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T. rex: The King of Time (and Pop Culture)

T. rex: The King of Time (and Pop Culture)


>>NARRATOR: This is the king of time. For many of us, Tyrannosaurus rex is the dinosaur—our
lens into a lost world. Since its discovery, the word “Tyrannosaurus”
has been used in print more than twice as many times as any other dinosaur name. And T. rex landed its first starring role
the same year as Rudolph Valentino. Ever since a fossil hunter from the American
Museum of Natural History dug Tyrannosaurus rex out of the dirt, it’s ruled our view
of the past.>>MIKE NOVACEK: Icons tend to capture the
public imagination. They’re just too big and too- sometimes
too ugly, and sometimes too beautiful to be denied.>>CHIP KIDD: In my work, I get to read the
manuscript first. So, I read the manuscript of Jurassic Park. We’re talking, this would have been back
in 1989. I was relatively young… Twenty-five, 26. Junior designer for book jackets at Alfred
A. Knopf.>>NARRATOR: Chip Kidd is the man behind a
famous dinosaur. Behind him is the dinosaur that inspired his
famous book cover. When tasked with creating a design for Michael
Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Chip searched for ideas.>>KIDD: Certainly, there’s a lot of books
on dinosaurs. Scientific paleontology and fantasy and everything
in between. So, the problem to solve when creating the
first edition book jacket for Jurassic Park was to somehow entice the reader into a story
that was about dinosaurs, but like nothing that they had ever encountered before. But I do remember, before I started and I
was talking to our Editor-In-Chief. And I do remember him saying, you know, “Think
of something as iconic as Jaws. That’s what we want to come up with.” And I’m thinking, “Well, yeah, that would
be nice, but I don’t see how that’s going to happen in a million years. But hey!” We tried a bunch of different things. I remember we tried commissioning a painting
of what a close-up of dinosaur skin would look like. And the answer was it didn’t really look
like much of anything. I’ve always been fascinated by pterodactyls. I tried that. But, you know, really, of course you’ve
gotta give the T. rex a try.>>NARRATOR: T. rex has come to be a shorthand
for all dinosaurs. It didn’t live in the Jurassic, but Cretaceous
Park didn’t have the same ring.>>KIDD: And so, I came here to the Museum
of Natural History and just hung out and stared at this guy.>>NARRATOR: This is AMNH 5027. It doesn’t have a cute nickname. But it was one of the first dinosaurs displayed
to the public. So, it’s had time to leave a big footprint.>>NOVACEK: It’s certainly fair to say that
our T. rex is one of the world’s most famous dinosaurs, if not THE most famous. Tyrannosaurus rex, this skull, is a very important
scientific discovery. The first really complete skull and skeleton
of a Tyrannosaurus ever discovered. Since the early 1900s, we’ve had many decades
to absorb T. rex into our own cultural fabric.>>NARRATOR: This specimen, seen by millions
of visitors every year, has shaped our collective idea of what a dinosaur is. In the beginning, this was T. rex. Nine years later, in 1915, crowds thrilled
at the site of a towering Tyrannosaurus rex. To the public, it was a monster with enviable
posture. But paleontologists already knew the stiff,
prizefighter stance wasn’t right. Planning models showed more nimble animals,
but the metal rods that had to hold up several tons of fossil could only support the T. rex
in a very vertical pose. Thus were born generations of tremendous tail-draggers. It started with the skeleton, and this early
illustration by Charles Knight, done for the Museum. One of the first dinosaurs on film was almost
an exact copy. This is T. rex’s movie debut, in a 1918
film called “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain.” That same animator would go on to make King
Kong, which also featured a T. rex. And the Museum Tyrannosaurus was solidly lodged
in pop culture. Barnum Brown, the discoverer of T. rex, consulted
with Walt Disney on the dinosaurs of Fantasia. And Godzilla carried the DNA of Specimen 5027
in his mutated cells. It was the dinosaur that ruled our imagination
for decades. The only mounted Tyrannosaurus seen for a
quarter century.>>NOVACEK: When I was a kid, I mean, I guess
my image of T. rex was a kind of ink etching of a T. rex standing in front of a bunch of
palm trees. And he’s fully standing erect with his hands
up and his tail dragging on the ground, just in those traditional ways. It’s kind of the same image you see in books
like Jurassic Park.>>NARRATOR: After staring at specimen 5027,
which at the time was still posed in a very upright stance, Chip made his way to the Museum
gift shop and bought a book.>>KIDD: This is the book.>>NARRATOR: The book is Vertebrate Paleontology
and Evolution. And the drawing is adapted from a paper published
in 1917 by the Museum paleontologist who named the species Tyrannosaurus rex, after Barnum
Brown dug it up. And it’s an illustration of this very same
specimen. You can tell because of this little bump—right
here. When this particular T. rex was fossilized,
one of its bones—this one—the ectopterygoid, which supports biting force, got shoved out
of place. It makes for a very distinctive profile. So, Chip took this scientific illustration
of specimen 5027 and started working.>>KIDD: This was totally pre-computer. We were still doing everything in the art
department by hand. I was literally tracing it, but I was making
creative decisions about how to alter it to make it into something somewhere between just
a skeleton and a completed animal.>>NARRATOR: Chip’s design was sent off to
Michael Crichton for approval. The reply was swiftly delivered via fax machine.>>KIDD: I think it said, “Wow, fantastic
[BLEEP]-ing jacket.”>>NARRATOR: Jurassic Park hit the shelves
in 1990 and was on the best seller list for 12 weeks. And that was before the movie came out.>>KIDD: They did an advance screening of the
first movie for us. And we’re sitting there, and the movie comes
on and you get to the part where they’re finally going to the park. And there is the sign. And we’re like, “Oh my god.”>>NARRATOR: Universal Studios had licensed
Chip’s design and adapted it, almost unchanged, for the poster. See? It still has the bump. It’s specimen 5027’s birthmark—distinctive
and unique among all fossils. So, this very dinosaur has made its way onto
countless t-shirts, toys, Jurassic Park Cheez-Its, and this.>>KIDD: This is the official Jurassic World
toaster. And it burns an image of the drawing into
a piece of bread.>>NARRATOR: Well, it’s supposed to. Not everything can live up to the T. rex’s
oversized reputation.>>NOVACEK: There’s no predator in the history
of the Earth on land that was bigger, and by inference, more ferocious.>>MARK NORELL: I think that it’s probably
by far the best-known dinosaur. Because of its notoriety, and because it was
found in North America it probably is the most studied dinosaur of all the dinosaurs
that we know.>>NARRATOR: Our concept of what T. rex looked
like and how it moved has radically changed as we’ve learned more about it.>>NORELL: In looking at most tyrannosaur models,
the body is just so big and fat and totally robust. I mean, I don’t view Tyrannosaurus that
way. And I think that the skeletal evidence really
shows that they were much thinner. They were very svelte animals.>>NARRATOR: And they probably looked a little
fluffier.>>NORELL: From all the inferential evidence
we have, adult tyrannosaurs were feathered.>>NOVACEK: People sometimes don’t like a
revision of what they cherish, in terms of their own imagery. But what I find is that over time, that’s
easily changed. Because younger people come to it without
those kinds of connections to their own nostalgia. As science becomes more understood, it’s
absorbed by culture.>>KIDD: You know, dinosaur skeletons suggest
the dinosaur, but we have to complete it in our heads. When you come here, to the Museum, you know,
your imagination takes over and you imagine these things walking around and how big they
are and a dinosaur skeleton is- it’s mysterious.>>NARRATOR: It’s that mystery that keeps
us coming back. Our imaginations layer the possibilities of
millions of years over these bones. This is as close as we come to walking in
the shadow of deep time.

Comments (16)

  1. fascinating presentation, thank you.

  2. The real question, however, is how do I apply for the "dinosaur vacuumer" position?

  3. Great Video of the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex and itโ€™s awesome popular culture.

  4. Have you seen AMNH 5027 in person? Let us know if it inspired you to be a paleontologist, an artist, or just a museum lover!

  5. I first saw this specimen about 50 years ago, when it stood upright of course, and since then have seen it more than a dozen times. Always the most iconic dinosaur for me, and this the most iconic fossil skeleton. I would venture this may be the most visited skeleton in the world when you consider how long it's been on display, it's location in NYC, and the huge numbers of visitors who visit this great museum year after year.

  6. "There's no predator in the history of the earth on land that was bigger…"
    Spinosaurus? Giganotosaurus?

  7. ๐Ÿ’–๐Ÿ˜น๐Ÿ’—๐Ÿ˜น๐Ÿ’–

  8. I first saw Tyrannosaurus rex at tha AMNH in 1957 pleading my father to take me to NY. I was inspired to become a paleontologist when I read "All About Dinosaurs" by Roy Chapman Andrew's in1954. Roy led the Gobi Desert Asiatic Edpedition for the AMNH in 1922. Steven Speilbergs T rex skeleton in the movie Jurassic Park was made by Peter Mays in Canada and he also built two dinosaur skeletons for me at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. It's a small dinosaur world.

  9. While T. rex isn't my favorite dinosaur (Allosaurus is), it rightfully deserves its status as the most famous dinosaur in history.

  10. 2:39 I wish the proper term "pterosaurs" was more commonly used by the general public. "Pterodactyl" is old and doesn't help distinguish that pterosaurs were flying reptiles that WEREN'T dinosaurs.

  11. Is this the same Chip Kidd who wrote the Batman Animated series art book?

  12. well done presentation; esp adding in the JP cover designer.

  13. #TeamRex & #TeamBlue Jurassic World 3!๐Ÿป

  14. This video has everything I love!ย ๐Ÿ˜
    It must be an amazing feeling being able to work in that museum with all those scientists and artists!

  15. "and some say that tyrannosurus rex was the last word in reptilian frightfulness" h. g. wells, a short history of the world

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