I love dinosaurs, and I love puppets. Put the two together and I can’t resist. Among other things—such as the brand new dinosaur hall, which I’ll talk about in a later post—that is what brought me to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County last week. The institution has put together several shows featuring beautifully designed dinosaur puppets, and after seeing a sneak peek on YouTube, I just had to check one out for myself.
I was probably the oldest dinosaur fan in attendance for the museum’s afternoon “Dinosaur Encounters” program. Shortly after I arrived at the North American Mammal Hall where the shows take place, a small collection of toddlers, young children and their parents gathered around. The kids looked astounded when the museum’s fuzzy Tyrannosaurus puppet came roaring out onto the stage. While our host talked about thinking like a scientist and making observations to better understand prehistoric life, the dinosaur walked around the hall, snapped its impressive jaws, and bellowed its heart out. I think many of the kids in attendance were too young to even be scared. Most of them stared in wide-eyed amazement at what, to all appearances, was a real dinosaur right in front of them.
After the show I got a chance to get a closer look at the dinosaur thanks to its puppeteer, Brian Meredith. Drenched in sweat from running around in the hot suit for 15 minutes, Brian pointed out the relatively simple operation of the juvenile tyrannosaur. He simply steps into the dinosaurs body cavity and thinks like a tyrannosaur—as he walks, the dinosaur walks, and a series of strings and other instruments inside let him move the dinosaur’s body parts. The dinosaur’s deep-throated roaring, I was surprised to find out, was not pre-recorded but actually Brian growling through a sub-woofer to make what I consider to be some impressive dinosaur sounds. The hardest part of the operation, Brian said, is seeing where you’re going—the only view he gets of the outside is through a small opening in the tyrannosaur’s neck. Clearly, being inside a dinosaur isn’t easy.