Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The (not quite) Ten Commandments for Dinosaur Collectibles

Dinosaur collectibles (both toys and more expensive, breakable, resin creations) have made huge strides forward in recent years, especially in terms of anatomical accuracy. While it's easy to dismiss the interests of us man- (and woman-) children, actual kids who know their dinosaurs are also more likely to plump for models that look 'real' just because, hey, a convincing-looking dinosaur is just that much cooler than one that looks like a goofy 1970s (or even 1990s) throwback. Obviously, certain concessions still need to be made, particularly for the toy market - for example, I don't think anyone's blaming manufacturers for truncating awkward sauropod tails.

Nevertheless, there are still persistent goofs - a lot of them stemming from palaeoart memes or good old pop culture inertia, but some of them from plain laziness - that could easily be avoided. With that in mind, I've drawn up this here list - the (not quite) Ten Dino Toy Commandments, if you will. As a bonus, these rules handily apply to other forms of palaeoart too! Hooray.

1. Thou shalt not be stingy when feathering thy maniraptors

Above: the Safari 'Great Dinos' Velociraptor is well-proportioned, and the head is excellently sculpted, but it's probably a little chilly owing to its lack of a warm feathery coat. Promotional pic from Safari's website.

Self-explanatory, really, and still an area where there's masses of room for improvement on all sides. It's space-year 2011 now - we've got to the stage where dystopian visions of shiny advertising screens in our public transport systems have become a nightmarish reality, but more positively we have also entered a new 'golden age' of discovery in palaeontology. The Mesozoic world becomes more fascinating, more outrageous, more colourful, and more vivid with each passing year. And yet still, damnit, manufacturers are inexplicably churning out scaly maniraptors like it's 1993.

What's more, anyone who isn't an idiot will agree that feathered maniraptors invariably look more attractive and far cooler than their inaccurate, scaly counterparts - when they're done properly, anyway. There's no need to worry about people being turned off by a feathered Velociraptor.

2. Thou shalt not demean thy theropods with rabbity hands

Another mistake that just won't go away, and typically the result of people copying out-of-date palaeoart, or simply making assumptions based (presumably) on human or mammalian anatomy. While it's very easy for us, as freaky primates, to rotate our forearm so that the palm faces the ground, in theropod dinosaurs this was actually a physical impossibility; the forearm would have been 'locked' with the palms facing inward. This is still true of modern birds. Theropods with rabbit/zombie hands aren't only wrong, they often look completely ridiculous.

3. Sauropods were NOT elephants

Above: the Schleich Replica-Saurus Apatosaurus, suffering from a bad case of 'elephant's foot'. Photo by Stefan Schröder, from the Dinosaur Toy Blog.

This one is presented as a simple statement in the hope that it will forever hang around in the minds of dino-sculptors, manifesting as a sinister whisper in their ears whenever they think about giving a sauropod elephant feet, or elephant nails, or elephant skin, or an elephant torso etc. etc. Once again: sauropods were NOT elephants. The only similarity is large size and in that regard even medium-sized sauropods make the largest elephant alive today - Loxodonta africana - look a little bit small. In fact, sauropods were radically different to elephants, and that includes their feet - especially their forefeet (or hands), which were a concave collonade of digits with only one claw. So no more sauropods with five elephantine nails on their round hands, please.

4. Ceratopsians were NOT rhinos

See 3. Ceratopsians actually had differentiated digits on their hands and feet - they were not united in a single paw.

5. Fear not interesting colour schemes, for they bring great beauty

Above: the Collecta Torosaurus might have a few anatomical flaws, but the striking colour scheme on the head is to be commended

Too often dinosaur toys continue to be rendered in the same earthy greens, browns and greys, a palette that can become quite monotonous over time. Although the problem of sauropods inevitably being painted in 'elephant grey' is slowly disappearing, manufacturers often show a sad lack of imagination when it comes to ceratopsian frills. Since they were almost certainly involved in display, there's a great opportunity there for showy, dazzling patterns and colours that's often missed. Collecta are starting to cotton on to this (their Torosaurus stands out a mile), and I'm hoping that other companies will follow suit.

6. Thou shalt render ankylosaurs in all their insane glory

Above: the Papo "Ankylosaurus", lovingly and admirably detailed but, alas, totally tubular. Dude.

Ankylosaurs are quite popular subjects for dinosaur toys, and yet they are very rarely got right. Perhaps the best one in the 'serious' toy market is the Favorite "Ankylosaurus", which is actually a Euoplocephalus. A very good Euoplocephalus, as it happens. The most common mistake made when sculpting ankylosaurs is giving them a rather 'tubular' body, when in fact the very wide hips meant that it flared out crazily over the rear end. This rule can also be applied to the neck of one sauropod in particuar - Apatosaurus, with its barmy neck o' fatness. Very few Apatosaurus models are anatomically correct in this respect, and when they are even palaeontologists find them weird to look at. When dinosaurs are strange, don't hold back on the strangeness!

7. Thou shalt consult with palaeontologists

This applies especially to 'museum' or 'scale replica' lines. Toys they may be, but anything with that tag - for example the Schliech Replica-Saurus, Bullyland Museum Line and Carnegie collections - deserves serious scrutiny, as they profess an educational remit. Granted, when there is a lot of reference material available for an animal and the sculptor knows what they're doing, this might not be necessary. However, most palaeontologists will be happy to offer their expertise in pursuit of a well-crafted figure, and they'll usually do it for free. (I nearly said 'always', but...you never know.) This entry goes out in particular to Papo, who make some of the most finely sculpted and painted dinosaurs out there - that also happen to be riddled with frustrating inaccuracies most of the time. If they got hold of an expert or two their dinosaur line could be a world-beater.

8. Thou shalt not rip off Jurassic Park...yet again

Seriously, people. Especially the T. rex. Bored already. I can see the obvious incentive when it comes to sales, but come on! More imagination, please.

9. Er...

10. That's it. If you can think of any more, or disagree with some of mine, or think that this blog has gone way downhill recently with all this toy-related stuff, then comment! Heaps of geek points available to the person who knows which magazine I've ripped off (although theirs was a rip-off too).


  1. 7. has its pitfalls.

    aside from that, I LOLed. And it is sooooooo true! I should write a series of papers "Dinosaurs are NOT mammals" :)

  2. I enjoy these toy-related posts. It may seem silly, but picking apart the flaws of models greatly helps me visualize how these animals may have really looked. And...well, I have a lot of dinosaurs, and it's nice to know I'm not the only adult who is just as excited about going to the toy store as kids are!

  3. You can always count me among the champions of toy-related posts. Never be abashed or apologetic. Toy-collectors unite! Etc.

  4. @Sharon - You're not the only one by a long shot. The Dinosaur Toy Forum now has over 900 members! Of course, nowhere near that many are active, but there's still a surprising number out there. (I should know, I've met a number of them...) http://dinotoyforum.proboards.com/index.cgi

  5. I only wish you had more examples of things doing it right? I love drawing dinosaurs, but now I'm afraid to mess up! HOW Are the hands supposed to be orientated, and the big one for me as a styracosaurus fan...what are the feet supposed to look like?

    Other than that I LOVED this post.

  6. @Yotebeth: Easy - for theropods, the palms should always be facing each other. If they are facing down to the ground (like in Jurassic Park) then they are wrong, unless the entire arm is splayed out like a bird's wing.

    As for Styracosaurus, the feet had four toes, one of which was reduced. The hand had five fingers, three of which were walked on and had claws. This Triceratops model has it pretty much right http://www.dinotoyblog.com/2010/12/27/triceratops-desktop-model-by-favorite-co-ltd/


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