Thursday, 2 December 2010

By The Way – Walking With Dinosaurs: It's All In The Details

Anyone bought tickets for Walking with Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular? I did and am going next weekend, on their last day here. Back in the 70s, I was one of those geeky kids who loved reading about dinosaurs and I still watch those dinosaur documentaries on TV with relish. So watching this show was going to be a real treat for the kid in me…until I was so kindly invited to the media preview of this show just yesterday where I saw everything, from start to the very noisy end.

How was the show? Excellent! If you’re a dino fan like me, this would be a real treat as the creatures are so life like in all their full-sized magnificence, walking, calling, fighting and snuggling their young right there in front of your eyes. With the dramatic lighting and very creative set – look out for the plants! – it was theatre in all its immediacy and drama.

What struck me was that this is essentially a documentary about dinosaurs – narrated by a character called Huxley, the Paleontologist – presented in a theatrical way. It’s almost like going to watch a London musical – just replace the songs with dino calls, and actors with these amazingly huge and lifelike “puppets”. It was really quite amazing. Divided into two acts, the first was relatively quiet compared to the second act which brought out the big reptiles, the booms and clashes, major sound effects and ending with a dramatic finale of T-Rexes and meteors. I won't say more, or I may be spoiling the fun for you.

My only comment is that the narrative can be a little verbose and threatened to drag a little, all delivered rather too quickly, and I sometimes could not catch the words. I suspect much of his narrative will be lost on most children, while the noisy parts with dinos fighting, and calling so loudly may frighten some of them. There's a couple of surprises in the end so brace yourself! So it's best to prepare the kids beforehand.  And if you’re going to lap it up, bring binoculars to really enjoy the realism and drama.

The voodoo operators (the guys who control the movements) will tell you they are essentially puppets…. but puppetry at its best. “To control the puppet, you have to think like a dinosaur,” Gary Benfrost, one of the voodoo operators, told us. It’s an odd job to say the least, but something he enjoys tremendously. Watch out for them sitting behind the last row in the stadium - they're controlling the creature remotely, and the little keyboards next to them are for playing the monsters' calls.

To help you really appreciate these creatures onstage, here are some facts and figures that may just give you that ‘Wow’ factor.

• There are 20 dinosaurs in all, with 10 species represented.
• There are 10 large dinosaurs, and 5 suit dinosaurs (people in suits – but amazingly realistic, too. This is no Barney kissing babies!).
• Just to give you an idea how big these puppets are, the T-Rex is 23 feet tall and 42 feet long; the brachiosaurus is 36 feet tall and 56 feet long.
• Each large dinosaur weighs 1.6 tons but run on just 6 rollerblade wheels!
• A team of three people operate one dinosaur. The team comprises one driver, one Voodoo puppeteer who operates the head and tail gross motion, and another who operates the minor movements like mouth, roars and eyes.
• Each large dinosaur contains 971 square feet of fabric, 433 cubic feet of foam, 53 gallons of paint, 1094 yards of cabling and 433 feet of hydraulic hose.
Now that you know all these secrets, sit back and enjoy!

Walking With Dinosaurs
1-12 December
Singapore Indoor Stadium 
Tix from SISTIC
Photographs by Joan Marcus CPC 2008


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