Doomed predators: conveying the drama of carnivore entrapment in Batallones 3
Yet another of the illustrations I did for the great Batallones exhibition intended to depict an entrapment event at one of the carnivore traps, concretely Batallones 3. Some distinctive features of Batallones 3 are the large number of fossils of the larger sabertooth Machairodus aphanistus, which is the single most abundant species at the site; the presence of the bear Indarctos arctoides (absent in Batallones 1); and the abundance of giant tortoises of the species Titanochelon bolivari.
I planned a simple scene which showed these 3 main elements within the cavity, and I needed to gather all those big animals in a relatively small, closed space while still maintaining a sense of depth. One subtle aspect to consider was the angle of view. Put in other words, if I were a time-traveler and I could enter the cavity and take a picture of the scene, what lens should I choose?
In my first rough pencil sketch I chose an imaginary wide-angle lens, meaning that I got very close to the dead tortoise and sabertooth in the foreground and the bear in the background appeared to be farther away and thus looked smaller. This option created greater depth but it could make the cavity look too spacious
In a second pencil sketch I chose an imaginary 50mm lens or even a moderate telephoto. If I had been at the scene, this means I would have to step back from the smelly tortoise carcass and the anguished sabertooth (maybe hitting my head with the low roof of the cavity) in order to fit everything in the frame. The bear would look proportionally larger, and the cavity smaller
When I tackled the final digital painting and the scene became more solid, once again I got the impression that the the viewer and animals were crowded in a too small room, so I corrected the view until I got something in between the first two options
In order to give a little more depth to the scene I used some rays of light coming from the roof opening to suggest layers of atmosphere. Those effects, together with the somewhat “heroic” pose of the sabertooth give the scene and adventure feel, something like the cover of a comic book. But still the real scene would have been oppressing, so I devoted quite some time to dwell on the effect of the mud splatters on the cat’s fur or the flies buzzing around the rotting tortoise, all reminders of the down-to-earth drama that led to the eventual preservation of the fossils which we finally find in the site.