Clifford: how was the big red dog conceived?

Kids’ favorite big red dog Clifford is coming to the big screen! Bringing it to life was a tall order for the film crew.

Clifford tells the story of young college girl Emily Elizabeth, played by Darby Camp. She meets a rescuer of magical animals, played by John Cleese, who gives her a little red puppy. She doesn’t expect to find a giant three-meter dog in her tiny New York apartment the next morning!

While her single mom Maggie (Sienna Guillory) is away on business, Emily Elizabeth and her fun but impulsive Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) embark on a jaw-dropping adventure in the Big Apple. Adapted from the beloved character of Norman Bridwell’s books published by Scholastic, Clifford will teach the whole world to love things big!


But how did a gigantic red dog come to be created for the purposes of the film? The canine was of course made in computer graphics, like Harrison Ford’s bushy companion in The Call of the Forest. Although Clifford takes up a lot of screen space, it is a photo-realistic synthesis creation brought to life with stunning visual effects.

The actors could not therefore interact with a real animal on the set. For the director Walt Becker, however, it was very important that they could have a palpable representation of Clifford, in order to have reactions as authentic as possible.

For this, he hired the puppeteers Rowan Magee, member of the Phantom Limb Company and curator of the Festival of Movement of Objects, and Jon Riddleberger, actor and puppeteer based in New York. The latter has performed worldwide with the Handspring Puppet Company in Il Ritorno D’Ulisse and War Horse.


This Clifford puppet was very useful to the actors, but also to the animators of MPC, the visual effects company that brought Clifford to life in CGI. “Because Clifford doesn’t exist, they wanted a physical person on set who could perform the scenes with the actors.”, says Jon Riddleberger.

“Also, since Clifford is very tall, they had to make sure he could fit into the rooms, into the frames, etc. Our job is to work for the other artists. We are here to remind them that he there’s a big red dog in the room who might push them a little harder than expected … or spin around running “, explains the puppeteer.

Darby Camp, who plays Emily, the film’s main character, found the presence of the puppeteers incredibly helpful in helping him conceptualize Clifford in his mind. “When I play the emotional scenes, I really feel like it’s a dog”, she says

One of the biggest challenges for the film crew was figuring out the dog’s exact size in space. “Because when it comes to real shots, you have to adapt to elements as concrete as a doorway or a limited interior space in which you will have to evolve”, explains director Walt Becker.

Paramount Pictures Germany


Clifford, because of his gargantuan size, causes enormous damage in his path, especially in Emily’s house. Whether wagging its tail exuberantly or curling up on a bed for a nap, the special effects group has done it like a demolition crew on set.

“We made Clifford smash tables; we catapulted sofas into the air; we rocked an airbag-mounted truck back and forth. The puppeteers really bring a touch of realism to the whole film “, specifies the director.

Clifford, this cute big red dog, will make children dream … and adults, who also have a special relationship with their pets. And to immerse yourself in this universe, it is necessary to believe a little in the magic, like Darby Camp, the interpreter of Emily. “It’s important to believe in magic because you are integrating the world in a totally different way and from all points of view … everything is more positive”, she enthuses.

“I hope viewers laugh a lot, cry a little and walk out of the cinema feeling better than when they walked in. I hope they achieve two things: the love between humans and their pets. is real, amazing and magical; if we can understand it and spread it around the world, then we can move forward and create a better world “, concludes filmmaker Walt Becker.

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