Magericyon: from fossil to virtual to art
One of the illustrations I did for the exhibition about Batallones fossil sites represents an adult female of the amphicyonid Magericyon agressively protecting its cubs. Such behaviour scenes, which imply portraying the animals in action, are quite complex to produce. Much of my “paleoartistic” work implies to establish the appearance of extinct animals that have never been depicted before, and the end result of such reconstructions is usually a picture of the animal in broadside view, standing or walking leisurely, so that the body proportions are seen most clearly.
But when it comes to depict action, we need to see the animal as a 3-dimensional dynamic structure of bone, muscle and fur with the infinite possible combinations of posture, light and point of view. Virtual 3D technology can prove enormously helpful in all the stpes of this process.
In the previous months I had been collaborating with paleontologist Gema Siliceo in the creation of a virtual skeleton of Magericyon to be used in her Phd thesis dissertation about this carnivore, a task that involved many hours of work. First, each bone had to be scanned and the scans turned into virtual 3D objects, which then needed to be assembled in an anatomically correct virtual skeletal mount. This implied to create mirror copies of limb bones that were represented on one side only, and in a few cases to model missing bones by hand. Most importantly, the bones had to be articulated to each other in the correct angles, and for this task Gema’s painstaking study of the functional anatomy of Magericyon was vital. For example, she determined that the hind feet of this animal would have been essentially plantigrade, an important bit of information when we deal with a diverse family of extinct carnivores that included both plantigrade and digitigrade species.
Returning to the action scene, I had created some preliminary pencil sketches showing the angry mother charging some invisible enemy. In those drawings I tried to approximate from memory how this amphicyonid would look if seen in mid-leap and in perspective
Nothing can take the place of pencil and paper, but there is no denying the contribution of digital technology to paleoart. With the time and resources it is possible and desirable to combine the best of both worlds
And there is more: we used this digital 3D model as a basis for a virtual animated reconstruction of the skeleton and the living animal, an exclusive feature that can be seen at the Batallones exhibit in Alcalá de Henares, Madrid. Well worth visiting!