A look at the process of bringing a puppet to life.
Question: How are your characters created?rn
Brian Henson: Where does a character come from? Becausern a character, at the end of the day, a character willrnbe the combination of the writing of the character, the voicing of therncharacter, the personality of the character, and what the character rnlooksrnlike. And characters in ourrncompany can develop from basically three different directions. They can develop as a scriptedrncharacter first, it could be a writer that came up with the idea of arncharacter, described it in a script, and then wrote some dialogue. And that’s where it starts from, andrnthen you add a performer, who puts a whole additional layer on top of rnthat, andrnyou add a puppet design, and the puppet that the puppet builder has rnbuilt, andrnthat adds a whole layer. And inrnthe end, that gives you the complete character.rnrn
Butrn sometimesrnthe characters start in the script, sometimes the characters start by a rnpuppetrndesigner drawing a sketch and saying, “How does that look?” Sometimes, many of the best, bestrnpuppets actually didn’t start with anything that specific, it starts rnwithrnsaying to puppet builders: “I need some weird looking monsters for this rnscene,”rnand you kind of describe it. Andrnthen the puppet builders actually just fabricate it on their table, justrn startrnputting it together. And some veryrngood characters start that way, where it’s a puppet first and somebody rncomes inrnwith a puppet and says, “How do you like this?” Andrn we all go, “That’s great! Okay, now let’s put a rncharacter and voice to it, and let’srnput a script to it.”rnrn
Andrn sometimesrnit can be the puppeteer. Often arnpuppeteer will come and say, you know, “I’ve got this crazy aunt and shern alwaysrntalks like this,” and then you start working it up and working it up andrn thenrnyou end up making, you know, a puppet that embodies that personality.rnrn
Sorn it comesrnfrom, I said three directions; it can be four. Itrn can be a character designer doing an illustration, it canrnbe a puppet builder fabricating a puppet on their desk, on their bench, rnit canrnbe a puppeteer coming in with a personality in their mind, or it can rncome fromrnthe writer writing a character.rnrn
Question:rnHave you ever based a puppet on someone you know?rnrn
Brian Henson: Always. Butrn it’s usually, by the time yournfinish it, it never is that anymore—well, no, I rnguess sometimes we have built puppets of specificrncelebrities, occasionally. Oftenrnthe initial idea behind a character will be somebody that somebody rnknows, butrnby the time you add all of the creating of the puppet to the scripting rnandrneverything, by the time it’s finished, even if you showed that characterrn to thernperson that you had started with, they would have no idea.rnrn
Question:rnWhat is the most difficult emotion to get across with a puppet?rnrn
Brian Henson: Puppets arerninteresting because they appear to be very, very restrictive, because rntheyrnappear to be non-emotional, because they don’t have much facial rnfeatures, notrnmuch movement in their facial features. rnSome puppets have a little bit more, some have almost none. And initially that looks restrictive,rnbecause it looks like that’s going to be impossible for that character rntornemote.rnrn
Thern truth is,rnwhat happens in the end, is it allows the audience to feel the emotion rnand putrnit together in their head. So, forrninstance, a character like Kermit the Frog, is a very, very, very simplernpuppet, but he’s a very emotional character and that comes in the rnrhythms ofrnthe movement of the character, the way that the character’s moving, the rnway therncharacter’s voicing, and then the audience doing a lot of the work of rnreallyrnfeeling like they’re seeing something that they’re not seeing. Often when we write puppet scripts,rnit’ll say, “And they all smiled great, big smiles,” well, of course, a rnpuppetrnnever smiles a great, big smiles, but boy, you can write that scene, yourn canrnshoot that scene, and you can show it to people and they’ll say, “I lovern thatrnscene where they all ended with great big smiles.” It’srn like, yeah, but it never really happened, you just sortrnof imagined it.rnrn
Andrn so the goodrnpuppeteers... as long as you believe that that character is emoting, thernpuppeteer, usually the audience gets it, and it’s a weird and wonderfulrnconnection that happens, because I can’t even really tell you how it rnworks, butrnthat it really does work. I mean,rnreally, it says something about the human eye and our ability to read rnpeoplernand then be able to read puppets the way we read people.
Recorded on April 8, 2010