CAMPAIGN CRAFT: CRAFT SECRETS - Precision technology of Strongbow’s great apes. TBWA’s un-PC commercial used Henson’s animatronic wizardry to great effect

’We hope people in the Home Counties will be outraged after seeing this commercial,’ TBWA GGT Simons Palmer’s art director Graham Cappi says.

’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.’

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