Late Night With David Letterman

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David Letterman introduces Rick Lazzarini. The first thing Rick demonstrates is his own invention which he calls the "Creature Flocker®". It is a device used to apply hair realistically on animatronic creatures. Rick attaches an electric cable to Dave's pinky finger, then sprays some adhesive onto Dave's palm. Rick then turns on the machine and applies a thin coat of brown fur onto Dave's hand. What is actually happening is that the flocker turns the tiny hairs into magnets, and as they are being sprinkled onto Dave's hand, the positively charged ends are attracted to Dave's negatively charged hand. The hairs stand straight up, and the adhesive bonds them to the skin. The hair is then brushed to give it direction. Dave asks why "you don't just dump a bunch of hair on a guy's hand", and Rick has the camera come in close to view that the hairs are, indeed, all standing up straight, not in a tangled mass.

Next, Rick demonstrates another invention, the Facial Waldo®. Rick places the Waldo® on Dave's head, then unveils a large animatronic head of Paul Schaffer. Dave moves his head around, and the puppet head does the same. The puppet mimics Dave's movements. . .now, if he only had moved it correctly!)

(See our Anecdotes page for a behind-the-scenes account of this appearance...)

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American Journal: Alien Autopsy

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Rick, a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, scoffs at the FOX hullaballoo over the Santilli Alien Autopsy footage. He points out how some of the incisions were done with a "blood knife": a knife that never really cuts; it just has a small tube that lays on a thin ribbon of blood. Disputing another FX expert who had stated it was difficult to fake a cut in synthetic flesh and have it bleed (okay, it was Stan), Rick proceeds to use an actual scalpel and easily makes an incision in a very realistic silicone-skinned head. "He's a bleeder!" Rick exclaims as blood starts to drip from the cut. He proffers his opinion of the film: "It was a fake. A well-done fake, but a fake."
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A.M. L.A. with Steve and Tawny

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Steve Edwards and Tawny Little used to be the co-hosts of a local Southern California show called A.M., L.A. Rick is a featured guest. We see a scene from the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part V. Rick shows us a number of things on a table. The first, is the Freddy face from the clip. He tells us how he got to be Freddy for two days. He shows us a mutant baby dog head that an actual Rottweiler wore for A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part II. Next we see a severed head from Ghostbusters II, and a cobra from Exorcist III. Next Rick demonstrates an animatronic desk lamp that he operates with a device that he invented called The Waldo®. This lamp was used for an Oxy-NightWatch commercial. Rick explains that he doesn't just make gory things, but cutesy things also, like the Duracell toy commercials. Next Rick demonstrates the Facial Waldo® on a lion head used for a Bell Canada commercial. Rick says that although he did study film in school, "...most of this stuff is self-taught".

Rick sat in the green room with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ron Pearlman on the show. He remembers a plastic-looking aide grinning widely and urging him with the comment "ENERGY! Remember, lots of ENERGY!"

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"If you've ever been scared by something that went bump in the local Bijou, then there's a good chance that the man behind the monster is Rick Lazzarini." Rick tells his story, how as a child, he would read comic books and monster magazines. Following in the footsteps of Lon Chaney and Jack Pierce, Rick decided at an early age that this was how he wanted to make a living. Lazzarini has turned his childhood inspiration to a dream come true. We see various puppets and creatures about Rick's shop from past projects. Rick demonstrates an animatronic head that looks incredibly life-like. At The [Character Shop] they make puppets and prosthetic effects for movies and commercials. "It's a fantasy character being brought to life", says Lazzarini. Some of the past projects that Rick has been involved in are "Ghostbusters II", and "A Nightmare on Elmstreet, Part V". We see brief clips from those films. Rick demonstrates the "unborn baby in the womb" effect. Next, Rick demonstrates his "Veg Head Man" puppet made for a salad dressing commercial, and following that, a lion head for a Bell Canada commercial. We see Rick operating these puppets, and then see how they actually appeared in the commercial.

"What sets Lazzarini apart from other special effects shops, is the way he is able to make the puppets move." Lazzarini demonstrates his invention, the Facial Waldo® with the lion from the Bell Canada spot. Rick demonstrates movement with the luxo lamp puppet by using another kind of Waldo®, connected to his arm. "This puppet was used for a Oxy-Night commercial." Rick humbly states that he doesn't consider himself a wizard - "it's really a bunch of talented people staying up all night developing these things".

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Operation Dumbo Drop

Disney must have spent as much on marketing this one as they did to make the film in the first place. One morning, as my clock radio went off, I awoke to the sound of my name being pronounced (correctly!) and then my own voice! Disney had bought radio spots wherein I was mentioned as the animatronics expert on the film, and even had me delivering little sound bites, lifted from the "making of" footage they'd shot during manufacture of the elephants. I don't know about other areas of the country, but most of the major radio stations in Southern California ran those ads pretty heavy for a while there. Free advertising, ya can't beat it!

The Disney Channel's "Have Trunk, Will Travel"

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"How do you make an elephant fly?" We see a testing of the inner mechanics of the animatronic structure of the robotic elephant. Doug E. Doug, one of the actors in the film, narrates: "Since we really couldn't drop the elephant out of an airplane, animatronics expert, Rick Lazzarini was brought in to devise a way to parachute robotic replicas of Tai the elephant." We see Rick showing preliminary detailed sketches of the elephant. "Lazzarini has provided movie magic to some recent films like, "The Santa Clause", "Casper", and "Batman". If anybody could figure out how to drop an elephant, Rick could." We see Character Shop employees taking measurements of the real elephant star with gigantic calipers.

Rick explains: "On Operation Dumbo Drop, I was asked to create two full-size animatronic elephant replicas, to give the illusion that we're pushing a real elephant out of a plane". We see Character Shop employees painting one of the elephant replicas. We see the testing of different parts of the elephant, the trunk, the eyes, and also a skinless version of the elephant robot, swaying back and forth. "To build these elephants, it's going to take about eleven weeks, and we have about twenty-five people. We're working ten hour days so its a lot of manpower; a lot of man hours". Rick nods approvingly as several workers open up a mold of the elephant head. We see a finished elephant being tested for movement. "We're going to push one elephant out of the airplane. We also have to produce six stand-ins, just static ones for testing", says Lazzarini.

We see six static elephants standing at attention at the parking lot of the Character Shop. Next we see aerial footage taken from Thailand. Rick tells us a story of how the parachute had failed to open on some of the drops. "As we're watching the parachute come down further and further, there's a sense of dread, and also a sense of fun." We see a TCS crewmember sob over a shattered fiberglass elephant:"My poor baby!" "Out of all the test drops", says Lazzarini, "we lost three elephants, that's why we made six." People cheer as we see a parachute open successfully in one of the drops. The drop was a success. We see the dropped elephant; fully intact. Doug E. Doug wraps it up: The elephant had landed safely without a scratch!"

For other Dumbo Drop coverage, see:
The L.A. Times | Theatre Crafts International | Entertainment Tonight | TCS' press release
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Inside Edition: 10/31/89

Rick's Note:For a special Halloween show aired in 1989, IE did a rather in-depth report on the shop. Featured were the Theater ghost and Frog ghost made for "Ghostbusters II", and Freddy appliance, womb, and fetus from Nightmare on Elm Street V. Also a very nice demo of the Facial Waldo®, used on the animatronic lion head built for a series of Bell Canada commercials.

Favorite overblown line: Reporter Steve McPartlin's authoritative-sounding narration: "HE is one of Hollywood's top special effects MEN!"

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"It's Halloween time again and you know what that means." Reporter Steve McPartlin, has found a man who does some pretty scary things. Opening on some shots of spooky creatures from past projects, we are taken exclusively into the place where it all begins; Rick Lazzarini's Character Shop. We see various creatures and short clips from movies like "Ghostbusters II", "A Nightmare on Elm Street", and "My Stepmother is an Alien". "You might think that a person who comes up with all this, may be a strange guy, but actually, Rick is quite normal. Well, sort of."

He demonstrates a bat puppet used for a past NBC project. Rick explains that, as a kid, he enjoyed reading comic books and watching monster movies, and wanted to know how those things were done. Rick says he likes to come up with different ideas, and likes to get them out in 3-dimensions and make them work. Rick demonstrates his invention, the Facial Waldo®. "This is a control device which is used to manipulate expressions, on puppets and creatures. Sensors are glued to the puppeteers face, and once they are in place, they can actuate the puppet's eyebrows, smile, mouth." It does whatever Rick's face does, "thus eliminating confusion on the set."

Rick tells us how he tries to stay away from gore. Although he doesn't mind an old-fashioned scare by a ghost or creature, Rick doesn't like blood and dismemberment. "Rick is very much more into the technology. Films' spooks have come a long way on the silver screen", narrates McPartlin. While demonstrasting a very realistic animatronic head, Rick feels that it is very important to develop new ways to operate puppets, and that's why he feels that computer control is becoming more common. McPartlin says "Electronic control is taking the place of strings and sticks." "They still sometimes use rods, and string, but there's a lot more computer chips in there too." agrees Rick. McPartlin notes "Rick Lazzarini is a man in love with his work, but around this time of year, he tries to make himself pretty scarce." Rick clarifies "I have Halloween year-round, so around Halloween week, I kind of disappear."

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CNN ShowBiz News

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"Welcome to the Character Shop." We open on a few shots of puppets from some of Rick's past projects. We see Rick touching up an animatronic bust of Paul Schaffer specially created for his guest spot on the David Letterman Show. Rick offers as to how it isn't magic that creates these characters: "It takes a lot of long hours, it takes dedication, it takes talent." Rick demonstrates the Arm Waldo® by puppeteering a desk lamp. Rick shows us the Facial Waldo® as he puppeteers a large animatronic lion head. Rick explains how all of your movements must be exaggerated to make up for what is lost in the translation. With sensors glued to Rick's face, every expression that he makes gives the puppet life. Narrator: "Lazzarini's Waldo® system makes for startlingly realistic facial expressions and startling savings for movie makers. The Waldo® eliminates two or three puppeteers, which were previously necessary to give the creature expression or body movement." Rick explains: "Before, you had a bunch of guys on these joystick boxes, with one guy for each moveable part. The difficulty comes in when trying to coordinate all the movements together. So this Waldo® device integrates it into one operator or as few operators as possible." Rick says as he puppeteers the Paul Schaffer head. Regarding the then-current shying away from special effects, Rick slyly comments: "Hollywood is learning that with films like Driving Miss Daisy, you can make a lot of money with a simple story and no fancy special effects. . . so, get off it, will you?" At the end, the CNN Showbiz reporter turns to the camera and says: "Special Effects, indeed!" (Is that what they call a sound bite?)
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