Life-Sized Dinosaurs Invade U.S. in Touring Show Based on TV Series

Are you brave enough to share an evening in the forest with a bunch of life-size dinosaurs with 6-inch teeth?

How about spending time with a walking, growling 45-foot tall, 75-foot long Brachiosaurus that seems to be looking around for its next meal — perhaps among the spectators at "Walking With Dinosaurs," which opens its North American tour on July 11 in Tacoma.

Lucky for us, the Brachiosaurus only eats plants — it was a vegetarian when it lived about 150 million years ago. The Brachiosaurus visiting Tacoma this week isn't alive, but is a lifelike puppet and one of the stars in the touring show.

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The show, based on the award-winning BBC Television series, is supposed to be educational and fun.

The story, which travels 200 million years from Triassic to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, features 15 life-size dinosaurs from 10 species, including a mother Tyrannosaurus Rex and her baby.

The show is so big it can only play to two-thirds of the seating at typical American arenas. The Tacoma Dome, for example, will seat 8,000 for each of the eight performances.

It will take a crew of 65 people and 27 trucks to transport the show to about 100 other cities over the next two years, said Bruce Mactaggart, executive director of Emersion Entertainment Group of Melrose, Australia.

"It's one of the biggest shows that has probably ever toured," Mactaggart said, pointing out that the dinosaurs and their entourage require one or two more trucks than the Rolling Stones use when the rock stars go on tour.

Tacoma was chosen as the first U.S. city for the North American tour — the 90-minute show was developed with $20 million over six years in Australia and had never played outside that continent.

Mactaggart said his plan was to open on the West Coast and he chose Tacoma because it has a seaport capable of welcoming the dinosaur ships, and the people who run the Tacoma Dome were aggressive in their pursuit.

After five days in Tacoma, the show moves to Spokane, Wash., and then on to Edmonton, Alberta, St. Louis, Toronto, Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio.

It's being billed as a family show, but tickets are pricey: $34.50 to $79.50 for adults, and $24.50 to $79.50 for kids 12 and under and seniors.

Mactaggart calls the show a live experience because there is a script for the "Indiana Jones"-like story spanning a couple of hundred years in a few hours. But the dinosaurs (and their keepers) can react to the emotions of the crowd by zooming over to growl at noisy teenagers, for example.

It takes a team of three people to run each of the larger dinosaurs: one to ride in an inconspicuous vehicle beneath their feet and steer the dinosaur around, a second to manipulate wireless puppeteer equipment that looks something like a spinal column and controls the dinosaur's big head and tail movements, and a third to create finer motion such as eye rolling and jaw movement. One of the team also controls the dinosaur's growls, roars and other sounds.

The smaller dinosaurs, such as the raptors, have electronic controls operated by people who use their own legs to move the creatures around the arena.

The technology developed to make the dinosaurs appear real is borrowed from the systems used to control animatronic creatures in movies.