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 (yet one that came with plenty of the usual challenges and surprises), so please 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. 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 that came a bit later was able to bring some clay. After the Director's approval, the clay scale model was then molded and multiple rigid foam copies were cast. These foam elephant models were each carefully cut into parallel sections on a band saw. The resulting cross-sections were traced and enlarged with a projector. Full size wooden bulkheads were built to match the enlarged cross sections and assembled into a bulkhead framework which was then covered with chicken wire. The chicken wire was covered with burlap dipped in plaster, allowing for the creation of instant fold details where an Elephant would be expected to fold- particularly around the neck and where the legs joined the body. A thin coat of joint compound was then applied over the dried plaster impregnated burlap 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 sufficiently, 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 created a very grisly effect. Tim Roth and his entourage are marching through the jungle and they come across this elephant that has been killed for its tusks. We researched as much as we could before leaving, but back in the days before internet it was hard to quickly find information. Unable to confirm exactly how poachers remove Ivory in the short setup time allowed, we conjectured that the elephant's trunk would have to be cut out of the way first. So our elephant corpse design had the trunk removed and separated from the elephant's head. 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 should be internationally outlawed.
I have always wanted to compliment Tim Roth on his impressive intestinal fortitude. For added grisly realism, the production decided that there should be maggots. Maggots were bred in a five gallon drum (filled with pork scraps and left out in the sun for a few weeks to let nature and the flies do their work), and on the shoot day they were liberally splashed all over the Elephant's head and neck. 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! I can't even begin to tell you how godawful and unbelievably foul the smell was. If you got anywhere near the elephant, the rank, penetrating smell would begin to work its way into your nose and you just had to run away. Immediately! As each of the native extras walked no closer than even eight feet away past the Elephant, they were barely able to hold their stomach contents in. The propmaster, Ron, a very brave man, placed the maggots all as quickly as he could manage, holding his breath under a handkerchief, and he came away from the elephant looking feverish, sweaty, and sickly pallid. Tim Roth, on the other hand, in all his awesomeness, did exactly as he was called on to do- he walked right up to the beast within a few feet, and proceeded to stare down over the befouled head -with no handkerchief! And he just stood there, as long as the camera had to roll. He stood his ground, unflinching, and he stared that foul beast down. Incredible. I ran into Tim Roth again much later, back home in Los Angeles, and when I said hielloand reminded him that I was the guy who created the elephant corpse, all he could say 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.
ELEPHANT LEGS - Credits
ACCENTURE 'Surfing Elephant' commercial.
WESTERN AND SOUTHERN FINANCIAL GROUP commercial.