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'Buddy' takes Henson magic one step further

movie scene

June 11, 1997
Web posted at: 4:24 a.m. EDT (0824 GMT)

From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester

HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- On the set of the film "Buddy," which stars a gorilla and a cast of countless animals, it was difficult to tell the fake fur from the real, thanks to the expertise of Jim Henson Pictures.

Faced with the difficulties of working with a real-live 300- pound gorilla, the creators opted to use fake apes to bring to life the story of a baby gorilla growing up.


"When a primate hits adolescence ... and you say, 'Go sit in your chair,' they say, 'Make me.' And so it was just never going to be a feasible reality (to use a real gorilla)," said writer/director Caroline Thompson.

Brian Henson, son of the late Muppet-master Jim Henson, said the film's creators advanced their own technology to create several extremely realistic gorillas -- from infant to adult -- to star in the film.

"There were huge jumps in this to make skin that looks utterly believable (and) real hair. And probably the most impressive are real (looking) eyes," said Henson.

Scenes from the movie "Buddy"
movie scenes
movie icon Excerpt from "Buddy"
(1.2 MB / 28 sec. QuickTime)
movie icon "Buddy" movie trailer
(5.5 MB / 2 min. 8 sec. QuickTime)


The full-grown Buddy also had 26 servos, or motors, in his head to make its head and facial movements realistic. While the servos were operated remotely by puppeteers, inside the body of the gorilla suit was Peter Elliot -- a 20-year veteran of ape pictures.

"In that suit, he's very nearly blind, he's deprived of oxygen and it's so hot in there it almost gets to the boiling point," Thompson said.

"Buddy" star Rene Russo says she was completely convinced by Henson's creatures, but the number of people it took to operate them was a constant reminder that she wasn't alone.


"You've got five puppeteers under your dress ... truly ... and you're holding this darling baby gorilla, and they'd be down there saying, 'Move over, move over. I've got to get my elbow', while I'd be singing a lullaby. It was trying," Russo said.

Both Russo and co-star Alan Cumming spent much of the film with real-life chimpanzees and bonded with their co-stars months before the cameras rolled.

"It was an amazing experience, because you just get immersed in a world that you never thought (existed)," Cummings said as he held and feed a baby chimp. "Look at me. I was playing Hamlet three years ago. This is not where I thought I'd be at all."


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