Monday, December 12, 2011

Part 4. The Origins of Dinotopia: Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs didn’t enter the scene until I started my next "Lost Empire" picture. I intended to portray a springtime festival of people and dinosaurs parading through the streets of a Roman-style city.

Above: The color study (6x12 inch), and below, the final painting Dinosaur Parade (24 x 48 inches).

One of the reasons I wasn’t too obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid was that most books showed them as evolutionary failures, dull-witted cold-blooded sluggards.

When I took a fresh look at dinosaurs as an adult, I quickly discovered that many scientists now regarded them as dynamic, warm-blooded creatures who had more in common with birds than with reptiles.

Photo by Tobey Sanford for Life Magazine
Paleontologist Jack Horner in Montana had discovered fossilized dinosaur nests. He demonstrated evidence that some dinosaurs, such as Maiasaura (“good mother lizard”), traveled in herds and actively cared for their young. Instead of visualizing dinosaurs as monsters, I imagined scenarios where they might live alongside humans.

With Jack Horner at the Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana. Photo by Tobey Sanford.
One of the reasons I wanted to paint images of people and dinosaurs together was simply to see how big we would be relative to them, since most dinosaur paintings had no sense of scale.

Study for architecture of Dinosaur Parade
When I showed Dinosaur Parade to my brother Dan, a kindergarten teacher, he said, “Instead of making the dinosaurs into the beasts of burden, why don’t you have the dinosaurs domesticate the humans?” This little suggestion opened up the idea that the humans and dinosaurs could have a mutually beneficial partnership.

Models for flower girls in Dinosaur Parade
Humans could contribute their cleverness and dexterity, while dinosaurs could provide the patient wisdom they would have gained from millions of years of successfully living on the planet.

I exhibited several of my Lost Empire paintings at the World Science Fiction convention in Boston in 1989. There I met two people who would be important to the development of Dinotopia: paleontologist Michael Brett-Surman and publisher Ian Ballantine. Brett-Surman was the dinosaur specialist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

He overheard me in the hotel bar talking to someone about my plans for a big dinosaur painting, and he offered to consult with me to make the dinosaurs more accurate. Like many scientists, his interests included both hard science and speculative science fiction.

He invited me to explore the Smithsonian’s fossil collection, to catch up on new theories, and to brainstorm about how humans and dinosaurs might interact. He suggested that Oviraptors — once mistakenly thought to be thieves of other dinosaurs’ eggs — might be put in charge of an egg hatchery.
This series of essays is adapted from the illustrated afterword of the new Calla Edition 20th anniversary edition of Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time 
More links:
Michael Brett-Surman
Dan Gurney, "Mr. Kindergarten"
Calla Editions
"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


Anonymous said...

I have had "Dinotopia" for years and always wondered why, in the Dinosuar Parade painting, the letters of "Sauropolis" in the building in the background to the right was in English and not in Dinotopian. This posting has now answered my question. Thanks.

James Gurney said...

Yes, you're right. I did the painting before coming up with other concepts of Dinotopia, such as the footprint alphabet. I also put reins on the dinosaurs, which I probably wouldn't have done in later paintings.

T Arthur Smith said...

Excellent post as always! Thank you for going to all this work! I have an unrelated question, I hope you'll forgive me. I see you often embed youtube videos on your blog and I'd like to know how. What do you have to type in? Also, with the new look of youtube, I can't find the embed function.

James Gurney said...

T. Arthur. Good question, because it is confusing. If you click on "Share" under the video, a new box will open up that lets you get the Embed code.

T. Arispe said...

This is a truly awesome and inspirational series of posts, one that I'm greatly enjoying. I'm always fascinated in the creative process behind works of imagination.

Catherine said...

I always especially loved the Dinosaur Parade painting as a child because the blonde flower girl who's pushing her crown back looks exactly like me at that age - which is around the time I started reading these books.

Now I'm 21 and I'm still a huge fan. Looking forward to following your work for many more years!