Skeletal Posture

A recent series of comments by paleo-artist Gregory Scott Paul (GSP in the common) on several list-servs has argued for a legalistic copyright or intellectual ownership of the visual medium of the skeletal diagram. Since the mid-1980s, Greg Paul has massively popularized this method, drawn on a technique Bakker used and adapted from a method that Chas Knight employed way back in the early 1900s. Paul has argued that his style has become so prevalent that it has spawned numerous knockoffs; but has also argued that his modern style of rendering skeletons for scientific publications, with a series of white bones on black silhouette (the same method I employ), with a specific posture (that of the end of the propulsive phase of the step cycle, arms tucked up as much as possible, head and neck flexed into an S-shape, and the tail drawn into an S-shape) is copyrightable. Some of us may disagree, or argue that this is problematic as it pushes other artists around.

But I’ve been careful in my reconstructions, having diverged from the Paulian posture for some time, although some come close. I have used a variety of postures for different animals, but now employ some specific concept postures depending on the group. Here’s the strange, toothless and puny-armed ceratosaur Limusaurus inextricabilis (Xu et al., 2009):

Limusaurus inextricabilis, Xu et al., 2009, based on IVPP V15923 (holotype).

This is a “rearing” posture, and I think I will be adopting this posture as a standard model from now on, just to be “different.” It is also a very elegant and dynamic posture, and the look is fairly unique from other representative artists’. Bipedal theropods and whatsists will all get the same treatement. Meanwhile, quadrupeds:

Leptoceratops gracilis Brown, 1914, rendered after several referred and the type specimens, but likely improperly scaled due to rendering after composite illustrations and a few independent bones.

I may use the same rearing method for quadrupeds that aren’t sauropods or crocodylians, simply because in those other animals, the elegance look wouldn’t work on a biological level (spinal support and all that) or would require significant reposturing that departs from the models employed here (as in sauropods, which may have reared in a particularly unique way — but more on this later, as the work is in the pipeline for publication).

Pterosaurs and birds receive the same makeover treatment: The arms are extended upward, parallel to the sagittal plane, to exaggerate the extension of the wing. They are also shown with an inclined spine.

Jeholopterus ningchengensis Wang et al., 2002, IVPP V12705 (holotype).

Brotogeris chrysoptera (Linnaeus, 1766).

Sauropods are trickier, and posturing them requires assumptions such as neck attitude, which I’ve talked about before, but here I’ve placed it in a position that departs from the typical Paulian style by a small amount.

The saltasaurid titanosaurian sauropod, Opisthocoelicaudia skarzynskii Borsuk-Białynicka, 1977.

Recently, however, Mike Hanson has re-done his Nigersaurus skeletal diagram with the express purpose of departing from the Paulian style, and it is a restoration that has been a long-time coming, placing the head close to the ground and the neck on a declining slope, instead of elevated to or above the horizontal.

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14 Responses to Skeletal Posture

  1. kattato Garu says:

    Hi, what is the justification for the ‘legalistic copyright’ and how could it possibly be policed? What is the benfit for science, communication or information sharing of such a move? it seems petty, unenforceable and utterly self-defeating. How disappointing.

    • Greg Paul, one of the most prominent dinosaur-focused paleo-artists currently active, has insisted that his style and his art are functionally copyrightable. Calling it the “Greg Paul look,” Paul argues that his style — from posture of the skeleton, left foot on the ground and pushing off into the propulsive phase of the step cycle — is his, and I suspect because other people using it detracts from producers and publishers seeking his employ or service. I am okay with Paul requesting others use his work or copy it directly, but it is unreasonable to argue that the style itself is copyrightable, or that the use of the distinctive white-on-black skeleton, or even the precise posture of the bones, is itself copyrightable. Fortunately, most people were adapting their work away from anything remotely similar, but Paul’s insistence is itself part of the controversy.

  2. kattato Garu says:

    “Greg Paul… has insisted that his style and his art are functionally copyrightable.” I’m not a lawyer but I think that’s bunkum. He should be flattered that others have copied the sytle and that it should become an ‘industry standard’ (which is very useful!!), and he certainly has copyright over his own designs and images, but there’s absoluteley no way he can stop other artists doing white on black skeletal reconstructions of any type, in any pose. Especially if there is precedent for similar reconstructions, and doubly so since the cat’s out of the bag and others have been doing similar things for years.

    • Ordinarily, I’d agree that it’s bunkum, but Greg may feel he’s lost money because others have taken up jobs in which he feels he would have gained business. He feels that others have capitalized on “his look,” and that’s an issue. Not because he’s right, but because of the corollary quality of getting the “Paulian” style for far cheaper devalues his own work. This is true for individuals like me or Scott Hartman who present their work with their own illustrations, thus depriving other artists of income. This is a ridiculous argument, for various reasons, but it remains an important lesson for diverging from other peoples’ styles enough to discriminate them easily.

  3. Tom Hopp says:

    Jaime — great insights and your art is great too. Regarding your artwork, I’d like to have an off-line discussion with you. Please contact me at tomhopp [ [ at ] ] I tried your yahoo email but it seems defunct.

  4. Warren B. says:

    Greg Paul might be an eminent scientist who had a big hand in effecting a paradigm shift in palaeontology and palaeoart, and is now legitimately trying to reduce the damage to his professional income; but after reading through the line of discussion on the DML (so far), I get an overwhelming image of a child stomping it’s foot and shouting “Stop copying me! It’s not fair!

  5. Brad McFeeters says:

    Jaime, your style for sauropods is highly distinctive. Must be the fully flexed elbow. I believe this Isisaurus is a direct copy of yours:

  6. Pingback: Art in the service of science: You get what you pay for | Science and Technology News

  7. ijreid says:

    Nice Opisthocoelicaudia. It looks quite accurate as far as I can tell. Would it be possible to get your permission to use it on wikipedia, as we are all but lacking any images of it? See for the article. If you decide, especially if you agree, all I need is for you to keep this discussion. I can assure you, even if you let wikipedia use it, that only wikipedia will use it under your permission, and only a few articles at that. Now if you would want it to be on as many pages as possible, I can attribute it to you, and, if you would like, your blog as well. If you would not like it to be used, then don’t hesitate to say so. Thanks for answering, whatever you decide.

    • The skeletal image is CC-BY: you are free to use it and modify it however you wish as long as you provide attribution to me for the original. This skeleton has the benefit of not being occluded with Nemegtosaurus‘ skull, as with Greg Paul’s illustration, based on his argument that the two are synonymous.

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