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article by Estelle Shay

Bug-eyed, squat and lovable, the amphibian stars of a humorous ad campaign for Budweiser have television viewers clamoring for more... The commercial - which aired initially on Super Bowl Sunday - was an instant hit and went on to earn a Clio award, prompting Anheuser-Busch to commission a second spot. For the sequel, ad agency DDB Needham and director Simon West of Satellite Films took the concept a step further. In the new scenario, the frogs are seen sitting on a log in a swamp. A Budweiser delivery truck zipping down the highway captures their attention. The biggest of the three, licks his lips in anticipation and, as the truck hurtles by, shoots out a sticky tongue. Latching onto the back of the vehicle, the tongue stretches impossibly, finally whipping the frog off his feet as his buddies watch wide-eyed. A final shot reveals the frog sailing through the air behind the truck, 'yee-hahing' in delight.

With only three weeks allotted for preproduction, West called upon Rick Lazzarini's Character Shop for puppet effects and Digital Domain for computer enhancement. Though ostensibly the same characters, all new puppets were required. "Simon wanted to reduce the size discrepancies between the three frogs," noted Lazzarini, "as well as punch up the characters a bit to make them appear friendlier." From sculptures created by Eric Schaper and Bill Zahn, two-pad molds were made and foam latex skins cast. "Stan Winston gave us the skins from the originals to help match the coloration," said Lazzarini, "and Eric Schaper did a brilliant job painting them to look just as translucent and slimy and realistic as any silicone. Then we applied a final coating of K-Y jelly."

Rick and BUD FROGS (15 kb)
Frogs for a follow-up commercial were made by
Rick Lazzarini of the Character Shop.

To give the frogs a broad range of expression, mechanics Evan Brainard, Jonathan Spence and Tony Rupprecht employed a combination of radio control and rod puppetry. Loose-jointed leg armatures were utilized for passive movements of the limbs, while bodies were controlled by rods. For a shot of one of the puppets planting his feet, special rods were installed, "We made little cuts in the log, with holes just big enough to allow the puppeteer to lift the feet and set them down again," Lazzarini elaborated. Other articulation included eye blinks, side-to-side eye movement, mouth movement and breathing, and a throat ballooning effect which used a finely tuned air delivery system in place of manual inflation, operated via radio control.

Special consideration was given to creating as much animation in the hero frog as time and budget would allow. "We packed six servos inside his body and one or two motors outside that ran a rhythmic breathing mechanism," Lazzarini explained. "Plus. we added additional expression by incorporating smile and smirk mechanisms in his lip." A special purpose jumper puppet was built to supplement the hero frog. "Our hero version had so many servos and cables coming out of him that something simpler was needed for shots of him being pulled off the log. So we built a simpler version which had just breathing, mouth movements and eye blinks. Then we ran our power cord down the tongue and out through the mouth, since Digital Domain was going to be superimposing a digital tongue over it.

For live-action filming on location in New Orleans - where an authentic bayou served as the backdrop - Lazzarini and his crew hit the ground running. "There was barely time for the paint to dry on the puppets, and virtually no time to rehearse," Lazzarini recalled. Six to eight puppeteers were required to operate the characters - some working off-camera above ground, and others beneath a raised platform set built in the swamp. Final shots of the airborne frog were filmed against a blue screen, with puppeteers manipulating each limb via rod control to mimic the motion of flying.

Rick's note: It took Stan Winston and his shop 9 weeks to build the 3 frogs for the first Bud Frogs spot, yet it only took us 3 weeks to build our 4 frogs from scratch, all with much more animatronic movement! How's that for fast on your feet?

For more about TCS and the "Bud Frogs", see reprints of the TCS Press Release and an article from The L.A. Times.
Article excerpt from CINEFEX #63, © CINEFEX, 1995. Reproduced for review purposes
Photograph by The Character Shop


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