Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jack Frost

I was watching ABC Family's 25 days of Christmas last night and the movie was Jack Frost, a modern take on Frosty the Snowman about a father who dies in a car accident but comes back to life through a snowman.

The Snowman, voiced and mannered by Michael Keaton, was an animatronic puppet. The snowman was brought to life at Jim Henson's creation shop in Los Angeles and at George Lucas's renowned Industrial Light and Magic shop. It took 22 weeks to create the snowman and devise the perfect features, incorporating expressive eyes and brows, and round cheeks. The resulting Jack Frost was a 5 1/2 foot tall animatronic snowman that could move, maneuver its arms, talk and express emotion.

The director wanted to make sure the puppet had Michael Keaton's characteristics, but still looked like it was made by a kid. The process of making the snowman started with making at 9 heads for the director to approve, and then the full body or "hero" as they refer to it was sculpted. The puppet was worn by a Denise Chesire for most of the film, so a body cast was need for the inside of the puppet. The form of the snowman was made out of foam and covered with clay, and then skin was generated by using a combination of foam rubber and silicone. Different variations of the snowman's head and body were created for specific scenes, and the Henson Creature Shop crew estimated at least 60 variations of the snowman were made for production.

Jeff Forbes supervised the vast network of technology needed to bring the snowman puppet alive. A lot of what the crew had to do was based on how the head was designed and the kind of lip-synch performance required for the film. There ended up being 10 servo-mechanisms just in the lips, which gave the puppeteer a lot of ability to do lip shapes. During production it took a team of five specialized puppeteers working in synchronization to generate a performance from Jack Frost.

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