The Head

Dromaeosaurid head structure changes from specie to specie. Eye size, snout shape, jaw lines and proportions are important when doing life restorations. This is when skeletal research becomes most needed.

The above illustrations are of three different species of dromaeosaurid. The first is Deinonychus, the middle is Velociraptor, and the last is Bambiraptor (all not to scale). Notice the differences in each, and how they differ from each other.

Unlike mammals, dinosaurs have very little musculature in their faces. The opening in front of the eye is filled with flesh, and should bulge slightly. Muscles should form a curve around the edge of the lower jaw. Jaw closing muscle are seen bulging slightly at the top of the head.

Theropods do have lips, although very thin, lizard-like ones. They could slightly flare their lips to "bare their teeth," but refrain from drawing anything as dramatic as how a cat would do the same. Lips closely follow the jaw line, almost all the way to the hinge.

Nostrils always form at the very end of any nasal opening. the nostrils in the drawing on the left are placed incorrectly.

All dromaeosaurids have eyes that face forwards.


The following are a series of drawings showing how I go about reconstructing a raptor head.

Rough in the features of the skull, paying close attention to proportion. You don't have to put in all the details, just the basic shapes. Pay close attention to the shape of the snout, the position of the nostril and the size of the bony eye ring, as these features distinguish certain species.

The teeth should be of various lengths, since Theropods wore down, shed, and grew back teeth throughout their lifetime. They do not have specialized dentition like mammals, so avoid giving them fangs.

Next I restore how the features would look with flesh. Note that most of the muscles are in the back portion of the head. The eye should only be as big as the opening of the bony eye ring. Eyelids cause the eye to look even smaller. Note the placement of the nostril and ear (don't put the ear in the opening behind the eye!).

Note the ridge that runs from the eye to the snout. This is a feature common in Theropods, and gives you some artistic license: you can cover it in horny bumps and ridges.

Lastly, I add the body covering and the skin details. Since I chose to draw a Bambiraptor, I have made the proto feathers fluffy, and left only a little of the head area bare (due to this particular specie's size and it's need for thermo regulation). Dinosaur proto-feathers were most likely bristly and fur-like. Too downy and they would have a problem retaining heat when wet. They should not resemble modern bird's body feathers, as those are feathers that evolved to contour the body for flight. Raptor feathers only need to retain heat.

Any skin exposed would be wrinkled and pebbled like a bird's. In larger species, you may want to leave the head and neck area bare, like a vulture. This is entirely up to you, just keep it logical.

Some comments on eyes:

Eyes are important to a drawing. If they don't look right, the drawing will not look right. Take a look at the drawing on the left. Note that the iris is like a flat disk with the lense acting as a dome over it. The pupil is a hole in the iris, and should always be dark (unless it is showing "eyeshine" at night). Light reflection is always on the lense of the eye, lighting up the iris.

The shape of the pupil is up to you, but keep this in mind: if the animal can see color, it would most likely have round, bird-like eyes built for day time use. Night time critters give up color vision for extra light rods in their eyes, and could have slitted cat-like pupils for extra dialation. Make the pupils however you want, just keep in mind what function you want them to have.

The eye, of course, is covered by fleshy eyelids. The skin should be wrinkled and pebbled. Look at the eyes of birds as reference. The shape of the eye can be affected by the eyelids. Does your Raptor have almond shaped eyes or round eyes?

As an added detail, you may want to give your Raptor nictitating membranes. These are third eyelids that sweep over the eye from the inner corner. Birds have these, as do many mammals. I always thought it would be neat to blink without closing your eyes.

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All content © 2004 H. Kyoht Luterman unless otherwise noted