Raptors are some of the most popular and recognizable dinosaurs thanks to Jurassic Park. Hard to believe that these creatures were somewhat obscure back in the day, and it wasn’t until their film debut that they became household names like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops.
But all that fame came at a price.
The raptors seen in the first JP film came before the discovery that many dinosaurs had feathers, with raptors being the most bird-like. But to this day, many people are still not ready to see their beloved super predators reduced to six-foot turkeys. Heck, how are they going to react now that we think all dinosaurs had some sort of feathering?
Well I certainly hope not.
Now, helping me on this endeavor is my old nemesis turned good friend, who is best suited in talking about this even though he himself is an outdated Jurassic Park dromaeosaur, Philosoraptor.
Also joining us is everybody’s best friend/worst enemy, the embodiment of progress itself, Science.
Glad to see you guys involved. So, what should we talk about first?
Well, basically like any other dinosaur, an extinct kind of reptile. However, they did notice some interesting differences. The hollow bones, the thin frame, raptors were among the dinosaurs that had scientist reconsider whether all dinosaurs were cold-blooded (now hardly a scientist believe that they were). They even noticed the similarities to birds, but the idea that raptors could have feathers was never even considered a possibility. Raptors were dinosaurs, and dinosaurs were reptiles, so obviously they were covered in scales.
For decades, this was the image raptors had to the public.
This image of Deinonychus from 1969 was the basic image that raptors would have for decades to come. It’s fairly straight forward, and a logical conclusion for what was known at the time.
Another famous raptor, Velociraptor, was seeing similar treatment. For the longest time, this was what scientist thought when they heard the word Dromaeosaur.
However, some scientists and artist starting taking note of the bird like qualities these creatures had, and started proposing the possibility of feathers. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, some even had the gall to portray these creatures with a small covering.
These are all images of raptors with feathers before the idea that they had them was accepted by science. at that point it was just mere speculation, and it got a lot of scientists and artists in trouble. Heck, many artists that would prefer to draw raptors with feathers on their own would be forced to draw them scaly so not to lose a job they were hired for. Many scientists were ridiculed, saying such idea’s had no proof and were more fantasy than fact.
Yes, you are right. It was at about this time when raptors were put on the map (and that suffix became a popular short-term for the creature). This was the time of Jurassic Park.
These dinosaurs grew so popular because of this movie, basically because the movie portrayed them as a dinosaur mixed with and evil genius and a Xenomorph. The film tried to also preach about the similarities these dinosaurs had with birds, but nobody cared. This image became a staple of pop culture, and it would look like scaly raptors were here to stay.
However, some artist began to notice the similarity raptor skeleton’s had to birds, and changed their art accordingly. This lead to some depictions of raptors looking more like plucked chickens, a favorite term of mine.
The above image was made by David Peters, who was a supporter of feathered raptors before it was popular but was forced by the higher-ups to draw these guys scaly. Yet, you can tell he still made them bird like, with the arms being structured like wings instead of hands. Some other artists decided to follow suit, but it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that supporters finally go their definitive proof.
Meet Sinornithosaurus, one of the earliest dinosaurs found with definitive proof of feathering, and it was a raptor. The days of the naked raptors was coming to an end.
Right you are. People were only just then accepting that raptors had feathers, but how much feathers was a different story. In order to shed light on the subject, I bring you this handy chart on how not to draw feathers on a raptor.
I know this image covers a lot of ground, but I wold like to take a look at every point it makes.
1. Feather Mohawk.
Before the idea of a fully feathered raptor was generally accepted, baby steps had to be taken first. One of the first compromises was adding a crest of feathers or quills on the top of the head.
This was one of the changes made in the third Jurassic Park movie.
This trope pops up a lot even now in correctly feathered raptors.
Now, there is nothing wrong with adding a harpy eagle like crest on your raptors, as it’s as plausible as anything else, it’s just been done to death. Many think of it as kind of tired old cliché, and they want people to think a bit more outside of the box. However, it’s not strictly wrong, unlike most of the next points.
2. Glued On Feathers.
Many restorations look as if the artist got a Jurassic Park raptor and hastily glued some feathers on it, making it look like some bird/reptile hybrid. Some of the most obvious ways to spot such a mistake include:
You often see heads of raptors that look just like JP, but with feathers put around them. It is now thought that the feathers went at least to the snout, and the reptilian profile would have been replaced with a much softer, bird like face.
Now the feathers are there, but the stomach is still scaly. Can’t have it looking to bird like.
Colorful Feathers, Brown Body.
Another common thing seen is that if scales are present, they would be a reptilian shade of green, brown or grey, while the feathers would be colorful and vibrant. Another example of it looking like the feathers were just glued on.
Some artist will deliberately keep the legs featherless and point to ostriches as a living example. This, like the feather mohawk, isn’t strictly wrong, just overdone.
3. Shrink Wrapped Feathers
When feathers were first discovered on fossils of small meat eaters, only small, hair like feathers seemed to be intact. Because of this, raptors were for some time seen only sporting a thin coat of filamentous feathers, instead of the actual plumulaceous and pennaceous feathers (as in wing feathers) they actually had. Artist begrudgingly added feathers to the raptors, but only fine ‘proto-feathers’ as they were called, keeping the dinosaurian profile. Heck, I remember reading a book as a kid about feathered dinosaurs saying they didn’t sport wing like feathers, but this was later proved false with new findings.
This method I call ‘shrink wrapped feathering’, they’ll add feathers on the entire body, but only within the outline of the body, keeping the classic dinosaur look. You see, I don’t know if you’ve seen a bird skeleton, but usually, that’s not how the feathers work.
As you can see. feathers have a major part on how a bird looks on the outside. If feathers always went along the actual body outline, pigeon’s would have snake necks and look a lot smaller. Keeping feathers so close to the body just doesn’t make sense. Heck ,even restorations with correct feathering tend to do this a lot.
Also a rule of thumb, and restoration that portrays raptors with only hair like feathers is automatically wrong.
4. Arms and Wings
The look of the arms on raptors is another big problem. People are still used to the JP raptor arms with the palms facing the chest of the creature, when the actual palms would be facing themselves (like of you were about to clap your hands). Still, it’s common to see this look in restorations.
The arms weren’t held out like this….
…but were instead folded into wings like this.
Speaking of wings, raptors had them. But people always get the wings wrong. Usually they just have some slightly longer feathers across the arm and call it a day.
People need to remember that raptors had full wings, like an eagle or an Archaeopteryx. Some really resist this because it’ll make the dinosaur to bird like, but that’s the way it is.
Correct you are. The wing feathers of a raptor connected at the second claw, so any depiction showing all three fingers from the wing is false as well. And this is a very easy trap to fall into.
5. Beefy Legs.
Yes, the JP raptors had some powerful looking legs, but some people are starting to go away from that look. Instead, some prefer a thinner, bird like appearance. however, thick legs are still a common thing in raptor art.
These days raptor legs are looking a little more dainty (example below).
6. All Feathers Are The Same.
Some raptor images are given a strange combination of primitive feathers, quills, and modern looking feathers usually glued on to the arms and tail. No feathered dinosaur was like this. Either they had quills, hair like feathers, or modern feathers, not all at the same time.
Oh, and for the love of God, never have a raptor with scales turning into feathers/quills. It’s just not right.
A few other tropes I see a lot that i think are worth mentioning are the depictions of raptors with long modern feathers on their heads, arms and tails, but the rest of the body remains reptilian. This really needs to go.
Another common thing I see is trying to keep a reptilian head by claiming that raptors were like vultures and would need a bald head in order to keep guts from getting in their feathers.
This is often done as an excuse to keep that classic dinosaur face intact, but I do like it when it’s used in a way that isn’t i the norm.
So, what have we learned here?
That’s right, whenever you see a raptor, reptile shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, you should think bird.
Looks like the day of the scaly raptor is no more.
Hey, it was fun while it lasted.
Oh, I have a new series planned.
Well, I spend all this time talking about common dinosaur tropes that I decided to create a series where I look into them more thoroughly. Join me next week as I start a new series called Trope-osaurus, where I look at the things you always see dinosaurs do in movies, TV, and art. Next week we stay with the raptors and look at the thing we see them do the most, even if we aren’t sure they really did it. We’ll be looking at Raptor Gangs.
We will avenge you, Tenontosaurus.