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  • There are a lot of artists and companies around the world that build big moving structures for art.

  • There are plenty of stage shows, theme park attractions, and arena tours, which need massive mechanical stuff to move around.

  • Here in Nantes, in the west of France, though, there's one place that builds things slightly differently.

  • Les Machines de l'île, the island machines, are best known for their giant mechanical elephant.

  • Twelve meters high, weighing 48 tons, it regularly goes for a walk around the city.

  • But the big difference here is, this offers rides to tourists.

  • Unlike a lot of theme park attractions, not only does the elephant have to put on four shows a day, it has to put on those shows safely with people of all ages on board.

  • The two creators who started this because they could!

  • There was a desire from the mayor to renovate all this place and the project fitted very well.

  • The elephant was constructed at first in 2004, from 2004 to 2007, about 30 months of construction.

  • All the machine that have been made for the project of Les machines de l'île used wood, stainless steel, and leather, mainly these three.

  • We use plastic on some parts, but very few, because we don't want to use plastic as much as we can.

  • We have hybrid motorization that will power the elephant through the two back wheels.

  • For the legs of the elephants, many people think that they're making it walk, but if they touch the ground, they do not push him forward.

  • The elephant works as an automaton.

  • For the movement of the head or the ears, the eyes, and also the trunk, they are all programmed in a computer.

  • So you have 44 hydraulic cylinders on the machine, six gas cylinders, and finally, four pneumatic cylinders.

  • To make the elephant move, we need at least two people.

  • One pilot, and one guide inside the elephant to assure the safety of people inside, but also to make the scream of the elephant.

  • We may have about 200, 300 people around the elephant moving with him during his walk, but we always keep a security perimeter of about five-meter distance between the front wheel and the crowd.

  • The elephant is about 48 tons, so it could be very risky for anyone to get under a leg.

  • Safety here makes a lot more sense when you get close up.

  • Yes, there are a lot of moving parts, particularly in the middle we're not allowed to film, but you don't get close to them.

  • The same way if you're riding on a bus, you can't actually get close to the engine or the wheels.

  • Ans ultimately, this is a slow and weirdly shaped bus.

  • You can stand up on a bus or a train going 50, 100 times the speed with much sharper acceleration and braking.

  • Now there are places that would've made getting on board an exclusive experience, and honestly, if I was in charge of a show like this, I'd be tempted to say that...

  • Yes, maybe a few people can ride, but we'll charge them 100 euro each and it's restricted only to VIPs.

  • That way...

  • That way, it's much less of a hassle.

  • But a ride on this elephant is less than 10 euro.

  • They have a boarding procedure like an airport and there are 50 passengers allowed on board.

  • The most impressive part of this whole thing for me is not that it works.

  • It's that it works to theme park standards, show after show, day after day, year after year in the real world with people on board, and it's not the only attraction here.

  • This place is the older warehouse, the old workshop of the division shipyards.

  • Inside the gallery, we have a lot of machines.

  • We have a caterpillar, we have a heron, we have a spider, all giant machines.

  • We have also smaller machines.

  • During the visit, we take randomly a visitor to take part on a trip on the machine, or to move several parts of the machine during the presentation.

  • Every machinist needs training of about one month and a half to move every machine inside the gallery.

  • The most difficult to move is the spider, because it works as an excavator.

  • Very complicated, as you move two diggers at the same time.

  • After the spider, the other most complicated machine should be the little heron.

  • "Little" is a euphemism, because it's about 7.5 meters of wingspan and about 3 meters high.

  • We have a lot of parts to move, especially the wings.

  • The Sea World carousel is a carousel of about 25 meters high.

  • Inside you find 36 machines, where you can go inside and take a turn.

  • The machines are inspired of "Fantastic Worlds" or real sea fish.

  • A lot of workshops and art projects like this can struggle to pay the rent.

  • Charging people for rides and admission is a great way to make big art like this sustainable.

  • Between the elephant, the gallery, and the carousel, this is basically a small theme park now, but more than that, it's affected the reputation of the whole town.

  • Some of the funding for building that elephant and all of this came from local government as part of a deliberate attempt to change the city's image and make it somewhere more appealing to tourists.

  • The question, "why would you want to visit Nantes?" now has an answer.

  • Because there's nowhere else you can ride a giant mechanical elephant and still have change from 10 euro.

There are a lot of artists and companies around the world that build big moving structures for art.

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B1 elephant theme park mechanical carousel machine move

I rode a giant mechanical elephant. You can too.

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    林宜悉 posted on 2022/09/19
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