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!

This is the sixth installment in a series on the Apatosaurus maquette from Sideshow Collectibles. Other posts in the series are:

Texture and color deserve discussion on two levels: biological plausibility, and level of execution.

The skin texture is wrinkled, with a few scattered warts or tubercles. The tail is crowned with a line of low spines, as previously discussed here. We know from skin impressions that sauropods had naked skin, with non-overlapping, generally hexagonal scales ranging from 1-4 cm in diameter (Czerkas 1994, Platt and Hasiotis 2006).

Would the individual scales be visible at the scale of this sculpture? The maquette is 1.1 meters long in a straight line from the right side of the mouth to the tip of the tail, and I measure it as 1.27 meters along the dorsal body margin. Most mounted apatosaurs are in the neighborhood of 70 feet long (21 meters), and the monster at the OMNH is 92 feet (28 meters). The maquette is therefore between 1/16 and 1/22 scale, depending on how big an animal it is supposed to represent (I almost wrote, “assuming it is an adult”, but most mounted sauropods are demonstrably subadult; even the monster apatosaur from Oklahoma has some elements unfused). An unusual but not unheard-of scale for dinosaur figures is 1/18, so that may have been the goal here, for a “in life” length of 75.5 feet (23 meters).

Back to the epidermal, as opposed to proportional, scales. A 4-cm scale on a real Apatosaurus would be about 2 mm on the maquette, and the more common 1-cm scales would be about 0.5 mm. Those would be pretty darned difficult to sculpt and cast in any way would that make them recognizable, so I think we can safely overlook the absence of visible scales on the maquette (warts excepted). Would scaly skin bunch and fold like the skin on the maquette? Beats me. From my experiences with turtles, some of which are pretty darned wrinkly, I wouldn’t rule it out. So I judge the texture plausible. And the level of detail in the execution is phenomenal. I said in the head post that the level of detail you see there is perpetuated through the entire sculpt, and I stand by that. The maquette invites–and withstands–close scrutiny.

The color of the maquette is interesting without being vibrant: olive green above, shading into a tannish-yellow below, with stripes on the tail and faint dark freckles on the neck, body, and limbs. The freckles remind me of the scattered dark spots sometimes seen on the skin of elephants, so that may be a deliberate homage. Finally, the dorsal surfaces of the neck, body, and proximal tail are mottled with off-white or grayish splotches that recall the spotting on some deer.

Now, I am typically an ardent proponent of flamboyant dinosaurs (see here and here). If someone had asked me to design an Apatosaurus maquette, I would have done things differently. I would have slapped on the spines and dewlaps and inflatable display sacs until this thing looked like the three-way love child of Todd Marshall’s Spinosaurus, a bird-of-paradise, and the 80s hair metal band of your choice.

That’s what I would have done, if someone asked me to design an Apatosaurus maquette. But now that I see the one that was actually produced, I would change almost nothing. Because the underlying anatomy would get lost, and the thing would become just a billboard for all the flamboyant gloop (just like some real animals). And because not every animal is a head-to-toe wack job; for every Golden Pheasant there are roughly a thousand little brown passerines.

So the color is good. Great, even. It’s really hard to convey how lifelike this thing looks, as if at any moment it might just stroll right off the end of my bookcase. Heck, I’ve seen lots of real animals that looked less alive that this maquette (some lizards, many amphibians). That the overall design and level of detail can inspire that reaction in anyone is a big win. That it can make me feel that way, when I should be maximally on guard against any mistakes, is even better.

But now I’m starting to break the bounds of objectivity, so I’ll stop here. I’ll provide a final objective verdict, and also give my subjective impressions, in the next, and final, post.

References

  • Czerkas, S. 1994. The history and interpretation of sauropod skin impressions. GAIA 10: 173-182.
  • Platt, B.F., and Hasiotis, S.T. 2006. Newly discovered sauropod dinosaur tracks with skin and foot-pad impressions from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Palaios 21: 249-261.