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Walking With Dinosaurs: Extinct or Extant?

Walking With Dinosaurs was the landmark nature documentary series that kick-started a newfound fascination with Dinosaurs for Generation Z. I was one of those kids, and I recently revisited the classic series for the first time in my adulthood. Watching each episode gave me a great sense of nostalgia, and is still very entertaining despite its age.

It is filled with many iconic and lesser known dinosaurs that are filmed using CGI and animatronic puppets. Real-world locations that are similar to prehistoric habitats are used for production, which adds to the series’ authenticity. Each episode focuses on a particular species that tells a story about how these creatures lived and behaved, which had never before been imagined. This is complemented by a magnificent score by Benjamin Bartlett that fits the grandiose nature of the dinosaurs. Kenneth Branagh delivers a dramatic narration style, which he repeated in sequels of the series. After its debut in 1999, the show went on to receive six prime-time Emmy nominations & awards and two BAFTAs. This critical acclaim has left it considered to be the greatest prehistoric documentary series of all time.

After re-watching the series, what surprised me most is that the look and animation of the Dinosaurs. It has aged very well considering it was made over twenty years ago. For most of the twentieth century, dinosaurs were depicted in still images and their behaviour was never shown, only described. In the show, the dinosaurs look realistic thanks to 3D scanning used to create the CGI dinosaurs. The animatronic puppets worked exceptionally well for close-up shots, with functional nostrils and eyes displaying a sense of emotion from the dinosaurs.

These realistic depictions were assisted by numerous palaeontologists specialising in animal movement to create accurate styles of walking, running, swimming and even flying for the extinct creatures. For example, the marine reptile Liopleurodon had never been animated before and working with the paleontologists, the animators produced what’s believed to be the first ever accurate representation of how these creatures actually swam.

Animating the dinosaurs in the show allowed these animals to look more realistic than the large skeletons people were used to seeing at museums.  The series took its inspiration from the Jurassic Park franchise where its CGI and anamatronic puppets were implemented to bring dinosaurs back to life on the big screen for the first time. Only this time, the filming of the dinosaurs showed them as animals with a story rather than the mindless killers Jurassic Park portrayed them to be for Hollywood.

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“Iguanodon head” by Ballista / CCPublicDomain

Walking With Dinosaurs has influenced many other well known dinosaur documentaries in the years since. Documentaries such as Planet Dinosaur, When Dinosaurs Roamed America and Dinosaur Revolution have taken obvious inspiration from the landmark series. Out of these subsequent shows, I believe Planet Dinosaur did it best. By implementing  cutaways of scientific evidence during sequences of dinosaur life and behaviour made it more believable. However, Walking With Dinosaurs still remains the most well-known dinosaur documentary twenty years after its release. A number of sequels have since been made: The Ballad of Big Al, Walking With Beasts, Walking with Monsters, a film adaptation and a stage show, which have all been successful. The show, despite its age, lives on and will continue to fire people’s fascination with dinosaurs.

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“Walking With Dinosaurs Live” by Sven0705 / CCPublicDomain

If you are new to, or wanting to learn more about dinosaurs then WWD is a great place to start. To watch, you can purchase the documentary on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play or buy the DVD box set online. Fans of the series, including myself, now long for an up-to-date sequel to the award-winning documentary. In the meantime, fans will just have to re-watch, which shouldn’t be an issue if you are as big of a fan as me. 


Image Links: Iguanodon head, Walking With Dinosaurs Live

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