Any Paleo-Nerd worth of that name has had at least one of those wooden construction kits of dinosaurs skeletons. Simón Álvarez of WONDER Artistic Models is taking those assemblies to the next level, bringing detail and accuracy to today’s standards!
Hi Simón, Welcome to Paleo-Nerd! First of all, would you please introduce yourself and your company to our fans?
Hello, I am Simón Álvarez, a Venezuelan engineer and designer eradicated in Chile and founder of WONDER Artistic Models, entrepreneurship dedicated to the design of 3D buildable models based on scientific research and reconstruction of paleofauna, so the idea is to make them anatomically correct.
Where did your passion for dinosaurs come from?
They drew my attention and there were several factors that increased that attraction:
1. The first time I visited a natural history museum.
2. Had a classmate who collected a dinosaurs magazine.
3. I saw Jurassic Park (of course).
4. In Venezuela they installed an animatronics park when I was a child, I remember that I just wanted to go every weekend.
5. I watched several documentaries (some animated by Phill Tippett).
6. Later, the TV show “the movie magic” was the icing on the cake.
Do you remember the first dinosaur toy you ever owned?
I had some dinosaurs that were small and made of plastic that came with various species in a bag. Later I had a Velociraptor that my mom gave me and it “was” my favorite toy ever.
How did you get the idea of taking the whole wooden skeletons concept to such a high level of detail and accuracy?
When I was a child, I had wooden assemblies that you surely know. Now as an adult, from job to job, I finally wanted to do something that I was really passionate about, so I combined a natural passion (dinosaurs and megafauna) with one of my skills (design).
I realized that there has been a lot of progress in science and technology, but that those kits have not been updated in a long time. Also, I realized that many people see this exciting topic as if it were for children (because they are the most fascinated), so I thought that there must be more adults like me who would like these “toys” but, at the same time, up to the age in which we live and to our generations.
What were your main references? How much research do you put into your work?
Fortunately, we are in the information age, we have the possibility of having a lot of knowledge in the palm of our hand (literally), so we have the ease of having information through the internet, as well as being able to communicate through the social networks with the scientists who support to validate or deny the information that can be found.
So, on the internet, you can find the official papers with the direct information of the research, and it really is an invaluable contribution for undertakings like this.
Do you get assistance from any paleontologist or paleoartist?
As I mentioned earlier, the internet and social networks are a great contribution when you want to start a business. These tools have allowed me to have direct contact with several paleontologists with whom I can consult specific questions.
They have shown me that, even when they are very busy and often in excavations in remote places, they are people who are very open to sharing and disseminating knowledge.
Can you describe to us your way of working?
Because the models are buildable and in fact, this is part of the experience, I usually divide the production into two parts: the first part is creating the model as such, the design; and the second is making the whole product: assembly templates, instructions, packing, illustrated information brochure, web product, photos, videos, etc.
For the first part, the first thing to do is to find the most up-to-date information about the species to be designed. Collect images and then proceed to make the model. Here scale and posture are defined. On this design, both shear and design stability tests are carried out against the adversities of time, humidity, and temperature.
When the model is ready, we proceed with the rest of the work, which is the second part.
Can you tell us something about the criteria by which you choose the species and pick the skeletal to use for the models?
Our brand is young, and our goal is to have a minimum of 50 models of various species. So basically we are picking out representatives from each era and species. Obviously, theropods are the most desired by fans, which is why there are more of this type of organisms than others, but eventually, we want to minimize this gap.
Usually, we use a voting system too, so that our followers decide which will be the next WONDER models. We believe that this is a good method: being a dino lover, I understand how exciting it can be that a brand represents precisely that species that you like so much and thus materialize a small dream or personal wish.
One of our goals is to make species that are less popular but still striking and full of curiosities.
Are you facing some challenges in your work?
It has been difficult for me to determine in which direction this question comes, so I will answer several aspects that represent a challenge.
As for the designs, they are always a challenge, since although the design processes are being optimized little by little and there are species with generic shapes (such as theropods, for example), when you start to design the details you realize how different they are, and those differences are what makes each species a whole new challenge, even if it didn’t seem like it. Of course, when you want to make them accurate, you notice all these differences that make each species fascinating.
Regarding challenges as entrepreneurship, I can summarize by saying that I am an immigrant trying to start with a project that is not for mass consumption, so this answer would be very long if I added more details, but I can summarize it by saying that it is a challenge, but also continuous learning that leaves unmatched life experience and human reward.
PATRIOTISM TIME! What prompted you to make a model of the Italian theropod Saltriovenator? After all, it’s known from few fragmentary remains…
The Montevarchi Paleontological Museum published a paleoart contest and, although I consider myself a paleoartist, I think I am quite young, and the fact that several paleontologists recognize my work as something good motivated me to face the competition.
So I decided to choose the Saltriovenator Zanellai, since although little evidence has been found, it seemed to me that it was quite representative of its heritage, so I set out to make it as I had never made a model before, that is, detailing each bone with the laser.
In the end, I did not win, but it was very pleasant to be able to participate and be part of that world. In addition, I have made friends with the Italian paleontologist Diego Mattarelli, and he let me know that they quite liked my reconstruction, so I was very happy with that experience.
And now it’s your turn to be patriotic! How was it working on Chilesaurus?
In September, the national holidays for freedom and the glories of the army are celebrated in Chile, so this is the month of the fatherland.
Chilesaurus diegosuarezi is an emblematic dinosaur of this country. I wanted to design it from the first year of WONDER, but you will understand that 2020 was a complicated year and each model takes a lot of work, and they did not give me the time to be able to do it in September 2020.
I planned very well for the year 2021 to be able to make this dinosaur and release it this month. Fortunately, it was exhibited a couple of months before at the National Museum of Natural History of Chile, located in Santiago. So I had the opportunity to go to the museum and collect images directly from one of the official reconstructions.
So, after a little more than a year, I was able to design it with the best reference one can have, something that I have not had with any other model.
I designed this model with the intention of making it much easier to assemble without sacrificing anatomy, with the intention o ensuring education from an early age and contributing to scientific communication.
Recently, the 4th Chilean dinosaur was published, the Stegouros elengassen, this model is also part of the collection too.
Which are the next initiatives that fans and collectors should expect in the future?
We are constantly working to maintain a periodicity in the launches and we want to continue expanding the variety. We recently made the Mammuthus columbi, our first mammal, and a synapsid is coming out soon. We want to have other marine and flying reptiles, ceratopsids, and sauropods, as well as other dromaeosaurs, so fans of the brand can bet that more and more models, combos, and novelties will be coming.
Knowing that there is a public that appreciates and values what we do is the main motivation, it would be useless to have the greatest happiness if we did not have someone to share it with, don’t you think?