Building the world's largest polar bear - Part One

All rights reserved. Credit: © Louise Alexander
Constructing Aurora
Image caption: 
Constructing Aurora

Louise Alexander is a multi-skilled actor with a keen interest in puppetry. She works part-time at Puppet Centre as their administrator and is also the director of her own company, LAMA Creative, which undertakes digital design and theatre making.

It’s not every day the opportunity to help create a giant polar bear puppet the size of a double decker bus comes along. For an actor, theatre maker and wannabe puppeteer this is pretty irresistible stuff. But that’s not what’s at the heart of Aurora; that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

OnSunday 15 September 2013, Aurora will walk the streets of London to help raise awareness of Greenpeace’s Save the Arcticcampaign and challenge big oil on its home turf. I’m not overly political, I’ve never been on a protest, the most political I get is signing petitions online. Armchair democracy I call it. It may not be ideal, but I do what I can. Anyway, back to the point. Companies like Shell want to drill for oil in the Arctic without giving any care or attention to the habitat of wildlife like polar bears. That’s where Aurora and Greenpeace come in.

I have to be honest. As I walked to the top secret bear hub I was overcome by an irrational fear that I was about to be cast out for not being vegan and clad head-to-toe in hemp. I then gave myself a swift reality kick up the behind and reminded myself of the reason why I was there. I was welcomed by a small group of down to earth, genuine and committed individuals united by their desire to create a piece of art in the name of conservation.

Designer Chris Kelly and the team working on Aurora

After meeting Christopher Kelly, Aurora’s super star designer, and being introduced to my fellow volunteers – Rachel, a zoologist and Isik, a graphic designer – I was given a short tour. We were to be based in the sewing room focusing on Aurora’s covering.

Chris showed me the workshop – a huge warehouse where industrial machinery buzzed and metal met metal in a shower of sparks. It was an enchanting place! There, in the middle of this chaos, were Aurora’s bones. Her skeletal torso was clearly in very early stages, and the outline of her head and snout was on the floor. Even now Aurora is imposing and majestic. She’s going to be a beast.

The rest of my day was spent concentrating very, very hard. I like to get stuck in straight away, so decided to tackle the industrial sewing machine and lots of material that needed to be carefully sewn. My mum would have been proud. I haven’t used a sewing machine since she showed me how to in my teens, but something must have stuck and I found myself whizzing through the huge pile of fabric next to me.

The best part of the day came half an hour before the end. I’ve volunteered to be one of the puppeteers on the day and Chris told me one of the legs was ready to be played with to see what it was capable of movement wise. I’m not a trained puppeteer, but I’ve done numerous workshops and have been creating my own puppets made from refuse. As a group we clambered all over her and discussed what the ideal movement would be.

Chris had a clear idea and wanted a natural, lifelike gait. The problem was the foot was too close to the ground and still very heavy. After a few adjustments and a bit of experimentation, three of us managed to get a half decent leg swing movement going – a great way to end my first day at polar bear camp.

Catch regular updates on Twitter @GreenpeaceUK and @LouLouAlexander #Aurora

Sign up to walk with Aurora on 15 September. 

This article originally appeared in Animations Online, for the Puppet Centre

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