Feb 27, 2011

The conquest of Feathers...

So I've been working on 3D feathers for a year. Yeah you heard me. A year. You finally get to see the results now.

The exciting news is this part of a build up to a relaunch of The Tyrannosaur Chronicles. The video direction has hit crippling schedule conflicts (much like the Chronicles). The bad news is you might still have to wait a bit for Traumador's return. I'm taking the time to build up to an awesome return.

So in the near but undefined future (realistically probably late May) expect more Traum, New Zealand, Vivus-critters, and mythology. Plus several other surprises. So stay tuned.

These are my feathers, as of my 2010 revisit in March.

A little better than my old feathers. However verging on shag carpet. At the time they were better as I put them on in patches and could better control their orientation. Yet they still don't quite look realistic.
I re-approached the project this month. The results have been slightly spectacular.
This is feather kung-fu in comparison to my previous attempts.
Any thoughts from out there?


Albertonykus said...

Impressive, I'll say. The wing feathers actually look pennaceous now, and the wings look more like wings. My main criticism is the lack of primary feathers, the feathers that attach to the second finger.

davidmaas said...

Can you post an animation test? A calisthenic or such... to see how they act during deformation of the underlying geometry.
That's really the crux of most feather solutions.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Albertonykus- Cheers.

Personally I don't think the bigger Maniraptorids would have had feathers right down to their fingers, as they'd have been using their hands to get litterally bloody. Blood and feathers as a rule don't mix so well.

While I know that the ubber small guys we've been finding do have them, again I think they were living a much "simpler" modern bird-like life style with bite sized prey. I just can't see their terrestial mega predator cousins needing all that plummage. It'd get caught on foliage or by prey, be taxing to maintain, and give no real benefit to them (their to big to fly or even W.A.I.R.) as they didn't live in super cold environments. A simple coat of downy/hair-like feathers would have done them just fine like in most ratites (Ostrichs have very complex feathers compared to say a Kiwi or a Emu)

I of course could be wrong, but there is no direct fossil evidence to prove or disprove me. I got the known arm feathers on there, and I'm totally in the "half-arsed" camp of raptor feathers (as per Dinogoss' post)

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

David- I know as a matter of fact they would be terrible animated. Carrara doesn't really animate things well the way I make them (granted I probably don't build them the "normal" way), so I don't typically bother.

I'm currently just happy playing with stills. One day I might move to animation, but honestly I should and probably would learn a better program to do this.

Albertonykus said...

Primary feathers do not have so much to do with insulation as with display. (In the description of Gigantoraptor, for example, the authors suggest that even if Gigantoraptor reduced some of its body covering it would still likely have kept its remiges and retrices.) And we do not know of any aviremigians that have lost their primaries, including flightless ones. Flightless birds in general have feathers that are reduced in complexity, but not reduction. (In fact, ratites have more extensive primaries than flying birds, with remiges on both sides of the hand!) Blood and feathers shouldn't actually be as much of a problem as commonly thought, as most carnivorous birds go around with respectable feathered heads and even feet. Even most vultures have feathered heads (http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2010/09/condors_and_vultures.php). Baldness has more to do with thermoregulation and sexual selection than with sanitation. Teeth and wing claws would also be good for preening and grooming, in any case. Primary feathers also wouldn't get in the way of attacking prey, per Senter's 2006 paper on dromaeosaurid hands. Primary feathers would've made the hands useless for catching small prey, not large ones, because the hands wouldn't have been able to approach the ground. But that wasn't really a problem, as the hands couldn't reach further than the head anyway. All in all, not much reason to lose the primaries. Losing part of the body feathers (a la ostriches and rheas) or losing the secondaries (a la Caudipteryx zoui) are both more likely than losing the primaries.

Albertonykus said...

I might add that the DinoGoss post discusses the reduction of body feathers, not wing feathers.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Albertonykus- All very good points, but I have a few issues with directly comparing Dromaeosaurs (that alone any Dinosaur) to modern birds and expecting them to be identical. All modern birds are derived from a flying organism where as the Dinosaurs were ancestral to this form altogether. Yes they will have similarities, but the Dinosaurs have a TON of room for variation and non conformity. As again they are not true birds, but true bird ancestors.

This is just a philosophic issue I have. While yes it is handy to use modern analogues, people take that too far and assume they were identical.

So in the case of Vultures, yes I am aware most of them have feathers on their heads. However that is a poor example as the majority of Vultures are strictly scavengers. As far as we can tell Dromaeosaurs would have also had to actively hunt now and then, I see lots of head feathers being a problem here(unless they really didn't hunt mega prey, which their is a distinct possiblity of... however I prefer my fictional raptors to be scary ;P). Vultures living a totally different lifestyle, including more down time to groom due to passive feeding strategy, ability to find a quick safe hiding place (on account of being able to fly) to do said cleaning, and finally requiring more insulation than a Dromae on account of it flying at colder altitudes.

Citing Ratites is misleading AGAIN due to a major difference in lifestyle. None of them are mega predators at all, and in fact even those that eat protein eat such small things they can't even be said to be predators (insectivore at best for the Kiwi). So they can afford a big coat of display feathers a big (yet they are simplified, and this was more my point earlier, but I still think Dinos are free from this example simply for not being a MODERN bird).

Oviraptors as well are still in a different lifestyle category. This is my whole issue with comparing these things.

While I agree the tiny Dromaes clearly had all these nice developed feathers, this is more due to their lifestyle being like a modern bird. Birds of prey raptors are covered in feathers, but even when tackling mega prey their doing it in a novel way to a Dromae raptor, from above. Mind you a Deinonychus dropping out of the sky would be really terrifying, they couldn't do it :P So they'd need a configuration something that works for hunting on the ground, and for that we have no modern bird analogues. There we have to look to mammals.

In predator mammals there is a major reduction in facial fur when an active predator. There is also typically a major reduction in the need for display, as predators do NOT want to be seen or noticed (which always confuses me when people go on about display tactics in Dromaeos!?!). In the few cases there are major display structures (I'm thinking in lions mostly) it is a case of sexual dimorphism to the point that one gender is greatly reduced in its hunting ability. This requires a highly complex social system, and I'm not convinced real Dromaes had this either (but again fictional Primordial Feather ones are more fun with this :P).

As a final note, I am not convinced (as of yet by fossil evidence, but should this change my mind will follow) that Dromaeos evolved from the same lineage as birds and thus originally had the ability to fly. Rather I see them as a split just before Birds took to the air in the Jurassic, and that with the small proto characteristics CONVERGENTLY took up gliding later.

Albertonykus said...

Whether or not dromaeosaurids count as birds is a matter of semantics. The earliest avialians and the earliest deinonychosaurs would've been very similar. Small dromaeosaurids don't look like birds because they had a particularly similar lifestyle with modern birds, but because both avialians and deinonychosaurs descended from the same ancestor that looked like that (which may have resembled Archaeopteryx, and may or may not have had some gliding capacity). There's no magical divide line where the members of one lineage follow different patterns of feather loss from its sister group just because they weren't classified as "birds" traditionally. (Frankly, the only reason deinonychosaurs aren't thought to be "birds" is because feathered deinonychosaurs were found after the rise of phylogenetic systematics, not because of any real logical basis.)

Incidentally, I haven't noticed a trend where macropredatory mammals show significant hair loss. Perhaps they do, but they're still visibly furry. However, in any case that's moot as I find your reconstruction of facial and body feathers reasonable; it's only the lack of primary feathers that I criticize. I concur that ecological comparisons can be useful, but not for feather loss, and especially not the loss of pennaceous wing feathers for which there's no mammalian analogue. Mammals don't have feathers and do not descend from feathered ancestors. The only feathered animals we know of reduce their feather distribution for thermoregulation and visual display, not sanitation, flightlessness, or carnivory, and the remiges have been known to be degraded but never lost entirely. Perhaps that's "not good enough", but it's the best we have to go on. I also doubt that the ecological niche medium-sized dromaeosaurids had didn't allow enough time for grooming, as non-flying predatory mammals don't appear to have that problem, and presumably nor did extinct flightless carnivorous birds. (And if larger deinonychosaurs had degraded wing feathers, it would've been less of a problem.) Display was used as an example for how remiges could have been used (furthermore, I agree with you that dromaeosaurids probably didn't have the complex social behaviors they're often depicted with), but there are other possible uses such as nest brooding and assisting with running that would've still been useful for the larger dromaeosaurids. So primaries would've been functional but not hindering even to the larger dromaeosaurids. (Or at least, to our knowledge, not so hindering to the point where they might have been lost.) Where there is no direct evidence or convincing logical reasoning not to follow phylogenetic inference, parsimony rules.

If nothing else, I suggest adding at least degraded remnants of primary feathers instead of removing any trace of them. I don't think they'll render your deinonychosaurs any less scary any more than they would to terror birds.

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Albertonykus- Interesting, I think our whole "debate" has swung very off topic. LOL good old internet. Only so much one can convenue their implied meanings (mind you I'm not the best writer, hence why I went into a profession based on my speaking abilities :P).

Dromaeosaurid origins while an interesting topic are not the heart of my arguement. I merely mentioned them to point out that one way or another Deinonychus is immensely removed from the origin of birds and Dromaeosaurs temporally speaking. People need to stop linking the terrestial predatory Dromaeos with anything to do with flying for this reason alone! Ten million years is a long time for divergence and massive changes, that alone a hundred million!!!

I'll get back to this in the next comment. I just wanted on the record why I pointed this out. I added the skeptism about the direct link between birds and Dromaeos as flavour, not my main point (again I apparently can't write :P).

Diving into that aside though for this comment, I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed something (which with my work schedule this year could entirely have happened!). Last time I checked early Dromaeosaur origins were just conjecture. They haven't found a early to mid Jurassic raptor skeleton yet have they? (and if they have it has been in the last year, yes?) I will admit to being totally out of the loop overall on bird origins lately as they don't entirely interest me, and I've heard too many conflicting versions from palaeo people in the past decade.

All I know of are Dromae teeth from Archaeopteryx-ish times. To me this resolves nothing on the ties between birds and Dromaeos. How many coelurosaurs have been confused for birds despite being only related by the coelurosaur membership? Within this group we see convergence within convergence. Only a Jurassic era Dromaeosaur skeleton (well more than one prefereably :P) can definatively prove whether birds and Dromaeos are directly related or if they split a bit before the flight thing. For now teeth only tell us a Dromaeosaur or Dromaeo like theropod was around in the Mid Jurassic.

Which I guess is my point. They could be directly related, but till we have the bones to prove it, there is NO proof. I get a little annoyed at people stating conjuctural theory based on anatomical inference as fact. These are best guesses based on really no hard evidence.

People for some reason are jumping to hasty conclusions on Jurassic Coelurosaur evolution due to Cretaceous fossils. I think this is silly in face of just how many times the coelurosaur family tree and their interrelations have changed this decade due to new fossils! I don't think we are anywhere near the final picture on their divergence.

Again only 6 years ago the curators at the Tyrrell were citing Ornithomimids and Troodons were directly related due to anatomical similiarities. We now know these to be convergent. Why not between Dromaeos (of the Cretaceous that I know of) and birds...

I'm sure we'll find the evidence to answer things one way or another soon, but till than it is important to keep an open mind.

So again I put forward my stance that while Dromaeosaurs clearly had some sort of feather in the primary flight spot, they did not HAVE to be flight feathers at that time. 100 million years after the fact Microraptor and its lot could have convergently adapted them into flight feathers!

How many times of tail fins and flukes involved in totally different groups (definately 4 by my count, though Pleisosaur people are starting to rattle their sabres for a 5th!)? Flight feathers convergently popping up within a group (coelurosaurs) that already had feathers to begin with isn't that big a stretch if you ask me. (Feathers from no where YES, but that is not my arguement).

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Albertonykus- I've run out of time here this morning. So my next (hopefully last) point will have to wait for fleshing out.

I want you to take a look at a picture of an Emu and try to find the definative flight feathers on it. They have the same stem attachments on whats left of their arm as a Velociraptor has on its. Where than are even the remenant flight feathers though?

The Emu branch of the ratites are only thirty-forty million or so years old (as of my reading), so multiple this effect by 2-3 times the amount of time for Dromaeos removal from birds in the Jurassic. Dromaeosaurs don't have to have flight feathers. Emus and Kiwis are examples of TRUE birds with no flight feathers visible despite have the attachments for them...

I think we have an ART Evolved post in the works here :P If and when I have time :(

Albertonykus said...

The origin of dromaeosaurids isn't my point, either. I might add that there is a Jurassic deinonychosaur known, Anchiornis, and aside from symmetrical wing feathers it happens to be very Archaeopteryx like. (It's a troodont, but that means it's closer to dromies than to traditional "birds". Unless you want to chalk that up to convergence, too.)

Primaries do not have to be "flight feathers", and I'm not arguing for that either. Primaries are just the feathers that attach to the second finger. And emus have perfectly respectable primary feathers: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_XhUTu6L4GYU/RX8-AnuW77I/AAAAAAAAABA/8pQ_CfuFVCg/s400/Emu%2Bwing%2Bfeathers.jpg Once again, they're only decreased in complexity, not distribution.

Albertonykus said...

Postscript: Even if dromies evolved flight feathers independently, they almost certainly didn't evolve primaries separately. Oviraptorosaurs, troodonts, dromaeosaurids, and avialians that preserve feathers all have them, even flightless taxa (as shown in the emu image). Four times in four closely related lineages isn't very parsimonious.