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.
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]