Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Elephant No. 325: Picture Postcard

I've loved sending and receiving postcards from exotic—and not so exotic—places since I was a little child, so I thought I'd try making a tourist-style postcard for today's elephant. A close friend suggested an elephant on a tightrope over Niagara Falls as a suitably over-the-top postcard concept, and it seemed like a good idea to me.

I provided a brief history of postcards in my post on novelty postcards, so I'll just describe today's activity here.

My original idea was to create something using computer software, then I decided that I was too out of practice, and that it would take me hours.

Instead, I drew and painted the design below, but I was unhappy with it, so I went back to the idea of trying to make something with PhotoShop.

For the PhotoShop version, I started with these two photographs.

Niagara Falls, from the Canadian side.

Tightrope-walking elephant.
Image: © Clivia

I started with the background photo.

Next I masked off the elephant, using PhotoShop's Magic Mask tool. I've used this many times before, so this part was relatively easy. I added the elephant first—which, because I set the "tolerance" high, transferred with the tightrope and umbrella. I then added the umbrella itself.

This left me with an elephant floating in mid-air over the Falls. So I extended the tightrope in both directions, using the Brush tool. This took me forever to figure out. While I knew how to configure the brush to the dimensions I wanted, it took me a while to remember how to make it the right colour. PhotoShop's help menu was useless.

Now I needed to add lettering. Adding text in the font I wanted was easy enough, but I had trouble again with colour. I finally added the colour I wanted in a weird backhanded way by creating another layer, then colouring that in with the Brush tool. I wanted to play a bit more with text placement, and I wanted to add a shadow to the lettering in yellow, but that was beyond me. Or beyond my level of patience today, anyway.

The final result is okay, but nothing special. It's missing part of the umbrella handle because I couldn't figure out how to import that little piece, no matter how often I tried to mask and place it. I also wanted to give the elephant some colour, but for some reason I just couldn't get the colour functions to cooperate. I also don't like the arrangement of the lettering, and the tightrope looks weird. Other than that, it's tolerable.

One of the the things I discovered while planning the layout—whether photographic or drawn—was that the lettering is rather hard to place. You don't want it to crowd the main image, and you don't want it to obscure anything important. The size of the lettering and the font also make a difference.

I still love postcards, but I think I'll stick to buying them rather than drawing them from now on.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although elephants can be trained to walk a tightrope, it's not something they should ever be expected to do.

One of the main issues is that the tightrope is usually made of heavy metal cabling. This is very hard on the feet of elephants—particularly the tender feet of the baby elephants that are most often used in tightrope-walking.

And, of course, walking on something like a tightrope is extremely unnatural to an elephant. Elephants like solid ground beneath their feet, not a pair of swaying cables. They don't even like to walk on mucky ground or slippery surfaces such as ice. Zoo elephants will actually refuse to return to a barn—even to eat—if it means crossing ice, and keepers often have to clear special ice-free pathways.

As you can guess, this means that coercion is generally required to get an elephant to walk on a tightrope. Since elephants also don't like climbing, they must first be prodded—usually with a sharp stick or metal hook—into stepping up onto a platform. They must then be coaxed and prodded out onto a pair of metal cables. They must then learn to balance, or fall between the cables and injure themselves. At the other end, they are often required to turn around on a small platform and make their way back. Sometimes they are even required to turn around on the cables themselves.

The video below shows an elephant walking a tightrope at the rather controversial Safari World, just outside Bangkok. I found the whole spectacle rather heartbreaking, and hope I never have to see it in real life.

Although elephants are intelligent enough to learn many things, this is one thing they should never be taught.

Baby elephant crossing cables at the controversial Safari World, Bangkok, 2010.
Photo: Bronek Kaminski/Barcroft India
Source: Baby elephant crossing cables at the controversial Safari World, Bangkok, 2010.
Photo: Bronek Kaminski/Barcroft India

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)

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