Weird (Careers in) Science: Scientific Illustrator Julius Csotonyi finds inspiration in his own backyard

It’s time for another installment of Weird (Careers in) Science!

Today, we’d like to introduce you to a life-long artist who found a way to pair his interest in art with a fascination with all things scientific. How? Let’s find out.

Meet Julius T. Csotonyi. With degrees in biology, microbiology and ecology, Csotonyi found his way back to his love of visual art when he began using his scientific background to create commercial illustrations. Little by little, through word of mouth and his work for various institutions (including Alberta, Canada’s Royal Tyrell Museum), Csotonyi found himself with an unexpected career.

Using personal photographs of landscapes from around the globe, his own imagination and a dash of ingenuity, Csotonyi creates life-like reenactments of prehistoric scenes, rife with drama and vividly executed.

Where most artists have the luxury of live models, Csotonyi has to rely on scientific evidence to stay true to forms that are long-extinct. And although much of his process involves in-depth consultations with paleontologists to ensure accuracy, Csotonyi looks to the modern world for inspiration.

One spot of inspiration can be found in the artist’s dog, a Corgi/Jack Russell mix called Wiki. Using digital layering, Csotonyi has used Wiki’s fur as the basis for the fur of large mammals he draws, and Wiki’s postures as inspiration, too!

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Julius’ mural of Didelphodon was inspired, in part, by the posture of his dog Wiki. A Didelphodon skeleton in the hall is mounted in the same pose.

“Wiki was instrumental as a reference source for fur texture and posture in my creation of the image of Tazzie the Didelphodon for the terrestrial Cretaceous mural,” Csotonyi says. Wiki helped Csotonyi capture the begging pose of Tazzie, whose skeleton is mounted in a similar upright posture, holding a clam. “It’s just a happy coincidence that Wiki seems to think she’s a 70-plus million-year-old mammalian mollusk terror!”

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Julius poses in front of his favorite mural in the hall — a Dimetrodon locked in battle. Fifteen of Julius’ creations are on display at our new Hall of Paleontology.

Csotonyi creates his images digitally using both traditional techniques and digital compositing, which makes it easy to make revisions in the event of new scientific evidence.

“There’s a lot less guesswork nowadays,” Csotonyi says. “Muscle placement, even skin textures are known. We have more complete skeletons to work with and can even infer color.”

Our own mummified Triceratops, Lane, is a perfect example of the type of specimen that makes Csotonyi’s job a lot easier. Before Lane’s discovery, there were no Triceratops skin impressions available to give artists an accurate picture of scale formation. Now Lane’s skin has proven that Triceratops had much larger scales than other dinosaurs, and the quality of the specimen means artists can even see specialty structures like knobs and quills.

“The key is to illustrate things as realistically as possible, applying as much known science as possible,” says Csotonyi. “It’s more about accuracy than expression.”

To see more of Csotonyi’s creations, visit the new Hall of Paleontology today!