Tik-Tok is a mechanical man, and was built as a purely mechanical creature, operated by a full-sized man completely concealed within its spherical torso. “We spend a lot of time on the designs of Tik-Tok,” said Norman Reynolds. “He took forever – there’s an incredible amount of detail involved. And he has specific functions that had to be resolved – knocking the Wheelers, for instance, actually striking them with his lunch pail.” It was executing the designs and making the functions both achievable and believable that proved to be the most time consuming for the animatronics department.
Transforming the drawings of the mechanical man into a walking, talking reality began with supervising plasterer Paul Jiggins and his crew. Jiggins ( a Greystroke veteran ) first made a plaster template of the body shape, to serve as a mold, and later covered it with sheets of Kevlar. The lightweight substance was cut and sized – almost like cloth – to fit the template, in what was usually no more than a single, flexible layer. “You have to cut a pattern, as if you were cutting carpet or cloths,” said Lyle Conway. “and you have to leave room for darts to create interlocking, inner pieces that you then press into shape.”
Even though Kevlar is a difficult material to shape, its sturdiness and durability made it worthwhile substance to use. “It doesn’t fold into contours the way fiberglass does,” explained Tim Rose, who was responsible of the overall construction, “but it’s incredibly tough. Tik-Tok took a number of face-forward dives during the filming; and if he’d had a fiberglass head, we’d have had to start from scratch. But with the Kevlar, we just popped everything back into place.”
The mechanical man’s mechanics were not quite as simple, however. “They tried originally, on one of the early prototypes,” continued Rose, “to make a full performer costume with everything completely working inside. It was an amazing looking contraption, but it was just a bit much more for him to deal with. We went through funny stages. There were camera irises in his eyes that went in and out at one point, with dimming lights behind them. Finally we switched to the more simplified model you see in the film."
The final rendition of Tik-Tok was actually three different models and a number of additional parts – two ‘Dirties,’ as they were called, dressed in various states of disrepair for the sequences were the mechanical man fights for Dorothy along their perilous journey; and one ‘Bright ‘n’ Shiney,’ used only in the coronation scene near the end of the film. “They’re not complete Tik-Toks,” Rose said. “To do all the special effects, we’ve had to use bits and pieces – take’em apart and put’em back together. Cannibalize them.”
The performer who climbed inside the spherical torso to do the operating was Michael Suddin, an acrobat and a former member of the stage show Cats. The task required both stamina and courage. “Michael’s about five five,” Conoway commented, “and Tik-Tok’s about four foot. So Michael had to bend with his head between his legs, bolted in, and he did the actual walking around in the thing – backwards. Sometimes, in the morning, he wouldn’t be able to fit; so it was just a matter of forcing him in. Then everything loosened up, and his body settled into it. When you took the suit off of him, this rush of hot air hit you and there were pools of sweat at the bottom of the thing.” At first Sudin was imprisoned within the mechanical man for no more than fifteen minutes, though by the end of shooting he had worked his way up to almost an hour.
Because cramped quarters allowed Sundin little room to operate Tik-Tok, external assistance was required to mobilize the character’s arms – a task best achieved by creating on the illusion of movement. “Since most of the scenes are done in short takes,” explained Rose, “we could just change the arm position for each shot.
Then, when the whole thing was edited together, it appeared as if he was doing a lot more than he actually was.” Sundin was able to help out with the manipulation of the arm by lifting his shoulder from inside Tik-Tok – a movement that caused the whole mechanism to be pulled down slightly. External radio control facilitated movement in other areas – the eye blinks, the mustache and the head position – via an eight-channel transmitter devised by Rose. “We too the standard radio control you’de use for model airplanes, but then we modified the transmissions so it was better for flying s creature than it was an airplane.”
Ironically, the portions of the mechanical man that looked as if they should have helped him move were actually just window dressing – and annoying ones at that. The keys, which supposedly power the ‘patented mechanical man who does everything but live’ were actually battery-powered, rigged with switches so that they could run down on cue, and the small chains that drape from the shoulder to elbow to the wrist were purely cosmetic. “They don’t actually help it in any way,” Rose said, “but we still wanted them for the look. The trimmings only helped to complicate things even more.”
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