Is That Skunk?

The Answer: How We Got the Spray Shot

Jerry’s glasses took a direct hit from the skunk spray.

Well, now that you’ve seen the shot, you may be wondering just how we got it.

In late July, cinematographer Andrew Shillabeer and I traveled to Albuquerque, NM to film with skunk expert Jerry Dragoo. Our original plan was to film with Jerry around his home. However, unbeknownst to Jerry, Andrew had hatched a cunning plan.

We were going to get the most amazing close-up ever filmed of a skunk spray, and Jerry would help us do it.

Jerry outside, holding a skunk

The first consideration was where to film, as we had to insure that no one would be bothered by the stench of multiple skunk sprays. We found a spot outside Jerry’s house, below a large window. There, we built a platform which would comfortably support the skunk during our filming. We then aimed a pair of 1,200 Watt HMI lights toward the platform (from a distance), thoroughly cleaned the window, and checked for any reflections. It took over two hours to tweak this setup.

We placed our camera inside Jerry’s house and aimed out the window. Our camera would be just inches away from the skunk without being in harm’s way.

For filming, we used a Photron Ultima APX high-speed HD industrial camera (courtesy of Digital West Imaging). This camera is capable of filming 250,000 frames per second. To put this capability in context, your television plays at approximately 30 frames per second. That means that one second of real time shot with the Photron Ultima APX could be stretched out over 8,300 seconds (which is over two hours). However, to film at that high of a speed, we would have needed an incredible amount of light on our skunk, something akin to placing the sun right next to the platform. Obviously we weren’t going to do that, so we decided to film at 1,000 frames per second.

For the filming, Andrew would operate the camera, including focus and exposure, and I would trigger the record button once a skunk had sprayed.

As night fell, and with our preparations complete, we shot some tests using a water spritzer. We then brought out our first filming subject — a young skunk in Jerry’s care. The plan was to film the spray from inside Jerry’s house so as not to get hit. Jerry would then hold the skunk in position and attempt to get the skunk to spray.

The view from inside, behind the camera

Now, with your having seen our show, you’ve learned that skunks are extremely reluctant to part with their precious stink juice. They will only spray if threatened with eminent death.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We discovered via trial and error that there is another way to get skunks to spray without harming or scaring them.

CAUTION: The following action should never be attempted by anybody other than Jerry Dragoo, ever. If you try to do what is described below, you will inflict significant injury upon yourself. You will also stink and be designated an idiot by loved ones and friends (which sometimes even happens with Jerry Dragoo!)—

Skunks do not like having their derrières blown upon.

Yes, you read that correctly. Skunks will spray you if you blow air on their behinds (from a small distance).

For our filming endeavors, Jerry took it upon himself to hold a skunk in a particular orientation on our makeshift platform, blow air towards the skunk’s rear end from about 4-6 inches away, have the skunk aim it’s stink cannons towards his face, and take multiple hits for the team on his person — including some in the eyes. It is an understatement to say we could never have filmed the spray shot without Jerry’s assistance.

The spray sometimes shot out of the skunk so fast that Andrew and I would miss it. Thankfully Jerry would call out “you got that?” after getting hit. We would stop the camera, review the footage, and then would download a subset of the 10,000 still images to a hard drive. On average, we were able to capture a single spray shot every 15 to 20 minutes.

After a couple of sprays outside, the odor started to seep through the seams of the window. However, it was never very bad. Andrew and I felt lucky that we weren’t outside with Jerry.

However, soon we discovered that we were not safe from the stench. Jerry was so excited by the thought of seeing a skunk spray in HD that he occasionally ran into our room to look at the footage. After one extreme spraying adventure, Jerry ran into our room, only to have all of the air in the room leave upon his entry. Andrew and I were brought to tears. I eventually had to dispose of the shirt I was wearing that evening, even though I never got within a foot of Jerry throughout the filming. Andrew had to do the same. Jerry’s eyes were watering all night, even though he couldn’t smell a thing.

After getting eight incredible slow-motion shots of skunk spray, we called it an evening. Jerry cleaned himself thoroughly, and all of the skunks we filmed were eventually released back into the wild.

So, the winner of the Skunk Spray Contest (as decided by Jerry Dragoo and myself) is….. Mark S. #53!! (Confetti falls, balloons fly, etc.) He was the only person who definitively said that Jerry Dragoo was involved. Joey #30 was close, but in this case, it just wasn’t close enough. Honorable mentions also go out to entries 1, 3, 11, and 15.

We’re happy you came to our Web site to let us know what you thought of the show and to also share your personal skunk anecdotes. Feel free to write in your questions anytime you’d like more information on skunks or on our production. And if you catch a fleeting glimpse of a black and white creature running away from you at night, or catch a whiff of that unmistakable odor, just remember that skunks are amazing, reclusive creatures and that you were lucky to experience a little bit of their world.

Sincerely,

James Donald, Producer