Sunday, May 31, 2020

Questions from Joseph

Joseph (who calls himself Sansu the Cat)  had some questions for me:

What do you think it is about dinosaurs that excites our imagination, especially while we are young?

What I love most about dinosaurs is the constantly unfolding revelations about them. New forms are discovered, and new theories emerge about their life and death. Of course that means I have to wince a bit when I look back at the way I portrayed them in my paintings from 20 or 30 years ago, but the more we learn about them the more amazing they become.

2. What impresses me a great deal about the Dinotopia series is the attention to scientific detail and plausibility. What role has science had in shaping Dinotopia?

The very earliest inklings of the idea came from brainstorm sessions with archaeologists on National Geographic expeditions and with paleontologists from the Smithsonian. Throughout the process of world-building I consulted with scientists to help me with the outward form of the dinosaurs. When it came to the more speculative elements of the story, such as saurian writing systems, I was surprised how most scientists were interested in contributing science fiction ideas. I realized most scientists start out as science fiction buffs, and many of them remain fans.

Will Denison and Ambassador Bix. 
3. The characters of Dinotopia, such as Ambassador Bix, Lee Crabb, and Oriana Nascava are so memorable and rich. How do you go about creating such characters?

Most of those characters are based on real people, or combinations of real people, and I then try to focus their personalities. Lee Crabb is based on an art teacher friend of mine who is a rugged, physical guy, very sweet natured, but he likes to pretend to be Crabb. Oriana is based on a friend of mine who taught art to sixth graders, and she said her students got a big kick out of seeing her appear in the book. Bix is a combination of my chihuahua, my grandmother, and the Dalai Lama.
“Waterfall City” by James Gurney. 
4. Your paintings are an essential part of the Dinotopia experience. The most iconic, I’d argue, is “Waterfall City.” What inspired you to create such an original vision?

I first painted a city built on a waterfall around 1981, and again in 1988. That panoramic painting was the first image that ultimately became a part of the first book Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time. The city is a combination of Italian hill towns which I saw while on assignment with National Geographic, together with Niagara Falls, which I painted from Goat Island before undertaking the big painting.

5. When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing Dinotopia: The Timestone Pirates for the GameBoy Advance. To what extent were you involved in the game, and do you have any fond memories of it?

I love the job the developers did in translating Dinotopia into a GameBoy platform-jumper. Although I wasn’t directly involved in creating that game, its development came at a good time because my own two sons were heavily into GBA at that time.

6. Nowadays you have also been sharing your passion for painting on your blog as well as through YouTube videos. How has your experience been interacting with fellow artists through the Internet?

I like interacting with other artists through the Internet, and I get a lot out of creating posts and videos for Instagram, Blogger, and YouTube.

There are at least four reasons:

  1. It provides a good excuse for learning. Explaining or demonstrating some aspect of your art life forces you to understand it, and you learn even more from the feedback.
  2. It helps me as a writer. I find out right away if a topic is controversial, confusing, electrifying, or boring.
  3. It builds a following. People who follow any artist’s artwork want to hear what went into making it. They feel a sense of belonging to your next project if I include them in its creation.
  4. We all benefit from sharing. The Internet at its best is about sharing, and it has fostered a spirit of openness that has never existed before in the history of art.

7. One of my favorite sayings in Dinotopia is “breathe deep, seek peace,” which I see as a good practice that we can all use when confronted in moments of conflict. Do you any words of wisdom to offer for those of us who are still seeking peace in our own lives?

The world is always in need of a vision of people getting along and working things out, both with each other and with the natural world. We’re always going to be a work in progress, but we’ve got to remember that we’re all in this together. Hopefully good things will emerge from times of stress, both in our personal lives and the world around us. The best way to eliminate worry for me is to remember that the things I have worried about the most never came to pass, and the bad things that happened have usually been unanticipated. So all we can do is try to fix things, grow things, and encourage people to find common cause.
First published in Medium
Get Dinotopia signed by me from my website


Susan Krzywicki said...

I love this line: "Bix is a combination of my chihuahua, my grandmother, and the Dalai Lama."

Bob said...

Great advice here: "The best way to eliminate worry for me is to remember that the things I have worried about the most never came to pass, and the bad things that happened have usually been unanticipated." That is so true. Speaking of worry, Lee Crabb was left with a lot to worry about at the end of Journey To Chandara. I always wondered if he (a) learned to love his new disagreeable assignment, (b) got eaten, or (c) escaped. Given that he's Lee Crabb, on the Dinotopia Message Board we all suspect (c). Guess we'll have to wait for the next book.

Happy to see the signed books coming back!

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Bob, What's allowing us to bring back the signed books is that we can do the postage at home from our computer, which means not having to stand in line at the Post Office.

X4VI3R said...

I really enjoyed this Q&A. I'm a lifetime Dinotopia fan, since I grew up with it. I'm past my 37th summer, yet I still remember the first time I saw the Waterfall City and the impact it had in my mind. In that moment, a part of my own imagination woke up for ever since.
Since I was born and still live in Argentina, I was able to visit the Iguazu waterfalls in my early years (Although they're quite in the opposite end from where I live). Inevitably, as I gazed the splendorous landscape, I could only imagine the Waterfall City standing firmly in middle of the roaring currents.
As someone once suggested, my imagination was a sort of impediment to actually enjoy the view for what it really was. Even if the statement might hold some truth, it won't let me deny and take into account some of other truths, instead: I think Dinotopia gave me a whole new insight in art, a pleasant welcome to let my own imagination free, and support for strong values.
For all that, I'm forever grateful to you and I can only hope to deliver those treasures to a younger generation.

Kristopher said...

Hi Mr. Gurney,

In the world of Dinotopia, Would the name/inscription on a gravestone or a monument in Waterfall City for a Triceratops like Brokenhorn be written the Theropoda style or Ceratopsia style of the footprint alphabet?

Thank you!