WHITE RHINOCEROS - Suit
TOYOTA TACOMA 'Rhino' commercial. Dave Merhar, director.
GATORADE POWER BARS 'Rhino' commercial. Erich Joiner, director.
also- BEAT 'Rhino' commercial. Tito Lara, director.
Building complex puppets within the greatly
compressed schedules of commercials is a whole discipline
unto itself. This original Toyota 'rhino tipping' job provided
us with substantial challenges. We had three weeks in which
to complete a full-sized, 12 foot long White Rhinoceros animatronic
walkaround suit and a roughly one-fifth scale 30" long,
matching mechanical White Rhinoceros that could run in full
gallop, with all of its body mass, hip and shoulders, the
knees and ankles of all four legs, running fully synchronized
and totally convincingly. Within these tight deadlines every
moment and every decision has to count. Success depends on
having a thorough, well thought out approach, utilizing every
time saving technique, device and scheduling strategy that
Walkaround Suit- We were fortunate
to locate an accurate, full-sized White Rhinoceros fibreglass
taxidermy buck that had just then become available. These
taxidermy forms can be very helpful in our business; not for
molding and casting -lacking all the exterior skin detail
and subtleties of real animals- but for accurate measurement
and optimal placement of performers inside the suits. This
particular form provided us with a variety of advantages.
We opened up the Fiberglas form lengthwise, allowing us to
quickly decide on the best position for each performer to
stand inside and for quick and accurate construction of a
lightweight, aluminum speedrail box frame to support the body
and neck mechanism. Two backpack frames bolted to this box
frame allow the performers to 'wear' the rhino suit and move
it's huge mass as efficiently as possible, leaving their hands
free for manipulation of inner controls.
The opened up taxidermy form also aided rapid
and accurate fabrication of the soft foam 'muscle suit' body
elements. 2' thick, open-cell, soft foam was placed into the
open face forms, quickly cut to size, darted and formed to
fit within the Rhino's body mass. Thin steel bands were riveted
to the box frame in order to round it out and provide a light,
flexible support for the preshaped soft foam forms, which
were then glued together and fitted over the box frame and
banding. Removable aluminum tube support stands in front of
each leg area were built into the aluminum box frame, allowing
the body forms to be worked on and measured against the taxidermy
form at the Rhino's full standing height. These supports also
came in handy on set for the performers to drop down from
inside, giving them needed breaks from supporting the rhino
Subtle detail refinements were added to this
soft foam covering, like the rhino's ribs. Large 'rhino skin'
texture sheets were sculpted in clay, molded in plaster, cast
in slip latex and glued over the broad forms of the foam.
Gaps between these sheets were patched and blended together
using foam latex with a special curing agent added, so they
could be cured with regular hair driers and textured as they
dried. A tail was fabricated and attached to a mechanism to
swing it back and forth as needed. Inside the rhino, in the
mid-body, rib area, we attached aluminum rods on pivots, so
they can be pushed in and out for a rhino 'breathing' effect.
The more intricate details of the rhino's
head -the mouth and nostrils, eyes and surrounding areas and
the ears- were all sculpted, molded, cast in foam latex, affixed
to a fibreglass head form -cast from the taxidermy form- and
mechanized for remote control: eye movement, eye blink, mouth
open/close, nostril movement, and ear wiggle. Tubes were set
into the nostrils, allowing fine powder to be blown through
them for nostril snort. The inner mouth detail was sculpted,
molded, and vacuum-formed in plastic to help with our overall
strategy of saving weight wherever we could. The rhino's legs
were built as free-standing soft foam leggings that the performers
wear as hip waders. The performers climb into two holes under
the rhino suit body that the legs mate up to and are firmly
connected to with a system of quick release clips. Strapping
themselves into their backpacks and raising the front and
rear support posts up inside the body, the rhino is then ready
to go. Video monitors inside feed or to a mini camera located
in the Rhino chest and can also be patched into the production's
live feed video system.
Performance- For the Toyota spot,
the full size, walkaround suit was called on to be tipped
over on its side. For this, large foam pads were buried in
the ground, covered with a dirt colored tarp that was staked
down and covered in a thin layer of local dirt. The brave
puppeteers inside took the fall many times. Extra soft foam
padding inside kept them from getting too beat up. The soft
foam in the ground softened their fall and its compression
also aided the impression of the rhino's weight and impact.
For the Power Bar shoot, the rhino's front legs were required
to stand on the shoulders of a football player as he did pushups.
For this effect we needed to reduce weight and keep the rhino's
balance, so we rigged the front of the suit to work without
a puppeteer and supported the rhino's weight on steel cables
that ran from the box frame inside up to pulleys attached
to a condor lift and back down to our crew for lifting.
Mechanical White Rhinoceros (AN033)-
Originally, we had purchased a small rhinoceros model that
we could refine and resculpt to save precious time otherwise
spent starting from scratch. A few days into the schedule
it was requested that we make this rhino larger. This left
us with a much greater challenge- our worktime had been reduced
to two and a half weeks, and our workload has been increased.
We now had to sculpt the whole scale model rhino from scratch.
Rather than competing with computer effects,
we're using computers to improve our work. The way computers
helped us to work out the mechanical movement of our scale
model rhino is pretty amazing -if we do say so ourselves.
Footage of a good side view of a white Rhinoceros in full
gallop was looped so it would repeat the movement over and
over. This was imported into a computer in 'Lightwave'- a
three-dimensional, computer animation program. Analyzing Rhinoceros
skeleton references gave us exact placement of pivot points,
and an animated overlay of an entire computer-simulated galloping
rhino mechanism -chaindrive and gears included- was rendered
in Lightwave, overlaying this looped real footage clip. This
computer animated mechanism was printed out at the scale of
our new, enlarged scale-model Rhinoceros; the parts were
machined to match the blueprints, and the real running mechanism
For the outer skin of our mechanical rhino-
the model was sculpted in oil clay, molded, and a core was
created inside the mold to carefully control the thicknesses
of the skin so it would mate up to our mechanism. A very pliant,
softened silicone rubber skin -to give the rhino a very organic
sense of weight and movement- was cast. Intermediary vacuum-formed
core pieces were mounted onto the mechanism to lightly support
the rubber skin and to keep it from being chewed up in the
mechanism's many moving gears and parts. The skin was then
velcro-mounted over the mechanism and these springy,vacuum-formed
core pieces; and our scale model rhino was off and running
at full gallop. The head was mounted on a control rod and
left loose of the body, so it can be puppeteered independently
while the rhino is running. Colored powders are applied over
the painted rubber skin, to reduce the natural oiliness of
the rubber skin on shoot days.
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