FREE MINI LESSON! A History of the Art of Monster Suit Performance

A lesson on the History and Importance of Monster Suit performance by Academy Award winning Character Creator, Tom Woodruff, Jr.

Jan 25, 2013

(Mini-Lesson excerpted from Tom Woodruff, Jr.'s full lesson, Monster Suit Performance. To view the FULL LESSON, click HERE.)


There's more to the art of performing a non-human creature character than putting on a rubber suit and making growling noises. With all the work that goes into the design of a creature, giving it life ultimately comes down to a perfomer: whether that performer controls the creature with rods, remote controls or with his own body in the creature suit. Tom Woodruff, Jr.'s been the man in the suit for some of the most iconic film creatures of all time, from MONSTER SQUAD'S, "Gill-Man" to the title character in PUMPKINHEAD to the Alien in AVP. 

Here in this free mini-lesson, Tom discusses some of the earliest creature-performers and reminds both fans and budding monster makers that the key to any creature performance still rests with the human who controls it.

Pictured above: Tom's lecture gives context to the clunky suits of early creature performance. This stuff was HARD to pull off!


Tom's pioneering creature performance work was inspired by suit performers from the first half-century of cinema. According to Tom, the suit from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and its sequels in the mid-1950's, represented some of the most successful rubber suit designs ever.  Tom points out that the design "was complemented heavily by the performances of two different actors: Ben Chapman on land, and Ricou Browning for the incredible underwater work."

Pictured Above: The Creature from the Black Lagoon stalks his prey above water and again in one of its ambitious underwater sequences.

Tom also pays homage to gorilla suit performer, Ray "Crash" Corrigan. Tom knows a good monkey when he sees one since he's spent plenty of time in gorilla suits (Tom plays Bernie the talking ape in the Kevin James film ZOOKEEPER.)

Pictured above: Ray “Crash” Corrigan as the giant gorilla (or more accurately, a "giant sloth") in the film, UNKNOWN ISLAND (1948). 


As Tom explains in this lesson, "The key feature that bridges all of this performance work is that it happens, for the most part, in real-time involving other actors, in front of the camera and under the director’s control."

Pictured above: Tom demonstrates how he masters mannerisms of a Gorilla: one of his specialties.


In Tom's own words, "Audiences today are inundated with a level of imagery on movie screens and television far beyond what was considered cutting edge even five years ago. If that imagery is going to carry any weight in helping tell a story, it’s the responsibility of the puppeteer and the performer who may be involved to be as technically efficient and as prepared as any actor who presents a character on screen."

Pictured above: Alec Gillis watches over his partner, Tom Woodruff Jr., who's suited up and ready to strike fear into the occupants of this spaceship.

"Let’s not forget," says Tom, "The audience isn’t just watching pictures, it’s experiencing a story. And let’s not forget that we’re not just men in suits; we’re actors."

-David Sanger

To VIEW the entire lesson, click HERE: Monster Suit Performance.