Gurney Journey | category: Dinotopia | (page 23 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.

Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 Octobre

(Scroll down for English Translation)

Inauguration de l'Espace Jules Verne, le 4 octobre 2008
Maison d'Ailleurs, Yverdon-les-Bains, Suisse

Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 OctobrePour son inauguration, l'Espace Jules Verne à Yverdon-les-Bains sera accessible gratuitement de 10h30 à 22h30 pour douze heures de rencontres, de visite et de découvertes. Cette salle historique en plein centre ville présentera ses nouveaux atours au public et ses collections exceptionnelles autour de Jules Verne: documents rares, livres précieux, modèles des véhicules extraordinaires, audio-visuels originaux, borne interactive sur les voyages littéraires, affiches dans un incroyable présentoir automatiqueŠ

Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 Octobre10h30 Partie officielle en présence des autorités d'Yverdon-les-Bains, du collectionneur Jean-Michel Margot et de l'artiste américain James Gurney (place Pestalozzi). Dans Retour à Dinotopia, plus de cinquante nouveaux tableaux donnent vie à un lieu hors du temps où dinosaures et mammifères préhistoriques sont représentés avec une rigueur toute scientifique.

Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 OctobreToute la journée, animations sur la place Pestalozzi avec les Orbylis et les envoyés du Yuocland... Ainsi que le superbe Gramoulinophone, un spectacle rétrofuturiste et décalé (représentations à 13h, 14h30, 16h30, 18h - entrée libre).

Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 OctobreL'ouvrage Dinotopia: un voyage à Chandara (Editions Fleurus) paraît pour l'ouverture de l'exposition à la Maison d'Ailleurs.

Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 OctobreENGLISH
The new extension of Maison d'Ailleurs (Museum of Utopias and Science Fiction), in Yverdon, Switzerland, is devoted to Jules Verne, the father of Extraordinary Journeys and his time. The new museum building will open on October 4th, from 10:30 to 22:30 for 12 hours of discoveries and amazement. This historical room in the old center of Yverdon-les-Bains will house rare documents, extraordinary models, precious books, films and interactive works, an incredible poster-matic machine and much more. The entry is free for the whole day.

10h30: Official opening with the Yverdon-les-Bains authorities, collector Jean-Michel Margot and Dinotopia artist James Gurney, to accompany the exhibit “Return to Dinotopia,” with 50 paintings on exhibit from the new book, Dinotopia, Journey to Chandara, which will be released in its French edition the same day. (Pestalozzi plaza)

Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 OctobreDuring the whole day, street performers, musicians, and actors will make the day unforgettable. Meet the strange Orbylis aliens, and the emissaries from distant Yuocland... And enjoy the weird Gramoulinophone, a retro-futuristic wonder (playing at 13h, 14h30, 16h30, 18h - free entry).
Maison d’Ailleur, Oct. 4 agenda, link.
Dinotopia exhibition info, text in English or French
Street performers, link.
Yuocland, link.
Orbylis, link.
Gramoulinophone, link.
Previous GJ post on Maison d'Ailleurs, link.

Lived-in Future, Part 1

If you’re painting a scene set in the future, it helps to consider the period of time leading up to it. Some of the vehicles and buildings might be brand new, but others might be holdovers from an earlier period in your world’s history. Surviving elements from earlier times might show wear and tear, or they might reveal changes in the culture or even the government of your imaginary universe.

Lived-in Future, Part 1Here’s one of the concept sketches for Fritz, a “hoverhead” robot that I designed for Dinotopia: First Flight (1999). First Flight is actually a high-tech dystopia, set in Dinotopia's distant past, with vehicles based on the design of dinosaurs. Fritz is based on a ceratopsian head. He's rusty and dented, an outmoded model, and he’s missing the chrome ring that’s supposed to go around his right eye.

Early science fiction paintings, TV shows, and movies often showed a world where everything was in neat, new condition and was designed in the same style. But in real life we’re surrounded not only by the latest technology but also by antiques and out-of-date equipment that we keep using. Adding this sensibility to your science fiction artwork can give much more believability.

Lived-in Future, Part 1Here’s a plein air sketch in pencil and markers of a Buick Special. Note the rust stains, the cracked window, and the fender that has been replaced with a different colored panel.

You can give your future a “lived-in” look by adding such signs of decay: rust, dents, skid marks, pot holes, chipped paint, broken glass, dead bugs, bent corners, peeling labels, faded lettering, graffiti, litter, trash, and weeds. In both digital and painted artwork, surfaces usually come out looking pristine and new, so adding these qualities takes deliberate effort.


I’m told it’s relatively easy these days to render a photo-real character in CGI—as long as that character stands by itself. But to have one CGI character throw a bucket of water on another and then grab him by the shirt….well, now that’s a challenge.

InteractivityHow about having a couple of figures wrestling with a snake, as in the classic sculpture Laocoön? How would a computer deal with the complex muscular dynamics and surface interactions?

In 3-D computer animation, this problem is sometimes called interactivity, and it’s one of the frontiers that is engaging the finest minds of the business. When Jeanette and I visited some of the post-production special effects houses last fall, like ILM, Imageworks, and Rhythm and Hues—or the CG animation outfits like DreamWorks and Blue Sky, I often asked what is the toughest problem to solve in CGI: Hair? Foliage? Fabric? Water?

On their own, each one of these “holy grail” materials is really coming around. The real challenge is to have these effects interact with each other, to have a couple of figures in loose tunics mudwrestling at the edge of a swamp, or a burning flag flapping in the wind.

InteractivityIn the painting by Homer above, consider the physics involved in a scene of kids running and holding hands while cracking the whip. Each figure is both self-propelled by the feet, but also externally propelled by the large system of forces delivered through the hands as the momentum builds.

InteractivityI was thinking about maximizing interactivity when I painted this scene from Dinotopia: The World Beneath. A walking vehicle wades through water and weeds. Painting it is no big deal, but realizing it in CGI would take some doing.

InteractivityOne figure is pushing on a palmetto (1), while another is brushing away a fern (2), while the leg of the walking vehicle is dragging some plants out of the water (3), while the other leg is splattered with mud and half-submerged (4), while the body of the vehicle is pushing aside another stand of plants.

I can only speak with any knowledge as a painter, but I have wide-open admiration for my brother artists and scientists in CGI. Their work excites me because it’s the meeting point of art, physics, mathematics, and materials science.

The advances and challenges in CGI causes us to think about the visual world differently. The geeks behind the scenes who are making the big contribution in this arena don’t get the credit they deserve because their work doesn’t seem as glamorous or comprehensible as the work of the visual development designers.

When you watch the credits roll by on the next CG animated film, give a cheer for the people that figure out the science behind interactive effects.
Read about our visits to the movie studios last fall, link.

Walking Vehicles, part 2.

This four-legged walking vehicle or “strutter” was a main character in Dinotopia: The World Beneath. It's based on the design of a ceratopsian, with the passenger seat built into the pelvis area, and the driver's seat between the scapulas. This is how it appeared after the head/windshield was bitten off by a T.rex.

Walking Vehicles, part 2.I built the original reference maquette (below) by “kitbashing,” or combining parts from about four different Japanese robot plastic model kits and filling in extra shapes with two-part sculptor’s putty. The reference maquette was just a start in conceptualizing the design, but it gave me a lot of information, especially for unusual angles.

Walking Vehicles, part 2.You can often find unbuilt plastic models at yard sales, and they make good raw material for kitbashing. The front section of the vehicle above was originally the torso of a humanoid Japanese robot.

Walking Vehicles, part 2.Denison’s strutter was one of the toy prototypes made by the concept development team at Hasbro based on the illustrations in The World Beneath. This model shows the full strutter, complete with its head, and the windshield built into the frill. The prototype can walk...sort of—you can see the linkage bars behind the front legs—though the challenge with a real toy is to make it strong enough to be manhandled by toddlers.

Walking Vehicles, part 2.Model builder Glenn Ludgate of Australia has built several scratch-built one-of-a-kind Dinotopia vehicles as hobby projects. Here's one of Arthur Denison's strutter in progress.
More about the Hasbro Dinotopia prototypes, link.

Walking Vehicles, Part 1

Vehicles that move across the ground usually have either wheels, tracks, or legs. A walking vehicle has the advantage on uneven terrain. You can base a design concept on many living analogs, for nature has no use for the wheel.

Above is a scratch-built arthropod-based vehicle from Dinotopia: The World Beneath. The small maquette helped to visualize it in three dimensions and from various angles. The design is based on an extinct shrimplike invertebrate.

In the story, the vehicle, or “strutter” as it is called in Dinotopia, gets out of control and fights another strutter, while Arthur Denison and his friends watch in horror.

One reason wheels never arose in nature is the difficulty of designing a circulatory system that could work across a turning axle. Birds, humans, and a few mammals use two legs, but four, six or more legs are more common. Below is a full-size working model of a Japanese armored tech.

Engineers who design the drive mechanisms for walking vehicles usually have to solve three problems: how to translate the energy of the motor to the back and forth movement of the leg, how to achieve balance, and how to steer and change direction.

Tomorrow: part two, including Arthur Denison's strutter.
Addendum: Blog reader Scibotic has suggested these awesome YouTube videos. Thanks, Ben:

Mondo Spider, homemade walking vehicle with driver: link
Walking Sculptures, passive wind-powered beach walker with many legs: link
Big Dog, a four-legged autonomous vehicle that recovers balance on ice and uneven terrain: link

John Dillinger

In October of 1980, I was sketching the Sealtest ice cream sign on Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee when a man came up and asked me to draw his portrait.

He struck a pose but jerked around from time to time to look up and down the street. Then he eyed me narrowly. “You’re not a cop, are you?”

John Dillinger
I assured him I wasn’t. He asked me where he could get a Thompson.

“What’s a Thompson?” I asked.

“You know, a submachine gun. A tommie gun.”

“Why would you want that?” I asked.

“I’m going to jack a bank.”

He said his name was John Earl Dillinger and that he just got out of the pen. He told me that he had spent time in solitary confinement in San Quentin and that he had been married three times. He asked that I draw a mustache on him so that he wouldn’t be recognized.

I didn’t know how much of his story to believe. The original bank robber named John Dillinger died in 1934, and looked nothing like this guy. Tommie guns were obsolete, even back in 1980. I had the feeling that parts of his story may not have been what he told me, but his face told a story of its own.

Every portrait is an attempt both to study the mask and to see beyond the mask, because every subject is trying to project a persona— at least if they’re aware of being drawn.

In any event, my meeting with “John Dillinger” in Nashville was a prototype for Arthur Denison’s first encounter with Lee Crabb in Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time.

Free Dinotopia Podcast

Skeptics said that it was impossible to make an audio adaptation out of a picture book, but Tom Lopez of ZBS Productions proved them wrong. The Christian Science Monitor called the Dinotopia audio adventure, “a dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world…perfect family listening.”
Free Dinotopia PodcastYou can hear for yourself in this free podcast, where audio wizard Meatball Fulton recalls the thinking behind the ZBS productions of A Land Apart from Time and The World Beneath. He shares a few samples of the productions with a full cast of actors, effects, and music by Tim Clark. You can order copies on CD or cassette from the Dinotopia Store or purchase the MP3 download directly from ZBS.

Don’t miss all the other great podcasts and audio productions from ZBS, which make evocative listening in the long hours of the artist’s studio.
Free Dinotopia podcast, link.
CDs from Dinotopia Store, link.
Full Dinotopia MP3 paid download from ZBS, link.
ZBS’s new “Two Minute Noir,” link.
Bix sculpture courtesy Jim Henson's Creature Shop, link.

Dinotopia at the Children’s House

Dr. Jo Ann Leggett, director of the Children’s House of Victoria, Texas recently completed a Dinotopia-themed project for the school’s summer program.

Dinotopia at the Children’s House
The kids got an opportunity to try a funny face contest, as well as dinosaur musical parades, and a “water ride down under.”

Dinotopia at the Children’s HouseThere were some brave efforts at plank walking. They played ping pong with Zippo and they designed t-shirts. Kids, parents, and faculty worked together to paint dinosaur murals.

Dinotopia at the Children’s HouseA section by the back fence transformed into Treetown. A sprinkler in a tree became Waterfall City, and the kids put on their swimsuits and played under the water spray.

Dinotopia at the Children’s HouseBagels on dowels brought to life the Kentrosaurus Bakery from Journey to Chandara.

Dr. Leggett wrote in summary:
“I have been in business for 30 years and I have never experienced the response your Dinotopia has made on all assets of our program. The fact that you correlated all subject matter—art, science, social studies, music, and math in your book made our task of a progressive educational experience easy. Dinotopia is not just a book. It is an experience to be treasured for generations.”

To which I say, the success of the program is more of a tribute to Dr. Leggett’s amazing creativity and enthusiasm, along with her faculty, parents, and students. Without their imagination, Dinotopia would remain dormant on the page.

To other teachers planning your upcoming school year, I hope you’ll consider doing a Dinotopia curriculum theme. If you write me about your plans using your school stationery and include a self-addressed stamped envelope, I’ll be happy to send you a free list of suggested games and activities and a signed card to help you get the ball rolling.

James Gurney
Dinotopia School Event
PO Box 693
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

You can contact Dr. Jo at <>

Color Scripting

Picture books, like animated films, video games, or graphic novels, are sequential art forms. Each painting is part of a larger statement that unfolds across time.
Color ScriptingIn The World Beneath, the second Dinotopia book, I planned the sequences with a color marker storyboard, which I mentioned in a previous post. I also made a few pages of tiny oil sketches to establish the range of colors for each sequence. Each sketch is about the size of a postage stamp, and they’re juxtaposed so I can see how one color scheme will lead into the next.

In film, this kind of overall color planning is often called "color scripting."
Color ScriptingI planned a few individual paintings more comprehensively, with color sketches about the size of a postcard. I mixed up a gamut of colors with a palette knife and laid them down quickly, almost abstractly, without thinking too much. This painting was intended to be a night scene lit by firelight with people and dinosaurs, but I wasn’t sure of the details.

Color ScriptingHere’s another variation on the idea of an evening ceremony, this time with a skybax. This is one of many ideas that I explored in sketch stage that I later abandoned.

Color ScriptingBy this time I had established which of the paintings seemed worth working up to a larger size, and I developed those images a little more. These oil sketches are each about 1.5 x 4 inches. Juxtaposing the little sketches helped me to think of not only of the individual painting but also the adjacent sequences.
Gallery of finished paintings from The World Beneath, link.
Jules Verne et Dinotopia 4 OctobreLived-in Future, Part 1InteractivityWalking Vehicles, part 2.Walking Vehicles, Part 1John DillingerFree Dinotopia PodcastDinotopia at the Children’s HouseColor Scripting

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