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Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy BigQuetz


Back in 2010, when I was employed in building a series of giant pterosaur models for the University of Portsmouth and Royal Society, I painted the above image of several giant azhdarchids in flight for use on our display boards and advertising work (bonus sauropods can be seen playing in the water below the pterosaurs). The azhdarchids are meant to be a fairly close match for our models, and specifically the giant, 10 m wingspan jobby we suspended between Royal Festival hall and the neighbouring buildings:

Our 2010 exhibition, with BigQuetz at the topright. Two smaller giants follow behind it, with the giant Bamofo looking on. Pterosaur worker Michael O'Sullivan can be seen in the bottom left. 
BigQuetz in all its 10 m span glory
Our giant model had a couple of goofs that I wish we could have avoided, but was far from the worst rendition of a giant pterosaur I've ever seen. Certainly, there was no doubting its enormous size, which was substantial enough to shade a gathering of people escaping the unusually intense London sun experienced in June/July 2010. Alas, impressive as it was, it's size proved to be problematic for transportation and storage purposes. For engineering reasons, the body and wings of our BigQuetz were constructed as a single, solid unit, which meant that it had to be transported on a long-base low loader and, after its display in London, finding places to store and display it proved very, very difficult.

The BigQuetz body and wing frame, with pterosaur workers for scale (I'm on the left, Dave Martill is on the right)
The upshot is that BigQuetz, after a short stint on display in the Netherlands, had to weather being stored outside the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the open campus of the University of Portsmouth. Dave Martill, our pterosaur model wrangler, tried repeatedly to offload the model to various institutions but, despite finding homes for the rest of our giant models, could not find anyone willing to take on the transportation costs and space requirements of BigQuetz, even if the model was otherwise theirs for the taking. We were all very aware that BigQuetz was vulnerable in being stored in this way and, indeed, the ravages of weather and occasional shunts around were begging to take a toll on its more delicate aspects. But, as is often the case, the biggest problem was protecting it from people. It was only a matter of time before someone found BigQuetz and started fooling about with it, and thus inevitable that it would be found, one day, with significant damage.

Sadly, that very day arrived at the turn of this year, when University of Portsmouth staff found the BiqQuetz head  had been smashed in by unknown individuals (sadly, I don't have any photos to show of this). It seemed that the damage was well beyond repair, and the BigQuetz story was brought to a close when the model was chopped up and disposed of. It's a terrific shame that our model should meet such an inauspicious end, and particularly stings because I personally experienced the many hours of work that were poured into its creation, often by volunteers, and know of the craftsmanship that went into its production, particularly on its aluminium frame. Plus, I find it hard to rationalise its demise being caused by anything other than a stupid stunt pulled by bored delinquents, seeing as its location on campus was not conducive to being accidentally damaged by university staff. Some consolation can be found in the fact that our other models have found homes elsewhere, and are hopefully being looked after, but it still seems a tremendous waste. Hey ho. RIP BigQuetz, we hardly knew ye. Or whatever people say about this sort of thing.

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