Photo by RobinGoodfellow_ (m)
Talking about Tyrannosaurus rex toys and models isn’t as easy as it might seem. We often deal with companies that are not afraid to update their dinosaurs, yet towards the T. rex, there’s always a sort of awe, a fear to undermine the sacredness of what is now a Pop icon. Moreover, precisely because of his fame, the king of the dinosaurs has become the “business card” of every specialized company, with continuous and sometimes redundant re-editions. Limiting oneself on PNSO, this model is the third adult T.rex Sculpt since its debut in 2017! So how does it stand in such a crowded scenario?
Most modern Tyrannosaurus rex models are based on “Stan” (BHI 3033) and “Sue” (FMNH PR 2081), so the inspiration for AMNH 5027, the specimen from which this media cult started, becomes very interesting.
Discovered in 1907, AMNH 5027 was the first T. rex skeleton shown to the public and for 26 years it was the only one that could be admired: it is therefore easy to realize how shocking its impact on the collective imagination was, thanks to the impressive complete skull unearthed by Barnum Brown, the first of its kind and capable of conveying astonishment and terror like few things before.
As if that were not enough to have inspired every artistic representation of the animal for almost a century, the profile of this skeleton was traced by the graphic designer Chip Kidd for the cover of the Jurassic Park novel, then modified in the classic Logo of the Film.
Furthermore, ILM artist Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams made the first CGI animation tests for Spielberg’s masterpiece starting from the skeletal reconstruction presented by Gregory S. Paul for AMNH 5027.
We would therefore ask ourselves: then what is so special about being inspired by such a popular specimen? The fact is that for a long time reproducing the features of a dinosaur did not require a great deal of attention to the skeletal reconstruction, so any T. Rex toy that was inspired by AMNH 5027 did not necessarily reflect its more specific characteristics.
Being based on this specimen has led to faithfully reproducing not only the proportions of the head, “purified” by the design choices for Jurassic Park, but also the keratin covering present on it, based on the osteological correlates in the skull. The rest of the facial integument is inspired by the studies on Daspletosaurus Horneri (Carr, T. D. et al. 2017): the Texture in the front part of the skull would indicate the presence of large scales, each of which is studded with holes; these scales, as for crocodiles, would act as integumentary sensory organs (or ISO, from ‘Integumentary Sensory Organs) making the facial area particularly sensitive.
Within the interactive exhibition ‘T. Rex: The Ultimate Predator ‘, created by AMNH in collaboration with ZHAO Chuang, were in fact exhibited the replica of the jaw of a tyrannosaurus and an interactive crocodile skull with a system of lights that replicated the branches of the trigeminal nerve. It is therefore not surprising that PNSO wanted to support this idea in the model as well, opting for a lipless representation.
At 11:00 of this illustrative video (worth seeing, even just for the moments in which he draws), ZHAO Chuang supports the thesis by highlighting the fact that the way in which the mouth of a T. Rex opens and closes is different from that of a lizard, in line with different eating habits and with the hypotheses on the power of the bite.
Although the debate on the presence or absence of lips in tyrannosaurids is still open, such a rendition has rarely been seen, especially in a model.
The jaw joint is based on the possibility of inserting one of the muscle groups present on the sides of the mouth in special recesses.
Same goes for the teeth, protected by cracks in the palate. Note the presence of choanas!
On the other hand, it is surprising that at least the feathers on the head are not present, like what we see in the Booklet illustrations; on the other hand, small scales reminiscent of the skin of a plucked chicken have been sculpted on the neck, based on the fragments of skin documented by Bob Detrich in 2006. It is precisely these fragments that introduce the most controversial aspect of the model, namely the size of the scales. By just looking how they compare to a human finger in the original photo it’s easy to realize how oversized they are on the model.
First of all, let’s dispel the myth by which the scales we see are actually groups of smaller scales: even if we wanted to follow this reasoning (and in any case, it would only apply to some of the skin fragments to which PNSO referred) these “islands” would have had a diameter about 5mm on the 1:1 animal, so they would still be invisible on a 1:35 model. The known skin fragments of T. rex mainly belong to the neck and tail (Bell et al., 2017), so the integument on the rest of the model was sculpted by integrating the skin impressions on the remains of Tarbosaurus and Albertosaurus. In addition to faithfully reproducing each Texture, the general rendering is so varied to be quite suggestive to the eye and to the touch: call it excess of zeal, see it as a clever trick, certainly the research carried out could not have been shown without altering the size of the scales.
AMNH 5027 is still a 45% complete skeleton, so once scanned the proportions were readjusted by using other references, including the updated version of Sue. The most important novelty is the addition of gastralia on the belly, basically the main reason why the model looks massive like no other so far.
Apart from the pose, fluid and stable (however, there’s a transparent Plastic Rod, just in case) the way in which the feet were sculpted is very nice: the idea of adding the pads and smoothing the claws imagining that they would wear out by walking adds likelihood to the Sculpt, as well as recalling the approach used for Saurian’s T. Rex.
Therefore , are we facing the T. Rex who puts an end to any discussion? No, and nothing will succeed. It is certainly the best one produced by PNSO so far, especially since it applies very well some of the aesthetic potential provided by science. To say, if the company itself made a feathered and lipped version, it would come out a jewel equally valid in representing another idea of the animal.
Thanks also to the color, the sensation of seeing a “revised and corrected” version of the Jurassic Park T.rex is very strong: after all it is as if the logo itself came to life, and it is easy to think that if Wilson had been used as Maquette reference for an Animatronic or CGI model would probably have imposed itself in a very similar, if not identical, way. More than a simple model of T.rex, it is a tribute to a historical specimen, in which past and present of paleontology are combined in a eye-catching manner.