Saturday, 21 April 2012

Four years on (and back again!)

Four year ago, almost to the day, I started this blog about Furahan Biology and Allied Matters. Over time, the 'allied matters' took precedence over Furahan biology, but the readers did not seem to mind too much. Last February I decided to take a break from blogging for a while. I had found that writing an entry every two weeks was beginning to feel a bit like a load. I think the sabbatical worked, but even I will only know when I start blogging on a regular basis again. I have several interesting subjects in mind, such as animal legs in the recent 'John Carter of Mars' movie or about the colour of plants.

So, what happened to the Furaha project in the last year? Well, I produced several double page spreads. Two dealt with Fishes IV and Fishes V, with five new digital paintings. One spread dealt with a new animal, the 'dandy', a tree dweller with a colourful asymmetric giant claw. I produced three spreads without life forms: two showed the outer and inner planetary systems of Jua (that is the star Nu Phoenicis), and one shows a large atlas-like map. No doubt you would like to see these paintings, but that is not going to happen. After all, all these pages are meant for a 20 to 26 page 'proof of concept' booklet that I can show to publishers, as I wrote last year. The pages look like the sample I showed earlier, right here. My sentiments are that if I cannot sell the idea to a publisher with a worked-out and carefully edited sample like this, I cannot sell it at all. We'll see.

Of course, some pages show older, non-digital work. These do not remain untouched, however. I will show a few images of a work in progress: the prober and bobbuck page. I have no problems with showing it, as you are already familiar with the painting: it is the one at the top of this blog. That image was taken from a photograph; it is remarkably difficult to take decent photographs of paintings: even with digital cameras and tripods the colours are often incorrect, they are not sharp, or not sharp everywhere, etc. To solve that I had all my paintings scanned last year. As some of them are 50x70 cm that required finding a professional scanning service, but it was worth it. I know have digital versions of about 175 dots per cm (120 dots per cm equal 300 dots per inch).

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

Here is an example: this is the head of the prober, taken from the high-resolution scan. Enlarge it to see it at full resolution. The width of this section corresponds to about 65 mm on the real painting, so if you think my painting is rather coarse, take that into consideration. I could of course simply use the scan as such, but I prefer to take advantage of the possibilities that digital painting affords. One reason to do so is that I never considered the biological backgrounds of these creatures when I painted them as thoroughly as I discuss biomechanics in my blog these days. To a large extent the themes developed as I went along, meaning there are some oddities here and there (Well, lots of them, really. For instance, felt that the bobbuck's torso was too short, and that the middle pair of legs would benefit from an idea I developed later: they are further apart than the front and middle pairs. Having painted quite a few Fishes recently, all of which have four eyes, I started wondering why terrestrial hexapods would have lost their lower pair of eyes. Instead, I decide to migrate this pair sideways, giving terrestrial hexapods four eyes. This creates opportunities for visual specialisation as well. I also felt that the eye design need not always involve eyes on stalks, so in may cases the stalks could go.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

So here is a first step towards the revised painting 'Prober and Bobbuck Mk II'. I selected the animals gave them their own layer, and filled in the background layer roughly. As you see, the bobbuck has already been dissected, and its parts have been rearranged. The eye stalks have gone and the prober has been given a tentative set of new eyes.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

This is the next stage; the bobbuck's body has been filled in tentatively. Since then I have been thinking about the relative positions of the two animals, but the original one turned out to be best. I will probably alter some more details and smooth some of the brush strokes, but I will have to be careful not to overdo it. Brush strokes have their own charm, and I should be careful not to ruin that by taking the digital element too far. I wonder whether I should revise the prober's beak to include teeth, following a discussion on the bulletin board of the Furaha site of the last few days.

Animals like the prober use their clubs for the heavy work of dismembering a carcass. They have internal teeth and jaws to grind lumps of food, and use their mouths merely to get food inside them. That's why their mouths are like beaks. Still, teeth-analogues are part of their ancestral make-up, and perhaps some tearing and cutting implements would be handy. And so it proceeds...


Evan Black said...

Nice to see a new installment, as always. I understand how, even with something as engaging and interesting as xenobiology, it can feel like a workload. Don't start up again until you're ready, but know that we all appreciate what you share here.

I enjoyed the John Carter movie, but I only watched it once and must confess that I didn't pay too much attention to the biomechanics of the fauna. I'd love to see a detailed analysis of life on Barsoom. I also think that a treatment of plant color would be a good thing; most of what I find out there doesn't really get into the details of the matter.

So are the changes you made to your prober and bobbuck image based solely on biomechanical adjustments, or were some of them artistic decisions? Reduction of eyes from four to two can easily be explained in evolutionary terms, but four eyes can be used to specialize, as you said. And what prompted the lengthening of the bobbuck's torso? Also, are you removing eyestalks because they're an evolutionary liability or for the sake of diversity? I'm asking these questions not to criticize the decisions you made, but to understand your motivations for the changes.

I'd love to see a diagram of the internal teeth/jaws, but perhaps that's something you'd like to save for the book. Do they resemble the pharyngeal jaw found in the moray eel?

Petr said...

It's awesome to know that we can look forward to new posts now =)
I'd like to say that I really enjoy your new take on the bobbuck, now it really has the feel that the legs have enough room for movement, but because you made a "limousine" from them, wouldn't they have limited "steering" abiity?
But they might be like muscle cars that are happy to dart in forward direction as fast as they can. =)
I can't wait to see the revisions of your terrestrial animals and the new variations with the eye arrangement.

I must confess that I kind of missed the eyestalks on the bobbuck at first, now it seems that its head is a bit "too smooth," but I understand that this is better aerodynamically, and I started to like the new features of their heads a lot.

What I have always liked are the prober¨s "veiltails" on the back of its head, and the multiple eyes made it look more alien than the eyestalks it had previously. =)

I was thinking about eyestalks recently, and I started to think that someyour creatures oftenly show very thin "stalks,"and I was thinking if there would be enough musculature to move with the eye and support the eye in such a confined space, where tsome nerves and blood vessels would have to be, besides the muscles. I was also wondering if their eyes wouldn't shake a lor if they were suspended on eyestalks...

But i don't think you have to abandon "projecting" eyes if you like them on some animals. I was thinking of a hammearhead shark, but to a much lesser extent, some of your animals yould have eyes supported by bony projections of the skull, not on soft eyestalks, but they would still be "detached" from the head. ;)

I agree that the prober might need some teeth in the jaws, so it can tear the flesh of its prey easily ;)

The fact that they have internal jaws is a very interesing fact, are they the lateral jaws which migrated inside? And if they are the lateral jaws, are they still arranged in a similar manner or did they become something like a second pair of the horizontljaws, just like in moray eels like Evan asked before?

Also, I would like to thank you for your reply on my previous incredibly long comment where I was asking about the plants.
I couldn't reply back there due to some strange problems on my end of the internet... =/

I would like to repeat myself and say that I am looking forward to seeing anything new from you, because I know it'll always be something incredibly interesting.
I really appreciate and admire the effort you've put in Furaha and I would like to wish you success in the future.
Best of luck! =)

Christian C. said...

So glad that you are back :).

BTW, I found a couple updates on the demain les animaux du futur project. First, there is a new video feature a type of male arthropod called benthocymus ornata (
Second, It is mention on Marc Boulay's site that the book won't come out until 2013 :(.
Third, another animal name is given; Melexorbius cossima, the little crawling bird feature on the Cossima productions logo.
Fourth, Their will be 52 minute documentary and series based on the new book (
Fifth, if I remember correctly, the book will feature about 50 animal species and a certain number of plant species.
That is all for now.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Evan: most of the changes I made were for reasons of plausibility. An unfortunate side effect of this approach may be that some otherworldliness is lost.
The lengthening of the torso has to do with legs knocking into one another. I found that I tended to produce Earth-like proportions for the overall body, forcing the legs to be close together. There are two other solutions though, one of which is to widen the distance of the middle pair.
There aren't any diagrams of internal jaws yet, but they are a basic trait of Fishes I and all their descendants, so these jaws exhibit a variety of shapes evolved to handle various types of food.

Petr: Hexapod bodies are always rather stiff, and lengthening the body makes the animal a bit less manoeuvrable, but nothing to worry about.
There do not have to be muscles inside eyestalks; the eye and eyestalk move as a whole, powered by muscles at the base of the stalk. They would not shake more then regular eyes in the same position. Perhaps less so, as body movements can be counteracted by eye movements.
The internal jaws have nothing at all to do with the lateral jaws. They are an independent feature of the gastrointestinal tract.

Christian, thank you for the update. Our 'cossimian' friends are doing well, it seems.

Petr said...

Thank you for your answers!
It's really great to have more insight!
What makes me puzzled, though, is where are the lateral jaws on the prober, marblebill and marshwallow? They seem to have only the "usual" jaws, while the thornrunner clearly shows it has lateral jaws, and the shuffler is said that the lateral jaws are fused with the upper jaw.
Did the lateral jaws fure with the upper jaw in some animals?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back!

as to the 'John Carter' movie...the beasts of burden suffer from Avatar-legs, yes; but given that the White Apes' mid-limbs are smaller than the other pairs, you could almost picture them atrophying away on the evolutionary process which led to the Red Martians.