WALKING WITH DINOSAURS – THE ARENA SPECTACULAR
Imagine being transported 65 million years back in time. Picture life-sized dinosaurs stomping and roaring right before your very eyes. Infographics journalist CHNG CHOON HIONG was in Melbourne to experience…
November 01, 2010
YOU may soon experience the same thrill when the theatrical extravaganza Walking With Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular arrives for the Singapore leg of its Asian tour at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from Dec 1 to Dec 12.
The live performance showcases blinking, breathing and walking dinosaurs of sizes, ranging from small hand puppets to ones as tall as a three-storey building.
With the dinosaurs as the main stars of the show, an actor playing paleontologist Huxley (inspired by scientist Thomas Huxley), takes the audience on an educational trip against a dynamic backdrop that changes as the history of our planet is played out.
The narrative ends with a massive comet striking Earth, causing the mass extinction of the mighty beasts.
The arena show was first conceived as the live version of the Emmy- and Bafta-winning BBC documentary series Walking With Dinosaurs.
The aim was to get live audiences to imagine that there are dinosaurs interacting with each other on a stage like real animals.
While such realism has long been achieved in cinema using computer-generated imagery, it has never been done using real physical models.
The build team
A talented and experienced team of 50 artists, technicians and engineers took 12 months to build the show at a cost of $25 million.
The job of designing these moving creatures was handed to Sonny Tilders, a veteran of the film industry who worked on movies such as Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith and The Chronicles Of Narnia.
Making use of electronics and robotics, Tilders gave life to these dinosaurs using the very specialised field of animatronics.
‘Animatronics involves the understanding and passion in creatures from the natural world and combining them with the technology which brings everything together,’ he said.
Since its 2007 debut in Sydney, Walking With Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular has played to sold-out performances in North America, Europe and Asia.
Seen by 6.5 million people worldwide and winning multiple awards along the way, the live show has been an astounding success, generating a total of A$350 million (S$440 million) in ticket sales.
Period: Cretaceous (144-65 million years ago)
Length : 15m
The T-Rex was one of the largest terrestrial carnivores of all time.
Some say it was a devastating predator, others theorise it was primarily a scavenger.
For certain, the T-Rex is the biggest star of the show. Together with the massive Brachiosaurus, they represent the pinnacle of the enormous achievement by the design team.
Inspired by real dinosaur anatomy, bungee cords act as ligaments, holding up the neutral position of the steel frame without the need to expend energy.
Springs are built into the custom-designed hydraulics cylinders to achieve motion that is much smoother than in similar systems in conventional animatronics. The result: breathtakingly realistic movement.
The muscle structures on the T-Rex and Brachiosaurus comprise of inflatable bags supported by internal steel frames. Not only does the inflatable technology enable the muscle system to be very light, it also allows easy shipping.
By deflating the muscle-bags, the three-storey tall Brachiosaurus collapses to fit comfortably into a standard container truck.
The skin is the largest component of the dinosaur. Therefore, the material must be lightweight to reduce the burden on the battery.
The final product is made of specially treated Lycra, the fabrication of which remains a closely guarded trade secret.
The Utahraptor is the largest member of the theropod dinosaur family Dromaeosauridae.A close relative of the Velociraptor, the Utahraptor shares the distinctive large claw as its more famous cousin as depicted in the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park.
The smaller creatures are essentially elaborate suits worn by human actors. While these suits are amazingly lightweight for their size, fitness is still a vital requirement for the performers.
Each creature is capable of making about 80 sounds, from tranquil calls to ferocious roars.
Cut-outs on the side serve as windows for the performers to look where they are going. These are covered by meshes and painted over.
A low profile custom-made vehicle sits underneath the dinosaur, providing locomotion and housing the driver. A sliding mechanism on the vehicle drives the motion of the feet.
THE WALKING CYCLE
Developing a convincing walk system is crucial to the success of the show.
The solution borrows heavily from traditional puppetry. Instead of creating a system which directly manipulates the leg components to drive the walk, the designers chose to operate just the foot and allow the rest of the leg to follow the movement.
Puppeteers use the Voodoo Rig, a sophisticated remote control with the same joints and range of movement as the creature body. This allows for an intuitive way for the puppeteer to control the larger creatures.
BIRTH OF A DINOSAUR
From prototyping to final assembly, here’s the process of building a walking dinosaur.
Before actually building the dinosaurs, the team determines how they should look by sculpting small plasticine models of the dinosaurs. This is to ensure that the creatures are all anatomically correct.
Moulds are made from the original plasticine model. Some of these are used for paint testing to determine pivot points of the steel frame to be incorporated into the final creatures.
The physical and computer models are sliced up to provide references for full sized cross-sections to be fabricated.
The cross-sections, made of foam, are lined up and fitted together to form the full-sized body of the dinosaur.
SKIN AND MUSCLES
The muscle system is attached on top of the full-sized model. The skin is then laid on top by means of Velcro.
With all the mechanical parts fitted and tested, the dinosaur is now ready to rock the world.