Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Hollywood taxidermy? Prey tell.

One of the most interesting – and creepy – local museums in these parts is the Peabody Museum at Harvard.

Sure, it has all kinds of glass flowers, but it also has a whole raft of moth-eaten stuffed animals.

Not that I have anything against taxidermy per se.

I wouldn’t want to see any animal I’d actually known up close and personal stuffed – what was Roy Rogers thinking when he had Trigger mounted? – but, in the abstract, if someone wants a stuffed raven quothing at the edge of their desk, well, have at it.

But I don’t really understand why, in this day and age, when you can make pretty authentic looking replicas of anything, there’s any real advantage to having a taxidermed “real deal.”

Personally, I’d just as soon make sure that the poor dead critters get a decent burial, or –  if they’re out in the great woods, where I won’t have to stumble over their rotting carcass when I’m out for a stroll – just return to nature where they’ve dropped in their tracks.

But Hollywood, apparently, for all its artifice and digitization, likes the authentic touch when it comes to the wild kingdom

Thus, Allis Markham – who was once director for Disney’s social media strategy -  now works as a full-time taxidermist.

Markham, who got her gamehead certificate in 2009, worked exclusively for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, skinning, tanning, and mounting every thing from canaries to tigers. In March she cut back to 30 hours a week there to focus on her own 1358968006_taylor-swift-rapunzel-disney-zoomcompany, Prey Taxidermy, which offers custom taxidermy for television, film, and photo shoots. For one recent job, she was paid $2,000 to mount four homing pigeons for an Annie Leibovitz shoot starring Taylor Swift as Rapunzel. (Source: Business Week)

Dead animals are preferable to live ones for a lot of reasons.

For one, they’re a lot cheaper.

“If you have even one live mouse, you have to have a trainer present—it’s a PETA thing,” says Linette McCown, an L.A.-based set decorator, referring to the animal rights group. Living animals also require insurance, not to mention care and feeding.

Of course, while sometimes it’s easier and more convenient to have a stuffed animal in the scene, sometimes the animals have to move.

“You can’t, say, drop a live rat on someone’s head, because the rat might get hurt,” Markham says… “So you’d drop a taxidermy double, and then show the live rat scurrying away.”

Markham’s business is Prey Taxidermy,

Her specimens are collected or purchased legally after natural or unavoidable death, hunted for sustenance or are non-native and nuisance animals; these deaths are not related to the art. She discloses each animal's origins to the student or buyer and welcomes each person to act according to their own ethical standards.

Allis strives to create taxidermy that is biologically accurate, structurally sound and preserved for all time. Each piece is created with premium materials and is individually treated or tanned by Allis.

Markham competes with Bischoff’s, which has been around since the 1920’s, when it began life mounting the game of celebrities who’d gone on safari. Twenty years ago, Bischoff shifted its focus to showbiz itself, rather than showbiz folks and the game they’d bagged. Markham may have had her Annie Leibowitz-Taylor Swift homing pigeons, but Bischoff’s did the crow that Johnny Depp wore on his head in The Lone Ranger.

Bischoff’s rents out 75 to 100 creatures each month. Moose, bears, horses, and other large specimens cost about $650 a week; smaller animals such as chipmunks go for $65. The company completes roughly 20 custom fabrications a year, most of them specifically designed to be destroyed on the set.

Markham is going head to head with Bischoff’s and demand is such that there’s room for multiple showbiz taxidermy companies. There’s also ArtKraft, “museum quality animals from antelopes to zebras”. Not to be confused with Animal Art Taxidermy and Studio Rentals. (Whether you're looking for lions, tigers, or bears (Oh my!), you'll find what you need in our large inventory.)

Out in Hollywood, there’s a whole lot of taxidermy going on.

Who knew?

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