Walking With Dinosaurs: The Man Who Brings A Life-Sized Baby T-Rex To Life

Neal Holmes (left) in costume as Baby T-Rex at the Walking with Dinosaurs press conference in Singapore.

I still remember the goosebumps I had when I first saw the animated yet so realistic-looking dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster hit, Jurassic Park. So when there was a chance to meet and interview the man behind the Baby T-Rex from Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience (WWD), I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

Based on the 1999 acclaimed BBC TV documentary series of the same name, the US$20 million (S$27.7m) live arena spectacular originated in Australia in 2007 and went on to become “the biggest and best dinosaur show in the world”. Last here nine years ago, Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience will run at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from August 29 to September 8, 2019.

Musings on the M49 was thus chuffed to be invited to the Walking With Dinosaurs media conference held at Capitol Theatre, where a life-sized Baby T-Rex, operated by British performer Neal Holmes, was the featured star.

ON THE FLOOR WITH A BABY DINOSAUR

Baby T-Rex mingling with the audience at the WWD press call!

The baby Tyrannosaurus Rex—to give its scientific name in full—is but one of the 18 life-sized dinosaurs, operated by skilled performers via animatronics and physical puppetry, featured in the highly successful Walking with Dinosaurs arena show. Using state-of-the-art technology, lighting effects and projection, the 100-minute show is presented as a theatrical story of the prehistoric creatures’ 200-million-year existence on Earth.

Nine species from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods will be represented. You can expect Mama T-Rex to be super huge, but it will not be the biggest dinosaur on show — that honor goes to the Brachiosaurus which measures at 11 metres tall and 17 metres from nose to tail!

WWD resident director Ian Waller introducing the Baby T-Rex.

After introducing Baby-T—as it is affectionately called—WWD resident director Ian Waller filled us in with details of what the young critter is like, what went into the production of the show, and what we can expect from the live performance.

As he was talking, Baby T continued to strut around, doing its own thing as what you’d expect an inquisitive creature would do. Truth be told, puppeteer Neal Holmes’ movements were so realistic that at times you simply forgot that it is just a human being in a fancy costume!

One of the lucky kids who got to pose with the Baby T-Rex!

Highlight for everyone was without doubt the photo op with Baby T in all its glory. Many of the kids in attendance were thrilled; one even came clad in a green dinosaur head costume! “Generally, kids love dinosaurs,” Holmes would confirm later during the interview session. Most adults were thrilled to bits too (especially yours truly)!

TALKING WITH THE MAN IN THE DINOSAUR SUIT

The man who makes Baby T-Rex comes to life!

It was exactly 10 years ago when Briton Neal Holmes, then a fitness instructor, went for an audition in London, not knowing exactly what was required, and ended up with an agent plus a full-time job as a dinosaur puppeteer all within a week.

With the Baby T-Rex costume weighing about 35-40kg, the job is needless to say, physically demanding but the now 35-year-old, who has a background in acrobatics and parkour, takes it all in his stride. Not only does he have to walk and run like a dinosaur, Holmes also controls other movements of the “baby” creature from the eyes to the tail.

Revealing that he can’t really see much out of the suit, one key thing Holmes has learnt to be extra mindful of while performing is to “not bump into things, or run into other dinosaurs”. Depending on demand, performances could be as many as three shows a day, or nine shows during weekends.

Neal Holmes speaking to the media at the WWD press call.

When Musings on the M49 asked whether has anything gone wrong for him during performances, Holmes admitted that “the worst is falling over.”

He elaborated: “I’ve never been injured, but it could be due to a slippery stage or just an error. ‘Cos with big dinosaur feet, it could happen when you cross your legs. It’s quite difficult to get out of. That’s probably the silliest thing I’ve ever done.”

But there’s help when such mishaps occur. “Stage people will look out for you and rush out to pick you up. If you are okay and not injured, and the suit is okay, you just continue from where you left off.”

After a decade as a dinosaur puppeteer, Holmes also realizes that “less is more” when it comes to performing.

“It is easy to do too much in puppetry, so I’m careful in not going too crazy like a puppy dog (when portraying a baby T-Rex), but to allow for moments of stillness. The (dinosaur) suit itself looks amazing just standing still, so to just allow those moments to happen ‘cos there are so much other things going on,” he explained.

Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience runs from Aug 29 to Sept 8, 2019 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Performances : Tue-Fri 7pm; Sat-Sun: 10.30am, 2:30pm and 6:30pm. Tickets: $78-$148 from www.sportshubtix.sg/WWD2019

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

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