Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Erepofursia: Hit and Miss

Another batch of nereophytes is done.  It's taken longer than I expected, and the plants are by no means all that complicated, either to draw or conceptualize.  One of my artistic weaknesses is fine, repetitive detail; I get bored drawing a fur texture or a convincing field of grass, and here I've been drawing fields, drifts, and thick knots of vegetation.  Some of the images I'm quite pleased with, and others I think could use a new attempt.  In any case, I hope that they are helping to properly convey the nature of the autotrophs of Nereus.

Conceptually, I also think that I've had successes and failures.  The bankvine was always intended to be a sort of 'proto-sog,' an example of how erepofursians got their start from more primitive forms.  However, hindsight reveals what seems like quite the biological leap between the featured Coleria and this first example of a new taxonomic group.  I guess viewers are going to have to fill in the blanks a little.

The sog itself, thanks to insights from the Speculative Evolution forums, became the more specific-- though still quintessential-- avanyu sog.  Again, I don't know if its most interesting features are highlighted, but this is something I think can be fixed.  One of the things I plan on doing at some point is some material (artwork/information) that helps to explain entire clades in general terms.  One such feature would be the mechanism of fluid transport this group pioneers and, in the case of sog, masters.

Musselmat was a simple, quiet success in my mind.  It's a clear transitional form that connects the 'leafless' Gymnovina order (represented by the bankvine and sog) to the forms of the Phyllogera order.  The anatomy of its offshooting pods should also give some indication of the ontogeny for future nereophyte structures.

And while I think it was conceptually satisfying, the feathermat might be a little unclear visually.  The vine portion of the plant is completely lost in the illustration, and while it's true that the downy protrusions do overshadow the feathermat's vine, I think it might be easy to miss how it fits into the clade.  Perhaps, when I'm putting together those clarifying general features I could include an evolutionary timeline where I could show the feathermat's anatomy in a little more detail.

The quetzal vine is another satisfying addition to the group.  It's different-- very different, and it's a good example of how I want to merge the aspects of science and creativity that I see in the most appealing approaches to xenobiology.  When I started thinking about nereid plants, I thought it would be interesting and different if I didn't include any flower analogues.  But when I reached this genus I realized that, despite my intentions, the natural process of development in this project brought about a sort of flower.  I've embraced it, mostly because they're natural, unique, and decidedly non-terrestrial.  Can you?

The sea slough turned out well also, and it helps show how nereophytes aren't simply Earth plants in alien costumes.  The niche of this organism is much like that of seaweed, and while it is a comparatively simple organism, it's more complex than the Earth analogue.  I think that sea slough is a good example of how xenobiology projects like this can echo and even give a nod to terrestrial inspiration, but still be biologically and ecologically unique.

Finally, I've just finished the waterfleece.  It too is strongly influenced by Earth algae (kelp, to be precise), but I have a hard time thinking it achieved the same level of success as the sea slough.  Its picture borders on impressionistic, and it doesn't really stand out as biologically unique in any interesting ways, but it forms a strong ecological base, both in terms of landscape for local swimmers and as a food source.  It began as a sort of kelp-like backdrop for goldwave and it never really changed.  Can't win 'em all, I guess...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Consistency or Practicality?

As many of you may have noticed, while I've been preparing the next batch of nereophytes for publication, I've been adding a new feature to the website as a whole: size comparisons for different nereid clades.  Overall, I'm quite pleased with how they've turned out, but now that they're more or less complete, I've reached a point of decision.  The first is that I'm still not sure what to do with those pages that have only one featured nereid, such as the page for the taxonomic class Radixa and family Planidae.  It doesn't make sense to have an image comparing a quicksand clam or a treemount to, well, themselves.  They already have their own images, complete with a human or a hand for comparison, so another image of the sort would just be redundant.  So what do you think?  Should I include it for the sake of consistency, or leave it blank because the image just isn't practical?  Keep in mind that, at some future date, I may add other material in the area alongside the links to the individual species, such as illustrative information about the clade or clarifying diagrams.

Another fence I'm sitting on is what to do with the size comparison image for the Filtrapennae phylum; the two species in this clade just aren't easy to compare based on size.  I didn't have too much of a problem with other clades, but I may redo those if I find a better composition in the future.  But back to the Filtrappenae: if I show the water gauntlet in the full glory of its colonial size then the crown of thorns is hopelessly dwarfed, and won't who up as much more than a tiny little blob in the image; if I instead show an individual organism from the water gauntlet, then it in turn will be a tiny little blob in comparison to the crown of thorns.  Again, I wonder if the situation warrants a size comparison.  What are your thoughts?

Finally, I wonder about size comparisons for the nereophytes.  Granted, at the outset of the nereophyte page I point out that it will be following a different format than that of the nereozoa, so a similar size comparison may not be practical.  Also, the sizes of various nereophytes may present a similar comparison problem in the future, but I just don't know.  Once again, I'm interested in what you, the reader, thinks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Back on Track...

The site is now back online in its new home with Google Sites, and there were many things I realized as I went through the process of rebuilding it.

One was a refamiliarization with material.  With 100 species on the site, and a long hiatus due to academic duties, my memories about some species was... fuzzy...  The review was refreshing and even worked kind of like a rediscovery.  It was as though I was seeing some of the nereids for the first time, and that will help when I get underway with creating new species again.

Another thing is that Google Sites has a much better sidebar navigation system than the host for the old site.  The links on the side can be extended so that all the sites are clickable or collapsed so that only a few are shown.  For the sake of saving space, I decided to leave the species off the list, but now it seems that if a species page is viewed that it collapses the whole sidebar, which can be disorienting.  I think if I include them in the sidebar it will solve that problem.  What do you think?

Another I noticed was a matter of consistency.  Just little things here and there, such as formatting from page to page and contradictions in the content of different species.  The formatting is a rather easy fix, and for the most part I've already done it, but making sure that all the material agrees with itself will take time.  Much of what I noticed was so subtle that it may take some interesting rewriting to iron out.

Finally, I noticed that the website as it is so far only takes up about a third of the storage space available, which means that, even with the full 200 species, there's room for more.  I don't think that will get filled with even more species, but I think I could use some of it to include more diagrams and illustrations explaining evolutionary lineages and interesting physiological points.  Or I might just save all that for Nereus 2.0... ;)

Any way, so the page is up and running again.  Many thanks to all those who gave feedback and input during the process, and keep an eye out for updates in the future!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rebuilding the Anthill

So there's this comedian I enjoy who has this little gag about what ants must be saying when we callous, lumbering humans step on their anthills:

"You would think that they would take at least a second to look at what happened and go 'OH MAN!  I DON'T BELIEVE IT!  I ain't doin' that again...'"

There's of course no scientific backing for the scenario, but I still think it's hilarious and that it's a good analogy for how I felt when I found out that my website, which I had been working on (with material both relevant to Nereus and not) for several years.  I just didn't even want to deal with it.

But, after more than a month of not really doing anything to get my website put back together, I've finally got a new site going.  Here's the link:


It's with Google Sites, so hopefully things will remain reliable enough.

At this point, all I have on the website is some information about Nereus itself, but take a look and let me know if there's anything I can improve, whether format-wise or in terms of content, while I'm still at this early stage of rebuilding my little anthill...

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Well, I was just gearing up for a new batch of nereophytes when, literally out of nowhere, I'm informed that the entity hosting my website no longer exists.  Just like that, and the website is gone.  I can't put into words how disheartening this is.

Thankfully, more than 90% of the material is backed up, so the information is not lost, it's just not public anymore.  I'll be spending the next little while figuring out how to move forward with the project.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Just Waiting For the Pictures to Develop...

The last post in here was in October, and the last post with immediate relevance to my work with Nereus was more than a month before that.  I’m glad to say that, after a semester that—if it wasn’t from Hell itself, certainly took a page from Hell’s playbook—is finally over, I’ve been able to devote some serious time to presenting new plants on the website.

Now, that long hiatus doesn’t mean that I haven’t been working on nereid plants at all, for I have taken pockets of time here and there to organize clades and compose capsules for eventual publication.  But finally I’ve had enough time to devote to illustrations, which I think are a key component of the success of Nereus, or any similar project.  “A picture paints a thousand words,” as it were, and in the context of xenobiology I’ve found that pictures convey a lot more information than might apparent.  A capsule on any given imaginary creature may tell me a great deal about the evolutionary history, noteworthy behavior, or any number of useful details to reinforce the creature’s plausibility, but an accompanying image can either reinforce that plausibility or negate it all in an instant.

So I take my images very seriously, and try to use what skills I can in order to communicate the spirit and flavor of the nereids I create.  Over the years I’ve found that the illustration process has provided me with great triumphs as well as frustrations, surprises, and the occasional need to change capsules in order to fit with things I like in the picture; such has been the case with my first steps into my presentation of the nereophytes.

Because Coleria is a phylum that functions at a largely microscopic scale, I had a hard time figuring out exactly how to present them visually.  I started with sea grain, and a relatively straightforward capsule, but when I started to put together an illustration for the entry I was just never happy with it.  This turned out to be the biggest stumbling block for my nereophytes so far, because I didn’t want to move on until I could get that picture done.  Well, eventually I just said the image that’s up for the sea grain is good enough.  Maybe one day I’ll redo it, but in the end I shouldn’t let a presentation of nereid plants be halted by one little genus of algae.

So far with my nereids, almost all illustrations were rendered based on 3D models built in SketchUp so that I could explore biometrics, proportions, and image composition.  It’s been a technique that’s served me well, but after the frustrations I faced with drawing the sea grain, I decided on a different tactic with the verebull: a completely hand drawn composition without any preliminary 3D work.  While I still think the image for the verebull could be improved, it came together rather easily.  No muss, no fuss, and on to the next one.

Rock paint falls into the category of one of the images that has surprised me.  I used the same non-SketchUp technique here, penciling some stony backgrounds and adding the plant life itself in Photoshop.  I’m pleased with how it all turned out, but what surprised me was how the rock paint actually looks on the rocks.  What I had originally imagined was something more akin to desert lichen in appearance, but what has come about is something that is more visually interesting, and may help to paint future landscape images in a more alien light.

And I’m not sure if that pun was intended or not…

But if the rock paint surprised me, the splashmoss really came out of nowhere.  The original image in my head was something akin to shelf fungus, but as I sat down with pencil and paper, something else came out, something that looked more like a rash of pustules than anything else.  At first I thought about restarting, but since I was on a roll with alien looking plants I decided to go with it.

At some future date I may come back and see if the drawings I made are truly plausible, but for the time being I’m pleased with how the pictures have turned out and I’m willing to follow my initial impression that what I’ve drawn fits with scientific laws as we know them.  I look forward to anyone’s feedback on these matters, both in terms of the relationship between the capsules and their illustrations, and of the plausibility of the genera themselves.