'Bud Frogs' (13 kb) By now, most of the American population is familiar with the hilarious Bud frog commercial spots. It seems that TV audiences can't get enough. Due to the overwhelming response, ad agency DDB Needham and Anheuser-Busch decided to do a second spot, with much more sophisticated animatronic effects. The Character Shop was called upon to really make the frogs come alive. The concept was to make it appear that the three frogs are sitting in a swamp, only to be distracted by a passing Bud truck. To the surprise of the others, one of them whips out his tongue, latches onto the Bud truck, and hitches a wild ride!

In only three weeks, Lazzarini and his talented crew constructed four animatronic frogs with complicated mechanisms and authentic-looking bodies from scratch. First, sculptures were painstakingly created. A stone-hard plaster was then slathered over the sculptures to make molds, from which hyper-realistic skins were cast. Lazzarini says of the challenge "We had to achieve a whimsical, attractive look for our puppet frogs. If you look closely at actual frogs, they aren't really that friendly looking!" A combination of radio control and rod puppetry was used to give the frogs a wide range of believable and expressive movement. The puppeteers then added a splash of their own talent and expertise to give each frog its' own unique personality.

With the animatronic frogs completed, Lazzarini and his crew flew to Louisiana to shoot the latest Bud spot. For three days, they shot in an actual swamp. A custom made tank with a platform was used to house the puppeteers in the murky water without getting them wet. Even without the benefit of a sound stage, the puppeteers were able to breathe life into these lovable creatures. Lazzarini and his experienced crew made it all appear seamless: "Each frog required two puppeteers; one underneath for body and leg movements and one off-camera, operating the mouth, eyes, and other expressions. A seventh person manned the breathing controls. "We work together as a team, coordinating our movements to the point that the director gives directions to the frogs and not us puppeteers!"

7 kb The new spot was so successful, in fact, that DDB Needham, Budweiser, and Lazzarini recently geared up to do yet another spot featuring the frogs, and this time, it's love. You know, that boy-catches-flies, girl-sits-in-swamp, boy-meets-girl kind of love. The new Budweiser frog commercial stars the medium sized-frog seen in the previous spot. He sits alone in a swamp, uttering (what else?) "Bud..." From out of nowhere, a feminine voice answers with "...Weis...!" Startled by the unseen character, our hero begins to look, leap, and hop around toward the voice, his every "Bud" rewarded with a come- hither "...Weis...", as if it were some amphibio-erotic version of "Marco Polo." We find what he finds, revealed to us as a brightly colored female tree frog. The amorous beau takes her in, then turns to the camera with an approving leer, completing the phrase with a knowing "Errrr........!"

The frog characters are actually animatronic puppets, operated by rods and radio control by Lazzarini and his team of puppeteers. In creating the new female character, Rick and his crew did extensive research, creating a sculpture that stayed within the boundaries of realism, yet giving it character as well. "With real frogs, its hard to tell which are male or female," says Lazzarini, "so we had to give her a more feminine appearance by making her thinner, and giving her bigger eyes and pouty, pink, inviting lips."

Because of the hopping sequences in the ad, a special jumping puppet also had to be created. Cable controlled mechanisms were made to extend and retract the frogs' legs to give it a realistic leaping motion.

Keep your eyes open for more Character Shop creations in the coming weeks; all we can say is that if you start to feel "antsy", you'll know what we're talking about. But don't tell anybody we "toad" you!

For more about TCS and the "Bud Frogs", see reprints of articles in the L.A. Times and Cinefex.  


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