“They flew me to London to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop,” Pais said, “and I was body casted from head to toe, every inch of me except for two straws in my nose. It was super intense. They told us afterward that they kept us in that plaster longer than they needed to, just to see if we would freak out.”
Jim Henson, of course, created the Muppets, and with his Creature Shop, he had already carved out an impressive legacy in Hollywood before “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” This is something that the in-suit performers were keenly aware of at the Creature Shop in London. Leif Tilden, the man behind Donatello, said:
“I go in and Falcor’s head from ‘NeverEnding Story’ is right there. I’m like ‘Oh my God!’ There’s Yoda in the corner. I’m just geeking out. These guys were craftsmen. It was like NASA of the puppeteering world.”
Sisti also recalled doing “several months of intense training in New York with a sensei” to prepare for the martial arts and weapons work onscreen. “Then we went to North Carolina,” Pais added, “and then we rehearsed the movie almost like a play. Each of us had somebody that was going to operate our face. It was a very close relationship, because he was basically watching what I would do in these rehearsals, and then seeing how we could make something similar animatronically with this turtle head.”
In the 2020s, it would be all too easy to reboot the Ninja Turtles as CG characters in live-action, but through hard work and movie magic, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was able to give each character weight and a tactile quality that made them seem realer than they ever had been or would be again onscreen.