Adventure 05: A Scenester And A Square

Discuss

35 Responses to “Adventure 05: A Scenester And A Square”

  1. desiredusername says:

    Ohhh that word died out.

  2. adwkiwi says:

    I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than you all :)

    Thanks for the clip, it’s true genius and it made me smile :)

  3. iguanoid says:

    “Do kids today have anything like him? Or his muppets, stories, movies, shows?”

    I for one think Yo Gabba Gabba is a great show. Its not ‘like’ the muppets but thats not a bad thing. Something ‘like’ the muppets is just derivative. What from today will we miss 30 years from now? Nothing? Surely all goodness isn’t in the past.

  4. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    Hello iguanoid,

    Would you please post a clip of modern puppetry that has depth of characterization and vivid personality like this. I know of a few modern puppeteers who are capable of creating this kind of magic with nothing more than a little bit of cloth and their hands, but most of what I see on TV is just guys with their hands up a doll’s ass flapping lips to a prerecorded soundtrack.

    Look at some clips, and think about the technique they are using to convey the personality and share it with us.

    thanks
    Steve

  5. iguanoid says:

    “Would you please post a clip of modern puppetry that has depth of characterization and vivid personality like this”

    I must admit I am not up to date on my modern puppetry clips. Although I will say that most puppets are made of ones and zeros and not fabric these days.

    I wasn’t claiming that Jim Henson isn’t or is a great puppeteer. I was saying that there are good kids shows out there today. I left the puppetry out of the equation.

  6. Puppetlooser says:

    His wife’s name is Jane Henson, and she helped him create the “Muppet Look”, too. She also trained new puppeteers for the Muppets for years and never gets the credit she deserves.

    I am a Muppet puppeteer, who was once an animator, and I agree with Steven on all counts.

    The difference between Puppetry and CGI is that puppets are brought to life through direct control by a human or group of humans, giving them an air of immediacy and humanity, where CGI and animation characters are brought to life through an illusion of film, there moves and gestures carefully planned frame by frame. Unless they are controlled by motion capture, which is basically puppetry.

    Modern puppetry and Muppetry is different now because the performances are more tightly controlled by the producers. All children’s television producers are worried about being sued by parents! Anything that anyone may deem offensive or incorrect or educationally controversial is not allowed. Modern puppetry is basically balls of fur lip-syncing to an approved track. Anything else might earn a network angry letters from parents, and we cannot have that!

    What puppetry and animation have in common is that they are kinetic art forms. Their characters communicate with each other and their audiences through mime and movement. But that is hard to script, and therefor hard to control by producers and their lawyers. So children’s tv has been reduced to talking heads. Boring boring talking heads.

    In the modern Muppet performers defense, most of them are performing a character that was created by SOMEONE ELSE! It’s hard to be funny and spontaneous when you are constantly second guessing what Jim or Frank or Richard would have done. Being assigned an iconic character that you did not originate SUCKS! It takes a lot of the fun out of doing what we do.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks puppetlooser.
      I am a mad Jim Henson fan and was genuinely upset when he died, which took me by surprise because I never knew him.

      I have a lot of respect for puppeteers and animators alike and really think that we should let the old characters go and bring in new ones so you have a voice of your own to be creative with.

      Because of all my fond memories of the old school Sesame Street and Muppet Show, it angers me no end to see Grover composited over the top of an old clip, completely ruining both the original song and Grover as a memory.

      Im hungry for more muppets. New ones. Not old ones done worse.

      Whining parents be damned. Producers, dont be scared, create something of your own to be proud of.

  7. gobo says:

    Several years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Karen Prell, muppeteer of Red Fraggle (among other characters) at a convention where she spoke about working with Jim and the art of puppetry. On stage next to her sat a floppy pile of vaguely animal-shaped fabric looking at the crowd with dead, vacant ping-pong eyes. She picked it up, stuck her hand inside, put on a funny voice, and started doing the character. It was magic. It was alive. Nobody was looking at her now — we were all watching this living little creature talking to us, responding to it like it was a believable personality. That’s what I see in the clip above… Jimmy Dean chatting with Rowlf like he would any other guest without a hint of irony or laughing at “that crazy Jim Henson”… no, it’s Rowlf the Dog.

  8. Cassandra says:

    I feel like Henson, while he was alive, was always pushing the boundary of puppeteering–indeed, I understand that he did some CGI animation for early “Sesame Street,” and though some folks might not care about seeing Kermit’s legs, I thought that Henson himself was excited about the puppetry possibilities that being able to show the characters’ legs gave him. The Puppeteers of America organization gives out an award named after Henson that “recognizes innovation in puppetry that is technological, dramaturgical or collaborative in nature.”

    The puppetry world did lose a lot when we lost Henson, but if there’s one thing I learned from him, it’s that we all harbor the creativity in ourselves to do amazing things–it wasn’t just him.

    Some contemporary puppeteers who I’ve found who look pretty amazing:
    - Dadi Pudumjee
    - Heart of the Beast Puppet theatre
    - Julie Taymor’s puppetry/costume design for the “Lion King”
    - Joan Baixas

  9. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    Look at this clip. Analyze what techniques are being used to create a performance that is full of live and personality. Then find a clip of a modern puppeteer who is able to perform with the same degree of skill and expressiveness.

    I’m not talking about general puppet entertainment value. I’m talking about a nuanced lifelike performance.

  10. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    Just because one has the added ‘bonus’ of more immediacy and is made from some bits of fabric doesn’t make its purpose any different from CGI

    Real time vs broken down into frames for adjustment is entirely different. The difference is spontaneity and direct connection with a human performer. Those are exactly the things that I have been saying over and over are missing from modern puppets.

  11. Berk says:

    So?

    Should I slate Jim Henson because he was shit at CG?

    Or should I accept that he was truly a master of his craft, which is now, to some degree outmoded and replaced by modern techniques and practices?

    I can appreciate that Monet was a damn fine painter, without saying that Picasso was crap, because his methods and style are different.

    Of course, the original Bohemian Rhapsody video is known for being lifelike, and the Muppets cover takes from it, and muppetifies (that’s a word now) it beautifully, In the same way that the Mah Nà Mah Nà cover does.

    Different methods, same result to the consumer, feelings of amusement, happiness, and moments of glee.

  12. Robbo says:

    Thank you for this. I had the privilege of working with Henson for a few years and without a doubt the earlier days were the best and after his passing there was an obvious and notable change in the work of the Muppets. This is not to slag on the efforts of the talented people who keep the franchise alive but an obvious recognition of the power, influence and vision of the “fearless leader” – which was Jim. Thanks again.

  13. Grey Devil says:

    Jim Henson passing away is a creative loss to the world. He was a talented artist, puppeteer, (song) writer, etc. Sadly i never saw the Jimmy Dean show you keep mentioning, but this clip seems to perfectly highlight what it’s all about and i think i would absolutely enjoy it.

    Also Henson does seem to have mere puppets look very convincing, it’s incredible watching how he can coordinate everything, including throwing in convincing mannerisms and dialogue.

  14. Pinken says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy9QeosTh7w
    Wallace and Grommit are pretty awesome.

    And puppetry has come along a ways since Henson. Characters like the ones from Pirates of the Carribean, whilst not puppets in the strictest sense of the word, are CG puppets.

    Why type cast Henson into being a puppeteer. Visual and special effects are his background, and something he influenced heavily. Don’t forget he produced ‘The Witches’ (1990) film amongst others.

    Whilst I think it’s fair to give Henson credit; it is unfair to discredit the huge number of hard working visual effects artists who have huge bodies of work and aren’t given near the celebrity of Henson.

    Henson was a compositor and VFX artist, as well as a story teller. You’re kidding yourself if you think he was only a puppeteer, and that if he was born 25 years later he wouldn’t be using every tool at his disposal – CGI and otherwise – to make his stories.

    Henson wasn’t the last ‘good’ artist … he was one of the last men the public celebrated who was an artist. Sadly many modern artists go unappreciated. Can you name the artist that made the cloud tank for the ship in Independence Day? That was a miniature … a form of puppet.

    Puppeteering was Henson’s tool, not his identity.

  15. Pinken says:

    I think we can pretty much agree to misunderstand.

    At a certain point you referenced ‘modern puppetry’ … and I believe you have to understand that ‘modern puppetry’ has evolved if you are referring to Henson’s career as an effects artist.

    You are clearly not referring to Henson’s effects career at all but his muppetry and muppetry *only*. (said this already)

    I’ve never said at any point his passing was not a sad event, or that he was not talented. And I’m very aware of the differences between stop motion and other forms of animation. (To suggest I don’t is worrying) But to me they are just different forms of paint used for the same process. These ‘mediums’ certainly are interchangable and mixable just like paint and it happens every day. Sure they can be used badly, but the fact they can be misused highlights the fact they are interchangeable.

    Amazing artists work in teams and mix mediums; it’s what I respect Henson for more than anything. I could get into the what can and can’t be done with animation conversation but I believe it’s too far off topic.

    I see where you’re coming from, you probably see where I’m coming from by now? If not, good conversation anyway.

    And I believe Agro (my links) thinks and does all the things you say. He is certainly inspired by Henson, and it’s the *inspiration* and ongoing Henson style works that I respect him for.

    I don’t believe it ended with him; the principals of puppeteering are ever present in rigging 3D models and character design. Though you’re welcome to your opinion.

  16. EMJ says:

    Too bad “his wife operates the other hand” doesn’t have a name.
    Some things have changed for the better, I hope. No more nameless wives.

  17. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    Should I slate Jim Henson because he was shit at CG? Or should I accept that he was truly a master of his craft, which is now, to some degree outmoded and replaced by modern techniques and practices? I can appreciate that Monet was a damn fine painter, without saying that Picasso was crap, because his methods and style are different.

    Puppetry is no more rendered outmoded and obsolete by CG than painting was by photography. I’m talking about creating a lifelike and vivid character performance using the art of puppetry.

    Here’s a hint… I *know* there are brilliant puppeteers working today that don’t substitute personality for cinematic spectacle. You don’t. That’s why I’m asking you to look for the clips.

    • Berk says:

      Here’s a hint… I *know* there are brilliant puppeteers working today that don’t substitute personality for cinematic spectacle. You don’t. That’s why I’m asking you to look for the clips.

      How do you know I don’t? I could well be an amazing puppeteer that’s not revealing its true identity. You know what they say about assumption, Right?

      Why should I look for the clips?

      You claim to be an archivist for such things, and are trying to make a point. The burden of proof is on you.*

      I’m merely making observations based on what’s presented in this thread.

      Also, who are you to say that Jim Henson wouldn’t have used more advanced techniques if they were available to him? I certainly use more than the basic techniques and a bit of artistic flair to do the things I care about.

      Just because Jim Henson did something one way, that’s no reason to discount people who are getting the same result another way.

      *As a side note and I *know* there’s people out there who are skilled at making art from food. However surrounding the word “know” with asterisk, doesn’t prove anything, that’s where evidence comes in.

  18. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    CG animation isn’t the same as puppetry. BAD CG animation is exactly the same.

  19. Pinken says:

    Most CGI characters are done via tracking. (See Gollum. A connection I’ve already made several times which people seem to fail to read.) And CGI is controlled by hand and so are puppets. I still see them as seperate techniques in the same field. Which is not what Steven is saying.

    Just because one has the added ‘bonus’ of more immediacy and is made from some bits of fabric doesn’t make its purpose any different from CGI or CGI mixed with special effects. It’s still a technique, it’s still rendering the unreal … by stating that motion capture is puppetry I already think you and Steve both have things to talk about that differ from one another. Rigging is based on puppetry, animation is based on puppetry, the first rigging actually was referred to using puppetry terms …

    See characters such as the aliens etc … for puppetry mixed with compositing.

    See the rendering of the unreal (which is what Henson does ie Jabba the Hutt) for creating ‘real breathing’ characters – which has a number of mediums.

    And miniatures inside cloud tanks are still based off puppeteering and still used today.

    Yes, there are obvious differences between the mediums of animation – puppetry/2D hand art/motion graphics/3D blah blah …

    Muppets, which is what you’re both referring to and as I’ve already stated, is live performance. Not commonly done with animation. (But it is done!)

    Controversial cartoons etc … have mostly replaced controversial puppets. They haven’t really ‘vanished’ any where. Just most artists grow up working in the different mediums now.

    It’s evolution and different techniques are now used to render the characters. That is all.

    You’re actually almost having a completely different conversation I believe. Differences in physical techniques in producing a look are totally irelavant to the points presented.

    It’s like matte painting. You don’t say a physical matte painting is 100% different from a digital one just because they’re made of different physical creation techniques. A miniature can be a matte painting, a piece of board can be one, a well created 3D diahroma can be one … it’s all the same thing! Puppetry comes under the cannon of visual and special effects.

    Perhaps I’ve just done too much academic research into the topic. /Shrugs

  20. Drhaggis says:

    Here’s some fun improv from The Muppets on The Jimmy Fallon show, caught during rehearsal for the Christmas show.
    http://vodpod.com/watch/2822147-video-jimmy-fallon-the-muppets-stage-impromptu-concert-best-week-ever

  21. _OM_ says:

    “This clip is brilliant. Henson is a drop-dead genius. Since he passed away, the spark of life and vivid spontaneity of the Muppets’ performances have faded away with him.”

    …Most of the blame for this can be laid not on the Henson folks, but on Disney, who holds most of the pursestrings these days. However, the Muppets still pop up with something that’s eyepopping and mindblowing on occasion. Witness the recent “Muppet Rhapsody” clip that got several million hits on YouTube recently.

    There’s magic left in the Muppets, Disney just needs to get the fuck out of the way and let them do what they need to do to be true to themselves and to the memory of Jim Henson…

  22. Pinken says:

    Puppetry is no more rendered outmoded and obsolete by CG than painting was by photography. I’m talking about creating a lifelike and vivid character performance using the art of puppetry.

    Yes, no art is rendered entirely obsolete. *But* cave painting vs accurately rendered oils? Life like puppets and vivid character performance with puppets was used because the art of mixed CG puppetry hadn’t been created. All the way right up to movies such as Pearl Harbour miniatures (puppets!) were used. There have also been some excellent puppets used in movies such as Blade.

    Here’s a hint… I *know* there are brilliant puppeteers working today that don’t substitute personality for cinematic spectacle. You don’t. That’s why I’m asking you to look for the clips.

    Personality over cinematic spectacle? I don’t understand. Jim Henson rendered puppets and props for all kinds of movies and they fitted the movie at hand; a green midget lifting a space craft (cinematic spectacle)? I think Wallace and Grommit wins here.

    Not all puppeteers get the wonderful world of Star Wars as a back drop. In fact, Henson has been as lucky as he was talented.

    For the rest of the mere mortals carving away in the VFX industry we’re lucky to get a break making puppets for Starship Troopers and then there’s Aliens … I don’t think any personality was sacrificed in Aliens.

    CG animation isn’t the same as puppetry. BAD CG animation is exactly the same.

    I actually believe Henson himself would argue with you on this. CG and puppetry are both the ‘rendering of the unreal’ – this is what Henson lived for.

    He didn’t like being type cast as a childrens entertainer, and it was something he tried to avoid. He really wanted to create the life-like.

    You seem to be trying to say that puppetry isn’t rendered obsolete by CG, but then stating that it’s completely seperate to the rendering of the unreal. This seems like two opinions at once. Puppetry and CG are both tools for rendering the unreal and are therefore entirely valid for comparison.

    Here’s a quote from Henson himself regarding his movie the Dark Crystal: Henson said he was “trying to go toward a sense of realism—toward a reality of creatures that are actually alive [where] it’s not so much a symbol of the thing, but you’re trying to [present] the thing itself.”

    It seems fairly clear to me that Henson would use any means available to him to accurately render story and character in a life like way as possible. In fact he gravitated towards CGI several times. I’m fairly sure he was impressed with the work in Aliens, and I’m pretty sure Lord of the Ring’s’ Gollum would be right up there.

  23. lectroid says:

    I have to agree that Henson/Oz era muppets were, objectively, *better* than the muppets today. As an example, see the following cover:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5t_PFMUfu4

    Watch Animal (Oz). The comic timing, and the *character* of Animal. His constant panting, his confusion, the way he gets wrapped up in emotion, and then his mind wanders away and he loses the sorrow, and he’s back to confusion, looking for danny off-stage. That’s acting. As it happens, Oz is performing it through a foam and fuzz construction. The same commitment to character and personality can be seen int he best animation, from classic animation to the best of Miazaki (has there ever been a better portrayal of little girls than in My Neighbor Totoro?) to masterful moments from Pixar.

    This silly little clip has more personality and performance than any of the recent muppet shorts.

    These days, the muppets are no longer the products of single visionaries. They are products. This is not to take anything from the puppeteers performing them, but their actions are the product of committees. If Kermit-performer #1 gets sick, Kermit #2 is subbed in with little discernable difference.

    The change was inevitable. Henson and Oz couldn’t perform forever, and the characters can’t simply disappear when they do, any more than mickey mouse could disappear when Walt Disney died.

    Are there master puppeteers out there these days? I’m sure there are. The area of children’s entertainment is a vastly different landscape than it was in 1968. There is less room for the individual visionary. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.

  24. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    Also, who are you to say that Jim Henson wouldn’t have used more advanced techniques if they were available to him?

    Sigh. CGI is not more advanced than puppetry. It’s an entirely different thing. Special effects in cloud tanks aren’t puppets either. And puppets aren’t special effects. They’re a very specialized type of artistic performance- a way to create a living personality out of a tiny bit of cloth. The problem with the recent Muppet things I’ve seen is that the puppets are treated like special effect props- dragged around and bounced.

    I said it before, but just look at this video and check out what Henson is doing. It’s *extremely* sophisticated and highly spontaneous. That Muppet bumper from the Jimmy Fallon show was a pale shadow of what was going on between Rowlf and Jimmy Dean.

    • Pinken says:

      If you’re referring to *only* muppets, then what you’re saying makes slightly more sense.

      You’re talking about live performance from talk shows etc … and stand up comics – something the muppets do periodically.

      I would still say Henson didn’t want to be type cast this way, and it isn’t exactly what I remember him for. See my post above regarding CGI vs puppetry being an entirely different thing. In most contexts they are different mediums in the same art form.

      There are famous awesome muppets from other countries though. Have a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RskqGchdYcs

      Also see Alf.

  25. Berk says:

    What Piken said up there seems to hit the nail on the head for me.

    On another note, you appear to have extremely limited views of the proper uses for puppets, to the point you sound like a Jim Henson era Muppet zealot.

    Also, you appear to be discounting other works using puppets and CG as special effects props being “dragged around and bounced” which is frankly offensive to special effects artists and puppeteers.

    It’s like saying cartoon animations are scribbled on clingfilm and moved around, a massive offensive understatement which should be discounted as childish name-calling.

    Have a look at the Alien movies, then tell me the queen was dragged around and bounced. Stan Winston’s Site should give you some idea what’s involved in modern special effects and puppetry.

    Probably also worth mentioning at this point that I appreciate Jim Henson’s work as much as the next guy, possibly even more.

  26. MAdB says:

    A lot of the world died when Jim henson died. Impermanance bites. I miss real genius and creative love; no one has ever matched him. Do kids today have anything like him? Or his muppets, stories, movies, shows?

  27. Lupin Yonsei says:

    Life carries on, MAdB. Not always the way we’d like, but nonetheless.

    Mr. Worth, thank you. Your posts have been really amazing.

  28. mneptok says:

    I miss Jim Henson, too.

    But to claim the Muppets have somehow gone downhill since his passing completely ignores pieces of pure fscking genius like the Muppets’ Bohemian Rhapsody cover, mentioned here on BB not long ago.

    As Xeni described it, “Epic, genius, perfect.

  29. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    That Bohemian Rhaposdy clip substitutes snappy cutting and a million puppets for performance. Sheri Lewis could put a sock on her hand and keep you enraptured for hours without a single camera angle change. The Muppets have increasingly been moving from well-observed personality performances to Las Vegas spectacle for the past couple of decades. It all started with the Muppet movies. (I don’t need to see their feet peddling bicycles, dammit!) I think that the transition from Jim Henson from being a puppeteer to being a brand name was responsible for the transition from intimacy to complexity.

    • mneptok says:

      The Muppets have increasingly been moving from well-observed personality performances to Las Vegas spectacle for the past couple of decades.

      I beg to differ.

    • Berk says:

      So, what’s the difference between the Muppets cover of Mah Nà Mah Nà (1969), and the cover of Bohemian Rhapsody (2009)?

      Sure, times have changed a little, the skills and methods have changed a lot, and a legend has died.

      But, nonetheless, I see very little to separate the 2 covers, I’d bet that if someone was to over compress, artificially age and vignette the Bohemian Rhapsody cover, You’d not criticise it so readily.

      Archiving is all well and good, but if you discount anything that’s too modern, or not made by a certain person, you’re just sentimental, not an archivist.

  30. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    Look at the clip. See how Rowlf seems to be a living, breathing, totally unique personality acting and reacting in real time? Rowlf isn’t actually alive. He is a bit of fake fur and some ping pong balls. Jim Henson is making him seem alive. That is a skill and a creative talent called puppetry. There aren’t many people alive or dead who can do that better than what you see in that clip.

    When you watch a movie and some guys rubber head explodes, that isn’t puppetry. It’s special effects. When you go see Up and the old guy makes you laugh and cry, that isn’t puppetry either. It’s computer animation. When you go see Coraline, they call the articulated dolls “puppets” but the people making them move aren’t puppeteers. They are called stop motion animators.

    Puppetry, special effects and and the various forms of animation are all different mediums. They aren’t interchangeable. Each one has its own set of advantages and limitations. Good artists will make their art by exploiting the advantages of their particular medium. Jim Henson was a master puppeteer because he did things with puppets that can’t be done with special effects or animation. I don’t know of anyone on television any more who compares.

    If you look at the puppets on TBN or the cheap kiddie shows on cable TV, they just bounce around and flap their jaws in time with the words. You don’t see them thinking and reacting and expressing a variety of spontaneous emotions the way Rowlf does in this clip. That is a more extreme version of what the Muppets have become. Muppets are still better than average, but they aren’t what they used to be.

    If you read this carefully and tried very hard to understand it, you will understand why I am sad that Jim Henson died. I feel the same way about Kermit the Frog as I do Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny no longer exists now that Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett are gone. They have a character on TV and in movies who looks like Bugs Bunny, and he says he’s Bugs Bunny. But if you look very very closely, you can tell that it’s not really him.

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