Sunday, October 4, 2009

Member Bio: Nima Sassani

Hey dinosaur fans!

I am Nima, otherwise known as the Paleo King! (If you’re curious about this none-too-conceited title, by all means ask!)

I’m from Baltimore, Maryland, though these days I’m usually in California. As a kid I quickly became obsessed with dinosaurs. I always liked to go to the Smithonian in Washington D.C., and look at all the dinosaurs there (and point out all the mistakes!). I read Bakker’s “The Dinosaur Heresies” when I was seven, and was generally regarded as a space alien by my classmates for memorizing so many dinosaur facts. My favorite dinosaur quickly became Brachiosaurus, which made me even MORE of a space alien (you know, since all kids pretty much prefer T.rex – and impulsively assume it was the biggest, strongest, the coolest, etc. - to the exclusion of everything else!) Ahh well... they're mostly stuck working at McDonald's now! (*cue that vicious humor!*)

Tarbosaurus head in full color (I did this back in middle school, but I couldn’t resist digitally enhancing the eye after I scanned it)

I drew all kinds of dinosaurs as soon as I could read books about them, though I only started to consider myself good at it after I had met Gregory Paul and learned a few things from him about anatomy and technique. YES, I know it sounds crazy, but I met him when I was 10 years old. I picked up his book “Predatory Dinosaurs of the World” and after being totally blown away by the insanely cool pencil drawings, I actually wrote to Gregory Paul, found out he was a fellow Baltimorean, and went with my dad to visit him.

We talked for an hour or two (or maybe three!) and he busted a lot of the popular myths about dinosaurs that were floating in my head at the time (like all the errors in Jurassic Park that I didn’t notice). I was stunned, but found his rigorous analysis of dinosaur fact to be far more interesting than fiction – in Paul’s apartment, the dinosaurs were no longer extravagant movie monsters, but came to life as REAL LIVE believable creatures, with all their simplicity only enhancing their elegance, in long-gone (and not always tropical) habitats that truly existed.

He even gave me HUGE copies of his skeletal restorations of many dinosaur species – which were (and still are) a very useful technical reference for drawing lifelike dinosaurs with all the correct proportions. At the time I wanted more than anything to be a paleontologist (let’s face it, we all did at SOME point), though I’m glad Gregory Paul gave me the real skinny on the field, all the heavy post-doctorate education it can require, and how it’s not all fun and games.

Brachiosaurus and Breviparopus (done in middle school)

It was a humbling experience, but one that only increased my respect for the often overworked, underpaid professionals who study dinosaurs for a living. Some of these people are like Mozart – brilliant in their specialty, but under-appreciated in their lifetimes and struggling to find sources of income despite their talent.

Gregory Paul himself admitted to having sold some of his paintings for income (and sadly out of all his paintings these were my favorites). Of course, the notion of dinosaur art as a profitable artistic pursuit had not yet struck me at age 10. But I never wanted to stop drawing them.

Tarbosaurus (Work in Progress)

Armed with Paul’s skeletals and some articles he had given me, I jumped into revamping my whole notion of realistic dinosaur art. Then in middle school I got into therapsids and found them even more interesting than dinosaurs, with all those crazy head shapes and strange tooth arrangements. I also took a few art classes in school, but most of these taught the typical boring fare – lots of still-lifes, portraits of rather ugly girls, and landscapes in watercolor – which I still consider the most annoying medium ever invented by mankind.

So I largely had to teach myself to really restore dinosaurs and other extinct life forms (seriously, I wish there was some sort of class on dinosaur art. There should be one. Hmmm… perhaps I could teach one in a few years…) Those were fun times. I was inspired by a lot of Gregory Paul’s work (though I’m not too crazy about the revisions of sauropod and hadrosaur necks he’s proposed in recent years), and also John Sibbick and Mark Hallett to some degree (though I think they went overboard with their levels of dinosaur bulk and wrinkliness).
Another influence was David Peters (back in the days before his crazy pterosaur theories, he actually did some VERY admirable illustrations of dinosaur books in which nearly every well-known genus was shown in lifelike color and detail (not to mention his vibrant work in Don Lessem’s books on sauropods and raptors). His book “From the Beginning” was also a surprisingly detailed introduction to extinct fish, reptile, and therapsid art.)
I also found inspiration in a few paintings whose authors I have never been able to identify- mainly paintings of T.rex, including an amazing large one that shows a blue T.rex with a whitish jaw adductor muscle and white underside and a “wavy” form to its orbital horns. If anyone has seen this painting, drop me a line. I’d love to see it again.

I’d say about 90% of the paleo-art I’ve ever done is in pencil, but I also have a good bit of experience with acrylics and oils, and I might do some more of those in the near future. I took a hiatus from dinosaurs in high school (which was a near-lethal flood of assignments due to being in the IB program) and some of college, but now I’m back in action and everything I’m doing now is going to be way more hi-fi than the stuff before. Right now I’m in university studying economics, which is another passion of mine (yeah, I’m not a geology OR an art major – it just keeps getting more paradoxical!), but dinosaur art will always play a BIG part in my life.
Styracosaurus (recent work)

When restoring dinosaurs and other extinct creatures, I use a healthy mix of art and science, caution and rebellion. My gorgonopsians and cynodonts are fuzzy without exception – but the dicynodonts are simply naked-skinned. Raptors and Ornithomimids should have feathers, but not honking huge flight feathers over every square inch of their secondarily flightless bodies (that means no freaky tail fans on Deinonychus, dino fans!)
With Oviraptorids, I’ll let that rule slide just a bit. I’ll put spines on a Diplodocus neck, but not a Brachiosaur neck (for lack of direct evidence) and DEFINITELY not a titanosaur (unless for some reason I feel VERY tempted that it would look artistically good). Sauropod skin was not super-wrinkly like elephants, but rather tightly wrapped (the Pelorosaurus skin impressions are a good place to start).
Ceratopsians are like rhinos – just better looking! No sprawling forelimbs, my friend. Also, I’m not a big fan of drawing dinosaurs without any skin patterns. Even in black-and-white pencil, color patterns are important. I doubt there were any totally non-patterned dinosaurs out there (maybe with the exception of Ankylosaurs), so I have a lot of fun thinking of unique lifelike patterns for each species.
Argentinosaurus muscular diagram (from around the same time, in 2000)
And if I like a dinosaur (especially a HUGE one), I WILL restore it. Even if it’s known from incomplete remains. If better remains are found, I’ll gladly revise it. I know this totally breaks all the conventional rules, but if the fossils are good enough to at least tell what it was, it’s restorable in my opinion (things like Argyrosaurus and Breviparopus pop into my mind pretty consistently).

I recently started my own website and the Paleo King blog – which includes a firsthand look at a lot of the madness behind my methods (check out my post on Styracosaurus, a LOT of research went into that drawing). Stay tuned for more, as I assure you it will be coming. I’m also aiming to sell some of my work. Want to know more?
Check out the blog at or just search “paleo king” in google or yahoo. Feel free to leave your questions and comments.
My website is Have fun, and don't become extinct :)