Tyrannosaurus rex Life Reconstruction

The folks at Blender Nation invited me to write a behind the scenes article about this project, check it out for some science, workflow breakdowns and lots more imagery: https://www.blendernation.com/2019/10/16/behind-the-scenes-tyrannosaurus-rex-life-reconstruction/

Hello all, I’m new to the forums, this is my first post. I’m a palaeontologist studying for a doctoral degree in musculoskeletal anatomy, and I frequently use Blender to aid both my research and hobbyist artwork related to palaeontology.

Here’s a Tyrannosaurus rex modelled in Blender 2.8. The model was constructed over a symmetrised, neutrally re-posed edit of the scan of USNM 555000 (“The Nation’s T. rex”, formally MOR 555 or “Wankel”) made available for download and use by the Smithsonian Institution

As well as being a rigged life model, this project also represents a full soft-tissue study. Every muscle that can be inferred as present with a high degree of confidence was modelled individually.

Overall, the soft-tissue anatomy presented here is conservative, though the extra-oral tisssues (lips) will be seen as contentious by some. More data is going to be required before a less equivocal scientific consensus on how we should be restoring dinosaur oral margins is reached.

Currently, the model uses a relatively basic rig with IK controls on each of the limbs, the tail and the neck. Eventually, I want to add cloth effects to simulate skin jiggle (especially around the patagia and throat), as well as simulated muscles in the limbs and neck, probably using the XMuscle System.

More images of this model including a deeper look at the anatomical process and a list of references can be found at my ArtStation portfolio page: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/banvYd



so they had no feathers?

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Ooh, this one is a contentious topic! There are multiple described imprints of tyrannosaurid skin that definitely resemble scales. While these imprint fossils are small, they are widely distributed across the body - so via reasonable extrapolation we can infer that most of the body was covered in something scale-like, at least in adults. The grouping Tyrannosauroidea ancestrally had extensive feather-like filamentous covering, but it appears that this may have been secondarily lost in the more advanced members. It’s possible that some kind of filamentous covering was retained in some areas of the body (the dorsalmost surface of the torso currently yields no skin-related data in advanced tyrannosaurs), but we really can’t know for sure. Take this image as a conservative reconstruction, something of a minimum that could be built upon and changed.


Cool, I especially like the torso and the leg. The belly area and the way the legs connect looks great.

I see that one of my entertainment Trex models was not way off, however I am going to base my future models based on yours if you do not mind.

I love the Trex head drawings on your Artstation page, thanks for putting them there.

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Thank you, I’m glad that you liked it. Yeah, please feel free to use my model as visual reference - the potential of helping other artists make more accurate dinosaurs is part of why I uploaded the deeper anatomy studies on my ArtStation. A lot of what you see is based firmly in pre-exisiting palaeo literature, and thus is quite conservative as far as reconstructions go. It’s something of an accurate minimum that could be deviated from in some areas without compromising plausibility. If you make any more dinosaurs, I’d love to see them!

Massive and looking alive, really great job !
What render engine did you use ?

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Thank you! I used cycles for the final life renders, with a HDRI setup using an image from HDRIHaven - though I can’t remember which image specifically.

So cool! It doesn’t look as daunting as what we usually represented, specially the head is much smoother and particulary the eyes. Coincidentally I saw this a few days ago, what do you think about it. I think is interesting how yours isn’t that far off from the way is usually depicted. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/dinosaurs-art-paleoartists-mistakes


I think that a lot of depcitions are rooted in the Jurassic Park design. I like that design very much as a scary, Tyrannosaurus-inspired movie monster, but they did made some deliberate fictionalisations compared to the real animal. As you mentioned, most notable is the skull - they gave it these big triangular crests above the eyes, which are definitely exaggerated compared to the rounded bosses we see represented in real fossils.

Palaeontological illustration is something of a spectrum. All good palaeoart is inherently rooted in the real fossil data, but many artists will will speculate when it comes to illustrating the various soft tissues. Within reason, this speculation is encouraged. In cases where we lack well-supported data, one could add a lot of speculative features without compromising plausibility. As more and more data is gathered, reconstructions will start to resemble each other more. My depiction of Tyrannosaurus is definitely on the conservative end of the palaeoart spectrum, being very data-rooted with minimal speculation. While I can confidently say that it is a reliable reconstruction, I would also note that it should be considered to be something of a minimum which could be built upon and changed.

Great job on the T-rex. Do you know of a good source of Dinosaur Skeletal drawings? Something similar to Scott Hartman drawings with top front and side views?

Hey thanks for the friendly permission. I will definitely take a look at your other resources.

Btw what scanning app did you use for the skeleton?

Do you suscribe to the notion that the T-rex sounded like this in reality:

Gregory S. Paul’s “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs: Second Edition” is packed with skeletal drawings from across the entirety of Dinosauria, quite a few of which have top views. I’d recommend his other dinosaur books for this as well. He has also illustrated some front and back views (here’s one of his older Tyrannosaurus https://tinyurl.com/y5evry7g). Almost all of his multi-view theropods are collected in “Predatory Dinosaurs of the World”. You can probably also find a few from this book with a quick google of his name. This book is a little older (1988), but other than the incorrectly pronated hands (i.e. palms facing backwards when they should be facing inwards), most of the skeletal illustrations hold up really, really well. A few have tails which are far too skinny however - in the last decade or so, the volume of muscles in dinosaur tails has been re-evaluated as being much greater.

His books are always great visual references, but I would take Paul’s groupings and naming conventions with a massive grain of salt - he is known to frequently diverge from the taxonomy in the established literature without actually acknowledging it.

I would suggest that Scott Hartman’s profile skeletal drawings are slightly better in terms of anatomical clarity, proportion, taphonomic correction and soft tissue outlining. However, Paul’s are still very good (he actually popularised the style), and he has covered a wider array of taxa. I would consider using both artists as reference.

I did not scan the skeleton, it was scanned by the Smithsonian’s 3D digitisation team, who then made it freely available: https://3d.si.edu/t-rex. I believe that they used a combination of photogrammetry and laser scanning.

This low frequency “boom” is certainly more plausible than the roars from the movies. What this video doesn’t fully acknowledge is how exactly this kind of sound is made. Non-avian dinosaurs probably didn’t have particularly complex vocalisation organs. Low frequency booms like this in modern crocodylians and birds are usually produced by pushing air through the pharyngeal cavity, which sort of acts like a big resonating chamber. The audio designers working for the indie videogame “Saurian” also created a similar alternative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HD8AIlm97lA. Of course, the exact noise will be difficult to ever fully narrow down, but these interpretations are likely to be quite close.


Wonderful work! I appreciate very much that you don’t only post your fantastic renders but also share the scientific background with it, it is very educational. Hope to see and read more from you!

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An actuall T-Rex reference image set. It was great looking at this post today.

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Thanks for the link. The scan looked very good so I was just curious about what the process was.

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Amazingly detailed texture nice work and welcome to Blenderassic park!

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Blockquote “Field Guide to Dinosaurs”
What a name for a book. As if someone is going to walking through a field near Princeton and casually see something then ask themselves “What dinosaur is that?” Well if the person were walking in a few specific places in Alberta, Canada then they might see a few rocks then ask the question. I’m in Edmonton Alberta and have found a couple of minor dino bones, fossil leaves and a fossil fish.
You create good work. I like the proportion of the actual eye to the skull because many fictional drawings have eyes that are way too large.

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