Penguins Take the Guggenheim! Mr. Popper’s Films Nights at the Museum

(Photos: UnBeige)

For the past couple of nights, New York’s Guggenheim Museum has been hosting the same charity gala—an elegant affair for the apparent benefit of the “International Fund for the Arts.” The formally attired guests mingle and sip champagne for hours on end, while a more casually dressed group scurries around purposefully. They’ll be back tonight for round three. It’s not a new work by Carsten Holler but the filming of pivotal scenes in Mr. Popper’s Penguins, an upscale adaptation of the 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater. Directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls), the film stars Jim Carrey as Thomas Popper, a jaded real estate dealmaker who suddenly finds himself in possession of a parcel of penguins…on Park Avenue.

We adore the dramatic stylings of the rubber-faced Carrey, but it was the prospect of penguins that beckoned us to the (closed) set this week. Faux snow blanketed the Guggenheim’s 88th Street side entrance, and in the rotunda, the pseudogala was in full swing, but there wasn’t a flightless bird in sight. “They’re adding the penguins with CGI,” said our on-set spy. “The museum didn’t want to risk it.” One unit of the production crew consists of “a bunch of guys with MacBooks.” Armed with SLRs and a lot of patience, they capture digital images of each scene from multiple angles to ensure that the addition of virtual penguins is seamless, with the shadows aligned perfectly.

Much of the filming, however, includes the real thing. The production ponied up around $25,000 each for a trained team of gentoo penguins, a crew member told us. Between scenes, they retire to a spacious frozen home at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And Carrey reportedly has “amazing chemistry” with his avian costars.

Meanwhile, the film’s Guggenheim gala scenes sound like reason enough to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins, which Twentieth Century Fox is slated to release in August 2011. A scheming Popper attends the benefit to ingratiate himself to one Selma Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury), a Brooke Astor type who owns the Manhattan property he covets. We hear that the pair pauses to contemplate Ad Reinhardt‘s “Black Painting” of 1960–66 (or at least a facsimile of it) on an upper level of the museum before penguin pandemonium ensues when the six birds use Frank Lloyd Wright‘s famed ramp as a waterslide. The chaos continues as, according to production call sheets obtained by UnBeige, “Popper is chased by penguins as he leaves the Guggenheim and crosses Fifth Avenue.”