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Feather Busters

''The Dark Half'' behind the scenes -- It took special effects experts and lots of fake birds to bring Stephen King's feathered nightmare to the big screen

It took more than 4,000 cheeping finches (masquerading as sparrows) to manifest the plague of tiny beating wings in The Dark Half. It also took a flock of special-effects experts — and a gaggle of faux feathered performers.

''George [Romero] wanted a ton of birds. He used the term 'bird soup,''' says visual-effects supervisor Kevin Kutchaver. ''But you can't jam-pack real birds into a set.'' So, as SFX project supervisor Zilla Clinton explains, all kinds of winged players were used: ''wacky birds'' (like the ones in floral arrangements), ''hammer birds'' (bird heads molded over hammers for the pecking shots), ''shadow birds'' (real birds shot on high-contrast film at high speed, resulting in eerie shapes), ''Alabama birds'' (starlings filmed during a mass migration in that state that darkened the sky), mechanical birds that flap their wings, and about a dozen stuffed birds for close-ups. All contributed to the finished scenes, which took six to eight months to assemble.

Not since, well, The Birds (in 1963) have birds made such a dark flight of screen fancy.

Originally posted Apr 30, 1993 Published in issue #168 Apr 30, 1993 Order article reprints