NEW YORK (AP) – The machine turns on, and the 6-foot-long cast of a dinosaur skeleton comes to life. Its feet lift and lower as its tail sways, a predator on the move, mesmerizing to watch.

New technologies from animatronics to computer modeling are being used at the American Museum of Natural History to explore one of the world’s oldest of subjects – the dinosaurs.

For its “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” show, which opens May 14, the museum is continuing to rely on some tried-and-true methods such as cases containing dinosaur fossils, a huge diorama featuring a landscape of prehistoric China. But there’s also some new technology being put into play, exhibition capabilities that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago when the Dinosaur Hall reopened after its last major renovation.

“This exhibition is really a good measure of how exhibition techniques in the service of science have evolved,” said David Harvey, vice president for exhibition. “This museum has long since moved past a simple sort of cause-and-effect interactive that is one dimensional.”

So here, the interactives are way beyond kiosks or screens that only allow viewers to read what’s on them. In this show, visitors will find computer screens where they will be able to manipulate variables such as the mass of a particular dinosaur or where its center of gravity is to find out how that would impact the animal’s running speed or range of motion, and contrast the dinosaurs with modern creatures.

There’s also the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex, which will have nearby computer screens showing a fleshed-out animation of the dinosaur running. Visitors will be able to compare the animated version to the robotic skeleton model – a first for the museum – that stands in front of them.

“This is probably the most accurate modeling” of the way the dinosaur moved, Harvey said. “This is the closest anybody’s come to putting it into a 3-D model.”

It’s been a lot of work for the museum, from coordinating with those doing the research to figuring out how to translate their work to a larger audience in a scientifically accurate and compelling way. There’s also the pressure of trying to keep the attention of a public increasingly used to technology in their daily lives and to continually being stimulated.

“We have to keep in mind what people are used to and what will really grab their attention,” said Geralyn Abinader, director of exhibition media. “On all levels, we’re constantly being challenged. We’re up against amusement parks, up against televisions and gaming. We need to grab people’s attention so that we can educate them.”

The increasing use of technology comes with its own particular stresses, Abinader said. For example, when shows are sent overseas, there has to be a way to translate the interactives into other languages. And the planning process has to incorporate more concerns, from software updates to dealing with computer breakdowns and other problems to making sure other venues can handle all the technical specifications.

Of course, the familiar methods still have their place as well, Harvey said. The diorama, for example, is being painstakingly created, large parts of it by hand. Researchers traveled to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey to find a particular type of leaf because it was the closest thing to what would have been around in that time and place in prehistoric China. Copies of the leaf were made, and attached by hand to branches.

Those older methods are still going to be part of exhibitions, Harvey said.

A “museum like this museum, as a leader in creating exhibits, has to add skill sets to existing skill sets that have to be maintained,” he said. “So yes, we have to acquire more and more tools, more and more skills, but we’re very careful not to lose the traditional skills at the same time because that connection to the public is meaningful.”


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