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Dan LoRusso Interview

Interview with Dan LoRusso (
Questions by Dan Liebman (
Originally published 2014

Arguably the most treasured dinosaur toys ever created are from the Battat Boston Museum of Science series. Striking and scientifically sound, these precious pieces were crafted by Greg Wenzel and Dan LoRusso in the nineties. After Wenzel departed the paleoart scene, LoRusso became custodian of The Dinosaur Studio, featuring gorgeous resin kits from both artists. In 2014, he had the good fortune of reintroducing these models with the Battat Terra “Dan LoRusso Collection”. This line will feature the original series in new paint schemes, as well as brand new sculpts from the master paleoartist. That the series should be named for the artist is truly indicative of the incredible legacy of this man, and I am honored to interview Mr. Dan LoRusso for Prehistoric Times magazine.
- Dan Liebman

Q. In addition to the renowned Battat figures, you have quite an impressive body of work. Many people have seen your life size Tyrannosaurus model at the Boston Museum, for example. Do you have any other favorite projects?

A. Though all my dinosaur projects hold something special to me, my all time favorite is when my son Adam and I built life size Nyctosaurus pair for the Boston Museum of Science about 6 years ago. Having Adam work with me on the project made it very special indeed! He is an artist in his own right, as well as a tattoo artist (his main job), and graphic designer.

Q. How did you partnership with Greg Wenzel come about? Do you feel you complemented each other’s style, and what differences might we notice when comparing your work?

A. The MOS Boston had the Dinamation Dinosaurs on display in the early 90’s and decided to have a Dinosaur Weekend with locals showing off their collections and talent. I was there with my collection of painted up Kaiyodo resins and the beginnings of my first sculpture, a 1:35th scale Pachyrhinosaurus. Greg had his nearly finished 1:10th Centrosaurus in Super Sculpey and a drawing easel, where he was sketching the Centrosaurus using the maquette as a model. I was very impressed with his work and we just simply started talking dinosaurs. Safari reps were in town on some business and visited the MOS for the show. Greg and I exchange business cards with them. Greg and I exchanged phone numbers and became friends. (Jeesh, sounds like we we’re dating, doesn’t it!?) After a while Safari contacted both of us and we began sculpting mostly extant animals for them and then did a couple of tube series dinosaurs for them. Greg did the 1:5th scale Velociraptor (Safari’s “Dinosaurs of China” series). We later decided to start The Dinosaur Studio and the rest is, as they say, is history! As for our styles, I think the fact that we collaborated on as well as worked on many projects together made our styles complementary to each other. Greg has been sculpting much longer than I have, and has a more refined touch to his work. My work is a bit rougher, kind of like our personalities!! Ha!

Q. Everyone knows you as “the Battat guy” – and the new Battat packaging even has your name on it – which is especially impressive, as most people have no idea who has sculpted their dinosaur figures. What does this figure series mean to you?

A. Well, without going in to my complete medical history, Three years ago October I broke my back moving a small book case. Not normal for a guy who lifted 100 plus pounds on a daily basis. After a barrage of testing, it turns out I have Multiple Myeloma, a blood cancer. I was laid up for 3 months prior to the discovery of the cancer and went through months of chemo culminating in a stem cell transplant. So, I am now 4 inches shorter than I was 3 years ago due to compressed vertebrae and I am on chemo and numerous pills for the rest of my life. But, I am here!! The worst side effect for the chemo is neuropathy in my fingertips. Could I sculpt again? I didn’t even want to try! Then, last September Joe Battat of Mason Battat Ltd. gave me a call out of the blue and asked if we could meet. He and his production manager flew into Logan Airport here in Boston to discuss a potential project. When Joe first saw me he briskly walked over and gave me a big hug!! I felt like I was a long lost relative. Awesome way to start a meeting!! We discussed the dinosaur project for Target and after lunch, parted ways with both of us feeling this was going to be great! I felt renewed and inspired again! After a few sculptures were completed Joe discussed using my name on the packaging, The Dan LoRusso Collection. I thought he was joking at first! I am humbled and honored that he as well as others in the dinosaur community think that much of me and my work.

Q. Perhaps your most famous sculpture is the rearing Diplodocus for the Battat line. Can you tell us a little about the design of this beautiful piece?

A. I have always tried to put “life” into my sculptures, a turn of the head, weight shifting, foot lifting, and such. We all wanted the Battat Museum of Science, Boston series of toys to stand out, not only for their scientific accuracy but for their life like appearance. When it came to the Diplodocus, I was influenced by a Greg Paul painting as well as the Barosaurus mount at the AMNH in New York and the consequent Kaiyodo model depicting the same scene. It was a no brainer for me to depict a sauropod in this rearing manner.

Q. The original Boston MOS series had an explosive use of color and patterns, while their reissued counterparts will be more subdued. You have mentioned this was intended to give the models more appeal among the collector crowd, who will presumably see these models as more realistic. What influences your designs for painting these and other models?

A. I think the “explosive use of color and patterns” was a 90’s thing. Luis Rey kind of led the way there. Since the original series became collectors’ items, it made sense to repaint them as to not devalue the first series, and not piss off the collectors! Also, thoughts on coloration have shifted a bit in my head, and I am reaching for a more plausible coloration without being too boring! Some of my influences come from extant nature as well as other artists. If I see a painting of a particular animal that simply makes me say “ Yeah, that looks awesome!” I use that as a starting point for my painting of a scheme.

Q. You have said that Battat has been very flexible, even allowing you to choose the species featured in this new line. Have any of your ideas been rejected, and do you plan to push the envelope and test this freedom they’ve given you?

A. For me, Battat has been the ideal company to work for. The only guidelines on the dinosaurs was that the finished piece be between 5” and 7” and a time frame, which I am a little behind on, but don’t tell anyone!! It was my choice on which critters to make as well as to make them 1:40th scale. This way they would be compatible with the original MOS, Boston Series. It just made sense to me. So, I have full control over the dinosaurs I choose to sculpt, and the color patterns for the paint masters. As with the MOS, Boston Series I contacted paleontologists for their input and critique. I wanted to maintain a level of familiarity with both series. Some of the Terra Series dinosaurs will have color patterns reminiscent of the MOS, Boston Series, kind of a subliminal suggestion. Battat has been very pleased with the finished products so far, so no negative feedback has been experienced.

Q. Although it is not yet certain how far this new Battat series will go, can you give us any hints of what else might be in the works?

A. I am under contract for a second series of 6 for the Terra Series. If it is as successful as I hope it will be, a third set and would be in the works, and so on. For my choices on what dinosaurs, I’m going with ones that I find interesting, newer discoveries, or dinosaurs that have missed the mark in my eyes so far as a toy. Don’t expect any dinosaur that hasn’t had a formal paper on it or any dinosaur that is in revision mode in the scientific community ( ie: Spinosaurus and Deinocheirus ). Not yet, anyway! As for the reissuing of the revised Battat MOS, Boston Series ( I have no idea what it will be called because licensing with the MOS, Boston is long expired ), if that series sells well there could always be the possibility of additional pieces for that!

Q. Some believe that commercial influences can have a negative impact on paleontology. However, your work seems to remarkably balance the best of both worlds. Do you believe there will always be conflict here, or can these two forces move concurrently?

A. I guess, yes, there will always be some negative impact from commercial influences, but as they say, “ Any publicity is good publicity!” The recent Walking with Dinosaurs and the upcoming Jurassic Park movie have received grumbles from the paleontology world. However, a new insurgence of dinosaur toys and related items, as well as interest in discoveries of new species, and hopefully new traveling exhibits, brings us the positive from the negative. A personal gripe of mine is Papo toys. Though they are magnificently sculpted, they are way too Jurassic Park and too little real science. But, that’s just me!

Q. Every artist has a different process for reconstructing these ancient life forms. Do you have any special techniques that you might share?

A. I’m old school, so no special techniques. I wish I had the time and patience to learn the computer programs such as Z-Brush and such so I could get the minute detail on my pieces like David Krentz. Love his work!

Q. You have no doubt seen drastic changes in the field of paleontology over the years. Is there anything in particular that stood out to you, perhaps having an unexpected effect on your work?

A. I think the whole feather issue. Who has them and how much feathering. I’m already getting feedback about the Nanshiungosaurus not being feathered. Just too big and bulky in my eyes to have feathers. I may be wrong, but I can’t go on the notion that because a relative of this beast that was 1/3rd the size and about 1/5th the weight had feathers, it also should have feathers. Same with quills on ceratopsians. Because Psittacosaurus had them doesn’t mean they ALL had them. To me it’s like thousands of years from now scientists find a partially mummified male lion and now then think that every great cat had a mane. Show me the proof, I’ll go with it!

Q. What do you think is the role of one’s creative energy, within the restrictions of a scientific reconstruction?

A. With me I try to follow the science as far is it will take me, then the artistic license comes in. What will make this look realistic and lifelike as well as plausible?

Q. Do you remember your earliest experience or introduction to the prehistoric world?

A. Egad!! I always had dinosaur toys. From the Marx Toys Prehistoric Play Set when I was 2 years old in 1955 ( also known as The Prehistoric Times Play Set, Mike Fredericks!! Ha Ha!) to the prizes in Shredded Wheat cereal boxes. Relatives ALWAYS knew to give me dinosaur related items for birthdays and Christmas!

Q. It seems that your family is very supportive and proud of your achievements. What do you find is most important to the artist within the family unit?

A. Though it may have driven her nuts at times, my lovely wife Leslie has always believed in me because through thick and thin I’ve always come through. She was biting nails when the life size Tyrannosaurus project came along, but cried when it was finished! Not sure if they were tears of joy that it was over, tears of pride for me, or a little of both! Our son Adam not only followed in my footsteps as an artist, but in his own way, has exceeded me, and we couldn’t be prouder of him for it. My family has always been a tight knit Italian American family, and that has always kept us pushing ourselves to be better at what we do.

Q. While you have many admirers and are greatly respected in your field, some have difficulty relating to this profession. Do you find it can be tricky to explain this career to others?

A. It’s not an easy profession to be an artist in the first place. When you specialize in such a small niche as dinosaur art, you either have to be phenomenal or have a “real” job. I work at Petco! Ha! You do it for the love of the art and the personal satisfaction of the finished piece. Some will like it, others will condemn it. You have to have thick skin, for sure.

Q. Are there any artists who have left a lingering impression on you?

A. My first influence was Charles Knight. He was the first to give these magnificent creatures a plausible look. Zdeněk Burian was also one who made these creatures come to life for me. There are artists out there today that blow me away! David Krentz, Mike Trcic, Shane Foulkes, and Tony McVey just to mention a few.

Q. If someone visits you on a typical day, or perhaps a day off, what should we expect to see you getting up to?

A. My little bunny Remy is the first thing on my list. Little old man is over 10 years old and got me through some tough days when I first became ill. My “office” is the dining room without the dining room table. I have a 29 gallon Nano Reef aquarium with all live corals that I am very proud of. Shelves loaded with dinosaur sculptures. Some are my own, but most are works from other sculptors and the Kaiyodo collections.

Q. If you could keep one living dinosaur as a pet, what would it be?

A. Easy one! Pachyrhinosaurus has always been my favorite dinosaur. Probably a lot easier to keep than a theropod! Now that there are 3 distinct species, I’ll have to get going on sculpting them all. Oops, did I just say that?

Thanks very much, Dan!

My pleasure! Thank you!