Gurney Journey | category: Dinotopia | (page 2 of 23)


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Questions about Dinotopia from the Bruderhof

The editor of the Plough Quarterly asked me some interesting questions about Dinotopia. The Plough is published by the international Bruderhof community. There are 23 urban and rural settlements around the world, each renouncing private property and following the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. 

Questions about Dinotopia from the Bruderhof

1. The society you portray in Dinotopia has, obviously, captivated a huge audience. What about it do you think has been so compelling? What about that world, that alternate social reality, is compelling to you?
What people tell me most often is that they like the sense of immersion that they feel when they read the book. Some of that feeling comes from it being an illustrated book, which sketches out so many dimensions of an alternate universe. The reader's imagination adds at least 50% to that act of conjuring, filling in the spaces between the pictures and the words. What I find compelling is trying to make the impossible seem inevitable—whether it's a city built on a waterfall, or a dinosaur philosopher.

2. One striking thing about the world you create is its relationship to technology. It is in no sense a “primitive” society: they have diving machines, hot air balloons, etc. But they seem also to be selective in what they adopt and are drawn to. What is the nature of the Dinotopian approach to appropriate technology?
As the son, grandson, and great-grandson of tinkerers, engineers, and inventors, I've always been fascinated by technology. In particular, I'm interested in how every obvious benefit of a new technological invention is counterbalanced by an invisible cost or compromise that may take a generation or two to recognize. There are so many examples. Even the invention of writing undercut the palaces of memory that preliterate societies once had. If there was a period of history when we might have really taken stock and considered the future more judiciously, it would have been at the advent of electricity, mass-production, automobiles, airplanes, and modern communications: in other words, about 150 years ago. It's still recent enough and familiar enough to relate to, but it puts our modern dilemmas in some context. We're at a similar crossroads now with the advent of robotics and A.I., and I think living intentionally with technology will become even more important. I created the prequel of Dinotopia: First Flight to explore those questions from a dystopian point of view. I love the idea of a utopian world that arrived at that place after having survived earlier times of struggle and suffering.

3. In a similar way, Dinotopia is an urban world, but has many of the characteristics that I associate with the rural: integration, beauty, balance. Tell me about how you’ve chosen to portray cities in these books.
I think those qualities of integration, beauty, and balance can exist in urban worlds as well as rural ones, especially if you start by doing away with cars. I tried to include in Dinotopia everything from crowded urban life to small towns to remote and wild environments. The design of the cities is inspired by the medieval urban design of old-world cities, with their organic street grids and vernacular architecture, rather than the top-down design of more highly professionalized societies. I was also inspired by exposition architecture, such as the 1893 Chicago Exposition, which was a temporary expression of the highest ideals of the American Renaissance.

4. J.R.R. Tolkien described the imaginative work that artists, and particularly fantasy artists, do as “subcreation:” his idea was that we create because we are creatures of a creative God who has made us in his image. Does this idea have resonance with you?
I hadn't read that idea about Tolkien. My understanding (and I may be wrong) was that he saw himself not so much as a creator or a subcreator but rather as a kind of lowly transcriber of some ancient text that already existed. Thinking this way allows the author to take himself or herself out of the position of creator. That relieves one of the burden of playing God. If you believe your fantasy world already exists, it makes the ideas come more readily to the imagination.

5. The sense that one gets about the world that you’ve made is that you love it: you don’t just love the characters, but the place itself. Can you talk about that love? What is it like to love something you’ve made?
Yes, I love the characters with all their flaws and I love the place with all its history. I once printed up some travel tickets to Dinotopia that I give to people. The only problem, I tell them, is that those are one-way tickets. My publishing mentor Ian Ballantine, who published Tolkien and a lot of imaginative fiction, was very adamant that the purpose of fantasy literature is not to escape, but rather to engage. It's fun to involve my imagination with a place that doesn't exist, because it makes me appreciate our own world even more.

6. There is conflict in Dinotopia-- but it is a utopia; it’s a place where harmony reigns. What is the nature of that harmony? What does the kind of interesting, non-passive, daring peace you’ve presented there mean to you?
When I was researching post-Darwinian 19th century travel journals, I was struck by the view of the natural world that early explorers came back with, especially from Africa. Gorillas, whales, and even elephants were routinely called monsters and beasts. The more we get to know them, the more we discover how compassionate and sophisticated they are. Dinosaurs were and are ready for such an imaginative transformation. Some of that comes from the science, as Jack Horner and other paleontologists discovered how parent dinosaurs took care of their young in nests. We humans are discovering that we can learn something from animals around us. Dinosaurs are my vehicle for that journey of discovering the harmony of nature. I have noticed that earlier nature writers like Alexander von Humboldt often speak of harmony, so maybe we're returning to that.

7. The Code of Dinotopia holds that “Weapons are enemies, even to their owners.” Can you talk about this explicit pacifism? Is that a code you share?
That was an old Turkish maxim that I found somewhere. I needed a saying that started with a "W," so that, reading down all the initial letters of the lines in the Code of Dinotopia, you could read the additional maxim of "SOW GOOD SEED." I like the Turkish proverb for the way it upends so many assumptions on various levels. I've always been inspired by the non-violent examples M.L. King, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and of course Jesus. But I focused on that maxim more as a reaction to the militarization of fantasy and science fiction in so many fantasy worlds that I had grown up with, including Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. The endless battles became frankly too predictable and boring. I found it to be a much fresher and more difficult challenge to envision a world that had figured out how to live peacefully.

8. Dinotopia is, among other things, a separatist society: Dinotopians know what’s going on outside but choose not to be in contact with the outside world. Have you considered the ethics of Dinotopian separatism?
I hadn't thought of Dinotopia as being deliberately separatist so much as having developed within an impassible region of storms and reefs. I didn't want to deal with trade and colonialism and invasion and other sorts of mass culture contact. I just wanted to have occasional individual shipwrecked arrivals. The inspiration is from reading James Hilton's Shangri-La and Heinrich Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet. I am still fascinated by societies that are cut off from the busy interconnected world, societies such as the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island, who to this day have had only fleeting contact with the outside world. What do they make of jet flyovers and ships and plastic bottles? What did the ancient Maya know that we have since forgotten?

9. Dinotopia is, above all things, perhaps, civilized. That contrasts with the incivility of some characters, and of other societies either portrayed or implied. What does “civilization” mean to you?
Well, to me, "civilization" means the Greek ideals associated with being a member of a city. When I was working as an illustrator for National Geographic, I was inspired by research trips to Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem, where I could witness the physical record of how people collectively contributed to something greater and more lasting than what the individual can accomplish.

10. The vision the books seem to conjure up is one of beauty and strangeness and adventure and harmony, both ecological and social, all at once. What would it mean to be inspired by these books to live in a different way in our world?
I'm always amazed by how people of so many different ideological perspectives have embraced Dinotopia, from fundamentalist Christians to evolutionary biologists, from socialists to old-school capitalists. That may be because I largely dodged questions of politics, religion, and economics in the book, and focused instead on pragmatic issues. I didn't have a political or religious message driving the story. Instead the characters (with all their flaws) and the adventure is the focus of the story. I don't have a moral to the story. People hopefully are inspired in various directions, and that's as it should be.
More about the Bruderhof at their website
You can get Dinotopia on Amazon or signed from my website 

Is Time Linear or Circular?

The helicoid geochronograph is Dinotopia's water-powered timepiece that reconciles cyclical and linear conceptions of time. 

Is Time Linear or Circular?

Which is it? Is time linear or cyclical? Here are some arguments in favor of each view:

1. Things decay. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that all systems tend toward maximum entropy.
2. Time cannot be reversed. Organisms grow older and die. Time travel isn't possible.
3. The past adds up. Libraries fill with books and our computers fill with data.
4. Time is precisely measurable in linear terms using clocks and other devices. 

1. The planets and seasons repeat their movements in very predictable ways. 
2. Cyclical time is more useful and increases our connection to nature. 
3. It's a falsification of history to see it only in terms of progress, because cycles of growth and decay can be well documented in human history.
4. We tend to underestimate the effects of circadian rhythms on the changing states of our body and mind.

Can we have both? Is it possible to keep both of these conceptions in mind at the same time? I think so. Even in the Western tradition, we say both "time marches on" and "history repeats itself." 

Questions from Joseph

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.

Questions from Joseph

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.

Questions from Joseph
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.
Questions from Joseph
“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.

Questions from Joseph

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.

Questions from Joseph

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

Vertebral Drawbridge

The vertebral drawbridge is a one-way passage into the Rainy Basin, Dinotopia's dangerous realm of the carnosaurs. The weight of a sauropod caravan flexes the structure downward, allowing armored convoys to cross over, before the bridge springs back up again. 
Vertebral Drawbridge
The fun of biomorphic or zoomorphic engineering is that you arrive at natural forms not because they're beautiful in some detached aesthetic sense, but because they're purely efficient and functional, as are all forms in nature. 

My dad, grandfather, great-grandfather, and my great uncles were all mechanical engineers, and they always rhapsodized about how skeletons are fascinating structures from a design perspective, combining strength, flexibility, lightness, and adaptability.

Announcing the Windchaser Ebook

One of the decisions an artist has to make when developing a fantasy universe is how much to license the images onto calendars and puzzles and other products. 

Announcing the Windchaser Ebook

With Dinotopia, we turned down most such offers, and tried to emphasize "ink on paper" licenses to keep the focus on my illustrated books. 

Announcing the Windchaser Ebook
But having worked in animation, I remembered the feeling of creative synergy, of making something larger than what one person can imagine. Gathering a team of creatives who share a vision is a requirement of games, film and animation, but not always so in comics and illustrated books. 

I was intrigued with the idea of allowing other writers and artists into the laboratory to help me build the world. I set up a few parameters, inviting them to: invent their own characters and storylines, stick to the spirit of Dinotopia, stay true to paleontology, and reference the characters of my illustrated books only obliquely.

Starting with Windchaser by Scott Ciencin, we ended up producing 16 digest novels. We hired Michael Welply to paint the covers. I enjoyed working with the authors, and felt that their contribution expanded the scope of my own imagination.

The books were successful, but they eventually went out of print, and we never published ebooks. Until now.

Announcing the Windchaser Ebook
Working through The Authors Guild with a company that specializes in ebooks, we've made a reasonably priced ebook edition that you can enjoy on any of your modern devices. Dinotopia: Windchaser will be released on September 16, but you can pre-order a copy now at these links.
Dinotopia: Windchaser at Barnes and Noble

Sunken City of Poseidos

Here's a glimpse of the sunken city of Poseidos, combined with an excerpt of the ZBS audio adventure of "Dinotopia: The World Beneath"—(turn audio on). (Link to video)

Jeffrey asks on Instagram: "Have any good tips for underwater effects and lighting?"
A: The main thing I kept in mind here was super-soft gradations of tone and a bluish cast to the colors.
Digital download: 

Twilight in Bonabba

Bonabba is one of Dinotopia's pod villages. Its biomimetic architecture is based on plant forms. 

Twilight in Bonabba

The human dwellings are raised off the ground on central stalks. You can climb into them via the ladder.

Twilight in Bonabba
"Twilight in Bonabba" 
I imagined Bonabba at the magic hour of twilight. There's mist in the air, the humans and dinosaurs are settling in for the evening, and the lights in the pods are coming on. The image appears as an establishing shot in my book Dinotopia: The World Beneath, 

I've just been updating the store on my website. Thanks to a warehouse find, I've got some art prints of "Twilight in Bonabba" available now.

Two big inspirations for this curved-space architecture are:
Roger and Martyn Dean, who discuss it in their book Magnetic Storm, and Antonio Gaudí, whose work is well represented in Gaudí: The Complete Buildings
Questions about Dinotopia from the BruderhofIs Time Linear or Circular?Vertebral DrawbridgeSteep Street PrintAnnouncing the Windchaser EbookSunken City of PoseidosOolu, Skybax InstructorKentrosaurus BakeryTwilight in Bonabba

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