TCS: "You guys are the best animatronic puppeteers EVER!"

Director Jared Hess of Moxie Pictures (and "Napoleon Dynamite" fame) was cruising the Intertubes, browsing for examples of an animal he could feature in his latest ad for Toyota. With a Garden of Eden-like setting, Hess was looking for something realistic and believable. He happened upon images our animatronic Puma, had his Producer Salli Zillis make the call, and before long, we had installed our tawny cougar on a fake rock on a Valley soundstage.

Production Designer Gideon Ponte created a lush, comfortable jungle on an elevated set, and provided a hollow fiberglass rock for lead Puppeteer Rick Lazzarini to climb inside. Normally, the Puma puppet (originally created for Biscuit Films' Noam Murro and a Cadbury Ad) requires 5 Puppeteers to make all of its' functions to work: tail, breathing, paws, head, ears, eys, mouth, brows, etc. However, the Toyota ad had a limited budget, and so we brought as much animation to the creature with only 2 Puppeteers.

To fit in with the Old Testament look, the performers (Puma included) were adorned with gold headbands and long, flowing tresses. Though known for his quirky characters, Hess has a very calm, quiet directing style, and impressively draws a variety of different actions, expressions, tones, and editing choices from his performers. He ran our Puma through a gamut of takes, seeming surprised, sleepy, playful, annoyed, peaceful...

Hess seems to have liked it, as at the end of the day, when we expressed our thanks for the opportunity to work with him, he exclaimed: "Everybody was in perfect sync. You guys are the best animatronic puppeteers ever!"

That made our hearts do a sweet jump! ;-)


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