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Dinotopia is a series of illustrated fantasy books, created by author and illustrator James Gurney. It is set in the titular “Dinotopia”, an isolated island inhabited by shipwrecked humans and sapient dinosaurs who have learned to coexist peacefully as a single symbiotic society. The first book was published in 1992 and has “appeared in 18 languages in more than 30 countries and sold two million copies.” Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time and Dinotopia: The World Beneath both won Hugo awards for best original artwork.
Since its original publication, over twenty Dinotopia books have been published by various authors to expand the series.
A live-action television miniseries, a short-lived live-action TV series, a 2005 animated film, and several video games have also been released.
Gurney’s assignments for National Geographic required him to work with archaeologists to envision and paint ancient cities that no one alive today has ever seen. This inspired him to imagine his own, so he painted “Waterfall City” and “Dinosaur parade”. These were originally done as art prints for collectors. He later decided to create an imaginary island based on these paintings.
Rather than digital tools, Gurney used “plein-air studies, thumbnail sketches, models photographed in costume and original cardboard or clay maquettes” to create 150 oil paintings for his 2007 Dinotopia book. He called the series “Dinotopia”: a portmanteau of “dinosaur” and “utopia”.
Many have claimed that some scenes in the film Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (particularly those in the city of Theed on Naboo) unfairly copy images from Gurney’s books. Gurney acknowledges the resemblance but has remained positive about it. In 1994, director George Lucas had met with producers to discuss some of the concepts and visuals behind a Dinotopia movie that was never made.
Upon the hidden island of Dinotopia, humans and dinosaurs live and work together in harmony with one another and with the Earth itself. It is a place of beauty and wonder lost to the rest of the world. The island is surrounded by a storm system and dangerous reefs that prevent safe travel to or from the island. Aside from a highly diverse ecosystem ranging from deserts to mountains to swamps, Dinotopia also has an extensive system of natural and man-made caves.
Arthur Denison – An American scientist and the main protagonist of the books. Following the death of his wife Rachel in 1860 he and his son Will left their home Boston on a voyage of discovery. Then in 1862 they were both washed up on the island of Dinotopia after being shipwrecked. During their time on the island Arthur wrote a journal detailing his discoveries. At some point both of his journals would end up in America where they would be discovered by James Gurney. Arthur currently lives in Waterfall City where he has a studio overlooking the falls.
Will Denison – The son of Arthur Denison and the second main protagonist of the books. He accompanied his father on a two-year voyage of discovery following the death of his mother in 1860, then in 1862 he and Arthur were shipwrecked on Dinotopia. During his time on the island he met and fell in love with local Dinotopian girl, Sylvia Romano and eventually trained to be a Skybax Rider and was partnered with a Skybax named Cirrus. In the Dinotopia novel, The Hand of Dinotopia it is revealed that he and Sylvia are engaged to be married.
Bix – A Protoceratops multilingual who is an ambassador and the good friend and traveling partner of Arthur Denison, having accompanied him to the World Beneath and Chandara. She first met the Denisons when they were washed up on Dinotopia, she was accidentally injured by Arthur when he thought that she meant to harm Will. She later met them again in Volcaneum when she became their guide, ever since she has become their good friend on their travels. She speaks every language on Dinotopia and is one of the few who speak the language of the Carnosaurs of the Rainy Basin.
Sylvia Romano – A beautiful Dinotopian girl who lives in the Hatchery with her parents Giorgio and Maria. She was the first human who Arthur and Will met after they were washed up on Dinotopia, she and Will quickly became good friends although they eventually separated when they left for Waterfall City. She and Will were later reunited at Treetown where she too was training to be a Skybax Rider, during this time she and Will fell in love. Eventually she became a Skybax Rider with Will and was partnered with a Skybax named Nimbus.