In 1986, Michael Jackson collaborated with Disney Studios to create a 3D film, exhibit, for the Disneyland theme parks. Pop King, Michael Jackson was always an aficionado of Walt Disney. He was known to visit the park, often in disguise. He built a miniature theme park on his property; Neverland, inspired by Disneyland.
The film was to be called Captain EO and would be an installation in Disneyland, Epcot and some of the overseas Disney theme parks. The film tells the story of Captain EO, played by Michael Jackson, and his alien crew of goofy misfits who are on a mission to deliver a gift to an evil witch queen played by Angelica Huston on a polluted planet of twisted metal and wreckage.
In the story, Captain EO and his crew are sent to the ”Dark Planet” to bring the gift of beauty and music to the witchqueen who rules the planet. Francis Ford Coppola was brought on board to direct it and George Lucas produced it. Jeffrey Hornaday (Flashdance) choreographed the dancing along with Michael Jackson.
I was working with Rick Baker running his costume shop at the time. Rick had created the zombies for Michael Jackson on Thriller and Michael wanted Rick to create the puppets and creatures for Captain EO. This was to be my second time working with Michael Jackson. (I had worked on Thriller and also played a zombie in the video)
Rick Baker was only interested in creating the puppet that sits on Michael’s shoulder, Fuzzball. (originally named Flutter) The remainder of the characters were built at Lance Anderson’s shop. I went back and forth between the two shops working on characters.
I was in charge of fabrication for the creature called the Geex. The Geex was a birdlike creature that had two heads with separate personalities, Idy and Odie. It also had 3 legs. When the Geex’s entire body had to be seen Idy and Odie were played by suit performers, Debbie Carrington, and Cindy Sorenson whose legs were tied together like in a 3 legged race. Much of the action was performed with a half body puppet puppeteered by Terri Hardin.
Hooter, an elephant like creature, was fabricated by Marc Tyler. Hooter was a person in a full body costume, played by Tony Cox. Marc had the experience of hearing something from the actor in the suit, that no builder ever wants to hear. The actor was fully suited up with the head on and Tony said “I think I dropped my gum”. There was some clean up involved. Ah, the glamor of being a suit builder.
The creature that sits on Michael Jackson’s shoulder is called Fuzzball. He was created at Rick Baker’s shop. The brilliant puppeteer, Bruce Schwartz performed Fuzzball. Watching Bruce’s performance was like watching an intricate ballet dancer. Bruce Schwartz was suggested to Rick Baker for the role, by Jim Henson. The only time that Fuzzball was not a puppet was for a brief scene where a spider monkey (painted red) was used to scamper up Michael Jackson’s arm to his shoulder.
Major Domo was a peg legged robot, performed by Gary DePew as the suit performer, and puppeteered by Steve Sleap as an upper body puppet. Minor Domo is a little robot that looked like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a miniature tank, which attached to Major Domo’s back. Major and Minor Domo were constructed by Ken Myers, Al Coulter, Frank Carisosa and other crew at Lance Anderson’s shop. Other puppeteers for various characters included: Tim Lawrence, Tom Hester, Al Coulter and Lisa Sturz. After the suits and puppets were built, rehearsals began.
Francis Coppola decided to have his performers do an improvised scene similar to what you would do in a high school acting class. At one point the puppeteers and actors improvised a summer camp scene where the mischievous campers were played by the puppeteers. Michael played a camp counselor who was trying to keep from being fired by the stern camp director played by Angelica Huston. This was very entertaining to watch. Some of this is in the Making of Captain EO video. You can see some of the improvisation footage at 6:10 :
During the filming, the set was constantly visited by celebrity friends of Michael Jackson, Francis Coppola and George Lucas. Kathleen Turner was there often. Joni Mitchell visited. The entire Jackson family came by one day. During filming, I remember standing next to Elizabeth Taylor (there to visit Michael) and trying to sneak glances at her eyes to see if they really were violet. (I’m still not sure)
The script went through a lot of changes. As it was fleshed out, many effects were added. The final cost of Captain EO was about twenty three million dollars, which at the time made it the most expensive film per minute ever made. Captain EO ran for 10 years at Disneyland and closed down in 1996. After Michael’s death in 2009 plans were made to reopen Captain EO as a tribute to Michael Jackson.
This is a video of the full movie, Captain EO.