Last year, the enigmatic look of Spinosaurus was finally revealed. It was a bizarre oddity, an unholy eldritch abomination of weirdness that made fanboys squirm. It was at least semi-aquatic, had a curvy sail, and, at least according to Ibrahim, walked on its knuckles.
So what’s the obvious thing to do? Obviously, publicize it and make a documentary about it. That’s exactly what National Geographic decided to do not long after the press release. A few weeks ago, I was watching this documentary, titled Bigger than T. rex (absolutely scandalous hyping). It starts off pretty routinely – talking about Stromer’s discovery, the loss of the specimen, the amazing story of how Ibrahim managed to find the man who knew where the dig site was, piecing all of the remains together – but then, an interesting thing happened.
They started talking about the Cretaceous North African Kem Kem-Bahariya ecosystem and how it was essentially an inland sea. Some of the local fauna showed up, and something seemed oddly familiar.
Of course. We all remember this exact scene from Planet Dinosaur, where a young Paralititan is on the verge of being torn in two by Sarcosuchus and Carcharodontosaurus. It’s almost an exact match except for the colors and the scenery. Even the texturing is almost the same.
This was strange. At first, being the guy who screams audibly at palaeoart theft, I suspected that good old Nat Geo went and nicked some footage from the BBC. They probably recolored it to make it seem less obvious. But is that really how things would work? Would Nat Geo really put their reputation on the line just to go and save some time? Why did they even change it anyways if it looked so similar?
There was another possibility. Given how poorly detailed the texturing on the Sarcosuchus is, thewoodparable suggested that this could be mere B-roll footage from Planet Dinosaur. It would make sense – it’s an easy way to save money, and because the models are all mildly different, it wouldn’t be a complete ripoff for viewers. Why change all the foilage and scenery, though?
This got more intriguing. In a later scene, Spinosaurus is hunting for Onchopristis, just as in Planet Dinosaur. In the midst of the jump-cuts, there’s clearly both the wibbly-wobbly Planet Dinosaur perspective and another differently tinted version. The Spinosaurus then catches and eats the fish, flipping it as in Planet Dinosaur, but not much similarity after that.
So Nat Geo then went and made its own footage, which, frankly, looks pretty good. Why go through the trouble of recoloring and re-texturing Planet Dinosaur, then?
Take a close look at the Spinosaurus in both documentaries. They’re very similar – down to the claw texture, the spots on the arms, the circle around the eyes, the osteoderms, and the red nasal crest. But the rest of the color scheme – especially on the sail – is completely different. After the fishing scene, there’s a little interaction between Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus while the narrator explains they had different niches. And there’s several scenes that at first glance resemble Planet Dinosaur – but no, the Ouranosaurus carcass is flipped and the angle is different.
Interestingly, the scenes where both Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus show up have a lot less camera movement.
What is going on? Is this blatant plagiarism? Does the BBC have a deal with Nat Geo? If so, why did they even care to modify it? Why are the skins and scenery all different? Well, the end credits offer the long-awaited revelation.That’s right. The animations in Bigger than T. rex were done by Jellyfish Pictures, the same company that worked on Planet Dinosaur. So now, it all comes together. There was no theft, no footage exchange. What happened was probably that Nat Geo contacted Jellyfish, having seen their impressive work on Planet Dinosaur, and asked them to come up with some footage for the documentary in a few weeks.
But no, that’s not going to happen, because Planet Dinosaur took years. So Jellyfish did what it could, making a new Spinosaurus model, but in the end they had to reuse a ton of their old footage. That’s why it’s weird, jumpy, and inconsistent. In the meantime, Jellyfish didn’t want it to look exactly the same, so what did they do? They retextured everything.
No wonder this documentary isn’t on their website.