In the imaginary mechanical underworld they inhabit, the elephant is a bulldozer, the giraffe is a crane, the cheetah a courier. In real life, the mechanical animals, or “mechanimals,” are the work of Salt Lake City, Utah, sculptor and commercial photographer Andrew Chase, who welded them together from sheet metal, iron pipe, and used car parts.
Chase, 42, began building the mechanical beasts in 2004 as props for a children’s book he wrote and photographed, Timmy. In the as-yet-unpublished story, a robot leaves his subterranean home to explore the surface. Chase took the background photos first, then matched the lighting, and finally positioned the mechanimals in his studio, later merging the images via Photoshop.
About his use of old transmission gears and bearings, Chase says, “It is partly a financial decision — they’re free.” But beyond that, they look neat. “Things that are made for a purpose have a certain elegance about them,” he says. “If I didn’t incorporate gears and bearings, the animals wouldn’t look as industrial and purposeful. They’d look less useful.”
Each sculpture starts with what Chase considers the hardest part: the eyes and head. From there he creates the torso and legs, giving each limb fully functional joints, albeit in a single plane. Due to the nature of Chase’s car-parts medium, the animals are all roughly the same size, averaging about 3 feet tall and weighing up to 125 pounds.
Chase’s mechanical elephant went through four iterations before taking on its pachyderm form. “On my second try the body was better but still wrong. It looked too much like a dog. Finally, I swallowed my pride and found some good reference material,” he admits. Now he relies heavily on photos and animal anatomy drawings.
“Each beasty takes between 60 to 80 hours,” says Chase. Much of that time is spent scrubbing parts cocooned in sedimentary layers of oil, grease, and dirt. “The cleanup sucks,” he says. “It’s horrible.”
Chase’s Mechanimals: makezine.com/go/mechanimals