Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience

You might have thought you were 65 million years too late to experience a show in which you walk with dinosaurs. But thanks to an unprecedented marriage of science and animatronics, the legendary creatures are roaming arenas across North America.

Almost all the dinosaurs in the show were created to be life-size, which is hard to appreciate unless you're in the arena. The largest is the Brachiosaurus. She measures 36 feet tall and 56 feet long.

But creating 17 life-size dinosaurs is only half the feat the show's creators pulled off. "It's been the most amazing job for me," creature creator Sonny Tilders says of the lifelike "Walking With Dinosaurs," which is based on the award-winning BBC TV series.

"I think it's a boyhood dream come true."


For Tilders, the dinos are in the details. "That's where it's all at," he says. "That's where you see the life in it. A big bulky shape is impressive but the life comes from the detail."

From muscles that flex and skin that moves, to eyes that tear and blink, it takes a special kind of obsessiveness to bring this show to life.

"That little glint of that light kicking off the lens and that little detail that someone spent hours and hours on a disk, carving away this little iris, casting it with the lens and painting her beautifully, and it was all worth it," Tilders says.

Tilders started out on high school projects carving wooden R2-D2s, the droid character from "Star Wars" fame.

Now, he's an animatronics whiz who has worked on Hollywood blockbusters like "The Chronicles of Narnia."

He's a self-admitted nerd who banded with others to bring the BBC's computer-animated series to life.

Another was Bec Sloan, who has been with Tilders from the start of the project. "The first Friday we actually got things moving was fantastic," Sloan says. "We all stood there and said, 'look what we did.' That moment when we suddenly realized we had a show on our hands, it was great."

Sloan spent 18 months hand texturing every inch of the two miles of spandex that make the lifelike skin of the dinosaurs. "The idea being that the skin didn't look like we'd just put a pair of pajamas over a doll. It needed to be something that was alive and moving in a way that was natural."

But once built, they had to move.

Each dinosaur has a steel skeleton, muscle bags and inflatable skin systems, adding up to a whopping two tons per creature, powered by 20 truck batteries and a human driver, hidden in the chassis.

A joy stick and push pedals move the dinosaurs.

But the "Voodoo Puppeteers" are the ones who bring them to life. They operate the dinosaurs' features remotely from the back of the arena.

"I'm in charge of the main body movements of the character, so, while it's running around on stage doing its bits, I basically take care of anything from the head movements through to the full body movement," puppeteer Graeme Haddon says.

Haddon says he's really an actor. "During the rehearsal period, we sit with the director and we talk through the scene and talk through the intentions of the characters," he says.

The puppeteers open and close the mouths, move the head, neck, arms and tails. They blink the eyes and are in charge of every sound the dinosaurs make from a "dino keyboard" located in their central control.

It's all part of the process that causes the show to become a complete experience, which is something Tilders describes as pure joy.

Joy that he has now shared worldwide with more than a million people, and counting.

Click here to find out more about the exhibit on www.dinosaurlive.com.