Interview – ‘Five Nights At Freddy’s’ Lead Designer Robert Bennett Talks Creating The Iconic Horror Animatronics

The terrifying horror game phenomenon becomes a blood-chilling cinematic event, as Blumhouse— the producer of M3GAN, The Black Phone and The Invisible Man— brings Five Nights at Freddy’s to the big screen. The film follows a troubled security guard as he begins working at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. While spending his first night on the job, he realizes the night shift at Freddy’s won’t be so easy to make it through. Can he survive the fight nights?

Leading up to the release of this highly anticipated horror flick, I had the chance to chat with the films’ animatronics Lead Designer, and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop mastermind, Robert Bennett. We spoke about the process of creating these terrifying killing machines, using them practically on set with a mix of electronics and stunt performers, and the importance of keeping the character designs true to the Five Nights at Freddy’s lore.

Nick: I’m really excited to talk to you today, because in this line of work I usually talk to a lot of directors and actors. But I’ve never spoken to anyone behind the scenes who has worked creatively with puppeteering and animatronics. So, it’s been an exciting process coming up with questions for today’s chat! I appreciate you taking the time!

Robert Bennett: Absolutely!

Nick: You’re no stranger to working on the physical creation of iconic characters, whether it be Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, or now with Five Nights at Freddy’s. How do you find yourself balancing honouring the legacy and distinct looks of these characters, but adding your own creative spin on them as well?

Robert Bennett: I guess specifically with Five Nights at Freddy’s, we got the designs straight from Scott Cawthon [FNAF creator], and we worked closely with him throughout the whole film to figure out the exact look of what his vision was. And in this particular instance, like, we knew the shape and size of what they were going to be, but we weren’t really sure about the textures… and there’s so many textures because it’s a video game!

So, bringing it into the real world, and trying to make it look like something that was made, you know, years ago, and insipid and dilapidated – what does that look like now? And how does that read on camera and with lighting? So, I think that was kind of the big challenge at the beginning of the design phase – staying true to the character from the game, but making it look like it’s been in the real world for decades.

Nick: As the film goes on, there’s even more wear and tear as some of them turn into literal killing machines! How many variations of each character did you end up having to make so you have a distinct version for every stage of the film?

Robert Bennett: So, we had stunt versions of Freddy, Bonnie and Chica. And we had three great stunt performers, and then the heads were animatronic with a puppeteer off-set remote controlling. Then Foxy was a full animatronic and it took six people to puppeteer him for the legs and the arms and the torso and the head! Then Cupcake was a full animatronic as well. So, when they were all on stage and going, it was quiet… yeah! [laughs]

Nick: I can imagine! When you have all those unique designs, what was the easiest character to work with?

Robert Bennett: They honestly have very unique challenges with the suit performers and stunt performers. Their safety is your number one goal, and they can’t be in the suit for a very long period of time. So, that’s kind of the challenge there. And then with the full animatronics, it’s just the logistics of moving a giant animatronic! We had to have a lot of help on set from the grip department, because sometimes moving a giant animatronic upstairs or something… there’s a bit of work that takes a village.

Nick: The work you guys do at Jim Henson usually has a fantasy type element to it, like The Dark Crystal, but not necessarily a straight up horror! How did Five Nights at Freddy’s come to the Jim Henson Creature Shop? And was it a completely different experience working on something like this as opposed to the other projects you’ve worked on?

Robert Bennett: When I first started at Jim Henson’s, I was a huge fan of Henson’s, obviously, so, I already knew the lore of The Dark Crystal. When we get these legacy projects, we all kind of know what we’re doing. I guess for this one, it was more fun to kind of delve into a world that I didn’t really know. And I have much more appreciation for it. I mean, it’s really cool that there’s all the books and games and everything. It really keeps you on your toes.

Nick: I’m assuming that’s a pretty exciting part of the creative process, right? Looking for that next challenge?

Robert Bennett: Yeah, I mean, you always want to do the next best thing or do something that you’ve never done before. And each project present opportunities to do things we’ve never done before. There was a lot of different aspects of this project that we have to kind of reimagine and use techniques that are old techniques, but also integrate new techniques, too.

Nick: You mentioned Scott Cawthorne earlier, who is the mastermind behind Five Nights at Freddy’s, and I read that he was heavily involved from pre-production, being on set and helping with the lore of the world. What was your collaboration with Scott like?

Robert Bennett: We had contact with him from the very, very beginning. So, right from when we started the designs, and all the way up until the last day of filming. It was great that we got to discuss with him, you know, what each character does because we could make these characters do anything. But for time and budget reasons, we wanted to make them do exactly what they needed to do. So, he helped guide us in the lore of these characters, and the way the move and things like that.

It was very helpful. We couldn’t have done it without him because he knows the fan base better than anyone. He knows what’s gonna get called out. He knows what’s on brand. The world [of FNAF] is so big, only he knows all of it.

Nick: I want to find out more about you as an artist, because I read that you got your breakout when you won the Jim Henson Creature Shop Challenge, and now you’re working at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop! What has the rest of journey looked like? And where did your love of this type of work start?

Robert Bennett: So, I attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and right after that I got a costume designer job for Sea World in Orlando. And during that period, I worked all over the place. I worked at Universal [Studios]. I was a costumer performer at Disney. And then for years, I did the Rainforest Café animatronics. So, I went all over the world, you know! Cairo, and Istanbul, Paris, and London. It was great! I just think starting my career in the theme park industry, working on animatronics for restaurants gave me a very solid foundation for this project!

Nick: That’s a truly full circle moment! Robert, thank you so much for your time! This was a unique experience for me, so I appreciate your insight into this world!

Robert Bennett: Absolutely. Thank you!

Thank you so much to Robert Bennett for his time and thank you to Universal Pictures for organising the interview! Five Nights At Freddy’s is in Australian cinemas on October 26th!

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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