Category Archives: sauropod

Diplodocus (2017) (Wild Safari by Safari Ltd)

Available from Amazon here.

For some reason, I can remember that one of the dinosaur books I had as a kid included a picture of a Diplodocus-style sauropod, with a quote from a paleontologist in the caption saying that “for most people, this is literally Mr Dinosaur himself”. It’s a comment that captures the unique fasciation of these animals, as the largest creatures ever to have walked the Earth. Everything about the sheer mass of these animals borders on the inconceivable, and yet modern reconstructions of sauropods emphasise that alongside their staggering size, these “earth-shaker lizards” possessed a sinuous, almost swan-like elegance and beauty. For this reason, sauropod figures have a special place in the hearts of many dinosaur model collectors. Today I review the newest potential addition to your herd, the 2017 Safari Diplodocus.

Diplodocus was first unearthed in 1877, and by now, countless millions of people must have gazed up at the many skeletal casts of Diplodocus featuring in museums around the world, as donated by the millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie in the early years of the twentieth century. Palaeontologist Gregory S Paul gives a size estimate of 25 metres and 12 tonnes for D. carnegii (in the dinosaur books I read as a kid, it seemed more or less compulsory to include a picture showing Diplodocus lined up alongside three busses parked end-to-end) and suggests that there may have been as many as 6 Diplodocus species, one of which, D. hallorum (the sauropod formerly known as Seismosaurus) may have reached 32 metres and 30 tonnes, making it a pretty decent candidate for the longest land animal ever (although not the most massive – sauropods from other branches of the family tree, such as brachiosaurs and titanosaurs, were much more heavily built). What’s really amazing is that four of the most famous of dinosaur giants, Diplodocus, the brontosaur Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Camarasaurus, all lived together at the same time and place, in the Morrison Formation of late Jurassic North America, around 150 million years ago. What a truly astounding sight it must have seen these colossi together, wandering the same plains and drinking from the same watering holes…

But enough of this banter, what about the model? The first thing to note about this figure is it’s impressive size, which doesn’t really come across from the promotional photographs online. Although not as massive as the Carnegie collection sauropod figures of old, this is still a very hefty model that does justice to the imposing dimensions of the original beast. The length of the figure, (as posed with a tail that curves over upon itself), is about 47cm long. If you straighten out the tail, you get a total head-to-tail length of about 60cm, so accepting a 25 metre length estimate for the living animal, that gives us a scale that is pretty darn close to 1:40 (1:41.666 if you want to be precise). Furthermore, if you can manage to find a toy bus that is 20cm long, then you can use three of them to recreate that Diplodocus size-comparison illustration we all saw in the dinosaur books of our youth – isn’t it lucky that you have me to point these things out for you?

The pose of this Diplodocus is very handsome, and arguably superior to  Safari Diplodocus figures that have preceded it, not least because the head and tail are in a more-or-less straight alignment, meaning that the model displays equally well from both sides. The thing that I like best about this figure’s pose it that it is so naturalistic – it really does look like a plausible animal, ambling through its late Jurassic habitat, relaxed and self-assured (mercifully, the protruding ‘shrink wrapped’ vertebra and  ‘belly-almost-dragging-on-the-ground’ carriage of Papo’s sauropod monstrosity are not in evidence here). The way the whiplash tail curls over upon itself is a particularly appealing feature of the sculpt – it’s been speculated that living Diplodocus could twirl their tails around like this for communication and display within the herd. Iguana-like spines seem to show up on all manner of sauropod reconstructions these days, but in the case of the Diplodocus line of the sauropod family tree, there really are fossil skin impressions indicating this feature, so they make a welcome addition to the model. An aspect of the figure that will please many is that the hands (front feet) are depicted with only a single but large claw projecting laterally out from the side, which intuitively, looks a little odd, but is in fact in line with current paleontological views on sauropod anatomy. The musculature of the neck, where it joins onto the body, is portrayed as being rather deeper and more massive than on many older reconstructions that I’ve seen. I’m afraid I don’t know enough sauropod anatomy to comment on this from a technical standpoint, but purely in terms of aesthetics it looks plausible enough, and adds to this sculpts refreshingly contemporary and up-to-date feel.

I was excited to buy this figure, because the two-toned colour scheme with the dappled underbelly reminded me of the dinosaur art of Raul Martin, whose sauropod restorations must surely rank as among the most beautiful renditions of these animals. But unfortunately, it must be said that when the model is in hand, the surface details are a little disappointing. The skin is textured all over, but the depth of the texturing is slight, and not crisply cast. Consequently, the skin detailing seems flat and nondescript – in the picture below I’ve compared it with the skin texturing of the Collecta Diplodocus, which in my opinion is much more dynamic in its surface details. The colour scheme is based around a plausible-seeming (and not unattractive) shade of green-grey, and the underbelly mottling has an effectively organic look to it. But unfortunately, (on my example at least), the paint has not been well applied, appearing very thin and watered-down in places, and clumsily slapped-on in others, especially about the  head. The eye is just a black dot, and the way the white for the teeth has been dashed all about the head gives my example something of an unfortunate  bucked-tooth look. There is absolutely no tonal variation on the green-grey that covers most of the body, and this makes it rather overpowering visually – even the spines are in the same colour, which is a shame since a line of dark spines against the grey would really have made them a standout feature of the model. Even the most elementary of repainting efforts, (such as picking out the spines in black), would greatly improve the look of this guy. The blandness of the surface detailing and the lacklustre paint application do tend to make this figure seem more like a plastic lump of a toy than a scale replica for display, which is a real shame since the proportions and pose are so well thought-out.

Kids will no doubt really enjoy playing with this life-like Diplodocus, and would appreciate the flexibility of the whiplash tail as a way of adding some life and movement to the toy. As a collector’s model for the shelf, my conclusions are more equivocal. This is one of those figures that perhaps looks rather better from a distance than close up. From the promotional photographs online, I thought this was going to be a truly stunning model… the pose and form certainly give it the potential to be so, but unfortunately the execution of the surface detailing and paintwork have reduced the impact considerably. It’s still a very interesting and appealing model, just not the truly stunning figure that I feel it could have been. Sauropod fans will undoubtedly want to add this one to their herd, but more general-interest collectors will have to make up their own minds. I usually like to end my reviews with some atrocious pun, but given the various plusses and minuses of this figure, I’ll just remark that it is up to individual collectors to decide if they want to risk sticking their necks out for this one.

Available from Amazon here.

Huanghetitan (Age of the Dinosaurs by PNSO)

In 2016 the PNSO (Peking Natural Science-Art Organization) line introduced large figures of often under-represented Chinese dinosaurs. The largest of the line is the obscure macronarian sauropod Huanghetitan, which lived in the Aptian age of the early Cretaceous (some time between 125 to 113 million years ago) of what is now China.

Huanghetitan being known only from fragmentary remains, it is hard to judge the accuracy of this figure. However the portrayal is is consistent with known sauropod biology. The hands correctly have only one claw and a slight crescent-moon shape. The nostrils are positioned towards the front of the skull (albeit a bit asymmetrically). Small scales and larger osteoderms, known from other sauropods, cover the skin. Most importantly, there is an appropriate amount of soft tissue – this is one bulky sauropod! No shrinkwrapped fenestrae or neck vertebrae to be seen here, which unfortunately cannot be said for the line’s other sauropods. The only fault  is an errant fourth toe claw on the right hind foot. Sauropods only had three claws on the hind feet, with the fourth and fifth digits being more stub-like. The left foot is correct, but the right foot even has the extra claw sculpted on (not just painted). Perhaps the figure represents an individual with a congenital defect? More likely this was an oversight in the sculpting process or a mistake gone uncorrected.

The combination of bulkiness and sheer size lend this figure a grand presence. Proudly striding along with head held high, this Huanghetitan is large and in charge, a giant in its prime. Depending on the length estimates used, this figure is anywhere from 1:30 to 1:40 scale.

The color scheme is subdued, consisting of varied grays and browns reminiscent of large extant mammals. The upper body’s scales have a white wash between them suggestive of dust caked into the skin (as with a modern elephant), similar to PNSO’s Triceratops. If being picky one could say the wash cuts off rather abruptly along the bottom, but this is only noticeable upon close inspection. The eyes are neatly painted gold with black pupils.

Astute collectors may notice that this figure bears a resemblance to the much more expensive Sideshow Apatosaurus statue, with both being bulky gray sauropods. Given that the Huanghetitan retails for the equivalent of just under $60 USD (discounted at the time of writing to ~$30 USD), how do these two stack up? It’s a fraction of the Sideshow statue’s price, but is it only a fraction of the quality?

Both are sizeable, with the Huanghetitan measuring about 27″ long compared to the Apatosaurus‘ 43″. But the Huanghetitan, being hollow vinyl, is a much lighter 2 lb compared to the Apatosaurus’ 10 lb. Despite being hollow the Huanghetitan is quite sturdy, and its vinyl construction makes it much less fragile than the Sideshow piece. Not having a base, it is much more easily transported than the Apatosaurus.

In terms of quality the Huanghetitan falls short upon close observation. The paint is prone to wear, even in the original packaging, and there are visible seams across the limbs and attaching the tail to the torso. Thankfully the paint application and detailing make these a bit less obvious. Furthermore, the details, while fine and intricate, are not as crisp as those on the resin Sideshow piece. While (naturally) not as high-end as the much pricier Sideshow statue, this is still a fine piece, making a worthy centerpiece (or companion to those fortunate Sideshow owners). At its retail price the detail and size make this figure a great bargain.

This big beauty makes a great addition to the collection of any fan of sauropods or Chinese dinosaurs. The Huanghetitan and other PNSO figurs are available outside of China from various resellers, though usually with some markup. If you are fortunate to have family or friends in China who can order one from PNSO’s Chinese store for you, the price is much more affordable.

Apatosaurus (Field Museum Mold-A-Rama)

Although I’m not old enough to have witnessed the Sinclair Motor Oil “Dinoland” exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair this has always been an era in American history that has fascinated me. The representations of dinosaurs at that time are now heavily outdated but they stand as symbols of just how popular these animals became in the wake of their discovery. The Sinclair Dinoland and Sinclair’s dinosaur heavy marketing campaign was at that time to many people what the release of “Jurassic Park” was to me in 1993. Just imagine what it must have been like to have stood at the feet of those life-sized models, taken right off of a Charles Knight painting and beautifully reproduced in what was essentially a real “Jurassic Park” for that time. Sure, countless life size dinosaur parks exist now, but this particular one at this iconic time in America’s history has always intrigued me.

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The model we’re looking at today comes straight out of that era. Indeed, the Mold-A-Rama figures were sold as souvenirs at the World’s Fair in 1964, right on the cusp of the Dinosaur Renaissance. DTF member Foxilized wrote much about the history of Sinclair and the World’s Fair in his review of the Mold-A-Rama Tyrannosaurus, so I won’t tread old ground here. The Apatosaurus model is of particular relevance to Sinclair Motor Oil as it’s an identical 3-Dimentional reproduction of their classic green “Brontosaurus” logo. Anyone familiar with old dinosaur Americana will instantly recognize it.

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Although finding these Mold-A-Rama models can be difficult they do occasionally show up on eBay, often with exuberant prices for a souvenir that originally cost next to nothing. But the highlight of the Mold-A-Rama figures (and there were many, dinosaurs and otherwise) was not the figure itself but watching the process by which they were made. You would essentially pay the machine to make the model right before your eyes (watch here). I’ve never had that privilege, yet. Working machines are rare but still in operation at the Chicago Field Museum where you can walk in and purchase one of these nifty dinosaurs as if it was still 1964.

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Although the model has the name Apatosaurus printed on it this is an Apatosaurus in name only. It represents the classic Brontosaurus depictions of old, right down to the boxy Camarasaurus head. The heavy body stands on thick heavy legs and a spindly serpent tail drags along the ground behind it. No accuracy points here, this unique model is significant for other reasons and will only appeal to those with an appreciation for retro dinosaurs and American history.

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All four elephantine feet are firmly planted on a base and thick folds of saggy skin can be seen along the sides. This Brontosaurus better find his way back to the swamps before it’s crushed by its own bulk. Since this figure comes from a Mold-A-Rama machine you can expect it to be made of brittle hollow wax and is easily broken which is probably why originals are expensive these days.

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