Thursday, December 15, 2011

Part 7. The Origins of Dinotopia: Utopias

Continuing the story of how the illustrated book Dinotopia came to be....

 I wanted to connect all of the images I had painted into one geographic location, so I drew the shape of an island in marker and colored pencil. I made it big enough to encompass a variety of landforms, such as deserts, jungles, and mountains. I tried various names: “Panmundia,” “Belterra,” and “Saurotopia,” until I thought of “Dinotopia,” a portmanteau of “dinosaur” and “utopia.”


What should the ground rules be for this society of humans and dinosaurs? I wanted to include only creatures that are known from the fossil record. I excluded modern animals living in our own world and I also left out any imaginary beings. Thus there might be tyrannosaurs and trilobites, but no dogs, horses, or mermaids.


I tried to portray the dinosaurs according to current scientific understanding, which at that time didn’t generally include feathers. I had to eliminate a few paintings that presented impossible poses, such as a scene where a sauropod lies on its side in a lake to provide a swimming platform. Smithsonian paleontologist Michael Brett-Surman told me that such a position would break its ribs.

Without greatly changing their appearance, I wanted to endow dinosaurs with personalities and give them a limited ability to communicate. I chose the Protoceratops Bix, with her parrotlike beak and her birdlike vocal chords, as the saurian that could most convincingly mimic human speech. She became the ambassador and translator for the Denisons. I didn’t want too many dinosaurs to be able to speak human languages, for fear of losing their essential mystery.

When I learned about the giant pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus, I knew I had found the crux of the story. Flying on the back of the largest winged creature of all time would certainly be the dream of any young Dinotopian. I nicknamed it “skybax” in Dinotopia for the sake of convenience.


During the course of researching the book, I visited the remarkable dinosaur trackways in central Connecticut.  They reminded me of the cuneiform writing of the ancient Middle East, which some early explorers mistook for bird tracks in clay tablets. I carved a footprint stamp out of a pink eraser. By systematically rotating the three-toed prints, I invented the footprint alphabet, which would allow dinosaurs a nonverbal way to communicate.
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Read More at these Links:
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The new official Dinotopia website
20th Anniversary Edition of Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time
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"Origins of Dinotopia" series on GurneyJourney:
Part 1: Childhood Dreams
Part 2: College Obsessions 
Part 3: Lost Empires
Part 4:  Dinosaurs
Part 5: Treetown
Part 6: The Illustrated Book
Part 7: Utopias 
Part 8: Building a World 
Part 9: Words and Pictures 
Part 10: Canyon Worlds 
Part 11: Putting it Together
Part 12: Book Launch

5 comments:

Dylan Sara said...

I remember finding the alphabet particularly cool. Thanks for these great 'making of...' posts :)

Steve said...

It's great to see the paper with the map with the handwritten list of possible names, and the underlinings and star next to Dinotopia. We can follow your movement of thought. With so many creative works now being generated electronically, early drafts disappear, taking their trail of the thinking process with them. At this distance of over 20 years, your saved early sketches for Dinotopia begin to take on the quality of preserved historical documents, echoing the very device used in the opening pages of the book: "I was tracking down some information about the spice trade in China when my eye fell upon a curious old leather-bound sketchbook..."

Ivo said...

"I had to eliminate a few paintings that presented impossible poses, such as a scene where a sauropod lies on its side in a lake to provide a swimming platform. Smithsonian paleontologist Michael Brett-Surman told me that such a position would break its ribs.
"

But you didn't eliminate dinosaurs that show other unnatural behavior like populating cities, working in factories, etc...

;-)

Evergreena said...

I'm greatly enjoying this series of posts, since not only do I love Dinotopia, but I'm also an aspiring author/artist, and I love to hear about the origins of my artistic heroes' great works. :)

Carol said...

All of your work here about the origins of Dinotopia should be one day put together into a book of itself. All of your work is a gigantic dinosaurus masterpiece and for the future, we need that your work be available for the good of the illustration world.