"Posts For Animatronics"

AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - "Teddy" Animatronic Puppet Rehearsal

AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - "Teddy" Animatronic Puppet Rehearsal


Stan Winston had more experience building robots than any other creature effects artist in the world — but the robots of AI would be unlike anything Winston, or anybody else, had ever created.

Although Winston and his crew were not afforded the chance to build the world’s first fully functioning animatronic boy for the film, AI did require them to create robots — dozens of them, in fact. These robots, called ‘mechas’ in the story, ranged from the utilitarian type — such as gardeners, security guards, and other blue-collar workers — to Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a true ‘love machine’, and Teddy, a robotic teddy bear who serves as David’s sidekick. 

Surprisingly, of all the robots designed for AI, the most difficult to conceptualize was Teddy, the ‘supertoy’ that would be a featured player in the film. “Designing Teddy was a huge job,” said Winston, who hired his largest crew ever to complete the robot construction project. At the height of production, Stan Winston Studio boasted 140 artists and technicians. Building Teddy, a more sophisticated and complex animatronic than any of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, required that increased manpower, plus the ingenuity and talent of many artists and technicians. “We’d given our Velociraptor thirty-four points of motion,” explained Winston, “and our T-rex, forty points of motion. But Teddy had fifty points of motion, all in a little character that was less than three feet tall. He had to act, he had to talk, and he had to deliver a varied and convincing performance. We had to create the ultimate robotic teddy bear — and that was the biggest, most difficult job we’d ever taken on.”

by Jody Duncan



The History Of Animatronics

The History Of Animatronics


Although true animatronic characters didn't really exist till the late 20th century, the real history of the technique begins with 17th century clock makers. Advanced mechanical clocks dating back to pre-Industrial Revolution France featured miniature animated characters that would emerge from a time-keeping device when it struck the hour. Like modern animatronics, the movements of these automatons were programmed using mechanical gears to coincide with specific hours. Later, sounds were introduced to attract attention, and clock makers used the characters to tell a story. 

The modern era of animatronics began in 1961, when Walt Disney started developing animatronics for entertainment and film. Disney and his "imagineers" created a 9-inch tall Dancing Man figurine. Though primitive by today's standards, the little man captured people's attention and got the animatronic ball rolling. Advances in robotics, programming, rapid-prototyping, surfacing materials and techniques make today's animatronic characters more lifelike than ever before. Movement and control of the animatronic figures can mimic natural life to an uncanny extent, tricking the eye. Thanks to animatronics, modern filmmakers can create creatures and characters that have physical presence and a palpable reality. And though advances in the digital arts allow today's filmmakers to depict astouding and impossible beings visually, there is still no comparison to having an animatronic. These characters exist in an unquestionable, substantial way. They can occupy the same space as the actors in a film and impact their environment more than any collection of pixels, however realistically rendered. They seem 'real' because they ARE real.


Pictured above: Review of animatronics world by Custom Entertainment Solutions (CES) Inc.

Though the adaptabilty and variations possible with digital animation has somewhat curtailed the use of animatronics in recent years, certain studios and filmmakers are starting to champion the technique once again. Thanks to institutions such as The Stan Winston School of Character Arts, the once arcane processes that had to be invented by genius mechanics are now widely available to anyone with an internet connection. Through lessons and behind-the-scenes case studies, the next generation of filmmakers can gain insight and learn character creation, including design, life-castingsculptingmold making and painting. Students not just in Hollywood but worldwide can learn and appreciate the art and technology of animatronics/mechanics and electronics. And these tutorials don't stop at making machines. Every aspect of physical character creation is covered: model makingspecial effects makeup, fabrication, lab working, hair working, and filmmaking as well. 

The artist/instructors at the SWSCA are the Renaissance artists of today. They are dedicated to teaching, promoting and fostering innovation in the arts and sciences of character creation. Through their work and lessons, they keep the legacy of practical effects alive so that it may continue to enhance the entertainment experience for us all. 

- Balázs Földesi

For more animatronics behind-the-scenes:

Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park 1-3 Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio.

Giant Robot befriends Little Girl at Comic-Con 2013

How to Make a Giant Creature - The Webseries

Pygmy Mammoth, "Chippy" Walks Again over 10,000 Years After Extinction - Thanks to Animatronics

A Zombie Dog, FX Filmmaking and Imagination - Making the Macabre World of Lavender Williams


Chestburster Behind-the-Scenes and Building Full-Size Alien Queen Puppet


Terminator 2 - An Interview with Stan Winston and Terminator 2 - The new T-800s,

Terminator 3 - The First Terminators and Terminator Salvation - T-600 Puppet Test


SMALL SOLDIERS - Creating the Ultimate Toys and Rehearsing a Puppet Battle


CONSTANTINE - Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE - "Lestat bites Rat" Test


INSTINCT - Gorilla Suit Test with Verne Troyer (aka Mini-Me)

SPIDER MAN - Green Goblin Makeup Test by Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.

Creating CONSTANTINE's Demons from Hell - Go Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio

Creating CONSTANTINE's Demons from Hell - Go Behind the Scenes at Stan Winston Studio


Stan Winston Studio created a variety of demonic (and heavenly) characters for CONSTANTINE (2005), directed by Francis Lawrence and adapted from the 1985 DC and Vertigo horror comic, HELLBLAZER, including demons, victims possessed by demons, and a winged angel.


The main character, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) interacts with many different types of Hell’s inhabitants. To achieve the desired visual style, these demons had to seem to exist for real. The inspiration for the design of many of these characters, including the scavenger and seplavite demons, came from the art world and real-life autopsy photographs instead of relying on typical medieval-era depictions of demons.

Stan Winston Studio concept artist Aaron Sims designed both the scavenger and the seplavite demons in the computer. The designs were then realized in the real world as computer-milled sculptures.

Pictured above: Left - in-progress seplavite. Right - Finished silicone seplavite by Jason Matthews, Rob Ramsdell and Trevor Hensley. This physical creature provided real-world lighting and texture reference for the CGI modelers and animators.

Although the flying seplavite would be brought to life via CGI, the scavenger demon was a fully articulated puppet with radio-controlled face, jaw mechanisms and cable-controlled fingers, operated on set by six puppeteers.

Pictured above: Left - Scavenger sketches. Right - Aaron Sims design for scavenger.

Pictured above: John Rosengrant rehearses with an animatronic scavenger demon puppet on the set of CONSTANTINE.


Another demon appearing in the film is ‘Vermin Man.' Although this creature would eventually be animated digitally, the filmmakers wanted to shoot a physical character on set, which Stan Winston’s crew realized as a Vermin Man mask and suit. 

Pictured above: Aaron Sims designs for Vermin Man.

Surreal paintings by 16th century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo inspired the look of 'Vermin Man.' Arcimboldo's work depicted characters formed entirely out of fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books; 'Vermin Man' was made up of snakes, rats, crabs and about 20 different types of insects. Real bugs, worms and snakes were molded, cast in clay and then added to the sculpture.

Pictured above: Left - SWS key artist, Trevor Hensley's 'Vermin Man' sculpture. Right - Trevor Hensley adds final touches to 'Vermin Man' (Larry Cedar) before cameras roll.


A number of prosthetic makeups were created for the film. In the prologue, the drifter who finds an ancient relic (portrayed by Jesse Ramirez), wears a subtle transformation makeup. The possessed young girl (Jhoanna Trias) wore a gelatin prosthetic.

Pictured above: Concept art for the possessed girl.

In collaboration with CONSTANTINE's makeup department head, Ve Neill, the Stan Winston crew provided dentures, contact lenses and full-body airbrush painting. The crew also built an articulated head-and-shoulders dummy of the unconscious girl for a brief cut in which the scavenger demon within pushes through her skin. SWS mechanics gave the puppet nostril movement, an internal 'breathing' device, and mechanical eye twitching beneath her closed eyelids.

Pictured above: SWS artist Joey Orosco sculpts a prosthetic makeup for actress Barbara Pilavin. Forensic photos of a three-week-old corpse were used for reference.

Stan Winston Studio artists also collaborated with Ve Neill, Joel Harlow and a team of fifteen assisting makeup artists to create prosthetic effects for a subsequent scene in a hydrotherapy room, where nearly eighty 'half-breed' characters are destroyed by holy water pumped through a sprinkler system.

Pictured above: Dummy for the demon Amin (Tanoai Reed) who disintegrates after being hit with a shotgun blast of holy water.

Shane Mahan and Chris Swift designed the disintegration as a physical effect, sculpting Tanoai Reed’s body from a cyberscan and casting a replica in plaster. The plaster body was hollowed out, painted and filled with a skeleton, internal organs and ten gallons of black goo. The loaded dummy was raised thirteen feet above the studio floor, and then released to explode upon impact.

Pictured above: A silicone replica of actress Rachel Weisz, constructed by Dave Grasso & Nick Marra and painted by Trevor Hensley & John Cherevka. In addition to the 'possessed' scene, this figure was used for the deceased twin scenes as well.

Pictured above: Rachel Weisz wears prosthetic makeup in her possessed state, which included a forehead piece without eyebrows, demonic teeth, black contact lenses and veined, pallid body makeup.


The Stan Winston crew created a two-stage silicone prosthetic makeup for the scene in which the face of the half-breed demon, Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) dissolves upon contact with holy water.

Pictured above: Left - Shane Mahan sculpted Aaron Sim’s design onto a lifecast of Gavin Rossdale. Right - Gavin Rossdale wears the prosthetic makeup on set.

Stage one included torn skin revealing underlying areas of demon flesh; stage two was a more extensive makeup with overlapping teeth and a shriveled left eye.


Pictured above: Stan Winston Studio created Mammon as an articulated silicone puppet, based on an Aaron Sims design, sculpted and painted by Joey Orosco.

A full-scale (five-foot-ten-inch) Mammon puppet was fitted with a smile mechanism and an articulated rod-puppet armature. Tippett Studio used photographs and cyberscans of the puppet to create a digital version of the character.


Director Francis Lawrence didn't want the wings to look like typical white angel wings, but rather dark bird wings. Stan Winston Studio created feathered mechanical wings and ESC generated the wings in CGI.

Pictured above: Tilda Swinton is fitted with feathered, mechanical angel wings for her role.

“What was enjoyable about working with Francis Lawrence on CONSTANTINE was that his thinking was counter to the way most people think about these types of demonic creatures. They weren’t the usual creatures with big fangs and all of that. They were horrifying, but also pathetic. I really liked that.” – SWS Supervisor, co-owner Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant

- Balázs Földesi with selections from The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio by Jody Duncan


CHARACTER MAKEUP - Sculpture Breakdown & Moldmaking - Part One
CHARACTER MAKEUP - Sculpture Breakdown & Moldmaking - Part Two
CREATURE DESIGN - Maquette Painting Techniques
CREATURE DESIGN - How to Sculpt Character Maquettes
PAINTING SILICONE SKIN - Realistic Flesh Tones
OUT OF THE KIT - Makeup Effects



by Teresa Loera

Terminator Vault: The Complete Story Behind the Making of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is an indespensable resource for all things TERMINATOR. Ian Nathan's well-researched and reported book has extensive interviews with all the people involved in making the iconic franchise. Packed with annotated storyboards, copies of James Cameron’s notes, incredible behind-the-scenes stories and photos (many from the Stan Winston Studio archives), Terminator Vault is a must for any serious fan or collector.

Order TERMINATOR VAULT from Amazon.


Pictured above: Stan Winston airbrushes THE TERMINATOR's full-size T-800 puppet.

Back in 1985, James Cameron needed a special effects artist for his new independent film, THE TERMINATOR. Cameron first asked Rob Bottin, but Bottin had just been offered John Carpenter's THE THING and he couldn't do both films. Cameron then approached another effects legend, Dick Smith. Smith decided the project wasn't well-suited for him but he offered a suggestion, “Stan does good robots.” Stan Winston was on a robot designing streak with the Tin Man from THE WIZ and the robot makeups for HEARTBEEPS, which led to both an Academy Award nomination and designing "Mr. Roboto" for the rock band Styx. When Cameron finally asked Stan to join THE TERMINATOR, the project would lead to a professional partnership and friendship that spanned 25 years. This partnership helped both men push themselves to the limits in their careers to create some of the most iconic characters in film history.

Terminator Vault:The Complete Story Behind the Making of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a comprehensive guide to the making this most iconic film franchise. Here are a few things revealed in the book:


In pre-production for THE TERMINATOR, Cameron's top priority was to make a believable robot. Cameron had initially conceived of a "C-3PO type" suit. But in interviews he confided, “I didn’t want the robot to be a man in a suit.” He instinctively knew that any suit performer, however thin, would require an audience to imagine a man inside a suit, inside Schwarzenegger. It was pushing the limits of their suspension of disbelief. “But," Cameron knew, "no one had ever created a robot that wasn’t a suit.”

Pictured above: A roomful of full-scale endoskeletons ready for battle at Stan Winston Studio.

Cameron imagined that stop-motion animation would comprise the majority of the action scenes with the fully revealed Endoskeleton. However Winston convinced him that he and his team could achieve a huge number of shots with full-size puppetry. For the close and medium shots, Stan Winston Studio devised a wearable T-800 puppet. Puppeteer Shane Mahan wore the rig strapped to his back, while individual operators took charge of controlling the head and eyes via remote control. Cameron decided that the T-800 should have a limp after it emerged from the truck crash so the puppeteers weren't required to strictly mimic Arnold Schwarzenegger's gait.

Pictured above: Shane Mahan wears an upper-torso Terminator puppet.

A miniature T-800 was also made for the scenes that required stop motion animation. To include all the design intricacies of the full size puppet, model maker, Doug Beswick created a two foot tall puppet, but accomodations for the miniature required modifications to the full-scale Endo as well. Doug had to send Stan alternations, then Stan would send alterations back to him, until everyone was satisfied and the full scale and miniature Terminators had matching designs, and could function properly for their scenes.


By the summer of 1990, Cameron had not yet written the script - there wasn’t even a concept, but still an announcement was made that TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY would be released the following summer. The announcement came in the form of a $500,000 teaser trailer directed by Stan Winston. All the footage was original and has never been used in any of the films. It showed a Terminator assembly line and the T-800 going through the cyborg tissue generation sequence. Arnold appears after the sequence and utters his famous catch phrase, “I’ll be back.” “What Jim wanted to tell in the trailer," said Stan in an interview, "was that all Terminators look like Arnold. It was a way to justify Arnold's return after getting killed in the first movie.”


Cameron's decision to incorporate CGI to achieve TERMINATOR 2's liquid metal villain was a huge risk. Cameron’s CGI character from his previous film, THE ABYSS was on screen for only 75 seconds, and it took nine months of work to complete. The team from Industrial Light and Magic, headed by Dennis Muren, were not at all convinced that they could achieve what Cameron and the script demanded. ILM categorized the effects shots as: easy, moderate, difficult and miraculous. In total ILM created fifty effects shots which totaled 3.5 minutes of the film. The rest of the 300 effects in the film were handled by practical effects and astounding puppetry created enterely in-camera by Stan Winston Studio.

Pictured above: Battle-damage was achieved through the application of highly-detailed makeup appliances.

The practical effects created ranged from T-1000 body "wounds," blade arms, to a progressively more battle damaged Arnold throughout the film. The most deceiving effects Stan’s team were able to create were the T-1000 puppets. The puppets helped minimize CG in a scene, or eliminate the need for CG entirely. The most complex puppets all received nicknames: Splash Head, Donut Head, Cleave Man and Pretzel Man (Click here for more on the T-1000 effects: http://bit.ly/101xQmn.)

Pictured above: The "Cleave Man" puppet made by Stan Winston Studio for TERMINATOR 2.

One effect that did not make it into the final cut was the “old Sarah” scene. In the proposed scene, a very old Sarah Connor sits on a park bench after the averted Judgment day. A test screening received a negative response for the scene. The audience felt that this ending was "too neat" so Cameron cut the scene and reconceived the ending. Nevertheless, the makeup Stan made would no doubt have been completely convincing. On the day of filming the “old Sarah” scene Stan was leading Linda Hamilton to the set after applying her old age make-up, Cameron didn't even recognize Linda and at first believed that Stan had brought his grandmother to set.

Pictured above: Stan Winston sculpts "Old Sarah" for a scene that was ultimately cut from the final film. 


As a sci-fi and fantasy icon, The Terminator has stood the test of time. In fact, 30 years after the release of the original film, Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently reunited with many of Stan Winston's former team members at Legacy Effects, who are yet again playing a critical role in bringing the killer cyborgs to life for the 5th installation in the franchise, TERMINATOR: GENESIS. 

Teresa Loera

Order TERMINATOR VAULT from Amazon.

More TERMINATOR STUFF from Stan Winston School

'Devil Baby' Terrorizes New Yorkers!

'Devil Baby' Terrorizes New Yorkers!


Devils are scary. Devil babies are scarier.

To promote the horror movie DEVIL'S DUE, releasing this weekend, the mad PR geniuses at Thinkmodo conducted, according to founder Michael Krivicka, "an interesting social experiment to see how many people would bother to check on an abandoned stroller." 


It turns out that the tough streets of New York City are filled with Good Samaritans who tried to soothe the wailing infant, only to find, to their horrified surprised, the bile-spewing, telekinetic Spawn of Satan.

Pictured above: 'Devil Baby' begins his Reign of Terror. The NYPD are powerless to stop it.

Pictured above: Horrified New Yorkers behold the tiny face of evil.


'Devil Baby' and his radio-controlled Satan Stroller were created by the Practical FX wizards at Mark Rappaport's Creature Effects Inc. (300, STAR TREK, I AM LEGEND). "The whole shop was involved in making 'Devil Baby.' We had a blast," said mechanical designer Eric Fiedler.


"Bob Newton, Todd Minobe and I primarily worked on the animatronic rig to bring it to life. I mechanized the baby, Bob handled the stroller, and Todd built what we call a "rat trap," a torsion spring mechanism that popped up when triggered via radio-control. It would drop the stroller shade down and flip the baby up," explained Fiedler. "Mark Rappaport, Jeff Cruts and I flew out to New York to operate it."

Pictured above: The Creature Effects Inc. team assemble 'Devil Baby' before taking to the streets.


"Another cool thing is we had a sound system we controlled from an iPhone," said Fiedler. "We'd play the sound of the baby crying and it would lure people in like ants to sugar. And they would get down and look and BAM we’d hit them."

Listen to our interview with Eric:


"Since the stroller was remote-controlled, we decided to have some fun with it and have the stroller approach people — some walking, some sitting enjoying a coffee. After getting the living hell scared out of them, each reaction ended with a laugh," reassured Thinkmodo's Krivikca, who has a baby son himself.

This isn't Thinkmodo's first Practical FX-driven prank video to go viral. Watch the brilliant "Telekinetic Coffee Shop Prank" they devised for the remake of CARRIE below.


We love stuff like this not only because scaring people is really, really fun, but because it goes to show that when you want a visceral reaction from an audience, nothing beats Practical FX.

All hail 'Devil Baby,'

Matt Winston





Animatronic Wall of Books "Reads" Library Visitors

Animatronic Wall of Books "Reads" Library Visitors

Bringing Books to Life, Literally

To celebrate its 400th year, England's Bristol Central library is bringing books to life. For the next 3 months, visitors will be greeted by a giant wall of living, interactive books created by Bristol’s award-winning creative robotics collective Rusty Squid.

Click the video above to watch Black Cat films' "Book Hive" Trailer

Books That Read You

Dubbed Book Hive, the ground-breaking animatronic installation uses "a combination of depth cameras and standard cameras to define different zones of interaction and trigger different responses, " according to Rusty Squid team member, Sebastien Valade. In this way, the books sense how they are being engaged with and respond in real time.  Book Hive will grow and evolve until 400 books are finally integrated into the sculpture by February 2014, one for each year of library history.

The Message?

Is simple: books can move you. Read them.

-Matt Winston

For more on the "Book Hive" project, click the video below.


Bristol Central Library Information

Bristol Libraries are asking people to donate books to become part of the sculpture.  Staff at the Central Library will be delighted to accept hardback books between 180mm and 250mm high and 110m and 160mm deep for possible inclusion in the artwork.




Santa Gorilla celebrates Practical FX!

Santa Gorilla celebrates Practical FX!


To celebrate the holiday season, we joined the Oscar-winning Creature FX geniuses from Amalgamated Dynamics in Hollywood, where they showed off their state of the art "Santa Gorilla" (aka Bernie from THE ZOOKEEPER). He sang Christmas Carols, listened attentively to Christmas wishes, and generally blew people's minds.

Pictured above: Amalgamated Dynamics co-founder Alec Gillis puppeteers Santa Gorilla outside the famous Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

Pictured above: Santa Gorilla (aka Tom Woodruff, Jr.) spreads holiday cheer in Hollywood.


Our collective mission was clear: 1) To spread holiday cheer. 2) To remind Hollywood (and movie fans) that nothing beats the interactivity of a "real" creature. Well Santa Gorilla achieved both objectives with flying colors (red and green, naturally) and we filmed the whole thing!

Pictured above: Santa Gorilla welcomes all, human and canine alike.

Pictured above: Santa Gorilla poses with Superman, Wolverine, Iron Man and Spider-Man

Pictured above: ADI's Connor Woodruff, Dave Penikas and Garth Winkless bring Santa Gorilla to life to the delight of a young child.


Watch the video above for a peek at some of the highlights of Santa Gorilla's visit to Hollywood. And remember, this Christmas forget the milk and cookies -- Santa Gorilla prefers BANANAS.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Stan Winston School!

Matt Winston


Official Website
YouTube Channel
Facebook page

More from Alec Gillis at Stan Winston School:

More from TOM WOODRUFF JR at Stan Winston School:

LIVE Monster Making from Son of Monsterpalooza!

LIVE Monster Making from Son of Monsterpalooza!


On October 11th, 2013, the world's greatest monster makers gathered in Burbank, CA for Eliot Brodsky's Son of Monsterpalooza. It was a killer convention, filled with Makeup FX demonstrations, monster mask displays and elaborate creature costumes. For those of you who were lucky enough to attend in person, it was great to see you! For those who weren't, not to worry, we were broadcasting live from the Stan Winston School booth all weekend long and you can check out the live replays by clicking on the videos below. It's the next best thing to being there.


Matt Winston



Zombie Painting Demonstration

with FX Master John Cherevka (Robocop, Avatar, Iron Man)

More from John Cherevka:


Character Animatronics Demonstration

with Creature FX mechanical wizard Rick Lazzarini (Aliens, Ghostbusters 2, Snakes on a Plane)

More from Rick Lazzarini:



Makeup FX Application

with Creature Effects Icon Steve Johnson (the Abyss, Ghostbusters, Spiderman 2)

Assisted by artists Megan Areford and Johnny Leftwich. Special thanks to model Lauren Lakis!

More from Steve Johnson:


Monster Maker Interviews

SWSCA co-founder Matt Winston talks with Casey LoveSteve Wang, Miyo NakamuraSimon LeeDon Post, Jordu SchellDon Lanning, Dan LuVisiBruce D. MitchellTerry Wolfinger and the Chiodo Bros.

A Zombie Dog, FX Filmmaking and Imagination - Making the Macabre World of Lavender Williams

A Zombie Dog, FX Filmmaking and Imagination - Making the Macabre World of Lavender Williams

The Macabre World of Lavender Williams

"The Macabre World of Lavender Williams" is an extraordinary, imaginative fantasy short film written and directed by USC graduate film student, Nick Delgado and produced by Nick Delgado and Begona Castillo. Nick's clever use of practical effects to tell his story including miniatures and an animatronic Zombie dog, caught our attention here at Stan Winston School. And we asked Nick to take us behind the scenes and explain how a first time director could take on a project so ambitious with such delightful and accomplished results. Read Nick's story below and see the film by clicking the video above! Enjoy!

- David Sanger

Pictured above: A director (Nick Delgado), an actress (Lilly Jackson) and a zombie dog chill between takes.


By Nick Delgado

I first came up with the idea while I was attending USC film school.  I wrote the "origin story" of Lavender, a little girl with a big imagination full of dark stories, during a writing class and was intrigued by the character. Soon enough the idea of a child looking for her father felt like the perfect story for this character who uses fantasy and imagination to cope with her problems. I wrote a draft of the short film, but I felt something was missing, an element of fantasy that would give the story its personality (and also make it more fun to watch).  That's when I remembered a sketch I had made of a ghost dog that I happened to have hanging on the wall. Eureka! I put the two characters together, named the dog "Lester" and turned him into a zombie, and from there, the story was born.  

Pictured above: Lester listens while the crew discusses how to best shoot him. From left to right: Puppet maker & designer Nacho Diaz, puppeteer Frank Langley, director Nick Delgado (sitting), first AD Franklyn Gottbetter, DP Matt Egan, costume assistant Lisa E. Davenport and camera operator Ryan Green (sitting).


Lester was always conceived as an animatronic hand puppet and it was designed with that in mind.  It was designed by Nacho Díaz after meetings with the myself and Oscar del Monte, co-owner of Plan 9 FX and who shared project creative director credit with Nacho. The team that built Lester included key artist Cristina Malillos, sculptors Nelly Guimaras (PAN'S LABYRINTH) and Cesar "the Cat", hair department leads Gema Peña and Cris Rodríguez, manufacturing lead Miriam Carrasco and the mechanics department was headed by David Hernández y Dani Izar. The dogs were made out of foam latex with a lot of R&D involved in coming up with a fur that felt realistic but also was appropriate for a dead dog!  The fur was a mix of natural hair, yak hair and synthetic fur.

Pictured above: Lester in the dressing room. The rod supporting him for full-body shots can be seen coming out of his head.


And of course we must give a shout out to our incredible team of puppeteers led by Allan Trautman.  Puppeteers included, Tim Blaney, Kristin Charney, Frank Langley, Alison Mork and Christine Papalexis.  

Pictured above: Lilly is amused; Lester is trying to make a point. Lead puppeteer Allan Trautman is operating his body and mouth, with puppeteers Frank Langley, Kristin Charney, Alison Mork and Christine Papalexis operating the ears, eyes, eyebrows and legs.


This is little known but the first person I pitched the project to was Stan Winston himself. John Watson, who produced Stan's movie A GNOME NAMED GNORM, was my teacher at USC, and took me and another student to meet Stan since both our projects involved puppets. It was a great, memorable afternoon and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Stan for his generosity and advice that day.

Pictured above: Assistant make-up artist Sarah E. Bruton putting the finishing touches on Sheriff Murdstone (Rex Linn).


When I showed the script to my teachers and mentors, I was told it was too ambitious, but I was confident that "a good story always attracts the right people" and so it did. Robert Zemeckis read the script and decided to be involved and mentor the project. At the same time, casting director Anne McCarthy and Kellie Gessell (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE CONJURING) became involved as well, and that's how the production managed to get such a great cast: Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow, Rex Linn and the show's big find: Lilly Jackson, to play the title character. 

Pictured above: Nick frames up a shot while Lilly Jackson (Lavender) and Christopher Lloyd (Lester / Old Relative) rehearse.


My best friend, Nacho Diaz, make-up artist extraordinaire, joined the project to design and create the zombie dog puppets through his company, Plan 9 FX. Michael Lantieri, two-time Academy Award winner, joined in as physical effects supervisor. As if things weren't good enough, Warner Bros. became involved and agreed to finance the post-production work. This is where the geniuses at New Deal Studios came to the picture to co-produce the film and supply its visual effects, under visual effects supervisor Robert Chapin and visual effects producer Michael Theurer. 

Pictured above: We love models! Models and forced perspective were used extensively in the climax of the film. Lavender and the Sheriff were both shot against greenscreen and composited in the environment by visual effects supervisor Robert Chapin and New Deal Studios digital department.


Production took place during 11 days plus 3 days of pickups and 3 days of miniature shooting. Director of photography Matt Egan gave the show a moody yet beautiful lighting and shooting the film was the most fun I've ever had in my life.  

Pictured above: Sheriff Murdstone (Rex Linn) ready for some evil doing. Make-up effects by key make-up artist Ryan Egnatoff and assistant make-up artist Sarah E. Bruton.


While my wonderful editor, Mark Apicella, and I locked ourselves in the editing room, the film achieved another coup: Academy Award nominated composer Bruce Broughton came on to score the film. One of my favorite scores of all time was Broughton's YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and ever since I was a little boy, I had always dreamed of working with my idol. This was a dream come true for me, and Bruce's score surpassed my wildest dreams. The same goes for the effects and the work that really everybody involved with the film delivered. I am still humbled by everyone's contributions.

Pictured above: Lavender's pals. With the exception of Lester the zombie dog, Rusty the bike and Wraps the mummy did not appear on the short but will appear on the feature. Maquettes sculpted and fabricated by Nacho Diaz, Oscar del Monte and Cristina Malillos from Plan 9 FX.

Now that the project is complete, producer Begona, internet wizard Michael Hogan and I have together founded Rusty Bike Studios to develop The Macabre World of Lavender Williams as a feature film.  Work on the script is almost complete.  Artists at Rusty Bike are also generating concept art and character models (like those above.) So, if all goes well, there will be more of the Macabre World of Lavender Williams coming soon! Stay tuned!

by Nick Delgado 

To WATCH "The Macabre World of Lavender Williams" simply click the video player at the top of the page!

The Macabre World of Lavender Williams LINKS:

More ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS from Stan Winston School:

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth, "Chippy" Walks Again over 10,000 Years After Extinction - Thanks to Animatronics

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth, "Chippy" Walks Again over 10,000 Years After Extinction - Thanks to Animatronics

Photo by Anthony Plascencia,VENTURA COUNTY STAR.


By Mark Sawicki

I am always pleasantly surprised to find people creating creatures everywhere I go. In this case I found a creature just down from where I live at the Channel Islands Harbor named Chippy.  Chippy is the brainchild of Mike Lamm who owns the Channel Island Kayak center out here in Oxnard. Mike is a former pro surfer who converted his surf store to a Kayak center to take advantage of tourists wanting to explore the fabulous Channel Islands. As Lamm learned more about the islands he became fascinated with the fact that huge pre-historic mammoths once came to the islands in search of food. Some of the creatures stayed behind but over time, due to the limited food supply, the offspring of the original mammoths evolved to pygmy-size--a variant that only existed on the Channel Islands. 

Mike, finding that Winter was a challenging time for his tours due to weather conditions, wanted to create an attraction that could be explored near shore on the mainland, hence "Chippy" was born. Chippy is an acronym of sorts for Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth. Chippy is a 5-foot tall animatronic recreation of the pre-historic animal. Creature wizard Ron Pardini of CIFX built it. Ron was generous enough to share his experience in an online interview along with some cool pictures. Here are Ron's words of wisdom.

Pictured above: Ron Pardini (in the hat) and Dana Namen (no hat) at CIFX pose with the mammoth they call, "Chippy" a near acronym for Channel Islands Pygmy-Mammoth.


RON PARDINI: I accidentally entered the field of special effects while in college. I was heavily involved in the drama department at Whittier College, at the time it was an extremely small department and I was basically running the props department. We were doing THE BACCHAE, an ancient Greek tragic play, and the director wanted to have a severed head for the end of the play. I thought it would be cool to try and make a head that resembled the actor rather than use some make-up/hair practice dummy head. I got a book, purchased some materials and proceeded to "wing it." The faux head ended up turning out pretty cool and one of my friends approached me after the show and asked if I knew of "the special effects guy" who had a shop in Uptown Whittier. I wandered down to "the guy's" shop and proceeded to work my way into an internship with Steve Patino (PREDATOR, THE MONSTER SQUAD, PUMPKINHEAD) of SPFX, Inc.

Whittier College was really cool and allowed me to design a program wherein I could work for Mr. Patino and learn the trade and turn in a sort of diary of my experiences and earn credits towards my degree. From that point on I spent the next 10 years working in the movie industry. Then, in the mid 90's, CGI was sort of starting to take off and the movie industry was no longer supporting as many special effects artists, so at that point I jumped over to the theme park industry. Currently I work on theme parks, an occasional movie, create custom work for churches, and am heavily involved in the haunted attraction industry. 

Pictured above: A selection of images from The Haunted Vinyard, an annual Halloween experience that ran from 2002 through 2005 with effects by Ron Pardini's CIFX.


MARK SAWICKI: How did you first hear about this project?

RON PARDINI: I met Mike Lamm through a friend Mike Traxler. Mike Traxler owns a custom plastics and tooling company and Mike Lamm had approached him looking for a couple of skulls to enhance a kayak tour he had created. Mike T. sent Mr. Lamm to me because he knew I created really authentic looking faux skulls. Since then Mike Lamm has continued to grow his harbor tour and CIFX has been there to help him with each expansion. 

Pictured above: Step one: the finished urethane foam-carved sculpture of Chippy, the pygmy mammoth.


RON PARDINI: The biggest challenge with creating Chippy was designing and creating a prop, which could be mobile so that he could be moved into a safe location every night and then set-up each day for the tours. Normally, a prop of this sort would be permanently installed. Since we were creating a creature that actually once existed, we wanted it to be a "true-to-life" example of the pygmy mammoth. We researched both the pygmy and normal versions of mammoths from this area. We looked at photos of skeletons, renderings, and even found some pictures of actual mummified mammoths. We also visited the La Brea Tar Pits to view samples of other artist's versions of mammoths. In the end we chose specific aspects from several differentpictures/illustrations and created a composite mammoth that we felt best depicted the pygmy mammoth.  

From the get go, we knew we wanted to include some sort of animation to help bring Chippy to life. Originally, Chippy was designed to be mobile so that he could be pushed out and set up in the morning and then pulled back into a safe and secure location in the evenings. Normally we use pneumatics or hydraulics to create our movements, but due to the location, the necessity to keep Chippy mobile, and our desire to keep the project within the established budget, we ended up having to use small electric motors to provide our animation. Since we knew that Chippy would be a fair distance away from the viewers, the movement had to be sort of blatant to ensure the viewers would see it (hence no eye blinks, or other subtle facial movements). We felt a head turn would be the best motion that we could achieve within the given parameters.  

Pictured above: Rather than do a sculpture in clay, Chippy's form was achieved through foam fabrication. Here, Dana Namen sculpts urethane foam. Ron Pardini also sculpted.

RON PARDINI: Chippy was sculpted from a big block of urethane foam. Once sculpted, we applied a detail coat (catalyzed automotive primer) to seal the foam and provide a protective "candy shell". We then had FRP (Fiberglass-Reinforced Plastic) tools made from the sculpture and followed that up by having FRP parts pulled from the tools.

Chippy is primarily constructed of FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic). The final version of Chippy is a hollow Fiberglass figure with a welded steel internal structure. This is a pretty common way of creating figures. Because Chippy is located in a marine environment, we took several steps to minimize corrosion of the internal structure. We sealed all of the structural metal, utilized stainless steel hardware, and housed all of the electronic equipment in a watertight box. 

Pictured above: A synthetic fur discovered in Los Angeles' renowned garment district provides a lifelike surface to the fiberglass structure of the creature.


RON PARDINI: We spent a lot of time trying to locate appropriate fur for Chippy. We ended up using a synthetic fur that we discovered in the Fabric district in downtown LA. 

The look of the segmented sections of Chippy's trunk partially covered with fur was actually an artistic detail that was added to emulate pictures from a mummified mammoth that we came across. On the real mammoth carcass, the trunk was not completely covered in fur, but rather had fur growing out from between the creases on the trunk. 

MARK SAWICKI: What kind of maintenance is involved for Chippy?

RON PARDINI: We tried to keep Chippy relatively low maintenance. Pretty much just the main concern is the motor and we chose a pretty heavy-duty motor with the hopes that it would not need a lot of maintenance. As for the outer look of Chippy...eventually his fur and paint will need touch-ups, but we expect it to last a good five or more years before that is needed, besides Chippy is a mammoth after all, so if he gets to be a little ratty it will just help make him look that much more authentic!

Pictured above: Welder Henry Perez looks on as Armondo Estrada makes an adjustment. Ron Pardini and his crew chose a heavy-duty motor to drive this custom prop. With luck, Ron says, it might last "a good five or more" years.


RON PARDINI: The sculpture took a couple weeks to complete. The tooling and fabrication portion was an additional couple of week’s worth of work. Another week to fit/clean-up the FRP, fabricate the frame, and install the electronics. The figure finishing (paintwork and hair) took another 3-4 days. All in all, it was a little over a month worth of work, but due to scheduling difficulties and navigating through a couple of unexpected "issues" along the way it ended up taking about three months from start to finish. 

Pictured above: Henry Perez from CIFX welds the steel undestructure that support the Pygmy Mammoth as well as the internal mechanisms that give the prop movement. 


MARK SAWICKI: Were toxic materials needed to withstand the environmental challenges?

RON PARDINI: Yes, though only to protect the steel under structure. We would have used FRP regardless. It is always unpleasant to work with FRP. Whether it is creating the tools, laying-up the parts, or cutting and fitting the finished pieces, you have to be protected from head to toe. We wear jump suit cover-ups, latex gloves, protective eye gear, and chemical respirators at all times. It is nasty work, but the end result can last for decades. 

Pictured above: Detail of tusk, fur and eye for Chippy the pygmy mammoth as his creator, Ron Pardini, gets him ready for a rugged role as the main winter attraction in a Channel Islands Kayak tour.


MARK SAWICKI: When Chippy moves is he on a pre-programmed track or is he manipulated live with radio control?

RON PARDINI: Chippy's movements are pre-programmed and activated via a remote control switch.

MARK SAWICKI: Are you seeing more of these types of attractions taken on by small to mid size companies?

RON PARDINI: Well, yes and no. Many of the "smaller" themed parks (water parks, goofy golfing, etc.) seem to be looking to increase their theming, but this was definitely a first. Mike Lamm is breaking the mold on what people expect from a kayaking company. He has a clear vision of what he wants to create and has the ambition to go out and make it happen "one baby step at a time" as he likes to say. 

Pictured above: The finished head of Chippy, the pygmy mammoth...ready to make his debut on the Kayak Tour.

Chippy can be found at the Channel Islands Kayak center at 3600 S. Harbor Blvd. suite 213 in Oxnard, CA.  You can also find the center on Facebook.

Ron's effects shop, CIFX Corp, is at located at 9830 Jersey Avenue, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670. Ron even has an Esty shop Macabre Creations where he sells his custom Halloween themed goodies.

- Mark Sawicki

Mark Sawicki is the author of  “Filming the Fantastic” and “Animating with Stop Motion Pro” published by Focal Press.  He is proud to be a lesson creator for the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.

CLICK here to see Mark's lesson on Stop-Motion Character Performance and Rear Projection.

CLICK here to see Mark's lesson on Mirror-Magic - Visual Effects Using Reflections.

More SWSCA BLOGS from Mark Sawicki:

Axtell Expressions - Puppet Performance and Puppetry from Design to Delivery

Stop-Motion bread monster aka "BREADWICH" terrorizes puppet-town for TOGO's




When he was approached by Steven Spielberg for AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, Stan Winston had more experience building robots than any other creature effects artist in the world — but the robots of AI would be unlike anything Winston, or anybody else, had ever created. “It was important to Steven that the robots in AI have absolutely nothing to do with the Terminator or any of the robots we’d done previously,” Winston remarked.


These robots, called ‘mechas’ in the story, ranged from the utilitarian type — such as gardeners, security guards and other blue-collar workers — to Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a true ‘love machine’, and Teddy, a robotic teddy bear who serves as David’s sidekick.


When the film's young robotic hero, David (Haley Joel Osment) meets Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), they soon thereafter witness a garbage truck dumping mecha parts in the forest. The parts were actually Stan Winston Studio reject designs that prop master Jerry Moss mass-produced from Winston’s molds.

Pictured above: Aaron Sims and Eric Fiedler put the finishing touches on the Insecurity Guard at SWS.


Damaged mecha outcasts rummage through the pile, looking for replacement parts. The studio designed twelve key mecha characters for the scene — including a security guard mecha that was built from a lifecast of Stan Winston — each of which was realized as either a mechanical puppet or an appliance makeup worn by a performer.


According to FX Mechanic Eric Fiedler, recreating Stan Winston as Mecha involved multiple approaches, "The Insecurity Guard was primarily a kinetic rod puppet where all the joints articulated like normal human joints. It had a cable-operated neck. The head was silicone. The armature for the body was aluminum rods, bearings, torsion springs, all nicely machined."

Pictured above: The "Insecurity Guard" prepares for his demise at the brutal "Flesh Fair" in AI: Artificial Intelligence.


"[The Mechas of AI: Artificial Intelligence] were unlike anything audiences had seen before," said Winston, "and we were able to do it by using all of the available technologies." From live-action puppetry to traditional makeups and Practical/CGI hybrid approaches, the Stan Winston Studio robot makers pushed themselves to a brand new level of innovation by bringing every magic trick to the table, all to help Steven Spielberg make his modern day Pinocchio a reality.

-Jody Duncan



More ROBOT STUFF from Stan Winston School:

TERMINATOR 3 Behind-the-Scenes - The First Terminators

TERMINATOR 3 Behind-the-Scenes - The First Terminators


The climax of the film, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, takes place at Cyber Research Systems, which has produced not only the Skynet defense system — which is due to launch multiple nuclear attacks within hours — but also robotic T-1 tanks that turn on their human creators.

Pictured above: Stan Winston Studio concept art for the T-1's by Aaron Sims.


Stan Winston Studio built five T-1s for the sequence at CRS headquarters, two of which were fully functional, hydraulic robots. “These T-1s were real robots,” said 25-year Stan Winston Studio supervisor and co-founder of Legacy Effects, John Rosengrant. “They were hydraulically powered machines that could spin around and drive and do all kinds of things.”

Pictured above: Intimidation tactics - a front line of T-1 terminators prepare for action.


Concept artist, Aaron Sims, employed the same methodology for the T-1 that he had used for the T-X, first creating a 3D digital model that was based on a design from the T3 art department, headed by production designer Jeff Mann. Incorporated in the design were tank tracks, as well as neck pistons and rods that were similar to the original Terminator endoskeleton, to create a visual link between these prototypes and their future cousins.

Pictured above: The Stan Winston Studio mechanical team runs the hero animatronic T-1 tank through its paces, learning its movement vocabulary.

“We also gave it red lights for eyes,” said Sims, “and a chrome look — both of which were similar to the original Terminator.” Computer-milled foam parts were then molded and reproduced in resin. Final parts were made of fiberglass over steel and aluminum with a brushed metal finish.

Pictured above: Treads adapted to the T-1 from commercial treads purchased from Mattracks in Karlstad, Minnesota.


The final assembled T-1s stood seven feet tall, weighed 3,500 pounds, and featured articulated heads and arms, and turning turrets. The T-1s could travel seven miles per hour on their tank tracks, which were procured from an outside vendor. “Because of my interest in military history and armored tanks,” Rosengrant commented, “I knew that we weren’t going to be able to make the tracks on the T-1 in the time we had. So Alan Scott and I found this company called Mattracks, which makes conversions for pick-up trucks. Guys up in Minnesota or other cold parts of the country will pull their wheels off and put these tracks on their trucks, so that they can drive in deep snow. Tim Nordella figured out how to interface between these pre-fab tracks and the T-1. When it was all put together, the T-1 was a real, functioning robot.”

Pictured above: Stan Winston channels the T-1 on the set of TERMINATOR 3: Rise of the Machines.


Pictured above: Arnold Schwarzenegger battles his primitive brethren, the T-1, in TERMINATOR 3: Rise of the Machines.


“In Terminator,” Winston observed, “we pretended to build robots, but actually used stop-motion animation and puppetry and bits of animatronics. In Terminator 2, we advanced to digital animation and a full-standing animatronic with a range of motion — but we were still pretending to build robots. In Terminator 3, we actually built robots.”

-Jody Duncan


More TERMINATOR STUFF from Stan Winston School

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