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Canis concolor and Puma lupus by Viergacht Canis concolor and Puma lupus by Viergacht
A little thought experiment to illustrate an inevitable flaw in paleoart.

Imagine an alternate universe in which there are no felines. For whatever reason, they all died off before a human could see or draw a representation of one. And then a paleontologist digs up the complete, perfect skeleton of a puma, and a paleoartist is tasked with painting a life restoration. What is he going to do? With no close living relatives to reference, he uses the next best thing -  another common predator, more distantly related, that lives in the same area and hunts similar prey. The result is on the left, a puma skull restored with details of the soft tissue and fur of a timber wolf.

On the right is the life restoration of an extinct animal from an alternate universe with the opposite situation. All members of the cat family are present and accounted for, but no one has ever seen a canid. Another artist is handed the the skull of a wolf to work with. Rather than simply grafting the colors of an extant animal onto her skull, she combines inspiration from a tiger, puma and cheetah to come up with pelt marked like a typical feline, reasoning that since most cats have brightly patterned coats, it's likely her mystery animal did too, although she can never know the exact array of spots and stripes.

It's interesting how much of the character of an animal is in the details, and how much an artist's choices can influence the way we picture a fossil animal.
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:iconjdailey1991:
Jdailey1991 Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018
Have you ever thought about illustrating their whole bodies?
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2018  Professional General Artist
I have! It's one of those projects for when I have some free time :)
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:iconjioseph-superfan63:
Jioseph-superfan63 Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
You know, these interesting examples of paleofail reminds to me the Shrink Wrapped animals.

Do you know it?
It's about reconstructing modern animals in the way we would reconstruct the dinosaurs and others ancient animals.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2017  Professional General Artist
Yep, even back when it was a popular trope I thought it looked kind of weird. 
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:iconjioseph-superfan63:
Jioseph-superfan63 Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Well, it have too look weird.

Look at the platypus, knowing just his skeleton would you make an actual egg-laying mammal?
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:iconnekonotaishou:
nekonotaishou Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2017  Professional Filmographer
Every now and then I remember this, and I lie awake at night thinking of all the soft tissue details we will never know :stare:
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2017  Professional General Artist
Same. Although it is pretty amazing we known some dinosaur colors now, and all the little feathered critters they've been finding recently.
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:iconnekonotaishou:
nekonotaishou Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2017  Professional Filmographer
It's absolutely amazing, and it's a good point to bring up when there are people teetering on the edge of the feather argument who happen to be artists; I have "converted" at least one person that way, lol.

Supposedly there was a new plesiosaur fossil with soft tissue or soft tissue indicators that showed they were fatty?
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2017  Professional General Artist
Oh cool! Makes sense, for streamlining and keeping them warm.
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:iconbensen-daniel:
bensen-daniel Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2017
I forgot how cool these were
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:iconpaleosir:
paleosir Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
The Canis concolor looks adorable!

Anyway, I agree.
Someone once said: ''Hey, Microraptor was black, why did you illustrate Changyuraptor as brown!?''
I facepalmed.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2016  Professional General Artist
Oy. And we don't even know if solid black was both genders, like crows, or just one. 
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:iconpaleosir:
paleosir Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Indeed.
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:iconserulfen:
Serulfen Featured By Owner Edited Oct 10, 2016  Student General Artist
Hmm, lots of feathered theropod dinosaurs, especially dromaeosaurs, are so often given colors that are either heavily influenced or even completely taken from a living species of bird. Like what if those dinos had completely different color patterns than any living birds, since the relation IS still pretty distant, even though both are classified inside Dinosauria.... Dromaeosaurs even had lips and teeth, unlike living birds, so.... They must've been very, very different-looking, despite having had feathers and had common ancestry with them.

Your drawing here demonstrates very well why I think lastly mentioned is kinda disturbing. It's lazy. To wrap something extinct in the skin, flesh and color of something living. It may be so inaccurate.

Extinct dinosaurs get constantly wrapped in soft tissue from living dinosaurs (birds), various lizards and crocodilians. Rarely does one see a reconstruction where dinosaurs would look more like their own thing. 
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2016  Professional General Artist
Yeah, I don't like it when an exact pattern & color is lifted wholesale for a serious reconstruction, although it can be cute in a less-serious drawing. Obviously there's going to be some convergeance - countershading, stripes for disruptive camo, etc - but artists should really take the opportunity to be creative. 
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:iconserulfen:
Serulfen Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2016  Student General Artist
Couldn't agree more, with these exact words you spoke.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2016  Professional General Artist
Have you seen :iconwillemsvdmerwe: - he's really amazing at coming up unique and believable patterns for his prehistoric reconstructions.
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:iconcyberneticcupcake:
CyberneticCupcake Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Very fascinating cat-wolf and dog-tiger. Kinda wish there were domesticated cat-dogs; they look much cuter.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2016  Professional General Artist
Maybe someone will genetically engineer one?
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:iconcyberneticcupcake:
CyberneticCupcake Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Mrowff! :meow:
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:icondrivernjax:
drivernjax Featured By Owner May 22, 2016
Interesting.  My icon is my OC Amanda Fuchs.  She's a tiger-striped red fox who has a tiger's face and here you are drawing something similar using a wolf and a puma.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner May 24, 2016  Professional General Artist
:) I did intentionally use two popular well-known animals.
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:iconankanyam:
ankanyam Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2016  Student General Artist
My two favorite animals UNITED!
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:icontrottingperyton:
TrottingPeryton Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
An interesting concept on how paleo art's strengths and limitations. So often artists turn to known and familiar animals to fill in the blank of an unknown.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2016  Professional General Artist
Well, we do what we can with what we have - it's guesswork, but the good artists use educated guesswork :)
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:icontrottingperyton:
TrottingPeryton Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Totally true. It is always interesting to explore all sorts of possibilities and interpretations.
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:iconguyverman:
Guyverman Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2016
Also, I don;t think Creodonts would've looked too dog like either.
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:iconmitzimonster:
MitziMonster Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is very fun to look at
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2016  Professional General Artist
Thanks :) I had fun painting them.
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:icongrisador:
grisador Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2015
Love this speculative subjects ! :nod:

That's exactly the thing we're doing right now; mostly at Dinosaurs.
Although the prime subject has ceded to avians; after the crocodiles.
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:iconguyverman:
Guyverman Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2015
I think the same applies to Dinotheirum.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2015  Professional General Artist
Yup yup.
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:iconguyverman:
Guyverman Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2015
How do you think the would've looked different?
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2015  Professional General Artist
If it were me, I would paint it with more of a furry coat like calves have. It split off from modern elephants pretty early, so I'm not sure how much like them it would have been in little details like the ear shape and so on. Plus a lot of artists just seem to get the shape of the head wrong - the trunk would have been very massive at the base, not at all like a modern elephant - and it must have been doing something really odd with those tusks. 
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:iconwarriorwolfsbane:
WarriorWolfsBane Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
Just the picture looked awesome! Then I read the description and it got even better! Please do more of these
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:icondomisea:
Domisea Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2015  Student General Artist
Hah, awesome! From aesthetic point of view, I prefer Canis concolor ^^ Though it somehow look weird, but I can't say why... maybe it looks sapient? O-o

Though for reconstructing they would probably use a closer relatives, like bears, raccoons for canine and civets in feline's case. That would give more accurate effect (though they couldn't know it xD). Unless they are extinct too O_o Yeah, that would be a problem XD.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2015  Professional General Artist
They probably would, but it probably also partly depends on the artist's skill, and whoever did the first reconstruction sort of creating a trope - I deliberately used very unalike carnivores to make the image more striking. 
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:iconmonotsleigh:
monotsleigh Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Before I read the description I was like you've given them the wrong structure!! But once I read the description the world made sense! But it's a really interesting thought that I've never thought before. Reminds me a bit of when they thought the iguanadons thumb claws were a type of odd horn so for a while you only had illustrations of them with horns not thumb claws!
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:iconshadowkiwi:
ShadowKiwi Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2015   Digital Artist
I love this!  I think about this a lot.

Most paleoart tends to go on the conservative side enveloping the animal with simple bland meat and skin.  Others mock it up with closest living relative's skins.  

All in all they seem kind of conservatively wrong somehow.

Reconstructed monkeys and apes from the point of view of never seeing them is also pretty creepy
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2015  Professional General Artist
I usually try to go with something reminiscent of living animals in a similar ecological niche, but the further back you go in time the inevitably more speculative you have to get. I'd rather see a little bit of imagination than just being boring, tho.
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:iconkoeskull:
Koeskull Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Very cool concept, I don't think I've seen the idea shown like this before.
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:iconpasu-chan:
Pasu-chan Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thisis well though
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:icongloade:
gloade Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
totally cool !
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:iconrandomflyingpigeons:
randomflyingpigeons Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
This is really cool. Have you ever read All Yesterdays? I assume you have due to your knowledge and interest in paleoart, but I figured I'd mention it since I really enjoyed reading it, myself. 
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2015  Professional General Artist
I haven't read the whole book, but I follow the authors and artist's works - it's funny, when I was a teenager I used to like drawing mammal skeletons as if they were dinosaurs, and when I saw AY I thought, well dang, I should have written a book! LOL I have a piece in the second book, too.
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:iconrandomflyingpigeons:
randomflyingpigeons Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
There is a second book? Oh wow I didn't even realize.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2015  Professional General Artist
Yeah, "All Our Yesterdays" with a bunch of different artists contributing. It's quite fascinating.
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:iconrandomflyingpigeons:
randomflyingpigeons Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
Excellent, I'll have to check it out!
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:iconhoneyandbrush:
HoneyandBrush Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
This is a really interesting concept. It's hard to know exactly what dinosaurs looked like, but I'd like to imagine they were colorful.
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:iconvioletwhirlwind:
VioletWhirlwind Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You make some great points here!

I'm no skilled reconstruction artist, but...I like to think that some dinos might have had external ears or even trunks.  Like the sauropods that are so often reconstructed with their nostrils above/at the same level of their eyes.  Just because they're descended from reptiles, doesn't mean their faces have to look exactly like them.  All that stuff was soft tissue that wouldn't have been preserved.
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