Apple's iMac "Windows" Ad

Download the entire commercial (480 x 360, 6MB; Requires Quick Time v 5.0)

A hip, urban, twentysomething guy is ambling on a sidewalk, and passes a computer store. He notices something odd; did that new iMac computer in the window just move? He stops and faces it, and makes a move from right to left. The computer mimics his actions. Unsure of his perceptions, our guy starts to play a game: “If I do this, can you do it, too?” He bobs up and down; so does the iMac. He jumps and faces east, he jumps and faces west; the iMac, in its’ own fashion, follows his every move. Then, in a final dare, our guy makes a face. He stretches his lips and sticks his tongue out. To his surprise, the iMac does the same (by sticking its’ CD-ROM tray out!). As our hero chuckles at his discovery, a stern, matronly woman gives him a hard stare. Did she not see what the computer was doing…or did he just imagine it?

This attention getting spot, shot for Apple Computer, required special puppeteering techniques, and Director Kinka Usher knew exactly who to turn to. He selected animatronics expert (and self-confessed Mac fanatic) Rick Lazzarini and his company, The Character Shop, to bring Apple’s new and radically designed iMac computer to life. Usher wanted the iMac to seemingly move of its own accord. Usher originally requested a fully servo operated version of the computer with 7 axes of movement. However, the window for a manufacture was less that two weeks, and it quickly became obvious that it would not be enough time to engineer a completely self-contained, servo driven mechanism. Lazzarini and his team of animatronics techs instead launched a two pronged solution to the problem. While they attempted to make one version as self-contained as possible, another iMac was modified to be operable via .rod puppetry In this way, Lazzarini figured, all the bases would be covered.

The Character Shop team took possession of two brand new iMac computers…and promptly proceeded to tearing them apart! “ It was wild,” comments Lazzarini. “Here we have these two brand spanking new iMacs; at that point in time, people were clamoring for these fantastic pieces of hardware, and we're gutting them and ripping out their innards, so we can replace them with our servos and cable mechanisms. In doing so, we were just absolutely *marvelling* at the engineering inside; incredible stuff that the normal consumer will never know about. We almost felt guilty about taking them apart!”

After a week and a half of late nights, Lazzarini and team had produced two working iMac “puppets”. The first was servo and cable operated, and allowed for complete remote operation. This served for wider, establishing shots. However, for closer shots, another rod operated iMac puppet, which featured smoother motions, was used.. The new iMac is revolutionary in that it allows a tremendous range of freedom in positioning the screen, thanks to a jointed arm that, while chromed and massive, works in much the same manner as a Luxo lamp does. Lazzarini and crew took advantage of this range of motion, and for dramatic purposes, “kicked it up a notch”.

The Bid:

When Longtime Mac user Lazzarini was contacted about the spot, he was tickled, to say the least: “I flipped when [Producer] Nancy Hacohen called me. I am a Macintosh FREAK. In my bid, as an aside, I told them as much. I wrote how I had at least one of nearly every Mac that has ever come out, do everything on my Macs, and how I'm sort of a quasi-Mac consultant to a lot of people in the industry. I said that I’d probably bought enough Mac products to have purchased all the bathroom fixtures in Apple’s corporate jet!” The production company was caught a bit off guard by the humor, however. “They didn’t want it to seem like I was geeking out too much, I guess”, laughs Lazzarini. “I think they were concerned that it sounded like I might start stalking Steve Jobs!”

The Pitch:

Despite Lazzarini’s enthusiasm and qualifications, the job was in danger of starting off on the wrong foot. “I was thinking about how to best make it move; Kinka was really pushing for servos. I wanted to accommodate his wishes, but I was sure that there was a better alternative with rod operation. But how to convince him, and myself?
The night he sent in the bid, Lazzarini was walking out the door of TCS, when he was inspired to do a little extra something to land the job. "An idea struck me, as I was going to my car, and I rushed back inside the shop. I didn’t have an iMac at the time, so I cobbled together a mock-up out of bits and pieces. “The aluminum reflector of a clamp-on light was liberated and sprayed white, and became the base. A double ball joint clamp mount was sprayed silver and became the “neck”. Finally, a screenshot from Apple’s OS X was printed on high gloss photo paper, and affixed to a foam core rectangle. A 1/8 inch rod was attached, and Lazzarini shot a video of the mockup moving, looking, posing, peering, and sliding.  The demo movie was assemble edited in iMovie, exported to QuickTime, and posted to his website for the client to see. The client was bowled over, could clearly see how the gag would be accomplished, and Lazzarini got the job.

The Demos:

View the history of the project, as delivered to the production company, agency, and client. It's a good example of the kind of progress updates that we supply to our customers...

First Test            Puppeteer Placement Options      Proposed Movement Ranges      Nearly Completed Tests

The Shoot:

Normally, a puppeteer will drape himself on black, blue, or green to either disguise himself or facilitate post production removal. In this case, the art direction was white on white: A white computer on a white base in a white alcove. To eliminate unwanted reflections, Lazzarini and fellow puppeteer Johnnie Spence donned all-white clothes and caps, and worked directly alongside the puppet. “We started off with the servo operated iMac, but as soon as we moved in closer, we used the rod puppeted version exclusively”, says Lazzarini. There was a single 3/16” steel rod protruding from the top of the screen, and a rounded handle on that. Spence controlled the base of the iMac via a metal bar protruding from the back. A third puppeteer, Evan Brainerd, controlled the CD-ROM tray. The rod-operation offered the most direct, smoothest, and most spontaneous movements. Once the clean-up work was done in post, it’s as if a trio of puppeteers was never even there.

Invisible though they are, the puppeteers can be proud of their performances, which stand front and center. The results speak for themselves! 

See the Adweek article on the spot! 


What's New | Features | Commercials | Resume | Realistic | Whimsical | Scary | Animatronics | Prosthetics | Puppets | Waldo ® | Publicity | TCS Fun | FX FAQ | Reference | Feedback

Except where noted, all contents are the property of The Character Shop, Inc. and copyright 1995-2006