Sculptures created for the Denver Zoo's new Elephant Passage.
The Art of Pangaea Designs
Pangaea Designs was founded on the principal that art can bridge the gap between scientists and museum audiences. We take pride in producing the most scientifically accurate models available. Hyper-realistic models offer the museum audience a believable portrayal of how an animal may have looked in life, sparking imagination and curiosity. Owner Dennis J. Wilson brings 35 years of experience as an artist and anatomist to every project.
About the Artist
Dennis J. Wilson, Pangaea Designs
I am a paleo-artist who has found a way to fuse two passions—art and nature—and been fortunate enough to build a business around them. People assume I’ve always loved dinosaurs, but when I was young I never thought I’d be doing anything like this for a living. I’ve always been interested in art and fulfilled one of my dreams by receiving a Bachelors of Fine Art from Rhode Island School of Design in 1988. Then I moved to Seattle where I started my career as a studio assistant for artists Dale Chihuly and Buster Simpson.
During this time, I started collecting roadkill to use in “found object” pieces. The piece was accepted into a couple of juried art shows and I was on my path to becoming a professional artist. After a few years, I left and headed to New York, without a job or even the prospect of work. Fortunately, I spotted an advertisement for a position at the American Museum of Natural History. I applied and was hired as a museum preparator, cultivating my interest in paleontology.
During my tenure at the AMNH, I was fortunate to work on a recently discovered specimen from Mongolia, Mononykus olecranus. As I uncovered the bones, aware that I was the first person to ever see this creature, I saw my opportunity to make this skeleton into a fleshed-out animal. I spent many hours working with paleo-ornithologist Luis Chiappe and paleontologist Mark Norell on the specifics of the bones. Since this animal had never been sculpted before, it was up to me to complete the missing parts and transform them into a believable, fleshed-out dinosaur. Comparing isolated sections of the skeleton to extant animals, I used a combination of parts from reptiles, birds, moles, and anteaters for my reconstruction. It was theorized from a fossilized halo of keratinous fibers that Mononykus was covered with primitive, insulating feathers, which I duly included using a process I developed with time and practice.
My process of dinosaur reconstruction starts with studying the skeleton and the most recent scientific data. I factor in what’s known about the paleo-ecology and speculate how this animal lived and what ecological niche it filled. Then I build a forensic reconstruction over the bones, taking into account what the fossil can tell me about the shape of the living animal and using comparative anatomy to fill in the blanks. Next, I design a feather pattern and cover the dinosaur, beginning with the tail and finishing at the head, selecting and laying each feather one at a time like roof shingles. The finishing touches involve painting any exposed skin areas and claws, and adding life-like glass eyes. This process can take up to 6 months for a relatively small dinosaur. My first feathered reconstruction was made in 1995. Since then I have reconstructed many feathered dinosaurs, especially in the past 7 years, including Archaeopteryx, Velociraptor, Sinosauropteryx, and Confuciusornis. It seems that the public is finally coming around to the idea that many dinosaurs were feathered.