Life-Sized Dinosaurs at Jurassic Quest

From the time I could walk, I loved dinosaurs. As a toddler, I went to my older brothers' classrooms as their show-and-tell project, identifying dinosaurs by their complicated names from drawings in books. In 1964 Sinclair Oil debuted its Dinoland Pavillion at the New York World's Fair. When the world's fair closed, Sinclair loaded their nine life-sized dinosaurs on trucks and took them on tour around the country. I was six when I saw Sinclair's dinosaurs, but I remember how excited I was that day even now, a half-century later.

Sidenote - a few years ago I went to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, and saw a life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex and Apatosaurus on display. Little did I know that I'd seen these giant models 50 years before - they were two of the nine dinosaur models in the Sinclair Oil Dinoland tour that had thrilled me as a child! I didn't know that until I was fact-checking this trip report.

As an adult I thrilled to the Jurassic Park movies, suffering through rampant political correctness and Jeff Goldblum's excrutiating acting to see the incredible dinosaur animations and models. On our honeymoon, my wife and I visited Dinosaur-Quest, an exhibit of dinosaur skeletons displayed on a putt putt golf course (yes, a strange combination) in San Antonio.

Anyway, I've had a life-long fascination with dinosaurs. So when my brother told me about Jurassic Quest, a national touring exhibition of life sized animated dinosour models coming through Dallas, I wanted to check it out. This trip report details our visit to Jurassic Quest at Fair Park in Dallas in February, 2015



Like I said, my brother told me about Jurassic Quest and sent me the link to their website. After reviewing the Jurassic Quest website, I almost decided not to go. The website provided information about face paining, jump houses, kiddie fossil digging, kids riding dinosaurs . . . and almost no photos or information about the big dinosaur models. Several reviews on the internet from the previous year described Jurassic Quest as a let down as well.

The Jurassic Quest website promised the display had grown and now featured 50 dinosaurs; for that reason, and because I wanted a good video subject for a piece of equipment I was doing test shooting with, my wife, brother and I decided to go.

So was it worth enduring the Dallas DART rail system and going to Fair Park?

Yes. My wife and brother had to drag me out of Jurassic Quest, kicking and screaming, to get me to leave - that's how good it was. Jurassic Quest was terrific.

Clearly, Jurassic Quest is obviously targeted to kids. A whole area was dedicated to bounce houses and other game activities for youngsters.

Five large dinosaurs stood by to give rides to the children (shown right). The actual ride itself was probably more tame than one of those rocking horse rides you see outside of grocery stores, but for a kid sitting on the back of a Triceratops, that didn't seem to matter. Notice in the picture that there were several people on hand (orange shirts) to help the kids and keep things safe. Good job, Jurassic Quest.

There were many more things for kids to enjoy. Artists in the face painting section adorned young faces with fangs and dinosaurs and flowery butterflies for those with less of a terrifying bent. In the corner was a large dinosaur dig, which amounted to nothing more than a large, prestocked sandbox, and a crafts station.

The kids were having a ball, burning off all that youthful energy in the bounce houses. They seemed to enjoy all the other activities as well.

I had some fun shooting video of all this but it wasn't what I was really there for. What I wanted to see was in a separate area - a large and very poorly lit section behind a massive gate with a Jurassic Quest sign. I wanted to see the life-size dinosaur models.

And Jurassic Quest didn't let me down. I walked into this area and knew immediately that we were in for a good time. There were tons of dinosaurs on display - I think 50 is a good estimate. Most of the creatures moved and all were finished in lifelike colors. The variety and quality of the dinosaur models were nothing short of spectacular.

Many of the animated dinosaurs had feathers, like the Utahraptor pictured to the right. This will please the accuracy hounds, who know that recent archeological discoveries indicate that many dinosaurs did in fact have feathers. This includes the Velociraptors of Jurassic Park fame, and the model of this beast was covered in feathers. Signs around the exhibit explained the feathers for the less informed visitors who wondered why some of the creatures looked more like chickens than lizards.

The dinosaur models were incredible. They moved and roared. They came in all sizes - even the Tyrannosaurus had a big brother named Giganotosaurus, a truly monstrous carnivore that was 45 feet long. Overhead a Pteranodon hovered - I wonder how many visitors missed that one. The Triceratops was massive and made a fantastic focal point at the center of the exhibit.

The people with Jurassic Quest very wisely featured the dinosaurs who were in the Jurassic Park movie series. Of course there was T-rex but they also had the little Compsognathus, the Stegosaurus (pictured right), the Triceratops and the dome-headed battering ram of a beast named Pachycephalosaurus. Everyone has seen those movies and they could immediately relate to the dinosaurs featured in the films.

Attendants stood by several of the displays and gave more information about particular dinosaurs. For example, remember the first Jurassic Park movie with the Dilophosaurus, the dinosaur who spat poison and flared a retractable neck frill around his face? The attendant by this dinosaur explained that those features were Hollywood inventions - the real dinosaur did neither of those things.

Despite the obvious appeal to kids, Jurassic Quest is great for anyone. If you're a photographer, you won't find many opportunities to take fun pictures and video that are better than this.

One suggestion: Buy your tickets in advance. When we arrived there was a long line at the ticket window. We walked past the line and straight through the door because we already had our tickets.

Jurassic Quest is a touring exhibit. Here is its published schedule of upcoming events with links to ordering tickets:


Photographic Comments for Jurassic Quest Dinosaur Exhibition

The first thing you'll have to pack in your bag is patience - you will find that you're constantly surrounded by ankle-biters (children, not dinosaurs). They're excited and having fun, and will constantly run in and ruin your carefully composed shots. Breathe deeply and set your camera to continuous shooting. Then just hold down the shutter and let the pictures fly.

As I said before, the animated dinosaur section is way too dark. I know they're going for dramatic effect but it's done to extreme. Even with a very fast lens, you'll be taking long exposures where the dinosaurs are moving and kids are jumping into your shots . . . frustration. Even with a tripod, you're still going to get motion blur in the animated dinosaurs. Besides, with all those crumb-crunchers running around it wouldn't be smart to trust a tripod not to get knocked over.

Instead, just bring a flash. I recommend an external flash unit - the built in flashes don't cover large areas like a 40 foot long dinosaur. This will allow you to shoot at a lower ISO and get less grainy shots as well.

You're going to want a lens with a healthy wide angle to it - I was shooting with my 18-140 and there were times I couldn't get far enough away to get everything in the shot. Incidentally, this is another reason to use an external flash unit. When you use the on-board flash with an ultra wide angle lens, you tend to get a shadow on the bottom of the shot as the lens literally blocks part of the flash. I had my 10-20 lens available but didn't use it because I had no surface to set things down so my hands were free, and it was so damn dark in the exhibit.

I used my GoPro HERO 4 Black quite a bit at this exhibit. There is just way too much fun and motion going on to stick with stills. I wanted to reduce blur and jitter so I used a Feiyu Tech G4 Gimbal. One of the big benefits of this gimbal is that it can be used with extension poles. Frankly, up until this event I'd considered the extension poles a gimmick. I see people walking around with long poles so they can do selfies and consider that to be somewhat narcissistic. (I don't get the whole "selfie" craze anyway.)

I have changed my mind about the extension pole with the G4 gimbal. I could lift my camera above the crowds to get an uninterrupted shot of a display. I could do wonderful pans from a tall dinosaur's feet all the way up to eye level, or close to at least. For exhibits that were enclosed with a fence, the extension pole allowed me to reach in and get very close to the subject - a nice benefit when shooting with a wide-angle camera like the GoPro. And because the camera was mounted on a gimbal at the end of the extension pole, a lot of the shakes and jitters were eliminated even as I lifted it up high. The extension pole has earned a place with my camera bag.



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