Adam Savage Tours the Jim Henson Exhibition!


Hey guys, it’s Adam from Tested I am at the Museum of the moving image in Queens New York about to take a tour through the Jim Henson exhibition. This is a brand-new part of their permanent collection. It’s a permanent exhibition partially funded by a Crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign it is a compendium of the life of artist innovator filmmaker puppeteer and ultimately storyteller Jim Henson I Cannot wait to go through this because there’s one thing I’m sure of this is about a lot more than just puppet hi Barbara Hi, Anna. Thank you so much for meeting me today Thanks for coming right I can barely wait like my crews been moving around making sure we can shoot everywhere But I have kept my eyes from seeing so are you? Yes, please let’s go let’s have a look oh Man oh my gosh, okay, so I’m already like freaking out This is Jim’s actual headband for operating Kermit that yeah So the puppeteers would wear headband so that they that held a microphone, so theythey obviously needed their hands-free to perform And that’s when the Jim wore often He had several of them, but that’s the one that that came to us So we’re really lucky to have it know I grew up looking at those shots from behind the scenes And this is this is one of the real Kermits. Yeah, it’s a Kermit from the 70s So that’s so not to you know destroy anybody’s dream There were several Kermit’s of what many may be right that many actually okay? Yeah, they would you know took a lot to sort of build them and make them right yeah? And sometimes ones were made that didn’t fit the hand quite right and they have to start again, so it was a very very personal Process to create the puppet that really had the you know the right feel for the puppeteer And I if I remember reading my reading correctly Like a key part of Kermit’s head shape was created by Jim’s hand exactly yeah. He had giant hands He had really big hands and you know Jim You know the association between and Jim and Kermit was very very close And you know people sort of identified doing one to the other I do yeah of course I think we all do it’s really natural and what Jim says is is that you know in some ways it was sort of Just a natural extension of his hand there was very little between You know Kermit And him it was just this little piece of cloth because his hand basically was the face so I have to ask like this an exhibit like this comes in you’re pulling pieces from all over the world and you know I Suppose repairing some things and unpacking the history of these things and figuring how they go But when Kermit comes in the building was there like was that in a moment well It was you know we museum received a donation from Jim Henson’s family of 2013 of about 500 objects right so it included about 200 historic puppets so a lot came in at once But obviously you know Kermit’s you know sort of unwrapping Kermit and you know getting hims are ready for exhibition was a particularly kind of amazing moment and You know extraordinary process I can’t imagine I mean he’s just he’s is so much part of the like the moral compass of my childhood is currently right how many Characters are there in the world that have you know Kermit was sir born or built in 1955 Essentially 50 yeah, and still has that same kind of resonance with people has like survived, and you know people kind of know him Right despite Jim’s passing in 1990 and other puppeteers performing him. There’s a there’s a Continuity a consistency to his character that we feel like we know him like almost as a as a human I had no idea Kermit was that much older than me I Thought he was boy. I really thought he was born with Sesame Street, but no yeah, yeah I was one of the first puppets that Jim made For his first television stories a five-minute live show sometimes twice a day starting in 1955 called salmon friends it was Worc TV a local television and NBC affiliate in the DC area Wow yeah Wow But it wasn’t a frog yet, Kermit was like a serve a Glee amphibian creature He was Kermit. He was not Kermit the Frog so he serve acquired the frog nests in the early sixties Okay so which I I don’t this looks like I’m already seeing an embarrassment of riches. Where do we go from here? Well, let’s go this way let’s talk about Jim’s early work for television So Ralph is the first Muppets star right always think of Kermit being the star yeah I didn’t realize ruff was the first yeah, Ralph was created for Purina Dog Chow commercial 1962 And then went on to star in the Jimmy Dean show which was a nationally broadcast variety show in the mid sixties That you know was hugely popular And really was like almost like a finishing school for Jim Wright because he had to we go on the show and perform Ralph actually with Frank Oz performing the right hand It was the first puppet that Frank Oz and Jim Henson performed together, so that’s that’s really cool But you know Jim learned from the comedy writers on the Jimmy Dean show and you know those those were guys that had their That had you know their backgrounds in vaudeville and variety shows and a lot of Jim sort of comedic Sensibility comes from being an apprentice During those years. Yeah, just hurt being around that how amazing I didn’t realize ralph was such a Lightning rod for yeah, it’s Deb, and this is so great You know we have this sketch that that Jim made these I mean This is one sketch but there’s there’s probably 12 or 15 pages of sketches of dogs that are just a little bit different from each other and Don Selene who is his master puppet builder Would look at these sketches these are very rough sketches rough sketches And and and and take what Don would call the essence of a character that would be expressed in Jim sketch and make these serve remarkably expressive Puppets out of them, so they were an amazing pair also And we try and the exhibition to sort of give shout outs to the various Classical exactly because they you know it wasn’t just gyms, or you know standing on a mountain You know on his own creating these things. It was this really really talented group of collaborators and their commitment to the work was the Western all and Its really loyal talented group of folks Okay, what’s next? What’s next okay? John stone was one of the very first people that Joan Ganz Cooney the sort of inventor of Sesame Street turned to to help her You know come up with an idea for what what Sesame Street would be so John knew that Jim’s work was amazing it would be a perfect fit for Sesame Street So John Stone brought Jim to Sesame Street in it you know in in these sort of infant stage of its development So Jim was not the inventor as a summation joke but his puppets became sort of you know intrinsic really Idea yeah, and so how long was the development process of figuring out the first few characters for Sesame Street So Jews characters for Sesame Street were sort of a mix of puppets that he had on hand Already that had certain appeared in other You know in other productions and also characters that he specifically built for the show so it happened really quick I mean it was it was over the course of a year like he came on board in 68 Sesame Street’s on air in 1969 so Burton, Ernie he created for the show Cookie Monster it had it you know cookie had already been an established sort of cookie or Food-eating or little object eating character from from commercials and from industrial films as well So cookie came on in that way But Big Bird here and Oscar the Grouch were built specifically for Sesame Street for the street itself Because the producers were first first the idea was that the puppets would only exist in their sort of Interstitials right run that the action on the street would just be people But during focus groups the kids quickly lost interest in the puppet list segments So they knew they had to get the puppets on the street so in order to do that in a seamless way that didn’t require Like you know a baffle for the puppeteer to go behind Jim created a walk-around Which we had walk around puppets in the past the Lajoie dragons commercials that he made So you create your walk-around? Puppet of Big Bird that could just sort of exist you know without having to hide behind anything and Oscar the Grouch that could you know they you know the The trash can was basically his thing that he’d go hide behind, so So then those two puppets or two became real part of the street and at this point Kermit seems to be fully formed he seems to yeah And full Kermit the Frog with the eyes exactly what happened I would say like from the mid sixties to the end of the sixties Kermit kind of Slowly, yeah There were some differences in the number of you know points on his collar, but essentially Kermit was Kermit And he was you know part of Sesame Street in the beginning, and then kind of pulled back eventually yeah So I’m looking at this standing in front of a full-size big bird It’s sort of shocking how much larger his head is than I somehow expected And I’m wondering if as you were loading these pieces in was there a specific surprise we were like oh wow I totally didn’t realize that that was like that I mean just the mass of Big Bird is kind of amazing his tail goes really far back So we you know we had to deal with things like you know is the is the platform gonna be big enough you know our Ceiling tile off like this is sort of the only part the elite space and the gallery that we had That could really accommodate Big Bird And this is Caroll Spinney right with a right hand here in the left hand here exactly. Yeah, I mean the performance That he did really up until I mean he really only just retired and he’s in his 80s The physical demands of performing this so it he had to wear this harness over here. This was his original. Oh my gosh Yes, you get to wear this harness over You know his chest so that he could watch a monitor, so you could watch himself perform So he is actually also watching them on it. Oh yeah, otherwise How could he see right his his eyes aren’t up in the eyes, and there’s no holes in the bird’s body? So this is a fed camera signal exactly him, so he could see what’s going on outside. He could see where he’s going right and She’s watching that he’s performing the bird, and he’s reading from a script’ taped into the bird’s body. What how do you do that? I don’t know how you do that I roller skate often what yeah? So I didn’t even I’m not even sure I have known in the longest time that Big Bird had a big tail yeah So, this is a section we called the Muppets for obvious reasons And we wanted to really make it feel like a an explosion, right We wanted two people to understand that it was important without having to say this is important so this this projection of all 120 episodes of The Muppet Show playing at once is the serve gesture that really? communicates that excitement, and that’s our significance Because the Muppet Show was a something that Jim had wanted to you know get off the ground since 1960s I was a project He was trying to get going for the kid nine years, and it came off the ground in 1980 right 76 76 Okay, I thought it was This is I mean this was my childhood. Yeah, we watched this every week as it came out I probably watched every single one of these episodes three or four times in my childhood Yeah, yeah, they’re really really magical and still hold up I mean they’re just hilarious and charming and fun and this is also part of the improvisational aspect of the troupe like they were they were writing scripts every week for this show and Also developing new characters every week at the same time, so this shop is going full-bore exactly Amazing well they you know they had to move they had to create sort of a company and operations in Ulan because sir Amazingly enough none of the US networks wanted the Muppet Show right so Jim wound up making two pilots for ABC Yeah, I’m thinking that ABC was gonna pick it up They didn’t and then pitched it to CBS is a pitch real a hilarious pitch really made for CBS CBS. I know. Thank you But Lew grade in London said you know really saw the potential of it and macho end up being Produced in London for the five years where when I was made and because it was produced for syndication it went worldwide right away oh? So okay, so it was almost more popular in other countries at first and it was in the US I didn’t no idea. I remember reading at some point. It was an extremely expensive show to produce Um I guess I mean there was a lot to do they you know the guest host and those are just dicks It took a lot of people to put this show on so they had to build a whole shop right in in London to be able to You know to be able to make all this stuff happen and yet you know still then you know the New York office was still Going and doing things so that during the other end oh and of course shoot So you know Jim and Frank and others would fly back? Oh my god. Of course. They’re doing the Muppet Show and Sesame Street at the same time I mean that was an amazing thing for me that sort of clicked at some point that the Jim and Frank Especially how busy they were doing so many different projects Just Sesame Street like what you know back to New York and still be Burton, Ernie. You know like into Into the into the 80s Wow yeah wait so um I see one of my favorites the sweetest chef who had real hands Well, yes, that’s really interesting so the Swedish Chef had real hands It was what is called a live hand puppet Like Ralph is also a live hand puppet right and you know so it took two puppeteers You monster as well exactly so the so the main Puppeteers right hand in the mouth left hand in one of the hands, and then a second puppeteer doing the puppets right hand What was different about the Swedish Chef is that because he had so many things to? Manipulate and because there was no fur covering his hands Jim and Frank were funded together, and it was Frank’s hands in Both his two hands as him Jim doing the mouth, so here’s this crazy picture That shows you all the surf gymnastics of what they have to do to make this puppet happen Wow Then we have the challenge in you know how do we exhibit the Swedish Chef because there’s no fart covering it do we? Do we leave them empty that’s kind of weird it looks like they’re amputated, so Frank Oz generously allowed us to cast Yes, my first question. That’s the best that you’re actually using Frank’s name And I that the distinction that’s what made me think these must be real the real hands yes Natural they don’t they’re the Swedish Chef they’re stretched in tort yeah it’s lovely too when you get up close to these when you see how simple the construction is I mean how how in Innovatively they solve the problem, this is just mattress foam Yeah, as open-cell urethane flow carved intricately and but this structure is very simple Yeah, the design and the structures were you know really really carefully thought through I mean these weren’t these weren’t just people sort of making Cute things out of out of flashy fabrics the you know that yeah the builders that designers really really come from this Mystery sort of amazing places where they had these these fantastic skills actually did a great story With Dave goals who you know achieve fame through my bed c0 and zut and dr. Bunsen honeydew exactly so Dave was working as an industrial designer for hewlett-packard in California and was an adult in his 20s and happened to catch par Sesame Street And sought Bert and Ernie and was just so taken with the design of the characters and how their personalities Sort of matched the way they were constructed yeah he was like that’s what I need to be part of so he built his own Ernie and Kingston New York and figured out how to reach Jim Jim was not so hard to reach. He would talk to people know And Jim’s like yeah sure you can come and work for us, so he started building puppets And then was drafted into performing sort of against as well, but it’s a good thing you have fascinating I I know Dave I know Dave and he told me about performing gonzo for the first season of The Muppet Show and then realizing he wanted more and so he added the I Mechanism gonzo to deepen the character for the second season and I loved hearing the fact that this was an ongoing process of character development and construction technique and design and instrumentation, yeah Yeah, that’s a wonderful wonderful thing. Yeah, yeah often the the builders would also have their hands at performing So it wasn’t like a factory situation Not a really really understood What’s or what it took to be able to make those characters come alive and refine them over time I’m looking at the Muppet Show openings behind you I mean I remember in 1976 my family getting excited about the premiere and just sitting down and watching it on the night I can’t remember what night of the week. It was but I remember watching it and talking about it the next day at school yeah, I Loved only on line up. Yeah, the opening line up. It’s great and there’s gonzo The misunderstood performance artist of the Muppets, and if we turn the corner. We’ll see the actual Muppet sign Wow We were so we were kind of beyond excited You know the the archivist of the Henson Company Karen Falk who’s amazing yeah, um one day. She was like oh you know We’ve got you want to see the Muppet Show sign okay? Three bar a lot of the material in the exhibition is borrowed from the Jim Henson Company archives the Muppets are the museum’s we you Know they’re ours but the a lot of the cert process material is out of the archives so Karen just took out this Sign and we were like okay, Vanessa see is this one of the original sketches Yes, it’s a design sketch by Michael fris for the for the sign And then this is sort of a storyboard for the opening segment Wow It’s so great. They saved all this stuff. You can really see how how it was developed yeah Another thing. They saved which was really fortuitous was bankers boxes upon bankers boxes etc a fan mail that came in and you know what we wanted to do was a Test to jim’s vision to make a show that wasn’t just for kids. It was really for families It was for people of all ages, so we just sort of randomly started picking out letters to show that you know the diversity of People that serve rode in like you’re inspired and inspire. Yeah, yeah, yeah Now behind, I see here. Yes the fabulous Miss Piggy in all her glory She’s amazing she is Wow she’d be the first to agree with you She looks beautiful so that’s that’s Miss Piggy in her dress from the Muppets Take, Manhattan And it was really the movies that made her into service talkin into a big star in a fashion icon You and she served remains a fashion icon just serve crazy, but you know it wasn’t You know was it one person making me bunny Erickson is the designer and builder of the first Miss Piggy? But it was obviously Frank’s performance And it was Michael Firth being an art director that created the calendars That showed her in all these elaborate costumes and the costume designers Calista Hendrickson, Barbara Davis That that supplied the Wardrobe so you know again. It’s these sort of amazingly. You know talented creative folks that That the gyms are trusted to be able to Bring his characters to life. I love the fact that Jim and Frank built Ernie and Bert and Kermit and Miss Piggy and It must be it must have been fascinating for them as performers to find these relationships and different different relationships and different Characters in the way, they relate to each other exactly yeah. Yeah was it was a sort of a Chemistry you know between two performers that is really up there in the any you know in the amazing pairs of folks on the screen You don’t see them on the screen you see their characters on the screen there was the documentary years ago that showed Jim and Frank on Sesame Street set improvising as Ernie and Bert. Yeah, I’d remembered I watched it Dozens of times because I’m so inspiring Watching them find these characters and explore them right exactly and you just saw how much fun they were having to write And that’s something that keeps coming up because people are always asking like you know Like what makes this stuff so special and how these characters so long-lasting And an answer that a lot of people a lot of people’s I’ve worked on With Jim and Ollie’s character say, it’s just that they were having so much fun You know that the their love of the projects the characters the puppets The stories was was really informed their performances and their work Dave goals told me that Jim would just take the time to get the scene right that he would keep on shooting Until everyone felt like there was a performance that really mattered going on and he was like never again After Jim if I felt like that total amount of we’re just kidding We’re just here to get this right and Jim really created that space. He said that allowed them to spend that time Yeah, because it was technically really demanding I mean it wasn’t just like knowing lines Frank Oz was here at the Museum recently and told and told this story and I forget where he was but there was there was a there was some show that they were doing maybe with a live show or something on TV where they were served mostly human characters and And he and James are waiting in the wings to go on with their puppets and someone turned to them and and and said you guys look like surgeons like like like here at your Operation is so focused you know because they you know they’re just like saunter on and be their personalities like they have to make these These other things come to life, and you know those other things depend on them for their life So they’re really attuned you know in a very strong way well in that fiscal demand I’m looking at this architectural model over here that I find really fascinating this is an example of how they had to work if they were doing a Scene we you have them puppeteers under here with the Muppets on fire exactly so starting really starting For the Muppet Show they wound up They’re building these sets that allowed for these false floors so that puppeteers had space to Be instead of having to be I mean a lot of times They have to be curled up inside something crazy to be able to perform so yeah this is we love the sent model because it shows what it sort of took and that you know there’s puppets on top and and People actually doing it and that there’s monitors here, so they can see what the camera sees yeah I mean in every cut time they are having to perform basically backwards. They’re looking at a camera. That’s showing them Yeah, that’s right crazy. Yeah Yeah, so so again The canvas keeps getting bigger so the The Muppet movies are bring the Muppets of the big screen and then the three projects that we focus on in this section Fraggle Rock Dark Crystal and labyrinth you Know are these fully integrated imaginary worlds yeah, right? So there’s no sir reference to the real world in them right Jim wanted to Just you know use the full force of his imagination and the imagination of his collaborators, just invent something new So you know with Fraggle Rock you know he knew he had the audience out there internationally with the international versions of Sesame Street And The Muppet Show was all over the world so he knew that he had the attention of the world and really felt like he Had the responsibility to use that attention In a way that would help things right, so he you know very some some very consciously want to develop Fraggle Rock as Something that would help bring peace between you know Different kinds of people so that the three you know groups in Fraggle Rock the gorgs the Fraggles and the Doozers are Altered in their own universes, and they’re very very different, but they’re interdependent And you know I mean it sounds almost naive but with Jim Henson It’s not no I really believe this and and you know it wound up being this tremendously successful show yeah Maybe you know maybe it did make the world a little better I by definition because we can enjoy Jim even decades later and understand how how beautiful this vision was and again the technology? Right so always pushing the limits of technology so so so We have a little clip there that shows what it sort of took to be able to control These Goron Safie was humans walking around in these giant Puppets, but their expressions were controlled remotely. Oh my god puppeteers. Who weren’t yes the costumes exactly so you see there There’s Jerry Nelson using what they called a Waldo? to to control the puppets Phases through radio control, and they did the same for the tiny little Doozers cuz you couldn’t get a puppeteers hands in them but you could you know sort of Operate those from gross motor skills these little fish fish you know like things these these these mechanisms But the the really subtle facial expressions on them were also produced for moley theories so separately from those Oh, wow yeah, yeah, because they were really subtle I mean if you look at their faces. They’re talking I mean they’re moving their lips And they’re tiny I mean you’re really really tiny but they have these little mix in there that that would move And Kathy Mullen is on the screen They’re sort of demonstrating how it worked and to be clear this was this absolute state of the art like in terms of animatronic movement and character building exactly they were at the Absolute edge of the technology and a lot of that was developed During the production of the dark crystals and your crystal came out in 82 so a lot of that development happened 81 they you know They in the dark crystal They used a combination of like cables and pulleys and then as the production went on and they felt like they needed More subtle controls, they that kind of radio control technology developed And then they applied it to Fraggle Rock so they sometimes jokingly saying you know that the Dark Crystal was like you know Millions of dollars rehearsal basically for Fraggle Rock because then they got to apply their technology there, and we’re better for it yeah So then we move on to some iconic amazing costumes from from labyrinth look at that We’re Sur people take center stage in a way right so it’s in the characters of Sarah and Jairus That are the the main focus in labyrinth, but but they’re surrounded by all these these magical puppet characters again and this in this fully sort of realized world yeah, yeah exactly yeah Incredible I love looking at costumes like this close up This is the amount of extra detail in there that right is implied on screen and as part of the Veracity of the world up close it gets you think well you know I think I think you know working And you know at the museum with a lot of different makers I think what you find is a common theme between people’s work that is really really brilliant Is that they do much more than is necessary? Yeah That the attention to detail is more than anyone will ever sort of notice, but it communicates somehow. It’s all coming out yeah Yeah, yeah as a complete world we have this fantastic sexist puppet So we could have us a rep proper a proper stage. This is a changeling right? This is the ritual master o j– and if this was the one that was performed by Jim And You know again these you know they he’s working with really. It says you know the the early I mean, I mean think of it right the the Muppet movies are coming out But you know dark crystals coming at the same time, so there’s so much going on right so much going on And working in foam latex was a fairly new Medium for them right so they’ve been working with these fabric puppets from the Muppet Show for Sesame Street for all these different Project additive building technology using foam and carving it down. He’s not making castings and mold Yeah, so this was a really really different kind of way of creating you know creating the puppets and also creating a characters right so those those things are always served together and You know there’s no And there’s a lot of the Dark Crystal characters are serve an underneath layer under the foam latex that provides the the mechanism So these are the hand Extended fingers exactly that the puppeteers could operate, and then the foam latex hands would serve slip over them And I love you can just as just plywood these are plywood clevis joints with with cable operation It’s so it’s the mechanics are so simple and yet so robust yeah That’s great And similarly Jen and Kyra are heroes and the Dark Crystal had these sort of mechanized resin layers under their foam latex heads That operated everything and maybe you know a little weird to look at their serve What skinless faces, but it’s how it all is how it all worked in a day of our Dewey? No control BOTS being relatively trivial for people to assemble and construct. This is the this is Again at the absolute edge of making it up at the other point and making it up. Yeah They were totally just making it up. Yeah. These are the most ancient RC rigs that I’ve ever seen Wow And they’ve got plywood cutouts to control the level of movement for some of the actions in there and annotating kind of what it was No Wow, and then the linkage between the two that clearly added some relationship in terms of facial movement mm-hmm and these servos going to cable drives Wow Wow This is just gorgeous So um you know we didn’t want the end the exhibition with just like he made these big films and then sadly you know he Passed away in 1990. We really wanted to give people the the The feeling that he was just constantly working constantly doing a hundred different things Innovating iterating right exactly some things that worked some things that didn’t but always always kind of pushing the envelope always sort of you know involved in in making things and making new things so this final sort of short section is just about The you know the the the number of projects that he was working on in the late eighties really up until 1990 when he passed away, and they include the storyteller which was featured on Jim Henson hour and also in other ways The creation of the first digital puppet fully digital puppet waldo see graphic and there’s are some sketches. I did not realize that yep so that was you know he’s really again looking forward to using digital technology and Starting to make real headway in that area and so even though he starts with the simplest cloth puppets He’s not shying away from the technology at any point in this process he’s bringing you guys using it pushing it to the edge of its possibility for storytelling and Continually affecting the whole other swathes of the film industry with that technology exactly yeah So it’s this real kind of interesting dichotomy between the simplicity and the complexity behind it, and he wanted the stories to feel Really simple he didn’t want you to be distracted by the technology, but he was he was gonna worry about You as a viewer to worry about it And then his come you know after he passed away in 1990 his company went on And we’re real innovators in digital puppetry, which just shows that they that they still make so that’s that sort of wonderful. That’s crap You know at the very end we wanted to create sort of just a just an odd just sort of a wrapping up Moment that shows my I think I said earlier that you know he created this company of puppets But what we’re also talking about in the exhibition is this company of people right and they sort of exist on parallel culture Yeah, so you know we wanted to really sort of highlight the people and the and the puppet characters the two sets of characters yeah, yeah and You know not create a shrine, but but really give you a moment to sort of kind of meditate On what he left behind, that’s really lovely I mean It’s there’s so much joy extent in every part of the process from the first puppets to the company to the stories to the songs Celebration yeah, we want to inspire people walking through here you know I mean we you know we feel a commitment to to our to our visitors and Education is at the heart of the mission Museum so you know we want to entertain folks But we really want them to sort of walk away feeling inspired to go out and do their thing You know from from from Jim’s example and the example of the people that he worked with to sort of do their best and throw Stuff against the wall and see what sticks for them achievement unlocked Barbara this has been an absolute Fantasy of an accident to come and see really to have you here, thank you. I really appreciate it

Comments 14

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *