Building Mount Dinosaur was an enjoyable project from start to finish. My daughters followed the progress with interest. The most satisfying part for me was when they started playing with it, moving the dinosaurs over the landscape, making their own dino roars and simply enjoying themselves in a way that is less common here in the digital age. I'm sure many hours of enjoyment are still to come on the slopes of Mount Dinosaur.
Featured creatures of Mount Dinosaur
This dinosaur was a tank. Like other Ankylosaurs, Euplocephalus had a big club on the end of its tail, as well as lots of armor and spikes. Its outer appearance is known with unusual clarity due to some spectacular fossils unearthed in Alberta, Canada. Euplocephalus would have been a very tough dinosaur in real life and it should be no surprise that the predators in Mount Dinosaur leave it alone.
This was one of the first dinosaurs described by modern science, though early depictions of its appearance were wildly inaccurate. It was an herbivore of the early-Cretaceous, so probably not a contemporary of many of the creatures featured in Mount Dinosaur, but I thought it was close enough for inclusion. Iguanadon really did have the large spikes on each forelimb. The real purpose is unknown but it seems reasonable that it could have used them for defense, or perhaps to dig up things in the ground. Iguandon is a classic. As a child, I studied the now-outdated illustration in my grandparents' World Book Encyclopedia for extended periods. Ah, those were the days.
Due to the size of the model, Styracosaurus was depicted as a juvenile of the species in Mount Dinosaur. It fit well into the back of the magma chamber, which pretty much ensured it got the lead role as the innocent, naïve, and vulnerable target of the villainous Carnotaurus. In real life, Styracosaurus was bit smaller than the more famous Triceratops, but it looked pretty cool and had a frill bristling with large spikes. The model used in the movie had a cheap look to it with poorly painted details giving it a dopey appearance, perfect for an innocent youth finding its way in a the big and dangerous world of Mount Dinosaur.
Never heard of it? Neither did I, until I read the label in relief on its belly. Then again, there are a lot of Ceratopsians most of us have probably never heard of. This one just happened to be one that my daughters had a toy of and it was a rather nice one at that. As the plot unfolded, it ended up with just a supporting role. Better that than getting eaten though.
It turns out that most of my daughters’ dinosaur collection is comprised of representatives of Cretaceous fauna. Infact, they don’t have any appropriate-aged sauropods. Sauropods are the big, long-necked herbivores that people think about when they think of dinosaurs. Where is a Titanosaur when you need one, right? They did have a Brachiosaurus and while it is mostly known from Jurassic deposits, the genus may have lived into the early Cretaceous. Admittedly, they probably didn’t last long enough to meet most of other dinosaurs shown in the movie, but I wanted a sauropod for the film. Brachiosaurs have long been near the top of my list of favorites, going back to when I saw one on display at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History in the early-1990s. They’re just massive. Call it creative license for inclusion in Mount Dinosaur.
This is the big feature predator, but the model used is marketed as Tyrannosaurus Rex (so says the label). Yeah, T-Rex is a big deal, but its just so over-done. Since Mount Dinosaur depicts some slightly earlier dinosuars, it seemed reasonable to use another predator that closely resembled the model I had on hand. I chose to feature Daspletosaurus, which lived a little earlier in the Cretaceous and in most respects looks like a smaller version of its more famous cousin. It was still pretty big though, and extra mean.
Full disclosure, the prop used in Mount Dinosaur was actually a Pteradactylus, which is a Jurassic-age flying reptile (not a dinosaur). In real life, it was about the size of a chicken, not exactly the airplane sized aerial-terror shown in the film. In fact, the “Pteradactyl” that appears in Mount Dinosaur should be considered a generic representation of a flying reptile. There was a creature called Pteranodon and that did live during the Cretaceous. It would have been legit, but it also had a distinct headcrest that my daughters’ toy did not have. Pterasaurs are rather interesting and were only the second type of creature to develop flight, after the insects. Birds and mammals (bats) wouldn’t get the hang of it until much later.
This unusual therapod lived in the Cretaceous, but is known from deposits in South America, so probably not one that would have hunted Styracosaurus in real life. The unique and obvious features of Carnotaurus are those horns above the eyes. Carnotaurus makes for a great villain in Mount Dinosaur and I was lucky that it fit into the cave and magma chamber as shown in the film.
The king of the Crocodylians was a late addition to the cast of Mount Dinosaur. While Deinosuchus has long been of interest to me, I only happened across a suitably-sized toy crocodile a few days before finishing the mountain. I’m sure glad I did as it worked well with my script and made for a great confrontation with Daspletosaurus. The real Deinosuchus was huge, perhaps 40 feet in length. It lived in the late Cretaceous and almost certainly preyed on dinosaurs. Furthermore, studies of the known anatomy suggest it had the musculature to perform the “death roll” that modern crocodiles use to subdue and tear apart prey.
Hands down, this is my favorite prehistoric creature. Maybe it was too many viewings of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1950s version with James Mason) where they glued fake fins on poor iguanas to represent this classic Permian beast. Or, quite possibly, it was the book I saw in a dentist’s waiting room when I was really young that had an uncommonly detailed and realistic looking illustration. Either way, I’ve put in a fair effort to impart my fondness of this creature on my daughters and I felt that there had to be a way to get one into Mount Dinosaur, even if it was just a comedic cameo. The real Dimetrodon was a fascinating creature to be sure, but it never met dinosaur. When it was alive, in the Lower Permian over 270 million years ago, it was at the top of the food chain. The last one died about 50 million years before the first of the dinosaurs.
The next step was to paint the mounting. Several colors of spray paint were used. First a base coat of flat black primer was used to coat all surfaces. Then, a coat of dark grey. Then a light khaki color and some green were sprayed on with varying degrees to give a realistic color scheme. The vegetation consists of two types of trees made for model railroads that looked like they could pass for prehistoric conifers. Additionally, some model palm trees were used, but most of there trunks were cut off so they would resemble short cycads. The other bushes were made from generic "vegetation", also sold for model railroad layouts. The color had to be altered slightly to match the terrain of the mountain, accomplished with a light dusting of spray paint. All vegetation was then glued into place. One additional detail was added to the walls of the magma chamber. Small plastic beads resembling crystals were glued into the floor and walls of the chamber to represent diamonds. A second uncut piece of plywood was painted with the colors of the water hole, tar pit, and magma chamber in the correct places. Then the mountain was laid over the top of this base piece of wood. Lastly, wooden trim was added around the edge to ensure the top piece stayed in place and any uneven edges of the plastered mountain were not visible.
The magma chamber under Mount Dinosaur
Because Mount Dinosaur is such a great movie, like really good, I'm sure fans would love some behind the scenes details. Deep down, Mount Dinosaur is really a story about a menacing and predatory volcano, but most viewers probably tuned in to watch the dinosaurs. So let's meet the cast.
Displaying a prominent and iconic headcrest, this Hadrosaur is representative of the wide diversity among Cretaceous herbivores. Some of them were pretty large, but Parasaurolphus was a mid-sized member of the group. The function of the headcrest has had many proposed explanations, ranging from helping generate distinct calls to courtship display. It may have even evolved as a simple indicator of species in an environment rich with otherwise similar looking dinosaurs. The model used in Mount Dinosaur looks like it came out of the discount bin. Generic features, standard dinosaur green coloration, and lack of painted details ensured this one got killed off at the first opportunity.
Mount Dinosaur- the complete layout
The cave in the side of Mount Dinosaur
Growing up, I was fascinated by Mt. St. Helens and the 1980 eruption. So, it might have only been a matter of time before I built a model volcano. That being said, volcanoes and dinosaurs go together like burgers and fries, so why not put them both together for this movie, right? Okay, it's maybe a little cliché, but we went with it anyway.
Mount Dinosaur started with a 2 by 4 foot piece of ply-wood. Three holes were cut in it for the water hole, the tar pit, and the pool of magma. Then the shape of the mountain was built up using scraps of cut wood and glued into place as a support structure. Next, pieces of chicken wire were laid over the form with some care to ensure sharp edges weren't sticking up. Some additional contours were added with the chicken wire as well. Pieces of wire were woven into the chicken wire mesh to keep all the pieces bound together.
Next, several dish cloths were cut into broad strips. The mountain form was flipped over and a large bucket of plaster mixed. The strips of cloth were dipped into the plaster and placed into the roofs of the cave and magma chamber. The plaster was left to dry overnight. Next, the mountain was flipped right side up and more plaster was mixed. Now the exterior of the mountain was plastered, again by dipping broad strips of cloth into the plaster and laying over the chicken wire form. As the remaining plaster started to set, some extra was glopped onto the mountain for added texture and to fill in any remaining gaps. Again, the plaster was allowed to dry overnight.
Forest and cave entrance
This is a fictional story intended for younger viewers with an interest in prehistoric life. Told with toy dinosaurs and a model volcano, the plot follows the daily struggles of creatures living near Mount Dinosaur.
While I have tried to provide accurate details in the narrative some liberties were taken to advance the story line in a preferred direction. I hope viewers do not take it too seriously as my selection of featured creatures was limited to my daughters’ toy dinosaur collection.
Inspiration for this project began with a desire to create a new play set for my girls. Since they occasionally played with an assortment of toy dinosaurs, and I also happen to like dinosaurs, it seemed like it would be a fun project. Naturally, it took much longer, cost more, and required more effort to finish than I had planned. But once committed, I couldn't stop and leave everyone disappointed, right?
As it neared completion, I began to worry that it would be too fragile and would not hold up to the rigours of regular play. When I was young, my parents gave me a toy train layout that they had built in the basement as a surprise. I thought it was fantastic, but took it apart anyway. It was effectively ruined after the first night. Mount Dinosaur was built for my girls and I expect them to play with it however they like. So, just in case, I decided to test it out first, myself.
Initially, I planned to just take a few pictures so we could remember what it looked like when new. Then I thought, why not put some of those dinosaurs on it. Then I started getting a little carried away. Why not tell a whole story with nothing but pictures, put it all together with a little narration and some bad sound effects and, voila!
Who doesn’t like a story about dinosaurs anyway? Right?
Last Updated 12 May 2020.
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