Nerd Culture

6 Things We Learned at Phoenix DinoCon 2014

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4. Japanese kaiju films and TV shows were highly influential

There were many topics we overheard being discussed over the course of DinoCon, including one particularly heated debate: Is Godzilla a dinosaur or not? The fire-breathing radioactive behemoth, most recently seen on the silver screen this past summer, sort of qualifies as one, since it's a "terrible lizard" of titanic proportions and all, which is apparently good enough for the convention's organizers. A few panels were offered that covered Godzilla and other kaiju, the Japanese term that means "strange beast" and refers to all the enormous monsters that have been a staple of the country's culture for more than 60 years.

Godzilla's battles with kaiju foes like Gamera and Rodan not only inspired a wealth of similar movies in Japan, it also helped give birth to fantastical TV shows like of Ultraman and Kamen Rider, which eventually -- more or less -- begat such cultural exports as Voltron and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as well as the blockbuster battles of Pacific Rim.

The influential reach of kaiju was explored at DinoCon, whether it was Asian cult film expert's Damon Foster's informative lecture on "Kaiju and their Kin" to graphic designer Damien X. Hernandez's geeky presentation on the mind-blowing popularity of MMPR during the '90s ("They were The Beatles of my generation," he says) and "kicked tons of ass" in their various Megazords, Dragonzords, and Ultrazords.

3. Jurassic Park's T-Rex Was Originally Less Frightening

DinoCon was a bit what you'd call Jurassic Park heavy, from the replica vehicles outside to three separate panels covering the film franchise, including a popular one spoiling the upcoming Jurassic World. It's to be expected, considering the original 1993 film was a landmark piece of cinema that broke much ground along with many box office records.

And one of the centerpieces of the Steven Spielberg-directed blockbuster was the state-of-the-art animatronic dinosaurs, including the menacing tyrannosaurus rex that ran amok and turned a few of the theme park's visitors into tasty bite-sized snacks. Sculptor and special effects whiz Michael Trcic oversaw the creation of the creature for Jurassic Park and discussed his experiences at length during DinoCon. It proved to be a major highlight of the convention that underscored how Hollywood has not only abandoned more convincing-looking practical effects in favor of CGI but also eschews scientific accuracy for more visceral thrills and chills.

Case in point: Trcic described how early concept drawings of the tyrannosaurus by artist Mark "Crash" McCreery, which were based on "fairly sound" paleontological science, weren't frightening enough for the film's producers. "In Hollywood, the prevailing idea was, 'Okay, we've got a T-Rex that's 18 feet high, 40 feet long, it's got six-inch teeth, it weighs two tons. How are we going to make this thing scary?'"

The result? Transforming the tyrannosaurus' countenance into one with bigger teeth, sharper facial features, and more muscular appearance. Or as Trcic dubbed it, "the Arnold Schwarzenegger of T-Rexes."

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.