Pete's dinosaurs are set to be a monster hit

WALKING With Dinosaurs is one of the biggest shows with some of the biggest participants to ever come to Glasgow.

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Production manager Pete Bell with one of his dinosaurs
Production manager Pete Bell with one of his dinosaurs

The arena tour returns to the city this month, with a £12.5million spectacular show at the SECC featuring 20 life-size dinosaurs and 10 species, including the terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex.

It is such a massive undertaking that 27 trucks are required to move the dinosaurs and scenery.

However, Clydebank-born production manager Pete Bell, who began working life as a sheet metal worker in Yarrow's shipyards before moving into theatre, seems to take it in his stride.

"I have been working in rock 'n' roll for more than 30 years," he says. "I have worked on tours with Oasis for 15 years and I was with Wet, Wet, Wet for 11 years.

"And I have worked with the Rolling Stones. After that, dinosaurs are easy."

He adds: "At least with this show there are no egos, no one asking in their contract for all the blue M&Ms to be removed. The dinosaurs get the show done and leave."

The dinosaurs are indeed the stars of the show and are designed by one of the world's top animatronic engineers, Sonny Tilders.

"We use 'muscle bags', made from stretch mesh fabric and filled with polystyrene balls, stretched across moving points on the body," says Sonny.

"These contract and stretch in the same manner that muscle, fat, and skin does on real creatures.

"That is what gives them their authenticity and makes the audience feel they are watching flesh and blood weighing six, eight or even 20 tons, come to life in front of their eyes.

"The puppeteers then use 'voodoo rigs' to make many of the dinosaurs move, miniature versions of the dinosaurs with the same joints and range of movement as their life-sized counterparts.

"The puppeteer manipulates the voodoo rig and these actions are interpreted by computer and transmitted by radio waves to make the hydraulic cylinders in the dinosaur replicate the action, with a driver hidden below the animal, helping to manoeuvre it in the arena."

The production, based on the Bafta award-winning BBC television series, is described as "expertly narrated and educational".

Children will learn how T Rex, the Stegosaurus and Brachiosaurus evolved during their 200million-year domination of life on earth - and about the huge climatic and tectonic changes that took place.

They will discover how oceans form, volcanoes erupt, a forest catches fire - all leading to the massive comet that struck the earth and led to their extinction.

However, it is Pete's task to make sure the production – which took a team of 50 artists, scientists and technicians a year to build – runs smoothly.

"The dinosaurs are incredibly complex pieces of kit," says Pete, of the likes of the Brachiosaurus, which is 36ft tall, and 56ft long.

"They have to be taken apart after every venue and then rebuilt."But we have a team of engineers ready, just in case.

"If a fault appears in a dinosaur during the show, we will get if off straight away, fix it and get it back on. It is usually that straightforward."

Having been ranked No4 in Pollstar's Top 100 Worldwide Tours, the 90-minute show is said to be suitable for those aged three to 93.

Director Scott Faris says the idea was always to create a family show.

"We wanted to produce a spectacle that was visually astounding, but also scientifically accurate and just as informative as the BBC series," he says.

"The sight and impact of these life-size dinosaurs, combined with the journey the audience go on from their evolution to extinction, means kids are gripped from the start, watching formidable creatures and learning of their time on earth."

The show has now been seen by more than seven million people in 206 cities.

"When we took it to Dublin, there was an excited little boy on his feet jumping up and down at the anticipation of it all," he recalls.

"He was pointing and shouting. And then T Rex came out and roared. And the boy dived under the seat - and never reappeared."

Does Pete prefer working with dinosaurs or the giants of the rock and pop world? "They're both very different, he says. "But when I started this show it was the first time I put the artist in the back of a truck after a gig."

l SECC, April 17-21. £25-£45. Family – 4th ticket free. 0844 3954000 or www.ticketsoup.com

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