🚗 🚙 Turn your trusty old car into trustworthy journalism Learn more

Day in the Work Life: Unusual body of work

Marketplace Staff May 12, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Flowers blooming, sun shining… yeah, you know what time of year it is, May sweeps! When Nielsen tallies up television audiences. The results help set ad rates so the networks always air their biggest crowd-pleasers right about now. Next week’s big event: The 12th season finale of “ER.” Expect a cliffhanger ending and as usual, plenty of fake blood. On this week’s A Day in the Work Life, our regular look at how folks trade their time for money, we visit the set to see how a special effects artist operates.

[ Call: “We need to pour up another baby”
“We’re going to need a Caucasian No. #11”
“Floppy or animatronic?”
“We’re just going to do a floppy”
“OK, you got it!” ]

BRAD PALMER: My name is Brad Palmer, I’m 31 years old and I’m a special effects fabricator

[ “ER” theme music ]

The company I work for, we’re known around town as the “baby people.” We have a stock of over 27 different infant and baby molds that we will pour lifelike silicon babies out of. Some will be animatronic, where they’re on a remote control and they move, their eyes blink. All of them can breathe. And then we also do what is referred to as floppy baby, which would be a baby that doesn’t have any mechanical movements.

As a fabricator, what I will do is I will create a fake chest. So on the show you’ll see an actor who actually has a fake chest over top of them. Now the person on stage, they will sit in what is referred to as a drop table, where their torso is sunken into a bed that has a lower spot in it. And as their arms and head are sticking out well enough, our fake chest sits on top of them creating the illusion that it is a continuation of their body.

Anatomy is a very important part to this industry. When you’re dealing with a surgery or you’re dealing with a trauma that happens to the body, you have to know and understand how that happens and what that looks like.

Sometimes the real thing doesn’t look real. Some colors inside of the human body are very bizarre. There’s purples, bright yellows, almost like a fuchsia color, and for us to do that it’s just too stark, it shows up too much and it doesn’t match well with the human mind. We just feel that inside the body is red.

We literally will have a week if we’re lucky to create an effect for “ER.” Once the actor is cast they’re sent over to us, we make a mold of the actor, we create a clay version of that. Then we have to mold that again, then we run a silicone of the piece. The silicon piece is then painted, organs are put in, the mechanics of how the ribs open or the abdomen opens up, everything is pieced together and then we deliver it to set.

A standard special effects fabricator makes around $48,000 a year. A lot of the money is made through working long hours that balance out the downtime within the industry…

We created a baby chimpanzee for “ER.” When we brought the baby chimp that we created to the set, and got it next to the real baby chimpanzee, they looked practically identical. And in fact the baby chimpanzee kissed the replica as if it was a real, live creature.

A Day in the Work Life was produced by Claes Andreasson.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.