CAPTAIN EO: part one of a three part series

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Written by Terri Hardin Jackson

In honor of Michael Jackson’s latest album “Xscape,” and all of you who asked about Captain EO.

Xcape,” and all of you who asked about Captain EO.

© Disney

Can you believe it?  Only someone really great could release an album after they died.  Then have a hologram of yourself dancing at a special music award event.

What an amazing man. Never was there a more generous sole in my opinion.  Because of Captain EO, Michael and I became and remained friends for 8 years.

Many of you know the Captain EO film. In fact, I know that many of you know it by heart.

For all of you, I’ll share a behind the scenes story and explain the journey taken to make Captain EO. It will take me 3 articles to tell you my story. I hope you enjoy it.

One day after working my job at the carpet cutting company, I received a phone call.  The voice on the other end asked,

“How would you like to work with Michael Jackson?”

“Okay?”  (I have to say that at the time, I wasn’t that interested in working with Michael Jackson in the beginning.  My mother was the one who would have loved that chance.)

“How would you like to work with George Lucas?”

“Okay?” (This is getting better I thought, would he be willing to talk Star Wars with me after I ended up in Sky Walking, the story of George Lucas for seeing the film 185 times in theatres)

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“How would you like to work with Francis Ford Coppola?”

“I’m in!”  (I’d work for this man for free. I really wanted to meet him. I’m a huge fan of the Godfather films)

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The next day I went to work at a Studio in Culver City.  I was assigned to build the Whip Warriors, the ones who attack Michael Jackson when he tries to give a gift to the Wicked Queen. The job would last about 2 weeks I was told.

I was given a drawing and the size of the dancers who were to wear the suits.  It’s important to ask what the dancers will be doing in these outfits so you can make sure the suits move with them and not hinder their performance.  For those of you who’ve seen the Behind the Scenes video where the helmet of one of the Whip Warriors helmet flies off while he works to trap Michael, you know exactly what I mean.

The designer told me the dancers would be walking nothing more just build them. Then I got to see a rehearsal. The dancers were doing everything but walking. Not Cool. So I had to fix a lot of problems so the dancers could see better and move more. The outfits were still very challenging.

While working on these revisions on stage 11, back at my home, someone called and left a message about a new film for Disney called Captain EO, would I be interested in auditioning for one of the puppet roles?  When I got home and heard this message, I returned the call and left a message.

“I’d love to but you don’t need to call me, just come by Stage 11 down the way from you as I’m building the warriors for that film and let me know all the details.”

At work I waited for them to drop by. Nothing happened, no visit from production.

Puzzled I returned home and again heard the message, a new film for Disney called Captain EO. Would you be interested in auditioning for puppet roles. If you’re not interested, please have the courtesy to contact us. Blah Blah Blah.

I couldn’t believe it. Had they not heard my message?

Not wanting this to happen again, I walked from my stage where we were building the costumes to the production room and introduced myself.

“Hi, my name is Terri Hardin and I understand you want to reach me. I just wanted you to know that all you had to do is walk that way to find me.”

I pointed to stage 11 and their faces dropped.  I smiled, and an audition time was scheduled. At the audition the lead puppeteer told me he wanted to have me try out for a two-headed bird creature. I won the part of Idy and Ody.

What really landed the part for me was the fact that I could lift and perform these heavy suckers. Each bird head weighed 15 lbs. each and the body added to this weight by quite a lot.  Many had auditioned before me without success. When I hoisted it up and made it live with little effort, I got the job.

Disney is really not keen on letting folks know that creatures seen in films of this nature have puppeteers working them.  They’re more comfortable promoting the people who wear the costumes. They believe that this helps the creatures appear real. To Disney, it’s easier to promote the actors wearing the costumes. This sounds better then telling the world they’re puppets.  As a result puppeteers go through life not being credited for the work they’ve done. This was the case in Captain EO.

All the creatures had suit performers. For Idy and Ody as well as Hooter the little elephant, little people were cast.  The construction of Idy and Ody posed a problem for the two performers cast to play them.

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Because they were a two headed bird with three legs, the performers of this creature had to be tied at the waist and their outside arms and legs became the arms and legs of Idy and Ody.  The performers inside arms they put around each other and their inside legs together were placed inside the middle leg of Idy and Ody’s.  When they walked in this costume it was much like when you run a 3 legged race.

The heads of this costume had very little animation ability, so most of the scenes (with exception to the walking ones) the puppet was used. 90% of the performance of Idy and Ody is my work.

However, Tony Cox played the little elephant Hooter.  His suit fit him like a glove.

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Most of the work you see he did himself. He was able to animate this creature very well. There was only one scene Hooter was just not able to do. That scene was the Push the red button scene. This scene called for Hooter to jump up and hit the button with his trunk. The costume restricted Tony’s head so he couldn’t jump AND move his head to push the button.  A duplicate trunk was made so the puppeteer could hit the button on cue. After a couple of passes the puppeteer for Hooter began to get fatigued and Francis Ford Coppola barked in an angry voice.

“I need a strong Puppeteer!  Where the heck is that bird puppeteer!” So I was brought in to do the scene.  I offered for this puppeteer and I to do the scene together, after all everything is better with a team. But this didn’t make her very happy and she walked off the set leaving me to do the scene. The next time you see this scene you’ll know who is really pushing the red button.

Fuzzball, was both a puppet and created optically. Rick Baker’s team, were the masterminds behind the success of this creature.

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When a film goes into production, the first thing the director does is to call for a table read.  This involves calling all the performers together to read the script and to discuss the filming schedule.

Francis Ford Coppola called us all together.  I was a little nervous as I was such a fan, I didn’t want to appear all geeky when I met him. When he did walk up to me, he was dressed in a plaid shirt and Bermuda shorts and I didn’t recognize him.

“Hello, welcome, I’m Francis.”

“Nice to meet you Francis.”

When he walked away a cold wash of sweat covered my body as I realized I’d just shaken hands with the Francis Ford Coppola.

We all took our seats around a huge table. The suit performers were to read the lines of each creature and puppeteers were to sit and listen. Everyone was in position.  Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Angelica Huston. The only person missing was Michael Jackson.

Read More: http://micechat.com/68200-lets-talk-captain-eo-staring-michael-jackson/

Source: micechat / Terri Hardin Jackson / MJ-Upbeat.com

 

 

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