How Dumbo filmed Colin Farrell’s missing arm scenes

Producer Derek Frey reveals how Tim Burton and his team achieved the special effect

Nico Parker with Finley Hobbins and Colin Farrell in Dumbo (Disney)

The titular flying elephant in Tim Burton’s Dumbo is definitely the showiest bit of computer-generated animation in the new movie, but it’s not the only special effects challenge pulled off in the Disney remake.

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You see, the production team also had to contend with the fact that Colin Farrell’s character Holt Farrier was written as having only one arm, meaning they had to utilise many different techniques to create the illusion that he was an amputee.

“For the most part it was just a green sleeve that was kind of just dangling on his side,” producer Derek Frey told RadioTimes.com, adding that less high-tech tech solutions were also needed from time to time.

“Visual effects-wise, sometimes he’d kind of just put the arm behind his back, or sometimes it could just be in the front.

“The visual effects team would kind of give him direction on what helped them the most in terms of being able to remove it later,” continued Frey, who has worked with Dumbo director Tim Burton on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd and more.

“And then at a certain point in our story he’s given kind of like a fake stuffy arm, just because he’s a showman in the circus. It’s given to him so it doesn’t throw the audience.

“So for those scenes he was able to kind of have his arm just through his shirt sleeves, kind of dangling. As if it were fake.”

Even if Farrell’s arm was there in a sleeve (green or otherwise), though, the script meant that he was unable to use it – and apparently, that might have caused some difficulties were it not for one of the actor’s hidden talents.

Colin Farrell with Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins in Dumbo (Disney)
Colin Farrell with Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins in Dumbo (Disney)

“He handled it really well, and I have to say, he is a very confident horse rider,” Frey told us.

“And in our story his character is a horse showman. And we had a number of scenes towards the end of the film where he did all his own stunts, so not only is he having to gallop a horse through hundreds of extras, he’s having to do that with one arm.

“And I’ll tell you, I don’t think we’d have been able to tell those sequences as well if it was a stunt man. And he did it, and it was so impressive. We didn’t realise what an accomplished rider he was until we cast him, so that was definitely a bonus.”

He added: “I could see Tim working with him again because he’s wonderful, and he’s one of the newer actors to work with us on this film.

“A lot of the other characters were people Tim’s worked with before. Yet Colin felt like he’s always been a part of that family. The shorthand was just there, and it was really wonderful working with him.”

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Dumbo is in UK cinemas now