I’m about to tell you how we lead a magnificent challenge to bring to life our largest, most sensational dinosaur to date. I'll tell you all about Junior, our very own life size baby T.Rex skeleton.
Based in the UK we’re a small family business who make museum quality replicas of dinosaur claws, teeth, skulls and skeletons, all for sale in our store. Our family is chief dino and owner Mike (my dad), mum Linda, my wife Nik, and finally me, Daniel.
Before I get in to our story here's a quick rundown of what to do if you ever wanted to make your own skeleton from scratch...
How to Make a Dinosaur Skeleton (from scratch)
- Research your dinosaur (photographs, drawings, research papers)
- Choose your materials (clay, foam, wax, polystyrene etc)
- Consider armature methods (for articulated skeletons)
- Form the basic shapes and dimensions of pieces
- Add detail, features, and texture
- Seal your final work to protect it
- Make moulds to cast copies (optional)
Our Story: Making a Baby T.Rex Skeleton
Research, research, research
We gathered as much material as we could, academic texts, scale drawings, photographs of genuine fossils, other pictures, videos, 3D models and more so that we understood the anatomy of a T.Rex. We also had the benefit of experience to help us get our endeavour planned adequately.
Choosing somewhere to start
So seven months on from when we started this, I cannot remember why we started with an ilium (part of the hip), but we did. Mike is the sculptor of the family, this was to be his largest sculpt to date.
With a flat bed of clay he began to form the basic shape of the ilium and referred to our drawings often to check for accuracy. I made a simple silicone mould of the finished basic shape and cast a few copies with resin. The resin copies provided a sturdy form to base a clay 'skin' over and work in the initial surface features and later the texture of the piece. Some time later we had ourselves two master copies ready to be cloned in a later step (mould making).
I do wonder if the seems a little easy but trust us, it really isn't when you're so intent on getting it right. The above process took a month and a half to complete!
Deviation from the plan: Time for more fun
Mike continued to sculpt the smaller bones of the skeleton, the arms, digits, and claws, until he veered off track a bit to start on the most interesting part – the skull!
The risk of getting it wrong loomed as without some other sections sculpted there was greater reliance on educated guesswork but hey we love what we do and we like to have fun doing it and so began the skull.
Our T.Rex skull was made in a number of small sections, some were duplicated using resin to allow for a simpler assembly to create a rough three-dimensional shape to place clay upon.
By far the most intricate part had to be the teeth, all 66 of them. One by one we made 33 master teeth and cloned them, each tooth was then inserted in to the clay ‘gum’ of the skull. Every tooth had to be checked for size, position, angle, and depth before, a finicky process to say the least.
Finally, after a thin application of paint, the skull was ready for a mould of it to be made, but also for its eventual, planned demise later on.
After the success of the skull Mike progressed to the largest bones; the femur, tibia, and fibula. Lumps of clay aren't economical for such pieces and so Mike started by carving blocks of foam in to simple shapes to provide the all important internal structure for the clay exterior.
This was a time when Mike’s knowledge and intuition came in to play, the correct sizing of each bone isn’t about the research alone, it’s about an in depth understanding of the skeleton as a whole especially where there are gaps in the world's knowledge of T.Rex and also in the absence of accessible skeletons to take detailed measurements from.
I should say that clay can totally be your best friend or your worst enemy, it is a matter of clay selection, experience, and preference that strikes the right balance between success and frustration.
Sculpting with clay feels very natural and really allows us (Mike) to incorporate an incredible level of detail that many other ‘cheap’ skeletons do without to save time, unfortunately that leads to a mountain of disappointed customers. We put the time in to the detail so that our skeletons look great up close as well as from a distance.
Stocking up on materials
We needed silicone rubber to make the moulds, and lots of it! In anticipation of producing test pieces from our moulds we ordered in more resin too.
Pictured is just a fraction of the resin used for the finalising of our moulds alone. Finalising is our process of troubleshooting each mould to identify any problem areas and rectify them so that the pieces we produce for our final skeletons are in top condition.
We’re most grateful to our suppliers for their interest and continued support in providing their expertise as well as the quantity of materials needed within tight timescales.
The mould making!
Mould making is my area of expertise, it's all about making all-round superb moulds that perfectly capture every detail of the original pieces.
Unfortunately an inherent risk when making moulds of clay originals is that the original can be damaged or destroyed, so it is hugely important that I get a good mould first time every time as ultimately the original might need to be remade if I don't - no pressure right!
Some of our moulds were colourful like these shell moulds. They took more time to make than ordinary silicone rubber moulds but they reduce the weight of each mould and save on cost, a factor that contributes to being able to offer such good value for all of our replicas. The outer shell is made of fibreglass and its purpose is to support 3 to 4 layers of silicone rubber which line the inside of the mould when complete.
Here’s a timelapse of me making a more 'ordinary' mould of a section of tail.
To make moulds that produce the best casting results we sometimes sculpt original pieces knowing full well that we will deliberately break it to allow us to make the technical mould we require.
Sadly, the skull was one such instance of this requirement. It was a complex mould to complete and it took a few adjustments to get it right. Time, skill, energy, and patience went in to making both the mould and the skull, for which I had the awful task of breaking it apart.
I could not have felt guiltier busting up such a treasure, but I knew why I needed to and in the end the benefit is going to be worthwhile for our fans.
Preparing to make the first skeleton
My wife Nik is a fabulous team mate, together we made speedy progress casting the first skeleton.
Casting from new moulds is an art in itself, you have to remember the intricacies of every mould, decide upon the best casting material, the right pouring instruments etc. The temperature of the materials and our workshop are monitored to maintain the ideal casting environment and produce exceptional, defect-free casts all day long.
The weight of this skeleton was of greater importance than other skeletons before it as we were set on a style of mount that relied on our ability to balance it, but without sacrificing strength. A great deal of mathematical calculations went in to examining our options.
We settled on a heavy tail, and everything forward of the pelvis would be made from a more expensive, but lightweight resin therefore offering the least stress for the mount style desired.
A terrifying sea creature!
At least that is what I felt it looked like at first. This is the assembly of the first skeleton. This was done at home because it’s make or break time so the comforts of home are a blessing and the best place to remain calm! We’re not a huge business outfit by the way, we care greatly about our lives away from work so this was a good work/life balance opportunity (well we think so anyway)!
Linda was busy painting the remaining pieces in preparation for mounting them all. Every piece has to be trimmed of flashing, sprues, and vents before any paint work can be applied.
We mix colour pigments in to the resin when casting which saves a heap of time painting without sacrificing the final appearance, that is another reason why our skeletons are way more affordable than others.
What do you think?
Ignoring the research part of the challenge, our baby T.Rex skeleton took 6 months to complete. We’re insanely proud of what we achieved together. There were many lessons to learnt along the way, no different to any other skeleton we make, it's all part of the journey.
We're so excited (and nervous too) as we reveal our latest baby dinosaur to the world. Special thanks go out to our first clients for this skeleton who made it all possible – thank you.
We can only keep doing projects like this if we have the interest of dinosaur enthusiasts across the globe, so if you love what you see then please share our story!
Interested in buying?
To find out more about our greatest replica dinosaur skeleton (perhaps ever) and to see all of our buying options visit our product page. Feel free to contact us if you'd prefer to speak with us directly.
Don't forget we sell pieces of this skeleton separately, whether you're looking for a T.Rex skull, tooth, claw etc check out the T.Rex replica collection.
Where can you see our T.Rex skeletons?
You will soon be able to see these skeletons at the following places;
- Dinosaur Isle, Museum, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom
- The Sesula Mineral & Gem Museum, Radisson, Canada
- Paleo Science Corporation, Tokyo, Japan