Photo by Lorette Guillou, courtesy of La Machine.

Photo by Lorette Guillou, courtesy of La Machine.

Watching Kumo take to the streets is like the live-action version of a CGI flick: A giant alien spider lands in a historic city, its eight legs weaving around buildings as it spews venom into the crowds. Dreamt up by street theater company La Machine, Kumo has since toured Yokohama, Beijing, Reims, and Calais. Earlier this month, it was finally left to roam the French city of Nantes, where La Machine is based, and where the spider was “born” in 2009.

Kumo’s technical data sheet is staggering: At rest, it is 19′ high, but can attain a height of 43′ once it’s up and walking. When it rolls up into a ball for a nap, it measures 20′ in diameter. When it sprawls its legs out, that “legspan” grows to 65′. It can spit out venom (in reality, a fine water mist) and breathe out clouds of fog, all while regarding the crowd suspiciously with its moving eyes. A team of 35 to 40 people worked on its construction for nearly a year—first drafting it, then bringing it to life the 38-ton structure of wood and steel.

Photo by Lorette Guillou, courtesy of La Machine

Photo by Lorette Guillou, courtesy of La Machine.

“We wanted to use its eight legs to turn it into a dancer,” says François Delarozière, the founder and artistic director of La Machine. “This is why we made a base on wheels, so it could move quickly and have the ability to communicate, and be expressive, through movement.” During a performance, 16 people are required to activate the hydraulic and mechanical framework that helps Kumo walk through narrow city streets, wriggling around trees and lampposts. Most are seated aboard the giant, controlling the motion of its legs, eyes, head, and abdomen, and setting off the fog and water effects. Down on the ground, a conductor walks alongside Kumo and directs the whole theatrical team.

Original drawings for the giant spider, courtesy of La Machine.

Original drawings for the giant spider, courtesy of La Machine.

The Creators Project has the full story. After its show in Nantes this summer, Kumo is scheduled to take a rest. But next stop: Ottawa in 2017. To learn more about La Machine, click here.


  1. kestrel says

    Amazing! Look how many people it takes to run it -- makes me appreciate just how incredible a real spider is!

  2. says

    There was a crazy performance of giant people and spaceships and stuff in a French city years ago… I think that Terry Gilliam was at least partly involved. It seems like the French take their public events very seriously!

    That’s an amazing piece of work. I can’t even think how much work went into it!

  3. says

    According the article, they done an elephant, a dragon horse, and a giraffe, among others. You can see the elephant at La Machine’s website, and I’ve never wanted to see something in person as much as that. You can also see Kumo climbing a cathedral. :D

  4. says

    I’ve ridden on the elephant!

    It was awesome. In fact, the whole visit to the Machine workshops was pretty amazing. You can see and (often) ride the old machines, and you can also see the work being done on the new projects, which they are constantly producing. The whole place has a Jules Verne aesthetics to it which I love.

    But I haven’t seen the spider yet. Time for another summer trip to Nantes! (I live in France, so that’s easy for me.)

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