TCS creates a beautiful 20 foot tall marionette for Mayflower Moving

Over the years, we've actually become known for creating some REALLY large scale puppets, creatures, and things. Our most recent creation however, is bigger than all of those. She's a 20 foot tall marionette, created for a new campaign for Unigroup's Mayflower Moving.

Meet Audrey:

Mayflower hired Grey Advertising NY to dream up a new branding concept, and Grey (Noel Cottrell, ECD) did just that. With the tagline, "Every step of the way", Cottrell's take was to have a giant marionette be helped in her "Big Move" by trusted Mayflower Movers. The goal for the new Mayflower Moving Spots was to create a Giant Girl, wonderfully handcrafted, but imbued with a sense of innocence, beauty, and grace. Someone with so much humanity, that the viewing audience would believe in her, and the Mayflower Movers would regard her as they would any customer, someone to be protective of and care for, and make sure their move is comfortable and smooth. 

In order to bring her to life, Grey contacted Rick Lazzarini and his special effects company, The Character Shop. Lazzarini and company are well known for their quality, attention to detail, their large-scale accomplishments, and the realism in the look and movement of their creations. Rick Lazzarini had a significant hand in designing and creating the animatronics for the first 17 foot-tall Queen Alien for Jim Cameron's "Aliens" (while working for the late Stan Winston). Other large scale creations we've made are full scale animatronic elephants for "Operation Dumbo Drop", a huge overscaled (elephant-sized) Buffalo for "Radio Flyer", a couple of 16 foot-tall Gorillas for Hollywood Casino Restaurants, a pair of ginormous 15 foot long Adidas shoes, and the 17 foot tall Dragon for Broadway's "Shrek The Musical", and many, many other iconic and memorable images and characters for hundreds of Clients, Feature Films and Commercials.

Grey then hired International Production Company Rabbit Content and their esteemed director Brent Harris. Together, Harris, Cottrell and Lazzarini collaborated to design and create a memorable icon for the new spots. At The Character Shop, Rick and his crew began with rough illustrations and sketches to get the "feel" of the girl's character. After several versions, discussions and refinements, her look and character progressed and developed. The more her personality evolved, people related to her so tenderly that they felt she should be given a name; and so she became: Audrey.

Meanwhile, scale models were created and tested.

Designs were approved, and full-scale work barreled ahead. Over the course of 9 weeks, Audrey went from conceptual illustrations on a page, to full-size reality, towering, gracefully, over everyone's head.

Audrey is a custom-created puppet, a marionette, to be precise. But she's not just any marionette. She stands 20 feet tall, from head to toe! Because of that scale, everything about her is big: her knees stand taller than a six-foot person, her hair measures 8 feet in length (and weighs 100 lbs!), and altogether, she weighs just under 700 lbs. Yet she's one of the slimmest plus-sized models you'll ever meet! She's also lighter than you'd think; because while she's made to appear as if she's made from wood, her body is actually constructed from a lightweight foam, and her head of fiberglass and resin; both were then coated and painted with an incredibly authentic-looking wood grain finish.

She is suspended as any marionette is, by cords. However, because of her size, mass, and weight, rather than being puppeteered from above, a special rig was designed and built to support her. The overhead rig provided various anchor points for pulleys, which redirected her cords (and thus the control of her arms and legs) back down to the ground, where Mayflower Movers not only help her *move*...they also help move *her*!

The Mayflower Movers were chosen from a team of actual professional Puppeteers, so they not only had the looks of a Mayflower Mover, they also had the technical skills and chops to move Audrey, make her walk,  gesture, and bring her to life in a convincing, charming way.

There was one Mayflower Puppeteer up high above her head, mounted safely inside the special truss rig; he handled her head movements, as well as her overall height and rigging duties. He also received walkie-talkied (and sometimes shouted!) directions, and worked with a wireless monitor so he had the same view that the cameraman had.

Yet another Mayflower Mover drove a Telehandler, a, rugged, versatile wheeled lift, which allowed her to walk forward. The Telehandler is capable of handling a 5,000 pound load, and lifting the base of Audrey's rig 20 feet into the sky. With the added height of the platform and the curved trusswork above her head, in all, the entire rig, fully extended, stood an amazing 28 feet high. 

Finally, Audrey was equipped with very expressive eye, blink, and smile movements. Rick Lazzarini operated these facial expressions from the ground via Radio Control, allowing her to look demure, mysterious, serene, and happy...depending of the needs of each shot.

In the end, Audrey represents a triumphant example of a dynamic and powerful collaboration between Mayflower, Grey NY, Rabbit Content, and The Character Shop...who all found a way to create a magical and moving character.

Audrey was built with a foremost specification in mind: she had to measure 20 feet tall, but she had to remain as light as possible, yet still be very durable. 

So, from the very outset, Lazzarini envisioned her having a lightweight aluminum "skeleton" or armature, with her torso and limbs being constructed from a very lightweight, yet dense, tough, and flexible, yet firm foam: L-300. The idea was always to coat the foam, and then apply a very realistic faux wood grain and color scheme to her.

Her head is made from fiberglass. Here eyes are acrylic globes, her hair is a synthetic fiber.

We began with a design phase. Artistically, we came up with some very charming illustrations. Mechanically, we went through many CAD and 3D-drafted iterations of her supporting truss, which Brent and his Production Designer, Jeremy Reed, also felt should have some artistic merit as well.

Once we settled upon approved designs, construction began apace. We began sculpting her head, we began constructing her supporting truss, we began swatching dress materials, eye colors, hair materials, colors, and styles.

We created a 1/4-scale version of her, to preview how her body proportions might look, her range of movement, and proper pick points and methods of operation.

We constructed her full size rib cage, pelvis, and limbs from aluminum tubing, with steel clevises as pivot points. 

We made patterns from the 1/4 scale version, enlarged them 400%, printed them, and used them to cut the L300 foam, which was then glued into the limb and torso shapes


The foam parts were affixed to the skeleton, then a durable urethane coating was applied. Upon this surface, acrylic paints were airbrushed to replicate a very realistic-looking wood grain effect.

Meanwhile, a company that specializes in making roller coasters custom rolled the swooping curves of our supporting truss, and we then welded up the truss and basket, outfitting it with walkways, safety lanyards, customized pulleys, clamps, and electric winches. It was painted a neutral grey, so that it did not stand out, look sinister, or otherwise take away from our 20 foot tall little girl.

Meanwhile, dress and hair designs changed, came, and went...all the way to the last few days!  A 4 person team worked on creating her dress, undershirt, socks, and shoes, while another 12 people were tasked with the incredible job of creating a custom, 8 foot long wig for her, consisting of 100 lbs of fibers!

As we got closer to completion, we would do mechanical tests, evaluate them, analyze them, and  tune our approach and make changes so that her movements were as smooth as possible, and as easy as possible for the Puppeteers to bring her to life.

In this field, everything comes together at the end, and if you've planned well (and are also very lucky) it all goes together nicely.

"The life-like puppet, guided by professional puppeteers, was specially designed and built by award-winning puppet master Rick Lazzarini of The Character Shop; all effects in the spot were created in-camera, with no CG used.“This was a true collaboration between the agency, Brent [Harris] and Douglas [Howell, EP] at Rabbit and Rick [Lazzarini] at The Character Shop. From the day the job was awarded, Brent worked tirelessly with Rick to create the look of the doll, the dress, the hair; together over the space of about 3 months, they brought our marionette to life.” -Noel Cottrell, ECD, Grey NYC

There were so many challenges with creating this marionette. We had to make her huge...but keep her light. She had to have several puppeteers, moving oversized limbs..but her movements had to be smooth. She had to be mysterious, young, but not too young, and not too overt. She had to look as if made from wood...but we used no wood. She had to remain unique, from both artistic and legal viewpoints. Technical challenges abounded for my magnficent crew, who solved every one. The vehicle we used to propel her and support her truss, a telehandler, was a magnificent, but LOUD beast. So communications were a challenge, on set. Long hours on set were a true challenge to the guys who not only built Audrey and gave her a final push...but who also were the on-screen Mayflower Movers who continued to push (and pull!) her. Finally, it had to be a humongous a fixed price!

TCS head honcho Lazzarini is a huge believer in creating characters that not only come in on time and at the agreed budget, so that the logistics are sound, but also that are artistically the Director, to the himself. And, hopefully, to the audience who views what we worked so hard to create. Brent and Joe Zizzo (our DP) did a *fantastic* job of making her beautiful. The final edits have wonderful music and editing. We hope Mayflower is as proud of Audrey as we are.

For more in-depth pictorial documentation on this project, see our Marionette Creation Progress Page (as created for Client): 



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