Tyrannosaurs: Behind The Art
Master illustrator James Gurney educates and delights with an in-depth look at how he created two paintings for Scientific American magazine
Publisher James Gurney ven though dinosaurs have been extinct for 66 million years we’re still discovering new species. Twenty types of tyrannosaur, all cousins to the iconic T. rex, have come to light in the past decade-anda-half, for example.
When the magazine Scientific American commissioned James Gurney to create a cover and interior illustration of these ‘newcomers’ he decided to film his process. The resulting production joins a small but high-quality series of videos James has built up over the past few years.
Tyrannosaurs is less a training video, more a fully fledged documentary – though there are plenty of techniques to glean. James covers themes that will be instantly familiar to devotees of his books and other videos. Chiefly, the challenge of taking an imagined scene, whether from ancient history or purely from your imagination, and convincing the viewer it could be real.
You’ll see, for example, how James refers to modern animals to deduce how long-extinct creatures might have looked. More dinosaurs than we’d previously thought had some feathers, so James makes a detailed comparison of fur and feathers in today’s world to establish where they might have been and how they may have looked.
James has perfected the trick of packing in lots of information without ever making his presentation feel heavy. Given that his various videos cover broadly similar ground (this is his third about painting dinosaurs), anyone who’s bought all his videos to date will inevitably find less new information here – although it’s frankly so enjoyable to watch that it’s debatable to what extent this matters.
If you’re less familiar with James’s work, you’ll gain invaluable insights into making colour and value studies, painting with oil- and water-based media, researching your scene and much more – and have fun doing it.
Thumbnail and value studies lead to a colour study James can show to the art director. After a plein-air study of a nearby tree, James adds edge lighting to the woods in his picture. The video reveals the days of research and preparation that went into these pieces. An extensive catalogue of reference helps James to achieve more realistic results.