Miller's goal for the snowman version of Jack Frost was to make the audience believe that it embodied the very soul of Michael Keaton, right down to his voice, mannerisms and even looks, to some extent. In addition, Miller wanted a character that was lovable, approachable and, in a sense, realistic. "I wanted his image to be contemporary, yet timeless. You look at him and he brings a smile to your face."

The snowman was brought to life at Jim Henson's renowned Creature Shop in Los Angeles and at George Lucas' equally renowned Industrial Light & Magic in Marin County. Over a 22-week period, Miller worked closely with Henson project supervisor MARK WAHLBERG to devise the perfect visage, incorporating expressive eyes and brows, and round cheeks. The resulting Frost is a five-and-a-half-foot-tall animatronic puppet that can move, maneuver its arms, talk and express emotions.

"Troy made it clear that it had to have Michael Keaton's characteristics but also needed to look like a kid had built it. I began by sculpting 8 or 9 heads for Troy to approve. Then I went on to create the life-size `hero' sculpture," Wahlberg explains. "We began by making a body cast of DENISE CHESHIRE, the woman who wears the puppet for most of the film. Once that was complete I sculpted the form out of foam and covered that with clay. Then we generated the skin using a combination of foam rubber and silicone. Finally, to give it that shimmering, snow-like effect, we layered on plastic snow made from crushed styrofoam."

In addition to the "hero," or full-body, version of the snowman, variations (i.e. stunt versions, melted versions) of the head, various body sections and a variety of arms were constructed for use in specific scenes. In total, the Henson Creature Shop crew estimates at least 60 possible combinations of Frost were built.

Beneath all of the foam rubber and silicone lies a vast network of state-of-the-art computer technology, supervised by JEFF FORBES. "A lot of what we did was based upon how the head was designed and on the kind of lip-synch performance required for the film," explains Forbes. "We began by figuring what we were going to need with regards to movement in the eyes, lips, brows, lids, etc. We ended up using 10 servo-mechanisms just in the lips, one servo for the jaw and another for the tongue. Almost half the servos and motors for the head are based in the mouth area, which gives the puppeteer a tremendous amount of ability to do lip shapes."

During production, it took a team of five specialized puppeteers working in complete synchronization to generate a performance from Frost.

The exterior of the puppet's head was operated by BRUCE LANOIL, a former improvisational actor who supervised live performance in conjunction with playback performance. Using Michael Keaton's pre-recorded lines already sampled into the computer, Lanoil controlled a joystick to execute the lip-synching as well as create facial expressions. Puppeteer Denise Cheshire, whose background includes gymnastics, stunt work and acting, made all full-body movements, including walking, head turns and deep sighs, from within the puppet. A custom-made intercom system was incorporated into the suit to allow Cheshire not only to hear what was taking place on the outside, including actors' lines, but to be able to communicate via a throat mike. Two additional puppeteers, TOM FISHER and ALLAN TRAUTMAN, were in control of the various types of mechanical arms. It actually took one person per arm to produce the desired effects.

Performance coordinator MICHELAN SISTI used a wireless unit to interface between Lanoil, Cheshire, director Troy Miller and the other puppeteers.

For additional realism, the filmmakers turned to Industrial Light & Magic, who created the computer-generated images (CGI) that enabled Jack Frost to triumph in a snowball fight and toboggan wildly down a hill. Says ILM's visual-effects supervisor, Joe Letteri, "The Frost puppet worked really well in the more personal scenes with Charlie, but there were some action sequences where CGI allowed the snowman to move more freely and naturally than a puppet could ever have done. That's where ILM came in."

Letteri and his team spent almost every day on the set with director Troy Miller, advising him on the best way to accommodate the post-production inclusion of CG images. "When we create a CG shot," explains Letteri, "we recreate the entire set, not just the single character of Jack Frost, so we needed to see everything possible to prepare for those scenes."

In addition to its work on the action scenes, the ILM team was responsible for creating certain visual enhancements to other scenes. "Whenever Jack Frost walks, the snow in front of him is pushed up in little puffs," offers Letteri as an example. "Each of those 'puffs' was created by ILM."


© 2000 Warner Bros.