After meeting Laurie, who played Bernard, the first time, the first questions I asked were, "What was it? How did it work?" I've seen other Aniform puppets every now and then on TV, but I still had a tough time wrapping my brain around how these freaky-looking creatures were operated.
HOW IT STARTED
Aniforms was created by puppeteer/puppet maker Morey Bunin, who was a cutting-edge puppet artist who had worked on several kids' puppet shows in New York in the late 1950's, along with cartoonist, puppeteer and radio/TV broadcaster Hank Stohl, and Morey's wife, Charlotte. The original Aniforms required several people to operate the characters, however they eventually developed the controls so that they could be operated by a single person.
The first appearance of an Aniform puppet was on the Saturday morning edition of CBS TV's Captain Kangaroo. Bunin created and worked the controls of a character named Fred who appeared on the TV set on the wall of the Captain's Treasure House.
An Aniforms bird named Lorelai also appeared on the first season of The Electric Company.
Aniforms evolved into an attention-getting device for corporate conferences, mall advertising and street corner public relations. The puppets would be displayed on a television and would interact with people as they walked by. An attractive lady with a microphone also enticed people over. Then as someone would interact with the character, he would start working his sales pitch into the conversation. One of these sales pitches at a Television conference/trade show in 1977 impressed two executives from WPTF TV so much that despite having no idea what to do with him, they signed a deal to use an Aniforms character on their station.
For years the process was TOP SECRET. Anyone who operated or worked with the puppet in any way had to sign all kinds of non-disclosure agreements. The operator of the original Barney has mentioned occasionally altering his voice in public around kids during that time so as not to arouse suspicion. Production-assistant Tony Madejczyk remembered from his time with Barney #2, "When Laurie wasn't performing we had to drape a tarp over the puppet per our agreement with Aniforms in NYC." And once the show was over, they were shipped back to New York.
The puppet is made from a thin sheet of foam-rubber material. There's a dowel attached to each arm and a rectangular arm extended from the top of the puppet's head to off frame where the puppeteer stood. The arm had switches for controls of the facial features and this would also move the head from side to side. The colors on the puppet are all inverted. so the original Barney puppets probably looked like this...
The camera that was used would invert the colors (which according to a former Aniforms employee, "wasn't just a flip-switch on a video camera, it had to be custom-engineered") and this would also wash-out the controls and cause the puppet to look very 2-dimensional.
Here's a photo of a homemade Aniforms-style puppet. Check out a video of his creation here.
And finally, here's the 1983 pilot for a gameshow named after it's Aniform host, Malcolm. Alex Trebek co-hosts. It's horrible.