Dinosaurs in the Wild: find awesome beasts in London

We spoke to Tim Haines, Creative Director of Dinosaurs in the Wild, about bringing the Cretaceous Period and its infamous inhabitants to life

Dinosaurs in the Wild is a 70-minute adventure that takes visitors 67 million years back in time, face-to-face with living dinosaurs! This exhilarating immersive experience, created by the team behind the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs, pushes the boundaries as it combines live sets with cutting-edge computer-generated imagery.

More than 4,500 pupils attended Dinosaurs in the Wild in Birmingham and Manchester last year. The show has now landed at London’s Greenwich Peninsula until 31 July, and tickets are available for school groups at a special reduced rate.

VR is seeing a huge ‘moment’ in education right now, but animatronics are a little bit more old-school. What inspired you to use animatronics for Dinosaurs in the Wild?

TH: Animatronics is an ancient technology in lots of ways, but in truth it’s children who love animatronics most of all  because it’s something you can understand and respond to more readily.

There’s a new phrase growing in popularity – “mixed reality” or MR – and the show is very much a mixed reality experience as it brings together digital and physical effects.

Mixed reality creates an immersive effect by interacting with all of our senses, including touch and feel. If you just give a digital experience, there’s a point where the audience wants something more tactile and real-to-life. When we thought about school groups, we wanted to make sure that all their sense were affected by the show.

In terms of planning the event, how did you visualise the tech working compared to how it turned out? And what were the main challenges?

TH: The show was in development for five years and the idea originated years before that, so it’s incredible to think how far technology progressed in that time.

One thing we wanted to avoid was the use of projection screens, which can cover a large area but create a ‘dimmer’ experience. Only 3D OLED screens can create the effect of light spilling in from the outside, because they generate their own light, much like the effect of a window on a sunny day.

Another challenge came from the constant movement of immersive theatre. In most 3D experiences you will sit stationary in a seat, but when you move freely this creates an effect called ‘parallax’ that makes the whole image shift as you move. Your brain tries to work everything out and compensates for the movement.

What we found in practice, however, was that the dinosaurs’ movement creates a different focal point that pulls the whole effect together, because your brain is so busy processing the animals to notice the landscape moving behind. It’s a really complicated visual effect – and the solution always came from maths!

What has been your favourite reaction from a pupil? I’m sure you’ve encountered lots of amazement!

TH: When you’re touring the show with a big group of six-year-olds, their mixture of concern and laughter is incredible. Some adults may be cynical at first, but even creaky old people will be hiding on the floor towards the end!

We’ve seen a huge range of reactions from pupils – and I know many of them have left with new motivation to explore palaeontology, history, biology and evolution in more detail.

I think that’s happened because we wanted to challenge the audience, and we were sympathetic to the fact that primary school children can be surprisingly switched on to the world around them. You only need to spark curiosity to discover how well they understand the world, and how valid their questions are!

Immersive theatre continues to grow in popularity, and this is a fascinating variation on other examples we’ve seen. Why are immersive experiences so popular?

TH: The boom in popularity of immersive theatre, things like ‘panic rooms’ and Secret Cinema, feels like a reaction against all the content we have freely available on the internet.

The internet hasn’t had the negative impact on things like theatres and concerts that we might have expected – in fact it’s quite the reverse. Young people are looking for shared experiences as an antidote to the disconnection from social media. The growth of live theatre is wonderful because it’s an excuse to socialise, giving us a structure to discuss and work around socially. Likewise, Dinosaurs in the Wild is a shared, social experience that people talk about for hours and days afterwards.

What message would you send to a teacher who wants to take their school along to Dinosaurs in the Wild?

TH: We fully understand that a teacher’s challenge is to get their pupils engaged and excited about the process of learning. That’s why the entire show is designed and built in a way that is sympathetic to teachers.

Lots of teachers will choose to teach about dinosaurs because they create such a sense of awe. In return, we can promise that everything they see is scientifically accurate and that pupils will be learning good science.

We’ve already received lots of imaginative ideas from teachers about their follow-up activities after the show: essay-writing or creative writing, even independent scientific discovery on the school grounds.

There are a thousand questions that pupils will ask after the show, and lots of question to ask them in return. For example, what would happen if you went back to the Cretaceous Period and killed a butterfly? What about evolution – did you see the mammals during the show, and how did they differ from what we see now? Did you see any insects that you recognise from today – and why do you think they still exist? Why did this flower evolve in this very specific way? Springboards for lessons on a range of topics are all contained within the immersive experience.

About Dinosaurs in the Wild
This once-in-a-lifetime adventure runs at London’s Greenwich Peninsula until 31 July 2018.

School group bookings enjoy a special ticket price of only £12 per pupil, as well as free tickets for accompanying teachers (one per five pupils in primary; and one per 10 pupils in secondary).

To book tickets now or reserve your school’s space for up to four weeks, please call 0800 852 7244.

For further details about school group bookings, please visit: www.dinosaursinthewild.com/education


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