Behind the Scenes
NHM's Dinosaur Encounters and the Page Museum's Ice Age Encounters are performance-based educational programs that let visitors get up-close and personal with realistic, life-size animals from the Prehistoric and Ice Ages.
In 2008, we commissioned a team of paleontologists, engineers, artists, and puppeteers to bring extinct animals to life.
Operating our large-scale puppets is a form of stunt work, called 'full suit' performing.
Behind the Scenes with a Dinosaur Encounter Puppeteer!
Here’s a fantastic description of how the puppets work by our very own puppeteer, Michael Serwich, in a letter he wrote to a young fan:
…The performers strap their feet into the feet of the dinosaurs. They grip handles which allow them to control different parts of the puppet. The handles are equipped with bicycle brakes which are gripped to make the eyes blink and the mouth open.
They wear headsets equipped with microphones. These microphones are connected to an amplifier within each suit. The amplifier has a distortion effect that causes the human sounding groans and growls which the performers make to come out like the dinosaur noises which you heard in the shows.
There are also mini-fans within each suit which keep the performers from getting over-heated. All of these electrical systems run off of a rechargeable battery which is stored within the suit.
Hopefully this letter gives you a better understanding of the Dinosaur Encounter program and all that’s involved in bringing your two favorite dinos back to life.
“Hunter” the T. rex
How does Puppet Costume work?
Inside the T. rex, a performer stands upright, and wears the 73-pound large-scale puppet like a backpack, using his hands on controls to steer the head. A microphone and speaker create the puppet's realistic roar.
“Dakota” the Triceratops
How does the Puppet Costume work?
Inside the Triceratops, a performer wears the 66-pound large-scale puppet like a parachute harness. There are 6 straps that tightly secure the shoulders, chest, waist and pelvis, while the forearms get strapped into arm stilts. If you imagine crawling on your hands and knees, the visibility is limited to a few inches just in between the hands.
On the arm stilts are levers similar to bicycle breaks that control mouth and eye movements. A microphone and speaker create the puppet's realistic voice.
Who built the dinosaur puppets?
Our large-scale dinosaur puppets were commissioned through a collaboration with Museum curators and Erth Visual and Physical, Inc., a collective of artists, engineers, puppeteers, and designers based in Sydney, Australia.
Check out Erth’s other fabulous creature creations at www.erth.com.au.
Can I touch the puppets?
The puppets are hand-painted and crafted of delicate fabrics; touching the puppet could damage its realistic skin and we discourage visitor contact. The puppeteers also have limited vision inside the puppet, and any unexpected interaction could be hazardous to the visitor or the puppeteer.
Who operates the puppets?
Get to know our Performance Artist staff