anecdotes about the creative process

The End of the Stop-Motion Doughboy

The complete commercial, bookended with my animation of the Doughboy.

Since his debut in the mid sixties, the Pillsbury Doughboy was brought to life via stop-motion animation, but that era came to an end in 1992 when it was decided to switch to CGI. It was my pleasure to animate the Doughboy for his final stop-motion commercial campaign at Apogee Inc. for the Leo Burnett advertising agency. A couple commercials were created simultaneously under the direction of effects legend John Dykstra, and I was chosen to animate one of them with a Christmas theme. The budget for the project was clearly high since they offered me more than my normal pay rate, but of course expected the highest quality animation possible in return. I was given a luxurious amount of time to do tests and experiment with the character performance, which was far from the norm of a typical stop-motion shoot.

The shooting setup was a basic seamless white stage, on which I animated the Doughboy puppet and a few kitchen props. Replacement heads were used for facial expressions, which was difficult as this required his hat to be removed and carefully re-aligned with every head change. For the iconic finger poke I used a prop hand, and strove for a more exaggerated reaction than what the Doughboy typically does. In post production a real hand was composited over the prop one, as well as some holiday graphic elements to spice things up.

Although most commercials are broadcast for a very short time, this one was shown for many years. Pillsbury even repurposed my animation into a Halloween cookie commercial. In the name of progress, the Doughboy has been computer generated ever since then. While CGI may look technically superior, I contend that the traditional stop-motion technique presents a more charming and realistic Doughboy to the audience.

Pillsbury Doughboy Halloween commercial scenes. edge
Examples from the Halloween alternate version.

The Doughboy is trademarked and copyrighted by Pillsbury.