Rendering Unto Nature What is Nature’s Due

Ah, bastardizing titles, my favorite.

Today is a look at a skeleton I showed off before, that of the Hell Creek oviraptorosaur, hereafter HCO. This animal, represented by a few different skeletons (one of which was found with the great “Sue” skeleton, FMNH PR2801) is one of the most enigmatic of known oviraptorosaurs, due to its ubiquity — there are casts of this thing everywhere! — while having not been described … yet.

Today, I would rather show off a method of artistic modification that results in the de-skeletonization of the animal. There are several ways to go about this, but if you are anything like me, your skeletons and their body outlines tend to be intimate and holistic. This means you you pretty much have the whole thing at once, and you can’t really remove sections of it without removing whole other portions you don’t intend. I draw the outline to my silhouettes with the pen, not the digital tools, so this does make them rather difficult to remove by simply clicking off a layer or two. Reworking the skeleton backwards to achieve this effect, however, takes a little time and it requires intimate detail work on modifying the bones themselves. The easiest recourse, at that point, would have been to simply render the skeleton separate from the beginning, then draw the outline underneath. Scott Hartman draws his dinosaur skeletons this way, a technique that allows him intimate control over reposing the skeleton as he wills. Since I use Photoshop to accomplish my goals, I will use Photoshop terms for tools and so forth; forgive me for not having SAI or other programs and the familiarity with their differences.


HECO skeleton

1. Skeleton
The first step in this process is to simply take the finished skeletal diagram you’ve gone through all your hours of work to accomplish. As this object will exist on a separate layer from the background (if it does) you may simply select the outline using either the wand or marquee tool. The marquee should configure itself to the minimum pixellated outline, which would be the outline you desire. You can also, if your image has been flattened into its background, use the wand tool on the background, then invert the selection. This will make sure you select everything that isn’t the background, which should be the skeleton’s outline itself.

HCO body outline, sans feathers

2. Body Silhouette
Taking your selected margins, simply create a new layer (this is important), and go to that layer. Your selection field will remain active on whichever layer “you” are on. Using the paint tool, make sure it’s set to “Fill” and choose your desired color; I use solid, pure back (&#x000000). Then just click the fill into the outlined area, and voilà! you have yourself a new layer with a new skeletal outline … without the bones. An adventurous person might take this opportunity to then go back to the original, skeleton layer and try to remove the outline from the bones, but this task is fraught with peril, as you will (if not using a VERY LARGE file, likely start removing sections of your bones themselves. I suggest that if you intend to create layers with only bones and only outline, you do so initially as it will be far less work for you in the end.

HCO body & feathers

3. Feathers
This is perhaps the most involving step, but likely the most fun, because instead of just using tools in mechanical fashion, you get to be artistic. This task is spent merely drawing a new outline from scratch, starting on a yet newer layer. I used the brush tool and the line tool set at varying thicknesses, and color set to a moderate “grey” to create a larger body outline to correspond with all the added fats extra keratin on the crest and beak, skin, and feathers. The fluff you see around the ankles, the large wing feathers (comprising primary and secondary feathers) and the retrices at the end of the tail (which significantly extend the length of the tail) were all draw by hand with small brush strokes using a circle alone and decent hand control. Because I wasn’t going to be anal about this, I chose not to render out the ungual keratin sheaths, and simply left them black in the skeleton for the sake of leaving them black everywhere else. The beak, however, was de-blacked in order to create a continuity with the implied keratin of the crest. The color of the feather outline is not important, and so I merely chose “grey” as it would be intermediate between the back of the flesh and white of the bones. The outline was increased to correspond to the way that feathers do not actually lie flat on bird bodies, but stick out (see below).

I made a copy of the body outline from step 2 and plopped it down underneath this layer. Cycling the transparency of the layer to 15%, I created a bare impression of the body position and outline underneath the feathers, as if the feather portion would cover the moderate grey areas shown. Then I decided to backtrack and remove from the “feather” portion of the third layer the beak and crest, which resulted in the underlying, mostly transparent layer having them instead, as this would create a better, artistic impression of the grey outline simply being “feathers.” You can now see the legs, fingers, and portion of the head peaking out from underneath a fine plumage.

Edit: I modified the original submitted image which didn’t jive with what I was saying it represented. This newer version erased the “feathers” from where the beak was on the upper and lower portions, and pulled the feathers from the muscles connected upper and lower jaws (forming the birdy “cheek”), as well as a tiny section around the second manual (“major”) digit. Hopefully, this looks “prettier.” The lower images are not substantially affected, and won’t be modified as yet.

HCO with feather outline underlying body

4. Combine Feathers to Outline
On the neck, they can stick out at high angles, and depending on the pterylae (those regions of the skin where feathers appear, which form “zones” and “tracts” and are often distinct from one another, forming apterylous areas where no feathers appear — as if you thought birds sprouted feathers from EVERY portion of their skin!) can be restricted to small sections of the skin.

rock pigeon pterylae

Rock Pigeon, pterylae tracts. Copyright of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology (2009).

This will increase the aspect of the neck in almost any perspective, and from the side you will get the impression the neck is at least twice as thick. I was actually a little conservative in outlaying the feathers, so the neck could have been thicker in aspect. Adding in gular feathers to increase the “throat” area, large tracts along the ventral belly to “erase” the gastral margins and pelvic region, and grossly thickening the tail help enforce the concept that the additional fleshy features associated with the feathers would have distinctly altered the appearance of the living animal from a plucked version.

HCO in full feathered silhouette

5. Feathered Silhouette
In a bare tweaking of the original process (step 1), I collapsed the two layers used in the last step and simply created a third outline above them, and blackened that one in. Here, then, is a simple outline of an energetic, squawking HCO.

This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. (The pterylae image is separate from this work.)

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2 Responses to Rendering Unto Nature What is Nature’s Due

  1. Thanks for going into that.

    And thanks for submitting it — now you can see it atop its lineage:

    Looking forward to more submissions!

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