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How to build a giant: The making of WWE's Andre the Giant statue

Find out how a team of New York City sculptors brought Andre the Giant to life.

In the beginning, Andre the Giant was just pieces of plaster.

Three months out from the unveiling of WWE’s larger-than-life tribute to “The Eighth Wonder of the World” at WrestleMania Axxess, the giant’s sculpture was still in parts in the studio of New York City’s ATTA Inc. There were boots as big as two toddlers, a mighty hand on a paint-splattered table that looked capable of gripping the Statue of Liberty’s torch and a replica of the famous Frenchman’s head that, when placed next to a likeness of New York Giant Eli Manning, made the dome of the 6-foot-4 quarterback look like that of a child.

Watch the statue being sculpted | Exclusive photos of the statue's creation

This was February, not long after Triple H had gotten inspired while touring East Rutherford, N.J.’s MetLife Stadium in preparation for WrestleMania. While walking through the facility’s Legacy Club — a quasi hall of fame celebrating some of the most integral figures in Giants history — WWE’s COO was struck by a row of bronze busts depicting Big Blue greats like Phil Simms and Frank Gifford. The renderings were striking, the craftsmanship flawless. The statues made these men seem eternal, important, historic — more than just athletes, they appeared as icons.

It seems obvious now, but WWE had never honored its Hall of Famers in this way and Triple H immediately set about changing that. They would commission a statue — big and bronze and beautiful — and put it where everyone in the WWE Universe could see it, interact with it and have their picture taken with it. And the sculpture would be of the biggest Superstar — both figuratively and literally — in WWE history, Andre the Giant.

Watch Triple H unveil the statue

How do you find someone to make a towering figure of a professional wrestler? The answer was simple — ATTA Inc., the same Manhattan-based group that created the busts for the New York Giants. Artist Karen Atta had been running her studio for nearly 30 years, creating a diverse array of hand-crafted designs like a giant-sized Captain America figure for Universal Studios in California and a striking bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King for Detroit’s Solanus Casey Center. She created athletes and politicians from scratch. A request to bring “The Eighth Wonder of the World” to life did not faze her.

“We’ve gotten some very odd requests over the years, but Andre’s unusual because he’s a life-size person who is larger than life,” Atta told WWE.com.

The giant's mythic size was documented to the point of exhaustion during his near 30-year career in sports-entertainment, making the logistics of the Andre sculpture surprisingly manageable. There were photocopies of his massive hands — complete with those mythic fingers that, friends will tell you, required rings you could pass an egg through — wrestling boots long preserved and meticulous records of Andre’s uncommon size from his 71-inch chest down to his 26-inch calves.

His 7-foot-4 height? Most WWE fans know it better than their own social security number.

Andre passed away in 1993, but Atta and her staff had all things necessary to bring “The Eighth Wonder of the World” back to life. They made a cast of his actual boots; they made a mold of his hand imprint; they used photographs to capture his prominent brow, the thick curls of his hair and his oversized smile. Sculptures are often built to be oversized, exaggerated as to express the enormity of the person’s presence. With the giant, this was unnecessary. But how do you create a lifelike version of a man who was not lifelike?

“His proportions are grandiose, but they’re not absurd for a human being,” Atta said. “He’s kind of perfectly proportioned.” 

The giant’s size changed often throughout his career — the blessing and the curse of Andre was that he never stopped growing — but the Superstar captured here was the same one who stepped over the top rope in front of more than 93,000 WWE fans in the Pontiac Silverdome to collide with Hulk Hogan in the epic main event of WrestleMania III. “The Eighth Wonder of the World” was a villain then — a wicked one who wanted nothing more than to crush Hulkamania — but he is not remembered this way. 

In the decades since his passing, Andre is now considered — as he was then — the single greatest attraction in sports-entertainment. Across the globe, thousands of people lined up just to witness him. Taller Superstars have come along, heavier ones too, but none have matched the extraordinary presence of Andre. He was a giant in more than name only and his recreation had to capture that.

All told, it required nearly 500 man hours to craft the statue in a process that began with a life-size sculpt of the WWE Hall of Famer and ended with a perfectly realized bronze figure that will be unveiled at this year’s WrestleMania Axxess. But this won’t be a hands-off museum exhibit. WWE fans will be welcome to interact with the giant, compare the size of their hand to Andre’s storied paw and have their photo taken with “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Watch the statue being sculpted | Exclusive photos of the statue's creation

“Although he’s very big, he will be very warm and inviting,” Atta said.

So did ATTA Inc. do the giant justice? That question was answered in March when former WWE referee Tim White, Andre’s longtime friend and traveling buddy, visited their studios to see a near complete rendering.

“That’s him,” a stunned White said when he first set eyes on the creation.

Indeed, 20 years since he passed away, nearly 30 years since he battled Big John Studd at the inaugural WrestleMania and 50 years since he left behind his humble French farming village to become the greatest attraction in sports-entertainment history, Andre the Giant had returned.

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