Friday, 6 November 2015


I never said I would stop blogging altogether, did I?

The reason I drastically reduced the frequency of blogging was so I would have more time to work on The Book. Well, that approach turned out well. The year is not over yet, and I have produced 11 spreads already. A 'spread' is a double page. I present species and other themes using a double page for each, so it makes sense not to think in pages but in spreads. I expect to finish three more spreads this year, bringing the total of new pages for this year up to 28. That may not seem like much for a book that will count some 160 pages, but it also means that more than one third is completely done, and the rest is about half way there. A big advantage of the increased production rate is that painting becomes much easier if you do it regularly.

Of course, once you stop blogging you should expect to find that not many people will read this post, but we'll see. The point of his post is to let the world know that the Furaha project is far from dead, and to prove it I will show you a few glimpses. Do not expect full paintings though: I will keep those for The Book.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

I decided that my map making skills needed improvement, so I experimented with various graphic styles and came up with a style that combines shadowing effects with colours indicating height. Of course, a map needs names for places, etc., so there are now a few hundred of those. Here is a fragment of the all-new Furaha world map.


Along with the new map I thought about which animals to put where on the planet. I never actually spent any time on that, but now wondered whether it might be prudent to ship off some of the really odd designs to places where they might have developed in isolation. This of course prompted the question which places have been isolated for a long time. So here is something that will not be found in the book, as it is an animation made just for this post. It shows continental drift on Furaha for the period of 200 to 100 million years ago (MYA). In case the changing shapes of the continents confuse you, the change is simply a consequence of the map projection: on a sphere you would be able to see that the continental masses -the yellow shapes- do not change in shape. The blue lines are present-day coastlines, only put there to help make sense of which continent is which. Ancient coast lines are not indicated. They can be quite different. The projection is the so-called 'Eckert IV' one, by the way. All done with Matlab and good old-fashioned trigonometry and matrix algebra.

Ten Borgh with a student. Click to enlarge. Copyright Gert van Dijk
The book will have a 10-page part about humanity on Furaha. This includes social customs, remarks on language, etc. Here is a fragment of a painting showing an expedition led by the distinguished citizen-scientist Ed ten Borgh, famous on Furaha as well as on Earth.

So there you are: the project is alive and well! Will there be more posts? Occasionally, yes.


Anonymous said...

A new post! *cheers*

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Thanks anonymous! Whoever you are ;-)

Nicky said...

Glad to see that you are still kicking.

I must say, for something that is to be released by the en of the 2010's or start of 2020's, i feel like the artwork has a somewhat nostalgic feel, an almost 70-80-90-early 2000 feel to it.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Nicky: that is an interesting remark. I get the impression you think that this is not something good. Could you explain what it is that gives you an 'nostalgic' feeling, and -if I read you correctly- why this is not good?

Nicky said...

Oh no, I didn't say it was not good, it is just that, as best i can put it, like the kind of illustration from Dougal Dixon, Charles R. Knight, Wayne Barlowe, Una Woodruff, Mark Ferrari, those kinds of artists. I never meant to say anything negative about it, as a matter of fact, I praise it. Perhaps it is the styling of the painting or something along that line. My dearest apologies for the confusion.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

No problem, I was not insulted at all. You made me wonder whether my painting style might be considered old-fashioned; if so, that might harm the chances of the book being published. But I do not think I would be able to change my style much.

Of the names you mention, Knight as well before my time, and Dougal certainly made me work harder on my own designs. Zdenek Burian was a big influence. Barlowe was not, in part because I was past my most impressionable years at the time and in part even when I saw Expedition for the first time I admired the paintings a lot, but was less taken with its biological plausibility.

( But I do not dislike his work; if you closely at the map fragment, you will find that there are 'Barlowe Keys' on Furaha... )

Spugpow said...

I think I recognize David Attenborough in that last image.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Spugpow: yes, that is supposed to resemble him. The name 'Ed ten Borgh' is a not overly subtle hint too.

Anonymous said...

Post twice a month, or twice a year; I'll still check in regularly to see what you're up to. This blog has some of the best posts about the possible and improbably in biology.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Anonymous: thank you!

Alex Handley said...

I ended up at this site after someone linked me, following a query made on my local RPG webcomic forum, of all places. I am just daft enough to be attempting something not wildly dissimilar to what you are achieving here (though in my case it is more of an entirely-alien roleplaying campaign world for my own amusement and would never be able to reach the sorts of height you're managing! I am nether artist nor animator, and my CAD modelling skills lie solidly with starships and tanks for 3D printing.).

As it happened, the query that brought me here was on the feasibility of vertebrate hexapods as opposed to tetrapods - and, at least, there appears here to be at least some support for the fact that it is! (Though I had myself nominally imagined vertebrate hexapods that had legs struturally more like insects; I don't know how feasible that would actually be, but that's sort of why I was asking around, to attempt to find A Man (et al) That Might Know!)

When I twigged there was a *book*, I was going "right, right, yes, but *where do I buy it!*" Speculative zoology is something that drives right into my hindbrain and has done so since I saw New Dinosaurs being advertised in the 1980s. (I must have borrowed that and After Man several times from the library before I was able to acquire my own copy of the former (though sadly, not the latter).) I was most miffed when I realised it wasn't actually all written yet!

And further miffed that that "Demain, les Animaux du Futur" is a book that exists (again from your blogs), but only in French...!

So, while crying into my metaphorical beer, I will be keeping my eyes open for the eventual release of your book(s) and trying (and probably failing) to contain my excitement.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Alex: thank you for your enthusiastic comments. I am sorry to have confused you about whether The Book is available or not. You are not the first to fall into this -unintended- trap, if that is any consolation.

If you want to buy a copy of 'After Man', why not order it from ''? They sell second-hand copies.

As for the feasibility of 'vertebrate hexapods' or 'hexapod vertebrates', that is an interesting question. The phrase assumes that we are dealing with vertebrates, so life on Earth may be meant. That would probably require the evolution of a third set of paired fins well before fish crawled out of the water (and actually there seem to be some pointers of a start in that direction).

But if we let go of Earth evolution, there is no need to link 'vertebrate' with the number of legs. Actually, I prefer to let go of 'vertebrate' altogether. There is much to be said about the benefits and handicaps of any number of legs, but I see no compelling reason to assume that larger animals in the universe (large here meaning mouse to sauropod-plus on a terrestrial Earth-like planet) must have four legs.
Life on Earth cannot be used to prove the point: the only large animals on Earth have a tetrapod design, but arthropods, with more legs, were prevented from growing larger by reasons that had nothing to do with the number of legs (such as a respiratory system that has an upper scale limit).
I see no reason to link the structure of the legs (endo- v. exoskeletal) to their number. There are biomechanically good reasons why a large exoskeleton is nowhere near the optimum solution. Likewise, it makes little sense for large animals to have their legs splayed out.

If I may ask: you wrote you have experience with 3D-printing (Shapeways?). Do you know your way around with ZBrush? I am looking for someone to help me merge some Matlab-generated obj files so I can make a 3D print of a large cloakfish.

Sam Misan said...

Hi i am 12 yrs old and am part of / founder of a collaborative speculative evolution project with artists such as scientist and star wars artist terryl whitlatch, and many others, i wa wondering if i could get you opinion on our work so far, do you have ana email?

Petr said...

Amazing news! I thing the new map-making style is very aesthetically pleasing and clear, and who wouldn't love the references to other great xenobiologists. I think that's a wonderful tribute to their work.

Count me in as a certain buyer of The Book when it's ready, in fact, i am vastly more excited about your book than the new star wars movie. :)

28 spreads... that's wonderful!

Cire Sniknej said...

I'm working on a planet called Forlumia and I don't know how to make the evolutionary transition from a plant to an animal.

Also, what program do you use to make pictures of your animals?

Cire Sniknej said...

If you have any suggestions please tell me. My email is

Alex Handley said...

Sorry, I so infrequently check my gmail account I only just noticed your reply! (I wouldn't have checked today, except I was testing my primairy email afte a hard-drive shift...!)

I'd been looking t hexapod vertebrates for similar reasons to you: I am intending to create a new roleplaying fantasy campaign world, an entirely alien one (set on a tide-locked planet, for good measure). I was also considering aan unrelated wargaming issue for a race of aliens that would be "like humans, but not" in the sense they would be a widely variable, highly factionalised group (the antithesis of the usual alien monocultures). In the end, after careful consideration, I opted to go hexapod with the latter and tetrapod with the former (well, for the vertebrate equivilents, especially the "protagonist" races) simply because it would be easier for the players to grasp.

As to 3D modelling, I am entirely self-taught, so my experience is confined primarily to TurboCAD (with a dash of Blender and ProE), so ZBrush is not something I have access to or am familiar with. I'm guessing when you say "merge" you mean something more than "boolean add", yes? Otherwise, there is a slim possbility I might be able to do something if I look and see if TurboCAD can import and export .obj files (of the particular type in question). (If you haven't solved the issue in the meantime!)

Keavan Ѳ said...

Longtime lurker here (from somewhen between 2010/2011) and this is at most only my second comment, but I was wondering: at the current rate, when's the earliest or latest it might be reasonable to expect The Book to be complete? Also, I'd appreciate an estimation of the price, although I'd completely understand if you weren't currently complete enough to answer that.

Regardless, I wish you the best luck!

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...


I am aiming to produce a book with about 125 pages, based on similar books. The book is organised by 'spreads' (double pages) each of which typically contains a full painting (6000x4200 pixels), an additional painting (one quarter size), text, and a fact file on body size and geographical distribution. Thirty-one such spreads are now completely ready, and some twenty partially. I produce one spread a month, next to my current 55-hour job. Each spread takes probably 20-25 hours of work. If I continue this way I will take three more years. I intend to cut my job back to a very relaxed 35-40 hours, which should take off a year. There's the matter of a publisher to consider, though. I have no idea bout the price yet. One publisher in France said the difficulty of the project is that the production costs are high while the number of prospective buyers is low. Then again, the same must hold for the 'Demain' book in France, and that was sold at a very decent price.

Anonymous said...

I'm working on a speculative biology project of my own, but am currently stuck at working out maps for different time periods.

The two main problems I'm experiencing are stretching of the continents in higher latitudes on the Mollweide projection - which I prefer using - and keeping the continents at the right relative size. For now I'm trying to work the old fashion way; with a desk globe and whatever can constitute as continents to draw from as a model.

I've tried Gplates, but it's not very "user-friendly". This program you're using, however, called Matlabs, seems very promising.

What I'm really looking for is software that allows me to draw shapes (continents) on a sphere with longitude and latitude grid lines and move those shapes around manually (don't think I can do this with Gplates).

So I was wondering, how did you use Mathlabs? Is it practicle to use for someone with an average, non-scientific school degree? Could you post a tutorial on how you made this map?

I might just consider purchasing Mathlabs if I'm sure it provides what I'm looking for...

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Anonymous: I do not think there is a ready-made program to do what you want. Matlab is a computer language (, not a programme, so just having matlab will not solve your problem. I worked out the mathematics of rotating and shifting map coordinates on a sphere many years ago, in Basic (and actually sold the results to a magazine called A&B Computing). What you need to do is first transform longitude and latitide into 3D coordinates, shift and rotate them, translate them back into latitude and longitude, and draw a new map. You are welcome to the code, but it will only be useful to you if you have basic programming skills, a good sense of 3D and some understabding of trigonometry. If so, I will give you the code; if not, you will have to search for a programme that does what you need (I never searched for one).