Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sabertooth diaries 6: time to play with clay!

Reconstructing sabertooths is a very demanding task, but it is also a lot of fun: in fact sometimes it can look a lot like childplay, and never so much as when you are making scale models in clay for reference. I have made a lot of models of skulls and heads of sabertooths and of their prey animals so that I can see how the heads would look in different angles and under different light conditions. These days when I need an absolutely accurate 3D reference I model the objects directly in the computer, but for a more spontaneous (even crude) approach there is nothing like the good old clay -and honestly, it remains a much more fun and relaxing thing to do!

Now, a few examples:

1.- Here is a skull of Homotherium based in several specimens form Incarcal in Spain. At some 12 cm. long, this is conveniently toy-like sized, like the rest of the models here.






2.- Here is the skull of the marsupial Thylacosmilus, with some of its soft tissues in place (concretely, it has the masseter and temporalis muscles, the nasal cartilage, the whisker pad and the orbiculars of the mouth.





3.- Here is the skull of Barbourofelis fricki




4.- Even more bizarre: the skull of the gorgonopsian Rubidgea:




5.- And yet another gorgon, this time it is Inostrancevia, andI have put some soft tissue on it…





6.- If sabertooths look strange, some of their prey can be stranger still. Here is the skull of one of Inostracevia‘s potential prey: Scutosaurus.





7.- And here is the skull (with some soft tissue on it) of an animal that was neither a sabertooth nor a very likely prey, but rather a potential competitor for the carcasses of the predators’ victims: the entelodontid Entelodon. These animals are called “killer pigs” by some, and looking at their heads one gets an idea that the name might just be appropriate…


Sabertooth Diaries 5: concepts you will not see in the book

When you start working in a book like “Sabertooth” you see it as a sort of limitless box where you will be able to put all your ideas on the subject matter. But as the project takes shape (and especially when the deadlines begin to loom in the horizon), you realize that many of your concepts will not find a place in the finished book. In fact, you may realize that MOST of your ideas will be left out!

In my case, a good many concepts never went beyond the stage of a crude pencil sketch. It doesn’t mean they won’t go beyond that stage: I expect to find them a home in some future projects, and it is my experience that a sketch may find its opportunity many years after its initial inception.  Many of the illustrations that you will see in “Sabertooth” derive from discarded sketches originally intended for “The Big Cats and their Fossil Relatives” or other projects from the last years.

Now let me share with you a few of those concepts that didn’t make it to the book. Between them they span almost 20 years in total, but at some point I seriously considered to make each of them into a finished piece for the book.

1.-Here is a violent scene showing Barbourofelis as it gets ready to dispatch a hapless Syntethoceras.

Barbourofelis and prey

2.-Here is a quick study of Megantereon leaping from behind some branches in pursuit of some unseen prey animal.


3.- Some more violence here: a scene based on the famous fossil skull of Nimravus with a wound apparently inflicted by the saber of a bad-tempered Eusmilus. I had to manipulate clay models of both skulls in my hands until I managed to position the saber of Eusmilus in the right angle to inflict a wound like the one seen in the fossil. And then the difficult part was to arrange the rest of the bodies of both animals (at least the front part of them) to fit with the relative positions of their skulls.

Eusmilus bites nimravus

4.-Finally, here is a scene with a pair of Smilodon emerging from among the branches of a fallen tree as they stalk their prey.

Smilodon pair stalk


As you may have gathered from the content of previous posts in this blog, I think it is just impossible to unravel the mysteries of the sabertooths without an in-depth study of modern cats. For this reason, the work of naturalists such as Jonathan Scott (of “Big Cat Diary” fame) has been such an essential input and inspiration for my work in reconstructing those extinct predators.

Now I am proud to announce that Jonathan and I are preparing a documentary film that will bring together the fascinating findings of paleontologists with the raw power of first-hand observations of the modern felines in their environments, in order to produce new and surprising insights into the evolution and adaptations of the sabertooths and their living relatives. This is not just a film, it is an experience of ongoing research, and I am sure that the results of this collaboration are going to change the way we see these mighty predators – both living and extinct.

In order to complete the film we will be launching a crowdfunding initiative a few months from now, so that the documentary can be ready to premiere sometime in 2014. We will announce the dates in due course.

With my collaborators from “The Fly Factory” creating amazing 3D animations of the anatomy and action of the sabertooths and a team of professionals behind the camera and in the cutting room, this is going to be a truly eye-opening experience. Stay tuned!

You can watch an early trailer for the film in the following link (make sure to set the YouTube quality settings to HD!) :

Life reconstruction of the sabertooth cat Megantereon

Life reconstruction of the sabertooth cat Megantereon