In our fourteenth episode of I Know Dino, we had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Martyniuk, a science teacher and paleoartist who has a prolific blog, several books, and more. Learn more about his work at mpm.panaves.com. You can also visit him on Facebook and Twitter.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Deinonychus, which means “Terrible Claw”
- Lived in the Cretaceous about 115–108 million years ago
- Paleontologist Barnum Brown technically found the first Deinonychus fossil in 1931, but he was looking for the hadrosaur Tenontosaurus and forgot about the raptor (which he had named Daptosaurus)
- Grant E. Meyer and John H. Ostrom in southern Montana discovered Deinonychus in 1964, and they were the first to talk about how similar dinosaurs are to modern birds
- Ostrom and Meyer found several hundred Deinonychus bones in 1964; their description of an agile predator changed people’s notions about dinosaurs and made scientists speculate they were warm-blooded
- Deinonychus has been found in the Antlers formation and Cloverly formation
- Eight other Deinonychus fossils have been discovered in Montana, Utah and Wyoming (9 total specimens)
- Deinonychus had good depth perception
- Deinonychus was very bird like. It was light, fast, and walked on two legs (bipedal)
- It had a flexible, curved neck, and sharp, serrated teeth
- It had three fingers on each hand with large claws
- It had four tows on its feet, and the second two had a sickle like claw (5 inches)
- It had a large brain and was one of the most intelligent dinosaurs (measured by EQ, or brain size to body weight)
- Deinonychus was 5 feet tall, 10 feet long, and weighed about 175 pounds
- Compared to bigger Cretaceous theropods (T. rex, Spinosaurus), Deinonychus had a weak bite, but it was still as powerful a bite from a modern alligator
- Dr. Robert Bakker wrote in his book The Dinosaur Heresies (1986) that Deinonychus had many similarties to birds
- Dr. Philip Currie has recent research that dinosaurs similar to Deinonychus (Velociraptor, Utahraptor, Dromaeosaurus) probably had feathers covering all or at least part of their bodies (proto-feathers used for insulation and/or display)
- Could probably run at 6 mph, not as fast as other theropods
- The Velociraptors in Jurassic Park were actually Deinonychus
- Velociraptor would come up to a bit above the knee on an adult average man while Deinonychus would reach a man’s chest
- Deinonychus was one of the first raptors discovered from an almost complete skeleton. Scientists had found Velociraptor 40 years earlier, but only named it based on a skull and some parts of its hands and feet
- This new idea that dinosaurs were agile partly inspired Gregory S. Paul, a paleo-artist, to create his 1988 book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. He grouped Deinonychus fossils as Velociraptors, since the two had so many similarities (and Velociraptor was named first)
- Paleontologists still think the two dinosaurs are different, but the book was very popular. Michael Crichton read the book (acknowledged it in the Jurassic Park novel) and he described Deinonychus in the book as Velociraptor (stayed that way in the films)
- Larger Deinonychus’s could probably bite through bone
- It used its tail to counterbalance when running and pivoting, which would have helped catch up to prey
- Deinonychus fossils have been found near Tenontosaurus fossils, which makes some scientists think Deinonychus hunted in packs
- Deinonychus may have hunted sauropods and ankylosaurids (in packs)
- Tenontosaurus adults weighed two tons, which means the only way Deinonychus could have hunted it was in packs
- Deinonychus may have used its arms to hold onto prey and tear off chunks with its teeth
- Studying Deinonychus has given a lot of insight into how raptors behaved
- The tail had a rigid “pole” that only moved at the base (tendons at the tail overlapped several vertebrae)
- Deinonychus used its claw on the second toe of each foot to stab prey (Velociraptors used their claws for slashing)
- Deinonychus may have used the claw to hit the neck, or used as defense against other dinosaur species or against other Deinonychus when defending its territory or trying to dominate the pack
- The claw was held back and did not touch the ground when Deinonychus was walking (means it did have a specific purpose). Instead, it rotated the claw upwards and ran on its other toes
- Deinonychus may have stabbed its prey and waited for it to bleed to death from a safe distance
- Ostrom compared Deinonychus to an ostrich or cassowary
- Can see Deinonychus at the American Museum of Natural History and the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, though they are from different areas and have different shaped claws (may be two different species or genera)
- Deinonychus is part of the Dromaeosaur family; though no Deinonychus fossil feathers have been found, Dromaeosaurs are known for having feathers
- Their family name means “running lizards” and they are often referred to as raptors (they have very bird like habits)
- They also had great vision and large brains and lived in the Cretaceous
- Dromaeosaurs had a great sense of small, like tyrannosaurids and turkey vultures
- They were mostly small to medium sized and they were bipedal
- They had long tails, many with rod-like extensions. Tails were flexible at the base, probably used as a counterweight or to help stabilize while running
- Dromausaurs may have been most closely related to birds
- They had feathers. Some feathers were long, some were shorter and more down-like. The feather patterns were very similar to Archaeopteryx
- Scientists think at least two dromaeosaurs could have flown or at least glided (Rahonavis ostromi and Microraptor gui)
- Dromaeosaurs had light skulls, sharp backward curved teeth, long arms and hands with claws, and sickle-like second toe claws that never touched the ground in order to keep it sharp
- May have used their sickle like claw to climb trees or large prey (as well as for stabbing)
- Phillip Manning and a team tested the function of the sickle claw in 2009 by using X-ray imaging
- The team compared how the sickle claw curved with the foot curvature of modern birds and mammals (curvature gives insight into an animals lifestyle; strongly curved means the animal climbs, but less curved means the animal spends most time on the ground)
- Deinonychus has a 160 degree curvature, good for climbing
- Still, some later, larger dinosaurs with very curved claws would have been too large to climb trees, so may have used it to latch on to prey instead
- Phil Senter said in 2009 that dromaeosaur toes may have been able to get through tough insect nests, so some smaller dromaeosaurs (Rahonavis and Buitreraptor) may have eaten insects as part of their diet, and larger ones such as Deinonychus may have caught small prey in insect nests (though he did not test whether the claws could actually do those things)
- Denver Fowler and his team in 2011 said dromaeosaurs may have used “raptor prey restraint” or RPR on smaller prey, by jumping on the prey, pinning it, and gripping it with its claws, taking bites while the prey was still alive (prey eventually bleeds out and organs fail)
- Fun fact: Most baby dinosaurs had proportionally larger eyes and smaller faces than adults, which made them just as cute as other baby animals
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Matt Martyniuk:
Sabrina: Here today we have Matt Martyniuk, who is a science teacher and writer as well as an illustrator, and he has actually created a few books. One’s A Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and the other Winged Dinosaurs, and Beasts of Antiquity: Stem-Birds in the Solnhofen Limestone. You used to be an English teacher and now you’re a science teacher. How did you make that transition?
Matt Martyniuk: Right, well I’ve actually been all over the place. When I did my undergraduate degree in college I kind of always was in education, but I kind of went back and forth between English and Science a few times. I think I kind of had these two passions in life of science and writing, and I kind of wanted to explore both of them to the point where I kind of was undecided for awhile. By the end of my degree I ended up getting my major in English and my minor in Biology. So I happened to have gotten my English degree first, but I am also a certified Science teacher as well.
Sabrina: So Science teacher by day and paleo artist by night?
Matt Martyniuk: Yep, pretty much.
Sabrina: Do you share any of your art with your students?
Matt Martyniuk: I do occasionally. I have a couple of my books in my classroom and, you know, they kind of get a kick out of looking through them every so often. I try and pull in paleontology, dinosaurs, and things like that. I teach elementary school at the moment, so that’s always kind of a big hook for kids of that age as it was for me when I was their age. You know, to kind of get them interested in science and kind of a pathway into science. Occasionally I’ll show them a few pictures and they get a kick out of it.
Sabrina: That’s great. How long have you been a paleo artist?
Matt Martyniuk: I guess seriously I started when I was in college. I really got interested in restoring pterosaurs at first, thinking about, you know, the anatomy and the way the wing membranes would attach to the elbows and to the legs and things like that, and kind of trying to work these things out in my head. And what I ended up doing was kind of finding this whole online community of paleo artists and finding these resources that would help me kind of put all the pieces together, and I kind of dove in from there and became more and more serious about it over the years.
Sabrina: I know you also have a blog, DinoGoss. One of the posts you’ve distinguished between, the difference between dinosaur and paleo art. What is the difference?
Matt Martyniuk: You know I think this is something that kind of comes up often when people, especially people online and websites like Deviant Art or on Facebook and things like that are talking about dinosaur art. you know those of us who are very, I guess kind of well-versed in the nitty-gritty anatomy and details of dinosaurs and other kinds of prehistoric animals, we can be a little bit critical when it comes to, you know, taking a look at how these animals are portrayed. And I think what I’ve noticed in my experience there’s really two approaches to it. People who kind of really like the idea of showing off dinosaurs as these big cool kind of monstrous characters and kind of illustrating them almost in the way you would see, you know, comic book superheroes or TV characters illustrated. I think that kind of pop culture aspect is kind of where I was going with that. And distinguishing between dinosaur and paleo art is, these larger than life recreations that maybe don’t necessarily line up with what we know about their anatomy or how, you know, an organism would really function in a working ecosystem. Where I think paleo art is really a little bit more of the scientific side of restoring dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, where you know we’re really looking at the small details and taking into account you know the anatomy, the environment, and making sure things are a little bit more naturalistic. That’s kind of a dichotomy that I think I’ve seen in artwork that can kind of cause a little frustration for people when that distinction is really made.
Sabrina: So with paleo art and because it’s more scientific, you obviously have to do your research. How do you conduct your research? Have you ever been on a dig, or do you, mostly just talk to paleontologists? How do you do it?
Matt Martyniuk: You know unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to be on a dig, I’d love to try that sometime. Like I said earlier, I think the Internet has been a major resource for me personally. I’ve made contacts on line and joined groups online where I can really have access to a lot of the primary […](00:04:26) literature, and so I can see immediately when something new is published, when new insights into you know biomechanics of anatomy, things like that come out, I can kind of start incorporating that into my artwork. So I think you know online with, corresponding with paleontologists’ online and other kind of paleo artists and even amateur enthusiasts online has really been a great tool for me to kind of improve my own work.
Sabrina: Are there specific places online that you go?
Matt Martyniuk: You know I have to say the biggest resource for me over the years has always been the DML, the Dinosaur Mailing Lists. That’s one of the first forums I found way back in the 90s when I first kind of had access to the Internet, and I found this treasure trove of different paleontologists, and really serious dinosaur enthusiasts sharing this information with each other. And back then I didn’t really have access to the paleontology literature, I didn’t even necessarily know that a lot of it really existed. So I was kind of relying on mailing lists and things like that as a resource, and even to this day you know that’s kind of a great place where I can find out about new discoveries and things like that. Nowadays with social networking, you know, with Twitter and Facebook, a lot of paleontologists, especially younger generational paleontologists are posting things there and kind of sharing research and bouncing ideas off of each other, possibly before it’s published. It’s almost like a pre-peer review. And it’s really a fantastic time to be kind of an amateur out in, you know, the boondocks of New Jersey trying to keep track of all this stuff and being able to incorporate it, you know, so it’s been great.
Sabrina: Are there any complications or frustrations when it comes to creating paleo art? I read somewhere that like now that some dinosaurs have feathers maybe they don’t look as scary, things like that.
Matt Martyniuk: You know actually for me that’s kind of been a benefit. I was never the type of artist that would have the patience to kind of sit down and draw and shade every single scale on a dinosaur, so I think even back before I was doing paleo art seriously I gravitated towards the more birdlike dinosaurs where I kind of covered them in feathers, and you know, it’s a little bit easier for my style of drawing. And I, you know, the fact that we’re finding more and more dinosaurs with these strange feathers, feather-like filaments, and things like that, it’s… it kind of allows for a lot of creativity because now we’ve got things like […](00:07:02) which was discovered recently that, not only do we have feather-like structures on the ornathiciant branch of dinosaurs as opposed to just the theropods, but there’s some really strange sorts of predators too. So before we could kind of use cladistics and philo-genetic bracketing and things like that to say well, this group of dinosaurs probably had this type of feather and this group of dinosaur probably had scales here and feathers over here, the more we find out the more we see it’s a lot more complex than that. And as an artist that gives you a lot of freedom, that gets you a lot of artistic license to experiment with different kinds of feathers or different kinds of integument on different kinds of dinosaurs, and you know, the evidence right now is kind of broad enough and hard enough to interpret that all of that at this point kind of seems like it could be plausible, kind of depending on which species you’re talking about. So it’s actually a lot of fun.
Sabrina: So, with some of these new developments and discoveries, have you ever gone back and redone a particular dinosaur?
Matt Martyniuk: Yeah you know a lot of times when I go back and look at some of my old digital paintings and things like that I kinda get the urge to correct things, and I’ve done that a few times. I’ve actually, I have a drawing of a T. rex that I did several years ago that I’ve probably re-worked at least eight times with different kinds of feathering, I’ve got one that’s covered in kind of like emu type feathers that are very long and filamentous and make it look like a big ostrich, you know. And then I’ve kind of, the less extreme version that’s more of a classic T. rex and maybe has, you know, some little filaments here or there, but I guess that’d be more the elephant style version.
You know like I said, a lot of these things are open to interpretation, so I think especially nowadays I’m less inclined to go back and kind of dogmatically apply some of these ideas back to my old drawings because you know the evidence kind of allows for a lot of possible interpretations. Like do try and avoid the goofy looking feathered dinosaurs. I think that’s kind of a trap that a lot of paleo artists fall into, especially those who kind of were trained in more of the reptilian dinosaur style, it’s kind of an adjustment to go from constructing this very reptilian, very monstrous, to something that’s more bird-like.
And I think the pitfall there is that some people end up making things look like a big chicken or a little bit goofy with fur sticking out all over the place. And I actually wrote a blog post recently about how this particularly affects CGI dinosaurs, where a lot of times you’ll see a CGI feathered dinosaur with just these crazy feathers sticking out all over the place, you know as if the animal had just come out of the water and shaken itself like a dog or something. And you know when you look at modern birds and animals, even that have filaments together, it’s not really how they look. The feathers kind of change the entire silhouette of the body. So I think it’s kind of about striking a balance between, you know, there is a tradeoff between making them a little bit less monstrous but also not over the edge into kind of a goofy overly flamboyant kind of territory where everything looks like a giant peacock. That’s kind of a tough line to walk. So it’s a very interesting time for paleo artists to kind of be adapting to these new discoveries.
Sabrina: Sure, so what is your process as an artist? How do you decide which dinosaur to create and which mediums do you use?
Matt Martyniuk: Well, medium is easy, I can answer that one. Lately I’ve been doing most of my drawings digitally. So I use Photoshop and I use a tablet to kind of draw and paint, kind of simulating the way that you would do on paper in the computer. In terms of how to decide what to do, it kind of depends on which projects I kind of have in my head at the moment. Right now I’m kind of working on a follow up to my last book Beasts of Antiquity, where I’m focusing on kind of a wide variety of dinosaurs, specifically from North America. Which gives me a very big selection to choose from. You know we’ve got sauropods, we’ve got all different kinds of theropods, we’ve got hadrisaurs, ceratops, ancalisuars, all these things a lot of which I didn’t really have that much previous experience drawing, so it’s kind of been fun for me to move out of my comfort zone drawing these bird like theropods all the time, and kind of try my hand at a stegosaur now and then. And if I start getting frustrated with it I’ve got plenty of other choices to kind of take a break and move on to something else and come back to it later when I’ve had an idea of how to make it work and how to fit it into that naturalistic style.
Sabrina: So do you often juggle multiple projects at a time?
Matt Martyniuk: Occasionally, I mean for this current one I’ve got so many going on pretty much anything I draw it kind of fits into that project. But, you know, occasionally I kind of have to blow off steam and just do something that’s kind of fun and maybe a little bit, little out there, something I can post of Facebook. But right now it’s, I’ve been a bit more focused lately which I guess is good for my productivity, so…
Sabrina: Definitely. How long would you say it typically takes to complete one piece?
Matt Martyniuk: I guess it depends on the piece. Some of them I get a little bit ambitious with the scene and, you know with the background, with the amount of animals featured in one particular scene, and it can actually take awhile. I’ve spent, you know, between doing an initial scene and painting it in several weeks to a month. Some of them I kinda go a little bit more quickly, especially the ones that are more similar to kind of my standard theropods and things like that. At this point I have a lot of practice doing the feathers and things like that, so I can probably knock out a theropod in a couple of days tops.
Sabrina: That’s cool. So I just wanna talk about your two books a little bit, the Field Guide and the Beasts of Antiquity. How did you… what inspired you to create these books?
Matt Martyniuk: Well I guess the Field Guide started out kind of as a little mini-project I was doing where I was posting all these pictures online of kind of field guide style drawings of different organisms from the Ixian formation in China, which is where a lot of the initial feathered dinosaurs were discovered. And I kind of got the idea from that, from all those kind of bird field guides that I looked at. Well, starting when I was a kid but even up through now, like Petersen’s Field Guide especially, Sibley’s Field Guide. I kinda like the way that the field guide style presents some of those animals in a very naturalistic way, even by the presentation itself. You know if you’re looking in a field guide you can kind of think oh okay, in some way this is an animal that I can go out in the actual wild and actually observe doing animal-like things, not necessarily these big over-the-top movie scene type of things that a lot of times you see depicted in paleo art. So for me it was kind of a fun project to do all these different kind of dinosaurs in just kind of a neutral standing posture, kind of simple paintings, almost schematic type so you can see really the differences between the animals that were closely related. And it kinda grew from there, and actually another paleo artist, John Conway actually gave me the idea that you know this could be a book. This could be, you know, an entire field guide style book. And I ended up doing that project specifically on Mesozoic birds, kind of going back to that, you know, Petersen’s Field Guide to Birds kind of inspiration.
For Beasts in Antiquity it was a little bit different where I had really been just doing a lot of personal reading into kind of the history of paleontology and specifically the history of pterosaurs. And I got this idea in my head that you know, it was a really interesting and fascinating story to me about how these initial fossil discoveries, all the way back in, you know, the seventeen hundreds kind of were the genesis for all of our modern pterosaur research and pterosaur knowledge and things like that. And I liked both the idea of trying to reconstruct the pterosaurs from the Solnhofen limestone, which is a very complete kind of little island ecosystem that we have. So, we can get a lot of ideas about the diversity of animals that were living in this one specific place in this one specific time, and also kind of tie in that idea that you know these specific fossils are like an object that’s been passed down and studied by all these different kind of characters through history. So it was kind of a very interesting project to tackle.
Sabrina: Sounds like it. And now you’re doing the follow-up to it, right?
Matt Martyniuk: Yeah the follow-up actually, the idea for that started even before this particular Solnhofen book was started. My original idea for Beasts of Antiquity was kind of to reframe I guess the classic age of reptiles as, you know, a lot of people think dinosaurs are these big scaly reptilian Godzilla like monsters, and the more we learn the more it’s not really the age of reptiles. It’s more like the age of, you know, proto-birds. And so I thought kind of focusing on the aspect that this set of animals that dominated the Earth for so long during the Mesozoic era were more closely related to birds than anything else alive today. And that’s kind of interesting because they’re not really that reptile-like. I mean they certainly were in some ways, but the more we learn about them the more we learn they have a lot in common with birds. And that even includes things like pterosaurs, which are closer to birds than even the crocodiles or any other living animals. So kind of framing that as stem birds, or something other than the age of reptiles. I’m thinking kind of doing a dinosaur book without necessarily talking about, you know, big D dinosaurs that are kind of these monstrous things was kind of the initial inspiration through the whole thing. And I think the main idea behind that is gonna show up a little bit better in the follow-up where we’ve got a lot of the classic dinosaurs from North America.
Sabrina: Can you talk a little bit more about stem birds? What that means exactly, now it’s […] (00:17:57) but if you can expand…
Matt Martyniuk: Yeah that can be a little bit of a tricky topic. Basically when we think about phylus and classification, we’re starting to get a majority I think of paleontologists were classifying things primarily on relationships. And so I guess the least arbitrary way to do that is to focus on living groups of animals and then look at their extinct relatives as kind of the base of that group. So we’ve got crown birds, which is the group that includes all the living type of birds today, and any extinct birds that would fall into those groups. So a crown bird would be a duck or an ostrich or a hawk. And even a dodo bird even though it’s extinct casts as a crown bird because it’s closely related to pigeons, so it’s nested within that glade of modern birds. And then we’ve got crown crocodilians, which are things like alligators and crocodiles and caymans, but they’ve also got a very long stem lineage which are all of their extinct relatives which are closer to crocodilians than anything else. And so those are stem crocodilians. And it’s the same for birds. So any animal that is more closely related to the modern living type of bird is typically classified as a stem bird, meaning it’s part of the stem lineage going all the way back to the common ancestor between birds and crocodilians.
Sabrina: Interesting. Your books, they’re published by Pan Aves. Is that your own publishing company?
Matt Martyniuk: That’s kind of a small publishing imprint that I set up, kind of me and my family set up sort of run to kind of publish mainly eBooks online, although a lot of my books ended up being primarily print books at the end of the day. That was kind of another idea that I got from John Conway and Darren Naish who have been publishing a lot of their books through their own imprint, which is Irregular Books. And there’s actually a lot of benefits nowadays to publishing that way, especially when you have kind of niche audience like you do for kind of paleontology books. So, it kind of seemed like the way to go.
Sabrina: Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s actually kind of my other thing is digital publishing and eBooks and stuff, so… is it just your work or do you ever work with outside writers or artists?
Matt Martyniuk: As of right now I just have the two books that are mine, but that’s definitely possible for the future.
Sabrina: You have a lot of awesome work all over the Internet, and I saw you have a portfolio on Deviant Art and you’ve contributed to Wikipedia, illustrated for a number of magazines and books. You’ve got Journal of Zoology, Wired, and the BBC. Where else can people find your work?
Matt Martyniuk: Well I guess the place to start would be my website, which is mpm.panaves.com. And that kind of gives you a link to my personal portfolio, my Redbubble shop where I do some little t-shirt designs and things like that with pterosaurs. And Deviant Art I have uploaded a few things there, not so much lately. But if people follow me on Twitter, my Twitter handle is mpmartyniuk, and on Facebook I believe it’s the same but I would have to double-check that. I occasionally post things that, you know, from upcoming projects. I just shared some pieces this past week, so just kinda if you wanted to keep tabs on me that’s where you would go.
Sabrina: Great. Can you talk a little bit about the Wikipedia project Dinosaurs? I know you’re a founding member of that initiative, and it, what it generates and curates scientifically precise content for Wikipedia.
Matt Martyniuk: Sure, yeah. Started about, many years ago now when there were a number of people who were looking at the articles on Wikipedia for dinosaurs and noticed that there was not really a lot of content there. Not that it was necessarily inaccurate content, but […] (00:22:01) it would be relatively easy to go through and start filling things in. So myself, and a few other people, kind of started this wiki project to go through and create at least a short little article for each type of dinosaur that was known. And we actually achieved that in just a little over a year if I remember correctly. So it really went from just a very little bit on, you know, this larger Wikipedia project, to really kind of a major resource. And now we’ve got a lot of people who contribute to Wikipedia to the dinosaur articles, and in terms of content, in terms of pictures and images, and even just kind of keeping an eye on the articles to make sure that you know things don’t get added that are not backed up by the current science and make sure that everything was well-sourced. I think the idea was that, you know, a lot of people like it or not are using Wikipedia as at least a major jumping off point for research. And so we kind of felt like we should curate it a little bit and make sure that, you know, the information that they were finding about dinosaurs is gonna be accurate and up to date. And it’s great that we have this centralized online place where we can kind of keep all that research and, you know, in terms of comparing it to things like traditional encyclopedias and books it can be updated constantly. I actually will do some of my research by editing Wikipedia. If I’m researching a new drawing, if I’m finding out new things about the animal that I’m researching I’ll actually be kind of piping them into the Wikipedia article at the same time and adding […](00:23:38) . And that way I can kind of go back and know that I have that almost as my notes, and that you know I have once backed reliable sources and things like that. So it’s been a really fun project to work on, I’ve contributed some images to it, some little scale charts with the little waving man that stands next to the dinosaurs, so it’s like he’s about it be eaten, things like that. So ya it’s something that I can kinda do just every so often and contribute to, feel like you know I’m aiding humanity I guess in correcting information about dinosaurs, so it’s fun.
Sabrina: Yeah, that’s awesome. Were you one of the first ones to do those scales, the scale pictures with the man and the…
Matt Martyniuk: There’s actually been a little bit of controversy about that. I’m trying to remember back, it’s one of those false memory things. I was one of the first if not the first. There was another artist working on Wikipedia at the same time, and I got the idea for that little scale chart from, I think the original one was on the stegosaurus article, and it may still be there, where there’s a green stegosaurus and there’s a grid for the scale and then there’s this little blue human standing next to it, but he’s just kind of standing in a stiff static position. So my recollection was I was trying to think of, I’m not particularly skilled in drawing human silhouettes. Don’t really have a lot of practice in that, so I was going on Wikipedia to try and find some examples that would be public domain that I could just kinda use as prop and place next to the dinosaurs for scale, and I hit upon the idea of using the figure from the Pioneer probe that they sent out with the little record of human recordings and things like that, and made a scale out of that. There’s another artist who had some early ones too who may have had kind of the same idea at the same time, but ya I guess the rest is history.
Sabrina: I personally love looking at those, just to get an idea of… because some of the dinosaurs are just so massive.
Matt Martyniuk: Yeah and you know it’s something that, it’s kind of fascinated me since a young age, is you know putting these different dinosaurs next to each other, figuring out how big they would be compared to one another and compared to humans and things like that, and I think that’s one of, part of the big appeal of dinosaurs is that they’re all these different shapes and sizes but a lot of them are so big, and I think it kind of helps drive home just how big some of them are so it’s very handy.
Sabrina: Definitely. So what’s your favorite dinosaur if you have one?
Matt Martyniuk: Oh man, I guess it’s whichever one I’m working on at the moment. I’ve always had a soft spot for Deinonychus, going back to before I can remember, ever since I was a little kid I loved dinomocus. Haven’t done that many pictures of it, but I think if I had to pick I’d probably say that that would be the one, and even today I really appreciate the place in history that Deinonychus has I think in terms of kind of elucidating that connection between birds and dinosaurs, and it’s also just a really cool looking animal, so…
Sabrina: What got you started into all of it? I know you talked about, you were on the Internet early on in the 90s and connecting with DLM and everything, but what inspired you to get, to start doing all of this?
Matt Martyniuk: Well you know, I think like a lot of paleo artists and even paleontologists of my particular generation, a big inspiration was the movie Jurassic Park. I think when that came out it kind of helped to reignite the interest in dinosaurs that I had had like so many kids do, you know, when I was little, and that kind of faded away and gave way to video games and things like that. And once I kinda saw that and that was the first time I really could see these prehistoric animals coming back to life, you know I kind of wanted to get my hands back into that. So I started reading books by Gregory S Paul, Predatory Dinosaurs of the World was a big influence for me, and even some books by like David Peters, Galleries of Giants and their dinosaur, prehistoric reptiles, I think that style of dinosaur renaissance art that had been introduced to me through Jurassic Park kind of brought me back into paleontology in a big way, and I really just had this craving to explore, you know, the transition between birds and dinosaurs, and you know how we knew these new postures and new arrangements for the plates on stegosaurus and all these things that I was reading about. So I kind of pulled any book I could get out of the library that had these kinda updated dinosaurs, which was like the signal that you know this was the new good stuff. And I guess I was kind of addicted from there.
Sabrina: What advice would you give to dinosaur enthusiasts, maybe someone who’s just kind of starting out in this world?
Matt Martyniuk: Well I would say read everything you can and most importantly don’t be intimidated by kind of science-speak that you’re gonna find in a lot of places that do kind of cover serious sauruses and give serious critiques of your work and things like that. When I was just starting out you know I would go on sources like DNL and I would read a lot of these posts that the paleontologists were shooting back and forth to each other, and probably eighty percent of the terminology that they were using was just completely alien to me. I had no idea what they were talking about when they would talk about scapula corticoid, or what the neural spines on the vertebrae were, and things like that. But at some point it dawned on me that you know, I’m sitting here reading this here on the Internet and I could probably open up a search engine and find these things out. And so, you know, don’t be afraid to kind of dive into those things and learn the nitty gritty details that are gonna make your work and just your experience with paleontology or paleo art that much richer.
Sabrina: Great, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Matt Martyniuk: Thank you so much for having me.