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April 21, 2016

Putting It All Together - Guest Post by Chris Gall, Author of DINOTRUX


Most children are easily mesmerized by shiny new cars and toys, but for Chris Gall, the creator of the Dinotrux series, it was never about the finished product. From television remotes to tonka trucks, Gall was always more interested in disassembling the parts that made up a whole. Discovering the intricacies and mechanics of each and every pulley or wheel was vital to building something great. In this post, Gall explains however fantastical his collaberation of trucks and dinosaurs may seem, there is something masterful in building unconventionally. 

I was one of those kids who was always taking things apart. If it had screws in the back, no matter what it was, I saw opportunity. My toys, the radio, the family TV (this one I don’t advise) and even my father’s first generation Hewlitt-Packard calculator, were all victims. The calculator didn’t go back together so easily. Every item was like a treasure chest --- you just had to get inside to find the gems. I wanted to know how things worked.
Eventually I realized I could actually build as well. I started with plastic models and soon I had two shelves filled with planes and cars. I built a Jacobs Ladder for science class (a large transformer with two long wire rods protruding --- a 10,000 volt spark would arc between the rods and climb “the ladder” just like in Frankenstein). When I bought my first car, the first thing I did was rebuild my carburetor. Full disclosure --- I couldn’t drive for three weeks while I figured out how to get it all back together.  
Later in life I found myself restoring classic cars. They too needed to be taken apart, then rebuilt to look brand new. I had to master a whole new set of skills --- mechanics, bodywork, paint, electrical. The learning was every bit as fun as the building. Every old car or truck has a story behind it and taking them apart always took me back to my childhood.
I had always been a fan of heavy equipment --- the big trucks that did all the work. I needed to know how they did what they did. Where were the hydraulics? How were the wheels connected to the suspension? What did all those rods and levers do? 
So when one day I was watching some earth-movers making a new road, my mind was already engaged. I carefully studied the movements of the giant machines --- and in the blink of an eye I was reminded of dinosaurs. Now there’s a combination that would be sooooo cool to design, I thought. The Dinotrux were born. Soon I was researching like mad, trying to find the right truck to combine with the right dinosaur. I wanted the pairings to be logical, and I wanted their parts to seem like they could actually work. I wanted them to be believable. The wheels/legs were notably challenging. I finally arrived at a design that would allow their tires to unfurl, like a flag, so that they could roll for speed as well as stand when necessary.
When my ultimate dream finally came true, and DreamWorks Animation decided to make Dinotrux into a TV series, my first thought was --- how will they adapt my characters to animation? It had been a five year process to get the book to the screen. Originally intended to be a feature film, Dinotrux was re-imagined as a TV series after two years of script work. It was a decision I gladly applauded. However, my role in the process was going to be advisory only --- I wouldn’t have creative control. This was quite typical of such page-to-screen arrangements; Hollywood fears over-zealous authors tampering with the process. I was mainly terrified my characters would end up looking like Barney. (No offense to Barney, of course, but I just didn’t want the Dinotrux to end up as plush toys.) 
Fortunately, the character designers were just as interested in mechanics as I was. They decided to make the characters as mechanically incredible as possible. They took my designs and put them on steroids. And while the authors of books are rarely directly involved in such pre-production design work, I was very pleased to be included in the process as the characters underwent their development.
It should come as no surprise that my Dinotrux characters are builders too. And while they’re also pretty efficient at smashing things to pieces, I certainly wouldn’t want to entrust any of them with a screwdriver and the family TV.