Feathers

So I recently watched a pirated recording of the animated film Ice Age: Collision Course. Just like the other Ice Age sequels, it was for the most part silly, idiotic, and immature, and not in any of the ways that I would enjoy. The only reason I watched it in the first place is my nerdiness for all things prehistoric. I’d go on, but I suspect that there are plenty of other geeks on the internet reviewing low quality family entertainment, so why bother?

Though I do have one issue; is it just me, or is a lot of animation marketed towards families with children generally kind of low in both writing and production quality? Granted, what kind of writing one appreciates as a child differs from what one appreciates as an adult, and there are plenty of decent ways one can make use of limited animation, but that should NOT be an excuse to generate subpar content! Then again, I never watched a lot of cartoons when I was physically a child (not by choice), so what do I know? I guess some research will have to be done…

Anyway, Ice Age: Collision Course is a dumb movie with subpar jokes and a mediocre plot, as well as weird-ass interstellar events and anachronistic dinosaurs. However, the dinosaurs might be the one area where I might commend the creators, due to their decision to give those three antagonistic dromaeosaurid characters noticeable plumage.

Known to the general public as “raptors” thanks to Jurassic Park, dromaeosaurids were small to medium-sized predatory dinosaurs notable for their infamous sickle-clawed second toes and their close relationship with birds.

The most famous genus of dromaeosaurid is the genus Velociraptor, due to the usage of the name in the book and film Jurassic Park, which is applied to an animal that physically resembles the larger, geologically earlier, north american genus Deinonychus (Michael Crichton apparently used the name Velociraptor because he thought it was cooler. He might have also been influenced by the crazy cladistics of Gregory S. Paul, whose ideas on dinosaur classification aren’t exactly widely accepted by experts in the field).

When Jurassic Park was being produced, it incorporated all the latest technology and scientific knowledge of the time. When it was released, the audiences were amazed by how realistic the dinosaurs looked. Among other things, it resulted in Velociraptor skyrocketing from obscurity to common household term. However, the creature depicted in the film has little resemblance to the actual animal. For starters, the actual Velociraptor was about 0.5 meters high at the hip, had a very narrow skull, hands that could not pronate, a stiff tale, was probably no where near as intelligent as a primate, and (while this was not known at the time, not to mention too difficult to realistically animate at the time) it was covered in feathers. Not just down either, but full on pennaceous feathers that anchor to its arms like those on a bird’s wing.

Of course, most people associate the name “Velociraptor” with those “cool-looking” reptilian monsters they saw on the screen, and that has shaped portrayals of dromaeosaurs in fiction ever since. Naturally, palaeontologists and people who obsess over the prehistoric are a little miffed about all this, especially with how the rather successful 2015 sequel film Jurassic World did not bother to update the designs of its theropods from the first movie (they did include some new research for the other animals, but you can hardly notice it under the artistic license).

Another film that same year (Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur) generated a lot of hype among the paleophiliac community because it was supposed to feature feathered Velociraptors, only for the actual result to resemble the mohawked raptors from Jurassic Park III; they were just scaly animals with with hair-like structures down their necks and backs. I’m not going to dismiss this as it just being a cartoon; the animation and landscape rendering is so freaking gorgeous! If they could have spent that much effort on the imagery, they could have put more research into the character designs!

The closest real-life equivalent to the JP raptors that ever existed is arguably the recently discovered species Dakotaraptor steini (with genera like Utahraptor and Achillobator being close seconds). Roughly 5 meters long and with proportion similar to Deinonychus, Dakotaraptor was a late cretaceous predator from South Dakota that coexisted alongside (and competed for prey with) the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex. Studies of its forelimbs show that it had prominent wing feathers, which might have been used for display, sheltering eggs, balance when jumping on prey, and/or gliding during infancy.

The dromaeosaurids featured in the Ice Age film were probably based on Dakotaraptor, due to the time it was discovered and the hype it generated. Like the actual animal, they are bird-like animals covered with plumage and with functionable wing feathers on their forelimbs. However, they also have pronating hands and scaly stomachs, lack primaries, and are capable of flight, something no dromaeosaurid their size has any business doing. So, while I give the creators props for doing some research, I am not going to give them full marks due

A completely accurate depiction of Dakotaraptor (as accurate as current evidence allows, anyway) will be featured alongside other denizens of the Hell Creek formation of South Dakota in the up-coming video game Saurian, which aims to provide players with a truly authentic experience living as a dinosaur 65 million years ago. After watching some promotional material, I have to admit that these guys really did their homework when designing the dinosaurs.

Based on recent depictions, I’m kind of hoping that there will be a growing trend towards more realistic depictions of dromaeosaurs (and other prehistoric animals, of course) in popular media, a trend that I am expecting Saurian to initiate. For there not to be would seem to me like stagnation, and I abhor stagnation.

The website for Saurian can be found among the links below. More information about how dromaeosaurs actually looked vs how the media commonly portrays them can also be found below.

Dinosaurs As They Really Are

A Velociraptor Without Feathers isn’t a Velociraptor

Science Daily – Velociraptor had Feathers

Ice Age Wiki: Dino-Bird

Saurian Website

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