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1 9 2 0s - 4 0s:  D I N O S A U R S  G O  H O L L Y W O O D

The Great Depression and first World Wars hurt paleontology too. For example, bombing raids destroyed museums housing precious fossil collections of undescribed African species. In the early 1920s Roy Chapman Andrews traveled to the Gobi Desert where he discovered the world's first dinosaur eggs. Radiometric dating was standardized in the 1930s. Dinosaur extinction theories during the 1940s were completely conjectural - one expert thought the cause was that they were overheating.

The world's biggest fossil collector, Barnum Brown, retired after sixty years just as the first popular books were being published at this time, one of the most well known being 'The Dinosaur Book' (1945) by Edwin Colbert of the American Museum of Natural History. Two years later Colbert was excavating a mass grave of Coelophysis in New Mexico.

Man had been searching out and restoring dinosaurs for almost 100 years when came the first signs of cultural impact. They were destined for Hollywood of course, as ultimate movie monsters and colossal box office draws. The silent movie adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Lost World' (1925) featured stop motion by Willis O'Brien so convincing for the time that people actually believed what they were seeing was footage of living dinosaurs. O'Brien's models returned in the blockbuster 'King Kong' (1933), except now people could not only see every twitching muscle, they could hear their frightening roars too. The 'Rite of Spring' sequence in Walt Disney's 'Fantasia' (1940) beautifully showed dinosaurs without humans, struggling to exist against predators and a changing climate, as hauntingly resonant as any Knight painting. It just wouldn't have had the same effect with a parade of familiar, extant animals.

Sinclair Oil Company's pavilion (The Century of Progress) at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair featured the first semi-robotic model dinosaurs. There were 'Alley Oop' comic strips and pulp comic books that were almost second home to prehistoric monsters, firing up young imaginations everywhere, in an era where the only dinosaur toys were typically wooden except for some brass souvenirs by Sell Rite Giftware sold at museums.

An ocean away, an artist named Zdenek Burian was prolifically illustrating adventure novels and building up an unprecendented portfolio of prehistoric life. Most of his work would remain unseen by American eyes (and the world) for a decade. Another artist, by the end of the 1940s, Rudolph Zallinger completed a mural five years in the making that would be highly influential during the next two decades.

 Gerhard Heilmann

Danish artist Gerhard Heilmann in his The Origin of Birds (1926), was the first to really draw bipedal dinosaurs as they should be - with tails above ground and birdlike gait (i.e. running iguanodonts, Compsognathus). 

 

 

 

 

 

  Othenio Abel

  Abel was a paleobiologist/artist that copied many Charles Knight drawings. This one was from 1928.

 

 

 

 

 

 Charles Whitney Gilmore

  Smithsonian paleontologist with considerable sculpting skills. The scale pattern was speculative but not too far  from the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

  Gerhard Ernest Untermann


Known for his 1930s era paintings done in a highly romanticized style recalling 'peaceable kingdoms', Ernest Untermann (1864-1957) spent most of his life as a German-American seaman, socialist author, and newspaper editor before he began painting murals for the Dinosaur National Monument and Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum.

  Rudolf Freund 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Zdenek Burian

Coming from a commercial art background illustrating adventure novels, Czech artist Zdenek Burian's (1905-1981) beautifully executed Rembrandt-like paintings were works of art in every meaning of the word, making him the second most influential paleoartist of the 20th century and the most prolific to date, producing around 500 images between 1930s-70s. With no access to fossil remains, Burian's early works were derived from, and were sometimes more technically flawed than Knight's (i.e. a 1938 Tyrannosaurus and Tarbosaurus, both with undersized heads, theropods with crocodile style lips) but other times exceeded Knight in accuracy (Centrosaurus with upright forelimbs instead of typical reptile sprawling). His 1941 cross-section view of Brachiosaurus neck deep in water remains one of his most identifiable pieces. Other still-acceptable pieces include Pteranodon in its shoreside habitat. His dramatic scenes of Cenozoic era wildlife and hominids still hold up as well as any Knight painting today. Burian's scientific advisors were Josef Augusta and later, Zdenek Spinar. The stop motion models in the film Journey To the Center of Time (1966) are based on Burian's dinosaurs. Demonstrating international influence, Burian art was even copied in Japanese popular books, models kit box art and toys, comics, movies and television. Life Before Man showcased his work.

  HONORABLE MENTIONS:

  Willis O'Brien

The man who first brought dinosaurs to life - on the big screen, in The Lost World and King Kong, inspiring awe and fascination in the creatures themselves, special effects and paleoart. No one had seen movie monsters like this before.