Crafting an Icon: Creating The Airborne Toxic Event’s Bird

Posted: October 14, 2014 in Clamoring of the Crowd
Tags: , , ,
Ready to take flight: The Airborne Toxic Event and their bird. Photo by Elva, Sept. 19, 2014, San Francisco.

Ready to take flight: The Airborne Toxic Event and their bird. Photo by Elva, Sept. 19, 2014, San Francisco.

The Airborne Toxic Event’s fall tour has been extraordinary for many reasons, not the least of which is that it features the most impressive staging and lighting the band has presented to date. The centerpiece of the splendor (aside from the musicians themselves of course), is a massive white bird taking flight over Daren Taylor’s drumkit. When all is said and done, this iconic fowl will be the defining image of this most memorable tour.

This Is Nowhere recently had the privilege of speaking with James Peterson, whose company Art & Contraptions was contracted by Barnacle Bros Art Fabrication to build the set piece. James graciously provided insight into the creation of the bird, along with some behind-the-scenes photos of the construction process.

Can you please provide some general background information on Art & Contraptions, the work you do and other clients you’ve worked with?

Art & Contraptions works with artists, sculptors, architects, designers, anyone who has a vision and needs help to bring it to life. I primarily focus on producing my own large scale installations and designs, but find it rewarding to collaborate with all types of creatives and assist with manifesting creative concepts.

When and how did you first become involved with The Airborne Toxic Event?

For the TATE Bird, I was contracted by my dear friends the fantastic Barnacle Bros Art Fabrication to manage the project, after they were contracted by the band’s management. It was a collaboration with a small crew of two craftspeople. This project is my first interaction with the TATE and it has been a pleasure! All of the members and management have been very cooperative and it is not often that such trust is given to produce a vision.

Did TATE come to you with a fully formed idea of what they were looking for in the bird?

I was presented a drawing, more of a moody illustration of the vibe, scale, and stance of the bird desired. From that we designed the mechanical components and fabric elements to fit within the scale and spirit required.

What objectives were you and the band hoping to achieve? How was the final design arrived at?

The goal was to create a more 3 dimensional figure, that had a strong presence, while utilizing a theatrical fabric for the figure. It was the vision of the band to have a creature in the end that could have color projected onto it and thus transforming with the spirit of the music. Also it was imperative that the bird collapse into a very lightweight compact set of components that was easy to set up and strike.

What is the bird made out of?

In the end the bird was constructed of a phenolic birch plywood for the skeleton, coupled with aircraft grade mechanical components to allow for the form to extend and lock into position. The sculptural elements were made from a dense polypropylene foam sheet, cut into shapes, cladded with theatrical fabric and often reinforced with fiberglass rod.

The Airborne Toxic Event bird (skeleton)

How long did it take to build, and how many people worked on it?

The project was a tight timeline of 3 weeks, with a small crew of 3 people.

Were there any special challenges or considerations that you faced during construction?

The challenge was to stay with a small foot print for shipping while keeping a large 14′ bird from feeling flat without dimension.

The Airborne Toxic Event bird (skeleton folded down)

Less than three weeks into the tour, the bird has already become iconic. In fact, fans are enjoying playing “pin the bird on the band member,” as they try to capture photos of the band members in front of the bird, such that the bird’s wings look like angel wings on the band member. Was this foreseen/intentional, or just a happy coincidence? How gratifying is it to see this kind of vision become an on-stage reality?

It is always very rewarding to see the things you help to manifest be appreciated. I love the process of working with such talented people to produce these projects, but ultimately am thrilled to see the impact they have on the world. I think the band is full of angels and I am happy I was able to help give them the wings they deserve!

The Airborne Toxic Event bird

Angelic Anna Bulbrook. Photo by Stan Silverman, Sept. 20, 2014, The Fillmore San Francisco.

Angelic Anna Bulbrook. Photo by Stan Silverman, Sept. 20, 2014, The Fillmore San Francisco.

Mikel Jollett basks in the glow of the bird. Photo by Ayaz Asif (https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography).

Mikel Jollett basks in the glow of the bird. Photo by Ayaz Asif (https://www.facebook.com/AyazAsifPhotography).

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Comments
  1. Wow, thanks, This is Nowhere, for the inside look at how this bird was made. I’ve been wondering where the concept came from and how they transported such an ethereal-looking object without getting it crumpled or crushed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mlh954 says:

    This article is awesome — cool to see how the concept of the bird/wings came from. Very excited to finally see TATE in Chicago on the 18th

    Liked by 1 person

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