This Dinosaur Is Made From Balloons, Not Bones

A project for the Virginia Museum of Natural History is more than a bunch of hot air.

  • “Acrocanthosaurus” balloon sculpture, by Airigami. Photo courtesy of Airigami

  • The balloon “Acrocanthosaurus was on display at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in April. Photo courtesy of Airigami

  • Another view of “Acrocanthosaurus.” Photo courtesy of Airigami

  • Airigami founder Larry Moss pets his creation. Photo courtesy of Airigami

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you—the dinosaur in the image above is made entirely out of balloons. It’s an Acrocanthosaurus, to be exact, fashioned for the Virginia Museum of Natural History by Airigami, a company that specializes in a singular kind of balloon art. Measuring about 20 feet long, the sculpture is life-size—indeed, it mimics an intact Acrocanthosaurus skeleton cast housed at the museum.

To design the sculpture, Airigami founder Larry Moss and his partner, Kelly Cheatle, first researched images online. “We try to get as accurate as we can,” says Moss. Access to the museum’s paleontologists, as well as its Acrocanthosaurus bones, came in handy—though Moss confesses that, “In a way, I almost felt like cheating to have a skeleton to work off of.” It took Moss, Cheatle, and four crewmembers three days to sculpt the dino, aided by members of the community, from kindergartners to adults. All told, the rubbery reptile probably consists of around 1,000 balloons, not including those in the surrounding scenery. (Moss sent SciFri the time-lapse video below, which features the construction, after he heard our show’s remote broadcast in Utah discussing fossil treasures.)

Moss first got hooked on balloon art 25 years ago. He had been moonlighting in Central Park as a magician, trying to earn money to pay for college. To attract a crowd, he set up balloons where he performed and eventually realized that the real magic show was in the latex itself. Airigami was born.

The sculptures are ephemeral art, lasting about a week as they steadily deflate. Designs run the gamut, from a Frida Kahlo bust, to nursery rhyme characters, to a giant sand castle, Moss’s current project. But he would love to breathe life—or, at least air—into more dinosaurs. “I may make my living as an artist,” says Moss, “but I’m a science geek at heart.”

Meet the Writer

About Julie Leibach

Julie Leibach is a freelance science journalist and the former managing editor of online content for Science Friday.