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Brian Henson (Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge)

Brian Henson: The Interview (Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge)

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge is a competition series featuring ten aspiring creature creators competing to out-imagine one another in a series of challenges where they will build everything from mechanical characters to whimsical beasts, bringing high-end inanimate creature designs to life. The contestants compete for a prize worth up to $100,000 including the opportunity for the job of a lifetime - a contract working at the world-renowned Jim Henson’s Creature Shop™.

Brian Henson, Chairman of The Jim Henson Company and the Creature Shop, will serve as lead judge on the series. We spoke with Brian about the show and a little bit about Far Scape

Can you tease a bit of some of the creatures we’re going to see coming up, since we’ve only seen what’s in the first one?
Well, we keep it a little bit secret because that’s part of the fun so I won’t tell you too much. I will say that creatures in general - there’s a really wide range that you can do depending on if they’re small or they’re large or what kind of technique you’re using. Is it more fabrication or is it more mechanization? And you will see a very wide range of creature - what we call the creature brief which is at the beginning of every episode I brief the creature designers on what kind of creature we want and what we’re looking for, and there’ll be a wide range. There’s a couple that touch on some of the universes that you know well from our company’s past and that’s part of the event and that’s a lot of fun. But I’m not really going to tell you any more than that.
Can you talk about kind of how you got started doing this series and why you decided to do it?
Well it’s something we’ve been considering for quite a long time actually. Normally speaking the Jim Henson Company - everything that we produce has an element of fantasy in it and often fantasy characters in it. And so it’s not easy for us to imagine what we would do in the reality realm of television but the creature designers - specifically creatures versus puppets. We’re very famous for building puppets and when we build a puppet it’s a very different thing. A puppet is clearly made of ping pong balls and felt and fur fabric and foam rubber and it’s not trying to look alive. It comes to life through the puppetry and through the puppeteers but when we do creatures which started back on Dark Crystal and then continued with Labyrinth and Storyteller and Dinosaurs and Far Scape. When we do creatures it’s a different sort of thing that we’re looking for. We’re trying to create a creature that looks and appears to be a living creature and it has a lot more movement, a lot more detail. They’re more expressive and the specific artists that do this well tend to have started at a very young age. They tend to have started at the age of eight or nine sketching monsters and then started trying to figure out how to build them themselves. They’re very rare talent and they’re hard to find but what they do is in my mind almost the closest to magic that you will find in the artistic field and nobody knows about these creature builders. They cannot win an Emmy award. They cannot win an academy award. They do sometimes but for kind of the wrong reasons. Rick Baker has won for makeup but he wasn’t doing makeup and, you know, sometimes our creature shop will win for costuming but they’re not costumes. So really these are artists that people don’t know what they do. They haven’t seen it. They don’t really know about it. It’s kind of a secret area - dark secret area that we love exposing and showing what they do. So we have thought for years that doing some sort of reality series around those artists would be the most exciting and interesting to the general public and it was when I met (Joe Freid) who’s an executive producing partner on the show. (Joe) comes from a reality background and when he came in and we started talking, he shared exactly the same enthusiasm and of course he had the right experience base to really put that into a television show. And then when we went out with the show SyFy loved it instantly and it went very quickly from a pitch to production and now going on air.
How would you describe the overall talent on the show?
Oh it’s extraordinary really. I - well we benefited from a really excellent casting director who had been casting Face Off for many years so she had already seen hundreds and hundreds of artists from around the world. She kind of knew where to look for them in America as well as she had seen artists over the years that she - that were not right for special effects makeup but would be much more right for a show like this. So that sort of gave us a step up and they were able to bring us about 40 artists that were really good from around the country. We whittled it down to ten extraordinary artists and they come from every sort of background. Some are working in the special effects business. Some work in the theme park business, some not in the business at all. They range in age from I think 21 to 41 but they’re all those kinds of artists that I was talking about - they been doing it since they were kids. They just needed their opportunity. We had one - one of our contestants who literally had never been introduced to the professional materials that we would use and was doing stuff out of hot glue and other materials that none of us would have ever thought would work but because he’d been doing it for years, he figured out how to make tinfoil and hot glue look like a creature. It’s extraordinary.
Are there any details you can give us on the possible Far Scape movie? Is that going to happen?
Well that’s a rumor and I cannot comment on it. I have said before to people that the next stage for Far Scape should and hopefully will be a feature film but I cannot tell you anything more than that other than I am trying to move in that direction.