Giant Monster Puppets

Giant monsters have always had a special place in my heart.

Photo from the collection of Jim Fye

Ghostbusters 2 had The Statue of Liberty who broke loose from Staten Island and was piloted by the Ghostbusters through the streets of New York. Thanks to the fantastic behind the scenes photos shared by friends, I am able to show you a bit of the process.  Jim Fye, the actor, was brought in for a full body cast and head cast.

Photo from collection of Jim Fye
From left: Bill Forsche, Jim Fye, Chris Goehe and Wim Van Thillo

The body of Lady Liberty was sculpted by Ralph Miller and cast in silicone.   Here Bill Forsche is sculpting the head using photos of the statue as reference.

Photo from collection of Jim Fye
Bill Forsche sculpting Liberty’s head

At Industrial Light & Magic the creatures and models were built in house and then the scenes were filmed there against a blue screen. The schedule was usually pretty intense.  Liberty was the last of the creatures we shot with the actor, Jim Fye. Though the costume was heavy with limited visibility, I never heard a complaint.

Photo from collection of Marc Tyler

Ghostbusters 2 had the Statue of Liberty, but the original Ghostbusters had one of the greatest giant monsters of all time, The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.   Crewmembers  Marc Tyler and Diana Hamann have fantastic photos of the process and have been generous enough to allow me to share them with you.The creatures for the original Ghostbusters were  created  at Richard Edlund’s shop, Boss Films, in Los Angeles. It was like a mini Industrial Light & Magic with miniatures, opticals, animation and creature effects.  The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was built in one part of the shop.  In a different building a crew headed by Steve Johnson did most of the rest of the creatures, including Slimer, the library ghost.  The Terror Dogs were designed by Randell William Cook who also animated the stop motion puppets. The sculptors included Steve Johnson, Linda Frobos, Mark Siegel, and Mike Hosch  Some puppets were shot underwater for an ethereal effect.

Photo from collection of Diane Hamann
Back row from left: William Bryan, Eric Fiedler, Terri Hardin Jackson
Mid row: Diana Hamann, Etsuko Egawa Front: Marc Tyler

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was built by a crew headed up by William Bryan, who came up with the approach for the suits. William Bryan was also the performer inside the suit.  According to Marc Tyler, the suits were “unpainted fine-celled white scotfoam over L-200 body-pods. About a dozen suits were made, using storyboards to plan the white foam coverings, making sure all seams were on the off-camera side for a given shot. It was quite a sight to see four or five people holding a sheet of scotfoam taut as Bill Bryan sprayed glue on the L200 pods and smoothed the foam into place” In one scene the character catches fire, and several “pyro” suits were made with flame resistant foam.For some of the scenes where Stay Puft is walking down Central Park West, puppeteers were pushed on a dolly under the elevated miniature set while Bill Bryan in the costume crushed cars above. Much of the Stay-Puft footage was shot against a blue screen.

Photo by Marc Tyler
William Bryan in suit with Diana Haman

Diana Hamann came on as a production assistant, and an extra hand to work with the Stay-Puft crew.  She went on to puppeteer the Stay-Puft mouth and finally to being a coordinator for the Stay-Puft suits/shoot.  Diana shared some recollections about the shoot “In those days (as you know) almost all controls were hard wired with cables.  Remote control devices were just beginning to be used and Stay-Puft could be shot successfully (& more reliably) without them.”

Photo by Marc Tyler

It is fascinating to watch creature puppeteers on a set.  I’m not sure how much of it is conscious, but the puppeteer’s faces nearly always mirror  the expressions they are trying to create with the puppets.  According to Diana, “When I puppeteer, I mimic the action I’m trying to achieve.  If I don’t, I lose my mojo.  So in all the pictures of me puppeteering the Stay-Puft mouth, my mouth is open! Of course, puppeteering in this case was not exactly a nuanced thing.  The controls were very simple:  closed, open, half-way open, up on one side, big “O” for screaming.  Clunk, clunk and you were done.  No joystick of happy subtlety! ”

From the collection of Diana Hamann
From left: Bart Daniels, Marc Tyler and Diana Hamann

Here is the puppeteer crew for Onionhead (Slimer) using similar controls.

Photo by Marc Tyler

Ghostbusters will be re-released on  Labor Day weekend to celebrate the 30th anniversary.

Fans and fellow crew are also eagerly awaiting the documentary, Cleaning Up The Town, Remembering Ghostbusters, to be released later this year.

In the next blog, I am going to show you behind the scenes of puppets on Disney’s Captain EO.

Poster from Captain EO

Until next time.  I will leave you with a quote from Harold Ramis.“My characters aren’t losers, they’re rebels.  They refuse to win by playing by someone else’s rules”- Harold Ramis

Cartoon by Steve Nease


One thought on “Giant Monster Puppets
  • Comment by Ray Jonez

    How FUN!!! What a great career! So many people have seen the finished images, it’s wonderful to see these pictures!

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