Sabertooth and prey: selecting a frame from the action.

When preparing to represent a scene from the distant past, we sometimes wish we could just travel back in time and make a photo. In reality, our working process improves if we mentally recreate some of the background story for the imaginary “snapshot” we are going to take.
Having the “big picture” in our mind gives more meaning to each pencil stroke. Let us take as an example the scene from the American Miocene showing a conflict between two adult Barbourofelis fricki, from my latest book “Sabertooth”. One sabertooth defends the Syntethoceras carcass from the other, but what had happened before?
Functional anatomy indicates that these animals would only rarely scavenge, and would hunt most of their food. But, did the two predators kill the prey together, or is one of them challenging the rightful hunter? As discussed elsewhere, there is evidence to suggest that subadult Barbourofelis may have helped their mothers to catch really big prey, but it is most likely that adult individuals would hunt on their own. So, in our picture only one “cat” did the killing.

In this fragment of an oil painting depicting the Miocene environments of Love Bone Bed, Florida, we see some large Barbourofelis cubs trying to help their mother to bring down a rhinoceros.
barbourofelis at Love-Bone-bed baja

For a single adult sabertooth, catching agile prey such as Syntethoceras would require a lot of patience, precision, and more than a bit of luck. Imagine then its rage if another sabertooth appears and wants to take the fruit of its efforts! The outcome of the conflict would depend on the differences in size, and on how starved each contestant was…

This sequence of events had been in my mind for a few years, and now and then I would take a few minutes to sketch this or that part of the story. Here are some quick drawings of the capture process:
collage persec y captura-baja

One version of the fight (minus the carcass) became the cover of some editions of our book on Prehistoric Mammals:
BarbourofelisFricki fight1

When the book “Sabertooth” started to take shape, I found I needed an illustration of a conflict around a carcass, so I decided to ellaborate on that part of the sequence. Here are some of the sketches:
fight sketch-2 baja

fight sketch-3 baja

fight sketch-5-background baja

Want to see a glimpse of the process of the making of the digital color painting? Watch this short clip of the film “Bringing the Sabertooths Back to Life” on YouTube:

Want to learn much more about the whole process of reconstruction, from the excavation of sabertooth fossils to the final touches of illustrations? Download the full 35 -minute film from our store at Wild World Visuals:


Posted on 09/06/2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. im a twelve year old who loves paleontology and paleoart thanks for your encouragement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: