I want people to experience the fun of discovery and the joy of learning through dinosaurs.
Mr. Dinosaur (Tanaka Masashi)
This exhibition, which presents a scientific look at how the dinosaurs lived on the ancient continent of Laramidia, was curated by Tanaka Masashi, aka Mr. Dinosaur. Don’t let his cute nickname and friendly demeanor mislead you: he is a dinosaur expert who went to Canada at age 16 and studied at the University of Alberta, a hub for dinosaur research.
As a “science communicator,” he has gone on talk shows, written books, done illustrations...and he has filled this exhibition with his cutting-edge knowledge and ideas. His goal? To show us why the dinosaurs are so special.
Even I didn’t think
we could get Lane to Japan.
I think you would agree that DinoScience is a new kind of dinosaur exhibition. Would you also agree that the heart of the exhibition is Lane, this miraculously well preserved Triceratops?
Mr. Dinosaur: Yes, I would. When we started talking about this exhibition, my very first idea was to get the actual Lane specimen, but at the time it seemed impossible. Lane had been on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science since 2012, and hadn’t been loaned out once. Lane died on what was then Laramidia, he was excavated 66 million years later, and now he is leaving Houston, USA, crossing the oceans, and making his first visit to Japan. It’s so cool that we got approval for this.
Can you tell us more about what makes Lane the Triceratops such an amazing specimen?
Mr. Dinosaur: The Triceratops was an extremely successful dinosaur, so we’ve found quite a few fossils. However, the number of fossils where we have the whole body, from the nose to the tip of the tail, is very limited. We’ve excavated hundreds of Triceratops fossils, but only a handful have more than half the body. You have to be really lucky to make a find like that.
And even among that group, Lane is special. First of all, he is the best Triceratops ever found in terms of the percentage of the skeleton preserved. Also, fossils are very often deformed or shattered, but Lane isn’t. That almost never happens. And even more amazingly, his skin remains, which is very uncommon with fossils. The skeleton alone is incredible, but a fair amount of the body’s skin was preserved. In sum, this is the most beautiful Triceratops specimen we humans have ever seen.
So that’s why you call Lane “miraculous.” Because he’s so well preserved, even the skin.
Mr. Dinosaur: Exactly. Looking at this fossilized skin, you can actually see the dinosaur, in a way you can only imagine with the skeleton. His body was covered with these large scales, about the size of a human hand, and the shape of the scales was different on his back and his belly.... What’s amazing about Lane is that he can make you feel the reality, the life of dinosaurs, and make you believe this creature did indeed roam the earth.
The Black Hills Institute of Geological Sciences, which was in charge of the installation of Lane, carefully reproduced what he would have looked like when he was alive. Of all the skeletons we have, Lane is the closest thing to what the Triceratops was “really” like.
At this exhibition, you can really feel
that dinosaurs once roamed the earth.
In the Late Cretaceous, the land that today makes up the western part of North America was a continent known as Laramidia. So how did this become the overarching theme of the exhibition?
Mr. Dinosaur: Lane himself is of course a priceless specimen, but I really want to show you the world that he and the other Triceratops lived in.
In a typical exhibition, dinosaurs are usually organized by their evolutionary tree, not by the era or region they lived in. I think a lot of people at exhibitions like those just walk by the dinosaurs without really feeling that they were living creatures, that they lived in a specific world in a specific way.
And so, for this dinosaur exhibition, I really wanted to focus on a specific era and region, and give people a deeper understanding of Laramidia, this continent where Lane lived.
In addition to all the fossils, you can also see some extremely realistic CG dinosaurs displayed using some of Sony’s latest technology.
Mr. Dinosaur: As you know, it’s not uncommon to see CG dinosaurs on TV or in the movies. But the dinosaurs you see in movies are primarily characters in those movies. We don’t have many films that were made with scientific accuracy in mind.
A theme of this exhibition is “recreating the world of the dinosaurs,” and I supervised every aspect of the CG, from the structure of the bodies to the skin texture to the way the dinosaurs move. Even if we didn’t get 100% there, I do think we’ve come closer than anyone thus far at representing real dinosaurs on film.
And if you watch those images alongside the skeletons inside the hall, you’ll feel the power of the dinosaurs even more strongly. In the video, it feels as if you’ve put a lot of effort into recreating not just the dinosaurs, but also their natural environment.
Mr. Dinosaur: In the era and the place where Lane lived, what other dinosaurs were there? What sorts of plant life? Was the weather hot, or cool? Was the air nice and crisp, or was it humid and muggy? I want people to really get a sense of what it was like. I want them to think, “The dinosaurs really did roam the earth, and this was their life.” I don’t think there’s ever been a dinosaur exhibition quite like that.
I hope this exhibition changes the
way you see the world.
Mr. Dinosaur, what is the most interesting thing about studying dinosaurs?
Mr. Dinosaur: I think the idea of evolution is a major reason I am so curious about all living things. The creatures alive today, the dinosaurs alive back then, and every living thing on this earth, without exception, is the result of evolution. The diversity of evolution is awe-inspiring. And I think the dinosaurs are one of the most obvious representations of that.
If you look at the sizes, shapes and abilities of all these different dinosaurs, and ask why they were the way they were, you find that the answers are closely linked to a dinosaur’s natural environment, including the other creatures in it. Our planet is 4.6 billion years old, and the dinosaurs were alive for part of that. That massive sense of scale is why I find the dinosaurs, and by extension evolution, so fascinating.
I think a key part of this exhibition is that science, from lab research to excavation, becomes entertainment. It’s fun.
Mr. Dinosaur: I think that education—by which I mean studying, learning, and trying new things—is the biggest form of entertainment we humans have. You don’t need to bend the truth or exaggerate, if you just express the science in the right way, I think everyone will enjoy it. Put another way, if we do a good job of explaining the nature of existence and of our world, most people are going to find it interesting. That’s what I believe. And so the way we express ourselves is crucial.
Even just putting the same facts in a slightly different order will change a person’s sense of surprise or discovery, how they feel. How I can make sure all our attendees have a really great time, in their own way and at their own pace? That’s a question I’ve asked myself constantly during my work on this project.
One final question. What does DinoScience mean to you?
Mr. Dinosaur: Of course I hope it gets people interested in dinosaurs, but I also hope that dinosaurs help people understand what I was just talking about: the fun of learning, and the joy of discovery. That’s the common thread linking everything I do.
Learning new things makes your world bigger. As for me, I love dinosaurs, and dinosaurs have taken me on an amazing journey, they’ve allowed me to meet so many amazing people, including during my curation work here. I hope DinoScience inspires people to find their own passion, something they’re crazy about, the same way I’m crazy about dinosaurs. I want you to come out of this exhibition seeing the world a little differently from the way you did before.