Friday, June 25, 2010

Movies & Film: Top 7 Animatronic Movie Beasts

Throughout movie history certain films have required a bit more than what the average actor could give.  When that occurred, it was time to call in the guys and gals who specialized in building complex, and sometimes, malfunctioning animatronic animals and beasts.  After all, dinosaurs no longer roam the earth, no actor in their right mind would want to do scenes with a 3 ton Great White shark and, while gorillas can get pretty big, none have reached 40 feet in height.

The top seven animatronic movie beasts have been compiled by Charles Q. Choi in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the classic film Jaws which opened in theaters on June 20, 1975.

I think Charles Choi did a pretty good job on his list.

1.  Jaws
Certainly, there isn't a single person who enjoys films of any kind that hasn't seen Jaws at least once.  Some of us, have seen it dozens and dozens of times.  I'll admit that Jaws is one of my favorite movies of all time.  The cast is brilliant.  Where else can you find three such dynamic actors and characters as Roy Scheider (Chief Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint) and Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper) in one place?  Add a 3,000 pound animatronic shark named "Bruce" to the mix and you've got a perfect movie.  Bruce, affectionately named for Spielberg's lawyer, was well-known for his tendency to malfunction and present the cast and crew with a host of issues to work around.  Thanks to Bruce's cantankerous behavior, Spielberg filmed a great deal of the movie from the shark's point of view, thus adding a brilliant element of suspense to his 'big fish story'.  Even if it wasn't the 35th anniversary of the picture, no list of movie beasties could be complete with out Bruce.  Jaws is a classic and when it's celebrating its 100th anniversary, it will still be just as suspenseful and psychologically terrifying as it was on June 20, 1975.

2.  Jurassic Park
Another Steven Spielberg film makes the list.  Between the aliens, gremlins, giant killer sharks and dinosaurs Spielberg is a guy that likes to make movies with creepy creatures.  He's my kind of guy!  Paleontologist Jack Horner supervised the production of the aniamatronic dinosaurs created for Jurassic Park by the Stan Winston Studios.  The complex robotic creatures could be controlled remotely by puppeteers using "Waldos" to capture performances for the machines to mimic thus bringing the long-extinct dinosaurs to life on film.

3.  Aliens
Legendary horror master H.R. Giger designed the alien from the first movie in the blockbuster series but Giger's creation wasn't animatronic, it was an actor in a suit.  In the sequel, the animatronics took over.  It was powered by cables and hydraulics with two puppeteers inside the device operating its arms with 16 others moving the rest of the creature.

4.  The Terminator
James Cameron's original drawings for this film intended the Terminator to be stop motion animation.  Jim Henson's puppet-based technology helped bring this baddie to life on screen.

5.  Gremlins
They were tiny, they liked to cause trouble, they were cute and they came in all sorts of colors.  They were the Gremlins.  Chris Walas, also famous for the melting Nazi soldiers in Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, designed and brought the little creatures to life for this film.  The animatronics used here was complex.  The lead Gremlin, Stripe, required 64 controls to make him work.

6.  King Kong
In 1976, the classic horror film from 1933 King Kong was remade.  In this version, the giant ape stood 40 feet tall and weighed almost 13,000 pounds.  Three-thousand, one-hundred feet of hydraulic hose and 4,500 feet of electrical wiring went into building the monster.  Twenty technicians were required to operate it.  However, despite all of this, the Carlo Rambaldi created beast often malfunctioned and appeared only in a few glimpses in the final cut of the film.

7.  E.T.
Carlo Rambaldi created the lovable little alien from Steven Spielberg's much-loved film E.T.:  The Extra Terresterrial.  E.T. had an aluminum and steel skeleton with fiberglass, polyurethane and foam rubber for an exterior and was capable of 150 motions.  To add authenticity, Steven Spielberg enlisted a craftsman who made glass eyes for the blind to create the human-like eyes.

You can read more about Charles Choi's list here, including photos and more details about the creatures and how they work.

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