Did you ever build dens with your mates when you were a kid? You'd gather together whatever raw materials you could find lying around – and that your parents were okay with you commandeering – then drag them to the bottom of the garden, or the corner of your living room, and build a mighty fortress capable of withstanding even the most fiendish of sibling invasions.
Of course, as cool as those superstructures were, they never quite matched up to the dream dens you'd conjure up in your head. There were no trap doors, for example, no night-vision periscopes, no laser cannons... But what if somebody had actually built you that impossible dream den, for real? It would've been pretty much be the greatest thing that'd ever happened, right?
Well, that's exactly what professional sculptor and prop-builder Matthew Healey did for his seven-year-old son: constructed a model triceratops that's large enough to house several kids and comes kitted out with all manner of awesome gadgetry. It's a minor miracle of imagination and engineering that's as jaw-dropping as it is heart-warming.
The Dino Den Challenge
“We challenged Matthew to build something spectacular using only items bought on eBay,” says Matt Golding, who documented the dino-den's construction. “Some of those items were raw materials, others were unique objects that he repurposed. And he used them to make this amazing hideout that's about five meters long and two-and-a-half meters high – which makes it a half-full-size triceratops!”
The construction process has been hush-hush throughout. “Matthew's son will be 'given' the dinosaur in the run-up to Christmas – his reaction is going to be amazing. It'll be in the garden of Matthew's in-laws, so that his son can play in whenever he goes round. His in-laws have been asking him to build something for their garden for years – and now he has, although I don't think they're fully aware of what it is!”
So How Did Matthew Build the Dino Den?
“He first hand-sculpted the triceratops out of polystyrene blocks bought from eBay, then covered it in acrylic modelling plaster,” Matt explains. “Once that was set, the polystyrene innards could be removed and Matthew could fit a floor and use lots of objects he found on eBay to bring this super-cool hideout to life.”
And bring it to life he did. “There are lights inside that came from a Citroën Dyane; there's a periscope that allows his son to look outside and see if any 'intruders' are coming; there's a flap in the back that he can open up and send out a drone with a point-of-view camera on it.
"When you pull a lever inside, the dinosaur's bum fires out 'fart gas' – it's actually CO2 from an old fire extinguisher; there's a smoke machine in the nose that can be used to release a 'smokescreen'; there's a tablet inside that he can watch movies on when he's got friends around; and they can all sit around on the dinosaur bean-bags that are in there.”
Hopefully, Matthew's once-in-a-lifetime project will inspire others to get imaginative with their eBay searches.
“It's all about making Christmas special and unique,” says Matt. “You can buy brand-new stuff, obviously, but you can also buy second-hand things on there and use them to create something new – combining two objects together to create a third.” “You can buy brand-new stuff, obviously, but you can also buy second-hand things on there and use them to create something new – combining two objects together to create a third.”
And, of course, you needn't aim for a tricked-out, 2:1 scale dinosaur hideout – it really is the thought that counts.
“The project's not about a dad spoiling his son rotten,” says Matt. “It's all about a dad with a ton of talent, building something really, really cool, entirely out of love for his son.”
What do you need to build a Dino Den?
See what a man needs to bring the dinosaurs back to life. Here's the list of items that Matthew bought on eBay to create his son's roar-some den.