Monday, March 3, 2014

Robosaurs in Rotterdam

Rotterdam seems to be a city in which every puffed-up, ever-so-avant garde architect of the last fifty years has been given free rein to erect whatever glass, steel, and/or jutting concrete monstrosity that they fancy. (As John Conway would say, 'take that, Rotterdam!') It seems only fitting, then, that the city should play host to the Living Dinosaurs expo - an exhibition of diverse, often impressively large, but never less than butt-ugly robot dinosaurs. Fans of prehistory-related kitsch will have a field day; palaeontologists may wish to avert their eyes.



Ironically, the building hosting Living Dinosaurs - the old Post Rotterdam - is actually rather lovely, being one of the relatively few buildings in the city centre to survive the Second World War. If only the robo-dinos were up to the job, this would be a suitably stately building for a gathering of prehistory's most majestic creatures. Alas, the models themselves are definitely of the 'rubbery and retro', sub-Dinamation-grade variety, and certainly not up to the standards of the finest that Japanese companies have to offer.


The route around the exhibition progresses, more-or-less, from the Late Triassic to the Late Cretaceous, opening with this rather crude - not to mention gigantic - Herrerasaurus. It's perhaps worth establishing from the off that absolutely none of the theropods have their forelimbs orientated correctly. In fact, all of the models have forelimbs that are incorect in one way or another, be it impossi-pronation, excessive claws on the digits, or even, sometimes, excessive digits.


There's also a bit of rather obvious economising going on, with some very different dinosaurs being treated as head-swaps of one another. (Hey, theropods - they were all about the same, right? Some just had more fingers or were a bit larger than the others. No biggie.) The above genero-theropod - identified as Yangchuanosaurus, for whatever reason - not only bears an uncanny resemblance to the Herrerasaurus, but appears to have exactly the same body as...


...this Monolophosaurus, right down to the paint job. Something similar is going on with the spinosaurs, which, save the sail, look uncannily like one another (despite their significantly different skulls in reality). They also share a number of inaccuracies with the Jurassic Park Spinozilla, including the paired lacrymal horns and overly-chunky jaws. In fact, they rather remind me of some of Pixelshack's creations, notably those created for the Brusatte/Benton coffee table crusher simply entitled Dinosaurs, which has a JP-esque spinosaur on the cover. If you ever wanted to see those dreadful CG creations writ large and robotic, here's your chance. Certainly, there's a similar degree of scientific fidelity going on here.


Admittedly, some of the models do impress through their sheer size alone. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a mightily big Mamenchisaurus, which is also one of the better models, even if that's not saying too much. Even when the anatomical blunders are as unavoidably obvious as a mariachi band to the face, it's always wonderful to be given an inkling of what it would have been like to stand next to a giant sauropod dinosaur...although they do it better in Amersfoort.



The full-size T. rex makes an impression too, even if it's less Sexy Rexy, more sad refugee from the early '90s. The head suffers from a serious case of the shrink-wraps, while the uniform teeth and peculiar crest configuration leave one wondering if they ever actually, you know, looked at a T. rex skull when designing this. My, wasn't Jurassic Park a long time ago...





Retro Rexy is accompanied by his offspring, Rexooki, who is essentially a snub-nosed, big-footed version of his dad (thus conclusively ignoring everything that is known about juvenile tyrannosaurs). There's something especially sad about the bunny-handed flailing of this little fella.


At least Tyrannosaurus remains recognisable as the unceasingly popular movie star we know and love. Some other beasts are not so fortunate. Without embiggening the below image to get a good look at that sign in the background, what would you guess the below animal to be? Well, you're wrong - it's Iguanodon. No, really.


Thankfully, Triceratops fares rather better, although it's not without is fair share of problems (very wrongly proportioned head and tail, woefully inaccurate feet, etc.). Again, its large size helps mask its flaws, as it helps excite the imagination as to what standing next to a real Triceratops would have been like. There would probably be fewer small Dutch schoolchildren, mostly as they'd be fleeing for their lives, clutching their chocolate spinkle sandwiches in their grubby little mits.






Of course, it's very easy to criticise - particularly when one encounters models as ghastly as these, miniature replicas of which wouldn't pass muster over at the Dinosaur Toy Blog. Surely there must be some positives to be had here? Indeed, there are, for the organisers saw fit to include an 'Evolution Room' that details the evolutionary history of the dinosaurs, culminating in present-day birds. Yes, in spite of what you might have inferred from its title, this is an exhibition that has no hesitation in declaring that Birds Are Dinosaurs! Kudos indeed to those involved in this aspect of the show, who are named over at the Living Dinosaurs 'about us' page. (We'll politely ignore the fact that the hall-of-hideous-robosaurs section of the expo also claims scientific authority, and in two languages no less, on a sign in the entrance hall.)

In addition, and in what must surely be quite a progressive move for a robo-dino show of this calibre, Living Dinosaurs includes animatronic feathered dinosaurs! Unfortunately, they're probably the worst of the lot. Say hello to dumpy Batman Microraptor.


Good grief. One glorious day, everyone who attempts to draw, paint or sculpt a feathered non-avian dinosaur, or indeed basal avian dinosaur, will remember that birds' hands support their wings...or that birds have hands at all. And the world will be as one. Until then, we'll just have to suffer things like this.

(By the way, the branch moves up and down, too. Quite why is a mystery, but it's agreeably hilarious.)

There are pterosaurs, too. Can they be any worse? Why yes, they can.


This is the sort of sight the likes of which is liable to make pterosaur researches break down into gibbering, broken shells of human beings, before dousing their eyes with concentrated bleach and welcoming the searing pain and onset of blindness as a distraction from ever having witnessed such an abomination of utterly failed palaeo-reconstruction. And it has five fingers, which is really stupid. Thankfully, we can always rely on Mark Witton to pop up and show us how things should be done.


And here he is, in the commendably educational Evolution Room. Thanks to you, Dr Witton, for a break from the eyesores. I hope they paid you handsomely.

Should you want to go and check out Living Dinosaurs - in spite of reading or, if you're anything like me, because you've read this article - then head to the Post Rotterdam in Rotterdam city centre, sometime between now and June 15. More info (in English and Nederlands) over at livingdinosaurs.nl.

12 comments:

  1. "This is the sort of sight the likes of which is liable to make pterosaur researches break down into gibbering, broken shells of human beings, before dousing their eyes with concentrated bleach and welcoming the searing pain and onset of blindness as a distraction from ever having witnessed such an abomination of utterly failed palaeo-reconstruction."
    I have been wondering wether anyone external has access to me webcam. I guess that question's answered then. And you didn't even mention the Pteranodon that is shown on their website with its scaly hide and hands sprouting from the wing fingers (how does that even... what?).
    Done giggling and bleaching, I also realized (or at least think I did) that this... thing looks to be the exact same frame as the "Microraptor".

    I'll be checking this show out when it comes near here. Prepare for headlines about some guy collapsing in giggles in a Roermond dino exhib.

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  2. I'm pretty sure I saw an earlier version of this exhibit in Milan some years back-- it was also in a nice space (a deconsecrated church) with some pretty sketchy models. I'm also off to Rotterdam in a month or so, and if it's still there, will make a point of going over to point and laugh.

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  3. This came to the California Bay area last year and is suuuuper fun! and adults are cheaper then kids. Sadl hey won't let you ride any though

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  4. "In fact, they rather remind me of some of Pixelshack's creations, notably those created for the Brusatte/Benton coffee table crusher simply entitled Dinosaurs, which has a JP-esque spinosaur on the cover. If you ever wanted to see those dreadful CG creations writ large and robotic, here's your chance. Certainly, there's a similar degree of scientific fidelity going on here."

    I've seen those "Robosaurs" b-4 & that's just what I thought then. Many thanks for the reminder to review said book on Amazon.

    -Hadiaz

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  5. Dang it, Indiana doesn't have fun exhibitions like that. Looks like I have to settle for the Creation Museum!

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  6. Having just watched the new Transformers trailer before reading this post, I can assure you these robot dinosaurs are still better than Michael Bay's robot dinosaurs: http://bit.ly/1bblpyQ

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  7. I once saw a bunch of dinosaurs similar to this at an exhibit in Moody Gardens at Galveston Island, but they were all brown. I think they had a Therizinosaur with dagger-like teeth.

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  8. My reaction to these models:
    DEEEUUUEEEEAAAUUUGHHH!!!!!!

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  9. I took one look at this, crawled under my bed, and started to cry....it really feels so upsetting to see something like this in the 21st Century...sigh....

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  10. This is....depressing. Even as far as robo-dinosaurs, they're definitely leagues below Dinamation's robosaurs.

    My reaction to that Pterosaur picture was the precise thought "Somewhere, Mark Witton is crying"

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