Making the Spider

We came up with the idea for the Where Spam Comes From episode in late 2008 or early 2009, and building the spider marionette took at least a year! Mostly because other episodes kept getting in the way, and we had to put it off. Fortunately, the topic is pretty timeless, as far as the Internet goes.

The spider’s name is Tetanus — so named because various of its parts are crummy old metal, and people kept cutting themselves on it by accident. (Gus was relieved when, partway through construction, she had to get a tetanus shot anyway because of another, more serious cut she received when opening a can of cat food.) Almost everything on Tetanus was recycled junk from around the library and the college. The legs are ancient TV antennas and broken umbrella spokes; the body was a lamp and is wound around with discarded ethernet cables; the marionette frame is based on a discarded baby backpack.

Late in the game, Gus realized it would be pretty easy to keep the frame from showing up in the shot by painting it the color of the greenscreen, making it look like the spider wasn’t hanging from anything. Here’s a tip for productions with small budgets: you don’t have to buy expensive special greenscreen paint or fabric! In fact, you don’t have to buy much paint at all. Most paint companies probably have a color which is really close to the color of a greenscreen.

We got three sample colors from Behr, and that only ran us about $12 total. Half of one sample jar was plenty to paint the frame.

We found out about this from a forum which recommended Behr’s “Sparkling Apple” color (and has tips for other companies’ colors), but I think in the end we may have used Barnyard Grass or Dublin.

The only remaining problem to solve was…. the spider and frame were pretty heavy (despite the fact that at one point we scrapped an initial design which was a lot bulkier), and the space between the two shafts holding the spider up was too narrow for most people’s shoulders. So intern Robert, who is a slender guy, was saddled with the monster arachnid by default. It turned out piloting the beast was a two-person job, so EdLab jack-of-all-trades Josh stepped in to work the legs.

The result? Check out the reviews from the production team. Overall, we think it the episode could have been shot better — but nobody denies that the spider is pretty freaking cool.