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Published on Nov 19, 2009
Footage taken inside John's Asheville NC studio- November 2007.
Tennessee born metal smith, machinist and sculptor John Payne greatly enjoyed taking his two children to see the dinosaur skeletons at the field museum in Chicago. One day in the late 90s, he was struck with the idea to form his own dinosaur exhibit, taking the concept a step further by infusing motion, life and interactivity into ordinarily frozen museum skeletons. Over a span of a decade, John labored on his traveling exhibit, cold forging both delicate and colossal scrapyard steel dinosaurs one bone at a time. Through years of experimentation he developed a signature approach to large scale puppetry: enlisting simple mechanical principles, finely tuned balance, elasticity and joinery to achieve an amazingly varied and nuanced range of motion from only two pull cables. In the early years, the creations were operated directly by levers and hydraulic systems, yielding later to a computerized robotic system co-developed by Asheville based electronic engineer Brett Pierce. With this new system, John would sit in his dusty old high chair in his studio, programing the motion of his creatures with a modified playstation controller. Exhibit participants could stand back and watch John's recorded puppeteering or take the reins of the machines themselves through mounted electronic controls.
To the shock of his family and large circle of friends and admirers, John suffered a massive stroke and passed away in 2008. In 2012, Imagine Exhibitions of Atlanta purchased the collection from his family to revitalize it as a touring exhibition. This new show branded Dinosaurs in Motion will make its premier May 18, at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC.