Dinosaurs are, or were, fascinating creatures. The idea that there were once huge creatures that looked a bit like legendary dragons roaming the earth really stokes the imagination. J. Kent, however, wasn’t content to simply contemplate these majestic extinct animals, and instead built a life-sized replica to be enjoyed by himself and those visiting the Tampa Hackerspace where it now resides.
Kent was inspired after seeing a dinosaur skull with a doily on top being used as a night stand in the television show Gravity Falls. Some friends that Kent watched the show with thought that it would be a neat thing to have, so Kent decided to actually build it. Originally, the plan was to make the skull two feet long, but his friends encouraged him to “go big or go home.” And so he did, making this life-sized build.
According to Kent, the build took a staggering 500 hours of time, over a 6 month period to complete. It’s built out of recycled materials, including quite a bit of paper that a local business was discarding. Kent notes that Mabel, as he calls the T. rex skull, is essentially made out of papier-mâché, and that he’s become a connoisseur of different types of paper over the course of the build.
The teeth were originally made out of cardboard, however, Kent switched to EVA foam (the kind of material that you might see on a gym’s floor) mid-build. He found that “people couldn’t resist sticking their hands into the giant skull full of sharp sharp teeth.” He notes that with this new material, “You have to try REALLY hard to draw blood on those teeth.”
The skull was originally modeled in 3D using the Blender software package. It took lots of reference photos to get it right. Kent even had to contact the Smithsonian for reference shots of the back of the skull, since no one seems to photograph this area.
After it was completed, he had the opportunity to see the Sue T. rex skeleton when it visited Florida State University. Unfortunately, he found a slight anatomical difference in the back of Mabel’s head. Although he thinks that only a trained paleontologist would notice the mistake, since it’s his build, he notices it all the time.
Once the dinosaur was modeled, it was a matter of unfolding the model. He used both Blender and program called Pepakura Designer for this task. Kent first made a 1:16 model to make sure everything would fit, and corrected a few errors before the final version. Besides a few small discrepancies, he notes that “If you have trouble meshing 2 pieces that are 2 inches apart, it gets much much MUCH harder when those pieces are 2 feet apart.” He also notes that building jigs for something like this is very important in order to keep everything in place before it’s fully rigid.
When everything was put together, Kent stuck cheap toilet paper around the surface to give it a better texture. Epoxy was added in a high-wear area, since people couldn’t resist patting it on the nose during the build. The skull was primed with white paint, then sanded, which smoothed away lines from where the paper met. After some debate over whether or not to keep it white, he ultimately decided to paint it a fossil brown, which looks really excellent.
Though the skull is nominally one color, there are actually five shades of brown on the skull, along with red and purple in the shadows. You can find more info on his painting methods in his Steampunk Dodocase VR modification.
Having skipped building jigs while prototyping only to get poor results myself, I can definitely relate to some of his struggles in this build! I had the pleasure to meet Kent at the ‘space as well as Mabel. As you can see in the photo above, at five feet long, it’s quite large, dwarfing Kent in the picture.
Besides building a full-sized dinosaur head, Kent also runs Jmaille Leather and Fine Arts. He specialized in chain maille art as well as leather work including leather roses, pouches, and even Airsoft holsters.
For a dinosaur build that should take less than a 500-hours to complete check out this project for a giant cardboard dinosaur puzzle.