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The Bull 

Birmingham 2022 Opening Ceremony

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We were enormously proud to be asked to design and build a major scenic prop for the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Working with Misty Buckley, Production Designer, Iqbal Khan, Artistic Director, and the Birmingham Ceremonies team we took on the challenge of creating their vision of  a 10m tall Bull, capable of propelling itself around the stadium and interacting with performers.

Project Breakdown 

The Bull was a huge challenge for us, and the beginning of five months of experimentation and hard graft.

Early Design 

Turning Ideas into 3D Reality

To give the Bull initial form, a clay maquette was modelled. This became the first key phase of turning the idea into a 3-dimensional reality. Not only could this be scaled up, it was scanned and fed into a computer to start working out the structure.  But old-style pencil sketching formed the basis of the detailed design, which was then passed to the CAD team to work out accurate dimensions.

Supporting The Structure

It was also decided at an early stage that the best solution for moving it around would be to incorporate a telehandler into the design, supporting the structure safely upright while driving it around. Thus the arm of the telehandler was incorporated into the design, enabling the bull to tilt forward.

The Build 

Breaking Down the Build Activity

The physical build broke down into distinct parcels of activity: the legs, the main body, the head, and the method of dressing the whole surface.  The Bull had to walk, kneel, paw at the ground, rear up, and when it walked it had to move in time with the telehandler.  So computer controlled motors and gearboxes were required, and as time was short, and supplier delivery times unpredictable, decisions once made could not always be reversed. The legs had to be structurally designed, and we went through 3 prototypes before being happy with the final structure.  Alongside this the computer control work had to be started to prove to ourselves and to the client that the system could actually support and move the enormous legs. All legs had 4 axes of movement like a real bull, from hoof joint up to hip, for as much realism as possible.

The Core

An aluminium truss box structure formed the core onto which everything was attached and which itself was supported on the telehandler. The legs mounted onto the 4 corners, the head to the central axis, and a series of aluminium tubes formed the ribs. Within this core ran walkways and handrails for access to allow puppeteers and effects technicians to get at everything and animate the head, which itself moved up/down, left/right, and had an extending neck. Onto all this mechanical ingenuity was attached a dense foam outer skin, and internal Victoriana/steampunk dressing. The whole structure is 10m high x 4.5m wide x 15m long – but weighed in at only 2.5 tonnes.

The Telehandler

The weight of the beast was critical.  It needed a telehandler with enough ballast to be very secure, and substantial enough to add many fixings to it, one of which was a 1 tonne 3 phase generator to power everything on board. The wheels were foam-filled to virtually eliminate bounce.  The actual telehandler was eventually sourced from Europe and weighed 17 tonnes. Once adapted to take the Bull the aim was to keep the Bull as light as possible, and as immune to wind as possible. There were many parameters that needed consideration as the plan developed.

Key Detail 

The Bull was created over an immensely challenging 5-month period. A crew of approximately 60 people helped to make it possible, covering a wide range of skills. Many sleepless nights were experienced and long hours worked.

Artworking the Eyes

Head with Fibreglass Horns and Plastizote Skin

Chains - Dense Foam with Metallic Pain Effects

Fibreglass Joints - Metallic Paint Effects

Loading for Transport to Birmingham

Lit at Night

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animation & effects


The eventual animations included full 4 leg animation, full head animation, horns, ears, eyes, mouth, snorting nostrils and a grappling hook tail.

Special Effects 

Smoke from the body and nostrils, tears of blood and lighting from within – were used to show the Bull’s emotions as it interacted with performers depicting Birmingham’s journey through difficult parts of its history through to the present day.

The Bull was a critical narrative element of the Opening Ceremony of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and was subsequently located in Birmingham’s Centenary Square for the duration of the Games.

A reworked version of the Bull has been prepared for the concourse of New Street Station and arrived in Summer 2023.

Thumbnail image©Paul Williams

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