A voice on the other end said,
“Can you make B*tch Tits?”
I was not unused to getting phone calls with strange requests, but even so, this was a bit out of the ordinary. However I gave the reply that came to mind,
“When do you need them?”
Let me back up a bit. My name is Camilla Henneman. These days I am a school teacher from Santa Cruz, California. But for 20 years I worked in the field of special effects making puppets, creatures, and costumes for film and television.
I sometimes wonder what people think when I tell them I made puppets for film. I suspect that the creatures I worked on were not what most people envision when they think of puppets. I decided to try an experiment. I did an informal survey on Facebook asking people to name the first 3 films that came to their mind when they thought of films that had puppets. I got about 70 responses. The top five answers I got were: Lili, The Sound of Music, Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, Gremlins, and The Muppet Movie.
The survey started a debate about where do you draw the line between puppets and suit performers. Is Big Bird a puppet or a suit? Also it opened a discussion about puppets you are meant to recognize as puppets and those that you are not meant to notice or identify as puppets. I was curious if anyone would mention Jaws, a film with a creature that everyone knows is a puppet, but is meant to make the audience believe it is real. Jaws did get one mention. Many films I worked on had puppets that, like the shark in Jaws, were supposed to make you to believe were real. This is part of the illusion of making movies. I worked on Gorillas in the Mist, and we were told by the director that he wanted the audience to think that all the gorillas were real animals. Therefore, none of us would be credited for our work building the puppets. It got a little tricky though when they had to explain how they filmed the gorilla death scenes. About half the footage you see of gorillas in the final film is actually puppets or people in costumes. If a movie has real animals in it that have to perform an action that they cannot be manipulated into doing with food or other reward, then it is likely done with a puppet.
I’ll give you an example:
If the script calls for a cow to go to a particular spot. The animal handler puts food where he wants the cow to go and the cow hits her mark.
If the script calls for a bull to go to a particular spot.
The handler puts a cow where he wants the bull to go, and the bull hits his mark. (I learned this while doing a commercial for Meryl Lynch)
If the script (as in the film Michael) calls for the bull to head-butt an actor, then weave drunkenly and sit down with its legs splayed, they can’t use a real bull. It would at the very least injure the actor, and surely annoy the bull. So, to pull it off, the production needed a puppet. Or in this case, two puppets. One puppet was a light weight foam head mounted on a stick for the moment that the bull’s head hit the actor’s head. Then they needed a second full-body puppet of a life sized bull that could sit down, which was mounted above a hole containing the puppeteer. I was part of the crew that built the bull puppets, headed up by Christine Papalexis. We worked from photos of the real animal that had to be matched.. The puppeteers were Christine Papalexis and Tom Woodruff on location. We knew that if the effect was successful, the viewers would not realize they were looking at a puppet. Click on this link and you will see what the final scene looks like.
In future posts I will be sharing some of the film adventures and projects I was involved with. I will introduce friends and ask them to tell some of their stories and find out what they are up to now. Maybe, I will knock on some new doors too.
This summer is the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters, and the 25th anniversary of Ghostbusters 2. I worked on the puppet Slimer. In the next entry I will introduce you to some of the other artists who created and performed the puppets for Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 and the brother/sister team, Anthony Bueno and Claire Francesca who are making a documentary on the Ghostbusters films, “Cleaning Up The Town.” For now, I will leave you with the trailer for Cleaning Up The Town, Remembering Ghostbusters. Below is the trailer. Look for me at 1:06.
Oh yes, back to what I started to tell you. It turned out that I did make “Bob’s b*tch tits” for the film Fight Club. I’ll tell you more about that in the future.
See you soon.