Animatronic dinosaurs brought to life with compressed air

When Longleat decided to partner with The London Natural History Museum and feature the travelling, animatronic dinosaur exhibition ‘T. rex: The Killer Question’ over the summer season, the project became integral to the attractions’ events calendar. The Predator v Scavenger display includes 8 animatronic models, ranging in size from Edmontosaurus hatchlings to a life-sized T. Rex.

The lead for the project, Ellis Rees, quickly needed to address the compressed air requirements in advance of the models’ arrival. The dinosaurs are powered by compressed air as it provides more realistic, flowing movements for features including the tail and limbs, eyes and even expanding rib cages, in comparison to the ‘jerkiness’ of motorised models.

Following Ellis’ search for compressed air companies based in the South West, Direct Air received an email enquiry via our website.

The Brief

Longleat were lucky enough to get the dinosaur models direct from the workshop at the Natural History Museum, and they needed to adhere to the high-quality air specification provided. It was essential they met the specification to achieve optimum functionality and reliability, and to minimise contamination to the touring models for future exhibits.

Longleat required a temporary compressed air system for the duration of the exhibition to supply 87cfm of water and dust free compressed air, with discreet pipework to blend in with staging.

It also had to be simple enough for the Attractions Team to operate without any technical knowledge.

And finally, the installation needed to happen prior to the dinosaurs’ delivery and final placement, therefore there needed to be some degree of flexibility.

Our solution

A meeting was arranged for Ryan and Tim to attend site to discuss the project ahead of submitting the proposal for tender.

Ellis Rees, Product Development Coordinator & Events at Longleat, said:

“I had limited compressed air knowledge before this project, but Direct Air were not patronising at all, in fact they were very engaging. I felt comfortable giving them the specification to let them outline exactly what was necessary, and I was particularly impressed with how detail orientated Tim was.”

“Despite other tenders having previous experience working with animatronics, I just felt an extra reassurance from the Direct Air team, especially how Ryan was willing to go the extra mile. I knew early on I wanted to go with Direct Air, so the cost-benefit was obvious when getting approval from management.”

As the compressor only operates for a maximum of nine hours a day, Direct Air proposed supplying an energy efficient CompAir L15RS compressor to meet their demand with a 100% standby compressor included. To provide class 1:4:1 air, CompAir F0039HS Air Dryer and filters were also installed to prevent contamination entering the compressed air system.


The decision was made to exceed the pipework specification including flexible hose, to minimise pressure drop and, as a result, reduce energy consumption leading to savings.

The initiative was taken to install reusable, non-intrusive white TESEO aluminium pipework to blend into the walls with the access points being covered by the prehistoric staging.

Due to the temporary nature of the installation, the compressor room was positioned in the loading bay for The Longhouse, so Direct Air organised an additional site visit prior to installation to ensure there was enough room for the dinosaurs to be delivered and confirm operational requirements.

The compressed air installation itself only took a period of 3 days with the pipework initially fitted, before the dinosaurs were delivered with a Direct Air Service Engineer onsite to commission the compressed air system and assist the animatronic team.


Ellis explained:

“I have to say everyone who has come onto site has been fantastic; from Jon installing the pipework without my constant supervision, to Nick who was happy to wait onsite until we were 100% satisfied the dinosaurs were working as expected.”

“Every day we have different members of the attraction team starting up the exhibition and Direct Air could not have made it any easier to control the airflow.”

“With Direct Air not being far away at all, we’re confident to rely on the service support and to be honest we weren’t expecting a spare compressor, so we were very impressed by the provision in place. The whole process has been so easy and smooth.”

Allan Dolby, Managing Director at Direct Air, commented:

“It’s not every day that we get the opportunity to work at a stately home and so we were extremely pleased to be offered the opportunity to provide Longleat with a compressed air system for their dinosaur exhibition.”

“Although it was not specified for variable speed compressors or for that matter new machines we felt it would be the best thing to do to make sure that the system provided a reliable and efficient supply of compressed air for the many visitors to the exhibition. The job went very smoothly from our end and all at Longleat were a pleasure to deal with.”

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