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Building The Bubble
There is indeed another star in "Bubble Boy," and it's not a SAG or Equity card-carrying actor. It's the bubble suit worn by Jake Gyllenhaal who portrays Jimmy Livingston. The suit is meant to protect Jimmy from encountering germs, as he makes his way toward Niagara Falls and the woman he loves.

Special character effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., partners in Amalgamated Dynamics, Incorporated and Academy Award® winners for Best Visual Effects for their work on "Death Becomes Her," were selected to create the bubble boy suit.

"The bubble suit is really, for Jake, an extension of the character he portrays," says Alec Gillis who previously worked with Tom Woodruff on such hits as "The Santa Clause," "My Favorite Martian," and "Alien3," among many other films. "That was very inspiring to us, because we always want to put as much character into our creations as possible. Before director Blair Hayes came aboard we started coming up with design ideas that were rather complex. When Blair came on, he turned everything upside down. He said, ‘These designs are all very nice' – because Blair's very respectful of the process – "but I was thinking something more like this.' Then he drew an egg shape with two little feet coming out of it.

"At first we thought he was joking because it was so simple," Gillis continues. "Then I realized from the look on his face that he was absolutely serious. The important thing to him was to reflect that the character of Jimmy is innocent. The egg-shape represented new life and new birth, which is the ultimate innocence. Once he dew that egg shape we whacked our heads and said, ‘yes, he's so right.' It's the simplest impact made as quickly as possible: an egg shape."

Director Hayes' vision was for the audience to not be distracted by the bubble suit. He knew it was important not to take too much focus away from the character of Jimmy. "Again, he was right," Gillis says, "because in the film you get the initial impact of this suit, this outrageous inflatable suit, but you forget about it in a way. Because of the simplicity, audiences won't be distracted by a lot of different patterns and textures. It was a great collaboration with Blair."

Although there was one specific look for the bubble suit, Gillis and Woodruff had to create five different suits for various activities. "We have what we call our ‘hero suit,' Woodruff says, "which is the pristine suit used for close-ups. We had a suit that would inflate very quickly for the beginning scene that had a motor attachment to it. We also had a suit that was airtight for the water scenes. Also, there was a special stunt suit used for rolling, which was a partial suit with a seat in it which was made to accommodate a camera to get shots from inside the bubble when Jake had to roll around. We also had what we called our POV bubble, which was a half shell, that was actually a hard shell with vinyl skin stretched over it."

The dimensions of the bubble suit are four feet wide by five feet high, and has waders – boots – extending down from the bubble. The actor had about two feet of headspace above him. Gillis and Woodruff incorporated several different techniques to keep Jake cool in the suit. "We had an air conditioning unit that we could use to shoot cool air into the bubble, and we also had a cool suit for Jake to wear. This is a vest with a network of tubes through which we would run ice water to cool the actor down," Gillis says.


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