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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Paleo Interview 4: Thomas Holtz, Jr.

As time goes on, something like a blog or a restaurant can get huge popularity if an important figure is seen there. That seems to be the case here - as I've been interviewing more and more famous people (though I don't see all these interviewees in a list of how important they are), I've seen more and more people reading and I thank the readers for that. With the exception of a few people (Greg Paul, David Peters, Jack Horner), I don't really see any paleontologist/paleoartist as more important than the other, but it is a great honor to have an interview with Dr. Thomas Holtz here today. Ever since he wrote his famous dinosaur encyclopedia, I've been a huge fan of his work and I finally got the chance to meet him a few weeks ago. I can still remember him walking by me and saying "Hi," and I was stuttering to say "Hi" back, but as soon I got to know him, I hit the conversation off easily and we chatted quite a bit, about Hell Creek dinosaurs, his book, documentaries, and some projects of mine. He's a great guy who is luckily patient enough to put up with my constant questions, and it's awesome to feature him on my blog. Enjoy.

Holtz has seem to slain this giganotosaur.
1. When did you first get interested in dinosaurs?
 I have been interested since before I can remember. However, my parents tell me this story: when I was about three my parents bought me a plastic Tyrannosaurus or "Brontosaurus" (we can't recall which one was first), and they told me it was a dinosaur. Then a few weeks later they got me the other one, and told me it was a dinosaur. I apparently looked at them very skeptically, because how could these two animals that looked more different than horses look from cows have the same name? My mom didn't know the answer, but she came from a background in education, so she bought a copy of the How and Why Wonderbook of Dinosaurs and read to me from it. And from that moment I was hooked. 

2. Did anyone in your life (family, teachers, etc) encourage your passion for dinosaurs?
Yes, my parents were very supportive of my interest. They got me dinosaur books from stores or the library; they took me to museums and other dinosaur sites; and so forth. 

3. Did any paleontologist help encourage your career or inspire you?
Like a lot of people who grew up before the Dinosaur Renaissance, I looked to Roy Chapman Andrews and Mary Anning as inspirations, not realizing that neither of these actually were major researchers in dinosaur paleontology. When the 1975 "Dinosaur Renaissance" article by Bob Bakker came out in Scientific American, I was very influenced by that book, and by Adrian Desmond's The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs. By the time I was in my teens I met the Smithsonian paleontologist Nick Hotton III. 

After I was already in grad school and just afterwards, some of my main supporters were my advisor John Ostrom, Smithsonian paleontologist Michael Brett-Surman, and a group of great researchers who helped me along: Peter Dodson, Phil Currie, Peter Galton, Ralph Molnar, Dale Russell, and especially Jim Farlow. 

4. What is your favorite memory having to do with paleontology (such as fossil digs, museum visits, etc)?
My favorite memory? That is a real tough one. I can't think of a single particular moment or event; rather, I am happy that I am now (and have been since the mid-1990s) been a person people come to for advice and information about dinosaurs. (My favorite moment eventually will be when some one names a dinosaur after me, but that hasn't happened yet.) 

5. Have you ever named or help name any new dinosaurs?
This drawing shows two arctometatarslians.
I have helped name a dinosaur who hasn't been published yet, so I can't give you the name. I named several groups of dinosaurs, however: Arctometatarsalia, Bullatosauria (no longer used); Maniraptoriformes; Eumaniraptora, Eusaurischia (with Kevin Padian & John Hutchinson). 

6. Random mandatory question: What is your favorite paleoartist or piece of paleoart?                               
Tough one in terms of paleoartists, since there are so many good ones out there. But my favorite piece is easier: the Greg Paul piece of two Tyrannosaurus running away from the viewer (http://press.princeton.edu/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/k9287.gif) 

7. What did you think of the PaleoFest this year?
PaleoFest was awesome, and I definitely want to go back! 

8. How was working on Dinosaur Revolution?
It was pretty fun! Much more interaction with the creative staff (animators, plotters, modelers, etc.) than other projects I've been on. There were some stories that were proposed that I am sad did not make it into the final version.
It was also the first time I had to do a lot of long-distance work via webcam, since most of the creative team is out in Los Angeles and I'm across the country.

9. What would you recommend for anyone interested in dinosaurs or any prehistoric creatures to do?

First and foremost: read about ancient life! (Even easier now with the Internet!). And go to zoos and walk around in the wild: get to know how modern life works to help better understand the past. 
For anyone who still wants to learn more about Thomas Holtz, visit his website.

The picture of Holtz and the above encyclopedia picture belong to Thomas Holtz and are from his website. Tyrannosaur drawing by me, the Tyrannosaurus by question 8 is property of the Dinosaur Revolution team.

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