Vintage Dinosaur Media: Dinosaurs! The Multimedia Encyclopedia – Part 1

Vintage Dinosaur Art

I can’t pretend that today’s post isn’t fueled by pure, shameless, self-indulgent nostalgia. This little computer program from 1993 is something I spent literally months with as a child, quite undeterred by the fact that I didn’t understand a word of English. I had my own sources for actually reading about dinosaurs, after all (mostly Dinosaurs! Magazine, though my memory of that series has soured since I’ve learnt that the Dutch version ran for only half as many issues as the original English one). I was here for the pictures, the animations and the videos.

It’s hard to imagine just how rare it was to see moving images on a computer screen in 1993. It just didn’t happen. The Internet was a glimmer in my father’s eye, and the person who founded YouTube was probably not even born back then. CD-Roms with low-quality videos of dodgy dinosaur animatronics was all you got. And I drank it up. This was my Jurassic Park.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The quality of the dinosaur animatronics you see these days has scarcely improved since those halcyon days of the early nineties (if anything, they’ve gotten worse). I fondly remember seeing this particular set of robots live, some years later in Brussels. Marc saw them, too. Good times.

The computer program (I will resist anachronistically calling this an “app”) had informational bits, gallery bits and a large, fully illustrated dinosaur directory. I can’t actually run the program anymore – it’s shameful how Windows 10 isn’t backwards compatible with programs designed for Windows 3.1 – but here’s a mock-up of what those pages looked like. Blessedly, I can still access all the files on the CD-Rom, including…

Holy 90’s Spinosaurus, Batman!

…the forty-something unique illustrations of dinosaurs, made just for this program. And that’s the real gold, isn’t it? Credited for the illustrations (in the thank-you notes – I wonder if she got paid?) is one Valerie Bennett, though not all dinosaurs seem to be made by the same artist. I will just asume Bennett drew the lot, for what else can I do?

Let’s look at the theropods first, because that’s always good for a laugh. Bennett’s illustrations are pretty idiosyncratic. This bizarre, wiggly beast with its dopey mug is supposed to be Albertosaurus, for instance. I have no idea how that spine is supposed to work, and it’s got too many fingers, but the colours are pretty sweet.

The Allosaurus, by comparison, holds up a lot better. Perhaps access to an actual mounted skeleton – the program was made by students from London and is full of picures from the NHM, which has an Allosaurus – has helped somewhat here? It’s got the horns in thier proper place – quite rare for the time. We should probably let the bunny hands slide.

Valerie Bennett probably wasn’t a very scientific artist, but if I have to commend her for one thing, it’s that she did like to get pretty creative with poses and colour schemes. I just love the green-and-red stripes on Deinonychus, and the fact that they all look as if they simultaneously spotted something, and that something is about to be in trouble.

The dromaeosaurs and ornithomimids are predictably naked, but the oviraptorans have surprisingly been given feathers! Well, something like that, at least. This half-a-fur-coat seems more apropriate for basal coelurosaurs than highly birdlike penneraptorans. Still, not bad for the early nineties.

Piatnitzkysaurus is here! Bennett sometimes surprises by drawing dinosaurs you’d never expect. And in a very unusual pose, too. This guy is either doing ballet or is spooked like a cat by a cucumber. Bennett is of the typically nineties John Sibbick school of “let’s give everything wrinkeled elephantine skin”. The legs on this thing look distressingly humanoid.

Carnotaurus, the famously lithe, leggy and fast theropod with the famously short, deep face, has been rendered as a stout and long-snouted slugger. It’s got long arms, smooth skin and big teeth. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of everything we know of Carnotaurus, except that it has horns. I still kind of like it. It looks like a dinosaur, without looking like any dionsaur in particular, and it’s got a nice, uncharacteristically naturalistic colour scheme. Note how the generic background images keep getting reused.

Ceratosaurus, on the other hand, is completely ridiculous. What a fascinating interpretation of a big theropod – fascinatingly wrong, of course, but the result is one heck of a strange fantasy monster! It’s a barrel-shaped long-necked arrow-headed wingless dragon. The arms seems to be attached to the top rather than the bottom of the shoulder girdles. Kids, if you do a fudge job, at least do it with gusto.

Actually, the T. rex is alright! One of the more painterly, artistically stylized pieces, shall we say, in cool red and blue lines. It’s throwing a fireworks display for some reason. One does not disrespect the tyrant by picturing it in broad daylight in a generic environment! Everything here is just meant to look als cool and epic as possible. The animal itself is a bit upright and Godzilla-y but Bennet – or whoever drew it – has got the skull shape down pretty well!

That will do for now, but the directory of Valerie Bennett is proving to be quite a treasure trove of Vintage Dinosaur Art, so tune in next time as we look at the herbivores. The Multimedia Encyclopedia will return!

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  • Reply
    Andreas Johansson
    July 5, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    Is Deinonychus being green with red stripes one of those palaeoart memes? I recall a childhood book (I must have read it ca 1990) with one on the cover. Not particularly similar to this one – the stripes weren’t restricted to the front end of the animal for a start – but it seems slightly unlikely to be pure coincidence.

    • Reply
      Niels Hazeborg
      July 10, 2020 at 5:14 pm

      I do seem to remember the one you’re talking about! It was in a Rey-style extreme closeup, or at least in my mind it is. Can’t for the life of me remember which book it was but if I ever run into it I’ll reply here… I’m definitely not ruling out coincidence, though.

  • Reply
    Colin Mathura-Jeffree
    July 5, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    I love these reviews… Always hungry for more. I grew up reading all the old stuff and love it

  • Reply
    Pablo Lara
    July 5, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Those are the Dinamation animatronics. They made some cameos in Discovery channel´s ” Paleoworld.”

  • Reply
    George Starr
    July 7, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    This is fantastic! As someone who also enjoyed the low-res awesomeness of early 90’s CD-Roms (both educational and entertainment based), I love this post!
    Bring on those pixelated and questionably-articulated herbivores! 😉

    • Reply
      Niels Hazeborg
      July 10, 2020 at 5:13 pm

      I’ve certainly learned there’s quite a few of these out there and I’m keen to see if there’s any more that are worth my time.

  • Reply
    Reuben Szwerb
    July 12, 2020 at 10:05 am

    At first glance I thought the Carnotaurus had been given long curved horns like a sheep.

    • Reply
      Niels Hazeborg
      July 13, 2020 at 5:00 am

      It doesn’t but how cool would that be?

      • Reply
        November 9, 2020 at 1:42 am

        As far as I know, there’s no evidence for such, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually did exist at some point..

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