A promotional image of Smirkenorff the Dragon with broader wings set against a mountainous backdrop.

All About Smirkenorff

By Keith McDonald

Smirkenorff the Dragon was introduced in Knightmare's fifth series, in 1991. Find out more about how the puppet was created and operated.


Who made Smirkenorff?

Smirkenorff was created and sculpted by Talismen, a Cardiff-based company that made models for film and television.

Talismen created two separate models for Smirkenorff. The original was a full-body sculpture about three metres long, which was used for the shots of Smirkenorff in flight.

For Series 6 (1992), Tim Child wanted to add talking scenes with the dragon. This required a new close-up model with a more expressive head and detailed jaw movement.

How Smirkenorff was made

Mark Cordory, a theatre and television prop designer, worked on the project. Thanks to Mark, we have images showing the various models of Smirkenorff under construction.

Close up of Smirkenorff's front legs and long neck.

Above: The full-size Smirkenorff needed to be large to give the impression of carrying a teenage passenger. It had a jointed steel frame about three metres long that was covered in rubber.

The clay sculpts of Smirkenorff's head.

Above: the clay sculpts for the close-up head. The head was foam latex made by Sherman Labs in London from a fibreglass mould. Eye, frown and jaw movements were made by Jim Sandys (who worked for The Jim Henson Company and was responsible for Ludo from Labyrinth amongst others).

Mark Cordory painting the large cast of Smirkenorff the Dragon.

Above: the head under construction. At this point, Smirkenorff has all mechanisms, fins and teeth installed. It is also painted base green, as Mark had very few reference pictures of the original from a year earlier.

How Smirkenorff worked

From mouth to wings to talons, Smirkenorff was completely controlled by rods. All the fixtures had to be the same shade of blue as the studio to be made invisible through chromakey.

The team from Talismen operate Smirkenorff the Dragon on the bluescreen void at Anglia Studios.

Above: a team of Talismen animators travelled from Wales to Norwich to operate the full-size dragon for filming. The puppeteers wore full blue overalls and masks so they could be erased from view.

Knightmare's assistant producer, Claire Wittenbury, operates the small cast of Smirkenorff, while Clifford Norgate provides the dragon's voice.

Above: Clifford Norgate, the actor who provided the voice for Smirkenorff, operated the cables for the smaller cast. Claire Whittenbury, the assistant producer, makes the head movements using a blue rod at the back of the cast.

The small cast of Smirkenorff the Dragon is ready to be used on the bluescreen.

Above: The close-up shots of Smirkenorff would have taken place in the second bluescreen set (or void).

The smirkenorf puppet being operated

Where did the flight footage come from?

Part of the purpose of Smirkenorff was to expand the horizons of the fantasy kingdom. The dragon is seen flying over castles, cliffs and beaches into courtyards and squares.

The footage for these sequences was made using a helicopter from Helifilms, an aerial filming company. It visited a host of different castles over southern England and Wales.

Smirkenorff in flight during Series 5 (1991).

Edited footage was compiled to be played as the animators operated Smirkenorff's flying motion in the studio. And that creates a simulated flight on Smirkenorff.

See Smirkenorff Flights for more.

Further pictures

See more images of Mark working on his sculpt of Smirkenorff.

Mark Cordory works on the small cast of Smirkenorff the Dragon

The intricate joints of the Smirkenorff puppet.

Close-up of Smirkenorff's hind legs.

And a prototype sketch of the dragon from the studio.

An early sketch for a prototype dragon from Mark Cordory's studio.

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