Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Was My Dream Job When I Was a Kid

Has anyone else watched Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge on Syfy? It's three weeks in and I'm really digging this show. This is exactly the show I've been waiting for from Syfy since they got into the reality competition business.

I've always, always, always been enthusiastic about creatures, and the contestants on this program are doing what I dreamed of for a long time: creating and fabricating realistic creatures and making them live. They've all dreamed of working for Henson (what creature enthusiast hasn't?). They're passionate amateurs or people who have been working on smaller projects. The show works like this: they're told what kind of creature they have to design and fabricate, put onto random teams, given two days to do it, and then given rehearsal time with puppeteers and/or creature operators. The creature then gets a professional screen test, and the results are judged by Brian Henson, Kirk Thatcher, and Beth Hathaway, all of whom have had extensive (and, for me, formative) experience in creature effects. The prize is a job at Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

For someone like me, who is passionate but never pursued this, it's an utterly fascinating show. They sketch and design a creature, give it a personality and a bit of story, and they all have various strengths in different areas. The best contestants are the ones who are open to learning from the other contestants; for example, one guy said he often used tinfoil as a base for creature faces because the shapes were so interesting. His partner that week found that... unconventional. Why would you use something so cheap on a professional creature? She said it would never occur to her to do so. But she wasn't bitchy or condescending about it; she trusted his method, and that week, their creature won the challenge. She learned something new. I dug that.

I also like that the designers are sitting and taking into consideration where the operators are going to go and how much room they'll have to move and breathe. The creature that lost the first challenge lost in part because it didn't have much room for the operator inside; his movements were stilted, and when he came out of it, he was feeling faint. If an operator's movements are stilted and he's not breathing well, it limits the dexterity and personality of the creature--besides just being damn uncomfortable!

The second week was a dream: the designers had to create their own Skeksis and the screen test was on an actual set from The Dark Crystal (including the Crystal itself). The Skeksis have fascinated me since I was 6 years old. They were nightmare figures for me until literally a few months ago. I used to not be able to watch The Dark Crystal at night because of my fear of those damn creatures. What changed? I got the movie on Blu-Ray, and the resolution was so good that I found myself mainly fascinated with the puppeteering and operation and performances and how they were done. Fear gone.

A little bonus for me: the series is hosted by Gigi Edgley, aka Chiana from Farscape, a Henson production and my all time favorite TV show. It's wonderful to see you again, Pip.

Anyway, great show, especially if you're a creature geek like me. I recommend it.

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