From a childhood obsession with animal bones, Esben Horn has carved out a career creating detailed, large-scale models of bugs and beasts. Now his firm is sought-after around the globe.
There’s a big market for models of sea monsters and mosquitoes and in a quiet corner of Copenhagen one company is making a handsome profit from creating this eclectic plastic menagerie for museums, oceanariums and scientists.
A typical commission starts when a scientist at Stanford University cuts off the head and tentacles of a giant squid and ships them, preserved in formaldehyde, to Denmark. There, Esben Horn unwraps the parcel and starts to model the squid in clay before casting each piece in silicone moulds.
Hours, days, weeks of airbrushing follow. “I’ve managed to combine my nerdy hobby with my working life. It means getting up at 04.30 each morning, but you won’t hear me complain,” says Horn, 43, owner of the Danish model-making firm 10Tons.
Horn grew up in a small town in Jutland. While his childhood friends played football, he went on daily trips into the forests looking for the skeletons of cats, hares and mink. Once, he found a dead porpoise on the beach, and without hesitation he chopped off its head. Today, its cranium decorates 10Tons’ studio.
After high school Esben was admitted to the graphic design course at Designskolen Kolding. He completed his education at The Danish Design School in Copenhagen, later working as a cartoonist and doll maker. Among his early works was a talking camel for a Danish children’s movie. And if you spot a 15m-long dragon lurking under one of the rollercoasters in the Copenhagen amusement park Tivoli, it has Horn’s signature too.
Today, 10Tons is based in a former boatyard in Copenhagen. Assignments have included a giant mosquito for Denmark’s Aquarium, lifesize models of a basking shark and a minke whale for the Danish oceanarium, Nordsøen, and a polar bear and the tail of a sperm whale for Polaria, the Norwegian marine life museum in Tromsø. And a 12m mosasaurus was made for the Danish geological museum, Møns Klint.
10Tons also has assignments in the US, Germany and Australia, and Horn is in dialogue with scientists from all over the world who might want to show how a prehistoric animal looked, or have a large-scale representation of a malaria-carrying mosquito.
“For many years, museums all over the world have been fascinated by computer animation. But today computer animation is old news, and museums of natural history and marine life have an audience that wants to see good craftsmanship and life-size creatures. So they call a guy like me if they need a giant squid, a whale or a dinosaur,” says Horn with pride.