Creating Your Own Table Top Jurassic Park – A Cheat’s Guide to Making a Prehistoric Landscape

Building your own Dinosaur Playmat

Creating your own prehistoric habitat for your dinosaur models and toys is quite easy and a lot of fun. With the Summer holidays approaching here is a super dinosaur themed craft idea to help the kids make the most of their free time and perhaps they might even learn something about prehistoric life back in the Age of Reptiles.

We have built a number of dinosaur play mats with young children to help us, we recommend this exercise for children from 5 years and upwards, although Mums, Dads and guardians may have to help when it comes to using scissors and such like. Building your own dinosaur land is an inexpensive and fun thing to do, the whole project can be completed in a few hours (allowing time for paint and glue to dry), and can be built at a fraction of the cost of buying a playmat or similar item from a toy store.

Starting with the Basics – Choosing a Base

First get your base, a solid base is always best as this will help with sticking objects onto it and make a firm platform for the dinosaur models and toys to stand on. Many toy forts and castles are supplied with a square, reinforced cardboard base and these make an ideal foundation for your dinosaur jungle and landscape. A quick visit to a high street charity shop can offer reward the canny shopper with the purchase of a cheap toy fort or castle base for just a few pence. It does not matter if this base is worn or damaged slightly, it will get painted over and have things stuck to it. Anyway dinosaurs were always churning up the ground and damaging the landscape, scientists even have a special word for this when they come across evidence of dinosaur activity in sediments – “dinoturbation”.

Alternatively, if the base from an old toy fort or castle is not available simply re-cycle some cardboard boxes to create the base for your dinosaur land. Take a large cardboard box (one with big sides is preferable), push in the base, so that it falls flat and paint the base green or sandy coloured, depending on the sort of habitat you wish to create.

A Cheat’s Way of Getting the Perfect Base for your Dinosaur Land

To avoid any printing on the cardboard showing through the paint, cover the whole base in strips of paper mache (strips of paper soaked in glue), allow to dry and then paint. To create a cheat’s folding dinosaur land simply take two equally sized boxes and lay them side by side leaving a small gap of about 3cm between them. Cover the whole lot in paper mache, including the join but only lightly in the area of the join. This allows you to build in a “hinge” into your model so the base can be folded up and put away when not needed. To avoid having to paint the model with several coats of paint to remove all trace of any print, simply don’t use printed material for the last layer of paper mache. For example, old photocopy paper (printed on one side only), is ideal for the final layer of paper mache. A lot of dinosaur landscapes have been created by raiding the re-cycle paper box from the office.

Creating your Landscape

Using other strips of newspaper or re-cycled paper you can build up a landscape so there are areas of different gradient on your model. Don’t over do this or there will not be any even ground to put your models on. You can build up some higher ground (suggest you do this on the back area of your model), by layering strips of thick card down on top of each other. Aim to produce raised areas that look a little square in appearance, at least that way you can be sure that dinosaur toys will stand up on them. Once you have landscaped your base you can use poster paints to paint the landscape green or sandy coloured. It is a good idea to paint a small pond towards the front of your model, as we know dinosaurs congregated around waterholes. Once the paint has dried you can add some details to the base by drawing some tufts of ferns and horsetails. Use a fine green marker pen for this, simply draw stick-like plants for the horsetails or simply “v” shapes to represent the ferns.

Dinosaur Landscapes – adding the First Plants

Surprisingly, if you were to travel back in time to the late Cretaceous of North America you would have recognised much of the vegetation. The dinosaurs that you encounter may look incongruous in such familiar woodland surroundings but you would have seen dinosaurs wandering in and out of groves of oak, sycamore, maple and ash trees. Ponds would have been covered in water lilies just like lakes today and you can add some lily pads to your dinosaur pond for that little bit of realism. Take some plain paper or card and colour in a small section with dark green paint or crayon. Then taking some small coins, draw round them to create an array of small circles. Cut them out and cut a nick in each circle, a simple triangular shape would suffice and there you have your lily pads waiting to be stuck to the surface of your pond. Your dinosaur landscape has its first plants, dinosaurs taking a drink at a waterhole with a water lily growing in it – a scene straight out of the late Cretaceous.

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