The arena dinosaur show has a flaming hot sequel involving dragons and the Vikings who try to tame them, reports Jacqueline Smith.

A dragon would beat a dinosaur in a battle, hands down, says Sonny Tilders, who is now an expert on these matters.

His Melbourne workshop, the Creature Technology Company, breathed life into enormous life-sized reptiles for the arena show Walking With Dinosaurs, which wrapped its world tour in Auckland last month. This week it announced it was sending bigger, more dangerous and more elaborate creatures around the world: dragons.

Teaming up with American film studio Dreamworks, the Creature Technology Company has built 24 huge, fire-breathing, flying dragon puppets to recreate the story of 3D animated film How To Train Your Dragon in an arena.

After 10 months spent building robot skeletons, sewing reptile-like skin, and playing with pyrotechnics, the company unveiled their new cast of puppets in Melbourne on Monday.


Unlike dinosaurs, the characteristics of which are hotly contested by scientists around the world, the anatomical details of dragons exist purely in myth and legend.

Tilders says this allowed for more creative story-telling.

"Obviously we don't have the educational element of Walking With Dinosaurs, but I think it's replaced in spades by having an engaging story and a theatrical experience. It's a real crossover between an arena performance and genuine theatre."

Starring humans as the Vikings and acrobats, the show will follow the film's narrative, about a brave boy called Hiccup, who challenges the idea of dragons being his sworn enemies. Tilders says the company was attracted to the story not only because of the dragons but because it was a heartfelt, relevant story.

"It challenges your sense of who is your enemy and who is your friend and that it is better to befriend your enemies than go to battle with them."

The story also allows the creators to use more of the airspace in the arena, with puppets that soar from the ceiling. The dragon called Nightmare has a 14m wingspan and the largest villain in the show, Red Death, is so huge its head and neck alone are about the size of two of the largest beasts from Walking With Dinosaurs.

These creatures are also adorned with what Tilders calls "dragon bling" - extra horns, knobs, spikes and colour details. The flighty, aggressive and vain dragon Nadder has 142 spikes all over its body. Each spike has to have a cuticle and be mounted, making the creature not only much heavier than a dinosaur, but more complex.

Then there was the logistical hurdle of projecting fireballs from the dragons' jaws to a target.

"We had to find a way that would be safe to work around people but at the same time give them the sense of real fire-breathing dragons," says Tilders. He is not willing to reveal his secret just yet.

How To Train Your Dragon features more creatures, more action, more story and more effects than Walking With Dinosaurs, but Tilders says the biggest challenge has been to make sure it still fits into the same arena-sized box.

"At the Creature Technology Company we have no interest in sitting still, so everything we have done has been a subtle improvement on the dinosaurs; some areas have taken a bigger leap than others. It's just being able to refine what are, in the end, just massive puppets."

As a puppet-maker, Tilders says one of the most exciting things about How To Train Your Dragon is watching the creatures interact with the cast.

"It almost gives the show more life when there are two creatures on stage, one puppet and one human. When their eyes meet there's this sort of connection, and I think it gives the puppet greater sentience. That's what I'm looking forward to, a show that engages real people."


Who: Sonny Tilders, creature designer at Creature Technology in Melbourne.

What: How to Train Your Dragon, the arena tour.

When and where: April 2012 at Vector Arena, Auckland.

Also: See video of the dragons here.

- TimeOut