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NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Look out, Barney. There's a new dinosaur on the family touring scene.
Actually, there are several. Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience stomped onto the Australian and North American touring radar in 2007. After launching in Australia early in the year, the show segued to North America in summer 2007 via a partnership with Arena Network, a consortium of nearly 50 arenas in the United States, Canada and Mexico. It quickly became one of the top five family shows of the last 12 months, according to figures reported to Billboard Boxscore.
A collaboration between BBC Worldwide and Creature Production Co., the show is based on acclaimed BBC documentary series "Walking With Dinosaurs," which first aired in 1999 in the United Kingdom and subsequently came to North America on the Discovery Channel.
The six-episode TV series is the most expensive documentary series ever made, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and the tour is also an expensive proposition. Roughly $20 million has been spent thus far to create the dinosaurs and launch the tour.
The massive undertaking involves 27 53-foot tractor-trailers and 65 crew members, including lighting technicians, engineers, puppeteers, actors, sound people and carpenters.
"We bring everything from the flooring to the rigging, to the lighting, sound and obviously the dinosaurs themselves," says resident director Cameron Wenn, who travels with the show and is charged with ensuring that the experience is consistent from city to city. The show is limited to arenas that can host hockey games because of the floor space needed for the giant animatronic dinosaurs.
Ten species are represented in the show's 15 creatures, which were built in Melbourne. Among the dinosaurs are a mother and daughter Tyrannosaurus Rex and a 38-foot-tall brachiosaurus. "She's as tall as a three- to four-story building," Wenn says.
Wenn says one of the challenges of the show is "constantly being at the mercy of the technology." Aside from the two actors who share the role of the paleontologist/host, no other humans appear onstage. "We're at the mercy of a loose nut or a sheered-off bolt," he says, adding, "Fortunately we have a great team of people here who maintain the dinosaurs extremely well."
The larger dinosaurs are operated by three people -- a driver and two animatronic puppeteers, known as voodoo operators, who control their movements. The lead voodoo operates all the body movements while the auxiliary voodoo operator handles the mouth, eyes and roaring.
Creature Production Co. has a second set of dinosaurs in the works, according to CEO/international producer Carmen Pavlovic, who notes that "communicating and explaining to the audience and getting them to understand the real scale of what it is they're about to see is probably one of our real challenges.
"You have the title, 'Walking With Dinosaurs,"' she says. "'Oh, that sounds interesting, I know I like dinosaurs, but what is it? What will it mean? How will they do that?"'
Pavlovic believes there's a universal affection for dinosaurs that translates across cultures. "That affection is born out of the fact that they were real and the show somehow makes you feel like you have the opportunity to step into a time machine and go back and have a little look. There's something about that that I think captures people's hearts and minds."