Hollywood Creature Designer's Opinion On Bigfoot and Patterson-Gimlin Film


Like everyone, I'm guilty of not wanting to accept certain possibilities.

For instance, is it possible that Oswald shot JFK from behind, despite the exit wound being on the back of our fallen president's head? Is it possible, that on 9/11, World Trade Center Building 7 could collapse like a controlled demolition despite not being hit by a plane? Is it possible that George W. Bush was legitimately elected president in 2000?

And, finally, is it possible that the legendary Bigfoot doesn't exist? I guess anything is possible, but, I'm going to fight against this last one.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the infamous 16mm footage shot by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin in Bluff Creek, Calif., on Oct. 20, 1967.

On that fateful day the two men filmed "something" walking in a wooded clearing that could be one of two things: It either shows the most successful costume ever constructed, or an actual Bigfoot was caught on celluloid.

Somewhere on these frames lies the answer to a fairly profound question: Does a primate exist that is genetically closer to homo sapiens than the chimpanzee - a missing link?

I'm not a scientist. I am an artist who has worked as a creature designer for film special effects. I've had the privilege to work for the best monster maker in Hollywood and the king of gorilla suit construction, six-time Academy Award-winner Rick Baker.

Now, I can't speak for Rick Baker, this is my own analysis of Patterson's "star." So I'll get to the point: In my opinion, the technology and artistry were not available in 1967 to create such a convincing Bigfoot costume. Even if Roger Patterson orchestrated the whole affair and was able to hire John Chambers, the one special make-up effects man on the planet at the forefront of such technology, I would argue it wasn't enough.

Take "Planet of the Apes" for example. If a major motion picture studio like Twentieth Century Fox, during the same period, with all of its money and resources, couldn't motivate the construction of a full-body, ventilated hair suit on top of a sculpted foam musculature with arm extensions aiding an overall "man/ape" design and performance of such naturalistic nuance, how the hell could a professional rodeo rider named Roger Patterson?

Unless there was an unknown genius of such brazen pretensions, content to live in obscurity, who was willing to incorporate features into his costume design that would set itself up for potential failure - such as making it female, as well as shortening the fur where flaws would be more pronounced and allowing it to be filmed under midday sunlight in the middle of a remote wooded location with no crew or witnesses - I would say it was impossible then and I dare say even today.

Back to the big picture: Humans are a peculiar species. We demonstrate faith in technology on a daily basis - we travel by plane, go under anesthesia, genetically alter the food we eat - yet most of us don't allow technology to disrupt our illusions.

Truth, it would seem, is problematic, even repugnant, because it's perceived as scary and oh so comfortably allusive. What if it's not?

* RYAN KENNETH PETERSON is a self-employed fine artist in Salt Lake City and works part time in Los Angeles doing makeup effects for various studios.


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