Sonoma Puppeteers Create 7-foot Condiment Bottles for Video Ad

“Clash of the Condiments” video pits Hidden Valley Ranch dressing against a ketchup bottle in a live battle on the streets of San Francisco.


The ultimate condiment battle was waged with Hidden Valley Ranch dressing vs. Ketchup in an improvised melee on the streets of San Francisco.

Sparked by Ketchup’s poor sportsmanship over a chess match, the duo spars comically throughout the city. Predictably, Hidden Valley Ranch comes away with the win against the generic condiment. 

The video is not actual condiment combat, but a web-based ad campaign that has already received over 70,000 hits on YouTube. Sonoma-based puppetering company scaled up their production to create the life-sized costumes used in the national television commercial, showing the two battling 7-foot condiment bottles.

Images In Motion, known more for their TV puppets, built the costumes that duke it out. The puppeteers said they used many of the skills employed to create smaller TV puppets out of foam. Interior harnesses helped the performers balance the lightweight costumes, leaving their arms free for the ensuing conflict.

 “The most challenging part of the process was getting a durable, smooth coating on the bottles,” explained IIM designer/principal Kamela Portuges-Robbins. After testing many products, the foam used on the costumes was first plastic-coated and then spray-painted with plasticized auto paint.

Portugues-Robbins and IIM co-owner Lee Armstrong worked with the commercial team on location, maintaining and switching out costumes as the battle progressed.

In the final production, a nearly two-minute video, the costumed characters chase each other through the Financial District and don gloves for a boxing match on city sidewalks filled with startled citizens.

“Because the play was improvised, I had no idea that the costumes would be slammed to the ground and rolling down hills. They held up remarkable well,” said Portuges-Robbins.

The IIM production team agreed that the actors, Andrew Bancroft and Brian Dawson, brought the costumes to life with a combo of physical comedy and verbal sparring.

“The action, spontaneous and out in the streets had a great slapstick quality. We have never laughed so much in the making of a commercial,” said Armstrong.

Kaboom Productions coordinated this successful web commercial for the ad agency, Tribal DDB.

The production company needed giant plastic bottle costumes capable of taking a beating. Because of the rough-and-tumble nature of the action, they also required a duplicate of each costume and wanted them created three weeks of ordering.

Armstrong said that Images in Motion beat out Southern California production companies for the job based on their reputation and location.

“There are other costume companies were down in Los Angeles, but they wanted to have it done locally,” Armstrong said. “They also used local actors and wanted a company nearby that could come and do the costume fittings.”

“Also, the shipping back and forth of 7-foot bottles to LA would have been expensive and difficult with the tight deadline,” she added.

Images In Motion works out of their property overlooking the Springs, on the outskirts of Sonoma, their studio in a converted barn out back.

Armstrong said the film crew had multiple cameras rolling and microphones placed inside the costumes to give the commercial a reality-look and also to capture the live responses of passers-by.

“Standing on the sidelines was so interesting because of the reactions,” said Armstrong. “They had lots of production assistants running around and getting signed releases from whoever appeared in the footage and if someone didn’t sign, they just blurred out their faces in the video.”

Armstrong said the interaction with non-actors was improvised, including a final scene where the characters are chased by some dogs.

“Any interaction they got with people or animals was bonus,” Armstrong said. “It was a ‘let’s wait and see what happens’ production,” she added.

Images in Motion, is an Emmy-award winning company, known for puppets used in commercials for clients that include Best Buy, ESPN and Mercedes Benz. They were also the team that created the Round Table Pizza puppets in their national campaign.

Their credits include toy prototype work for Leapfrog Toys and puppets and character sculpting for feature films movies, including James and the Giant Peach, and Being John Malkovich.

The Hidden Valley Ranch spot can be seen on the IIM website http://www.imagesmedia.com/TV_Film.html.


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