Today, we take a visit to Billings Productions in McKinney, one of the country’s largest producers of animatronic dinosaurs. The giant, reptilian, near-billion-dollar success of Jurassic Park in all its special-effects guts-and-glory, plus the BBC’s more scientific Walking with Dinosaurs series — and its own hugely successful, arena-tour spinoff — all of this would seem to have turned the lowly zoo-exhibit dino into the kind of limited, lumbering relic the real T-Rexes were once theorized to have become (before the killer comet theory of their extinction took hold).
But as Billings’ senior sculptor Carl Bajandas explained when we visited the McKinney plant, all the CGI effects only sharpen people’s interest in seeing a 40-foot roaring, carnivorous lizard in real life. The films and TV shows have provided the Billings artists inspiration — each side looks over their shoulder at what the others are doing. And sometimes, they’ve corrected the movie’s mistakes. The Dilophosaurus was much bigger than in the film and may not have spit poison at all. But what the hell, there is something to be said for squirt-gun entertainment when you’re walking around a zoo.
Billings Productions was created by Larry Billings and his wife Sandra in 2003. Billings had already worked for a similar firm in California. Since his death in 2007, the company has been run by Sandra and their son, Trey, the vice president of operations whom we spoke with — in a very hot but very cool dino-building studio.