The Great Skeletal Repose of 2011


As many of you are no doubt aware, earlier this year paleontologist and scientific illustrator Greg Paul made a fairly public hubbub when (among other demands) he requested that all other illustrators stop using the skeletal poses he popularized the last several decades.  There was quite bit of consternation over the issues he raised, filled with both sympathy (it's hard to make a living from paleoart) and skepticism (most people don't believe Greg has any legal basis to try and lay claim to an anatomical pose - I suspect those people are correct).

None the less, on March 8th of this year I wrote:

Allowing Greg (Paul) to establish a branding around the poses he popularized is a request I'm inclined to grant; after corresponding briefly with Greg I've decided to embark on the process of reposing my 100+ skeletal reconstructions.

That lead to a lot of questions.  I will be examining in greater detail skeletal poses and how we can make them as useful as possible, but first I wanted to address some of the common questions that came up from this.  Namely...

What was I thinking???

This is the main question I get.  While it's been phrased several different ways, the crux of it is some people are concerned whether the (substantial) time investment in changing the pose in all of my skeletals is worth it.  Of which the most substantive question is:

Will they will be less useful in another pose?

Several workers wrote to me with this concern - that by altering the pose it would make my skeletals less useful, since they would be more difficult to compare directly with Greg's.  I am a strong supporter of standards in science, so I'm sympathetic to this claim.  That said, due to the aforementioned hubbub the utility of those poses as a standard is rapidly eroding as several artists are now altering their poses, or actively advocating for everyone to use their own unique pose.  Since artists are frequently somewhat conflict-averse, I expect this exodus to continue, regardless of legal standing.

Given this larger perspective, I feel that we'd be better served to find a new pose to standardize on, perhaps one that can still be compared effectively with Greg's body of work.  An open standard by design, so that other researchers/illustrators can feel free to adopt it without fear upsetting someone else who uses it.  And by starting again we have an opportunity to "reboot" the standard skeletal pose, perhaps producing something even more useful then the original.

One obvious example: the "Greg Paul" pose for theropods, though iconic, is held back by its theoretical baggage.  The pushing off the left foot while dashing around at a full sprint pose is not something that all researchers agree is possible in all theropods.  Several times while providing a skeletal for another researchers publication I've been asked to alter the pose for this reason.  I've done this a couple of times due to my own incredulity; for example I illustrated Majungasaurus in a walking pose, since I'm skeptical that it could sprint:


So by undertaking this project we can take advantage of hindsight to create a standard that is both open and potentially solves some of the largest criticisms of Greg Paul's poses.

So what, you're just going to pick the new "standard"?

I do need to pick a new pose.  Or rather several (for various groups of dinosaurs).  But it won't be much of a standard if I am the only one using it.  Instead, I'm hoping to crowd-source this discussion, involving any individuals who have a stake and wish to participate.  To that effect I'm working on a series of articles on such subjects as: Do skeletal poses even matter?  And if they do, what is the best way to go about creating a pose?  Who are we serving with these poses?  And how can we balance the sometimes conflicting needs of the "consumers" of skeletal reconstructions?

I'm actively communicating with some people, and hope to engage others to pick up the torch.  I hope to get a wide range of responses on the blog, and perhaps to inspire others to create articles on the subject.  The best results can only be achieved if we get generate a robust conversation on the subject.  I hope you'll participate!

By the way, if for some reason you'd rather share an opinion privately, feel free to email me and I can incorporate your concerns into a future discussions anonymously.