The main character in the freshly released ‘Clifford the big Red Dog’ doesn’t in reality exist. To carry the dog to life, manufacturing turned to 2 puppeteers and also put them in a substantial 75-pound canine exoskeleton.

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Getty Images/Paramount Pictures/Ringer illustration
when the an initial trailer for Clifford the big Red Dog was released critical November, the internet did a twin take. Not prepared to view a photorealistic depiction of their favorite crimson canine, pan of Norman Bridwell’s lovely children’s publications levied every kinds of warm takes about how he looked in the upcoming live-action adaptation. Mostly, castle couldn’t understand the more naturalistic, muddy the shade of red the director Walt Becker had chosen for his big pup’s fur, an aesthetic misstep that called to psychic the original—and frighteningly human—design that 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog.

But as paparazzi image of the movie’s set emerged online about the exact same time, the discourse quickly pivoted to Clifford’s physical iteration: a 10-foot perforated puppet. Shocking, hilarious, and also terrifying upon very first glance, the bulky, red exoskeleton functioned as a handy contraption for shooting, a useful eyeline because that the movie’s young actors members, and a product placeholder for the visual effects team. The absurd picture became things of Twitter fascination and prompted curiosity about the disguised pair that color-coordinated puppeteers who were trudging around brand-new York City through this red apparatus on their shoulders.

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picture by James Devaney/GC images Rowan Magee and also Jon Riddleberger began acting in college, but pivoted to puppetry after graduating. Leaning on their theatrical backgrounds, they began participating in phase productions, learned a variety of new skills (in Riddleberger’s case, design an equestrian ~ above War Horse), and immersed themselves in a community that would at some point prepare them for distinct cinematic endeavors—such as, the course, gift the real-life stand-ins because that Clifford the big Red Dog. 2 years after their viral virtual moment, castle still feeling pride around how the behind-the-scenes photos exposed their unheralded craft to the world—the irradiate it melted on what it was prefer to navigate new York roadways under literal pressure and also turn a motionless puppet right into a huge, slobbery dog. “It to be fun having actually the photos out there,” Riddleberger says. “It was funny to be like, ‘This is exactly how this is gift made.’”

How go you discover out around Clifford the big Red Dog? Is there an audition procedure for a duty like this?

Rowan Magee: The brief answer is you in the right place at the right time. They put an ad out for puppeteers, however the human being who to be interviewing united state were no the world in charge of recognize talent. They to be the visual results supervisor and also the 2nd assistant director. The was possibly the most essential interview I’d ever been on. It wasn’t an audition, i didn’t even touch a puppet in ~ all. Lock just explained what it would certainly be like. It sounded physically demanding—a 75-pound backpack and also eight come 14-hour days living out of the back of a crate truck.

Jon Riddleberger: … on the streets of brand-new York City in the summer.

Magee: usually I was like, “I think I deserve to do that.” i was a nanny prior to this, I construed working approximately kids, and I knew exactly how to remain out the the means of human being whose project is to be actors and also personalities. Ns was choose a large family dog the was willing to go along on this monster trip. They gave me a call later that was like, “You’re the appropriate height, it is the significant factor. Who’s prefer you and also has the height?”

Riddleberger: Puppetry is a fringey art form. Rowan essentially handed me the job.

How much time walk it require to prepare because that something prefer this?

Riddleberger: it’s an amazing thing since the puppet was constructed in L.A. By creature Effects, gained shipped to new York, and then handed to us. Christine Papalexis and also Jim Huertas to be the building contractors of the puppet and were in brand-new York through us to orient and help us learn about it. We spent half a week in the offices that the production had actually taken over on fifth Avenue walking around the office together Clifford. There to be two parts to it—a back component and a prior part—so we would switch ago and forth in between those.

Yeah, ns was curious just how you decided who would certainly be in the front and also who would certainly take the back.

Riddleberger: We would switch. The front to be heavy, it was about 75 pounds, so it was essential for both of united state to be able to do it and switch the end in instance someone acquired tired. The thing that i have learned act puppetry in TV and also film is the a large part of the job is just having your tool-set ready. In the script it simply says, “Clifford go something funny,” for this reason you need to be ready to figure that out.

Because the VFX human being ultimately need to use what you provide them, right?

Riddleberger: Yeah, if lock dont use what we’ve done, climate it’s more work for them to delete us. They have the right to cover us v animation, but it’s much less work in post-production. So what us do ultimately informs what they’re going come animate.

What was your an initial impression of seeing the puppet in the brand-new York office?

Riddleberger: Well, interestingly, the puppet had actually ears, it had actually a tail, it had actually some other aspects that might be included to make it a little more friendly-looking. However they ultimately decided not to usage that stuff due to the fact that it just included mass that the VFX human being would have to delete. The fluffy ears simply weren’t pertinent to what us needed.

So you at least had a chance to check the parameters of the puppet?

Magee: us walked about the office for a day. The human being in the Paramount workplaces were sort of shocked to see us.

Darby Camp, that plays Emily Elizabeth in the movie, has actually mentioned in interviews that you guys obtained really great at mimicking dog movements. Did friend watch and observe dog habits to obtain a better sense of just how to move the puppet?

Magee: You’ve gained to number out what the puppet is qualified of, and also then friend lean towards that as a vocabulary. We did a small research. Luckily, we live in a world where we’re acquiring sent cat and dog videos constantly, even if it is we desire them or not. Every time we saw a dog top top the street, us were like, “Oh, yeah, OK.”

Riddleberger: When Clifford first gets big, the a pretty facility scene in the apartment of that knocking ingredient over. So they wanted us to look at reunion videos, once dogs space excited to view the owner they haven’t checked out in a while.

Magee: yes a scene when Clifford has end up being unshackled and is excited to view , and they’re like, “Now, go do your research, go with those videos.” dogs will carry out this point where they lean on you come let you understand they love you. For this reason we had actually to perform this choreography around those videos—you walk to her, turn around, you want to check out where she going—and we would simply pattern with the reunion dog choreography till we acquired something. That was rather a day.

I remember when the very first behind-the-scenes paparazzi picture of you within the Clifford puppet popped up on the internet. There to be this mixture that shock, laughter, even horror. Perform you remember the day?

Riddleberger: We had been go around brand-new York in this puppet, with world calling the end to us on the roadways yelling, “Is the Clifford?!” We’ve every signed NDAs, therefore we’re choose “... Maybe. … we don’t desire to call you. But it’s big, the red, and it’s a dog.” pictures are no the ideal way to check out that process because the an loose dog puppet.

Magee: us couldn’t release any type of pictures that what this stunner puppet looked like, so as soon as it leaked we were like, “Oh, currently I can show people!” yes sir a hilarious tiktok of a man making fun of it, and also he’s talking about how horrifying that looks. For a second, i was like, “Maybe this will certainly be the just time that human being will ever see what the looks like.” This parody nearly feels like positive attention—by making funny of it, now civilization can appreciate and also see the street it’s gone.

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photograph by James Devaney/GC pictures I appreciate the fact that girlfriend both wore red shoes and also shorts. Was the a stylistic character gimmick or was that compelled for CGI purposes?

Riddleberger: once they started, we had actually red bodysuits. Castle tried that and also then were like, “It’s no necessary,” so i think we came down on the shorts and also shirt. I favored it due to the fact that it to be a uniform. It made me feel favor I was at a job. Also, it would certainly get very sweaty. It to be heavy and also sweaty work, therefore I’d rather sweat v that costume and readjust into mine normal clothing at the end of the day.

You to be talking about holding increase 75 pounds’ worth of puppet. Just how long would you have to operate it in ~ a offered time?

Magee: We collection a timer for around 70 minutes.

Riddleberger: If you satellite on a stool, it made it easier. Every shoot is slightly different, so us were always kind that navigating our own endurance. We started to understand what the looked like when you wanted to press through, and maybe among us top top the tail finish should acquire water or should interact with your walkie-talkie, because the human on the head needed to be focused.

How well might you see through the puppet?

Magee: It’s choose a Swiss cheese effect. After ~ you’ve remained in there, not also a day, her eyes change like a video game and you’re like, “Oh, ns think I understand where every little thing is.”

But gift Clifford required you to run together, I’d imagine. Was learning to action in sync part of your pre-production process?

Riddleberger: We did few of that. The key puppet had actually the head, body, earlier end. Yet we could additionally just use the head. For this reason there were plenty of job where one of us would certainly take the head and just operation as quick as we might through a crowd or v a field. The was more practical because we could go faster. Also, the was much less tiring.

Magee: We had to run with a special style if us were walking to have the whole thing on. We had actually these stanchions that are a small bit bungee, so we ended up having to do something that looked an extremely choreographed. That not precisely what a dog look at like. Us couldn’t really gallop.

Is there a moment throughout filming when you began wondering exactly how this would turn out? I’d imagine it’s difficult to envision the last CGI product on collection when an actor is petting the air about you.

Riddleberger: When you’re creating a film as soon as your lead title personality is not there, the puppet i do not care a central point that everyone can check in with. That a team initiative to acquire us there. Everyone is working on a magic trick—from the gibbs in the scene through us pretending to pet a dog, come our visual impacts team, come the animators later. It’s a collaborative thing between departments. Therefore in part ways, that weird. “How is this in reality going to work? what’s this actually going to look like?” yet the most fun days because that me were the days once I felt favor we gained to yes, really follow our acting instincts.

There’s an emotional scene wherein Darby is letting Clifford leaving for his very own safety, and also it to be a satisfied to operate, to it is in there v Darby and also be responding to her as her loyal dog who knows she’s sad yet doesnt understand what’s walk on. Those moments room really beautiful, and also you know some various other talented people are going to perform a most work to complete the picture.

Where walk a project prefer this rank because that you? go it give you part clout within the puppeteering community?

Magee: ns guess it’s clout in the same way that civilization don’t get puppetry. We’re attributed as “Clifford stand-ins,” however I don’t think yes a pivot where civilization are like, “You guys are the finest at that thing.” that feels choose a personal accomplishment. I obtained to post about it on society media, and also it offered me a cushion come live on during the pandemic, which i couldn’t foresee. In the puppet industry, your experiences and also connections are your big payoff. The end of this, I gained to understand Jon.

And you certainly got to understand the earlier of Jon’s head.

Riddleberger: Yes. <Laughs.>

I hope, together a puppeteer, we’re in a little bit of a shift for film. CGI and visual effects have reached an amazing suggest where, rather of simply a tennis ball on a stand, you can have a complete Clifford acting with actors. That’s constantly going to be far better than lifeless representation.

Before ns let you go, I have to ask: since Clifford is an overgrown puppy in this movie, if yes a sequel, he will presumably continue to grow also bigger. Does that average you’ll an episode stilts?

Magee: <Laughs.> ns think it will be a more facility thing 보다 stilts.

Riddleberger: five puppeteers! okay do numerous pushups.

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This interview has actually been edited and also condensed because that clarity.

Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in brand-new York. His job-related has also appeared in Esquire.com, GQ.com, and also The brand-new York Times.