This cartoony character is considered the most accurate model of a real dinosaur ever created. Paleoartist Bob Nicholls based his reconstruction of Psittacosaurus on an incredibly well-preserved fossil from China (image below) studied by University of Bristol paleontologist Jakob Vinther and colleagues. From The Guardian:
Psittacosaurus fossils are commonly found across most of Asia. The bipedal adults used their distinctive beaks to nibble through the vegetation of the Cretaceous, more than 100m years ago. The relatively large brain of Psittacosaurus leads scientists to suspect it may have been a relatively smart dinosaur, with complex behaviours. The large eyes hint that it had good vision….
The reconstruction is the culmination of around three months' work, from detailed drawings to finished fibreglass model. Nicholls created a steel frame and bulked it out using polystyrene and wire mesh, before sculpting the surface in clay:."This is where the subject finally comes to life," he explains, "by adding all the skin details such as scales and wrinkles, and beaks and horns." A master mould was made from this sculpture, allowing Nicholls to make fibreglass models ready to be painted.
I asked Nicholls what makes this Psittacosaurus so special? "The most surprising features include an unusually large and wide head, highly pigmented clusters of scales on the shoulders, robust limbs, patagiums (skin flaps) behind the hind limbs, and a highly pigmented cloaca." These features make him confident this is the most accurate reconstruction ever produced: "When the anatomy surprises me – it confirms that I've followed the fossil evidence rather than any preconceived ideas of my own."