15 Things You Gotta Love About Dinosaurs


The ABC primetime lineup back in 1991 was all about the sitcoms. Families gathered in front of their televisions to eat TV dinners and watch Roseanne, Family Matters, Full House, Step by Step, and a brand new series from the guy who gave us The Muppets and whatever Ludo from Labyrinth (1986) is supposed to be.

Jim Henson wanted to make a sitcom that followed the basic formula, with the twist that the family would be dinosaurs, that they would live a very unsustainable lifestyle, and the whole thing would be made using puppets and animatronics. Here are 15 cool things you've gotta love about Dinosaurs.


In a DVD special feature segment titled Pre-Hysterical Times: The Making of Dinosaurs, Jim Henson’s son, Brian, says that his father’s early work for La Choy brand Chinese food planted the seed for a show about walking, talking dinosaurs. “The La Choy dragon just wrecked everything, and I think my dad always thought that was a hilarious character. I think maybe [Dinosaurs] had the roots in that.”


Taking inspiration from dysfunctional TV families of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s (The Honeymooners, All in the Family), Henson wanted to make something that audiences had never seen before. “The whole thing is about a family and a civilization that’s doomed,” said producer Pete Coogan in the book No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. “No one had ever undertaken a network primetime sitcom show that was purely animatronic.”


Independent Lens, YouTube

Brian Henson hired the best puppeteers in the business to perform in Dinosaurs and to operate what they called the Performance Control System. Among the all-stars to join the team were Kermit the Frog and Ernie performer Steve Whitmire, Gonzo performer Dave Goelz, and Kevin Clash, who voiced and performed Elmo, Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), and Baby Sinclair.


Sadly, Henson passed away in 1990, a year before the sitcom went into production and premiered on ABC. Before his death, the master puppeteer worked with designer Kirk Thatcher to develop the characters and the general ideas for the show. The political themes and more fleshed out sitcom elements came later with the help of co-creators Bob Young and Michael Jacobs, and Brian Henson made sure that the final product was something that would make his father proud.


While developing the personalities for each of the characters, co-creator and writer Bob Young used his third son for inspiration. “Not the mama” and “I’m the baby, gotta love me” became the most popular quotes from the series and were printed on T-shirts, buttons, and other merchandise.


The catchphrase was a big hit for the show, so a song was created for their Big Songs (1992) soundtrack, and a MTV-style video was produced and incorporated into the final episode of season three. The song was written by the voice actor for Earl Sinclair (Stuart Pankin) and film and television composer Ray Colcord provided the music.


eileenmak, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As a joke that references the (false) idea that oil reserves come from dead dinosaurs, the prehistoric surnames in the show were taken from petroleum companies. The Sinclairs are named after the Sinclair Oil Corporation; Earl’s boss (B.P. Richfield) is a combination of B.P. (British Petroleum) and the Richfield Oil Corporation; Roy Hess references the Hess Corporation; and grandma Ethyl is named after a fuel additive company.


Earl Sinclair is a megalosaurus, his wife Fran is an allosaurus, and the children are all completely made-up species for the sake of the show. The maternal grandmother, Ethyl, was originally a pterodactyl that was supposed to hang in a closet, according to designer Kirk Thatcher. During development, Ethyl became more of a core character, so she evolved into the seated matriarch that we know and love.


In 1994, Creature Shop creative supervisor David Barrington Holt told the Chicago Tribune that each episode of Dinosaurs took approximately 65 hours to produce, and at its peak, there were 90 people working on the set to meet its deadlines. “We would work pretty long hours. We'd start at 5 a.m. and last until 2 or 3 a.m. We pretty well worked around the clock. The shooting side of things can get pretty intense. At night we'd make repairs and then get ready for the next day.”


No one got to peek behind the curtain of Jim Henson's Creature Shop while the show's first season was being made because co-creator Michael Jacobs and the rest of the crew didn’t want to spoil the magic. “We said all along that for the first season we would have no press on the set, because we did not want to blow the integrity of the show for kids,” he told the Los Angeles Times. "I didn't want the press around because the angle would have been to take pictures of these creatures with their heads off. It's like ALF: Do you want to see pictures of ALF or somebody's hand up ALF? I wasn't going to have it. It's the kids who come first, and I didn't want to blow the fantasy for kids."


VideoObscura, Etsy

Because Dinosaurs was one of the most ambitious projects on television, the cost to produce the show was very high. The first six episodes were released on home video ahead of schedule in December of 1991. “We never dreamed the show would be as expensive as it is,” said Jacobs at the time. “The videocassette release is very early, based on getting some of the money defrayed.” The characters were also used as promotional tools at Walt Disney World in Orlando and at Disney-MGM Studios.


Creature Shop supervisor John Stephenson was given a very short window to build the first 10 characters for the show and somehow made it happen. “Of course it wasn’t possible, but we did the best we could,” said Stephenson in No Strings Attached. “We got them to Los Angeles, sent an enormous service crew over with them and David Barrington-Holt in charge. We started shooting them then, building and rebuilding them, and eventually made them perfect.”


Throughout the show, the tortured soul that is Earl Sinclair is more often than not frowning and sighing heavily. Part of it is the nature of the character, but Bill Barretta, the performer inside the suit, revealed in a behind-the-scenes featurette that he needed to open Earl’s mouth constantly because it was the only way he could see where he was going. The head of the costume sat above Barretta’s own head and did not have eye holes, so he looked through the mouth while the character was talking or let out a sigh when he needed to maneuver around furniture.


According to Brian Henson in No Strings Attached, when the show wasn’t renewed after the fourth season, the 35 people who worked on the show did not want to leave L.A. and head back to the Creature Shop’s base in London. “The crew were saying that they didn’t want to leave. In the end, we decided we’d have a core of six to eight people there all the time and have a full crew on a project-to-project basis.” The L.A. shop worked primarily on TV commercials in the early years while the London shop continued to do big productions, and then Steven Spielberg hired them to help make a little dinosaur movie called Jurassic Park (1993).



The guy who made the Mad Max series worked with the Creature Shop to bring a talking pig to the silver screen, but that might never have happened if it wasn’t for Dinosaurs. Miller bought the rights to a book called The Sheep-Pig in the mid-1980s and wanted to make a live-action version of it because he saw the potential of computer graphics and animatronics. Miller was waiting for his dream to become cheaper to produce, and when his co-producer Bill Miller and director Chris Noonan saw what was happening with the sitcom, Miller decided to move forward with Babe.

9 Facial Reconstructions of Famous Historical Figures

A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Why look at a painting of a historical figure when you can come face to face with one? Forensic facial reconstruction using scans of skeletal remains allows researchers to create 3D models of the face through a combination of science, history, and artistic interpretation. The results may be somewhat subjective, but they’re fascinating anyway. Here are nine facial reconstructions of famous people.

1. Richard III

In 2012, King Richard III’s skeleton was found below a parking lot in Leicester, England, where in 1485 he was hurriedly buried after dying in battle. A reconstruction (above) shows a young man, only 32 years old, with a gentle, approachable face. It’s a far cry from the child-murdering villain portrayed by Shakespeare and other writers. One thing they said does seem accurate, however: The skeleton had a curved spine from scoliosis, suggesting that Richard’s humpback may have been real.

2. Bach

J.S. Bach’s bust has sat on innumerable pianos for centuries, but he only posed for one portrait in his lifetime. So this reconstruction of his face—which was taken from a bronze cast of his skull—offers an interesting glimpse into the man beneath the 18th century wig. You get the same thick neck, underbite, and stern brow you see in the painting, but the reconstruction’s friendly, confused stare lacks the soul of the real man … and his music, for that matter.

3. Shakespeare

Apparently, no one knows anything about Shakespeare for sure—his hair color, his sexual orientation, how he spelled his name, whether he liked his wife, etc. Some people aren’t even sure whether he wrote his plays or not. So this rendering, taken from a death mask found in Germany, is bound to be controversial. But if it is Shakespeare, it’s pretty intriguing. It shows a man who suffered from cancer and had a sad, soulful face.

4. Dante

Maybe it’s because The Divine Comedy dealt with the ugliness of sin that Dante Alighieri is usually depicted as unattractive, with a pointy chin, buggy eyes, and enormous hooked nose. But a reconstruction done from measurements of the skull taken in 1921—the only time the remains have been out of the crypt—reveals a much more attractive Dante. The face has a rounder chin, pleasant eyes, and smaller nose than previously thought. It’s a face with character.

5. King Henri IV

The mummified head of France’s King Henri IV was lost after the French Revolution until a few years ago, when it showed up in a tax collector’s attic. In his day, Henri was beloved by everyone except the Catholic fundamentalists who murdered him in 1610. The hard-living king looks a bit old for his 56 years, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. What the model cannot show, however, was how much the king stank—apparently he smelled of ”garlic, feet and armpits.”

6. Cleopatra’s Sister

Cleopatra hated her half-sister Arsinoe IV so much she had her dragged out of the temple of Artemis and murdered. In 2013, researchers said they had discovered what may be Arisone’s body, based on the shape of the tomb, carbon dating, and other factors. The resulting facial reconstruction shows a petite teenager of European and African blood. And yeah, maybe this is closer to what Arsinoe would look like if she were trapped in The Sims, but since Cleopatra’s remains are long gone, this may be the closest we get to knowing what she looked like.

7. King Tut

King Tutankhamun, whose famous sarcophagus has traveled far more than the “boy king” did in his 19-year lifetime, had buckteeth, a receding chin, and a slim nose, according to 3D renderings of his mummy. His weird skull shape is just within range of normal and was probably genetic—his father, Akhenaten, had a similarly shaped head. Tut’s body also had a broken leg, indicating he may have died from falling off a horse or chariot.

8. Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus, who challenged the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, died in 1543 at age 70. When his body was found in 2006 in a Polish church and confirmed by matching DNA to strands of his hair left in a book, the Polish police used their forensic laboratory to make this portrait. They made sure to include Copernicus’s broken nose and the scar above his left eye. Who knew that the Father of Astronomy looked so much like the actor James Cromwell?

9. Santa Claus

The remains of St. Nicholas, i.e. Santa Claus, have been in a church in Bari, Italy, since they were stolen from Turkey in 1087. This reproduction, taken from measurements of his skull, reveal that St. Nicholas had a small body—he was only 5’6”—and a huge, masculine head, with a square jaw and strong muscles in the neck. He also had a broken nose, like someone had beaten him up. This is consistent with accounts of St. Nicholas from the time: It turns out that Santa Claus had quite a temper.

A version of this list was first published in 2013.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.