M3GAN Used A Half-Dozen Puppets To Bring The Killer Toy To Life

Dolls have earned their reputation as harbingers of evil for quite some time now ... there's just something very ominous about them. Dolls have also further established their creepy status thanks to the horror genre: Chucky is creepy, Annabelle is creepy, and M3GAN, the newest addition to the creepy dolls collective, is also creepy. And that's even before you find out they've been possessed or something's wrong with them.

In New Zealand filmmaker Gerard Johnstone's "M3GAN," the titular doll is a marvel of artificial intelligence to the people who made her and a dangerous companion to those she has been made for. In the horror movie, the high-tech AI doll develops self-awareness and becomes hostile to those who interfere with her relationship with her human companion. The doll has a homicidal streak, and Gerard Johnstone wanted to capture M3GAN in the spookiest manner possible. She needed to appear life-like (which, let's be honest, is the basis of its creepiness), and the production team made use of a combination of animatronics, puppetry, VFX, and Amie Donald — a child actor and national dance champion from New Zealand, to bring M3GAN to life.

'We had six or seven different puppets'

M3GAN's got a lot on her rapidly-evolving mind, murder in particular. Since the team wanted M3GAN to move (and sometimes, contort her body) like a regular human would, they shot most scenes with puppets, multiple ones at that.

During an interview with Variety, the film's supervising puppeteer Adrien Morot explained how they captured a range of computerized movements. Actress Amie Donald was present for every scene that needed the doll to be seen walking or dancing in the corridor, and for the others, there were puppets that they used.

"It was decided early on that almost every medium shot would be done with a puppet," Morot explained.

"We had six or seven different puppets that were capable of doing different things. We had some of the head moving, eyes moving, the moving torso, and there were a couple that were capable of a full computerized range of movements ... for every shot where she would be seen walking in full or dancing in a corridor, that would be Amie wearing a mask that, if need be, would be then animated to have lip movement or the eyes moving."

Morot wanted the audience to feel deeply unsettled by how "almost real" M3GAN looked. The design was never meant to be "over the top" or "cartoony," just unnerving. It looks like director Gerard Johnstone and Morot both achieved their attempt to make M3GAN and everything she does "disturbing," since there's nothing as unsettling as a self-learning, realistic-looking doll that goes rogue at every chance she gets.