Jump to content

Creature Suit Analysis - Part 4 - Extra Hands


Recommended Posts

Creature Suits Analysis - Part Four Extra Hands

Extra hands, literally and figuratively.

I do realize at the end of Part Three of the Notes, I said Part Four was "Rebuilding Patty". That is still in the works, but I realized that there was a bit more foundation information I felt would be appropriate, so it is included here, and the "Rebuilding Patty" notes will be coming soon.

By extra hands, literally and figuratively, I refer to hand/arm extensions, as one subject, and "helping hands" (costume assistants) as the other subject.

About the time I posted the third set of notes, I realized that I had omitted any mention of hand extensions. I wasn't sure if Patty's arms were extended, until I put a Poser Human Figure in a pose similar to the "turn back" frame from the film, and confirmed that Patty's arms seem extended compared to my Poser figure. I do recall some other discussions in the various threads about longer arms, so I thought this discussion would be relevent.

Now first, hand/arm extensions aren't new. Indeed they pre-date the PG film by decades, maybe longer. So they were around then. And I've seen some comments about them in the various comments and threads I've read. But now it seems worthy to bring up an analysis of the types and inner workings, since they do factor into any analysis of Patty.

First, let's break them down into categories of technology:

1. Simple - a rubber hand and wrist slipped over a real hand, so the real hand rests inside the wrist of the rubber hand. Generally sculpted to have a finger bend of natural curvature, but no capacity to move the fingers.

1A - Foam hand, nothing rigid inside.

1B - Foam hand, heavy armiture wire inside so you can bend a finger and the wire inside will keep it as bent. The mime inside doesn't control this, and can't change the finger pose while wearing the prosthetic, but it allows some variety of hand shapes and finger poses.

2. simple animation enabled - This type of hand would have all the fingers and thumb curl inward together by one pull of a handle or device inside the prosthetic arm wrist. That one pull branches out to five strings for the five fingers, and the pull causes the rubber fingers to bend. If the fingers are foam filled, the foam's natural memory causes the fingers to relax or "open" when the pulling device inside is let go or relaxed. So string pull, foam memory return. But the string-pulled bend of the fingers can't make a tight fist. Two variations are:

2A - Internal Strings, and a hinged simple armiture so the fingers at least bend in the right places. Without an internal armiture, the foam finger would just collapse downward, instead of bending.

2B - External strings, rarely used (because you may see the strings), but real simple and effective. I did this for Swamp Thing, when he has his arm cut off, and grows another. The arm regrow sequence had a branch growing out of the shoulder, then a branch with fingers unfurling, third a small hand that flexed it's fingers. This one used the external strings to work. Ordinarily, those external strings or wires will show, but I used very fine fishing line and by turning the hand to not let the fishline be in strong direct light, the camera didn't pick up the fishline. For this to work, the fingers in the foam should be bent somewhat already, and the strings bend them more, but not into a complete fist.

3. Complex animation enabled - This type of hand allows the mime's hand inside to bend each finger individually, and connects each real finger to its rubber counterpart in the prosthetic hand. Could still be string pulled and foam memory return.

4. Fully articulated prosthetic hand - The "Rolls Royce" here, a robotic hand designed to theme park robotics sophistication, and capable of not only fully positional bending of the fingers (into a full curled fist, which string pulling can't do) but of individual finger control (great for giving the "finger" to the producer, as was reportedly done with the big hydraulic hand Jessica Lange often sat in for the 1976 King Kong). The articulated finger curling mechanisms here do require a considerable amount of force to bend, because the linkage is all within the fingers and the pivots have extremely short radius' meaning a lot of force is needed to move them (generally, the further from a pivot point you apply force, the easier it is to move or rotate a device around a pivot, and conversely, the closer to the pivot point you apply the force, the more force that is needed. So usually for such robotic fingers to move, you either need cable's pulled by a level handle, or pneumatic cylinders hooked to a valve control and a compressor. Not likely to work if just the mime's hand inside the wrist is the pulling force.

But one curious anatomical feature of the human arm tends to overshadow the design of arm extensions rather profoundly. That is the tapering narrow cross section of the wrist, and the expanded volume of the palm and knuckles.

If you just make a hollow hand extension and slide it out about three inches beyond the real fingertips, you put the large mass of the real person's palm into the smallest area of the artificial arm (its wrist), and so you have to make the artificial arm with an extremely fat wrist.

If you move the artificial hand six inches outward from the real fingertips, you still have the area where any fingers bending and pulling strings or operating other mechanisms all have to fit, all stuck in the artificial arm's wrist area, so it's still bulky in an unnatural way. So it can be done, but the natural tapering of the arm into the wrist is lost.

In practice, arm extensions tend to allow a natural sized wrist proportion when the real hand is far enough back to be inside the mid-forearm area of the extension, where the arm's volume expands again. That's about 12-14 inches from the fingertips for a man's normal arm. So arm exensions that tend to look like real arms in anatomical shape tend to be at least a foot longer than the real arms. Gorilla and urangutan arms work relatively well with such extension lengths.

However, count on human anatomy to make your task complicated. If you extend the arms by a foot, you can make it look good, if you don't bend the elbow, but as soon as you do bend the elbow, the arm is revealed to be extended only on the lower half, and the upper arm/lower arm ratio is suddenly artificially and obviously incorrect.

Try as we might, shifting the elbow bend six inches down so the 12 inch extension is spread evenly between upper and lower arm, this is a challenge I personally have never seen successfully achieved. And seeing a long arm with a too high elbow bend has always been, for me, a dead giveaway of an arm extension.

So we creature designers have looked at this problem time and time again, and simple human anatomy keeps putting the same constraints on our ambitions. If we make an arm extension less than 12", the prosthetic wrist gets unnaturally bulky, making for a phoney arm anatomy. If we make the arm extension 12" or more, so we can have a great tapering wrist on the prosthetic extension, we get an elbow in the wrong place.

To use a figurative metaphor, no matter how much lipstick you put on this pig, it still doesn't look pretty.

It's easy to get caught up in the animation technology possible to move the prosthetic hand or fingers, as if that were the true design challenge, but it's actually not. The actual challenge is how to move both wrist and elbow and keep both looking natural.

Is there a "perfect" arm extension out there somewhere, with the wrist tapering correctly and the elbow bending where it should for the extended arm? I'd sure love to see one, at least once in my life. Haven't yet.

A further note about hand extensions. Generally the mime wearing the suit and arm extensions may be able to put one arm extension on, but rarely both. And the mime can't groom the fur from the suit overlapping down onto the arm/hand part. And the mime can't put the head on after arm extensions go on, and certainly can't groom the head/neck fur blending into the main suit torso.

So it seems that as soon as you start to say "arm extension", you'd better say "assistant" in the same sentence.

So the Second Tpoic here in Extra Hands, is the costume assistant, the "helping hand" working with the person in the suit.

I have noted often in my notes that suits usually require assistants to work side by side with the mime wearing the suit, to do things right. And I mentioned above that arm extensions particularly tend to demand a helper or costume assistant.

And in my thread on Creature Suits Part Three, post #40, "rockinkt" brought up the issue of sports mascots in costumes, and later, in post #65, "urbanshaman" contributed the revelation that in pro sports, a costumed mascot may have a bodyguard/assistant asigned to the mascot, for assistant duties.

So we do keep coming back to the role of an assistant helping a person in a suit do his "performance" well. Now in most cases, it is theoretically possible for an amateur to just get a suit, put it on, run around with no assistance, and emerge later alive and well. We just need to clarify what the mime alone can't do:

he/she can't groom any fur where the body suit overlaps on hands, gloves, or arm extensions,

he/she can't groom the head/neck blend of fur into the body, so the seam between these parts doesn't show.

he/she may not be able to even put all the parts on alone.

So a helper, while not technically manditory, obviously plays a vital role in a successful suit performance, especially one with a natural appearing fur of a supposedly natural creature.

So, filming out in the woods, what does any helper need to do the job?

1. Something to carry the fur suit in (a garment bag perhaps).

2. The mask on a wig block or other head stand on a flat base, so it doesn't get wadded up or dirty.

3. Carry bags for the hands/gloves and feet/boots

4. Towels to dry off the mime after breaking him/her out of the head or full suit.

5. Some beverages, ideally in a cooler, styrofoam icebox, or the like

6. Lots of glue, various kinds, for repairs.

7. Several cans of "Streaks and Tips", a temporary spray in hair color used throughout the industry to hide a multitude of sins

8. A sewing kit

9. A portable table (putting everyhing on the ground and bending to get every little thing gets real lame after awhile, and may wretch the assistant's back.

10. Something to hold or store the mime's "street clothes" ( in one thread comment, it was asked if the mime could wear "street clothes" inside the suit,and he/she could, but given that the person comes out usually drenched in sweat, those same street clothes would be sopping wet. Seems the mime really would want to change into something dry, which is why street clothes aren't normally worn under a suit, so they remain dry to change into afterwards.)

11. Brushes to groom the fur.

12. Straws (so the mime inside can sip drinks through the mask, if it's not convenient to take the mask off)

13. Battery operated fans to help cool the mime.

14. boxes to carry all the above.

15. A second helper to help carry the boxes.


folding chairs

first aid kit

munchies (for energy)

Now a skeptic may argue none of the above is "essential" and a mime alone in a suit could still pull off a hoax in the suit alone. I believe you can find a few on YouTube.

In my mind, that speaks volumes for the kind of hoax quality an amateur, alone can accomplish.

Still to come: "Rebuilding Patty"

  • Like 1
  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Hominid,WA

Another great thread of information.

The question/topic of assistants or helpers being necessary in achieving the goal of believability should be recognized and thoroughly considered. A hoax would obviously have a person in the suit, plus at least one other to assist in helping get the suit fitted correctly. For example, are we to think Bob H. did this all himself before supposedly strutting his stuff in front of that old Kodak?

Not to swing into an emotionally charged rant here (good threads will do that to a person) but--

I'm having a real hard time seeing a hoax such as this being pulled off without Gimlin's involvement. (as many have previously commented on) To me, it seems such a huge stretch.

One another point. If you plan a hoax of this type, why in God's name would Patterson choose to pull it off up in Bluff Creek? The terrain up in that area is very often times a nightmare regarding logistics. And if one is to seriously reflect on Bill's thoughts here, it surely wouldn't be "the path of least resistance." Why is that?? Do it in the wilderness- yes of course, but wouldn't easier accessibility have been thought about and decided upon? Beside a road even. Many, many reports are of roadside encounters, most in this field are aware of that celebrity stat.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great thread again Bill. Keep this up. This is excellent. We have never had anybody here with your expertise expand into so many details before now.

Is there a "perfect" arm extension out there somewhere, with the wrist tapering correctly and the elbow bending where it should for the extended arm? I'd sure love to see one, at least once in my life. Haven't yet.

That sums it up nicely, thanks. B)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

BFF Patron

Keep the analysis and commentary rolling Bill, this is a wonderful thread.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest OklahomaSquatch

Bill, what about toes? What means were available to do the same things with the feet as with the hands? In other words, what could have been utilized to allow the mime to curl the toes and then restraighten them?

Link to comment
Share on other sites


The end of the Part Three notes has comments about foot mechanics to try and bend the toes of an extended foot. Review that first, and if it doesn't answer your questions, let me know. But basically, no, they never made toe mechanics that could move individual toes like some of the really nice arms that can move individual fingers. Any toe movement was just a single action applied to all toes as a block, hinged at the ball of the foot.

Bipedalist, Lyndon, Hominid, thanks for the note of appreciated.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

First, Bill, thank you for your expertise regarding the mechanics, art, and logistics of making real looking apes! It has been a revelation, and you clearly have been in the business long enough to be familiar with the tools and tricks available to any group of well funded hoaxers circa 1967.

I would like to make a suggestion, and solicit some help from others in this thread to assist you:

I think you should read some of the important books that have been written regarding the PGF. There are some basic concepts and discussion points that would be clearer to you if you did. Not that you need edification, but we are asking some questions that I just know you could answer if you could read a few of them.

Now for the part where I ask for help from the others who are following this:

I think Bill should start with the Greg Long book, if only to read the descriptions of the suit/procedure/filming process from Bob H...Even from a distance, what he says does not sound anything like what Bill is describing in terms of complexity, difficulty and expense.

This is the only book that I am very familiar with, and I have a feeling Bill's analysis could add significantly to the already formidable 'debunking' that has been done on that book. Please give it some thought, and maybe hook Bill up with some links to online resources regarding other accounts and data 'known' to be part of a hoax, and books about it he should look at!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once again, thank you Bill for such a great explanation.

Question - you said arm extensions were around prior to the PG film, and you list a number of "types". Which of the "types" (if not all) on your list were being being used prior to the PG film?

Also, if I am understanding you, none of these arm extensions allow for a tapered wrist?

Finally, are you willing (If I didn't miss it, which is possible) to offer an opinion as to the size and shape of Patty's wrist? I just want to be sure I am clear on what your saying in this regard.

Thank you in advance. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wasn't sure if Patty's arms were extended, until I put a Poser Human Figure in a pose similar to the "turn back" frame from the film, and confirmed that Patty's arms seem extended compared to my Poser figure.

Bill, I haven't fully caught up on your other threads yet, and maybe you've explained this one of them, but can you elaborate a tad on the "Poser Human Figure?" I'm thinking of one of those flexible, wooden artists models, but assume you're talking about something else.

Many of us have indeed argued, and shown by various means, that the figure's arms are overly long (be careful of using the term "extended" even though it's clear what you mean), but it's certainly not 12". I'm not sure anyone can say much about the bulk (or lack thereof) in the wrists, but there seems to be just enough elbow flexion to make the argument about lack of prosthetics so it's nice to have your confirmation of what so many of us have argued for so long.


PS- I especially enjoy your visual aids (and adding them to my collection), so please go nuts with those since you must have access to some really neat references.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Bill,

Thank you very much for your time as your expertise is shedding new light on such a very controversial subject. Please keep these posts coming.

Although I know its been discussed in previous posts, even if someone had the means (monetarily), know how and contacts (industry wise) to make such a suit today, how much do you think it would cost. Sorry if this has been answered and thank you in advance!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bill, I haven't fully caught up on your other threads yet, and maybe you've explained this one of them, but can you elaborate a tad on the "Poser Human Figure?" I'm thinking of one of those flexible, wooden artists models, but assume you're talking about something else.

Poser is a 3D modeling program that is used mostly for human forms. It was created just for the purpose you mentioned, Apeman, a pose-able artist's model, just in the digital medium.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


thanks for your interest in suggesting sources of research for me to look inot. I actually have quite a volumous amount of material to catch up on, but I will cretainly look into the book you mentioned.


Actually, about the only "type" of arm extension not readily available (or should I say, technically well developed) was the "Rolls Royce" animatronic hand, which I think the people at Walt Disney Imagineering developed for the Abe Lincoln robot Disneyland had in the early 60's. The rest of the hand types are actually just puppetry, and the art of puppetry has been well developed for centuries.

My preliminary look at the PG film doesn't show a 12" extension, shorter, if anything. A 12" or more extension does allow for a tapered wrist, but messes up the elbow position proportion on the arm. I'm still trying to get enough still frames to get a clear fix on exactly where Patty's hands are, in a frame where I can estimate their length compared to a human figure.

Patty's wrist, if we imagine removing the fur and estimating the solid anatomy beneath, looks like a normally proportioned wrist, not the enlarged one I'd expect to see on a short arm extension.


As Plaidlemur notes in the thread, a "Poser" figure is a digital human figure from the Poser software, that can be posed in any anatomical posture or animated for figure motion.

Keeping the blade

My next set of notes will talk more about fabrication costs. So the info is comming.


Thanks for the Poser info.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...

I'm just getting into these threads, and I have no costume expertise, but a glance at the Poser figure at the end of Part 6 seems to indicate that its hand can fit within Patty's wrist. Couldn't the fur above the wrist have been fluffed up, and the fur on the wrist have been tailored and cut "just so," to give the appearance of a natural taper of the forearm, and yet allow a hand to be placed just above the wrist? (I guess it would be a tight fit though.) I'm probably wrong, but I'd like a little more refutation.

Incidentally, regarding the Poser figure. I hope when the next version of that software comes out users will be given the option to select a heftier model. The one shown looks to be about 165 (?) pounds if it were six feet tall. Six-foot-one Heironimus has said he weighed a minimum of 190 pounds at age 26. (He said 190 on one occasion and 190-200 on another.) Presumably any Patty-mime would be as bulky as possible. So ideally there would be a 250-pound Poser figure to work with too. And a 350-pounder!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • gigantor unpinned this topic
  • Create New...