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Dinosaurs stalk America in arena show

August 4, 2014 - 12:05am

NEW YORK — What does a man who spends his work days creating animatronic dinosaurs do on his day off? If you’re Sonny Tilders, you go see the real thing in person.

Tilders, the creative director of The Creature Technology Co., couldn’t resist recently stopping by the American Museum of Natural History while in New York to see some genuine fossils up close.

“I wanted them to move. Just one of them,” Tilders says, laughing.

In his day job, they do: Tilders is the driving force behind the “Walking with Dinosaurs, the Arena Spectacular,” which has returned for a North American tour with 20 updated lifelike dinosaurs, including many sporting feathers, the ability to reach up and eat leaves, and three new babies.

The show, based on an award-winning BBC Television series, travels 200 million years from Triassic to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, and features 10 species of dinosaur. It is produced by Global Creatures, the Australian company behind the new musical “King Kong,” the Tony Award-winning “War Horse” and “How To Train Your Dragon.”

“Walking with Dinosaurs” is in Pittsburgh this weekend and next goes to Auburn Hills in Michigan before Canadian stops scheduled in Montreal and Ottawa for the rest of August. In September, it lumbers toward the California cities of Anaheim and Los Angeles and other stops are planned throughout the West and Midwest.

“There’s real drama in what we’ve made,” says Scott Faris, the director, whose work is backed by an 80-piece orchestra score. “Not only have we built dinosaurs to scale, we’ve also built a climax at the end of the first act with a big battle and then the second act tops that.”

The largest dinosaur in the show is the 36-foot tall, 56-foot long Brachiosaurus, which weighs 1.6 tons, or the heft of a standard family car. One puppeteer guides it from underneath — “like Scotty on ‘Star Trek,’” says Tilders — and two others manipulate it from a location high above the stage. Some dinosaurs are the size of a small dog and are radio controlled.

“While it’s wonderful to see all these great shows on TV that use computer-generated imagery to create another world, I think they kind of miss something,” says Tilders, a dinosaur fan as a kid.

“What’s really nice about doing it live onstage is the greater sense of awe and wonder when you see something — albeit made of fabric and steel — that convinces you that it’s alive.”

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