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Microraptor Piscivory by EWilloughby Microraptor Piscivory by EWilloughby
[Update March 1st, 2014] Most of you will have seen this by now, but I've recently taken some time to update this painting with improved lighting, color balance, and a few details here and there. For all but the most dedicated of watchers it might be hard to tell the difference, but I think it represents a definite improvement over the original.

This is a life restoration for Xing et al 2013 of the tiny, iridescent four-winged dromaeosaur Microraptor eating a fish, the osteoglossiform Jinanichthys, near a swampy Jehol pond. The illustration is based on a new specimen described as having the skeletons of 3-4 of these fish preserved in its gut. This study is important because it demonstrates that Microraptor was probably a generalist predator, capable of preying on on a wide variety of small animals. Previous specimens have been found with evidence of a scansorial mammal as well as an enantiornithine bird preserved in the gut, but this is the first instance of Microraptor stomach contents that takes it out of the trees by necessity and places it on the ground, near water.

The illustration incorporates a lot of research. The iridescent color of the animal is modeled after the Li 2012 color study on a Microraptor specimen, which detected fossilized melanosomes consistent with the iridescent black in some modern birds. The two long tail feathers were not preserved in this specimen, so were left off by request of the authors. The manner with which the Microraptor is grasping the fish is based on the Fowler 2011 study on dromaeosaur prey restraint, which analyzed the pes and leg proportions of deinonychosaurs and found them to be extremely similar to those of modern birds of prey, indicating that the animals likely grasped smaller prey with its feet while tearing at it with its mouth. The plant life in the background is modeled entirely after known plant fossils from the Jiufotang and Yixian formations, including the aquatic seed plant Archaefructus and the eudicot Leefructus, as well as the ever-present Ginkgo apodes. The nearby pond sports an algae bloom, a phenomenon that was probably quite common in early Cretaceous ponds, as blooms are often caused by falling volcanic ash.

As often is the case, Jon provided a tremendous amount of help via critiques and suggestions, especially with shading. Much <3.

100% zoom detail shot
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:iconhannahmcgill:
hannahmcgill Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Hey, the research on this is very well-done, and so is the rendering and composition. I think it could use some more tweaking on the contrast and value scales around where the microraptor overlaps the tree -- the detail is competing so fiercely there and I think that it's a shame to have to work so hard to find the microraptor. I'd consider lightening the tree up using an overlay of that nice pale, mossy green color in the water so that the microraptor's silhouette reads more readily.

Anyway, you got the difficult parts done right, that's for sure. Love the water's texture, just rad stuff all over. :) I can really believe this animal existed because of your art.
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:iconewilloughby:
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thanks so much for the thoughtful, reasoned critique. I agree with the issues of value in this piece, and will certainly put forth an effort to not repeat the same mistakes in the future.
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:iconhannahmcgill:
hannahmcgill Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
No such thing as a mistake, and I look forward to more work from you. :)
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:iconsasiadragon:
Sasiadragon Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Well, I definitely see improvement! The feathers are more detailled and shiny, and there's more contrast in the picture. I also think the light is better, but it is a while since I looked at it. I think I commented on many things before, but the dear thing's shadow really stand out, it's excellently drawn. And especially the primary feathers are wonderfully detailled.
There is one thing I have thought a lot about with your microraptors ... I think you are going a bit overboard with the iridescent feathers. If we look at magpies, whose wings are iridescent like WHOA, then they appear blue almost all over. But the shafts of the feathers are still black, and so is their body as well as some of the feathers where they overlap. Maybe you could work a bit with the colour? I think that maybe moving the highlights a bit more towards the cyan would make it look even more striking, and less blue.
The background is so pretty, and the light on the moss is one of my favourite things. And man, all these details, you must be a patient soul! And then it features my all-time favourite dinawsawr, so what's not to love?
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:iconewilloughby:
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thanks for the detailed comment! The thing about iridescence is tricky, because there's actually nothing in the melanosome study that indicates it was actually blue or anything, else, just that it was "black with a glossy, weakly iridescent sheen". The paper also states "but the lack of preserved keratin prevented the assignment to a particular iridescent hue." about the studied samples. Blue iridescence is inferred from extant birds that are black with a similar type of sheen - i.e., crows, blackbirds, grackles, etc - but the reality is that we don't know what colors the gloss might have entailed, just that the feathers were dark and glossy. The actual color of the sheen could have been blue, green, cyan, purple, or anywhere in between.

If what you're saying is that people who draw Microraptor based on the color study should branch out a little more with how they depict the dark feathers with their iridescence, then I don't disagree! But I don't think there's anything in the actual study to indicate that my depiction is specifically wrong - the study was a lot less precise than a lot of people seem to realize.

I do think it would be very interesting to see more grackle- and magpie-like reconstructions of Microraptor, where the gloss isn't a single color, but varies in hue from purple, green to blue all over the body. There's nothing in the study to indicate this wasn't the case!
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:iconsasiadragon:
Sasiadragon Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, well, that would definitely be nice (interesting about the study) but it was not really what I was talking about. My point was mostly that when you draw Microraptor, it mostly looks a dark blue instead of iridescent. I took the magpie as example as it's the only bird I know who has iridescent wings that appear more or less blue in practically all light. What I meant was that I think you could get a more powerful iridescence if you take the dark shadows on the animal more into the blacks, and push the highlights into a shade that is a bit more cyan. Something that can also contribute to the blue appearance is that the shafts of the feathers on your painting also has a blue tone - and even in our discoball-friend the magpie, the shafts are black. If the iridescense should be even weaker, it would be interesting to see a microraptor where the blue only appears where the feathers catch direct sunlight, but that's more of a choice about how you reconstruct things.
Now that you mention it, a Microraptor with different shades of iridescense would be awesome. Maybe I should try to draw a green one ...
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:iconmyuniverseinabox:
Myuniverseinabox Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Do you have a youtube channle bbecouse this art is beutiful I would enjoy speedpaints!Clap 
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:iconewilloughby:
EWilloughby Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014  Professional General Artist
I've never recorded my progress on a digital illustration to condense into a speedpaint, but it's an interesting idea to consider for the future. :)
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:iconmyuniverseinabox:
Myuniverseinabox Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
:D (Big Grin) 
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:icontikicosmonaut:
tikicosmonaut Featured By Owner Mar 4, 2014
Marvelous! (As always.)
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