Phantoms (1998)

Exploring the circulation and replication of images through filmic vignettes and the internet legend surrounding an iconic prop from The NeverEnding Story

2D artwork on white wall with black and white panel, multicolored panel, fake blonde wood panel, and photo of golden retriever on lavender background.
1Darren Tesar, Phantoms (1998), 2023.

To his horror, he fails to find any ending aglets to the crossing of laces, working up the back of his wife’s near-perfectly remembered dress. Always awakening in the wake of, inserting its own(ed) ability to both perceive and thus purchase (dis)position(s) within relations that originate confined, obligating the eye.

In her initial, earthly, and indeed, sole, suicide, Hari somehow becomes more relationally complete within any remainders, one being her husband, Kris Kelvin. Even the newly manifested wife image(s) appear(s) adjacent to her supposed self, seeing as it is quite literally beside itself, being his, just externalized. A figment. Hari never revives. Never relives. Instead, always and only some bracketed quantity, becoming party to the host’s memory error, appearing, then, as a presence capable of being modulated in his own (re)imagining and her now (dis)owning image.

How long did it go unnoticed, a now negative space within one of hundreds of prop warehouses? Before it vanished—according to all documented history pertaining to the subject—one can only imagine how those faintly pink scales still shimmered when tripped by a scanning PIR sensor. Nevertheless, it’s all too understandable why these glints, taken off a slightly uncovered section of paw or protruding mass of animatronic tail, have faded over the years.

In the beginning there were two different models of the luck dragon, better known as Falkor. The first and certainly most imposing model stretched an impressive 50 feet in length, with the tail alone constituting for 13 of those 50 feet. Even by today’s standards, the fabrication of a creature the size of an adolescent sperm whale is worthy of taking note. For instance, the 10-foot long neck was actually a cantilever on which rested the 200 pound head. Although the credit given to the body’s fabrication is vague, the construction of the soon-to-be iconic canine skull was not. Undertaken by Guiseppe Tortura, the frame for the head was constructed from—amongst other things—airplane steel.1

If the scale of the endeavor alone does not attest to a seduction towards excesses, Falkor’s skin goes even further. In order to achieve the fantastical reptilian/mammalian hybrid, the stage designers crafted over 10,000 hand-sized scales and acquired 200 pounds of pink angora wool to be applied over the entire 50-foot mass. Unlike other film sets where everything is built incomplete with the knowledge of a pre-choreographed mise-en-scène, Falkor was completely formed and ornamented without the least bit of frugality.

Like all living things, the mechanisms to activate Falkor’s important, albeit limited, movements were housed inside the hollow cavity of its body. Instead of a sequence of synapses igniting the twitch of muscle fibers, there were 36 control panels prescribed to 16 life-mimicking movements. Also inside this massive timber structure were several television monitors for the puppeteers controlling Falkor from within, to use when orchestrating a perfect wink, roll of the eye, or spread of a grin.2 Only with perfect collaboration did this decadent mixture of airplane steel, angora, and pearlescent scales spring into an existence outside of the purely imaginary.

The other model was much smaller. In spite of measuring only 16 inches in length it did not exhibit any visible differences to that of its original. In order to achieve an immaculate copy, the designer, Ute Trinks, exchanged those hand-sized scales for 2000 pinhead-sized scales. In place of the angora wool, the miniature Falkor was covered in a less lavish rabbit fur.3 In short, everything from the resources, down to the nearly invisible strings (which mimicked the 24 memorable motions) was perfectly duplicated in miniature.

Like Perseus entering Medusa’s lair—ornamented with hundreds of confrontations turned statuesque—he navigates and takes shelter behind all those stone singulars. Without their knowing, all those who came before become component-like and build up the properties of the subject’s possible (non)perception of the object’s accumulated history (Medusa being the object). Access is never accessed itself when inhabiting movement because the contact acts only to force out a new distance for both the user and, most importantly, all future users. Where intentionality may arise in one user, millions of other users may take the repaired pathway of access as the original route or, more accurately, may take the path without any passing thought of something appearing as original or route.

Despite the immediate success of The NeverEnding Story film adaptation, it took six years before a sequel was made, and for six years the two props laid together in storage. However, in 1990 when the sequel was given the green light, the desired image for the film had changed. Recognizing the sequel had vague connections with the original novel, the new art director, O. Jochen Schmidt, saw a way to take creative liberties with the land of Fantasia and all its inhabitants.4 The labor from the original group of technicians, designers, and puppeteers would remain scattered, waiting to be picked up by the promise of yet another sequel or purchased by a collector or museum.

Eventually two decades later that promise was answered. Over that span of time the popularity of The NeverEnding Story grew along with the generation who first watched Falkor in the 1984 film. Two museums in Germany, one in Babalberg and another in Munich, simultaneously sought to create a display featuring the Falkor props, namely the ones from the 1984 original and the 1990 sequel.5 The plan was to invite the public to perform their fantasies by sitting on one of these large props in front of a green screen, while being blasted by a tunnel of artificial wind. A camera would then record and play back the video of the participant soaring through the clouds, with all the windblown flourishes one would experience at such heights and traveling at such speeds.

However, when the time came for the 1984 prop to be delivered, it was nowhere to be found. The studio held no record of loaning, selling, or disposing of the original Falkor and with the prop having been in storage for over a decade, any clues were minimal. Due to its absence and subsequent worries over the condition of the original prop, the Bavaria Filmstadt proceeded to build another full-scale Falkor to be used for their interactive attraction.

Today, no one really knows what ever became of the original. As for what can be hypothesized about the physical artifact of the 1984 Falkor, three plausible outcomes come to mind.

Sometimes dead is better. What comes back from the Pet Sematery is simply that of being forced back to life. NIGHT. While the distortions of Hari’s dress our Kris’s, the distortions of Louis’s dead son are not. Imitation and mediation replaced by putrefaction and anonymity. The result is threatening, unable to open up to any type of workable distance (lichtung).

A disaster. A natural disaster. Not unlike the romantic inclination to view the sublime power of nature, be it hurricanes, tidal waves, or earthquakes, the romantic is only afforded the ability to articulate such power when under the conditions of relative safety. Louis is not given, but instead given to the (in)experience of unknowing the properties of what used to be a/his son. A black redaction struck atop any manageable sense of a formative, forming in and/or for the eye.

The first and most outlandish of these is theft. The production of such a heist would require either owning or renting a large semi trailer, and even then, the stage prop in question would have had to be broken into more manageable sections. Although there isn’t any readable evidence, the prop may have been constructed modularly, thus reducing the problem of transportability. Even then, the theft of something so large in a single night would hardly have gone unnoticed. More likely, the one stealing Falkor would be an employee who took considerable pains to orchestrate an elaborate and rather lengthy dissembling. Imagine every night a piece of paw here or chunk of angora covered ear there going out under the radar to some nearby garage, apartment, or storage unit. Falkor, night after night, would slowly dematerialize from its dormancy, only to be reborn, albeit cramped, in some lifelong fan’s very own apartment. Only time will reveal the validity of this seemingly far-fetched hypothesis. Decades from now, a news story might headline that our Luck Dragon had been found literally built into some apartment and how it had to be taken apart, piece by piece, in order to get it out of the apartment’s doorways.

The second hypothesis is a type of decay. Falkor was picked clean for all its usable materials over the span of two decades, to the extent that any leftovers were unidentifiable. Film studios are known to recycle materials and props from one production to the next and this could have certainly been the case for Falkor. With such sensual materials, it is hard not to expect other designers to pluck a scale or two for their next mermaid, or to peel off a considerable amount of pink angora to be reused as material for an added flourishing on a dress for an extravagant period film. After the first and most distinguishable layer was plundered, the next would go even faster. All that timber and airplane steel would be unscrewed and turned into anything from an incomplete house façade to a heroic shield or breastplate. Over the years, Falkor would not so much disappear as disseminate into finer and less perceptible antecedents seen in dozens of other films. In short, Falkor succumbed to a type of entropy, not altogether gone but spread too thin to possess any singular presence.

The last and most reliable hypothesis is one of pure negligence. Falkor was in fact thrown away. The disposal was nothing more than a result of daily routine; as the monotonous cycle of props entering and leaving any given warehouse carried on, it was done with a casual forgetfulness in documenting. The reason why no one knows what happened to Falkor is precisely because no one cared enough to jot it down or commit it to memory. The result is a thoughtless act ordered by some employee to hack the 50-foot puppet into pieces, later to be picked up and absorbed into the anonymity of a surrounding landfill. Years later and with a new roster of employees, the Bavaria Filmstadt would contact the vault concerning an acquisition of a very particular piece of stagecraft, only to discover its seemingly unknown disappearance. 

When the forms of things are dissolved in the night, the darkness of the night, which is neither an object nor the quality of an object, invades like a presence. In the night, where we are riven to it, we are not dealing with anything. But this nothing is not that of a pure nothingness. There is no longer this or that; there is not “something”. But this universal absence is in its turn a present, an absolutely unavoidable presence. It is not the dialectical counterpart of absence, and we do not grasp it through a thought. It is immediately there. There is no discourse. Nothing responds to us, but this silence; the voice of this silence is understood and frightens like the silence of those infinite spaces Pascal speaks of.6

No matter how much one can project and study the scant evidence surrounding the disappearance of this young icon, the mystery will most likely never be known. No matter if it is someday discovered in a shed in New York City or a storage locker in Taipei, the primary function of the 1984 prop has already succeeded. The image was brought out of the purely imaginary and, no matter how briefly it resurfaces, it is set free to inhabit and endlessly reproduce in the collective imagination. Like so much iconography, the image of Falkor only finds temporary punctuations.

Falkor’s presence today is ubiquitous, lived out not so much in a timeless form but through timely points of generative succession. With media being extended to encompass an increasing amount of user-created content on the internet, one doesn’t have to look far to find traces, or better yet, glints of those iconic features, being perpetuated in an ever-increasing amount of interpretations.

In conclusion, what I have been proposing is an autonomy of an image, in this case the contemporary icon of Falkor. A pseudo-autonomy fashioned less from any inherent qualities of self-replication, but rather from our inability to aggregate the multiplicity of entry and exiting points when qualifying temporal positions of any image. Like the knotted snakes of the Auryn,7 fixed into two perfect infinity symbols, we as a collective are interlaced—in contact, carrying an intimacy that can open our perceptions of distance. It is important to stress the phenomena of sharing in the context of perdurance and recognition. What I mean by sharing in the case of Falkor is the increasing points of entry allowed by the numerous punctuating moments in the life of the The NeverEnding Story. As with many film adaptations, there are those for whom the book contains a singular and total image that any film adaptation disrupts. Likewise, there is a whole generation who gained access to the story via the original film and carry a strong devotion and defense against destroying that image through subsequent sequels. Finally we have those that, through nostalgic attributions of the story, insert fragments of remembrances into completely unrelated narratives. Each and every one of these access points hold boundaries from which people build their experiences of experience. No matter how hard the mechanisms of nostalgia and the power relations of media are critiqued, there will continue to exist a heterogeneous repetition that results in the perpetuation of an irreducible particularity of one’s perception.          

The CGI siege of Helms Deep, procedurally generated dispersion. Triangulated faces flailing in a convincingly autonomous response to the unimaginable terror of man and elf pitted against an army of orcs. Algorithmically modulated, texture-mapped warriors charge and bounce off each other in ways unpredictable to their programmers. Cave troll and elf touch and go without shedding each other’s blood. Pockets of poorly executed code conjure up their own horrors of war: teleported desertion, spontaneous amputations, and frame-clipping dead erased into the pixel-thin topography. Others doomed to endlessly replay the same running sequence against a static rampart or—failing to enact climbing-action-script—stand eerily still in front of a long sieging ladder. Automation patterning into its own form of interdependence.

Resurfacing images, such as Falkor, continuously manifest, altered by generative manipulations such as sitcom references, personal tattoos, or internet memes. The receiver of these manipulations accesses an agency to rediscover or reject particularities found in the world they have encountered. In the case of cultural forms, i.e., icons found in television, music, and art, this can be activated by repetition or ruination, which requires a belief in an authentic origin—or as a generative potential, which builds off an accepted false origin out of necessity or desire. Repetition in this context can be seen as a condition of denying an absolutely obsolescent singularity in individual experience, an experience not of sharing, but of grounding oneself in a false belief derived from a reliable origin. This essay proposes an acceptance of repetition and a revision of what collective nostalgic experience can reveal about the meaning of origin. The nostalgic disposition discussed in this essay is less a mourning of the past or consumption of things for pastness’s sake, but an unpredictable and seemingly haphazard dispersal of experiences activated by the confrontation of bordering objects, environments, or subjectivities; inciting an imponderable rush of one’s individual experience played out within a collective. 

Author’s Note

The above text is filled with many facts pertaining to the construction and development of the now famous film prop known as Falkor, and are cited accordingly. However, the remainder of the text, which began for me as an exhibition in 2010, has been based on internet myth and rumor. Just like the image of Falkor, the origin and stable location of these rumors and myths cannot be located, seeing as some of the earliest sites I have drawn from are no longer online and only partially catalogued by sites such as The method, if possible from such reckless contingency, is a pseudo-genealogy of actors who themselves are seeking genealogies. Through assimilating pieces of archival fact alongside uncertain information, my practice gathers people who pick up and use pieces of information themselves, resulting in an extension of an already extended researcher. The approach is one of spending time, wasting time, and producing time with disparate research and researchers.

  1. Creatures – The Neverending Story. (n.d.).

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. IMDB, The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter, (accessed September 2023).

  5. Wikipedia, List of NeverEnding Story Characters, September 21, 2023, (accessed September 2023).

  6. Lévinas, E. (1978). Existence and existents. In Springer eBooks.

  7. The “Auryn” is the magical medallion on the cover of the book The Neverending Story and grants the wearer wishes. On the backside of the Auryn an inscription reads, “Do what you wish.”

Darren Tesar

Darren Tesar’s activity—visual, curatorial and textual—can be understood as simply as a prolonged proximity maintained between entities, materials and/or processes. Prolonged proximities that produce a kind of pidgin—a grammatically simplified means of communication that develops between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. The result is a production and maintenance of signs that are doubly non-native, meaning the author and object/subject are both made into partial …   read more