Yup Brian Engh, the guy who started the Twitter - storm #buildabetterfaketheropod, illustrated the recently discovered Aquilops americanus and so much more. His #buildabetterfaketheropod featured in Scientific American. To purchase a print of his Aquilops americanus here is a link.
It is awesome that he did this interview, I have been a fan of his work for a few years, so without further adieu….
Question 1.) How old were you when you first started drawing dinosaurs?
A.) I think 3 or 4.
Question 2.) Who did you look up to in your youth?
A.) Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Steve Irwin and Jackie Chan.
Question 3.) What was your first paleoart piece?
A.) Spinosaurus aegyptiacus for Tor Bertin’s 2010 paper which can be found here:
Question 4.) Do you have a favorite dinosaur or group of dinosaurs?
A.) Honestly no. I’m fascinated by animals and ecosystems in general. Monsters, dinosaurs and other prehistoric life forms compel me creatively because there’s so much unknown stuff to imagine about them and their world, and yet the paleo world is deeply connected to modern lifeforms and ecology. As completely unscientific as this sounds, I get a mystic feeling from paleo, like there is ancient knowledge and encoded in stone, and if we can decipher it we can unlock secret insight. Cuz, you know, science is basically spells and potions and repeatable miracles. When I’m making a paleo illustration I feel like a wizard conjuring an archaic dragon, unlocking it from its prison of stone to be released into the future!!!!!!!!
Question 5.) What is your favorite paleoart piece you have done?
A) Whatever the next one is. By the time I’m done with a piece I’m usually sick of it, but starting a new project and conceptualizing about all the possibilities is always fun and exciting.
Question 6.) What is your process for creating your paleoart in general?
A.) I go outside, I go on adventures, I catch frogs n bugs n stuff, I try to draw trees and plants (and get frustrated and baffled by their structural complexity), think about stuff a lot, watch wildlife documentaries, read lots of articles & scientific papers, amass photos of fossils and living animals/plants/etc, discuss ideas with any science minded friend or colleague I can get to talk to me, do lots of rough sketches, eventually settle on a layout, do a meticulously detailed render in pencil, get frustrated with it, sit and think about it a bunch, rework a large section of it, scan it, color in photoshop.
Question 7.) What is your muse, for all of your art, music & music videos, paleoart, animations… where does all the inspiration come from?
A.) The simplest way to answer that question is to say that the only things that I’ve found that can temporarily reduce my rate of ideation or creative drive is hunger, thirst or lack of sleep. Everything else benefits creative output, even mundane and tedious tasks, and (perhaps especially) the pressures of society trying to keep me from doing what I want creatively.
Question 8.) What drives your fascination for fictional and non - fictional prehistoric beasts? They are a distinct theme up in your paintings, sketches, music, videos, and animations.
A.) See #4.
Question 9.)You have openly stated that you have strong disagreements to pop culture portrayals of dinosaurs. Specifically in one article you posted “Feathered Dinosaurs Are Scary as Hell” in 2013. This year you started #buildabetterfaketheropod on social media, it has caught on fast and is trending. Do you think more people are aware of the inaccuracies of pop culture vs science, from 2013 to 2015 and do you think the trend for scientifically accurate dinosaurs will ever hit pop culture?
A.) Basically I have a bunch of ideas about dinosaurs & monsters that I would absolutely relish the opportunity to actualize in one creative medium or another. So when I see that the chance to do something really high-profile and high-production value is squandered on something dated, or re-hashed, or underdeveloped conceptually it drives me fucking crazy. When I’m not doing paleoart or investing time in my own projects I work for the entertainment industry doing freelance animation & illustration & I’ve even done a tiny bit of VFX work on big Hollywood feature films, so I’ve seen first hand how the current system holds back a mass of incredibly talented creative people’s true potential. But the majority of the public has no idea it could be getting something way better than Jurassic World - or whatever other mega-budget movie / pop music / bad TV ‘documentary’ is fed to them - so they don’t demand anything better and nothing changes. The non-artist executives and producers and way-too-powerful marketing firms stay employed and empowered, and scientific advisers and concept artists remain peripheral to the actual creative core of people who make the final decisions. And most people are content with that. But there is definitely a growing population of people going “Hey, how come Prometheus wasn’t as good as Alien? Same director with more money, right?” And similarly there’s a growing population of people who are at least casually aware that dinosaur science and dinosaur art have changed a lot since '93, and that some really stunning and fascinating discoveries have been made. The great thing about the internet is that even a fringe weirdo like me can reach out to people like you and connect with an audience who is receptive to art and ideas that don’t follow a standard, easily-marketed formula. For me #BuildaBetterFakeTheropod is about showing people that there are a ton of ideas out there that could be compelling and cool and cinematic & which would fuel a richer discourse about science and nature than a bunch of completely made up and/or grossly inaccurate and exaggerated gray CG monsters.
Question 10.) Your paleoart work with Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology on Aquilops americanus has circulated the internet in news a good deal, from Discovery News, Sci-News, The Guardian, BBC News… the list goes on. How does it feel to see all of the hard work really appreciated by the public and academics?
A.) Seeing Aquilops all over the internet and in the LA Times was a nice surprise. I had no idea it was going to get that much coverage (small ornithischians generally get slept on). That was a nice affirmation of the months of work that went into that project. It was weird, however, how fast the news cycle blows over, and how little traffic I saw on my website despite the mainstream media attention. That experience taught me that a lot of people seeing (and clicking “like” on) your work does not necessarily equal a lot of people contacting you for more work, buying posters or even showing any interest in your other work. That was a good lesson in how publicity works.
Question 11.) Do you have any more paleoart planned for the future?
A.) Yes. I have a ton of folders of rough sketches and photographs and ideas and research.
Question 12.) You wrote a piece, on National Geographic and your Spinosaurus art called “You could have been looking at something new right now…” where you point out the similarities in your art piece and the one featured by National Geographic. In your opinion, do you think that it helped or hindered your clout as a paleoartist? Was it helpful in the sense “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” and people made the connection as yours being an original? Or did it hinder you, since it was not your original art used, but rather a very closely derived piece?
A.) I have no idea. The frustrating thing was that everybody in the online discussion got hung up on whether or not the Nat Geo illustration was derivative or plagiaristic rather than whether it was furthering science and paleo art. The core of my argument was always that paleo artists need to step up their game because there's STILL ONLY 2 depictions of any Spinosaurid hunting behavior (that I’m aware of) 1) standing on the shore/wading in the shallows like a heron or 2) hunting fully immersed at the surface. But the new evidence suggests some interesting things about Spinosaurus’ lifestyle that have yet to be explored in paleoart… Whether or not that article hurt my reputation in the paleo community I can’t say. I think some people thought I was being an arrogant dick for pointing out what they considered to be minor similarities, while some people thought the Nat Geo illustration looked really strikingly similar to mine and thus it was completely reasonable to point it out. Still others thought I was a jerk for even publicly criticizing it (or anything for that matter) at all. All I can say is if I was a jerk then I hope my own work will be held to an even more rigorous standard.
Question 13.) Do you have any words of wisdom for those getting into the paleoart field?
A.) Well… I’m sorta just getting into paleo art myself (Aquilops was only my 3rd paid paleo art gig), so probably not. The best advice I’ve got is: “Please try to destroy me.”
Question 14.) Do you have any more artistic creations you are working on at the moment, in music, video, animation, or anything else, that we can look forward to in the future?
A.) Yes. Lots. Stay tuned to my website
for a bunch of new upcoming work. I recently finished a couple illustrations of a plesiosaur called Aristonectes for a book coming out of the Melbourne Museum on the Eromanga Sea, which was an ancient inland sea that once filled Australia’s interior. That book will be coming out in August I think. I also just finished the single largest piece of paleoart I’ve ever done - a big illustration for an interpretive sign overlooking the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway in Moab Utah, commissioned by paleontologist ReBecca Hunt-Foster of Utah BLM. That will be up on my website hopefully withing the next couple weeks (so end of June), and as an actual physical sign on site sometime after that. I also recently finished some animation depicting the Viking myth of Ragnarok for a show that will be airing on the History channel, but I don’t know the air date on that yet. I’ll be putting my section of animation up on my youtube channel/website as soon as I get around to putting it all together as a standalone short. I’m also working on another Earth Beasts Awaken video, and a long-overdue second music album called Gather Bones that I will be releasing in the fall. Oh, and another paleo illustration for a paper by Matt Wedel, which should also be published by the fall sometime. In addition to my website
you can find me on twitter @greygriffon and there is facebook page for my music at
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