Building Aurora Giant Polar Bear

The sculptors have been working from design specs and artist’s impressions by Christopher Kelly as well as from various photographs of polar bears and moodboard imagery of Shackleton’s polar expedition, ships, ragging, and wrought iron metal-work. Greenpeace is building Aurora to lead a procession on September 15th, 2013, through the streets of London to draw attention to the 2013 Sea Ice Minimum announcement and Shell's ongoing attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic as the ice recedes.

World largest polar bear leads protest

The world's largest polar bear leads thousands to defy Shell's injunction against Greenpeace. A family-friendly parade--part performance, part protest--sees nearly 3,000 people walk alongside a double-decker-bus-size polar bear puppet, named Aurora. As the bear make its way through the capital she made an arresting sight that bystanders were keen to be photographed alongside.

Building Aurora Giant Polar Bear

An engineer positions the bear’s head to be lifted onto the body for the first time to test the counterweighting system inside the structural steel chassis.

Aurora Giant Polar Bear with London Bus

The three-tonne marionette bear will be operated from the inside by a team of 15 puppeteers, including artists from West End blockbuster War Horse, and will be hauled on ropes by 30 volunteers along a route including the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge.

Building Aurora Giant Polar Bear

The bear’s five-meter-high legs are encrusted with ice that’s sculpted and glued by hand and sanded to a smooth snowdrift-like finish. The rivets down the sides of the legs will be painted and finished to look like a ship’s hull.

World largest polar bear leads protest

The bear’s five-meter-high legs are encrusted with ice that’s sculpted and glued by hand and sanded to a smooth snowdrift-like finish. The rivets down the sides of the legs will be painted and finished to look like a ship’s hull.

World largest polar bear leads protest

The sketch

World largest polar bear leads protest

During the Global Day of Action and the parade of the world's largest polar bear, people write their protest messages with chalk outside Shell HQ.

Building Aurora Giant Polar Bear

Christopher Kelly, the designer of the bear, in the small sewing room in Factory Setting’s workshop.

Aurora Giant Polar Bear with London Bus

As well as having the animal’s characteristic curved gait, the 41-foot-long puppet is fully articulated and can move her head and jaws, while the fabric-covered sides billow, creating a breathing-like motion.

Building Aurora Giant Polar Bear

A sculptor works on the lower lids of Aurora’s eyes. The bear’s eyes are bigger than a person’s head.

World largest polar bear leads protest

A sculptor works on the lower lids of Aurora’s eyes. The bear’s eyes are bigger than a person’s head.

Building Aurora Giant Polar Bear

Raising the head of Aurora the giant polar bear using a forklift truck to test the counter weighting system inside the structural steel chassis.

World largest polar bear leads protest

Raising the head of Aurora the giant polar bear using a forklift truck to test the counter weighting system inside the structural steel chassis.

World largest polar bear leads protest

Raising the head of Aurora the giant polar bear using a forklift truck to test the counter weighting system inside the structural steel chassis.

Co.Create

Meet The Giant Polar Bear That Stalked The Streets Of London

Aurora is a giant polar bear commissioned by Greenpeace to raise awareness of Arctic drilling. Here's how she came to life.

The streets of London recently bore the considerable weight of a visitor from the Antarctic—a three-ton polar bear made from reclaimed materials and operated by a team of puppeteers that took a well-publicized stroll around the capital city.

The giant bear, which is the size of a double decker bus, was commissioned by Greenpeace to symbolize global support for its Save the Arctic campaign, which calls for an end to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. The polar bear, named Aurora, marched through London on September 15th, as 70 cities around the world stage a day of action to raise awareness of the Greenpeace campaign.

Aurora’s designer Christopher Kelly spent the last few months working on the giant construction, thinking and even dreaming of little else. “I’m always thinking about the next detail, the next thing to solve on her. That’s what that wakes me up at four in the morning,” Kelly told Co.Create ahead of Aurora's unveiling.

The salvaged materials used in the construction have been carefully chosen to give it the semblance of a real bear. The bear has an articulated head and neck and large sails will be attached to the trunk of the body to make it appear as if it is breathing.

Christopher Kelly, the designer of the bear, in the small sewing room in Factory Setting’s workshop.

There is also draping fabric just below the chin to represent fur. The names of the over 3 million supporters of the Greenpeace campaign will be inscribed below the chin. The bear’s operating system is inspired by an arctic ship and is steered from the back by a ship’s wheel, while pulleys lift the legs and puppeteers operate the feet.

To create Aurora, Kelly worked with set designer Simon Costin and Factory Settings, the scene construction company whose clients include Lady Gaga, The Royal Opera House, and the National Theatre.

This is not Kelly’s first polar bear-themed commission from Greenpeace. He created hundreds of models of polar bear heads for campaigners to wear on a Greenpeace demo a year ago. However, for him, creating an animal on such a vast scale has been an entirely unique project.

The aim for Aurora is to have both the physicality and presence of a real polar bear. Kelly has been studying YouTube clips of polar bears in action in order to make sure it looks as realistic as possible.

“The way polar bears walk is not a standard walk. It’s very specific to them. That for me was the key to bringing her to life,“ he says. “The key words for me are, boldness, grandeur, and grace.”

With Aurora finally finished, Kelly may struggle to wean himself off his analysis of the Arctic creatures. “I’m permanently looking at images of polar bears, “ he says, adding: “I even changed my screensaver to an image of polar, and thought, why am I doing this?”

Inspiration for Aurora came from French theatre company Royal de Luxe’s elephant show, wherein giant mechanical elephants are paraded through city streets. The Aurora team’s challenge was to devise something similar on a much smaller budget and in a tighter timeframe. But Kelly is confident the giant animal will have the desired impact.

“I hope, and I almost know, she is going to get a fantastic reaction. I go into work every day and see her and she is coming to life more and more.”

[Photos: © Kristian Buus | Greenpeace]

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