Summer visitors to the Santa Barbara Zoo are delighted with its newest resident: a life-sized, adolescent Tyrannosaurus Rex that runs, roars, snorts, blinks, growls and even poops in the show “How to Train Your Dinosaur” running three times daily.
Fifteen-feet from nose-to-tail and 7-feet tall, this amazingly lifelike dinosaur, named “Duncan,” was designed by the Chiodo Brothers, one of Hollywood’s top creature shops (“Dinner for Schmucks,” “Elf,” “Gremlins.”).
During the family-friendly 15-minute lively show, the human hosts introduce Duncan and attempt to demonstrate the special care received by the Zoo’s animals – with hilarious results. Just as keepers have trained the Zoo’s gorillas to allow their teeth to be brushed, Duncan is given a chance to improve his oral hygiene. But it’s going to take a lot of patience and positive reinforcement, just like with pets at home and the Zoo’s animals, before he is trained.
“Duncan is a perfect example of the evolution of an idea,” said Zoo CEO Rich Block. “We wanted to give our guests a behind-the-scenes look at the ways we work with our animals, but in a fresh and focused way. We can’t bring the gorillas out every day and show their teeth getting brushed, but we can show Duncan getting the same positive reinforcement we use with the gorillas and other animals here at the Zoo. The fun part is – he learns anew every show, as does the audience.”
“Anytime we can make a dinosaur, we’re happy,” says Edward Chiodo. “We love dinosaurs, and learn something every time we make one. This time, we learned more about weight distribution through the way we had to counterbalance the tail to allow for the head movements.” Duncan’s designer is Dave Barrington Holt, former Creative Supervisor of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
Duncan’s operator wears the backpack and has full control of the T. Rex’s actions, including his head and jaw, and tail movements. Eye blinks are run by a computer program, and he poops from a preloaded cylinder controlled by the operator. The operator sees ahead via images from a pinhole video camera located in the tip of Duncan’s nose. The operator also wears a headset that allows him to make sounds through a voice synthesizer. Duncan is sponsored by the Duncan Family.