Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Unencumbered Dilophosaurus

There are few dinosaurs as ill-served by their pop culture avatars as Dilophosaurus. Yes, Velociraptor still takes the crown for most persistently (and stubbornly) misunderstood, and perennial favorites such as Tyrannosaurus and Apatosaurus have had it rough as well.  But such dinosaurian celebrities have public images that are either in the process of shifting to something more accurate, or have already done so. The T.rex in Jurassic Park may have had its anatomical issues, but it was still recognizably a tyrannosaur.

Dilophosaurus has had no such luck. There are some genera that seem destined to always languish halfway in obscurity, and for a long time it seemed like Dilophosaurus would be one of them. Seldom given pride of place in vintage dinosaur art, often relegated to a simple head portrait in a collection of other theropods, Dilophosaurus managed to escape the sheer volume of trash reconstructions other animals accumulated simply by not being notable enough for most artists to butcher. Most reconstructions slapped the distinctive crests on a generic predatory dinosaur and called it a day.


That changed a bit with Jurassic Park. The anatomical inaccuracies of the Dilophosaurus presented in that film have been pretty well picked over, so it's not really worth belaboring them here. Yes, the choice to add a frill is a strange one, though it was probably inspired by the need to differentiate it from the raptors. The utter lack of a notched upper jaw is odder. Dilophosaurus had a fairly distinctively shaped head, and the film's designers instead bestowed it with a blunter, more bulldog shaped visage for reasons known only to themselves. But at least the genus was getting some kind of recognition.

Crash McCreery's Jurassic Park studies of Dilophosaurus, from the Stan Winston Studio

The problem, of course, is that much of that recognition is contingent on features the real animal probably didn't have. The crested theropod seems to have established a vague place in the popular consciousness as the "frilled one" or "the poison one." Post-Jurassic Park art of the genus continues to depict a generic theropod, only now with a frill slapped on in addition to the crests. Bulky bodies, amorphous heads, oversized feet. The Dilophosaurus of the zeitgeist is a frill and crests with claws attached.

Concept art of a crested...thing from Turok

That vagueness wasn't helped by the fact that Dilophosaurus never really got another chance at the limelight. It has yet to appear in another film besides Jurassic Park, and in a franchise that built such spectacular set pieces out of T.rex and Velociraptor, it was badly overshadowed. And when an animal as interesting and distinctive as Dilophosaurus has fewer screen appearances then Procompsognathus, of all things, then something has gone very wrong.


The truth is, even a quick glance at the skeleton of Dilophosaurus reveals a rather elegant and slender animal. Far from the muscular and boxy beasts of pop culture, Dilophosaurus is a sporty looking predator, long-tailed, long-legged and long-jawed, built with economy and class. Streamlined. No frills, you might say. The design work on Jurassic Park is like adding giant fins and spinning rims to a Ferrari; it punches up an animal that frankly doesn't need it.

A Polish sculpture of Dilophosaurus

Moreover, Dilophosaurus is an opportunity for mass media to present a kind of dinosaur they've traditionally had trouble portraying. Most theropods that make their way onto television and film are sold as either giant super-predators or viciously personal threats. Dilophosaurus, at about twenty feet long, is something different. A mid-range predator, large enough to be impressive, small enough that it seems to belong within a natural environment. To look at a Tyrannosaurus is to see a monster. To look at a Dilophosaurus is to see an animal.

The recent Sideshow model sculpted by Jorge Blanco is a top notch rendition.

To me, the very things that make the unencumbered Dilophosaurus a tough sell are the things that make it interesting. Popular renditions of dinosaurs are still struggling to free themselves from the monstrous idioms of the past: it's still hard to present dinosaurs as animals and not dragons. But if artists and producers can trust to the essential aesthetics of the real creature, they might be surprised at how rewarding the results can be.

50 comments:

  1. I had better put Dilophosaurus on the to-draw list, in which case. Other than your (unfortunately rather small) saurian portrait, I don't think I've tried my hand at it at all in recent years.

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  2. >The utter lack of a notched upper jaw is odder.

    Actually if you look at the drawing by McCreery, you can see a small notch on the upper jaw. It's not as large or to the front as in the real deal.

    The actual puppet did not have that notch on the surface, but if you look at the row of teeth ( as shown here in the aniamtronic tests http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IJQjhdLbbo&t=3m46s or in this closeup http://images.wikia.com/jurassicpark/images/8/8e/JP-Dilophosaurus1.jpg), you can see them turning a bit up.

    As for the reason to make the face a bit more like a "bulldog shaped visage?" Propably to make it more cute when we first see it. They even have the front teeth sticking out to make it more cute. You gott aremember that this is supposed to be more of a baby, rather than a grown up. And part of its DNA is also supposed to be made out of somethign else, which might explain the frill.

    One of the weirdest things I never understood about the Jurassic Park series, was that in the books one of the biggest theme was that these are not real dinosaurs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, my though got a bit lost there with the final sentence. It should be:

      One of the weirdest things I never understood why they didn't put it to the Jurassic Park movie series, was the one of the biggest themes in the books that these are not real dinosaurs.

      Delete
    2. Is it supposed to be a baby, though? That's never stated in the film, and I don't recall it being stated in the ancillary materials. I think it's a reasonable fan theory, but my suspicion is that they did it to further differentiate Dilophosaurus from the raptors.

      Your point about the frill is well taken, though.

      Delete
    3. People like to say that it was a baby in reference to a line in the Dilophosaurus' scene where Nedry says "I thought you were one of your big brothers. You're not so bad." Personally, I take that to mean he thought it was a T. rex. I'm not sure why the puppet had the anatomical problems referenced in this post (other than the frill), but I think the small size was to make the scene more dramatic.

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    4. "Is it supposed to be a baby, though?"

      That's what I read in "Dinosaurs Of Jurassic Park" ( http://www.amazon.com/Dinosaurs-Jurassic-Park-Aboard-Reading/dp/0448401789/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1375358852&sr=1-2 ).

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    5. Yeah, I can see the baby angle being just a fan theory, but I always thought it was an infant with the way it acted. Or maybe I've just spend too much time with dogs trying and trying to project some traits that they have to the dilophosaurus in JP. When the real deal has been dead for millions of years, there are no excact things to compare it with.


      Just out of curiosity, I also opened up the novel Jurassic Park (1993 release with some awful drawings on the cover by 11-year old me) to check its version of the dilophosaurus.

      Crichton describes it 3 meters (about 10 feet) long, the crest is red with black streaks (to Tim it looks like a toucan's beak) and its skin is yellow with black spots. No neck frill. It spits, hoots like an owl and has enough strength to lift Nedry up with its jaws.

      Delete
    6. Oh, and just popped to my head from that dusty place:

      If you want to see a really weird looking version of the dilophosaurus, try the Jurassic Park comic adaptation. The crests are empty and yellow, they're like the McDonald arches. Like it was some sort of anglerfish for the fast foodies. I tried to find a picture, but nobody doesn't seem to have scanned it.

      Oh man, that comic was a mess. Even in the first time we see a velociraptor, the big toe is in the middle of the foot.


      And PS.
      While trying to search for the dilophosaurus scene fomr the JP comic, I found this: http://shop.idwpublishing.com/comics/series/g-l/jurassic-park/jurassic-park-dangerous-games-2-of-5.html
      There's your horror velociraptor with feathers. And within the JP franchise.

      Delete
  3. Stan Winston Studios have acknowledged that the Dilophosaurus is the most 'fictionalised' creature in the movie, adding that 'hey, it's a fiction movie'. Which seems fair enough. People shouldn't go to fiction movies for scientific references ;)

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    Replies
    1. I don't actually blame Stan Winston studios for it--they had their reasons for the design choices they made. I blame people for ripping them off and ignoring the real animal, you know? :)

      Delete
  4. While not to do with Jurassic Park, I remember being rather surprised by the sleek, elegant *Dilophosaurus* in 'The Age of Dinosaurs' by Dougal Dixon and 'Dinosaurs: A Global View' when I was a kid. Before coming across those, I was only familiar with the fat blob in 'The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs'. In retrospect, I think that one should also deserve a mention when it comes to the misfortune that has befallen *Dilophosaurus* in works about dinosaurs. An artistically admirable work by John Sibbick it is, but a respectable *Dilophosaurus*, it ain't!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot of the depictions of animals in the Illustrated Encyclopedia, which ended up being ripped off countless times, are actually a bit weird (see the T. rex, for example), even if John Sibbick's artistry is undoubtedly impressive. Of course, Sibbick had improved immensely even by the early '90s.

      Delete
  5. This depiction was pretty good: http://youtu.be/SQ44Nnx584U?t=3m23s

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I remember this. The animation and rendering looks horribly dated, but it's a very nice design. And I like the slightly godzilla-esque screeches.

      Delete
  6. Here is an interesting one for you, Asher. By Vladimir Nikolov.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, aside from the zombification, that's not bad.

      Delete
  7. I was going to say, "here in Northern Ireland there's a tv ad for a laser tag venue that starts off with a knockoff of the 20-year-old JP dilo design"; but now that I look closer, I don't think it's a dilophosaur. I'm not sure *what* it is...

    Hope this is viewable in different places:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=d-zVxNn7a-Y

    Although, great article regardless. Dilophosaurus needs a bit of love and rehab.

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  8. Here is a nice maze of a generic looking Dilo. http://www.flickr.com/photos/62101859@N08/5943124728/in/set-72157626845617130
    And here are some chunky looking ones from a great Rourke book http://www.flickr.com/photos/62101859@N08/7267928588/in/set-72157626845617130/

    I really enjoyed this post. I couldn't agree more

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  9. However inspired by Jurassic Park it may be, the game Primal Carnage (featuring a brigade of "genetically modified" dinosaurs doing battle with humans) the models seem pretty good- "The Dilo" is sleek, frill-free and recognisable: http://www.primalcarnage.com/website/classes-dilo . Hey, they even put the venom-spitting down to the genetic enhancements! (http://fc01.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2012/304/8/e/primal_carnage_by_mr2cats-d5jlfig.png)

    The other dinosaurs aren't bad either, the "novaraptor" (JP-style raptor) does have an alternate feathered skin as well... http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/334312_518004178211051_426048471_o.jpg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, these are pretty good! The dilophosaur really looks nice. Shame about the armored T.rex, though.

      Delete
  10. "The Unencumbered Dilophosaurus" should be a book title. It's delightful.

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  11. Thank goodness my first Dilopho was at Dinosaur State Park in Connecticut. The very fine model there made it an instant favorite of mine.
    http://www.dinosaurstatepark.org

    ReplyDelete
  12. While doing a quick image search to see for myself all the (mostly) JP-spawned Dilophosaurus art, I came across this accurate model by Geomodel scenography & special effects workshop:

    http://www.geomodel.it/images/Dilophosaurus-wetherilli/dilophosaurus-7.jpg

    Now THAT is a scary, yet realistic, animal right there. Even though it's just a bust shot you can tell they put great care in anatomical accuracy. No bulldog-face Dilo there!

    If only Hollywood SFX producers would care just a little to even look at the actual bones of the animals they are aiming to reconstruct we could have had something like this ripping through Dennis Nedry in JP.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Ahh, one of my favorites. Reminds me of, well, home. When I was a kid, I saw the (plausible) dilophosaur track site north of Tuba city many times. I'm planning on going back there at some point, and using it as the basis of a painting (because hey, why not?)

    Also, if I actually *do* that painting, I might steal the title. It's better than Dance Dance Dilophosaurs Revolution.

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  14. "Dilophosaurus is a sporty looking predator, long-tailed, long-legged and long-jawed, built with economy and class. Streamlined. No frills, you might say."

    That was bad and you should feel bad.

    That being said, "Dilophosaurus Diaries" would be a good POV book to teach kids and the world about such things as non-JP Dilophosaurus, Massospondylus TKO'ing some Megapnosaurus, and at one point have a sexually-fustrated Dilophosaurus take his sexual fustrations out on a hapless female Megapnosaurus.

    Because we need more child-focused dinosaur books with mating in them, damnit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "That was great and you should feel great."

      Fixed that for you.

      Also, child focused dinosaur books should absolutely have mating behaviors in them. I'm not sure, however, why you think dinosaurian rape should be included.

      Delete
  15. Poor Dilo...Pop culture should do him more justice

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  16. Didn't Greg Paul's first big splash come as adviser to the Rush Studios Dilophosaur model? For the early '80s, it's a fantastic model, and I think Mark Hallett must have taken a good look at it for his squabbling Dilopho pair. That and Hallett's Zoobooks spread was my intro to D. weatherilli, well before JP.

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  17. If you take Telltale's Jurassic Park: the game as cannon, these dilophosaurs are adults, or at least sexually mature, since they are breeding at the time of the events of the first movie. It is also stated that these animals are very different from the real ones, and that many traits (including the frill) may derive from its frog or whatever DNA used in the clonning process. What I can't understand is why an animal would use that frill for predating purposes. If a prey saw that frill, would run scared, not stay to see what happens.

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  18. I am surprised no one has mentioned Dyzio.

    http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/wp-content/blogs.dir/471/files/2012/04/i-d79011d226498168d6886e8d9043e9c0-Dyzio_head_Sept-2009.jpg
    http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/wp-content/blogs.dir/471/files/2012/04/i-b9aeab8b5ba26a081627bf63803f2b17-Dyzio_wikipedia_full-lat_Sept-2009.jpg
    http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/wp-content/blogs.dir/471/files/2012/04/i-120f413e1673702bd56eb3b6a47f778e-Dyzio_Andy_6-9-2009_resized.jpg

    ReplyDelete
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