Drawing dinosaurs

Paleo-artists use fossils and scientific essays to depict animals that lived millions of years ago. Paleo-artist Gabriel Ugueto reveals the aesthetic challenges he encounters when trying to accurately draw extinct animals like dinosaurs.


Paleoartists use fossils and scientific essays to depict animals that lived millions of years ago.

Paleoartist Gabriel Ugueto reveals the esthetic challenges he encounters when trying to accurately draw extinct animals, like dinosaurs.

Our partner 'Science Friday' has the story.

Science is allowing us to look at dinosaurs in a whole different way.

We know now what coloration they could've had.

We know a lot more about the way they were related to each other.

Every year, so many new species get discovered and described, so there is a huge amount of work to be depicted in illustration right now.

Many times, I finish an illustration and I said, 'Wow, this animal is amazing.'

Uh, the rush of creating something that looks so bizarre, and it fuels your imagination.

♪♪ My name is Gabriel Ugueto.

And I am an paleoartist and scientific illustrator.

Paleoart is the artistic representation of animals that are not alive today.

So, as an paleoartist, I end up illustrating dinosaurs, of course, extinct mammals, also marine reptiles.

Basically, anything that was alive a long, long time ago.

Paleoart works as a way to showcase the current evidence from paleotologists, from people that study any other extinct animal behavior.

So, for me, accuracy, based on what we know, is one of the most important things I can showcase in my work.

Growing in Venezuela, you are exposed to a lot of, you know, different animals.

I was obsessed with, uh, a field guide of 'Birds of Venezuela.'

That was a big inspiration of me, and I used to look at it, and say, 'One day, I'm going to do a guide, but of reptiles,' which was my main love.

I worked for a long time as a herpetologist, but I studied graphic design and illustration, and that's what I felt I needed to be.

So, nowadays, I work in books, in scientific journals online, in museums, TV documentaries.

When I get an assignment, you start with the bones and then -- then work outward from that.

And then I put in skin, color, based on where the animal lived and what period in time, and suggested habits of the animal.

I mean, they definitely have to have a detailed knowledge of her muscles attached to different bones.

So, it's very important to be very familiar with anatomy of modern-day animals.

We know that birds are dinosaurs, so they probably share a lot of things in common.

And a lot the ways they move and they look at the world, is probably similar, but the adding features to dinosaurs is still, uh, controversial for some people, I don't know why.

People that really want their dinosaurs to look like the ones in 'Jurassic Park,' but, I mean, [ Laughs ], we have now tons of dinosaurs that, in the fossils, are completely covered in feathers, and, I mean, from head to toe.

I think for a long time, paleoart suffered from skin wrapping everything.

We didn't give any room for fat deposits and muscles.

A lot of people have liked my reconstructions of Plesiosaurs, because I've made them really chunky, and I've also made them scaly.

And the reason why I've done that was that they discovered this small Plesiosaur, and it had skin impressions, which showed tiny scales, and very big fat deposits, which makes sense for an animal that is marine, because, think about whales and seals.

Sometimes, there are aspects about animals that surprise you.

You know, we grew up knowing about tyrannosaurs and everybody knows how small their arms are, but I guess that when you see something like Carnotaurs, which has like, really weird, even smaller than T-Rex arms, you're like, 'Wow, this is, uh -- this is really weird, but it was the way it was.'

Everybody's depicting dinosaurs from the Jurassic and the Cretaceous, but the Triassic is a lot of fun for a paleoartist.

There's nothing that looks like a Drepanosaur, there's nothing that look like an Atopodentatus.

There's nothing that look like Longisquama.

It's -- sometimes, they are so bizarre looking that you have to be careful that you are depicting them in a way that makes sense.

Realism is very difficult, because we don't exactly what these animals looked like.

It's just all suggestion and -- and interpretations, and, uh, we do what we can with the evidence that we have so far.

So, what's lost when you depict an animal inaccurately, is their sense of -- of being alive.

When I look at a Tyrannosaur with filaments and all this scarring in their heads, all these crests -- and we know they had keratinous crests, they look so much more real, so much more plausible, as an -- as an animal alive than a monster from a -- from a movie.