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THE COUNTRY BEARS

About The Henson Technology
"If you are going to use animatronic characters, the first choice is Henson," says producer Andrew Gunn. "When we went to their shop, talked to them and saw their equipment, they were the obvious choice."

When the filmmakers began to develop the look of the bears with the crew from The Henson Creature Shop, their first priority was to make each bear look distinctive.

"We had no idea what the bears should look like when we started," says producer Jeffrey Chernov.

"They couldn't look exactly like real bears, yet we didn't want them to look ‘cartoony.' So we tried to find some kind of middle ground," explains producer Andrew Gunn.

The bear character designs were fine tuned over an eight-week period. The design of the costumes was also a complicated process. Each of the eight bears had to have a distinctive look so the audience could easily differentiate the character on screen. "Henson is known for concentrating on story and character when building a puppet. So we purposely gave each bear details of their distinct personality - a signature outfit, different colors of fur and eyes, and we varied their sizes and shapes," explains Chernov.

Because the suits were being built from scratch, decisions had to made about very minute details like fur texture, hair density, what kinds of tongues and kinds of teeth to give them.

"Our director had to make so many choices," sympathizes producer Andrew Gunn. "Every director has to make decisions. But his were down to the point where an artist would say ‘On a real bear, there's only a little bit of hair here on the upper lip. I'm thinking that we should double that on Fred, is that okay with you?' But these were big decisions, because all the hairs on the heads were being punched in, individually, by hand."

To facilitate building the bear suits and heads, a cast is made of each individual suit performer's body. The costume is built on a custom superstructure, based on a harness that distributes the weight of the suit as evenly as possible on the shoulders and around the waist. The face is sculpted and little motors are attached to the features. Artisans lay latex and fur over the superstructure. Each strand of hair is hand-punched into the latex.

Approximately thirty high torque servomotors, as typically used in model airplanes, are mounted inside each head and control the muscles of the face and the articulated movement of each feature - eyes, eyebrows, mouth, tongue, lips, ears - so that each bear is capable of a full range of expressions. A computerized system links these motors to individual controls that the puppeteer operates.

Battery packs and a communications system must also go inside the suit. The electronic and mechanical components are adjusted to fit each suit and performer and are as evenly balanced as possible to ease performance. Lips and eyes are painted and the fur is groomed.

It takes an army of interdisciplinary sculptors, mold makers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, costume designers, and artists for-which-there-are-no-names to conceive and build each character.

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