On Sunday morning in Downtown Los Angeles taxidermist Allis Markham immediately cuts into her subject for the day: a bird.
She started her studio, Prey Taxidermy, this March and rents her mounted pieces to Hollywood films, television sets, and photoshoots. She recently worked on a shoot for Disney featuring Taylor Swift as Rapunzel.
“I did some combing pigeons for them,” she says. “Bird skin is like working with wet toilet paper with feathers attached. And so it’s this very tedious process where you’re making all these incisions.”
Animals rights groups, including PETA, have criticized Hollywood in recent years after news broke that animals were harmed on Hollywood sets. On the now-canceled HBO show, “Luck,” four thoroughbred horses died during production. According to reports, the horses were elderly, underfed, and possibly even drugged. Due to these alleged abuses, taxidermy businesses are catering to studios who are looking to minimize their legal and safety risks. “If you want to have a tiger on set, it’s a lot safer when it’s dead,” Markham says.
Wayne Carlisi inherited his father’s big game taxidermy collection, and in 2012, he opened ArtKraft Taxidermy in North Hollywood. His company rents out lions, antelope, and rhinos to studios including Warner Brothers and Paramount. Carlisi says, in the special effects ridden world of entertainment, taxidermied animals serve a new purpose.
“They’re [computer graphics animators] able to scan the actual mount into the computer,” he says, after which studios will build rigs and transpose them on the animal’s body. “So from rigs they can make the animals move and perform the way they want.”
Smaller production companies are also vested in mounted animals for its cost effectiveness. David Anderson, an independent filmmaker, says directors like himself often have no choice but to use taxidermied animals.
Renting an animal actor gets expensive when final costs include handlers, insurance, and a representative from the Humane Society. Markham’s larger pieces, like a bear, could can run up to $1,500, while the cost of a live animal can easily shoot into the $8,000 range. Because of all of the additional costs, Anderson turned to Markham for his latest movie.
Yet others in the industry, including set decorator Kristin Peterson, think something is lost when Hollywood productions use mounted animals instead of live animals.
“The taxidermied animals don’t have as much of a personality as the live animal,” she says.