Monday, January 9, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Bots: Dinamation's Dinosaurs Alive!

All right then, hands up - who remembers these? Of course you do. You're reading Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs.

It didn't feel quite right to slot this in with the Vintage Dinosaur Art posts, so it's getting its own special entry. As you've already gathered, this book was produced to accompany the touring Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit from Dinamation Corp. In 1996, Dinosaurs Alive! came to Brighton and, of course, I wrote a review:

"Come out of busy, bustling Brighton and step one step back in time. See a Tarbosaurus leg and head. Step into an indoor Jurassic jungle and bump into a Pachycephalosaurus." (Dinosaur Footprints magazine, issue 1, September 1996. P. 5)

While Pachycephalosaurus may not have lived in the Jurassic, I was certainly enthused by the big old American robots. Sadly, my memories of that visit have all but been erased by three years of vodka abuse (known as 'university' in common parlance), so hooray for eBay! As an extra pleasant surprise, a lot of the Dinamation robots actually appear to be a lot better than I had previously very dimly remembered. So let's get the weirder ones out of the way first.

If you think it looks creepy here, just imagine encountering this monstrosity as a towering, life-size bot in a dark, dry ice-filled hall. It's like Allosaurus via a nightmarish 1980s latex beastie horror movie. It should have tendrils of gelatinous drool hanging from its maw.

Sticking with the orange-and-black theme, here's a very tiger-like early '90s Deinonychus. Dinamation had a trio of the animals snacking on their perennial favourite food, Tenontosaurus - a dinosaur rarely seen alive or dead in art without any number of dromaeosaurs hanging onto it. Interestingly, the Natural History Museum had a similar, non-Dinamation scene (with somewhat less rubbery-looking robots) installed in the early '90s - makes one wonder which came first...

Near the naked Deinonychus sits a Pteranodon that just looks....plain wrong for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on (knowing little about pterosaurs as I do). Pterosaurs can be pretty creepy anyway, but there's something particularly Chernabog about this restoration. It looks like it should be sitting up high on Notre Dame Cathedral. To make matters worse, its pterosaur fuzz has been rendered as long, whispy strands coming down from its neck. Shudder.

Never mind that, though - here are some outraged sauropods.

The biggest Dinamation Apatosaurus was apparently 'only' half size, but the company had a pretty decent go at the beast (too-thin neck aside). I've no doubt that the juveniles would look somewhat different today. Thankfully, while it seems that the brown stripey brontobots didn't get along too well, the tangerine version (below) was somewhat more serene.

This Stegosaurus is pretty cool - it looks like it only has a few, quite minor anatomical faults. Unfortunately this photo, like many in the book, is less than brilliant - thanks to the strange focus the life-size model looks like a miniature, and those odd speckly bits aren't the result of my scanner having a fit - they were actually on the original page. Shame. The Triceratops (below) is rather good too, although of course it has old-fashioned elephantine hands*, and a rather conspicuous ear opening has been placed in a strange position directly behind the eyes. Maybe they thought the skull opening immediately behind the orbit was an ear-hole. I do love the dimly-lit pine forest setting, though.

Thought I'd save the best 'til last. As I previously mentioned, a lot of the Dinamation bots depicted in these pics surprised me with how good they were - I guess I haven't been giving them enough credit in the past. While the arms are obviously wrong by modern standards, this Tyrannosaurus is generally excellent - there are robots still out there doing the rounds that aren't any better than this one. It's hard to believe that this and the terrifyingly strange Allosaurus were made by the same company - I can't help but wonder if they represent 'before' and 'after' representations of how the models changed when the company sought out advice from palaeontologists. (They may have had different people involved in their production too, of course.)

To wrap this up - it seems a real shame, seeing how good some of their robots were, that Dinamation folded amid all sorts of dodgy financial goings-on (or so sayeth the Wall Street Journal). Various vestiges of their long-lost dinobot empire can be seen all over the world, like bits of town wall sticking out of some forgotten corner of a former Roman city. I've posed next to a few while on my travels. If you've seen anything out there then I'd love to hear about it.

One last thing, actually...D'AWWWWW! And I'm sorry if this post isn't up to standard (which it probably isn't) - I've started a new job recently, and some other stuff's been going on, and I'm not quite on top of everything yet. I'll improve, promise!

 *I keep getting comments when I mention this, so I'll explain. In a lot of old palaeoart, ceratopsians were shown with elephantine 'paws' for hands. In fact, the digits were distinct and the hands were turned quite strongly outward (so that the palms faced in). This was actually a rather primitive condition for large, quadrupedal dinosaurs.


  1. I sadly don't remember Dinamation, I never got to see them. But these are indeed refreshingly good for their time. I'm highly amused by the enraged Apatosaurus too.

    I had the privilege and pleasure of leafing through the original hand-written, hand-drawn 'manuscripts' of Marc's Dinosaur Footprints magazine. They are a real treasure. I remember reading those very words quoted in this post.

  2. I might be too young to remember Dinamation, but I got to see "Dinosaurs Live" a few years back and it was pretty much amazing. Everything was life-sized and lovely. Mobility was the biggest problem, but, considering they were able to bring a life-sized T-Rex into the arena to scare all the children (there were screams), I will forgive them.

  3. "there's something particularly Chernabog about this restoration"

    This is wonderful.

    Ohhh, man, Dinamation. I so wish I could recall more about my experiences with them as a child, or find the special brochure that accompanied their exhibition at the Museum of Science. It's damn weird that there seems to be almost no nostalgia online for giant robotic dinosaurs of all things.

  4. Wow, thanks for posting this, I had LONG forgotten about this exhibit! Not only do I remember it, I dug out photo proof for y'all's amusement:

    I never knew there was a book.

  5. I a actually still remember going to this when it came down under all those years ago. I even still had the brochure they gave you at the show until surprisingly recently (I don't know where it is now though unfortunately, I don't think it survived the move).

  6. I remember taking a family road trip all the way to Minneapolis in the summer of '88 to see the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit at the Science Museum. I was amazed, excited and a little frightened of the giant moving dinosaurs.

    Years later, several of the same aging, neglected bots made their way to a podunk science center close to my hometown. They seemed much less marvelous this time.

  7. @Jurassiraptor: I remember a similar trip early one morning from San Antonio all the way to Fort Worth to see a Dinamation exhibit. Funnily enough the exhibit came to San Antonio the next year and several times after that. It was definitely the best dinosaur exhibit we ever got until a Charlie McGrady exhibit came to the botanical gardens about 10 years ago (and the exhibit I work for opened up.)

  8. I remember vaguely this exhibition for the worse reason. It was the early 90's when me and my family went to see this but I was too scared to actually enter. Only my brother and father entered. I still have a photo of what I now know (thanks!) is an Allosaurus.

    There wasn't a Brachiosaurus in there? I remember a sauropod with its neck in vertical position...

  9. Aren't those the animatronic dinosaur props from "PaleoWorld"?

  10. This blog post took me on a nice stride down memory lane! I am a former tech of Dinamation International. I just uploaded some pictures, mostly scans of press clippings on my blog at



  11. THANX MAN THIS IS PURE GOLD,! U have restored my childhood , thanx a lot ! U are awesome!

  12. It didn't feel quite right to slot this in with the Vintage Dinosaur Art posts, ...

  13. It didn't feel quite right to slot this in with the Vintage Dinosaur Art posts, so it's getting its own special entry. ...

  14. Yes I remember going to this in the Brighton centre back in 1996 I have photos of me standing next to some of the displays

  15. I also recognised the models, but from a wonderfully dated documentary! It's on YouTube and the Dinamation part starts at about 47:30:


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