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In The Prestige (2006) we see a bird trick in which the cage collapses, killing the bird.

Later in the movie, John Cutter gives Angier a suit with a spring loaded mechanism that collapses the cage automatically, keeping the bird safe. Was a real machine designed for the movie?

Edit: I am not interested in the nature or history of the trick. I am curious about the prop used in the making of the movie.

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2 Answers 2

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No, it’s a prop. The machine supposedly whisks the bird away via a spring-loaded mechanism. In real life, a prop bird is pulled from the cage by a person pulling a string.

We know this because the American Humane Association sends representatives to witness scenes in which animals appear to be harmed. Their report on this effect can be found here.

To quote from that page (emphasis added):

“Later in the film, viewers get a backstage glimpse of how the magician has perfected the cage trick using doves. The actor ties a monofilament line around a dove's foot and a trainer places the bird in the collapsible cage. A fake dove replaced the real one when the magician pulled the bird out of the cage with the monofilament line before it collapsed.

During filming, the trainer lay on the ground out of camera range holding a live dove. The unseen trainer then pulled the line of the fake bird and handed the live dove to the actor, who revealed it to the audience to much applause.“

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    Nice. I feel this should be the accepted answer. Mine suggests the same final answer based on the animal-harm reasoning, but this has quotes relating to the actual representatives.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 25 at 11:12
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Was a real machine designed for the movie?

I strongly doubt it. It would be harder and more expensive to make a device which does this than to do enough to set up the effects to make it appear that it works. It might even not be possible to make one.

The only need to shoot the scene is that it looks real to us, the movie audience. Making a real machine that did this would be unnecessary and given what it does, more dangerous to the actors than would be strictly necessary to complete the scene.

I also feel the mechanism is incredibly unlikely, to be able to collapse the cage, and pull the bird somewhere in Angier's costume without hurting it in some way. When it is demonstrated, the dove has a cord tied to its leg, are we to presume this is how the bird is pulled instantly into his costume? A mechanism to do this with those tense springs would be extremely violent to the animal and wouldn't be done 'for real' by the movie makers.

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  • The bird was safe with the suit version of the trick, not the original.
    – yolo
    Commented Apr 14 at 13:35
  • No, you are correct - the bird was kept safe because he says "I thought you said I had to get my hands dirty". I forgot that. Edited.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 14 at 13:38
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    Downvoter ... care to comment or offer an alternative answer? I appreciate this isn't definitive, but I do feel it is strongly unlikely this is a real device.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 14 at 19:15
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    I don't think its any more conjecture than many other 'realism' questions. We see Cutter tension some springs, maybe. I simply can't believe that an entire real device to do this was made for the movie, that can move a fairly large bird, fast enough up the magician's sleeves that it appears to be instantaneous, without causing distress or injury to the animal. It simply would not be allowed by animal welfare rules. As an actor, I wouldn't allow myself to be strapped into it either, opportunities for malfunction causing serious injury are possible.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Apr 15 at 16:52
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    It's pretty common knowledge (and logical) that crews working on movies are generally going to prefer taking the cheapest, fastest route to accomplishing a given shot. The fact that you don't really see much of the actual mechanism in action is evidence enough that it was mostly a fake contraption.
    – shim
    Commented Apr 15 at 21:15

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