This animatronic peacock was custom-made for an Orbitz commercial. The tail opens and closes by remote control, spanning up to four feet wide. Real feathers, carefully chosen by size, were individually airbrushed.

Ray Kachatorian

Bischoff’s owners Rey Macias (center) and Ace Alexander (right) and shop artist Alice Rijn flank a 10-foot polar bear

Ray Kachatorian

Rijn airbrushes the top fin of a tarpon fish cast in fiberglass and then painted

Ray Kachatorian

Rey and Alexander set the gloss as part of the finish work on this six-foot albino python, made for London Alley Entertainment.

Ray Kachatorian

Clockwise from bottom left: A snow owl, a pair of six-foot fiberglass tusks, a lion head, a six-foot-tall ostrich, a life-size cobra replica, and a nutria, a semiaquatic rodent

Ray Kachatorian
Fill 1
Fill 1
March 10, 2021
Features

Their Animal Kingdom

Even before the invention of television, this firm was lending four-legged friends to the entertainment industry. Now, much of its product is animatronic. But no matter the medium, no animals have ever been harmed.

Libby Slate

Bischoff's Taxidermy & Animal FX, the largest animal prop rental company in the west, began almost a century ago as a taxidermy service to the era's stars; Al Bischoff's personal collection formed the basis for the inventory.

Times have changed since 1922, the year he opened his taxidermy studio on Sunset Boulevard. In fact, says Ace Alexander, who has co-owned the company with Rey Macias since 2017, "Rey and I are primarily vegans."

While much of the original collection is still available to rent, the firm is now focused on replicas. "There's a growing consciousness in the industry, of going from real fur to faux fur," Alexander observes.

Of the more than 1,000 rental items — dogs and cats, tigers and mountain lions, polar bears and reindeer, plus birds, fish, reptiles and rodents — about a quarter "and growing," Alexander says, are fabrications, including custom animatronics.

The inventory includes a flopping silicone salmon made for Lucifer that "rents out like crazy," a scruffy dead mutt for Mayans M.C. that looks like crows were feeding off it and an animatronic peacock for an Orbitz commercial. They've also fabricated creatures for Westworld, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, Yellowstone and Bates Motel.

The only real animals joining the inventory these days come from wildlife refuges and rehab centers and an animal performers agency — after they die.

Following years in Burbank, Bischoff's relocated last year to a 4,000-square-foot building in North Hollywood that allows for better organization and display. The rental process has become more streamlined, as well.

"People used to call us and get information, and it would take a lot more time, sending them pictures and dimensions," Macias says. "Now it all pops up on the website, and they can rent right from there."

With new Covid-19 production protocols, some props are made in duplicate, one to be handled only by an actor, the other for the crew to work with.

Running an animal props company might seem a stretch for two men who first bonded as musicians. Alexander was a solo artist who toured with bands and placed some of his songs in films and television shows, while Macias was a guitarist fronting his own band. Alexander had worked on and off at Bischoff's for about 12 years.

When then-owner Gary Robbins decided to retire, Alexander asked Macias if he'd be interested in partnering. "I found the artistry fascinating," Alexander says. "It's another way to channel your creativity."

That creativity comes into play especially during the fabrication process, when anywhere from three to 10 craftspeople can work on a prop, often under pressure. "We follow clients' deadlines," Alexander notes. "We'd like to have two to four weeks. But what we'll get is, 'Can you have it by Friday?'"

The prop process starts with a client meeting and review of their storyboard. The team then does a custom sculpt and 3D rendering, creates a mold and casts the sculpture in foam, latex or silicone. Next they begin the fur transfer, followed by flocking — which propels material electrostatically onto the prop to provide fur-like texture — and hair punching, painstakingly applying each strand of hair to the prop with a needle.

"You punch the hairs one by one," Alexander says. "We did a pig for American Horror Story, and there were hundreds of hairs." Last is the finish work, via airbrushing and color blending.

Artistry and such attention to detail have kept prop masters and other clients returning to Bischoff's for more — as has the human element. "We're dealing with people, and we treat them well," Macias says. "They feel good."


For more photos of Bischoff's work, pick up a copy of emmy magazine HERE


This article appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2021

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