Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 7: verdict

December 2, 2011

This is the final post reviewing the Apatosaurus maquette from Sideshow Collectibles. Previous posts in the series are:

First, the objective verdict.

PROS

The head has the right shape, shows some underlying structure without being shrink-wrapped, has plenty of soft tissue without being a meat bullet, and is nicely detailed. The same comments apply for the rest of the sculpt, except as noted below. There are lots of nice little touches that show careful attention to the evidence we have for the life appearance of sauropods, as detailed in the previous posts. The base is cool.

CONS

The problems are few, and most will escape the attention of all but the most hardcore dino anatomy fiends (OTOH, the most hardcore dino anatomy fiends are probably a big chunk of the target market). The lips or marginal scales covering the teeth are not supported by our current understanding of the available evidence. The number of visible bumps for vertebrae does not add up to the correct presacral count for Apatosaurus–it’s off by probably 2, out of a presacral count of 25. The anterior margin of the thigh does not blend with the ilium as it should. The flipped-back forefoot bothers some paleobiologists but not all. The pose is otherwise fairly orthodox–which might be pro or a con, depending on your point of view. The skull accessory is not as detailed as the maquette and suffers from the comparison, but it’s still decent and a good value for the small additional outlay.

VERDICT

I’ve seen a lot of dinosaur sculptures advertised as ‘museum quality’. This one actually is. In fact–and I am being completely honest here, as I have been throughout–I doubt if I’ve ever seen a scale model of a dinosaur in a museum that could compare to this. My compliments to the artists, sculptor Jorge Blanco and painter Steve Riojas, for an amazing job.

I remember when I first saw Jurassic Park thinking, “Okay, that whole pesky restoring T. rex problem is licked. This is what they looked like.” Eighteen years later–can it really be that long?–I still feel that way. Sure, it’s cool to dress up a rex in wattles and feathers and what have you, maybe tack on a fatter tail, but any such bodywork had better start from the chassis of a JP-style rex. Because the JP rex is built on the real bones, especially the skull. I am familiar with those bones and those skulls, from a lifetime of dino-geekery in general, and six years in the Valley Life Sciences Building at Berkeley in particular. So the JP rexes look like T. rex to me, and all other rexes just look less…real.

In the same way that Jurassic Park fixed my idea of what T. rex looked like, this sculpture crystalizes Apatosaurus for me. As far as I’m concerned, and aside from the relatively minor and unintrusive problems listed above, this is what Apatosaurus looked like, and this maquette is the Apatosaurus representation by which all others should be judged.

Want more opinions? There is a thoughtful review of this maquette at the Dinosaur Toy Blog, with a comment from Mike that was probably the genesis of this whole saga.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Have you ever wished you could give yourself a limited memory wipe and see your favorite movie again for the first time? Or read your favorite book? We value that frisson of surprise so much that we have a word for anything that preempts it: spoiler. It would be nice to be able to revisit some of our favorite things again for the first time, unspoiled.

I have been working on sauropods for a decade and a half. I am still blown away when I stand in front of a big mounted skeleton and think about what such an animal must have been like in life. I cannot help but visualize the organs that filled those immense torsos, and the muscles, vessels, and nerves that moved, plumbed, and wired their bodies. That has not ceased to be a moving experience. But I thought was beyond being surprised by the gross form of sauropods, by their bauplan. I am surrounded by sauropod representations, both 2D and 3D, including those made by others and a few that I have generated myself. How could I possibly be surprised anymore?

And yet, when I look at this sculpture, I am forcibly struck by just how friggin’ weird sauropods are. Mostly it’s the long, fat neck and tiny head, which I know are maximally exaggerated in Apatosaurus. But it just looks wrong. Some primitive mammalian circuit in me rebels at the idea that any animal could need such an immense tube of flesh to serve such a ridiculously small head. I think part of it is the faint ribbing created by the cervical ribs; it makes me think of tentacles, leeches, elephant trunks. I have to consciously remind myself that it was the neck–the neck, with vertebrae and muscles and diverticula and the rest–of a real animal, and not something outlandish invented by a sci-fi author, or moviemaker, or other artist.

And then I think, this must be what other people feel like all the time. And probably how I felt when I was four or five and really grokking sauropods for the first time. I didn’t think I’d feel anything like that about sauropods ever again. So it’s hard for me to be objective about this maquette, because it has reconnected me with the great love of my scientific life, in the most delightfully unexpected way.

I love it. I’m keeping it. Go get your own!

37 Responses to “Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 7: verdict”

  1. Matt Wedel Says:

    Sorry, man. Sincerely. I feel like a heel, having what should by all rights be your maquette awesomeing up my office. In fact, I feel so bad that I might–

    Oh, what’s that you say, Apatosaurus? We’re going on a magical journey to the Jurassic? Okay!

    Later, dude!


  2. […] Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 7: verdict « Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the… Says: December 2, 2011 at 2:00 am […]

  3. kattato Garu Says:

    I really enjoyed these posts!!! So much so that I am going to go and buy… a Wild Safari Stegosaur, just to keep me ticking over. It’s a shame this big model is so expensive but hopefully the Papos and Schleiches of this world will take their cue and make one for us skinflints…

    Now, just on the narrow point that “I doubt if I’ve ever seen a scale model of a dinosaur in a museum that could compare to this.” – Our Oxford University museum has a leap-out-of the-box genuine Compsognatus – featured on this very blog some time ago! Can your readers suggest a list of similar model excellence??… maybe the beginning of a truly geeky museum crawl…


  4. […] is – of course – Matt Wedel, of svpow fame. Good is his in-depth review of Sideshow’s Apatosaurus macquette… but why is this so? I suspect this series will need no introduction, so I’ll just jump […]

  5. dmaas Says:

    Thank you! This review sets a standard, methinks.
    http://www.drip.de/?p=1864

  6. Marc Vincent Says:

    I appeciated what you were saying regarding the JP T. rex, but some of us who collect dinosaur models are getting a bit bored of companies ripping off the look. Don’t encourage them. ;) I wouldn’t mind so much if they modified the arms…

    In any case, I know I’ve said it before, but thanks very much for this series of posts. They’ve been a great read, and I’ve learned quite a lot – and what more could one possibly ask for?

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    Thanks, all, for the kind words. They’re much appreciated.

    I appeciated what you were saying regarding the JP T. rex, but some of us who collect dinosaur models are getting a bit bored of companies ripping off the look. Don’t encourage them. ;)

    Yeah, I hear you. Papo in particular follows the JP look so slavishly they ought to pay royalties. OTOH, for those of us who grew up with and loved JP, that T. rex makes our hearts beat a bit faster.

    Thanks for your own fine work at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs and The Dinosaur Toy Blog. I have spent a lot of quality time cruising your archives…more than is probably right.

  8. Matt Wedel Says:

    Can your readers suggest a list of similar model excellence??… maybe the beginning of a truly geeky museum crawl…

    I like it. Somebody should do this. Probably not the SV-POW!sketeers, at least not soon, as we’re all off to Germany in–ulp!–five days for a sauropod paleobiology workshop. Maybe we can get Dave Hone or the Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs guys on the case.

  9. Maija Karala Says:

    I was definitely going to buy one for myself, until I saw the price tag. I simply cannot afford that. Not fair!

  10. Matt Says:

    Thank you very much for this post. After reading all of your post on the Sideshow Apatosaurus I want to get one. However, at this time I can’t afford one.
    You summoned it all up with mentioning how bizarre sauropods really are. I agree with you, their morphology are among the most unique in the animal kindgom. Seems like debate over neck functions may be ongoing, although it seems as if a “consensus” is somewhat being reached.
    Their heads are just as weird, the diplodocid and macronarian heads and dentition are about as “weird” as they get for a dinosaur, nigerasaurus is a prime example. I remember seeing a PaleoWorld episode where Bob Bakker reconstructed Apatosaurus with moose-style lips. It was a very interesting look for a sauropod, as you mentioned it looks like the recent evidence does not fit moose-style lips in any sauropod. I admit though I’m still curious about the grooves that are present on the front of diplodocid skulls. I have seem them on two apaptosaurus skulls so far.
    Well sorry to go on this long, thank you again for the excellent post(s) on the Sideshow Apatosaurus. They surely show how magnificant sauropods really are.

  11. wolfwalker Says:

    “Have you ever wished you could give yourself a limited memory wipe and see your favorite movie again for the first time? Or read your favorite book?”

    Happens to me a lot. It’s one reason I teach the occasional workshop on birdwatching – nothing brings that thrill back like watching someone else experience it.

    “And yet, when I look at this sculpture, I am forcibly struck by just how friggin’ weird sauropods are.”

    A python that swallowed an elephant .. or maybe a python moreau’ed with an elephant.

    “Some primitive mammalian circuit in me rebels at the idea that any animal could need such an immense tube of flesh to serve such a ridiculously small head.”

    The most intriguing idea I ever heard about sauropod necks is that they originally evolved as compensation for sauropod tails. IE, selection enhanced tail length for some reason, and the neck had to get longer too as a counterbalance.

    What stuns me about sauropods is just their sheer SIZE. One animal. One hundred tons. One hundred or more feet long. Living. Mobile. On land. Standing up against gravity and all that. It just makes my brain go ’tilt.’

  12. Matt Wedel Says:

    The most intriguing idea I ever heard about sauropod necks is that they originally evolved as compensation for sauropod tails. IE, selection enhanced tail length for some reason, and the neck had to get longer too as a counterbalance.

    Yeah, intriguing, but that’s about it. By that logic, elephants need immense tails to balance their heads, and camels likewise to balance their necks. The counterbalance argument runs aground against quadrupedality.

    What stuns me about sauropods is just their sheer SIZE. One animal. One hundred tons. One hundred or more feet long. Living. Mobile. On land. Standing up against gravity and all that. It just makes my brain go ’tilt.’

    Yup! Now that I can get behind 100%.

  13. wolfwalker Says:

    “By that logic, elephants need immense tails to balance their heads, and camels likewise to balance their necks.”

    Not necessarily. It’s all about the leverage, right? So those animals just need to adjust their physiognomy somehow to keep their center of mass between the forelegs and the hind legs. Elephants and camels both accomplish that by putting the majority of their body mass close to the forequarters, and by putting a significant percentage of their body mass well behind the center of mass. I’m no expert, just an interested amateur, but to me it almost looks like the hindquarters in those animals have been adjusted by evolution partly so they become the counterbalance to the large head or neck. There are other examples, both past and present — look at the modern giraffe, or gnu, or American bison, or the fossil Paraceratherium.

    So maybe something about sauropod evolution meant that they needed longer tails, and the easiest solution to the counterbalance requirement was to increase the neck length too. Or perhaps it was a matter of tail length and neck length being controlled by the same genes, so that increased tail length meant increased neck length whether they liked it or not.


  14. This was one of the coolest series of posts ever. A great collectible review and a great way to teach an anatomy lesson. Thank you.

  15. Matt Wedel Says:

    It’s all about the leverage, right? So those animals just need to adjust their physiognomy somehow to keep their center of mass between the forelegs and the hind legs.

    Right. And all sauropods that anyone has looked at had their center of mass between their forelegs and hindlegs, too. Usually squarely between, except for the diplodocids, for which the COM was just in front of the acetabulum. But for any non-diplodocid, you could lop off the entire head and neck–which accounted for less than 10% of the total body volume–and they would still be in balance on four feet, long tails and all. And it’s no good arguing that diplodocids evolved the long necks to balance their huge tails, because their ancestors had the long necks already before they evolved their apomorphically fat tails.

    So maybe something about sauropod evolution meant that they needed longer tails, and the easiest solution to the counterbalance requirement was to increase the neck length too. Or perhaps it was a matter of tail length and neck length being controlled by the same genes, so that increased tail length meant increased neck length whether they liked it or not.

    OR, something about sauropod evolution meant that they needed longer necks. Like the fact that they were immense bulk feeders with tiny heads that were essentially mobile cropping devices, for whom increased feeding envelopes were probably highly advantageous.

  16. wolfwalker Says:

    Well, yeah. :-) But the fact that you continue to wonder about it, as I do, suggests that you aren’t completely convinced by that explanation, just as I’m not. Oh, it’s mostly convincing … but not completely. I still have my doubts, and I still think this is one case where the obvious answer isn’t quite the correct one. It seems that there’s a piece of the puzzle we don’t have yet.

  17. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    “I’ve seen a lot of dinosaur sculptures advertised as ‘museum quality’.”

    I collect trilobite fossils (OK, so they may be stinkin’ invertebrates, but I can actually acquire a whole one!) and I frequently see fossils advertised as “museum quality”. It always gives me a chuckle because the literature is replete with pics of specimens that are in museum collections and are just bits and pieces, so that’s what comes to my mind.

    I hadn’t visited recently, so I missed the earlier posts in this series, but am inspired now to beetle off and read the rest of them now.

  18. Mike Taylor Says:

    I guess “museum quality” is meant to be read as “museum exhibit quality”.

  19. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    Indeed! But no plan survives contact with the ‘enemy’.

  20. Jack Bertram Says:

    ermmmm..
    Has anyone noticed that the maquette’s pose is straight out of Paul 1998, flexed carpus and all????

    just sayin…


  21. Paul 1988? Funny, all 1988 papers by Paul I can find seem to be free of sauropods. Paul 1987 has no Apatosaurus either.


  22. Jack Bertram: Paul 1997. It is the other hand that is lifted, and Paul has the SAME foot off the ground as the hand – different gait!
    No, this is NOT a Paul copy.

  23. Mike Taylor Says:

    Jack, we’re very aware that the flexed manus is what we call “GSP-compliant”, as noted in part 5 of the review. See the discussion therein. Heinrich, Greg did of course publish an important sauropod paper in 1988 with an important and influential skeletal reconstruction — Paul, Gregory S. 1988. The brachiosaur giants of the Morrison and Tendaguru with a description of a new subgenus, Giraffatitan, and a comparison of the world’s largest dinosaurs. Hunteria 2(3):1-14.


  24. ouch, I totall forgot. Still, no Apatosaurus in there.

  25. Matt Wedel Says:

    Also, the Sideshow Apatosaurus has a much less strongly curved back and neck, and a curvier tail. I’m not denying Paul’s massive influence on the visual representation of dinosaurs over the past three decades, but I don’t think we can characterize this as being “straight out of” Paul’s work without saying the same about most Apatosaurus restorations.

  26. Jack Bertram Says:

    Thanks to all. Old men can’t type. Your patience and gracious responses are noted and appreciated.


  27. I have read and re-read these posts quite a few times already. Absolutely brilliant. I can always rely on such clear writing, earnest scientific discussion, motivating ideas, and openness to non-professionals from you guys at SV-POW, and these posts have epitomized all of these great qualities. Thank you for writing this series.

    Analyzing the trends and tropes in science-based art is intriguing, especially of dinosaur reconstructions. You’ve really captured the complexity of the decisionmaking that goes into reconstructing an animal. Anything you guys blog about is gold, but I would love to see further dissections of life reconstructions. (And Jorge Blanco is awesome. I remember first seeing his work on Mike Keesey’s Dinosauricon.)

    These posts are motivating to me artistically as well, and for that, again, I thank you.

    P.S. I certainly love the JP _T. rex_, as well, but not so much the lips and zigzaggy jawline. Two things that strike me as noteworthy, on the other hand: 1) The meaty brow ridge is great. It’s weird to me when the shrink-wrapping of dinosaur skulls includes keratin bosses that exactly follow every dimple and crest of the skull bones (even though I did that in my art for years). And 2), the rugosity on the nasals was depicted so often as exactly corresponding to large units of keratin, and the JP design accommodated that in a much more believable manner, to my eyes.

    However, it baffles me a little that details of the JP design filtered into scientific reconstructions so fluidly. One good thing about the many CGI documentaries following Walking With Dinosaurs is that the most popular designs necessarily have to proliferate because of copyright infringement.


  28. Finally I have found the time to read this series and I’m wondering which one is better – the gorgeous maquette or the well-written review.

    Definitely the best way to teach an overall lesson about Apatosaurus.

  29. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    It may hard to say which is better, the maquette or the review, but the review wins on affordability.

    Thanks, Matt


  30. […] I can now pass on to my son. I also have a Stegosaurus, a Brontosaurus (shown but not commented on here), and a Trachodon. Yeah, yeah, I know the real animals are known as Apatosaurus and Edmontosaurus […]

  31. Dean Says:

    Someone needs to do a water displacement on this glorious sculpture and get an awesome weight estimate for Apatosaurus. I would, but I’m too much of a chicken to risk my precious!


  32. […] is one of my photos of the Apatosaurus maquette from Sideshow Collectibles, which I reviewed here. I would have used an actual Diplodocus but no-one has ever made one as nice as that Sideshow […]


  33. […] research and science communication, and partly because they’re just cool – basically the world’s best dinosaur toys – and I covet them. In my experience, it is very, very common to find these treasures of […]


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