure, segmented body and spines lining the back

Spatamagnalis ruber: flightless spoon billed birds

a predatory fused mouthed squid with two pairs of hooked grabbing tentacles (one pair is long, the other is short)

large bat creature with elongated thumbs (possibly mammalian versions of albatrosses)

Hooked legged arthropods with highly evident sexual dimorphism

Benthogyrinus Sp.: 20 meter oceanic amphibians that filter feed and have males that are smaller than the females

Radial spider-like arthropods

The ones I didn't mention were already described in Sigmund's earlier posts.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Evan: the contrast I meant to talk about was 'painting' on the one hand (either digital or conventional) and computer-generated images (such as using Vue) on the other hand. I prefer both varieties of painting to CGI, but that is just me.

Nicky, Bewildermunster, Petr: thank you

Jan: if you mean Furahan neocarnivores developing secondary marine forms, their front legs would indeed probably be recruited as fins (unless they are needed to catch prey). I haven't thought about that in any detail, though...

Anonymous: nice list. We'll have to wait for the book to check it, I guess.

Evan Black said...

Ah, I understand now. I prefer either method of painting to 3D rendering as well. It's only movies like Avatar that I think have a level of image quality in 3D rendering that is comparable to what a painter can do.

The idea of secondary marine forms in neocarnivores is an interesting one. My initial thoughts are that they would retain their front limbs for catching prey, and that the rear sets of legs would become fins. Or maybe the tail would develop a fluke and begin to resemble the bauplan of the sawjaw. One or more of the rear limbs might even atrophy and disappear completely.

I guess I just imagine that the neocarnivores' front limbs are so crucial to their lifestyles that they wouldn't be changing them into fins any time soon.

Any way, that's my two cents...

Jan said...

I think that there is certain amount of conservativism in animals´ movement. When amphibians and lizards began to roam on the land, they retained the left-right movement of fishes. When mammals went back into the sea, they retained the up-down movement of mammals, with rear legs as the main source of propulsion. Birds still walk like the dinosaurs, penguins still swim like if they are flying. My guess based on this is that furahan bipedals would move on the middle pair of legs, that flying animals would use front and back pair to fly and the middle one to move on the land and that marine forms would use the middle pair for swimming, except for the formerly flying ones, where the opposide would be the truth (it is interesting that there are not much speculation about penguins, cetaceans or pinnipeds going back to land. It would require some really strange changes).

mithril said...

@Sigmund Nastrazzurro..
sorry for the delay. real world concerns made this slip my mind until now.

my comment was not meant as criticism, i just find it interesting that "whale/dolphn replacements that evolved from penguins" is such a common trope. i suspect it is because penguins are well known and being avians they are more 'alien' to us mammals.
that said, you sometimes have to wonder why other animals aren't picked as the ancestors of a future whale analog. Sharks would be an obvious one, given Whale Sharks. if you want air breathers, Otters could generate some interesting whale or seal like creatures pretty easily. and if you move away from current whale like niches you could have even more variety. i could see saltwater crocadiles turning into something Mosasaur like pretty easily. SeaSnakes seem like they might generate some interesting speculative future critters, etc.
but Penguins seem to be more popular choices.