Flat Eric is a low-tech, yellow puppet character from Levi's commercials for Sta-Prest One Crease Denim Clothing, built by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. His name comes from an idea for a commercial that included having a car run over his head and flattening it. The idea was not used but the name stuck. In the commercials, Flat Eric would ride with his friend Angel (played by Phillipe Petit) around California, evading the police as a wanted criminal.
He was featured in the music video for "Flat Beat" by French artist Mr. Oizo (aka Quentin Dupieux) and he also appeared as a prop in series 1 of the 2001–2003 BBC comedy The Office. In 2004, he co-starred with David Soul in a five million pound TV advert for Auto Trader magazine. He has also appeared on The Big Breakfast.
He was based on a puppet called Stéphane that was similar but with ears and the hands were fixed. Stéphane appeared in some short films by Mr. Oizo (including a video for the track M-Seq), and had a small cult following in the UK and France. In 1999, Levi's decided to build a television commercial campaign around the puppet, to be directed by Oizo. The character was renamed Eric, a more "international name," in contrast to the original French name Stéphane.
Mr. Oizo directed all the Flat Eric commercials and performed the music for the ads (with his songs "Flat Beat" and "Monday Massacre"). He commented on the collaboration with Henson: "When they first made him he looked too much like Kermit. He had a rounded body which Flat Eric isn't supposed to have. It took 15 days to make him but the second puppet was too tall — he was like a small child and he wasn't funny. Flat Eric has to be little and small to be laughable, so I said no to number two. The third or fourth time he was just about right. He had to be redesigned several times before he created the same mood and feeling that I had with my first, original puppet Stéphane."
Flat Eric was made by Janet Knechtel for Creature Shop, in the UK and was performed by Drew Massey for all the Levi's commercials. The Levi's ads took three days to shoot. The original short films made with Stéphane cost around 15,000 francs to produce. The two Levi's ads cost around two or three million francs each. The rights to the character were retained by Oizo and production company Partizan.
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