Bringing fossils to life through paleoart

Seeing the fossils in person is one of the best ways artists can get a sense of what the animal will look like, but they must also use the scientific literature and inferences based on the environmental conditions that the species lived to fill in gaps in the fossil record. Learning the basic details of the animal—what it ate, how it avoided predators, where did it live, what was the climate like back then—can help artists pinpoint what makes this species unique in the fossil record.

It’s becoming much more common for paleoartists to rely on 3D scans of fossil specimens, especially when access to the fossils is difficult. These 3D models allow artists to see the fossil from every angle, so if they’re trying to figure out exactly how the head would look in their illustration, they can just rotate the model until it matches. 

Burke Museum volunteers are working hard to 3D scan fossils in the collection to increase access for the public and paleoartists alike. But even with pictures and 3D scans at their disposal, paleoartists have to ask the experts for help sometimes because who knows these extinct species better than a paleontologist?

“Paleontology is an ever-changing field and fossil bones can only tell us so much, so it’s important to keep in contact with the community to be aware of new discoveries and the latest supported theories,” said Julio Lacerda, a paleoartist based in Brazil who worked on several illustrations for the new Burke.

Paleoart, like the research it depicts, is constantly evolving as new information comes to light, so if new evidence is found that an extinct whale had baleen and not teeth, then the illustrations must evolve to reflect that.

Article Source: Burke Museum