In the million years I’ve been alive, I never thought I’d be able to add ‘Muppet taxidermy’ to my resume. I’m just over a year deep in it with a couple more ahead of me. Now that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published some images (this one included) from the Jim Henson legacy conservation project, I’m finally allowed to talk about it. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to post any pictures, however, if you wanna chat about it or want me to create sketches or perhaps perform some interpretive dance related to my experiences in the project, holla.
Weekly, I open old busted road cases to find some of the most iconic TV and film characters in entertainment history. I typically don’t have a clue what’s in the box when I get it but it’s consistently gold. Most of it is metaphoric gold, however, much is simply gold-colored airborne particles what used to be various types of foam. The stuff breaks down and that’s simply what happens. I’ve both figuratively and literally been breathing in the essence Henson’s work over the past year. Tiny floating bits of Sam and Friends, Sesame Street, Tales from Muppetland, The Muppet Show, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, Fraggle Rock, Storyteller, Dog City, Dinosaurs, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and the list goes on for quite a while. I only hope my future lung tumors resemble Muppets.
In case you don’t recognize the critter in this pic, it’s Fizzgig (”Fizgig” according to the Henson Organization production label), pet companion to the ever-so-enchanting Kira from Henson’s The Dark Crystal. When Fizzgig 1st appeared on my workbench he was just a loose mess of patch-worked animal fur, barely held together by a loosely woven fabric. This fabric was mostly, and accidentally, adhered to the fur by tiny mummified fists of dried, brittle, cast foam latex that once made up his inner structure. That’s just the nature of foam latex. He had no mouth at all when I received him, it completely disintegrated, taking along some of the fur around the set of lips that also used to be there. It appeared seamless from someone’s previous attempt at simply pinning
together the fur around the mouth. Those pins eventually rusted in place, taking a few strands of fur hostage when removed. Orange crumbles of dead foam were left behind and the nose and eyelids were well on their way out. The bulk of him was a small pile in the box he had been stored in for so many years. I sifted through the debris and found some slightly bigger chunks which ultimately proved to be a very small portion of the roof of his mouth. I also eventually came across his shriveled little tongue, only ½ the size of it’s original cast form. I performed some re-hydration/suspension voodoo of the dead foam using a “magical,” archival potion. Then I fixed the new mouth plate to the body. I restructured the nose from the inside, building up small layers from within, then filling any tiny fault lines left on the surface of the original foam nose. I removed some inconspicuous fur from his performer sleeve to surround the new set of lips, matching the original design.
After a little match-painting, voila! Certainly not perfection but I’m only allowed to do so much to be considered conservation work. I should mention that since all of Jim’s work is bound for a museum retirement, I can only use a very small library of archival-safe materials to mimic the stuff I would typically build a puppet from, that awesome toxic stuff. This has been the major crux of the entire project. Lots of trial by fire. Lots.
Though never to function again, I have to mention the mechanism in this Fizzgig fella. It is unbelievably tiny and clever. Fizzgig had side-to-side eye movement as well as eye-blinkers and a nose-twitching mech. The tiny 4 mm pulleys mounted to his fiberglass skull fed the even tinier polyester cord through 1 mm plastic tubes embedded in cast foam between the skull and fur skin. The 4 tubes (2 eyes, 2 eyelids), along with a 35mm camera whip (triggering the nose) ran to a second, remote puppeteer who controlled all the facial nuance through the mighty powers of analog action. All the tiny brass and steel mech hardware was soldered with a jeweler’s precision. It is now all seized by heavy corrosion. The mouth was simply hand puppeteered.
Concluding for the moment I want to leave you with some final insight. There is one major destructive force what is the ultimate enemy of all puppetdom in every form; it’s atmosphere + time. This mix has singularly and universally affected every last piece of the Henson collection. Soon, much of Henson’s early engineering magic will be permanently sealed away, if not destroyed by this evil sum. *sighs* There is just sooo much mechanical genius within the entire collection which should be made publicly visible before it’s too late. I only hope the powers that be will someday allow me to share even just a few of my thousands of images with you. There is an absolute treasure trove in every piece from this collection. I can only suggest that you check in from time to time because just maybe, one day, perhaps…?
Camera test for The Muppet Movie - Not really a blooper reel, but if you want Frank and Jim just dicking around and being silly with their characters, you’ll love this. Kermit explaining to Fozzie that he’s not a real bear is beautiful. They did this to see if the Muppets could be filmed outside (since they had only been filmed in a studio before), so they wanted to test filming outdoors before they did The Muppet Movie. But this is great because it’s just Jim and Frank trying to make each other laugh and succeeding. Plus Fozzie’s telling jokes to cows and Frank’s just cracking up.
More camera test footage for The Muppet Movie - This one has Kermit, Fozzie, AND Sweetums! It’s more of Frank and Jim goofing around (not sure who’s in the Sweetums costume? It might be Richard, but it could be someone else). Fozzie and Kermit in the car is my favorite bit. “Is there a stove in this car? Is there a bathroom here? Maybe it’s next to the stove. I’m going to go in the stove.”
Blooper reel for The Muppets at Disney World - This is SUCH a good one. It’s just the Muppet performers basically having the Muppets beat each other up whenever one of them messes up. The ending when they’re doing the dance it’s just the Muppets continually wailing on whichever Muppet mess up. Plus you get to see Frank, Jim, Steve, Jerry Juhl, and Kevin in the behind the scenes at the tale end.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - Thursday, December 25, 2015
Tuesday, December 1, 2015 7:00am The Preacher’s Wife 11:00am Disney’s A Christmas Carol 1:00pm Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas 2:30pm The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 3:30pm Frosty’s Winter Wonderland 4:00pm Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July 6:00pm The Year Without a Santa Claus 7:00pm The Polar Express 9:00pm Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas 12:00am The Year Without a Santa Claus 1:00am Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
Wednesday, December 2, 2015 7:00am The Christmas Shoes 9:00am Frosty’s Winter Wonderland 11:00am Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas 12:30pm A Miser Brothers Christmas 1:30pm Jack Frost (1979) 2:30pm Rudolph’s Shiny New Year 3:30pm Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory 6:00pm Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch stole Christmas 8:45pm The Santa Clause 12:00am Snow
Thursday, December 3, 2015 7:00am Christmas in Boston 9:00am Mickey’s Christmas Carol 11:00am Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory 1:45pm I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus 4:00pm Jack Frost (1998) 6:00pm The Santa Clause 8:15pm Fred Claus 12:00pm Snow 2: Brain Freeze