Entertainment

New Union Station exhibit has life-sized moving dinosaurs and bones you can touch

Some of the dinosaurs roar right in your face.

Others swipe their talons and blink their eyes. Some appear immobile until you catch them moving from the corner of your eye.

They even appear to breathe.

Animatronics have come a long way since Union Station last staged a dinosaur exhibit in 2010. And that show was a hit-osaurus.

A new show opening June 30 mixes 26 moving dinos — some as big as a room — with skulls cast from genuine fossils, a couple of which visitors can actually put their own paws on. Feel the femur or humerus of a Camarasaurus nicknamed Lyle.

You can read every word on the educational signs or you can just become immersed in the winding dioramas that incorporate some 260 fabricated boulders, 22,000 pounds of rubberized mulch and simulated plants of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods in what is now North America.

Adults as well as a kids will be drawn to a sand box that allows them to sculpt a volcano and cause it to erupt with flowing lava through special lighting effects.

"You learn about how the climate changed when the dinosaurs were here and how the dinosaurs changed and evolved with it," said Jeff Rosenblatt, director of exhibits for Science City at Union Station.

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Life-like dinosaurs of all sizes are coming to Union Station on June 30 in a new exhibit titled "Dinosaurs Revealed: Journey Across America. On Friday, June 29, exhibit designer Rachel Kane inspected some of the displays. The exhibit features animatronic dinosaurs, full skeletons, actual fossils and interactive displays.

"Dinosaurs Revealed" is edutainment on a grand scale, and Union Station officials were so eager to let it loose that they moved the scheduled opening up three days.

The exhibit also marks an evolution of the station. It is the first to be produced in-house.

Station officials wanted to return to the ever-popular subject of dinosaurs and went looking for a touring show.

"We didn't fall in love with any of the product that was out there," said Union Station Executive Vice President Jerry Baber. "It was either too technical and we didn't think it would resonate with families and our customers, or it was too kitschy and didn't feel real enough and have enough science content."

So station officials made their own exhibit. They conceived the storyboards. They purchased — not leased — the animatronics from Gengu, a leading Chinese manufacturer. They turned to nationally known design experts as well as local talent to create sets, graphics and video.

Bruce and Judith Wake, paleontology enthusiasts and volunteers in the Dinolab at Science City, loaned several fossils from their own collection.

Skull casts of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Triceratops, along with other items, were donated by the now-closed T-Rex Cafe at the Legends Outlet in Kansas City, Kan.

Union Station also partnered with local academia.

The University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum provided other dinosaur fossils and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Department of Geosciences contributed wooly mammoth fossils for a lead-in display that gives the exhibit a local flavor.

From conception to opening took station officials about nine months. Installation took just four weeks after the departure of the Lego exhibit "Art of the Brick."

"We created this from the get-go," said Union Station CEO George Guastello. "Produced, designed, created, hired everyone. And this is our exhibition."

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A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton outside Union Station marks the arrival of the new exhibit, "Dinosaurs Revealed: Journey Across America," which opens June 30. Dan Geither (left) and welder Jerry Richcreek checked the positioning as they worked on the installation.

Self-producing the exhibit means Union Station doesn't have to share ticket revenue. With a total investment of roughly $900,000, officials figure they'll need to sell 65,000-70,000 tickets to break even. They expect to do better than that. The 2010 dinosaur exhibit drew about 150,000 visitors.

That business model is in line with a rule of thumb that helped pull Union Station out of the financial hole it was in a few years ago: Never enter a proposition unless it is sure to be a winner.

Since Union Station essentially owns "Dinosaurs Revealed," it is conceivable it could lease it out to other venues after its run ends Jan. 6. And officials aren't ruling out the possibility of producing future in-house shows.

'Dinosaurs Revealed'

Opening June 30. $15 weekday; $17.95 weekend. Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Road. dinosaursrevealed.com.

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