All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Sometimes a camera reveals elusive nuances that we, as human beings, fail to perceive. And so it came to be that, even after all these years, my Panasonic captured a fleeting hint of inner beauty. Behold, My Pretty Kitty! From beyond the barrier of time, her elusive spirit shines. And. when I whispered, “Watch the birdie,” I could swear I glimpsed a twinkle in her eye.
“Dinosaur World” was a huge project, and a spectacular one. It was also a sad one. I’ll explain why, at the end. Meanwhile, right off the bat, I must apologize for the fact that the most impressive elements of the original presentation are missing. I’m referring to the dinosaurs. There were many, many, way too many, dinosaurs. And they were quite incredible, if I do say so myself! Most utilized a unique action feature that I, more or less, invented. It was a subtly nuanced special effect that I had never seen before, or since.
These miniature prehistoric creatures not only did something clever, they also looked amazing! All the dinosaurs were painted in delicious jewel like iridescent colors, as dazzling to the eye as an array of precious gems. Furthermore, I willingly cast aside any presence of evolutionary accuracy, and, Inspired by one of my favorite 1940 movies, “One Million BC,” I saw to it that Dinosaur World was populated with hot and cold running cavemen. Running, I believe, for fear they might become a missing link, on the prehistoric food chain. Escaping from Tyrannosaurus Rex’s Jurassic Jaws of Death, would be part of the fun and games, in store for girls and boys in the Dinosaur World Play Sets.
These two boards are all that remains to indicate which dinosaurs I made. I drew them, looking at my actual models. Many moved in a unique way, but all them, except the tiny cavemen, were articulated to some degree. They appear unimpressive here, but were spectacular in person, and mesmerizing in motion.
Now, how can I explain the action feature? It won’t be easy to describe. If you have ever experienced the following, you will get it. If not, it might be difficult to grasp. Have you ever played around with a bendable action figure, such as the original Outer Space Men, or, more likely, Gumby? If so, then, dip into your unconscious memory, and try to picture this in your mind’s eye. The rubberlike character’s extremities, the arms, especially, shared a single wire inside. Thus, if you moved one arm, the other tended to move, as well. And if the wire was bent, one arm would do one thing, while the other arm would, simultaneously, do something else, depending on how the common wire, rotating inside it, had been positioned. Small nuances amuse small minds. That is why I not only noticed, but transformed this sometimes annoying, but fascinating, idiosyncrasy of bendable figures, into an action feature to animate a world of dinosaurs.
Imagine a Brontosaurus with a single wire that runs from its head, through its long flexible neck, inside its body and out the back, extending to the tip of its poseable tail. In creating the prototypes, the neck and tail of every dinosaur, to which this would apply, were sculpted as a single unit, using a scarce form of Sculpey that remained flexible and rubberlike, after baking. The rest of each dinosaur, its body and legs were made of regular Sculpey, which got hard after baking. Any dinosaur, to which this gimmick could apply was made this way. Some larger dinosaurs also got jointed legs and other articulated parts, while tiny figures, like the cavemen, remained stationary.
The way that these operated was fascinating. If the tail was slightly bent into a crank like shape, and wiggled, the head and neck would animate dramatically! The smallest kink in a dinosaur’s tail was all it took to move his head and neck. Unfortunately, in my exuberance to complete this project, which I felt certain was a winner, I never stopped to photograph or make a video of these artfully articulated creatures.
The rest of the presentation consisted of eight illustrated boards, and a spectacular panorama. Each board represented a self-contained play set. And every play set had a feature, based solely on my cliché laden memory of dinosaur movies I had seen. They were not exactly scientific. I actually built one of the play sets, the "Cave of Tyrannosaurus Rex." I made it out of Super Sculpey, and installed electronics to replicate a large variety of prehistoric roaring. Although, I have not been able to find it, lately, I have seen this object, here, in storage. Therefore, I continue to believe and hope that the dinosaurs, themselves, might be somewhere in this house, as well.
As I grow older, things, many things, most things, become more difficult to do. Revisiting this project, and living, if only momentarily, in Dinosaur World, again, has set me thinking, reminiscing about those days when I could do just about anything, sports being the sole exception. Back then, I lived, quite unconsciously, in a state of creative grace. And I didn’t hesitate to undertake anything, any task or project that I either thought up, or came my way, through circumstance. As a semi-enthusiastic toy inventor, I let my mind soar, unrestricted by thoughts of what I might not have the skill to do. I allowed myself to think up any wild idea that crossed my mind, secure in the belief that if my partners and I came to the mutual conclusion that the project would be worth a try, no matter what the idea was, I could execute it. And, If I didn’t already possess the necessary skill and knowledge, I could quickly acquire it.
Life is different now. Simple tasks have become difficult, Changing a light bulb can be the main event, and sole accomplishment, of my day. And if a ladder is involved, make that the event of my week. While, the task of putting that same ladder away might well be set aside indefinitely. “Away” as in “putting away” has gone away. These days, everything that I drag out, just hangs around.
Well, having said all that, let me return to the subject at hand. When I look at Dino World,today, I am amazed. I can’t believe I did this thing. The project was incredibly complex and almost impossible to visualize and engineer on a flat page. I am beginning to understand why my friend James Gurney, often, builds models of imaginary things, before he undertakes to paint them.
I discovered two diagrams on the back of the Dinosaur World diorama. Because I, suddenly, find them amazing, I will share them with you.
The first step in creating Dinosaur World was to figure out a basic interlocking modular shape that would be the same for every one of the hopefully endless number of Dinosaur World play sets. The project would begin with eight. Each unit had to fit together with any combination of the others, like the pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle, and, at the same time, look “natural.” This proved to be the most complex part of the project. The sketch below is what I worked out.
This second sketch represents a giant leap! This is where I visualized the total thing. It’s rough, but I could read it. It conveys my first impression of what Dinosaur World would look like, when complete.
Then, I set about designing the individual units. Every one would have some sort of play feature, or theme; some, being relatively lame. Others were messy, but OK. Each became a separate drawing, to which I added an acetate overlay, with some of the dinosaurs in place. If you pass your mouse over the drawings, you will see them, with and without, the critters. Here they are, in no particular order .
First, is the “Lair of Tyrannosaurus Rex,” Making the actual model of this out of Super Sculpey reminded me of my teenage model railroading days, sculpting rocks and scenery out of plaster. I don’t know where I got the sound chip, but it was perfect! It replicated lots of Roars and Animal screams. The buttons, along the front, offered a selection. This single unit was intended to supply the sound effects for the entire layout! It brings back memories of the whistling billboard I loved with my Lionel Train. "The Lair of Tyrannosaurus Rex Play Set" would, most likely, come with old T-Rex, himself, and one caveman, along with a generous supply of well gnawed bones to scatter around.
Next, is the “Jungle Lagoon,” with towering falls. A battery powered pump would recycle the water. And the dinosaurs would all be waterproof.
This evolutionary travesty is, by far, my favorite. Yes, I know that Dinosaurs, and early humans, were eons apart. Nonetheless, I love the cheery electric glow of the “Discovery of Fire” in the “Man Cave Play Set." OK, the term "man cave" may be, no longer, politically correct! Then again, those Cave-persons were on the cutting edge. In their man cave, the bathroom, living room, and dining room were all one in the same. It would be several million years before both men and women used the same restroom again. This set would come with a selection of Cavemen, Cavewomen, and Cavechildren. The Cavepets, looking in, a Brontosaurus and T-Rex would be optional accessories.
The “Earthquake” Play Set is self-explanatory. A vibrating motor is always ready to rumble. This set might come with a can of “Boulder Dough,” so, kids could generate their own supply of rubble. But stones, gathered from the garden might suffice.
The “Hot Springs” play set would really bubble. A pump inside would generate bubbles, through the base. What the bubbling Sulphur might be is open to discussion. These were the days of messy toy products, like cans of “Slime.” There might even be some tablets, included, to fog and color plain water.
“Pterodactyl Mountain” could operate with a simple electric motor, or even be turned by a crank. There are lots of different levels, on which to perch dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.
The “Terrible Tar Pit” with bubbling tar. What that tar might actually be, has not yet been visualized. Your guess is as good as mine! This is where many a prehistoric skinny dipper came to a sticky end! And their fossilized bones survived.
And, last of all, the “Volcano” Play Set. I suppose, the red hot molten lava would be room temperature "Slime." Whatever it is, I wouldn’t want to be the one to clean it up.
When all the individual boards were completed, I had them copied professionally. Then, I carefully cut them out, and pasted them, together, on two large illustration boards that folded in the middle, to form a panorama, sixty inches wide. That was a satisfying moment, for every piece fit perfectly! Alas, the panorama is way too big to show here, even approximating actual size. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try, two times! The first will be the smaller image, below, that, hopefully, will fit on most computer screens.
And here is a larger version. It's still not as big as the original. You’ll have to SCROLL to see it all.
When the presentation was complete, Andy and I went, in person, to show it to Gary Niles, who had
been newly elevated to the position of the top executive at Galoob. Baby Face was in her heyday, and
doing great, although, the two men who got her there, David Galoob and Saul Jodel were no longer with the
company. KISCOM had helped put Gary, who formerly ran the small international division of Galoob, into
his new position, thanks to the success of our Magic Diaper Babies.
We were convinced that Gary would love Dinosaur World. It seemed to be his cup of tea.
Unfortunately, he had more pressing, more depressing matters on his mind that day. Before we could
show him the contents of our brief case, he broke bad news, informing us that, even though, our doll was
flying off the shelves at Toys R Us, Galoob was dropping Baby Face. This had been Gary’s decision to
make, and, living up to the expression: “A new broom sweeps clean,” he euthanized our golden goose. I
won’t attempt to convey his convoluted excuse for dropping a doll that was outselling Barbie. That is
explained, HERE, in The Story of Baby Face.
As for Dinosaur World, I can’t remember showing it to Gary, or even opening the briefcase. If we
did present it to him on that depressing day, he obviously didn’t give a shit. Neither did we. What I do
remember, and, in fact, will never forget, was leaving Gary Niles behind us, in his well illuminated office, as
Andy and I groped our way alone, through the pitch black Galoob showroom. In the almost total darkness, I
could barely discern the shadowy forms of a hundred, or more, Baby Face dolls on display. They were still
frozen in the same positions that Judy Albert had posed them in, when she decorated the Galoob
showroom for Toy Fair, earlier that year. Andy and I were both heartbroken. Andy, especially, was utterly
devastated, more upset than I had ever seen him before, as we slowly inched our way towards the only tiny
point of light, the sign above the exit door.