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Tag Archive: Jim Henson’s Creature Shop


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you had a time machine and your goal was to find someone to give a master class in storytelling–a master class in worldbuilding–and bringing an idea to reality, would there be a better choice than Jim Henson?  Henson will be forever known first for his Sesame Street character Ernie and Muppets Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, and more.  The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show are beloved by generations.  He made the unreal seem real, and fantasy as close to reality as we may ever see it.  Yet he was perhaps proudest of the creation of the first full-length, live-action motion picture where the stars were all creatures, The Dark Crystal, yet another of the unforgettable films from 1982 we’re celebrating this year here at borg.com.  The Henson family and The Jim Henson Company have opened their archive and published the remarkable story of the film from idea to the film’s release in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, available this month from Insight Editions.

Writer Caseen Gaines’ new chronicle of The Dark Crystal is not a typical “visual companion.”  The story told in the text provides a most intriguing account of Henson, a behind the scenes look at the man from his family and all those who worked with him, as he talked through the idea for a darker story while delayed on a chance cancelled flight with his daughter, as he cast a team of puppet builders, creative performance artists, artisans, costumers, and concept design artists, as he leveraged the success of The Muppet Movie, and strategically negotiated his way to gain investment dollars to make a film that stands alone in the history of fantasy film.  As daughter Cheryl Henson states in the book, “I don’t think my father ever tried to hide how something was done, because how it’s done is often as interesting as the final product”–and that proves true in The Ultimate Visual History.  She provides a foreword to the book and an introduction is provided by film creators Brian and Wendy Froud.

Gaines includes tipped-in replica memorabilia from the Jim Henson archives, which he integrates into the narrative to illustrate the five years of Henson’s concept to screen process.  Readers gain new appreciation for Henson as we witness his own hand-written notebook pages of ideas for the characters that would transform into the dualism of the Skeksis and Mystics, Brian Froud’s original concept book created to sell the idea to investors, outlines, story treatments, hand-drawn sketches, scene memos, and a concept art pitch book by Froud for a planned sequel.  Photographs document a chronological preparation of characters looking at first nothing like their final on-screen personas and the difficult process of creating the mechanics for each type of character, for Gelflings Jen and Kira, the exiled Skeksis Chamberlain, Jen’s dying Mystic master, a room full of potato-headed Podlings, the wise goddess/prophet Aughra, the majestic Landstriders, the giant beetle-like Garthim, and the cute and toothy fuzzy Fizzgig.  The new fantasy world had its roots in myths and folklore, yet Henson created something singular with all these magicians that was akin to Tolkien’s fantasy realm.

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Gelfling.  Skeksis.  Mystic.  Podling.

As we continue our celebration of the films of the summer of 1982, who could forget the fantasy that maintained its status as the most beloved of fantasy film creations for decades to come: Frank Oz and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.  Thirty-five years later fans can return again to the world of Thra as an all-new adventure is coming your way: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.  The 10-episode fantasy adventure series, available exclusively on Netflix, is a prequel that takes place many years before the events of the original film.  The series is being filmed in the U.K. and will star an ensemble of fantastical, state-of-the-art creatures created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, conceptual designer for The Dark Crystal Brian Froud, and possibly by you.

When three young Gelfling discover the horrifying secret behind the Skeksis’ power, they set out on an epic journey to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world.  This brief description and an introductory video (below), is all that has been released so far for the new series–until this month’s contest.

Contestants are asked to draw, by hand or digitally, an original creature concept for the world of The Dark Crystal and submit their designs online.  The winner will be awarded $500 and the winning concept design will be crafted and built by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to make a possible cameo appearance in the upcoming series.  This small, woodland creature must be a brand new concept – it cannot be a variation of an existing species from the original film.  All ideas are welcome, as long as they feel true to the world of The Dark Crystal, without being a variation of an existing Brian Froud drawing.  Contestants should also provide a paragraph of 50–100 words about the creature, including its name and back story.

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