Dinosaur shadow




08/02/11- Not surprisingly, my interest in dinosaurs goes waaaaay back to my childhood: Monsters, robots, and army soldiers were a common interest for most baby-boomer boys. For me, that would be the early days of GI Joe and Marx dinosaurs... which makes me kind of a dinosaur. Although I never owned any of the '60s Marx dinosaurs, a childhood friend had a very healthy collection, and I fondly remember rushing to his house every day after school for our inventive playtime: I don't remember exactly what we did, but I remember the dinosaurs very well, and that he had a Mattel vacuform machine that he used to make little plastic suits for his army of Cynognathus critters.

I had a happy childhood, which is probably why I enjoy revisiting remembrances of it. Adulthood is happy too, and there are now lots of creative opportunities that didn't exist when I was growing up, mainly thanks to computers. I have no desire to play with dinosaurs as I used to, and I'm certain that my brain doesn't have that unrestrained and free-associating imagination that children seem to have and lose as they approach adulthood. It's not purely an adult nostalgia thing either, since I have no desire to buy old Marx dinosaurs at eBay. Instead, the old basic interest in the subject matter is still there, but it's been filtered through the ravages of adulthood-- I want some quality representations of dinosaurs. That quest is better funded now, thanks to the benefits of adulthood.

The old days were good, but one of the great things about being alive during these times is being able to experience the computer-generated images of "living" dinosaurs in movies like "Jurassic Park" and documentaries like "Walking With Dinosaurs" and the Nova productions. Although the old stop-motion animation dinos were breathtaking during their day and have a retro charm, the CGI dinos were a quantum leap in traversing the suspension-of-disbelief barrier. For adults who usually have a harder time with this than children, this is great news because it reduces the distraction of skepticism, leading to a more immersive experience. If you're not a paleontology geek, you're probably a step closer to a fuller enjoyment of the experience for the same reason. For most folks, it doesn't matter whether Jurassic Park's Velociraptors were grossly oversized, or that Tyrannosaurus rex might have been a scavenger who couldn't run very fast. That movie was great because it showed what dinosaurs might have looked like if we had been around to film them.

In that way, ignorance can be bliss. I lament the thought that I, as an adult, seem to have less imagination than I did as a child to feather over the gaps, and seem to require a more concrete, accurate, and visually realistic depiction to keep me happy. I think that's why I'm not very interested in collecting the Marx dinosaurs. They would fulfill a nostalgic longing, but they don't look realistic enough or have high enough production value to fulfill that other, stronger longing. I think that's also why I'm not particularly interested in collecting the slew of plastic toy dinosaurs that have been manufactured-- although some look very realistic, many of them look like toys... which is okay, because that's what they're supposed to be! It's just not what I'm interested in.

Accuracy is a different matter. I'm not a paleontology geek, so I'm not conversant in the latest theories or most recent reconstructions of these long-dead creatures. For me, that's okay. Many issues like coloration, skin texture/coverings, and behavior are ongoing debates that may never be resolved since there aren't any dinosaurs roaming around today to provide definitive answers. All we know are from fossil fragments and some very smart folks who've done the detective work and theorizing to reconstruct what might have been. It's a moving target built from a relatively small sample of fragmentary evidence representing a huge expanse of time, so I'm not very fussy about the finer detail points of accuracy in a figure; whether a snout might be slightly long, or the toes might be wrongly depicted. Hell, I've never seen one in the flesh, so how would I know? If it someday becomes accepted theory that the Tyrannosaurus rex was a scavenger who couldn't run, many expensive dioramas depicting Tyrannosaurus rex as predator will be condemned by some as outdated and wrong. However, it won't stop the depictions from looking cool and realistic (though perhaps not accurate), just as the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park continue to be believeable as terrifying prehistoric predators. For me, ballpark close accuracy is good enough, as long as the representation looks cool and reasonably realistic.

Spending My Way To Happiness My descent into Dino-Consumerism Hell started with an eBay search for dinosaurs, which turned up scads of Carnegie, Papo, and Safari dinosaurs. They looked okay but what really grabbed my attention was an auction for an expensive dinosaur skeleton. That steered me towards a search for a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, which turned up the 1:20 scale resin statue by Dinostoreus. Unfortunately (fortunately?), it was out of stock at most websites and wasn't available anywhere for a price I'd be willing to pay. Somehow that led to Amazon.com, which had a huge 36" plastic skeleton model by Elenco for a fraction of the price of the Dinostoreus version. The pictures and reviews were very encouraging, so I placed my order. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived, since it was an incredibly cool and huge display piece for the price: Much nicer than I'd expected.

Elenco Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton model

Elenco Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton model

The Elenco skeleton is a brilliant piece of manufacturing and product design. Its central structural support is an aluminum bar with a plastic piece affixed to the center: The ribs, vertebrae, tail and head slide onto ithe bar's square cross-section, so it can be easily assembled and disassembled. Leg pieces connect to each other by heavy duty tabs sliding into slots. The truly impressive part about this design is that when you're finished, the skelton's feet are placed into impressions in the base, and the thing stands perfectly balanced on two feet, in a stable pose, with no glueing and no additional support! Amazing. If I had the patience, persistence, and drive that I had when I was younger, I'd consider this great fodder for an accurizing project. These days, I'm content to leave it as is and spend the time and energy saved doing other things.

Can 'o Worms Opened I could have stopped there, but I had bookmarked the Dinostoreus website and returned to look at some of their other stuff. After oogling their 1:20 Triceratops skeleton, I checked out their "Finished Model" section, saw their clearance-priced 1:35 scale Allosaurus, and placed a trial order. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived: A nicely detailed resin statue with some heft, on an attractive wooden base with a brass nameplate. It didn't feel or look like a toy.

Dinostoreus Allosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Allosaurus resin statue 1:35

The spending snowballed after that: Their 1:35 Stegosaurus and 1:10 Deinonychus followed...

Dinostoreus Stegosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Stegosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Deinonychus resin statue 1:10

...and then their 1:35 Ankylosaurus and 1:35 Triceratops.

Dinostoreus Ankylosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Ankylosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Triceratops resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Triceratops resin statue 1:35

I finally succumbed to temptation and curiosity and got their 1:20 Triceratops skeleton. I made a few modifications... (removed the support bar)

Dinostoreus Triceratops skeleton 1:20

Dinostoreus Triceratops skeleton 1:20

skeleton Triceratops Tyrannosaurus Rex 1:20

The Big Splurge I wanted a 1:20 Triceratops skeleton to display with the Elenco Tyrannosaurus rex, which seemed close to that scale, and Dinostoreus seemed to be the only game in town. Apparently, Elenco only makes that one dinosaur skeleton-- if they'd made others, I'd have bought them. The Dinostoreus skeletons are considerably more expensive; part of that is due to the fancy presentation on the wooden base, and the method of production: They're resin castings instead of injection molded plastic which indicates that they're small production runs (and therefore expensive). Naturally, I was curious about the skeleton itself: Was it vastly superior to the Elenco plastic one, in consideration of the vast price difference?

If I try to see it through the eyes of others, I suppose the answer would be "no"... although I don't regret the purchase. The answer is complicated due to the skeletons' different target audiences. The Elenco skeleton is designed to be an educational toy, to be assembled and disassembled by youngsters as a learning experience. It looks plenty cool, and kids aren't going to squalk about the seam in the bone that mounts the arms, or the screwholes. The Dinostoreus product is clearly a higher quality skeleton designed for adult collectors. It required much more work from the manufacturer to produce than the plastic model. It's a finished model, so all the parts have been assembled, the seams filled, the the steel support rod embedded and screwed down tightly to the wood base; It's a heavy piece due to the wooden base, and it's designed to survive transport as a finished model. There's no user assembly at all, and the end user is not supposed to muck with anything, except unpacking and displaying it. It's packaged in a well-designed styrofoam clamshell to prevent breakage, and instructions are provided for how to remove it to prevent breakage. Remove it and display it.

The overall "look" goes surprisingly well with the Elenco model, or vice versa-- the colors and shading are nearly identical from a distance. Up close, the texture is different and the plastic does have a slight sheen that the resin model doesn't. The texture of the resin casting is matte and grainy and doesn't have that injection-molded plastic feel. Both models are made of rigid materials, although thin pieces like ribs do flex. While the resin is very strong, I suspect that it's more brittle than the model plastic and would snap sooner if flexed too far. However, that's not something that an adult collector would likely test on an expensive display model.

Questions like this ("Is it worth it?") are often answered with the car analogy: A Kia ain't a Porsche, but it'll get you there. It's basically a decision about what you want and what you can afford. In the case of the Triceratops, it's currently a moot point because Elenco doesn't make one. However, in the case of the Tyrannosaurus rex, there is a choice (if the Porsche version becomes widely available again).

Removing the Support Bar Obviously, it can be done, but I don't recommend that you do it unless you're very confident about your ability to fix things, and are good at psychologically recovering from failure. There's a relatively high potential for experiencing stress, especially when you think about how much the thing cost!

That said, I wanted to do it because I didn't like the way that the support bar suspended the skeleton above the base: None of the feet touched, leaving a gap of about 1/8 of an inch. I tried bending the support bar to make the rear feet touch, but the metal wouldn't stay bent: I later learned that it's because the support is a solid steel rod and you'd need to put it in a sturdy vise to attempt it. Eventually, I figured out that the rod is screwed into the base, very tightly. Once you unscrew it, you've got a dino skeleton lollipop. I wanted to remove the rod from the dino skeleton, so I tried different techniques, eventually using a heavy duty soldering gun to apply heat to the rod near where it connected to the spine. (Note: this may not be the best way to do it; cutting the rod at the skeleton probably would have been an easier, safer route.)

After a long while, the rod seemed to loosen as the resin softened (the rod was getting quite hot, too). I tried wriggling and twisting the rod out, but it was a no-go, so I continued with the heat. It turns out that the rod is not a simple rod at all, but the top is "T" shaped. I suspect that it's embedded in the casting. Therefore, you can't easily pull it out without compromising quite a bit of the resin casting. Eventually, enough heat will soften the resin enough for you to rip it out, but you'll learn that while resin does have some thermoplastic qualities, it's not the same as styrene or ABS... it doesn't completely melt. Subjected to enough stress, it will become slightly pliable, and then cracks will form. In my case, I ripped the rod out, leaving a sizeable cavity in the spine. Then I noticed the troubling cracks, which reached around to the topside. I immediately applied thick Gorilla superglue inside the cavity, while holding the heavy skull and spine vertically to reduce lateral gravitational stress at the fractures-- I did not want them to completely separate. It was quite challenging to devise a support which held the skeleton vertically while holding the model vertically with one hand! Once it was supported (using a vise to hold it balanced on its tail), I had both hands free to mix up a batch of epoxy putty to fill the cavity. After the putty cured, I painted it with Vallejo acrylic that I'd used to paint WWII German tanks -- Green Brown (looks like tan) matched the base color pretty well, topped with a black wash.

I wasn't sure how well this would work, but it seems to be holding up. The skull is quite dense and heavy, creating a center of balance that's closer to the skull than the original location of the rod (in fact, the skull's weight tends to lift the rear legs slightly). In my opinion, the rod is somewhat overkill, since it's a thick and heavy steel rod suitable for supporting something much heavier than the lightweight resin skeleton. The placement of the rod appears to be relieving the forward-concentrated weight of the skull from the front legs (which are attached to the ribs, which are attached to the spine). However, since the head's the heaviest part, the rod concentrates the downward pull just forward of the rod support point. Personally, I think that if this were an issue of significant concern, the support point should be closer to the head; however, since everything seems to be hunky-dory, I assume that the resin is strong and rigid enough for the relatively thin spine from the shoulders to the head to handle the pull of gravity, unsupported. If that's so, the front legs/ribs/spine joins are probably strong enough to support the weight as well, so it probably doesn't need the support rod at all. Nevertheless, and just to be sure, I cut the rod and capped it with a rubber pad so that it could be used to support the spine anywhere between the original point and forward of it. This allows rod-supported display with the feet touching the base (since the rod is now a custom length), or display without the rod or base.

Desktop Models Dinostoreus' "Finished Models" are often generically referred to as Desktop Models, to distinguish them from the injection-molded plastic toys. These are positioned as upscale products which is reflected in the price and often include a fancy display base. The Japanese company, Kinto/Favorite (with which Dinostoreus shares roots, but is now a separate entity), produces both Desktop Model and Soft Model (toy) versions of some of their dinosaurs.

One of the differences is the material-- resin is more rigid and brittle than most thermoplastics used for toys (I abhor PVC figures, since the material feels waxy and cheap and the stuff flexes too easily. One of the worst examples of this was an articulated Velociraptor figure produced by Resaurus a long time ago, which couldn't stand.) Resin is commonly used for limited-production statues, sometimes mixed with porcelain/metal/stone/wood powders to alter its look and feel.

Resin used to be the only choice for producing detailed, intricate castings. One reason for that was the limited production expectancy-- inexpensive silicone molds could be extremely soft and flexible to capture intricate undercut detail because durability wasn't needed for the relatively small production runs. The high-volume stuff produced in factories used expensive, durable steel molds. Production technology has changed a lot though, and nowadays, factories in China can produce some incredibly detailed mass-market stuff. The point is that resin Desktop Models don't have a monopoly on crisp detail, and that some toys have incredible detail. However, mass-production toys do have safety-related restrictions that impose design limitations (no razor-sharp parts or small parts choking hazards).

Resin doesn't seem to have any inherent and unique advantages for paint ops either. The Dinostoreus finishes are decent, but pale in comparison to what a model artist could do. Makes sense, because the factory doesn't hire accomplished artists and isn't willing to devote hours to painting each casting. The same applies to mass-produced plastic dinosaurs, which have much better paint ops than they used to (depending on the company, of course).

It's hard to pin down the difference, and why one would pay considerably more for a resin dinosaur than a plastic one; it seems to be a "feel" thing, having to do with weight/heft and rigidity. A number of years back I bought a painted resin statue of Frazetta's Princess; shortly thereafter, painted plastic dioramas of some of Frazetta's work became available, which I didn't buy. Although they looked neat and I love Frazetta's work, they didn't seem to have it (whatever "it" is). I couldn't see them as being anything other than plastic action figures. Not that there's anything wrong with plastic action figures...

I have to admit that I like the wooden bases with the brass plaques. Their large footprint does limit the density of a display, but I prefer that since it enforces a clean focus and discourages the urge to buy everything and pack the display so tightly that it resembles a toybox dumped on a shelf. Been there, done that.

Scale Representation 1:40 seems to be the most popular scale for dinosaur toys, and Kinto/Favorite appears to be shifting to that scale for their new Desktop Model releases. Since my scope of acquisition is limited to representatives of the most well-known dinocritters, I like the idea of concentrating on 1:35 scale; It seems to be a fairly well-established standard for resin (Dinostoreus still has a few that I haven't bought), and Tamiya has a series of dinosaur dioramas at that scale. I have an unbuilt model kit of Tamiya's Brachiosaurus, purchased specifically for its scale because I want to see the entire collection in correct size relationship (excluding the 1:10 Deinonychus, which just looks neat). Unfortunately, the published scale doesn't necesarily jive with scientific fact: Dinostoreus' 1:35 Triceratops is considerably larger than any discovered Triceratops scaled down to 1:35. You can justify a too-small rendition as being a juvenile, but it's harder to explain an oversized rendition.

Since Dinostoreus' 1:35 Tyrannosaurus rex wasn't currently available, I ordered Geene Models' 1:35 painted version. The website pics look great-- It should be interesting seeing how a truly small producer tackles the job!

Dinostoreus (dinostoreus.com) Since the majority of this article is about this company's products, I thought I should mention some miscellaneous stuff. From what I've read online, they used to be a sister company of Kinto/Favorite, and handled production/distribution for the US market. They've since separated from Kinto/Favorite (who now have a different US importer/distributor). Therefore, some of their Dinostoreus-branded products share the same sculpture as the older Kinto/Favorite products but with minor production differences. From what I've seen, the old-sculpt imported Kinto/Favorite products tend to be higher-priced than the Dinostoreus versions, no doubt due to the fact that they're imported.

Based on my orders, I have nothing but praise for Dinostoreus. I like everything they've sold me. Everything has shipped quickly (for an extremely reasonable S&H fee) and arrived in perfect condition.

They seem to be experiencing some growing pains with some key items being out of stock, but no doubt these are hard times for a small company dealing with overseas manufacturing, and serving a niche market. While their website is attractive and very easy to navigate, there are a number of unfinished pages that would be cool, but aren't really essential to the website. However, the product pages would benefit from having more views and closeup pictures of their products.

--08/06/11, more to come...

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus rex 08/15/11- I found one for a reasonable price, and although I'm still waiting for the Geene version, I couldn't resist... heck, it's a T-rex!

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus resin statue 1:35

This is a relatively lean Tyrannosaurus in a staid and generic lumbering pose (which I like). I'd prefer that the mouth be open a little less, or perhaps closed, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to have one or two in the typical roaring pose.

The reddish/black stripe paint scheme is very similar to their Allosaurus, which appeals to me for its logical consistency (as a predator's coloration) and as a unique color for a Tyrannosaurus, although having two theropods the same color diminishes the uniqueness. For variety, I almost wish it were a more traditional Jurassic Park green/gray. There seems to be quite a bit of variation in the paint ops from model to model, based on pics I've seen on the 'Net: Some have the underbelly shading going much further up the side. Generally speaking though, they go awfully heavy on the yellow drybrushing, and it's a brightish yellow that photographs more intensely than it appears in person. The teeth painting is a little sloppy, with some white paint occasionally bridging the gum between teeth.

There are some other things that could be improved: While the scale texture and folds are very crisply depicted, the hands/claws received only perfunctory treatment. In my opinion, the arms are a bit too long, mouth interior is inexplicably lopsided, the lower jaw is more "U"-shaped than "V"-shaped, and the teeth a bit too uniform, short, and crudely sculpted. For my personal preference, the expression isn't quite as menacing/"evil" as I'd like. Sideshow Collectables made a great maquette a few years back that represents an old, scarred, and gnarly Tyrannosaurus-- very menacing with a lot of "personality"... but in a much larger scale so I'm not too disappointed that they're nearly impossible to find nowadays. Geene's T-rex should provide an interesting variation, and by my peculiar logic, having a second Tyrannosaurus frees me to do some work on this one.

Modding the T-rex 08/18/11- I collected a bunch of pics of toys, resin sculptures, paintings, computer graphics, skeletons, etc., to use as guides for my mods; the idea being that somewhere between all the pics, you could see some patterns that might lead to the aggregate truth. Mainly, I wanted to correct the arms and the teeth but I was open to anything. Despite the fact that fossil reconstructions were the basis for all the flesh-on reconstructions, there were considerable differences between the renditions. Some of it was probably due to the evolving knowledge about T-rex, some of it was probably due to artistic license and the fact that we don't know what meat suit the skeletons wore, and some of it was probably just due to aiming for the lofty standards of "good 'nuff" for a toy (a T-rex is pretty recognizable, no matter how accurate the rendition is).

That's why it wasn't easy to figure out how short and stubby the arm should be-- trying to extrapolate from fossil reconstructions wasn't productive since it depends on how much meat overlaid the skeleton. I studied several pics of short-armed T-rexes and tried to get the general look, allowing for the difference in arm poses. The Dremel was used to cut off the arms at the shoulders and lop off the claws. The shoulders and upper arms were grinded flatter so that the arms could be swept back more and pulled tighter to the body. The forearms were shortened from the wrist and the claws were posed with a slight angle change. The indistinct and blunt claws were grinded and and built up into a sharper, more hooked shape.

For teeth, the most reliable reference seemed to be the fossils. It's hard to see in the pics, but the original teeth were mostly uniformly-sized, thick, blunt, and indiscriminately sculpted with flat sides. I lengthened a few with putty and thinned and shaped the others with an engraving bit and Exacto blade. It was tedious and frustrating work and I'm not entirely satisfied with it so far... I think it would have been easier and looked better to cut off all the teeth, fabricate new ones and embed them in a new putty gumline.

While I was in the area, I tried to minimize some of the mouth lopsidedness. I extended the tongue farther to the right at the rear, and grinded down the exterior right jaw, to reduce the thicker gum line outside the teeth. It doesn't completely fix the symmetry problem (the right interior ligament is too thick), but it's not noticeable unless you peer deep into the mouth. Depending on how he displays with the Geene T-rex, I may lop off his jaw and give him a closed mouth.

I touched up the paint scheme a bit to make the stripes more bold and extended the pattern to the face, to increase the "meanness". (Post photo, I went over the snout with thicker black paint for fuller coverage.)

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus resin statue 1:35

09/11/11- Still waiting for the Geene T-rex... I got bored with the simple burgandy & black stripe scheme, so I changed it to this green scheme, which I think is more interesting; it looks sort of sinister and ghoulish. Going to a lighter base makes dark washes more dramatic, and helps pre-compensate for the darkening from the washes. Dark blotches stand out more readily, and I think this results in a more realistic, "dirtier" look. Again, the camera and lighting do strange things to the color-- the repulsive pea-green shading looks much more subtle in person, to my eyes.

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus resin statue 1:35

Dinostoreus Tyrannosaurus resin statue 1:35


PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4