AS Walking with Dinosaurs arrives in Newcastle, reporter Duncan Leatherdale lifts the lid on the secrets of this prehistoric parade.

WHILE walking onto the stage in the centre of Newcastle’s Metroradio Arena, our photographer is warned not to put his bag on the ground.

Its large panels which cover almost the entirety of the arena’s floor space are held together using magnets and there is a fear they may wreak havoc with his camera equipment’s memory.

The flooring cost one million Australian dollars and will probably never be noticed by the crowd, but it is dedication like this from the tour’s staff and financial backers that has made it such a spectacular success.

Walking With Dinosaurs started as a BBC documentary before becoming a £10m arena show that involves 90 people, has visited 206 cities and been seen by more than seven million people around the globe.

And although this is a repeat of the show that toured the UK in 2009, resident director Ian Waller insisted it still has the same appeal.

He said: “We know dinosaurs existed, but we really do not know what they were like, we can only imagine from the skeletons they left behind.

“We have tried to reproduce what they would have looked, sounded and moved like, and people love to see it.”

For all the fascination to be found in the magnetic floor, it pales into obscurity when the dinosaurs start walking.

There are nine of what Ian calls “the big ones” – the giant dinosaurs, including benign herbivores to the calculating carnivores.

Each of these weighs around one and a half tonnes and is operated by three controllers.

The driver sits beneath the animal in a kart made to look like a rocky slab and controls its marauding around the arena - the legs automatically move in time with his controls to give the impression of the beast walking.

On a gantry at the back of the arena there are two other controllers, known as voodoo puppeteers, with one managing the minor movements such as the eyes and mouth and the other the noises emanating from the dinosaur.

It involves tight teamwork and coordination to breath such realistic life into the creatures, although mistakes do happen.

One show insider tells me that on one occasion the sound operator pressed the 'fart' button rather than the fearsome roar, although I imagine such hilarious hiccups are a rarity.

The dinosaurs themselves are a mixture of robotics and puppetry created by Australian firm the Creature Technology Company, which is also bringing to life a stage version of King Kong.

One of the most admirable aspects is the movement of the creatures, the flesh is rutted and rough and fluctuates seamlessly over the fluid joints.

The dinosaurs consist of metal frames beneath a skin of painted and textured lycra and latex.

Some of the larger creatures, such as the 12 metre long brachiosaurus, have fans inside which inflate body parts like the neck allowing them to achieve their great size while staying light enough to move.

Then there are six suit performers, who are a mixture of actors, dancers and circus performers each inside a smaller dinosaur, such as the show’s opener, the Liliensternus.

Observant watchers will see human legs running in between the dinosaur’s, the creature’s feet worn like clawed slippers and the main body of the beast strapped to the perfomer’s back like a rucksack.

All the suit-performers share one vital detail – they need to be physically fit.

Each dino-suit weighs around 45kg and for health and safety reasons they can only spend 15 minutes at a time inside.

One of my favourite parts - a very tough challenge to choose one out of this cavalcade of prehistoric creatures - is the flight of the Ornithocheirus.

It drops effortlessly from the ceiling and, in front of a screen showing a prehistoric landscape, soars and glides in the centre of the arena.

I was adamant it wasn’t done with wires, but apparently - and disappointingly - I was wrong, it is suspended on invisible strings.

Even the set, which consists of a giant rocky outcrop representing the ancient continent of Pangaea, has its own puppeteers who operate cracking dinosaur eggs, eruptions of foliage and the tectonic plate movements throughout the show.

The show, divided into two 40-minute halves, starts 220m years ago in the Triassic period, then moves to the Jurassic era before ending with the Cretaceous time.

As well as being thoroughly entertaining it’s also educational.

For example, I now know that, painful as it is to my childhood, Jurassic Park was wrong.

The 1993 film’s star the Tyrannosaurus Rex didn’t actually live in the Jurassic period, but came much later as a creature of the Cretaceous era, the end of the dinosaurs.

But as Ian said, Cretaceous Park doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Walking With Dinosaurs will be at the Metroradio Arena in Newcastle until Sunday, April 28.