ELEPHANT CORPSE - Posable Prop.
One- 18 foot long elephant with separate trunk.
Plywood, chickenwire, burlap, plaster, joint compound and plastic eyes.
Available with Advance Notice.
This was a dream project- bring a crew down to Belize for a few months to work on a Nicholas Roeg movie.
It was a wonderful dream, but one with plenty of challenges so just don't pinch us (though come to think of it, quite a few of the bugs down there did pinch us). We created this realistic, gory elephant corpse under a tent in a swamp (see "more images" links for process shots). An accurate scale model -1" to the foot in this case- was first sculpted in water clay (Important note: always check to make sure the location country has things like clay. They didn't have any clay in all of Belize city, but fortunately one of our crew came a bit later and was able to bring some clay.). After the Director's approval, the clay scale model was molded and multiple rigid foam copies were cast. These were each carefully cut in different directions on a band saw. The resulting cross-sections were enlarged with a projector; full size wooden bulkheads were built and the bulkhead framework was covered over with chickenwire. The chickenwire was covered with burlap dipped in plaster, allowing for the creation of instant fold details where an Elephant would be expected to fold- around the neck and where the legs joined the body. A thin coat of joint compound was then applied and that was soft enough to allow us to create classic criss/cross elephant skin texture with sharp sticks. Once the joint compound had dried suifficiently, a few coats of latex house paint sealed it all up, and we added color and detail with washes of thin paint on rags.
This butchered elephant corpse was also a very grisly effect. Tim Roth and his entourage come across this Elephant that has been killed for its tusks. We researched as much as we could before leaving. Unable to confirm how poachers remove Ivory in the short setup time allowed, we conjectured that the Trunk would have to be cut out of the way first. So, our design had the Trunk to separated from the body. After returning home, we finally found photos that confirmed this to be correct. The real issue of elephants being killed for their tusks is abominable, and we should all do our part to stop it, and any trade in ivory products shold be internationally outlawed. We have protested
I have always wanted to compliment Tim Roth on his intestinal fortitude. For added realism, maggots were bred in a five gallon drum and liberally splashed over the Elephant's head and neck before shooting. Such phenomenal luck Nicholas Roeg has- someone up there must really like him. A maggot was put on the Elephant's eye for a close-up and darned if it didn't inch its way along in a perfect, artful spiral, working its way right into the black pupil darkness. We were all in shock, couldn't believe our eyes, then the A.D. was quick on his feet and gave us all a good laugh afterwards, calling out, "Cut- Reset- Maggot back to first position." Now it was time for Tim Roth's scene- with the script calling for him to walk right up to the elephant's head, liberally doused as it was with maggots and maggot soup. These maggots and their birth 'soup' were plenty ripe -and with a real edge! As each of the native extras walked no closer than 6' away past the Elephant, they were barely able to hold their stomach contents in until clearing the other side of the frame. The propmaster, Ron, placed the maggots all as quickly as he could manage, holding his breath under a handkerchief, he still came away from the elephant looking feverish, sweaty, and pallid. Tim, on the other hand, did exactly as he was called on- to walk right up to the beast -with no handkerchief!- to within a foot or two at the most, and just stand there. He stood his ground, unflinching, and stared it down. Wow. I ran into Tim Roth much later, back in Los Angeles, and when I reminded him that I was the guy who created the elephant corpse, all he had to say was, "Man, that really stank!"
Additional Elephant props and parts:
For other projects we have also created mechanical Elephant Legs, as well as Elephant Trunks, with mechanisms that can create their writhiing, snaky movements, as well as spray air and water if needed. For a Visa commercial, our elephant trunk was able to pick up a credit card and wave it around. For an American Tourister spot, we got to spray Ellen DeGeneris with the elephant trunk, but the shot did not make it into the final commercial.
ELEPHANT CORPSE - Credits
'HEART OF DARKNESS' (TNT) 1993. Nicholas Roeg, director.