"I think art and science converge on this exhibition in special ways," said Robert Sullivan, associate director for public programs at the National Museum of Natural History.
The exhibit of art and artifacts based on the popular series of Dinotopia books by James Gurney opens Wednesday and will remain at the museum through Sept. 26.
Although dinosaurs died out millions of years before humans developed, the books depict a lost island where humans coexist with an array or dinosaurs long thought extinct.
Dennis O'Connor, the Smithsonian's director of science programs, said the exhibit is "a look at what fantasy can do to learning."
The lost world depicted in the books is "paleontologically absurd but at the same time fascinating," O'Connor said. It's thinking about what it would be like to live with dinosaurs that opens the mind to learning about them.
Gurney calls his work "reality-based fantasy."
He said he works closely with archeologists and other experts to make the dinosaurs he depicts as realistic as possible.
"I want to encourage children to see dinosaurs not just as monsters but as interesting creatures," Gurney said.
In his books, dinosaurs do some things real dinosaurs didn't, however, such as talk. One character, Bix, speaks several languages.
Gurney said he chose a parrot-beaked dinosaur for that part because it seemed to him that if any dinosaur were to be able to talk it would be one with a beak like a parrot.
His books have become increasingly popular with young people over the last 10 years.
His art will seem familiar to adults too, the style reminiscent of N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish.
Gurney, who also has done illustrations for magazines, said he developed the idea of Dinotopia while drawing realistic depictions of ancient cities for National Geographic.
In addition to original paintings from his books, the exhibit also includes video excerpts and models from a Dinotopia miniseries scheduled to appear on ABC television next month.