SEA LION - Animatronic Puppet.
One- 24 inch long, life-size puppet head and chest.
Urethane, fibreglass, glass eyes, and mechanisms.
Head turn, eyes, brows, and mouth.
This seal gag did not make the final cut, but what a memorable shoot it was. The action was Lloyd Bridges' President Benson personally invading Saddam Hussien's Iraqui seaside palace from the sea, coming up undetected in full scuba gear. Mind you this is 1993, years later than Seahunt. Lloyd is now 80 years old and still diving! He was a great guy to work with and expressed more concern for my wellbeing than his own. The gag called for him to surface, then two Navy Seals to his left, then one real seal. To be acurate, we were using sea lions- Hollywood has misguided the public for years, using the imminently more trainable sea lions to stand in as 'seals.'. The real seal, our puppet, looks over at Lloyd and away, then does a quick double take in shock -brows raised and jaw dropped- and escapes by diving back underwater.
Setup- A steel basket was cantilevered underwater off the back of the boat for me to work in. To insure that I stay underwater, I was given double weight belts and no buoyancy jacket. My regulator exhaust was hooked up to tigon tubes that led away underwater to surface off camera. First issue to develop setting up the gag, is that when the tigon tubes filled up with my exhaust air, they floated up to the surface where they would show up on camera. So they're weighted down, requiring me to bite down like a pitbull on my regulator to keep it from literally being pulled out of my mouth. Secondly, when everyone on the boat hears that the seal puppet is playing, they all move to the back of the boat to get a good vantage point. What effect do you suppose this has on me? Yes. With all their weight shifted, down goes the back end of the boat and with it, me. My perch sank so low that I had to stand up on it's very top edges just to get my head barely above water -and even that was only good between the swells that came and rocked the boat. I must have looked like a real disinterested joker, alternating up and down, above water then under water, while being given my directions.
Weighted off as I was, I really had no choice -submerging and surfacing to the tides' whims- and as I managed to get the gist of my directions, I decided to persevere and work with this situation, still determinedly biting down on my regulator to keep the weights from ripping it out of my mouth and precariously walking along the top edge of the puppeteer cage , which is beginning to feel more and more like a fish fry basket to me. Lloyd moves into his position near me, the two navy seal actors take theirs, and we do three or four takes.
As we go through it, tightening up everyone's cues and timing, Lloyd and the navy seals' positions begin shifting further and further away from my fish fry basket. I imagine it was not very appealing be kicking and treading water near this steel cage located so inconveniently at their shin level. Okay. So now I'm having to lean out toward them more and more, I had to get my legs wrapped around the steel side walls for support and my entire body is cantilevered way out off the platform so I can work the puppet over near their new positions. All the while I am accutely aware that if I should lose my leg hold, it is straight down that I will go, down into 30, 40, maybe 50 or more feet of water, wearing extra weights, carrying a heavy puppet, and with no buoyancy jacket. In my mind, I was already calculating- if I fell, I would have to let the puppet go right away, then quickly unclip and remove both weight belts and hopefully swim back up to the surface in time to breathe. Either that, or hope that the water safety diver on duty sees me and can come rescue me and my puppet from sinking into the depths...
Somehow, miraculously, we manage to get the shots with me puppeteering stretched out to the max. Later I learn that the gag didn't play well with test audiences and was cut from the film. Oh well. I made a note to myself to do my best to be proactive and assume more control over puppeteering setups in the future.
SEA LION - Credits
TRUTH ANTI-SMOKING commercial.
AVOCADOS FROM MEXICO 'First Draft Ever' commercial. Matt Dilmore, director.
BURGER KING commercial. Guy Shelmerdine, director.
DOS EQUIS commercial.
'SILJA LINE commercial.
HOT SHOTS! Part Deux (20th Century Fox) 1993. Jim Abrams, director.
ANIMAL RESCUE KIDS television series.