In grade school, whenever we studied "prehistory," I would daydream about gigantic monsters covered in scales and horns, battling each other with brute force and deadly sharp teeth. The tyrannosaurus rex would knock over a stegosaurus with one sweep of his gigantic tail; the pterodactyl would tease the enormous beast by flying overhead, just out of reach.
All of these daydreams will become a reality as Walking With Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular roars into the Tucson Convention Center Arena starting Wednesday, Feb. 17.
The idea for a large-scale, interactive dinosaur show was originally hatched by Bruce Mactaggart and has since evolved into the show being performed at arenas worldwide.
The performance covers three pre-historic periods, from the Triassic through the Jurassic and up to the Cretaceous period. The show depicts the dinosaur's progression through time, as well as the changes the Earth went through, portraying the effects of a volcanic eruption and shifting continents. The audience also learns how dinosaurs evolved to walk on their hind legs and fend off predators.
The show's 15 dinosaurs parade through the first part of the show, showing off their mammoth sizes and deafening roars. Some of the dinosaurs are more than six times the height of an average man and weigh more than a ton each.
Operating one of the larger dinosaurs in the show requires three people, organizers said. The driver sits in a chassis below the dinosaur, and two people use remote controls: One helps with the dinosaur's movement, and the other controls the dinosaur's muscle movements, roaring and reflexes (such as blinking).
Creature designer Sonny Tilders paid attention to the tiny details, ensuring that the creatures appeared to have muscles that flexed and moved when they walked by using polystyrene balls and mesh under the skin.
The result is terrifying, especially when "Mama T. rex" enters the stage—she's a hulking, 27-foot, 4,000-pound monster.
When some of the more massive dinosaurs enter the arena, adults gasp, and small children can get a little shaken up, said Casey Ross, head of creatures. But most kids are not terrified for long, as the action gets more intense and interesting.
Ross oversees the remote-control operators, the dinosaur drivers, the skins team, engineering and more. Since he first started working with the dinosaurs in 2007, he's been an integral component of nearly 800 performances.
Although the show is a lot of hard work for the directors and operators, he said, the audience's reaction and the show's material allow the cast and crew to have fun, too.
"Sometimes, you get so caught up with work, you just have to go out and watch the families," Ross said. "It puts a lot of smiles on everyone's faces."
The show has been recognized for its creativity and its educational and historical value since its inception in 2007.
"It's an incredible show," Ross said. "A lot of hard work went into it so that this show could be great."
There are many reasons for the show's success, but one is the team behind it. William May, the artistic director for the show, has experience producing on Broadway; director Scott Faris worked on shows including Chicago; the sets were designed by Peter England, known for his work for the Olympics in 2000 and the Australian Ballet. The work of many other talented and acclaimed individuals has gone into creating this $20 million act.
"It's definitely a show for everyone," said Ross. "The adults get as much out of it as the kids do."