WHITE RHINOCEROS - Animatronic Costume.
One- 12 foot long, life-sized walkaround suit.
Foam latex, latex, spandex, soft foam, fibreglass, aluminum speedrail frame, and mechanisms.
Body walk, chest breathe, head, eyes and lids, mouth, nostrils and snort, ears, and tail.
Available with advance notice.
Building complex puppets within the extremely short schedules of some 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 can help.
The Rhinoceros Suit is worn by two actors that wear the legs with suspenders, hip wader style, and they both clip into back packs attached to the frame inside the Rhino body. Once inside the suit performers have control of the head, neck, mouth, tail, and chest 'breathe' movements, and they are assisted by puppeteers outside on RC radio controls to run the animatronic eyes, ears, and snort mechanisms.
Walkaround Suit- To help solve the tough short schedule of this job, 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 to also quickly and accuratly construct 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, twelve foot long mass as efficiently as possible, leaving their hands free for manipulation of inner controls.
Rhino Muscle Suit- The opened up taxidermy form also aided rapid and accurate fabrication of the soft foam 'muscle suit' body elements. Two inch 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 pre-shaped soft foam forms, which were then glued all together and fitted on top of the box frame and banding. Retractable 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 retractable supports also came in handy on set for the performers to drop down from inside, giving them needed breaks from supporting the bulky rhinoceros suit.
Rhino Textures Skin- Subtle detail refinements were added to this soft foam covering, like the rhino's ribs. Large 'rhino skin' texture sheet forms were sculpted up in clay, then 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, and cast in foam latex, affixed to a lightweight fibreglass head form -cast from the taxidermy form- and mechanized for the remote control animatronics: 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 details of teeth, gums, and tongue were sculpted, molded, and vacuum-formed in thin 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 they are then firmly connected together 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. For the performer's comfort, we also added lightweight fans and drink holders inside. On the first Toyota shoot, I was worried about the actors getting overheated on a hot summer day, so I brought along a small air conditioner to pump cool air in for them. The rhino foam was such good insulation that the performers inside the rhino didn't even need it. There was also a dust storm on that particular shoot day and while everyone else, outside the rhino, was miserable, the performers inside were also protected from all the dirt blowing around. I remember cleaning big clumps of accumulated dust storm dirt out of each of my eyes later that nightafter the shoot.
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. We brought extra soft foam padding for the suit performers to place inside the rhino suit and keep them from getting too beat up. The soft foam pads on the ground softened their fall and its compression also aided in giving the impression of the rhino's weight and impact onto the ground.
For the Power Bar shoot, the rhino's front legs were required to stand directly 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.
TOYOTA TACOMA 'Rhino Tipping' commercial.
TOYOTA TUNDRA commercial.
GATORADE ENERGY BARS commercial.
ING FINANCIAL commercial.
RUNNING RHINO PUPPET MECHANISM.
WHITE RHINOCEROS - Credits
AVOCADOS FROM MEXICO 'First Draft Ever' commercial. Matt Dilmore, director.
BAYER commercial. Nieto, director.
TOYOTA TUNDRA commercial.
BEAT SODA commercial. Tito Lara, director.
ING FINANCIAL commercial. Paul Middleditch, director.
GATORADE ENERGY BARS commercial. Erich Joiner, director.
TOYOTA TACOMA 'Rhino Tipping' commercial. Dave Merhar, director.