Watch: They’re alive! With animatronics, dinosaurs come to life at ‘Imiloa; exhibit extended to April 15

It’s a delightful surprise to visitors when they discover the gigantic dinosaurs on exhibit are not statues, they are animatronics with motion and sound. It’s as if they’re alive!


By Kirsten Aoyagi.

Graphic: "Expedition Dinosaur: Rise of the Mammals"

Dinosaurs come back to life in the exhibit, “Expedition Dinosaur: Rise of the Mammals,” now on display since February at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on the campus of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The exhibit, originally scheduled to close March 27, is such a huge success that it’s been extended through April 15, 2022.

Designed by Stage Nine Exhibits, the exhibits offer a wide range of lifelike dinosaurs ranging from the toothy Tyrannosaurus Rex, the duck-billed Edmontosaurus, the non-avian Ankylosaurus, and more.

It’s a surprise to visitors when they discover the dinosaurs on exhibit are not statues, they are animatronics with motion and sound to interact with the viewer. It’s as if the creatures are really alive, taking visitors back in time 66 million years ago.


Flyer with background image of 'Imiloa, Dinosaur images. Info: Dinosaurs at Imiloa! Discover a World 66 Million Year in the Making. Visit imiloahawaii.org. Now to April 15. Expedition Dinosaur, Rise of the Mammals. Logos of sponsors and a big dinosaur head.

Exhibit of Tyrannosaurus Rex pictured.
“Expedition Dinosaur: Rise of the Mammals,” now on display at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, offers a wide range of lifelike dinosaurs brought to life with animatronics. On display are the toothy Tyrannosaurus Rex (above), the duck-billed Edmontosaurus, the non-avian Ankylosaurus, and more. (Kirsten Aoyagi/UH Hilo Stories)

That’s not all.

The exhibit also offers interactive activities, like a sandpit, fossil scanner, jeep explorer, asteroid experience, plus more.

However, activities aren’t the only entertainment.

With the help of their partner Bishop Museum and sponsor KTA Super Stores, ‘Imiloa was able to host a wide range of programs for any age to enjoy, such as a paleontology lab after-school program, the planetarium program “Dinosaurs of Antarctica,” and the “Night at the Museum” program on Friday nights. (Due to limited staff, some of these programs will not be extended with the rest of the exhibit.)

During the mandatory covid safety rules that were implemented for events like these, ‘Imiloa offered time blocks.

“We started off with time blocks so we were allowing up to 120 people a day,” says Ku‘ulei Bezilla, a program planner at ʻImiloa. “We were selling out every block.”

However, when covid restrictions recently eased and the county increased indoor capacity, those average numbers grew to about 2,500 visitors! So it is safe to say that the exhibit is a huge success.


Large Qutzalcoatlus exhibit is pictured.
An animated Quetzalcoatlus greets visitors at the entrance to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center during “Expedition Dinosaur: Rise of the Mammals” exhibit. The dinosaur exhibit is open through April 15, 2022. (Kirsten Aoyagi/UH Hilo Stories)

Many local schools have brought their students to visit the exhibit:

      • Aloha Keiki Preschool
      • Kahuku Elementary
      • Atlas Workshops
      • Turning Point, Pacific Island Institute
      • Na Wai Ola Charter School
      • Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole Elementary and Intermediate
      • Maunaloa School
      • Hale Aloha Nazarene School

With many schools and general visitors, there are fan favorites such as their sandpit and draw-alive exhibit.

“The sandpit, there’s a projector shooting down onto this sand and you can manipulate the sand, you can build a mound, and it will create a volcano display. It basically changes the landscape once you start moving the sand,” says Bezilla.


Hands deposit sand into colorful sandpit with prehistoric creatures.
The dinosaur exhibit also offers interactive activities, like a sandpit (above), fossil scanner, jeep explorer, asteroid experience, and more. For the sandpit, a projector shoots down onto the sand where schoolchildren can create their own landscape of volcanoes and creatures. (Kirsten Aoyagi/UH Hilo Stories)

“On the opposite side we have stationed the draw-alive exhibit,” she says. “We have different dinosaurs, about eight or nine, that people can color, write their name, then stick it under a scanner, they’ll scan it, and then it’ll pop up on a TV.”

Those who prefer to celebrate their birthdays, maintain their bubble, or have a night with the dinosaurs, can buy out a block of time now through April 15.

Many Hawai‘i Island families, especially since the start of covid, haven’t been able to explore exhibits like these, which is why ‘Imiloa decided to bring the dinosaurs to them, saving families from needing to cough up plane tickets.

“There are dinosaur exhibits that go to O‘ahu, but we couldn’t think of a time when dinosaurs [were on exhibit locally] in this generation’s lifetime,” says Bezilla. “They would have to leave the island, and not a lot of Hawai‘i Island people leave the island, let alone the state.”

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is located on the campus of UH Hilo. Covid safety guidelines have recently changed, but visitors are still required to wear a mask indoors. However, patrons will no longer need to show proof of vaccination or negative test results.

Go to the ‘Imiloa website for information about purchasing tickets. UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College students are eligible for free membership at ‘Imiloa with proof of their registration.


Story, photos and video by Kirsten Aoyagi, a communication major at UH Hilo.