What is Suitmation

Written by Barney Buckley

Email Address – bbuckley@triad.rr.com


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What is Suitmation you may ask? Is the technical term that was originally used in Japan for a Tokusatsu and it is a technique that does portray a suit actor inside of a Daikaiju monster suit? This particular monster suit were often moved through scale model scenery that given the impression it is a very large monster. Suitmation was actually created when the actual use of puppets could not apply and since the pulpits were actually being worn by actors in the actual puppet is controlled by a puppeteer. This particular technique was developed by Eiji Tsuburaya for the use of Godzilla films and then in the Ultra – Series productions as well.

Although the actual term were the origin of the word Suitmation was never really quite known is said that this term was used to differentiate the technique that is called “Dynamation” this is a stop-motion animation that was created by the special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen and what he did is literally took pulpits and brought them back to life by moving them one step at a time and creating motion through filming this is a different process to that of Suitmation. As we already know Suitmation is literally an actor inside of a suit moving around in a miniature world.

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There are some rather famous B-movie creature costumes that were used in films most notably an example of this would be “An American Werewolf in London” and also the American television satire “Dinosaurs”: these are full-body costumes of the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Most notably these particular puppets or Suitmation for Jim Henson you would see this in the movies “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth” with David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly this is a true classic movie and so is “The Dark Crystal” this is another true classic pulpit and Suitmation type movie it does take you back to when you were younger it just give you that special feel these are great movies to watch.

Another prime example of Suitmation is “Sesame Street” which has puppetry and Suitmation like Big Bird. Does anyone remember watching Sesame Street and do you remember the Suitmation character Snufalufagus. He had a very long nose like an elephant. The latest and Suitmation would be the movie that came out in 2009 is called “Where the Wild Things Are” this is based off of the famous child reading book that we all grew up while some of us reading this kind of stuff in school as well as at home they decide to go and make a movie and by the way never did see this movie I should watch it.

Now want to come to Suitmation and Tokusatsu the suits were used in various stages they did little to cut the suits in half and use them for leg and foot scenes are using upper half for over-the-top scenes or maybe for the water seems a little cut the suits in half these particular rules would apply in movies like Godzilla. Let’s talk about some suit actors rubbed on the suits in their lifetime as a career.

Haruo Nakajima dawn the actual Godzilla suit they call the Shodaigoji suit as well as the Shodaigoji suits legs used in both respectively. This man was born on January 1, 1929 he is a Japanese actor that is very well known for retraining Godzilla inside of the suit from 1954 all the way through the early 1970s. Nakajima was born in Yamagata Japan. He is consider by many to be the best suit actor in the entire franchise of Godzilla for the Toho Motion Picture Company. Eiji Tsuburaya I consider Nakajima completely invaluable as this man went on many suits in the entire career of Godzilla as well as Tsuburaya Productions Ultraman this man has done everything. After 23 years of suit acting Haruo Nakajima would retire from suit acting upon the completion of Godzilla versus Gigan in 1972. In 1970 The Toho Company did in fact split into several subsidiaries by doing this the studio managed to cycle Haruo Nakajima out of their contracts even though Nakajima was still employed by The Toho Company for several years and then of all things he was transferred to a job at the Toho Motion Picture Company’s bowling alley that was located on the studio lot which is now defunct. It is a shame that such a great suit actor who’s done so much for this company has now got to resort to that kind of job. I think for the most part when you get older they no longer need you and that’s a shame the way people think.

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Another prime example of Suitmation would be the Daiei Motion Picture Company they would have suit actors as well because they are the owners of the Kaiju Gamera which is a gigantic flying turtle and they need suit actors for their Kaiju as well they also have other Kaiju that have suit actors as well. Baragon is a giant lizard like Kaiju that has a tongue that is capable of freezing anything in its site it also has a rainbow weapon that shoots straight from his back, Gyaos is a bird that has a flat head and shoots laser beams out of its mouth, Jiger this is a female Kaiju that implants an egg into Gamera this is a strange Kaiju, Viras is a squid like alien from another planet, Zigra this is an over grown shark that Gamera plays the xylophone on its dorsal plates. Some more monsters within the Gamera genre are Guiron which has the head of a Ginsu knife. The new Heisei Series Gamera movies also have Suitmation the upgraded the bird Gyaos which is now classified in its full-grown stage super hyper Gyaos another Kaiju that is in the Gamera movies is Legion this takes 2 actors operate this particular suit and then there is Iris this is a very tall looking Kaiju with massive tentacles that shoot plasma balls from the end of the tentacles this is a very cool looking Kaiju.

When it comes to Suitmation especially for the companies like The Daiei Motion Picture Company, The Toho Motion Picture Company, Toei Company and Tsuburaya Productions they all seem to concentrate on suit actors for their monsters were giant superheroes. This particular technique had evolved as the suits in time had progressed in great detail if you ever seen anything Godzilla, Gamera and Ultraman movies or TV series you would see that the actual design of the suits have improved immensely. In the United States the term has become associated with the movies and are classified as being campy or cheesy because they are classified as a man a rubber suit. The United States alone does not rely too much on Suitmation is because they rely heavily on CGI and for obvious reasons the realism is so much better if you want a realistic looking monster however it does come at a very expensive price. Japan and itself struggle with financial situations and they have to cut corners where they have to cut corners and they did a lot of that especially for The Toho Motion Picture Company from 1955 to 1975 they reused the suits and did a lot of cutting for budgetary reasons.

A lot of the TV shows over in Japan especially Tokusatsu type shows for companies like Toei Company, Tsuburaya Productions, and a little of the Toho Motion Picture Company they tend to use in today’s programs suits that are made of a foam application especially in the Ultraman series’ most of those monsters look like they are very rubbery it’s not like the original Godzilla Shodaigoji suits that were actually made of a latex type material and literally handmade today everything is molded as one piece like Styrofoam and then spray-painted to give it a realistic look. The whole Suitmation thing has changed over time.

This particular application is done here in the United States by the company that I mentioned earlier The Jim Henson Creature Shop they tend to do a lot of puppetry in this style of Styrofoam Suitmation. With the exception if you watched Labyrinth the character Ludo is an amazing character it literally took to suit actors to operate this big suit I would love to get my hands on this thing I think it looks amazing. As I mentioned before they do a lot of the very same applications for Sesame Street.

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The Creation of the Suits

As I mentioned earlier most of the suits today are made of a Styrofoam type fabrication that can be literally molded as one cleaned up and trim and the suit actor literally fits inside it. This is how the process is done they start with patterns and plans of the creature based on the suit actor and the design. Then the patterns are converted into sheets of upholstery foam or Styrofoam based and they are glued together sculpted into one creature. When the phone structure that she created the outside is covered with a contact adhesive this is a flexible glue that is using industrywide situations and they then glue skin textures is pushed into by wooden tools that also depends on the skin texture itself but usually they apply certain scales or situations to the actual suit by using wooden tools. After the final completion of the suit is done the actual suit is sealed with a few coats of liquid latex this is a natural rubber that originates from trees and then it gets a good coat of paint this is how it was done in the Showa Series however they failed to mention that the actual material they put on after applying the adhesive is a latex which resembles a natural rubber substance.

The Conditions of Wearing the Suits

Back in the days when Haruo Nakajima wore the Godzilla suit once he was inside the suit does the, extremely hot the average stuntperson can only last anywhere from 3 minutes to maybe 5 minutes without becoming uncomfortable inside the suit. When Nakajima wore the suit during production he would literally sweat anywhere from 1 to 2 cups a day in the suit of sweat. Also it has been known that Haruo Nakajima did in fact pass out in the suit on several occasions because of the heat inside. Also it has been known he has dealt with some serious chafing. When Haruo Nakajima wore the suit I believe he was around 5 foot 9 and the actual suit was over 7 feet tall and there was little holes that were cut out in the neck so he can actually see because his head would be inside the neck of the Godzilla suit.

Now for superheroes such as Ultraman the actors would normally wear what is called a form fitting latex costume very similar to a wetsuit. The helmet or the headgear for the Ultraman is usually made of a tax and then later on as time progressed it turned into fiberglass as you seen some of the Ultraman heads have become very unique in style. There is also a set of batteries in the suit that would literally make the eyes and color timer light up. The Toei Company also has superheroes who were various different kinds of costumes themselves and they range anywhere from leather, vinyl to actual cloth. An example of this would be Kagaku who was Sentai Dynaman he actually wore spandex. The helmets for these particular heroes are also made of fiberglass and they also had clips on the side to lock them into place.

Here is a list of suit actors that had either worn a Kaiju suit or a Sentai Dynaman suit or even perhaps in Ultraman suit anything that requires suit actors to wear suits this is a small list of some of the more famous suit actors.

  • Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla from 1954 to 1972)
  • Kenpachiro Satsuma (Godzilla from 1984 to 1995)
  • Tsutomu Kitagawa (Godzilla from 1999 to 2000 and 2002 to 2004)
  • Mizuho Yoshida (Godzilla 2001)
  • Katsumi Tezuka (Godzilla 1954, 1955)
  • Seiji Onaka (Godzilla 1967)
  • Shinji Takagi (Godzilla 1973)
  • Isao Zushi (Godzilla 1974 and Godzilla in Zone Fighters 4, 11, 15, 21 and 25)
  • Toru Kawai (Godzilla in Zone Fighters episode 4, 11, 15, 21 and 25 and Terror of Mechagodzilla 1975)
  • Yasuhiko Imai (Super Sentai and Kamen Rider)
  • Kenji Ohba (Super Sentai)
  • Seiji Takaiwa (Super Sentai and Kamen Rider)
  • Hiroshi Maeda (Power Rangers and Super Sentai)
  • Mark Musashi (Kamen Rider 2)
  • Hisanori Ōiwa (Kamen Rider)

Suitmation or CGI

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This is based on my opinions of what I actually prefer whether it be Suitmation or CGI they both have their good points. 1st let’s talk about computer-generated imagery (CGI) this one at 1st was discovered CGI was absolutely horrible and very weak in some aspects however it has quickly progressed and I do mean quickly progressed because in today’s films some of the CGI is absolutely amazing very realistic look. A prime example of this would be the movie Godzilla 2014 if you have never seen this movie you might want to check it out is a pretty decent movie. The CGI in this mode is absolutely impressive especially when the Kaiju Muto and Godzilla show up this is where the CGI really stands out Godzilla looked absolutely impressive especially his tail during the water scene when he approaches the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge he looks absolutely amazing and very menacing looking he is huge.

The Muto on the other hand they look absolutely impressive the very unique looking Kaiju however I’m not a big fan because it didn’t really impress me they just look amazing. Anyway the CGI out today especially with the new movie coming out attack on Titan the CGI in that movie looks amazing as well it seems they have perfected the whole CGI thing however it does have one flaw it does blow the budget for a movie out of proportion it is the largest part of a movie next to pain the actors in these movies can range anywhere from 100 million all the way up to as high as $250 million with King Kong holding that honor is not the most expensive movie out there but $250 million is a lot of money for a movie and is risky business when you invest a kind of money into a movie and it does not fare well at the box office you lose a hand over fist. An example of this would be the movie “47 Ronin” that movie cost over $200 million to make and it only made I believe $51 million at the box office or something it was literally a flop this is why say CGI is risky business because it cost too much for the companies to create these movies.

Now let’s get into Suitmation and why I like Suitmation 1st off I have been a fan of Godzilla and anything Tokusatsu ever since I was a kid and trust me I was a kid a long time ago LOL. I have watched all the Godzilla films I have all the Godzilla films as well as every single other film out there based on giant Suitmation type monsters or CGI for that matter mostly Suitmation. Anyway I grew up watching these films especially Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, King Kong, The Space Giants, Daimajin, Ultraman, or anything in this particular genre. What I like about the Suitmation is the actual technical ability to actually create these things is absolutely amazing and the way that they had to improvise back in a day because a lack of technology they did what they had to do in order to give us their fantastic illusions of sci-fi. And I truly respect their ability to create these things where today you don’t see too much of that because everything is create your computers today. I have been a big fan of Suitmation for as long as I can remember and honestly I would prefer to see a Godzilla filled with Suitmation and CGI is a combination of both for today’s technology because to me Godzilla is not about being realistic or seeing a realistic looking Godzilla don’t get me wrong it looks very cool when you do see one but in my opinion Godzilla is not classified as realistic Godzilla and most things that were created in the past are supposed to take you away from reality and that’s exactly what they do especially the storylines and the technology back in a day gave you that special sense of feeling in today’s movies you don’t get that that’s my personal opinion on that.

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