Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dinosaur Kisses

Did Dinosaurs Have Lips?

Paleoartist Puts a Face on Ancient Bones


CHICAGO—After careful consideration, Tyler Keillor made a decision: T. rex had lips. In the debate over dinosaurs’ “oral margin,” one of the country’s top paleoartists has taken sides. Mr. Keillor’s job is to create “flesh models” of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals based on fossil evidence—giving creatures that died millions of years ago a face, a story and sometimes lips.

Using traditional mediums like clay and resin, as well as CT scanning and 3-D printing, he is at the forefront of incorporating digital art and technology into paleontology.

Mr. Keillor works at the University of Chicago Fossil Lab under celebrity paleontologist Paul Sereno. His work, found in museum collections around the world, is often the public’s first look at a newly discovered species, as with the pebbly-faced predator Rugops primus, which was unveiled in 2004. “A plain fossil doesn’t look like a heck of a lot to the average person,” Mr. Keillor says.

Instead of studying science, he cut his teeth working in a dental laboratory, doing special-effects makeup and studying wig making at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. As a child, he “would try to make little puppets of the alien from ‘Alien,’ ” he says. He dropped out of college to work on low-budget horror movies, commercials and stage productions.

His skill set was well-suited to Dr. Sereno’s team. After another paleoartist struggled with the hair of a “7,000-year-old beautiful woman,” Dr. Sereno says, he turned her over to Mr. Keillor. “When you see it in the ground in the field, you need to have the mind and eye of an artist,” he says. “Paleontology is about envisioning things and bringing them back to life.”

On a recent Thursday, the soft-spoken Mr. Keillor, 42 years old, was painting orange silicone over pieces of a 95-million-year-old rib, the last of about 100 Spinosaurus bones he was reproducing for the University of Chicago before it repatriated the originals back to Morocco.

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