How two 60-foot arachnids came to life on a Seattle roof

Sep 7, 2012

Sure there was “ooh” and “aah” and “wow” from the top of the Space Needle on a sunny afternoon overlooking Seattle earlier this week, but then came “Oh my god!” and “What is that?” and “That’s amazing.”

The culprit?

Two 60-plus-foot “daddy longlegs” standing atop the roof of the Armory at the Seattle Center, casting long shadows and looking all the world like they could be real (if our universe allowed such things).

“The only thing I can really hope to shoot for is maybe some tears from a kid or something,” said 3-D mural artist Marlin Peterson. “Then I’ll know I did my job.”

Marlin Peterson with his creation on a roof at the Seattle Center in August.
Marlin Peterson with his creation on a roof at the Seattle Center in August.
Credit Courtesy of Marlin Peterson

Peterson created the two massive 3-D “harvestmen” or Opiliones on the roof of the Armory at the Seattle Center over a five-week period in August with a $1,500 GAP grant from the Artist Trust of Washington.

After getting the grant, he cruised the city looking for a big wall to put his creation on, but got no takers until he thought of roofs. Then he got on Google Earth, searched the city and came across the Armory at the Seattle Center.

Credit Courtesy of Marlin Peterson
One of Peterson's spiders seen from the Space Needle.
One of Peterson's spiders seen from the Space Needle.
Credit Jake Ellison / KPLU

But why spiders?

This is Peterson’s first 3-D mural and he wanted to do it on spiders because …

“I really love insects and arachnids,” he said. “In general I think arachnids don’t really get the love that insects do in the world. … I wanted to do a large mural and I knew (daddy longlegs) would be a perfect specimen because of the way the body hovers above the ground and all the complicated legs and the way that they sit. The cast-shadow I knew would really pop out and make a really realistic effect.”

How do you make a giant 3-D mural of spiders?

(Above is a time-lapse video of Peterson painting one of the spiders)

“Well for the models I went to the hobby store and bought little wooden robin’s eggs, and then I went to the hardware store and got wire and drilled holes in the little robin eggs, and I consulted (online sources) and another expert on these types of arachnids and made sure the leg lengths were correct. 

“So, I bent all the wire at the correct junctions in the legs to try to make it in a realistic position.

“… I went to the space and photographed that so I could get the shadows. And then I did some Photoshop work and took the picture that I had photographed with the shadow and superimposed it on the picture that I had of the roof.”

It took two weeks of painting with regular household paint to complete the image, he said.

(Another time-lapse video of Peterson at work on the roof of the Armory.)

The setting for the two spiders as seen from the Space Needle.
The setting for the two spiders as seen from the Space Needle.
Credit Jake Ellison / KPLU