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Monday, March 8, 2010

The Ultimate Dinosaur

When I was just a paleo-enthusiastic kid I recieved "The Ultimate Dinosaur" as a present. It is a book which alternates essays written by paleontologists, short stories authored by science fiction writers, and artworks created by first-class illustrators. The book mixes coherently very different languages to describe prehistoric life: science, literature and visual arts. A great concept.
I will take three authors as an example of the multi-faceted nature of the book: Phil Currie (paleontologist), Ray Bradbury (writer) and William Stout (visual artist).
Phil Currie. 'The Ultimate Dinosaur' includes a scientific essay by Philip Currie: 'Migrating dinosaurs'. Currie is a Canadian paleontologist researching on dinosaurs, with particular interest for theropods and the origin of birds. He helped to describe two of the first dinosaur specimens with feathers, indicating that many dromaeosaurids were feathered.
Intriguingly, Currie is a life-long science-fiction fan, and fan of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Geology and Art, again.

Philip Currie, paleontologist..

Ray Bradbury. Probably my favourite story from 'the Ultimate Dinosaur' is 'Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Gonna Be when you grow up?', authored by the noted sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury. He is a prolific writer and his works includes classics such as 'Farhenait 451' and the 'Martian Chronicles'. Bradbury attributes his lifelong habit of writing every day to an incident happened in 1932. Mr. Electrico, a carnival entertainer, touched him on the nose with an electrified sword, made his hair stand on end, and shouted, "Live forever!".
It was from then that Bradbury wanted to live forever and decided his career as an author in order to do what he was told: live forever. It was at that age that Bradbury started his interest for magic. Curiously, Bradbury was a close friend of Charles Addams, an american cartoonist who invented the characters known as 'The Addams Family'.
Ray Bradbury has long had a fascination with dinosaurs, as demonstrated his stories and poems about the mesozoic beasts. Some of Bradbury's stories on dinosaurs are included in the volume 'Dinosaur Tales'.

William Stout.
Among the artists who illustrated Bradbury's 'Dinosaur Tales' there is William Stout, which also provided some works of art for 'the Ultimate Dinosaur'. Indeed Stout is either a fantasy artist and a paleo-artist, moving without difficulty between the two worlds.

His double otlook can be seen in his numerous incursions outside the 'traditional' 2D-art. For instance, he worked on over thirty feature films, including both 'Conan' and Gulliermo del Toro's 'Pan's Labyrinth'. His expertise with paleontology is witnessed by his role in the computer-animated movie 'Dinosaur' (Walt Disnet Pictures; he was the character designer).
It is worth to note that eleven Stout paintings were selected for the traveling exhibition 'Dinosaurs Past and Present', an important group show depicting the history of paleoart.
Stout is also an outdoor enthusiast.
In Antarctica he climbed Mt.Erebus, made several dives beneath the ice, camped in the dry valleys, and produced over one hundred painted studies on Antarctica's wildlife. His experiences resulted in several exhibitions: 'William Stout's Visions of Gondwana - Past and Present Life in Antarctica', 'Dinosaurs On Ice - William Stout's Antarctica', 'Dinosaurs, Penguins & Whales: William Stout's Antarctica'.

The multi-faceted interests of William Stout recall the personality of Charles Willson Peale, an American painter born in 1741. Peale had a great interest in natural history and organized the first U.S. scientific expedition in 1801.
He founded the Philadelphia Museum, later renamed the Peale museum. Notably, the museum was among the first to adopt Linnaean taxonomy. Peale's museum was among the first to display mastodon bones and the artist also illustrated a paleontological excavation of a mastodon.

Charles Willson Peale, Exhuming the First American Mastodon (1806).

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