An Alexander Salkind Film
we made the Reindeer for Santa's Sleigh 1983 - 1985
This is the most complex, and least publicised, animatronic project I've been responsible for. I ran the workshop, together with Richard Padbury, for Malcolm Stone (Art Director). Richard and I worked on the heads and bodies respectively, for a Falling Rig and the Animatronic Reindeer used for all the front projection shots of the sleigh. We also used the heads, and puppet bodies, for shots in Santa's stables. The only difference between our animals and the real reindeer was that the animatronic animals moved about a lot more. Christmas lasted for18 months !
Bolte (hair/artwork) Bob Bromley
(engineer) Harry Bryce (SFX trainee)
The Falling Rig
This rig was essentially a scaled-up version of the old fashioned toy animal on a base with a button beneath: You pressed the button, its' strings went slack and the animal fell down - - -
The reason for building it was to have control of the two reindeer on set, and not to have to knock out any live animals. The actors were playing the part of freezing to death, in a blizzard, at temperatures of 110°F +, and real reindeer would not have survived such cruel treatment - - -
The live reindeer were used for a first quick shot of the sleigh coming into view, then were replaced with our animatronic versions. The whole set was built up to allow our operators to work underneath.
Of course it was not quite so simple as the toy version. The rear feet had to slide forwards as the reindeer fell and their bodies were weight-balanced with springs; to fall gracefully and be easy to winch up again for the next take.
The initial head movements were made using radio controlled servos (Heavy duty units built for remotely piloted drone aircraft). Then, once the animals were down, puppeteers took over from under the set for the more subtle movements of their dialogue.
The 'Steam Horses'
|This was the most
animatronic set-up I can
remember being attempted at the time. And we had to be
'invisible', as all the best effects are ! Even so we got on
the front page of one paper, for using real reindeer skins.
The truth was we sent a team of taxidermists to Norway
to skin animals after they had been slaughtered, and the
animal trainers saved twelve beasts for the 'chorus line'.
[These animals were 'retired' to Scotland after filming.]
We decided to use air rams, rather than hydraulics,
The programmable controller used 10th sec.
The whole sleigh and reindeer rig ran on tracks on