The Case of Movie Dinosaurs

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This week we dive into a subject Adam has been waiting to discuss… Dinosaurs!!!! We know Adam has been periodically inserting facts about Jurassic Park in many of our other episodes, but this time we discuss the history of dinosaurs in film. We also talk about some of the most well known and loved dinosaurs in these movies by ranking the top five.

History of Dinosaurs in Movies

The word “dinosaur” was coined by Victorian naturalist Sir Richard Owen in 1841, and means “terrible lizard”. The modern meaning is more along the lines of, humongous monster that tramples the getaway car and eats all the supporting actors. Dinosaurs fit perfectly into the role of movie monsters. Many of them were huge, or had good monster characteristics such as spikes, horns, claws and big teeth. It’s not surprising that the history of movies featuring dinosaurs goes back more than 100 years.

  • The first dinosaur movie ever was Prehistoric Peeps in 1905. However Prehistoric Peeps unfortunately is now lost to history much like the dinosaurs it portrayed. Then came Gertie the Dinosaur, in 1914. Gertie is far more famous, and she has the honor of being history’s first dinosaur cartoon.
  • But the real origin of dinos in the spotlight is Brute Force, also from 1914. Brute Force debuted just two months after Gertie did, but Brute Force is live-action, and it contains the origins of every dinosaur special effect to be implemented for the next 60 years. The movie is a short silent drama directed by D. W. Griffith. The film was shot in Chatsworth Park, in California. It is a story of cavemen and dinosaurs, and is a sequel to Griffith’s earlier film, “Man’s Genesis” (1912).
  • It took all the way until 1925 for the first full-length movie to feature dinosaurs to hit theatres. The Lost World. Based on the 1912 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it tells the story of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago. Sculptor Marcel Delgado made dinosaur models for the film based on the work of a leading paleontologist of the time. Stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien brought these extinct animals back to life using animation. After that, dinosaurs rampaged through popular culture, and for nearly forty years, stop motion remained the technique of choice for bringing extinct creatures to life.
  • So stop motion may have been king of the dinosaur world, but moving a puppet frame by frame is very time-consuming and expensive. Movie producers were looking for ways to cut corners so along came the “slurpasaur” (AKA a lizard in a dinosaur suit).
  • One of the earliest slurpasaurs appears in “The Mysterious Island”, made just four years after The Lost World. Slurpasaurs continued to offer a low-cost alternative to stop motion into the ’50s and ’60s. Even Willis O’Brien consulted on costumed iguanas for the 1960 remake of The Lost World.
  • Dinosaurs are the beginning DNA of the much broader subject of creature effects. Almost every technique for movie effects that we discussed in a previous episode have been used to make dinosaurs; people in suits, puppetry and animatronics, computer generated images, and more. To top them all it was Stan Winston who finally achieved the impossible when he created full-scale dinosaurs that not only looked incredible, but delivered great performances too.
  • With the addition of truly convincing CGS creatures, Jurassic Park set a new bar for movies as well as visual and special effects. By the time the T. Rex brought the house down, literally and figuratively, at the climax of the film, audiences could believe that dinosaurs really do rule the Earth.

Top 5 Dinosaurs

  1.       Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park)
  • The Tyrannosaurus rex of Jurassic Park was nicknamed Roberta in Phil Tippett’s storyboards for the first film, but most fans call her by her novel nickname Rexy.
  • Rexy has made three appearances in the franchise. Debuting in Jurassic Park, then reprising her role in Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. She is also rumored (basically confirmed) to return in the final Jurassic World film in 2021.
  • She is most well-known for saving the main characters at the end of the first film and Jurassic World, although inadvertently. This makes her something of an anti-heroine.
  • Mark McCreery created the design of the T. rex that was used in the film. Before the film was greenlit, McCreery was working on Terminator 2. Stan Winston moved him from that project to create sketches of the T. rex in order to generate interest in Jurassic Park from Universal Studios.
  • (We talked about the animatronic two weeks ago in our Special Effects episode)
  1.       Littlefoot (Land Before Time)
  • Littlefoot, originally voiced by Gabriel Damon, (and many others since) is the main character in the Land Before Time film and television series. He is the main protagonist in the series and is one of only three characters to appear in every piece of media. The other two being Ducky and Petrie.
  • He is an Apatosaurus, (aka “Brontosaurus”) which are referred to as “Longnecks” by the other dinosaurs in the Land Before Time universe.
  • He can easily make friends with other creatures, however his friendships with other animals outside his species is often viewed as a taboo, as many of the dinosaurs practice racial, or species based, segregation. (Mainly in the first movie)
  • Littlefoot is intelligent, playful, and adventurous. He acts as a leader to the other main characters. Pushing them to move forward in difficult times, (most notably in the original The Land Before Time) and is their voice of reason.
  • According to a blog post by Mark Pudleiner, an animator who worked on the original film, Littlefoot was originally going to be called “Thunderfoot”. But it turned out that there was a Triceratops in a children’s book with the same name. His name was Thunderfoot all throughout production, only changing after the movie was finished and had to be dubbed over! If you look closely you can see that whenever a character says “Littlefoot” the animation doesn’t quite match!
  1.       Rex (Toy Story)
  • Rex is a supporting character in the Toy Story franchise. He is a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex who is voiced by Wallace Shawn.
  • A running gag throughout the Toy Story movies is that Rex is insecure about his lack of ferociousness.  Rex’s worst fear is that Andy may want another, scarier dinosaur to replace him. “But what if Andy gets another dinosaur, a mean one? I just don’t think I could take that kind of rejection!”
  • In the original story pitch for Toy Story, Rex’s personality was mostly the same as in the final film, except that he also was to get very angry and even vengeful when it’s revealed Woody threw Buzz out of the window on purpose. All the toys do this to some degree in the final film.
  1.       Arlo (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Arlo, voiced by Raymond Ochoa, is the protagonist of the 2015 Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur.
  • He is a young Apatosaurus living with his parents and older siblings, Buck and Libby. He is the last and the smallest of the three children to hatch out of his egg. Despite hatching from an egg bigger than the first two.
  • In this universe, the asteroid that is believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, never struck Earth. So, over the course of the movie, Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While travelling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
  • In terms of animating Arlo, animators Rob Thompson and Kevin O’Hara went to a zoo and shot video of elephants in motion. Thompson stated: “One of the most intimidating things to animate is a quadruped, because there’s so much to them and there’s so much to manage. Locomotion is all about efficiency, a lot of times you think, ‘We’re animating a big, heavy character. We should slam those feet. That’ll make it feel heavy.’ The truth is, that’s not efficient.”
  • Just some cool trivia, Arlo is the youngest Pixar protagonist to date. And in total The Good Dinosaur took up 300TB of server space.
  1.       Aladar (Dinosaur)
    • Voiced by D.B. Sweeney, Aladar is an Iguanodon that is first shown as an egg. The opening of the movie shows a ridiculously lucky egg traveling across the ocean where the lemur inhabitants find him, and he soon hatches.
    • Throughout the movie, Aladar butts heads with Kron, the leader of a large herd. In the herd, “only the strongest survive.” So Aladar does everything he can to help weaker dinosaurs. He later falls in love with Neera, Kron’s younger sister, who is considerably more compassionate than her brother. Aladar also seems to be a natural leader, which fueled his rivalry with Kron who feared he was trying to take his place.
    • In an early concept for Dinosaur, Aladar was going to have grandparents and be called Noah, but this was changed due to some similarities to The Land Before Time.
    • Aladar’s story is very similar to Tarzan’s story. Both have adopted families, and both lose their biological mothers to a predator. However, both end up killing their enemies during their adulthood, where they meet their love interest. They even go as far as to both have male figures in the family who initially don’t want them.
    • Just an extra bit, the film score was composed by James Newton Howard and he was nominated for an Annie Award and a Saturn Award for Dinosaur in 2000.

Honorable mentions:

  • Butch, Ramsey, and Nash (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Barney (Barney)
  • Unknown dinosaur (T.rex?) (Fantasia)
  • Big Al (The Ballad of Big Al)
  • Blue (Jurassic World)
  • Indominus Rex (Jurassic World)
  • Spinosaurus (Jurassic Park 3)
  • The Big One (Jurassic Park)
  • Carnotaurus (Dinosaur)
  • Momma (Ice Age)
  • Tiny (Meet the Robinsons)
  • Rex (We’re Back)
  • VRex (King Kong)
  • Red Ranger DinoZord (Power Rangers)
  • The rest of the Land Before Time crew

Sources

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