The concept that was developed, made one of the sea lions the "magician", and he would wave a wand or pull a foulard off of a prop and then "perform" the illusion. Of course the sea lion had to have the help of the trainers and there was a patter that was created to make their interaction funny. Three main illusions were created for the Sea Lions to use in the show. One of these was a version of the dove thru glass effect that my dad did for a full evening show. I saw a similar prop being offered by other manufacturers and I think I may even have seen it done on a TV show where a girl penetrates the glass.
|My Brother Chris playing the part of a sea lion .|
|Chris providing some scale for the glass penetration as it was being completed|
Earlier I said there were three big effects, but as I looked at the photos I remembered that there was a appearance of a sea lion in a previously shown empty drum. The drum was moved over the water, and at the right moment, the sea lion would burst through the side and dive into the water. This was one of the tricky parts of the show because the sea lion had to load itself into the drum and then wait for a signal to make an appearance. My Dad spent quite a bit of time working with the trainers on this effect. He was down at Sea World in San Diego several times to help in the process. I remember spending a day with him and the trainers going over the cues and mechanics of the prop. One of my personal fond memories of dad was going to a seafood restaurant called the Jolly Roger on the way home late one Saturday night. My Dad was not a fan of seafood but he let me choose the place we stopped and I remember having crab cakes for the first time, while I think he ordered a hamburger at a fish place. You can see the base the drum sat on in one of the shots above, at the moment i do not have a complete version that includes the drum but I am sure it will turn up at some point.
The sea lion magician would also levitate a sea lion assistant. This was basically a modified version of a Super X suspension illusion. The animal would lay still on a surf board and the supporting brackets would be removed leaving the board and sea lion suspended in the air. This was another effect that was complicated because the trainers had to do things that the sea lions could not and that meant that the show had to be tailored a bit to accommodate the humans as well.
The final main illusion was an escape from a steel cage that the sea lion would do under water. This was an effect that created some problems because it suggested that the animal might drown if it could not get out. During the process of production, my dad and the trainers went around and around on this. When I saw it performed, the cage was not entirely submerged and that may have been the compromise that they finally worked out.
One of my favorite stories about my brother Chris involves this prop as it was being moved back and forth from our apartment to the workshop in Pasadena. They had the cage on a flat trailer bed and at a stop light, my brother rolled down his window and asked a little boy about eight or nine if he had seen a tiger in the area. The kid looked at the empty cage and screamed. Chris told us this story and I remember vividly the voice he used and the expression of worry that he put on his face and then the same kind of description of the kid's response.
This was an especially big project because the show was being produced for all the Sea World parks. In addition to all the completed illusions for the San Diego Park, we were building props for Orlando Florida and a pack in Ohio. Unfortunately during the time we were in the process of staging the show down in San Diego, the guy who was the entertainment producer for the Sea World Parks was killed. I think his name was Larry Sands (I hope I am not conflating it with the TV show character). He was scouting locations for a TV show or movie and his helicopter crashed. I remember it being on the news and that was how my Dad found out about it. He was heart broken because Mr. Sands was a friend and a long time business associate. Sea World took delivery of the props but as far as I know never finished them or produced shows at the other parks. The death of Mr. Sands let the wind out of all the sails on this show. I do remember that Dad and Mr. Sands had to show the park blue prints of the props Dad was going to build. Dad told Larry that he usually did not do blue prints until he had actually constructed a prop to begin with since he constantly had to make adjustments as he went along. The park was adamant and Dad, who did have some training in drafting, put together blue prints as part of the pitch for the shows.
I don't know what happened to any of these props. If anyone out there acquired any of these effects and you come across this post, please let me know your story. This last photo is a grouping of the props in progress at one point.