Who ya gonna call? The Character Shop!

Rick Lazzarini and crew bring the Practical to a Summer Blockbuster

What actor likes to react to a chrome-and-silver ball in these days of overly CGI-ed event films? They'd prefer to act with something real and present. Director Paul Feig had this in mind when he chose Rick Lazzarini and TCS to create a couple of very cool animatronic creations for the 2016 reboot of "Ghostbusters". Paul had worked with Rick and renowned puppeteer Ronald Binion on a Ford campaign together, and when it was announced that Feig was going to reboot one of the most iconic films in recent history, Lazzarini reminded him that he'd created several ghosts for "Ghostbusters 2" and would love to be involved. Feig responded that while it was early, Rick was "at the top of my list!".

Feig's people sent over a script, Rick read it, and immediately began brainstorming how to achieve the effects involved. The Character Shop hired a dozen designers, on spec, to help visualize the various ghost types in the script. Slimer, in fact, had his own "origin story" in this early draft, and several takes were sketched. At the first momentous meeting between Rick, Paul, and various other film crew already on staff, including the Production Designer, Producer, Production Manager, Assistant Director, and Visual FX Supevisor,  Rick laid out the dozens of sketches, ilustrations, and renderings his Design Team had produced:


Impressed by the variety and enthusiasm, a discussion was launched into about how important it was to include Practical Effects as a main element, as audiences were embracing that approach rather than the CGI-fest of recent films. It was noted that even JJ Abrams was utilizing this method on the upcoming "Star Wars" reboot, and it was agreed that it was about time a good mix happened, much like it did in the original "Jurassic Park"; a melding of Practical and CG effects, combining the best of both worlds. Paul Feig ended the meeting by telling Rick: "You're the Man!

Elated and enthused, Lazzarini returned to the shop and began directing his crew to start making 3D mockups; taking the next step to further wow Feig and Co. However, it was only a few weeks later that bad news was delivered: "Our budget got slashed. There won't be the room for the Practical FX and Animatronics we talked about. Sorry. But Rick, you're the only one we're talking to, the only one we want to talk to, the only one we will talk to. We'll let you know if the situation changes" said the Executive Producer. Deflated and dejected, Rick gave word to his team, who ceased all design and prototyping work, packed their tools, and went home.

It was only a temporary blow, however, as not soon after, the situation did change! The Executive Producer was back on the phone with Rick: "Paul would like you to build us a Slimer. But here's the deal, we don't have a separate Animatronics budget, so the budget won't be much. And there's not a lot of time, we need it fast. Oh, and it's just going to serve as a movement reference for the CG Dept., and be a real thing on set for the gals to react to".  That's not the most attractive deal ever offered, but Hey! The basics of it was "Will you build us a Slimer for this next Ghostbusters film?" and no one who does this for a living would say no to that!

Rick immediately hired back essential crew and began creating a Slimer sculpture at a frenzied pace. Molds were made, cores were made, and fabrication began on the suit, while animatronic mechanisms for the eyes, brows, tongue, and mouth were begun...

The animatronic functions of the head included  3 axes of brow movement, upper and lower Eye blinks, Eyes Side/Side, Eyes Up/Down, Jaw Open/Close, and a tongue that could telescope In/out and have Up/Down, Side/Side "tentacle"-type movements:

The head was also equipped with a  helmet custom molded to fit Ronald Binion's head, a pair of High-Definition video goggles so that he could see what was in frame on camera, and a walkie-talkie system allowing him to communicate and recieve directions. Ron provided the gross body and arm  movements, and Rick Lazzarini puppeteered the facial expressions. When finished, Slimer and a support kit were packed and shipped to Boston, where we rolled cameras on him during the hot-dog scene, the stealing Ecto-1 scene, and the scenes of him driving away...and with his gal friend! Here's a final movement test before he was whisked to set!:

We mentioned his gal friend. right? On one of our Slimer shoot days, Production requested: "Can you make a Mrs. Slimer?" Answer: Hell, yeah!  So as soon as we were done with Slimer's scenes we jetted back to The Character Shop and created a second, more feminized...Mrs. Slimer! ! Here she is, lavender bow, eyeshadow, lashes, lipstick, and green ponytail!

We flew back to Boston, where we paraded her on the set, to the delight of castmembers Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. We rolled camera on Mrs. Slimer in the Ecto 1, and  wrapped her out. We were also going to create a practical Theater/Concert Ghost, but somewhere along the line the VFX Dept. got a little...well, greedy...and decided to do it all themselves. Ptooey!

Pleased with our work, we were anxious to see the finished product. Going in, we knew that we would be serving mainly as movement reference, and sure enough, the animators faithfully duplicated a lot of the movements we created on set. Unfortunately, worse news was yet to come: at the end of the film, the great work by TCS and crew was completely left out of the end credits. For a $144 million film, it's disappointing to deliver something of value above and beyond what the Director and Production have requested, to have great looking Practical FX smeared over by inferior CG work, and to then be not given the credit deserved.

TCS President Rick Lazzarini called attention to this poor behavior with a special Facebook post, and personally thanked the hardworking crew, each by name, who had worked so hard to contribute to the quality and success of the film. With over 77 shares and 256 likes, it shows that the Practical FX community cares about being recognized for their efforts...just as much as hundreds of folks in the VFX departments do. Here is the link to that post:

Perhaps we can create a cool animatronic creature in the near future, for you!...if we do...please give us the proper credit. It's just the right thing to do!

Whether you're a Producer, Art Director, Prop Master, or Production Designer, you can have incredible animatronic creations for your Production. 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 mac.com!


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