Company Press Release


For Immediate Release


Army of Darkness


Elite, well-equipped team terrifies crowds of people..who pay for the privilege.


Canoga Park, CA., Sept. 8--They are dressed in black from head to toe. Around their waists, multi-pocketed belts stocked with sharp knives, flashlights, and expensive hand tools. They move with stealth, hiding in the darkness. They communicate, whispering in code on high-tech headsets placed over black ski-masks. Their every move is coordinated in unison. Are they Ninjas? An elite Special Forces group? Nope! They're Puppeteers!

They are the dexterous performers who brought to life the disturbingly realistic creatures of "Mimic", this summers' critically acclaimed science-fiction film. Summer moviegoers go to the film for a good thrill, and these puppeteers have done their best to give them their money's worth. If Director Guillermo del Toro is the puppeteer's Commander-in-Chief, then the title of General falls to Rick Lazzarini.

Lazzarini is the creature effects expert credited with creating the animatronic super-insects for "Mimic". At his company, The Character Shop in Canoga Park, Lazzarini and his crew conjured up some incredibly effective monster bugs.

After giving us the falling elephants in "Operation: Dumbo Drop", the Budweiser Frogs (and gator, and anteater, and buzzard!), and many appearances on shows such as "Movie Magic" and "Late Night with David Letterman", Lazzarini's work is well known to the general public. His output is usually incredibly realistic, as with the "Dumbo" elephants and his many Bud creatures, but it's also often whimsical and goofy, as with his Foster Farms chickens.

But now he's scaring us.

Lazzarini relates the various stages of the insect which he and his crew had to depict: "You've got your egg cases, from which they hatch. You've got your nymphs, which are the hatchlings. You've got a disgusting juvenile creature, which lends itself to a wonderful dissection. You've got your full grown Mimics, which can change in appearance from a derelict in an overcoat into a giant mega-insect killing machine, you've got their victims, both animal and human, and finally, you've got the King Roach, a wingless insect the color of cookies and cream gone rotten."

It took Rick and a talented workforce of 70 people over 6 months just to manufacture the many creatures. From 2-dimensional designs, The Character Shop's FX team created three-dimensional sculptures, hundreds of molds and casts, thousands of mechanical parts, and put them all together, finishing them off with insect-inspired paint jobs and disgusting little black feeler hairs. It took another 5 months of shooting in Toronto to bring the creatures to life. That's where the puppeteering comes in.

With six legs, a pair of facial claws, six wings, a multi-axis dolly to support the weight of the body, lungs, head, neck, and a tangle of mandibles to move, the animatronic Mimics require a platoon of puppeteers.

So, what's with the ninja get-ups? "The best way to animate one of these puppets is to operate it directly, so you end up very close to the creature.", Lazzarini relates. "Nowadays, with computers, you can remove the rods, rigs, and even entire teams of puppeteers...but it costs you. " Therefore, to keep the post-production costs to a minimum, there was a strict edict that the puppeteers all wear black, as Lazzarini puts it, "So that even if you see them, well, you won't see them."

Alright, then, why the tool belts? "These things are complex mechanical marvels," Lazzarini notes, "but we're always doing something to tweak, adjust, or modify them. So you end up equipping a utility belt full of wrenches, cutters, and other groovy utensils that would put Batman to shame."

Okay, okay. Explain the headsets. "You've got 24 puppeteers and technicians to coordinate," Rick points out. "You have to designate Sergeants and Captains to delegate the proper tasks to the Corporals, Privates, and Enlisted men, who are spread out all over the studio, and do it quickly, efficiently and quietly."

Interesting. What else is cool about the puppeteers? "You get people who, like in "Mission Impossible", specialize in certain things: the electronics wiz, the strong man, the mechanical genius, the cosmetics expert, the sensitive movement-related performer...the thing I think is the greatest, though, is that there were so many of us, all wearing black, all rushing about, always being split up between shooting units, and they had a hard time of keeping track of who was doing what."

"So, on the call sheets, instead of listing us each individually, at the end of the day, just when their heads were about to explode, they would give up and just put us down as the "Lazzarini Army". It ended up being so appropriate, it stuck!"

An Army of Darkness. And Light...

With the tense subject matter that "Mimic" covers, and such cold, grimy, and slimy conditions, you've got to let off a little steam. That's why the puppeteer team also got to be known for their pranks and playfulness, and their ability to bring a bit of levity to the set.

Lazzarini remembers: "The setting was dreary, it was around Christmastime, we were far from home, so we livened up the place a little by putting the names of Santa's reindeer behind each Mimic as is was stored against the wall; Donner, Comet, Cupid, Vixen..."

To break up the intensity, the puppeteers would also find themselves trying on hideous English accents, playfully riding Jeremy Northam as he was trying to flatten his own refined British speech patterns. "It ended up sounding like a Monty Python-in-drag sketch, degrading eventually into hoots and bird calls, with other smart-alecks on the crew joining in. That's when the A.D. said "ENOUGH!", Lazzarini laughs.

Lazzarini thrives on variety, bouncing back and forth between the cutesy and the scary. After creating the sharp, sleek, and slimy monsters of "Mimic", he's happy to have just completed a darling little doll for Hostess's popular "Where's the Cream Filling?" campaign. It's a far cry from mutant insects.

What's next? "I'll do a couple more commercials before I start on the next film," ["Mephisto's Bridge", with Guillermo del Toro], Rick says. "Then it's back to scary monster time!"

Just as Lazzarini and crew take five and chill out from the intensity of the on-set experience, it looks like he'll let us relax, breathe, and smile a bit...that is, until he and his "special forces" break out their next batch of creepy creatures!

SOURCE: The Character Shop, Inc.


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