Big Time

Shortly after finishing up working on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Prudence Fenton, the animation producer told that there was a job starting for a music video. I could not believe I was being hired, for my second job in animation, to work on a music video for Peter Gabriel‘s song Big Time from his latest album, So. I was (and still am) a big fan of his work.

We started off having a creative meeting with the director, Stephen Johnson, who had been the director of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Peter Wallach, the owner of the animation and special effects company where we would be working. We were asked to do some idea sketches and bring them back for review. A couple of mine were chosen and I was assigned to build models of those and also to work on models of some of the other ideas that had been brought in.

Unlike, Sledgehammer, which Stephen Johnson had also directed, Peter Gabriel would not have the time to be animated or spend hours in the studio as he was now on tour. We were told he would come in a few times to film his parts.

One of the first things I sculpted was the Mirror-Man, which was based on a photograph of an African sculpture Stephen Johnson had brought in. It was built on a concave mirror that could be removed if needed, the frame was painted polymer clay with a latex tail that could be animated to swing back and forth.

I built a lot of clay versions of Peter Gabriel, a couple of large heads and a bunch of smaller full-body versions. After spending hours and hours sculpting the larger clay heads they were only onscreen for seconds before being completely distorted by the animators.

The larger, more detailed sculpt which gets crushed by two large bodies then covered in all kinds of stuff.
The smaller of the two heads I sculpted, this one also needed separate arms to pull his mouth open..

Peter Wallach had worked out a projector system to put Peter Gabriel’s face onto the smaller clay models. It looked cool in the video, it looks less cool in the screen shot below.

At one point Peter Wallach asked me to sculpt a bunch of mouths that would say Big Time when animated. I was given footage that had been filmed earlier and went through it frame by frame to make the props. I wanted them to be a large version of Peter Gabriel’s mouth. They originally had half tongue-depressors glued to the back of them and Peter Gabriel was supposed to hold them in his teeth so it would look like he had a really big mouth.

Time was running short and he was not able to come back for filming. Late one night Peter Wallach grabbed me and asked me to help shoot the mouths. I put on the white shirt and red and black jacket Peter Gabriel wore for the video and I held the mouths in various positions while Peter Wallach shot them frame by frame. After a couple of versions I suggested I do a Peace sign and hold the mouths that way. That’s the version they ended up using in the video.

It was always funny to me, I was excited that I got to work on this and that my animation models were in the video. My friends, on the other hand, thought it was great that my hand was now famous.

I got to know Peter Wallach pretty well over the 17 very-long days that we worked on the project. He hired me to work on a number of animation projects over the next couple of years. When they were breaking down the sets for the video he said I could keep the Mirror-Man prop and we split the lips 50-50, I got the odd-numbered ones and he got the even numbers.

Mirror-Man displayed in my home office.

Mirror Man was on display in my workspaces wherever I lived. The mouths, on the other hand, were put into a storage box with other stuff. I moved many times over the years and they got roughed up a bit. I pulled them out recently and decided to finally build a proper display for them. I planned on building a tall, narrow frame and I ordered a piece of plexiglass cut to 7″ wide by 36″ tall.

The mouths were very dirty and some of the paint had scraped off. I cleaned them up as best I could and decided to repaint the parts that needed it. I took reference photos of each of them as I would have to paint over the highlights on the teeth and lips.

I carefully mixed latex paint until I matched the original colors. I only repainted the teeth and the lips, the gums, tongue and inner mouth paint was fine after cleaning.

The cleaned and touched-up lips.

Once the plexiglass arrived I built and painted the frame, I stretched black velvet across the back and bolted the lips so they stand about a 1/2″ in front of the back. I picked a spot on my office wall and hung them up. They look better in person, the photo below does not look great as it’s hard not to get a reflection from any angle. OK, now I need another project to revisit…hmmm?

Here you can see both the rebuilt Penny doll and the Big Time lips in their frame.

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