Brian Henson has been head of the Jim Henson Firm for almost 30 years now, following in his father Jim Henson’s footsteps. His newest undertaking, “Earth To Ned” (streaming on Disney Plus) options new puppet creatures, reminiscent of the titular alien commander Ned (Paul Rugg) and his sidekick Cornelius (Michael Oosterom), who host a late-night speak present.
Ned is distributed to destroy Earth, however as a substitute, he falls in love with mankind, beaming human movie star visitors, reminiscent of RuPaul and Rachel Bloom, to his spaceship. The concept to play with a mix of late-night TV, enhance and science fiction had been brewing in Henson’s thoughts for greater than six years earlier than turning into a actuality.
Right here, Henson talks with Selection about the craft of puppetry and creature results, and how supplies have modified in the crafts work.
From the place did the thought for “Earth to Ned” stem?
We did a present known as “Creature Store Problem” for Syfy and that was our first foray into actuality TV, and we cherished it. We did one season of the present earlier than it ended. Our producing companions Joseph Freed and Allison Berkley from Marwar Junction Productions and I talked about the thought of aliens ignorant to all mankind on earth and we wished to discover a method to introduce them to the web and see how a lot the misunderstand and perceive Earth. So, it was born out of that.
We began riffing on Ned’s character, which introduced us to a star speak present as a result of we have been having fun with that concept. He’s meant to destroy it [but] as a substitute, he falls in love with Earth and every thing is pleasant to him. We thought it might be a refreshing vitality to deliver into a chat present on an grownup degree and [on a] household degree. We wished the present to be a celebration of every thing absurd about us.
If the rapport between Ned and his wingman Cornelius went fallacious, it could possibly be disastrous. How does that “chemistry” manifest in the world of puppetry?
We began coaching puppeteers in improv comedy again in 2007. I wished our puppeteers to not simply be good, however to be quick on their toes and good at character work — largely as a result of puppet characters are sometimes requested to do appearances, which is much more than simply having the ability to do a well-scripted efficiency. We’ve been working in improv with puppeteers for over 10 years now and that has turn into the method we prepare puppeteers in the firm. It’s the solely method we do it.
I search for alternatives the place I can use improvising puppets. We improvise with the celebrities for about an hour, and we discover our greatest six or seven minutes to put in the present.
We did 5 castings with the puppeteers and we obtained down to our 5 favourite Neds and 5 Cornelius gamers earlier than we obtained to Michael and Paul as the finest character mixture. And that was the most vital factor for the chemistry of the present.
What’s nice about that is it’s family-friendly and not as scary for youths as, say, “The Darkish Crystal.” How did the design of the alien world evolve?
There’s a retro really feel to the present. We wished to strategy it prefer it was a science-fiction present. We’ve these aliens and a spaceship, they’re beaming visitors in and there’s an Earth sofa for celebrities to sit on. We wished to give this credibility to the interplay with the visitors. The visitors are then completely the fish out of water, and the aliens are the ones that look snug in that area.
Peter Brook, inventive supervisor of the Creature Store, supervised the designs of the creatures. Once more, we wished issues to have a practical end to them. The CLODS have a fundamental, easy and previous -fashioned rod puppet strategy related to what my dad was doing in the late 1950s. He had little characters like that. However then we added lifelike enamel and eyes. And that’s the way it all got here collectively.
I believe what provides the present this immersive viewing expertise is that it’s not VFX and inexperienced display; you possibly can see the puppetry, nevertheless it doesn’t take you out of the present.
There are trade-offs with CG animation versus puppetry and animatronics. With CG animation, you possibly can maintain working and working at it a lot you can’t see any flaws to it. However you possibly can sense that it didn’t occur. With animatronics and puppetry, you possibly can see flaws and you possibly can see that it’s not alive, however your unconscious tells that this occurred. While you’re utilizing puppets and animatronics, the viewers is much less possible to totally imagine that the creatures are alive and know that they’re puppets. All the moments that you just’re seeing occurred in some unspecified time in the future and have been captured by a digicam and that’s thrilling. It means the viewers can extra admire the artistry. You admire the sculptor and the puppeteers.
How has the world of puppetry modified from once you have been working together with your father to now in phrases of the materials development?
Puppetry is one of the oldest artwork varieties in the world. We use totally different supplies. We used cables for “The Darkish Crystal” and “Little Store of Horrors,” nevertheless it’s nonetheless puppetry. The largest change is in “Happytime Murders”: we might have puppeteers in the shot, however they’re wearing inexperienced, and you take away them later in put up. That’s allowed us to do extra issues. Latex was at all times very pure and good, however the high quality of the latex began dropping off when condoms turned in style — coinciding with the AIDS epidemic – and the high quality of rubber has by no means gotten again up to that top degree. Elsewhere, we use extra silicon as a result of it appears and feels extra like pores and skin.