’We hope people in the Home Counties will be outraged after seeing
this commercial,’ TBWA GGT Simons Palmer’s art director Graham Cappi
Johnny Vaughan’s ’abuse’ of gorillas in the latest Strongbow ad is
likely to cause a stir, not least because the animatronic gorillas look
so real - as one poor technician can verify. Checking the rushes after
the first day’s shooting, he thought he was watching a nature programme.
Then a gorilla suddenly turned to camera and asked: ’Was that OK
But creating this realistic setting wasn’t easy, the copywriter Alan
Moseley claims. ’The script involves Johnny Vaughan meeting a group of
wild gorillas in the jungle which he domesticates so that he can
Filming in the Congo was out because of Vaughan’s Big Breakfast
Instead, the set designer John Ebden brought the jungle to Shepperton
using pounds 8,000 worth of plants, ants and mosquitos and a 3D backdrop
- ’a dying art but one which saves the expense of a digital background
created in post,’ Ebden says.
A long search for realistic gorillas unearthed Henson’s Creature
Workshop - the team behind Babe, Dr Doolittle and, crucially, the
gorilla film Buddy.
’The animals are expensive and complex. Just one head took months to
make. The jaw alone has 27 servos allowing countless expressions; each
individual hair on the entire gorilla was punched in by hand,’ Tracy
Lenon, a producer at Henson’s, says.
The result is spectacular. The gorilla’s watery eyes, created using
silicon oils, stared at me imploringly and I was tempted to hand it a
The costumes are custom-built, based on casts of actors’ bodies and
can’t be worn by just anyone.
The lead actor Peter Elliott, known as ’the ape man’ in the industry
after his monkey behaviour in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, studied
primates for two years. He became the first person to integrate himself
with a chimpanzee colony successfully.
’People treat it like a mime act or impression but it’s an acting role
like any other. It’s an amazing feeling to breathe life into these
costumes,’ says Elliott, who loses seven pounds in weight after spending
up to 16 hours in the suit.
Bringing the gorillas to life involves serious dexterity by the actors,
who operate hand movements using a rod system, and by the puppeteer Mack
Wilson who twists and turns a model head with one hand and operates a
computer with the other. At the same time Wilson watches a monitor and
guides the actors, who are effectively blind and deaf once inside the
costume. This is done using headphones and gorilla-like grunts - a
language Elliott developed himself.
It was an unusual job for the Spectre director Daniel Kleinman. ’It was
like Chinese whispers between me, the headphones and the gorilla
And the fact that we shot different plates to create the impression of
more gorillas was also difficult because, obviously, you can’t see
The plates were composited by Smoke & Mirrors to produce scenes with
eight gorillas born from the original three.
Kleinman says in his inimitable style: ’It was a smorgasbord of
technical trickery and only a genius like me could pull it off.’