Lets Talk About Captain EO Starring Michael Jackson

Written by Terri Hardin Jackson. Posted in Features, Terri Hardin

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Published on May 21, 2014 at 3:00 am with 35 Comments

Michael Jackson’s new album XSCAPE was just released . . . So, let’s talk about Captain EO today.

MJ-Xscape-STANDARD-Digital-Packshot

UPDATE: Last week was full of book signing and appearances in my father’s hometown of Hanford, CA.  For those of you who have absolutely NO idea where Hanford is, its between Bakersfield and Fresno.

I was scheduled to do a lot more book signings, but due to the fire in San Diego, half of the town’s officials and fire fighters raced down to help so many were cancelled.  The beauty was that I learned a lot about my grandfather (the man who taught me to “PLAY” for a living) that I never knew.

For example, he was refused a position in the senate because he was Black. I got to see the rejection letter.  I know you can imagine with someone tells you they don’t like something about you that you just cannot change. So remember to be kind to people. You are all gems and deserve to be here.

My grandfather was a great leader, and the last Spanish American War veteran.  When he died, he was given a 21-gun salute and my aunt presented with an American flag.  It was awesome.  

YoungGrandpa

My Grandfather William Hardin here as a representative of the Grand order of Colored Christians. Circa early 1900’s.

In honor of Michael Jackson’s latest album “Xcape,” and all of you who asked about Captain EO.

© Disney

© Disney

Can you believe it?  Only someone really great could release an album after they died.  Then have a hologram of yourself dancing at a special music award event.

What an amazing man. Never was there a more generous sole in my opinion.  Because of Captain EO, Michael and I became and remained friends for 8 years.

CAPTAIN EO: part one of a three part series.

Many of you know the Captain EO film. In fact, I know that many of you know it by heart.

For all of you, I’ll share a behind the scenes story and explain the journey taken to make Captain EO. It will take me 3 articles to tell you my story. I hope you enjoy it.

One day after working my job at the carpet cutting company, I received a phone call.  The voice on the other end asked,

“How would you like to work with Michael Jackson?”

“Okay?”  (I have to say that at the time, I wasn’t that interested in working with Michael Jackson in the beginning.  My mother was the one who would have loved that chance.)

“How would you like to work with George Lucas?”

“Okay?” (This is getting better I thought, would he be willing to talk Star Wars with me after I ended up in Sky Walking, the story of George Lucas for seeing the film 185 times in theatres)

lucasCover

“How would you like to work with Francis Ford Coppola?”

“I’m in!”  (I’d work for this man for free. I really wanted to meet him. I’m a huge fan of the Godfather films)

CaptEONewsArticle

The next day I went to work at a Studio in Culver City.  I was assigned to build the Whip Warriors, the ones who attack Michael Jackson when he tries to give a gift to the Wicked Queen. The job would last about 2 weeks I was told.

I was given a drawing and the size of the dancers who were to wear the suits.  It’s important to ask what the dancers will be doing in these outfits so you can make sure the suits move with them and not hinder their performance.  For those of you who’ve seen the Behind the Scenes video where the helmet of one of the Whip Warriors helmet flies off while he works to trap Michael, you know exactly what I mean.

The designer told me the dancers would be walking nothing more just build them. Then I got to see a rehearsal. The dancers were doing everything but walking. Not Cool. So I had to fix a lot of problems so the dancers could see better and move more. The outfits were still very challenging.

While working on these revisions on stage 11, back at my home, someone called and left a message about a new film for Disney called Captain EO, would I be interested in auditioning for one of the puppet roles?  When I got home and heard this message, I returned the call and left a message.

“I’d love to but you don’t need to call me, just come by Stage 11 down the way from you as I’m building the warriors for that film and let me know all the details.”

At work I waited for them to drop by. Nothing happened, no visit from production.

Puzzled I returned home and again heard the message, a new film for Disney called Captain EO. Would you be interested in auditioning for puppet roles. If you’re not interested, please have the courtesy to contact us. Blah Blah Blah.

I couldn’t believe it. Had they not heard my message?

Not wanting this to happen again, I walked from my stage where we were building the costumes to the production room and introduced myself.

“Hi, my name is Terri Hardin and I understand you want to reach me. I just wanted you to know that all you had to do is walk that way to find me.”

I pointed to stage 11 and their faces dropped.  I smiled, and an audition time was scheduled. At the audition the lead puppeteer told me he wanted to have me try out for a two-headed bird creature. I won the part of Idy and Ody.

What really landed the part for me was the fact that I could lift and perform these heavy suckers. Each bird head weighed 15 lbs. each and the body added to this weight by quite a lot.  Many had auditioned before me without success. When I hoisted it up and made it live with little effort, I got the job.

Disney is really not keen on letting folks know that creatures seen in films of this nature have puppeteers working them.  They’re more comfortable promoting the people who wear the costumes. They believe that this helps the creatures appear real. To Disney, it’s easier to promote the actors wearing the costumes. This sounds better then telling the world they’re puppets.  As a result puppeteers go through life not being credited for the work they’ve done. This was the case in Captain EO.

All the creatures had suit performers. For Idy and Ody as well as Hooter the little elephant, little people were cast.  The construction of Idy and Ody posed a problem for the two performers cast to play them.

ide_ody

Because they were a two headed bird with three legs, the performers of this creature had to be tied at the waist and their outside arms and legs became the arms and legs of Idy and Ody.  The performers inside arms they put around each other and their inside legs together were placed inside the middle leg of Idy and Ody’s.  When they walked in this costume it was much like when you run a 3 legged race.

The heads of this costume had very little animation ability, so most of the scenes (with exception to the walking ones) the puppet was used. 90% of the performance of Idy and Ody is my work.

However, Tony Cox played the little elephant Hooter.  His suit fit him like a glove.

Captain-EO-Hooter

Most of the work you see he did himself. He was able to animate this creature very well. There was only one scene Hooter was just not able to do. That scene was the Push the red button scene. This scene called for Hooter to jump up and hit the button with his trunk. The costume restricted Tony’s head so he couldn’t jump AND move his head to push the button.  A duplicate trunk was made so the puppeteer could hit the button on cue. After a couple of passes the puppeteer for Hooter began to get fatigued and Francis Ford Coppola barked in an angry voice.

“I need a strong Puppeteer!  Where the heck is that bird puppeteer!” So I was brought in to do the scene.  I offered for this puppeteer and I to do the scene together, after all everything is better with a team. But this didn’t make her very happy and she walked off the set leaving me to do the scene. The next time you see this scene you’ll know who is really pushing the red button.

Fuzzball, was both a puppet and created optically. Rick Baker’s team, were the masterminds behind the success of this creature.

Captain-EO-Hooter

When a film goes into production, the first thing the director does is to call for a table read.  This involves calling all the performers together to read the script and to discuss the filming schedule.

Francis Ford Coppola called us all together.  I was a little nervous as I was such a fan, I didn’t want to appear all geeky when I met him. When he did walk up to me, he was dressed in a plaid shirt and Bermuda shorts and I didn’t recognize him.

“Hello, welcome, I’m Francis.”

“Nice to meet you Francis.”

When he walked away a cold wash of sweat covered my body as I realized I’d just shaken hands with the Francis Ford Coppola.

We all took our seats around a huge table. The suit performers were to read the lines of each creature and puppeteers were to sit and listen. Everyone was in position.  Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Angelica Huston. The only person missing was Michael Jackson.

Finally Michael came in followed by a huge entourage. People scurried around him like a swarm of bees.  The only seat left at the table was next to me.

So Michael Jackson took his place next to ME!

STAY TUNED NEXT TIME FOR PART 2. Where you will hear about Michael and me, the rehearsal and how Angelica scared Michael so bad he never spoke to her again.

See you next time.

MichaelTerriEO

 READER’S FEEDBACK –

Thank you so much for all your kind words and for chatting with each other about what you’re thinking in this forum.  It’s my hope to spark conversation and questions.  Like all of you I’m really excited to see MALEFICENT and we don’t have much longer to wait.  I do have to mention that if you do have that amazing pin and would like to make top dollar, now is the time to list it on your favorite auction site.

Also, many of you know Star Wars is the film that resonates with me. Episodes 4, 5, and 6, not 1, 2 or 3.  As one reader pointed out the scene where Luke is saved by Darth Vader,  is a very cool scene.  I just wish Darth Vader had stayed a villain.  There’s something awesome about a guy who can lift you up by your neck.

Please continue to comment,  as I love hearing from you. Even if you disagree with me, I’m sure you will agree that there’s nothing more fun than a lively debate.

About Terri Hardin Jackson

Terri Hardin has designed attractions as a Disney Imagineer from 1987-1997. She's also a Jim Henson Puppeteer and has worked on over 42 film and TV projects including Ghostbusters & Captain EO. She currently creates Disney collectables and plays a Foster Farms Chicken.

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  • Jabroniville

    Nice stuff! I really dug Captain EO, as dated as it is. I mean, it’s only so great BECAUSE it’s so utterly dated- a guy defeating Cyberpunk Aliens with dance moves? BRILLIANT.

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  • QPerth

    Oh Terri, this article has made my day, and that it’s a 3parter – wow!!!!

    Captain EO is a classic Disney attraction in my opinion. Perfectly capturing the time it was made, great music, great effects, and a timeless story! I was so blessed to have watched Captain EO after it’s re-release, and I have seen it and LOVED it across 3 parks- Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. When it closed in the ’90s I thought my dream of ever seeing it at a Disney Park was gone, but after Michael’s tragic passing, I was at least blesssed to have the Captain return in all his shining and optimistic GLORY and I got to see him and the Disney magic he brought us.

    Hearing you had such a role (more than one we now know!), and speak of it so fondly fills me with happiness. Captain EO has so many wonderful qualities, and knowing more about it’s creation is both important for historical (Disney, Musically, and Film History) reasons, but for long term fans of Michael that miss him and his good heart and talent, (there’s not a waking hour that he doesn’t cross my mind – I miss him every day), it gives us just a little insight into his work, his person and how hard he worked to bring his masterpieces to us so that he may live on forever through his Art.

    Thank you a hundred times over for sharing these stories with us. Thank you a hundred times over again for your work on Captain EO, and by sharing your stories we can now give credit where it is due.

    Kindest regards and thanks,
    Mr. Q. Gabriel-Smith
    Perth, Australia.

  • Tblazer7

    Thank you for this. I had seen Captain EO as a child and had almost forgotten it. I go every year with some friends, and one year when we went to do Honey I Shrunk the Audience, we came upon Captain EO in its place. We had experienced a long night of drinking and the walking around Epcot did not help things. After watching Captain EO, we were instantly revived by its sheer greatness, and the attraction is now something we look forward to. We have even incorporated some of the lines from the show into our vocabulary to be used a the appropriate times. I will honestly be sad when the day comes that Captain EO moves on again. Thank you for taking the time to share with us your experiences.

  • disneydempster

    Terri thank you for telling your story. I love the behind the scenes details. I met Michael a number of years ago at his Neverland Ranch estate, it was an amazing place. The house and surrounding grounds were among the most beautiful places I had ever seen. The amusement park area and zoo parts were a bit odd but interesting. Did you ever get a chance to visit?

  • disneydempster

    Terri thank you for telling your story. I love the behind the scenes details. I met Michael a number of years ago at his Neverland Ranch estate, it was an amazing place. The house and surrounding grounds were among the most beautiful places I had ever seen. The amusement park area and zoo parts were a bit odd but interesting. Did you ever get a chance to visit?

  • disneydempster

    Terri thank you for telling your story. I love the behind the scenes details. I met Michael a number of years ago at his Neverland Ranch estate, it was an amazing place. The house and surrounding grounds were among the most beautiful places I had ever seen. The amusement park area and zoo parts were a bit odd but interesting. Did you ever get a chance to visit?

  • disneydempster

    Terri thank you for telling your story. I love the behind the scenes details. I met Michael a number of years ago at his Neverland Ranch estate, it was an amazing place. The house and surrounding grounds were among the most beautiful places I had ever seen. The amusement park area and zoo parts were a bit odd but interesting. Did you ever get a chance to visit?

  • MyFriendtheAtom

    Captain EO is everything

  • tooncity

    Which Michael Jackson did this movie; the Black one or the White one?

    • QPerth

      that is an incredibly racist and insensitive post to black people, white people and anyone suffering from Vitiligo. Shame on your ignorant self. -Q.

      • tooncity

        Oh please. Grow up. That’s a joke EVERY comedian has used.

      • danielz6

        You’re making fun of race and a skin condition, not to mention a dead man, and they’re one that needs to grow up?

      • AaroniusPolonius

        Lord, did people actually buy the “skin condition” story? MJ had a skin condition; it was called “wanting to look like the young white boys I sexually desire.” Indeed, attempts to appear young with freakish results are well-documented in pedophiles, as well as in literature about pedophiles, such as Lolita or Death in Venice.

        It disturbs me to no end that MJ paid off those he abused to the tune of millions, and that we are still honoring him, and worse, that it’s the ‘racist’ joke that offends and not the child abuse, the documented payoffs for said child abuse, and that the child abuser, for all intents and purposes, led a charmed and wealthy life until the very end.

        I apologize if this comes off really strident, but I had a childhood friend who was sexually abused relentlessly throughout his youth, and “came out” about it only recently, after his lifelong inability to discover real intimacy, remain sober, and just, in general, connect with his life.

        And I’d apologize to those who believe MJ to be innocent of child rape, but I think y’all are out of your minds.

      • Marko50

        Yep, that’s right. Anyone who wants to look younger is a ped.

        And Jackson paying off those young people and/or their families MUST be an admission of guilt because we all know how much he liked to hog the spotlight. Such an outgoing person.

        I’ve read a lot of your stuff during these X vs Y wars at this site, Aaronius. Don’t agree with a lot of it, but it’s well written. So I’m disappointed. I thought you were better than this.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        I’m pleased to disappoint you! Theme parks are harmless; child molestation is devastating forever.

        And I’ll concede that we don’t know with certainty that he did it. Which, of course, leaves us with a really odd situation. On the one hand, we’re honoring a dead guy’s talent while looking past his eccentricities. On the other, we’re honoring a pedophile because his talent outweighs his crimes.

      • Kingofpop123

        People, he had the skin disease and yes it’s real and the coroner prooved it. There is no proof he did such things to children and one child even came out later and said he was forced to lie about MJ! Do you really think people wouldn’t do anything to get rich the easy way? One way is what people did to MJ. By using lies and lawsuits. You have no buisness of judging a man you never and never WILL meet. YOU don’t have the details. Since i never met him i can’t say he was kind or any of those things. But there is one thing i can say about MJ, He was the greatest performer of all and like Elvis he was used. Not neccisarily by managers but you get my point.

    • tooncity

      No I’m making fun of a 50 yo man played with little children in his BED. I’m making fun of a creepy dude who changed his skin color out of his own self-loathing and hated for his own race. Who built a mini-theme park in his backyards so he could lure children into his home. Seems Disney agreed with me as they closed this attraction when the charges were filed.

      And I’m laughing at the idiots who bully others by playing the race-card when it’s un-necessary. It’s funny how the people who point the racist finger seem to be the True Racist. If you see EBERYTHING through skin color then you’re the racist.

      For pedophile Michael. He was black and few years later he was white, had no nose and had to use morticians wax to create a nose so he could go in public. Creepy micheal hacked up his face because of his own self-hatred. Dangled his infinite child from a balcony window. Made his children wear bags over their heads in public. Oh, was a massive drug addict. His body had up to 10 broken injection needles stuck in it.

      Yeah, there’s your reality, so park you’re racists indications and grow-up, the man was a CREEP! Hardly fitting for the Disney family entertainment marketing concept. According to your accusatory logic, I can call you a pedophile for defending him. Are you?

      • AaroniusPolonius

        WOW.

      • danielz6

        He was acquited in CA court. It’s widely known how those people tried to extort his wealth. Say whatever you want about me I could care less. You’re clearly a coward behind a computer.

      • tooncity

        It’s widely know that he was a pedophile who paid off his victim’s families. It’s widely known that Mikey’s fans often gloss over his crimes against children.

        OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder too, that didn’t mean too much either.

        danielz6 you’re so keen on the personal attacks. just like a true liberal. you’re the coward and racist. You’re boob with keyboard courage. your the guy who started calling pp names.

        Your a creep just like this creepy child molester.

      • danielz6

        I dont need to gloss over his crimes. He already stood trial and was acquited. Evidence against hime didn’t stand up in court. If you want to hate him based on your personal beliefs that’s your choice. This is the only country in the world where people hated him because the media circus painted such a bad picture of him. Why don’t you tell me about those 39 charities he supported as you call him a monster. The truth is you wouldn’t talk like that to anybodys face, keep hiding behind that keyboard.

      • Marko50

        Good old tooncity. Never one to let facts stand in the way of his opinions.

      • QPerth

        the ignorance and brainwashed idiocy spouted here by some is very revealing. Spouting alleged and unsubstantiated tabloid rot as ‘fact’ when everything hysterically cried out by finger pointing ‘MJ Haters’ has been proven to be false and outright lies created by scam artists, tabloid, then general media outlets – all to make money.

        It is a global tragedy that the greatest American Artist of the modern age was reduced to the tabloid fodder and sacrifice he became, and America should be ashamed of it’s actions. But for those who continue to peddle this crap to make themselves feel better, they reveal themselves to be the true monsters in the mirror that MJ holds up.

  • mariezp

    What an amazing opportunity! Love Michael Jackson and love Captain EO. Can’t wait to hear the rest of your behind the scenes story. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  • plzstandclear

    I’ve always thought Disney should do a Captain EO2. Get Justin Timberlake to take on the EO role and maybe get Lady Gaga to play the daughter of the Evil Queen or something. Considering how popular the first one was and what a cultural touchstone it is, would be cool to see Eo come to life with today’s technology.

  • AaroniusPolonius

    Man, that album picture is bonkers, right? How does the song go?
    “He’s got Corey Feldman eyes.”

    Yeah, I went there. And I’m sure Michael did too.

  • redrhino54

    Great show, great music, huge talent , but I was Surprised that Disney would use M.J. , after so many law suits and behind the door payoffs.