(from my memoir ‘to Paris for lunch’)
At the beginning of 1988, ‘Aslan, the lion’ for the BBC series ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, was slowly progressing and it was fascinating to be part of the process. We were a team of four women, making an oversize lion’s frame, so that two dancers were able to fit inside. Whilst Vin, Nicky and Amy knew what they were doing and had expertise and knowledge on making costumes for film and theatre, I knew nothing! The making of ‘lions’ was not often requested in a Mode Atelier and was not required as part of a dressmaker’s apprenticeship in Germany.
I was asked to use yak hair and to find ways of sewing and overlocking bunches of it. I then dyed those to match the natural colour and shading of a lion’s mane. Nicky and Amy took glass fibre casts of the dancers and started building the skeleton of the lion in metal and plastic around those two bodies. Vin designed and constructed Aslan’s head. She was very precise as this was an important job. Aslan’s head was what all children – no, not just children, everybody – would first focus on. Especially the cameras.
I started attaching Lycra pieces to Aslan’s ‘bones’, the gaps between ribs and legs, so that they would be covered but could still stretch. Bit by bit I eventually covered the whole lion’s frame in faux fur, which were actually cut up car seat covers.
His eyes were made by specialists in glass eye production and with those in place and his beautiful long eyelashes, nose and mouth carefully painted by Vin, the effect was amazing. A specialist in electronics designed his facial movements. He had universal eyes, which could move up and down, left and right, he could blink and even give a wink. The dancer in the front controlled his mouth; he could snarl and even roar! At last Aslan came alive.
Once he was finished, we all watched how the two dancers inside him were trying to move as gracefully as a lion, which was not an easy job. It was going very well, when suddenly we saw smoke coming out of Aslan’s behind. It was impossible! There was nothing that could ignite inside him. I looked away, thinking maybe it was a strange light reflection, coming through the windows of the BBC rehearsal rooms, but when I looked back, more smoke was appearing. Panic came over us.
‘What the hell is this?‘ Nicky exclaimed!
‘How can there be smoke coming out? What is going on?‘
We all dropped everything we were doing and started to run up to the lion.
Suddenly we heard an annoyed voice coming out of Aslan’s bottom:
‘Calm down everybody, I am only having a fag!‘
Todd, the Australian dancer in the back, decided to have a cigarette break and as it was not possible for him to get out of costume quickly, he decided to have it in the costume, just like that!
The Chronicles of Narnia was watched by over a ten million viewers and Aslan won the BAFTA award for best costume in 1988. I was incredibly proud to have been part of the team who made him and feel especially privileged to have worked with Vin Burnham and Nicky Lyons.