Turning crunched rocks into crocodiles

Posted by GT on June 5th, 2011 — Posted in Paleo lab

Last summer, my wife was driving through Woodland Park, Colo., which is the city nearest where we live. Truthfully, calling Woodland Park a “city” may seem like too much because it’s a small place, but it does have several grocery stores, a Taco Bell and McDonald’s … and a dinosaur museum.

Yep, a dinosaur museum. I got my first look inside the place about a year ago and was amazed by all the dinos on display, and even more amazed to realize that all those beasties were molded, cast and built right there, on the premises. I spent as many minutes as I could spare staring through the display window into the attached lab, marveling at all I could see.

Anyway, what my wife saw as she drove by was a notice that the lab was hiring a molder/caster.

The croc on the right will be on permanent display at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. The other is part of a traveling exhibit.

I happened to have a little experience molding and casting, having recently finished molding the Dedham Pond Mr. Hyde and casting all kinds of Phantom replacement heads. I threw a few castings in a sack and headed out the next day to apply for the job. Two days later, I had been hired.

Skip to the end of December. After weeks primarily spent molding and casting dinosaur teeth and claws, interspersed with molding some more complicated things and casting a baryonyx, I was assigned to help build a crocodile. Specifically, Terminonaris, an extinct crocodilian, in cooperation with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada.

The project took about three months, with two of us working on it full time, plus lots of help from others in the lab.

We started by making castings from research molds of the croc, which were slightly crushed. From there, we cut up bones, resculpted, filled in missing parts, etc. Once we’d reconstructed the skeletal parts, we molded them and made new castings. My boss did the bulk of the work reconstructing the skull; I did a lot of the detailing and positioned the teeth.

We built two crocodiles in poses selected by RSM. One of the crocs is supposed to look like it’s swimming (that’s the one I helped build), the other is standing. After they were all together, we painted them. I did most of the painting; the deadline was close so I had to finish them both in about 12 hours. We also detailed and painted a third set of castings but didn’t assemble those. Each croc is about 19 feet long.

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