Animatronic Turtle(s) and Tortoise(es)!

Need a Testudine? TCS creates custom animatronic turtle or tortoise puppets!

Testudines: any reptile with a body encased in a bony shell, including turtles and tortoises.

TCS Turtle Tortoise

Click below to see this turtle in action:

TCS turtles tortoises

Click below to see these tortoises in action:

When Budweiser wanted a pair of Galapagos tortoises, for an iconic Super Bowl ad, they came to the best: The Character Shop.

The commercial starts with two tortoises resting on the shore of a beach. Two environmentalists have finished work and about to enjoy having two bottles of Budweiser. Once their backs are turned, one of the Tortoises stands up and dashes to the area where the bottles are. It immediately throws them to its friend... which happens to have a cooler built inside its shell. The shell closes back in place once the beer is inside. The running tortoise returns to it’s original spot right before the two humans turn around and discover their beer has been stolen. No one else in sight other than the tortoises! The two tortoises now have some beer to enjoy once the humans leave their beach.

To accomplish the appearance of the tortoises, the Character Shop team did a series of mock-up tests using different sized and statured actors, and had them run, jump, and move within a mockup tortoise shell.They finally found the perfect performer for the role in Michael Munoz, a 4 1/2 foot tall man who had what it takes to be a tortoise. Once the size of the creatures had been established, the crew went to work creating the sculptures and molds of the heads, legs, shells, and tails. Two puppets, and one ‘action suit” would be created, as well as various insert pieces. In a particularly striking bit of luck, the crew discovered an actual Galapagos shell that was 4′ long; the perfect size. Los Angeles biologist/naturalist/lecturer Dana Bleitz provided the team an actual shell which just happened to have been the shell of a tortoise that was, at the time of its death at the San Diego Zoo, the largest Galapagos Tortoise in captivity.

The shells, lightweight and thin, were duplicated in fiberglass cloth and polyester resin, and painted to perfection. The puppets were designed to accommodate two puppeteers; one for the front legs and shell, and one to handle the head, neck, breathing, and mouth movements. Off screen puppeteers operated the tortoise’s eye blinks and movements via radio control. While the latest advances in synthetic prosthetic skins favor silicone, the team decided to go with foam latex as the material of choice for the tortoises’ skin. TCS Founder and Chief Creative Designer Rick Lazzarini (who puppeteered the head of the lead tortoise) explains, “These tortoises had a very matte finish to them. The other benefit was that the skins ended up being lighter, which is a saving grace. Anyone who’s ever had an animatronic puppet head at the end of their arm …horizontally…can appreciate the difference that the elimination of even two ounces can make.” Finally, foam latex had the ease of paintability, and the stretchability needed to simulate realistic tortoise skin.

NB: Folks sometimes ask if we did the "Slowskies" (Slowskys) turtle puppets. No; ours are better! ;-)

Whether you're a Producer, Art Director, Prop Master, Production Designer, Private Collector, Inventor, Burning Man Artistic Investor, or Exhibit Designer... you can have incredible animatronic creations for your Production or Project. Need incredible imagination and technological wizardry for your Film, Television Show, or Live Event? Contact The Character Shop at 805-306-9441 or lazzwaldo at!


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