Trending: China's "Roaring" Animatronic Dinosaur Industry

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Animatronic dinosaur replicas in all forms and sizes on display outside Gengu Dinosaurs' factory in Zigong City. /CGTN Photo

Many people love dinosaurs, but perhaps not as much as the group of Chinese designers and craftsmen dedicated to making the perfect life-size dinosaur toys.

The city of Zigong, in southwest China, is home to a Jurassic period site Dashanpu, where workers building a parking lot unearthed a large number of dinosaur fossils in 1979.

The city's prehistoric ties with dinosaurs have nurtured the success of the animatronics production industry. Zigong has 19 companies making animatronic dinosaurs for theme parks and safaris in more than 60 countries and regions. Its annual export totaled 62 million yuan (9.25 million U.S. dollars) in 2018.

Deng Peilin, a local in Zigong, knows a lot about the animal species that ruled the world long before humans did. As the owner of Zigong Dinosaur Landscape and Art Co., Ltd, Deng has become a successful businessman. His company makes over 1,000 life-size dinosaurs for clients both domestically and overseas each year.

He is a frequent visitor of the Zigong Dinosaur Museum, built on top of the fossil site and home to the remains of almost all the dinosaur species who lived between 205 million to 135 million years ago.

"Zigong was once a haven for dinosaurs. I've learned a lot from the fossils. The paleontologists teach me about dinosaurs so I can make them look as real as possible," Deng said.

At Deng's factory, workers brush finishing paint on a gigantic Tyrannosaurus to be exported to Jordan.

Knowledge about dinosaurs helps Deng and his workers meet varied demands from customers. "For example, carnivorous dinosaurs have brightly colored skin, while a herbivore's skin looks less shiny and similar with the environment it lived in," he said.

Deng has memorized the specifications of a lot of dinosaurs. "For example, the Omeisaurus lived in the middle Jurassic period of what is now China. An Omeisaurus tianfuensis was 22 meters long, while a Tyrannosaurus was usually 12 meters long," he said.

"Sometimes customers ask us to inflate the size of animatronic dinosaurs," he said.

The company's largest product was a Diplodocus, 23 meters tall with a 66-meter-long spine, doubling the size of a real Diplodocus. It was sold to a buyer in Ankara, Turkey.

Zigong's animatronic industry started in the 1990s when a businessman from Taiwan invested in a production line to make props for theme parks. Deng was an art designer for the company.

"Simulated animals were a huge success. I remember people got up at six o'clock in the morning to wait in line to buy a ticket to see an animatronic dinosaur. I made up my mind to open my own factory," he said.

Over the years, materials and techniques used for making the dinosaurs have upgraded. Now they use aluminum alloy and stainless steel for bones, and high-quality silica gel and sponges for the skin.

In Zigong, animatronic dinosaurs are still made by hand, and it takes as many as 26 steps to make them. To produce a single dinosaur, 10 to 20 people have to work for as many as 40 days.

Besides dinosaurs, Deng and his colleagues make other animals. A gorilla and a mammoth will be shipped to Orlando in the United States, and several brown bears are ready to be sent to Guatemala.

Manager Jiang Qiaoyu wants to get creative about the three-story-tall Tyrannosaurus. "I'm thinking of stuffing a used car into its mouth, which I think will make it look more stunning," he said.