What James Franco’s Severed Arm Taught Me

Courtesy of Alterian Inc.

Tony Gardner, special effects artist, on how his “127 Hours” handiwork is saving sick babies.

I thought some of the stories were hyped about people fainting during 127 Hours. Then one producer called me and said, “I went to the movies last night to check out your work, and it was quite an experience.” It turned out that somebody had passed out. I felt proud and then really guilty.

We designed about 10 different arms, each one worth about $10,000. We also designed bloodshot contact lenses and dental “plumpers” for James Franco’s face because he had lost all the weight before filming — we had to do something so his face could change. Before anything, we did a body cast and then built a couple different harnesses and could attach any of the multitude of arms to the shoulder depending on the scene. He actually had on a three-sleeve shirt because the fake arm had to come out in front of his real arm.

The main surgery arm [for the amputation scene] was loose-jointed and the one that had all the blood in it — different muscle groups and everything. It was made of aluminum and steel, then there’s foam, latex and silicone muscles. It had fibers embedded in the silicone so it would cut like muscle tissue, instead of cutting into other stuff that looks like Jell-O. It’s an arm, so you know where the veins and arteries are and where the blood will come through. Aron Ralston was so dehydrated, his blood was thicker — so it was a fairly clean process.

I got a lot of great feedback from doctors about my work in the film. So I started a business making neonatal training aids for intensive care doctors. Some kids are born with their intestines inside of their umbilical cord … and all other sorts of issues. We made a kit where you can put these prosthetic pieces on medical dummies, so doctors in training can practice in a real-life scenario. It feels good to be doing something helpful other than just entertainment.          

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