"Radio Flyer"

The Giant Buffalo of Rick Lazzarini's Character Shop

Lazzarini and the crane-mounted animatronic Buffalo.

Together with his effects company, The Character Shop, creature creator Rick Lazzarini was responsible for breathing life into the eight-foot buffalo in Columbia Pictures RADIO FLYER, Lazzarini, whose previous credits include HOOK, EXORCIST III and BATMAN, had originally been chosen to create all of the film's makeup and creature effects. Zombies and a five-armed worm man were among a variety of creatures built by Lazzarini, but eliminated from the project when writer/director David Mickey Evans was replaced as director by Richard Donner. Instead, monster maker Kevin Yagher, who had worked with Donner on TALES FROM THE CRYPT, was brought in to create a fleetingly glimpsed giant turtle and a bigfoot creature.

The 8-foot-tall buffalo before final fur application.

"Originally the buffalo was going to be 12-14 feet high," recalled Lazzarini. "But I warned [the producers] that this would be bigger than their set. We designed the creature so that it could be mounted onto a camera crane from above or from either side. This way the crane would be hidden by the bulk of the animal. Alternatively, it could be mounted onto a stand so that the poles which supported it should be chest high. If you wanted to shoot above that, you wouldn't see the stand."

To prepare for the scene, Lazzarini and his crew carried out extensive research on real buffalo, videotaping the animals' habits. "Our buffalo was at least one and one-half times larger than the biggest buffalo that you would encounter." said Lazzarini, who covered the giant animatronic replica with the hides of real buffalo.

Above: Mounting the creature on a Chapman crane for a test drive at the [Canoga Park]-based Character Shop.


The buffalo's flapping ears were achieved through the use of air cylinders. Powerful linear actuators, air pressured hydraulic cylinders, enabled the creature to move its head up, down and from side to side. Electronically operated servo motors and a special vacuum pick-up system allowed the buffalo's jaw to move up. down and from side to side, to eat marshmallows served by the boys. Servos also controlled eye, brow and snout movements and activated the creature's two front legs. Leg movement was accomplished with the use of a Lazzarini-devised Waldo system, worn by an off-screen performer. The creature's back legs were operated by puppeteers using rods, Waldos were also used for head and facial movements.

For the scene where the buffalo pushes his head through the kids' bedroom window, we had our creature on a rolling stand." explained Lazzarini. "While some grips pushed the bulk of the buffalo's remaining body towards the window. I was controlling the head with a Waldo. All the time I was making sure that there was an inch clear on either side of the horn, to enable the buffalo's head to easily fit through the opening." Lazzarini designed the lightweight head with a ribbed parallelogram understructure for fluid, realistic neck movement, covered in soft polyfoam.


Copyright CINEFANTASTIQUE, 1991.

Photographs by The Character Shop. 


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

Except where noted, all contents are the property of The Character Shop, Inc. and copyright 1995-2006
Photographs and text may only be re-published with written permission. All rights reserved.