October 3, 2011
I love dinosaurs, and I love puppets. Put the two together and I can’t resist. Among other things—such as the brand new dinosaur hall, which I’ll talk about in a later post—that is what brought me to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County last week. The institution has put together several shows featuring beautifully designed dinosaur puppets, and after seeing a sneak peek on YouTube, I just had to check one out for myself.
I was probably the oldest dinosaur fan in attendance for the museum’s afternoon “Dinosaur Encounters” program. Shortly after I arrived at the North American Mammal Hall where the shows take place, a small collection of toddlers, young children and their parents gathered around. The kids looked astounded when the museum’s fuzzy Tyrannosaurus puppet came roaring out onto the stage. While our host talked about thinking like a scientist and making observations to better understand prehistoric life, the dinosaur walked around the hall, snapped its impressive jaws, and bellowed its heart out. I think many of the kids in attendance were too young to even be scared. Most of them stared in wide-eyed amazement at what, to all appearances, was a real dinosaur right in front of them.
After the show I got a chance to get a closer look at the dinosaur thanks to its puppeteer, Brian Meredith. Drenched in sweat from running around in the hot suit for 15 minutes, Brian pointed out the relatively simple operation of the juvenile tyrannosaur. He simply steps into the dinosaurs body cavity and thinks like a tyrannosaur—as he walks, the dinosaur walks, and a series of strings and other instruments inside let him move the dinosaur’s body parts. The dinosaur’s deep-throated roaring, I was surprised to find out, was not pre-recorded but actually Brian growling through a sub-woofer to make what I consider to be some impressive dinosaur sounds. The hardest part of the operation, Brian said, is seeing where you’re going—the only view he gets of the outside is through a small opening in the tyrannosaur’s neck. Clearly, being inside a dinosaur isn’t easy.
September 23, 2011
I’m always a bit amused by dinosaur shooters. For the first time in 65 million years or more, non-avian dinosaur species again roam the planet and the best thing we can think of is to turn ‘em into chunky cat food. And, given the quality of many run-and-gun dinosaur adventures, do we really need any more games that pit machine-gun-toting players against hordes of Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus? Isn’t it about time for something different?
Whether you’re as tired of dinosaur shooters as I am, though, there’s no doubt they’ll keep coming. The chance to virtually shoot a bazooka at a raptor seems too good to resist, and the next game due to pop up in this genre is Primal Carnage. The game has been in development for a while, but earlier this month the shooter’s creators released a short video that shows what the actual gameplay is going to be like for a few of the human and dinosaurian characters. You can either try to pick off your dinosaur enemies at a distance as one of the humans, or get up close and personal with teeth and claws as one of the several theropod classes. I have to admit, stomping around as a Tyrannosaurus is pretty tempting, but we’ll have to see whether Primal Carnage can really deliver what it promises.
July 1, 2011
Long Live Rock! At Archosaur Musings, David Hone lists some musicians who have been honored by paleontologists. “In addition to Qiliania graffini [named for the lead singer of the punk band BAD RELIGION], the most obvious example would be the dinosaur Masiakasaurus knopfleri, named for Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Trilobites, I know, cover the Beatles in some detail (even Pete Best gets one!) and there are ones for the Grateful Dead and Mick Jagger too.”
T-Rex Isn’t Going to Take It Anymore: Everything Dinosaur fact-checks a popular insult: “Using the term ‘dinosaur’ to represent an inefficient, outmoded person or organization seems a little bit unfair. On balance the Dinosauria were rather successful, arguably more successful than many orders of Mammalia, including our own part of the Mammalian family tree.”
Please Don’t Feed the Therapods: Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs points us to “Dinosaur Zookeeper,” a free online game at Adult Swim. “Take your fledgling dinosaur park from empty and safe to full and incredibly dangerous…. Remember, if too many visitors die it will be your job that’s going extinct.”
An Intersection of Time and Space: You can find Dinochick hanging out at the corner of Jurassic Avenue and Cretaceous Street.
All the Dinosaurs of the Rainbow: Sharon at Omegafauna shows off her impressive childhood collection of vintage “Dino Brights” toy figures.
The Pencil is Not Yet Extinct: At Paleo Illustrata, Stu Pond explains why, even in the age of sophisticated computer graphics, “the sketchbook is still arguably more important than any other tool an artist has at their disposal.”
Paleo Justice: At RMDC Paleo Lab, Anthony Maltese recounts how he and his team foiled a fossil poacher at a Kansas excavation site.
June 24, 2011
The rocky, shrub-covered landscape of the American West looks like it should be home to living dinosaurs. Even though Apatosaurus, Allosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus and many, many other dinosaurs inhabited a variety of environments quite different from the landscape as it is today, the places where dinosaur bones are found feel as if prehistoric creatures should still be making their homes there. The very geological formations which contain the dinosaurs create beautiful and strange landscapes of crumpled and shifted rock dotted with twisted junipers and fragrant sagebrush—these wild places have an air of the ancient to them, and it is difficult to resist imagining an Allosaurus lurking around the massive rock fins of a place like Arches National Monument or a Diplodocus set against the backdrop of Dinosaur National Monument. Sharon Farber drew out this idea in her short story “The Last Thunder Horse West of the Mississippi,” in which the feuding 19th century paleontologists E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh compete for a modern-day dinosaur. New author J.P. Carlson has followed suit with his novel Rex Riders.
Much like the graphic novel Tommysaurus Rex, Carlson’s book is not so much a dinosaur tale as it is a coming-of-age story. Zeke Calhoun, a 14-year-old boy living on his uncle Jesse’s ranch, is out of place in late 19th century Texas. Talkative and whiny, he often gets on his uncle’s nerves, and he stirs up a mess of trouble when he tries to return a rich rancher’s prize stallion and ends up looking like a horse thief in the process. Zeke’s mistake plays right into a long-running rivalry between his uncle and the wealthy rancher Dante D’Allesandro, but just when it looks like the teen has ruined his uncle’s business, a serious of fortuitous events gives him the chance to save the ranch and prove himself.
Zeke’s adventure, played out in three acts, is what you might get if you threw The Valley of Gwangi, The Lost World and One Million Years B.C. in a blender with just a dash of Cowboys & Aliens. Cowboys, dinosaurs, aliens and prehistoric people all have their own roles to play, starting with a Triceratops that rampages through the middle of town. Things get even stranger when Zeke stumbles across a small Tyrannosaurus outfitted with riding gear and the wounded, tough-skinned humanoid who controls the dinosaur, and this discovery draws Zeke, his family and his friends into a dangerous conflict between the inhabitants of a prehistoric world and the nefarious D’Allesandro.
Rex Riders contains plenty of complicated plot elements, but Carlson admirably balances them as the plot unfolds. The focus on Zeke’s personal development is the anchor for the story (though the reader does lose sight of the main protagonist for a while during the second act). Dinosaurs and numerous action scenes liven things up, but most play a role in getting Zeke to realize something about himself rather than just being there for their own sake. A few black and white illustrations by Jim Calafiore are a welcome addition to the book as well, particularly since they mix modern restorations of dinosaurs with a classic, Ray Harryhausen feel. There was only one aspect of the book I felt disappointed by: a group of native warriors called the Cragnon receive almost no description, making it difficult to imagine what they look like.
Naturally Rex Riders leaves the door wide open for a sequel, but the books also stands well on its own. Young sci-fi and dinosaur fans will almost certainly love it, and the book reminded me of many of the classic stop-motion dinosaur movies I spent countless afternoons watching when I was a kid. If you like Westerns but wonder what it would be like to replace cattle with Triceratops and horses with Tyrannosaurus, definitely give Rex Riders a look.
June 23, 2011
Dinosaurs undoubtedly played host to other organisms—parasites have a deep history—but animator Eddie West took the idea in a different direction. Part “Flintstones”, part “Dino-Riders”, West created this short film about dueling towns on the backs of enormous dinosaurs. Naturally, though, the cartoon leaves plenty of unanswered questions—like how often the town is partially demolished because the dinosaurs feel the need to itch some of the masonry off their backs.
[Hat-tip to ART Evolved]