Casandra Sowards, who is 26, is the lead sculptor for Billings Productions, which is based in Allen and makes animatronic creatures for museums, zoos, and other exhibits.
I just loved dinosaurs when I was growing up in Maryland. I was ten or eleven when I saw Jurassic Park. I had to beg my parents to let me watch it because they were like, “Oh, it’s loud and scary.” It’s been my favorite movie since.
In high school, I started watching Face Off, a reality-TV competition between prosthetic makeup artists. I was like, “I want to do this.” So I went to college for special effects makeup, and then I started working at Billings Productions in 2019.
Everyone wants bigger dinosaurs. We’re working on a bigger Stegosaurus, because we only have a baby and a juvenile. Our new Stegosaurus is thirty feet long and eight feet high and will barely fit into a shipping container. The Brachiosaurus we built two years ago—that dude, we had to cut him at certain places to fit in the truck. It took us four to five months of working long hours to make him. We have three sculptors in my department, and we hired two others to help. If we hadn’t worked the extra hours, I think it would have taken eight or nine months. That was for an amusement park in Denmark.
Most of our clients pick from our warehouse full of more than four hundred creatures. Just about everyone wants a T. rex, so we have a lot of those—I don’t even know how many. It’s not super often that we get a request for a custom build, but we’re trying to branch more into that area.
The dino I’ve probably worked on the most is our Utahraptor. If a client wants a creature with fur and feathers, they typically want a Utahraptor. So we’re always working on that guy.
My favorite dinosaur is probably the Pachycephalosaurus. It headbutts everything. He has a dome on the top of his head and little horns around it. He has tiny little arms. There was a Pachy in the second Jurassic Park, and he rampaged through the scene. Some paleontologists believe that Pachys didn’t actually slam into things head-on. They sort of sideswiped with their heads.
One of our graphic artists is part of the Dallas Paleontological Society. She helps fact-check every project to make sure they’re accurate. For instance, we used to put fur on our Deinonychus, but it’s now believed that they had feathers. Sandra Billings, who started the company with her husband, went to a museum in Vienna and liked a Deinonychus they had on display. So we found rooster feathers that looked similar. It’s a tedious, time-consuming process, putting them on: each has to be hand laid, one by one. It’s still a debate if the adult T. rex had feathers. Everybody’s praying that we don’t find out it did—that’s a lot of feathers.
This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.