For the last 100 years we’ve been fascinated by prehistoric dinosaurs – the original movie monster.
From traditional animation to stop motion and advanced CGI, we take a look at the best animated prehistoric creatures to ever grace our TV and movie screens.
01. Gertie the dinosaur (1914)
Well, they weren't all killers! Gertie is among the first animations to feature a prehistoric creature – the first dinosaur in captivity. The hero of the piece is a playful diplodocus who did tricks at her creator Winsor McCay's command. She chomps rocks and swallows trees, and although it may not offer much for the fact-fans (the jury is still out regarding whether a diplodocus would cry when told off), she's undoubtedly one of the first great dino characters in film.
In fact, this animation was part of McCay’s vaudeville act. The film of his 10,000 animated drawings would run whilst he gave Gertie commands, and at the end of the show he would jump into the animation himself, and ride off into the distance on Gertie's back. That's an impressive debut by all accounts.
02. The Lost World (1925)
Though Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of Baker Street’s finest, Sherlock Holmes, he also dabbled in fantasy. The Lost World is the film adaptation of his novel about a land still populated by the prehistoric blighters. In 1922, Doyle showed some footage of the animation to an assembly of the Society of American Magicians, including Harry Houdini. It was a hit, and the next day the New York Times ran their front page declaring that while indeed the dinosaurs were fake, "they were masterpieces".
They were masterpieces, but not Doyle's. The following full-length film that appeared a couple years later featured the stop-motion skills of Willis O'Brien, and paved the way for the dino-basher King Kong in 1933. Watch the whole film here (opens in new tab).
03. King Kong (1933)
Long before Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson filmed Naomi Watts tap dancing in front of a pixel-perfect primate, a couple of chaps called Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack had brought the world the tale of the greatest monkey, in this 1933 feature film. Actually, it was our old friend Willis O'Brien who created the stop-motion animation, including a particularly popular theropod, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Entertainment and cutting edge scientific finding worked hand in hand. O'Brien based his models on the work of paleoartist Charles R Knight – a painter who was already revolutionising the world of dino depictions in his accurate, dynamic paintings.
04. Godzilla (1954)
Although not strictly a dino – certainly not one based on any known fossil findings – Japanese director Ishirō Honda's creature bears all the hallmarks of the ancient animals. In particular it has the same pieced-together appeal of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs - sculptures unveiled in London in 1854 that influenced depictions of dinosaurs and their closely related cousin the movie monster ever since.
Lizard-like, with tail scraping the ground and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, Godzilla was actually a mish-mash of Iguanodon (the most famous of the Crystal Palace dinos (opens in new tab)), T-Rex and Stegosaurus. During the 30-odd films Godzilla has featured in, he may have replaced his stop-animation staggering for the liquid movement of CGI, but it's the original, sculpture-like version of 1954 that started it all.
05. One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Like the impossible proportions of leading lady Raquel Welch, in retrospect these extinct creatures don't seem to have science on their side. What makes them noteworthy is that the great Ray Harryhausen moulded their every move. Dispensing with any working knowledge of prehistory, humans fight dinos (even though 60 million years separates the last dino and the first human), and the usually friendly herbivore diplodocus decides to munch of a caveman on film's poster.
As fantasy action, Harryhausen's dinosaurs were cutting edge in 66, moving with more purpose than previous animations, as shown in this classic dino fight between a Ceratosaurus and a Triceratops.
06. The Land Before Time (1988)
A heartwarming tale of overcoming differences ("Three-horns never play with Longnecks," the young dinosaurs are told), The Land Before Time featured whole stampedes of animated dinosaurs. Star of the movie Littlefoot, a 'Longneck' (Brontosaurus), journeys through varying landscapes in the movie, making friends and fleeing terrifying enemies.
It was directed and produced by Don Bluth and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Frank Marshall and, Kathleen Kennedy (who also worked on Jurassic Park with Steven Spielberg).
07. Dinosaurs (1991-1994)
In the infinite 'Dinos: naughty or nice' debate, 1990s teatime TV funny Dinosaurs delivered a loud, brash and hilarious argument for the 'nice' camp. Conceived by Jim Henson shortly before his death, Dinosaurs followed the lives of a typical dinosaur family living in swampland, with their fridges and clothes and jobs.
Ok so it might not have been historically accurate, but it was lovable. Starring full body, animatronic puppets developed by Brian Henson and his team at the London Creature Shop, (opens in new tab) their human facial expressions taught us that dinosaurs have feelings, too. Megalosaurus Earl Sinclair and his family had problems just like the rest of us, including a mean boss (opens in new tab).
08. Jurassic Park (1993)
Everything changed in 1993. Not only did Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park usher in the annual summer blockbuster, it also changed the way people thought about dinosaurs.
Informed by experts that were pushing the link between theropods and birds, and blending the animatronic wizardry of Stan Winston and post-production stop-motion of Phil Tippett, it was the CGI skills of Dennis Muren that marked the film as a true innovator, producing the first fully realised digital creatures in cinema. Dinosaurs entered the public's collective conscience as fully fleshed creatures, claiming their place amongst the greatest of movie monsters.
09. Toy Story (1995)
Everybody know, Rex was the true hero of Toy Story. Not only did the computer animated T-Rex toy stop Woody and Buzz from arguing, he was also incredibly brave.
Subverting the stereotype of T-Rexs as ferocious beasts, Rex can't stand disagreements, gets nervous pretty easily and has a heart of gold. Pixar's first full-length computer animated film was a triumph for many reasons – and Rex was one of them.
10. Walking with Dinosaurs (1999)
This was the next T-Rex-sized step – mostly CGI animated ancient beasties (with a touch of animatronics to taste), and all at a relatively small budget. Set as a documentary, with a narrator following their day-to-day activities, this BBC TV series was a huge success with the public, though there were some grumbles from the experts about the show taking contemporary theories as stone cold fact.
Showing around 40 prehistoric animals from the Cretaceous, Triassic and Jurassic eras, the series used real location film footage and CGI animation from the VFX studio Framestore to create an absorbing series.
11. Dinosaur (2000)
Enter The House of Mickey Mouse! With dinos now big business, and Jurassic Park opening the gates to an army of 3D modellers and animators eager to breathe life into the extinct characters, Walt Disney decided to get a piece of the pie and created their first fully computer animated feature film.
Not for the first time, painstaking accuracy and dazzling artistic flare were combined, with cartoon character voices being layed on top of some fantastic dino reconstruction. The storyline and voice actors may have been a bit smultzy for some critics, but that didn't stop Dinosaur becoming the fifth highest grossing film of the year.
12. Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie (2013)
Whether you'll take to their American accents and weakness for a cheesy line, you can't deny these dinosaurs look great. Running with the BBC series attention to scientific detail, and adding the narrative thread of Walt Disney's Dinosaurs, it features a $80 million budget CGI from the Australia-based company Animal Logic.
Using proprietary software, the breathing, perfectly textured, walking, talking dinos move within the real-life location shots with unprecedented accuracy. In fact, it was character animator David Krentz, who previously worked on Dinosaur, that led the charge on this film, working on around 20 different dinos, modelling them in ZBrush (opens in new tab) 3D software before sending them off to Australia for full animation.
13. Natural History Museum Alive 3D (2013)
Created with Sky and the UK's Natural History museum, this is science dressed as entertainment. David Attenborough takes to the NHM after hours, and in a nod to the Night at the Museum films narrates as the diplodocus of the main hall and his other brethren breathe again.
Filmed in stereoscopic 3D, VFX supervisor James Prosser worked with five studios around the world, principally using Maya with Mudbox and ZBrush for modelling, Mari for texturing, and some proprietary tools for the feathers and the fur.
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