Exclusive: Brian Henson on Syfy’s ‘Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge’

Apr 11th, 2014 | By | Category: Make Up News
Following the success of make-up effects-based series Monster Man, Face Off and Making Monsters, Syfy is launching Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge, a reality TV show that puts 10 creature designers through a series of challenges. The winner will receive a cash prize and a job at the legendary Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge: Brian HensonAccording to executive producer Brian Henson (LEFT, who also acts as one of the show’s judges), the idea for a show based around the Creature Shop had been in the works for years. “We always thought our creature designer/builders always had an extraordinary and interesting challenge,” he explains, “and we thought doing a series around them would be a really exciting project.
“What was different this time from the other times that we tried to do it is that we met [producer] Joseph Freed, who came in with an enthusiasm for it, a real understanding of why these people are so interesting, and why the audience would be so compelled by them. He also had an extensive experience in reality programming, so it was a very good combination.”
The first group of contestants range in age from 21 to 41. Some are relative newcomers in the business while others already run their own companies. “We were specifically looking for people that would become all-around talents,” notes Henson. “They are the most valuable and hardest to find, but they’re the ones who could conceive of a creature, design, sculpt, build, mechanize, dress and paint it and do the finishing details. These people started when they were children, trying to do it themselves in the garage or an art studio, and just figuring it all out. They were out there; we just had to find them. (continued below)

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge: Peter Brooke, Lex Rudd and Josh Smith
“Fortunately, we had a great casting director, Jacqui Pitman, who was the casting director for Face Off, so she had all these résumés from artists who applied for Face Off … On top of that, we put the word out and ended up with 10 very strong candidates. Once they made it through a rigorous application/demonstration/interview process, they were all strong enough to be on the show regardless of their age. Some had experience on their side, and others had just sheer youthful drive on their side, so it all balanced out quite neatly.”
Those challenges, some of which are inspired by previous Henson projects, will explore virtually every aspect of creature design, from sculpting and animatronics to full-body creatures. “I don’t want to go into specifics,” Henson says, “but I will say there are basically two sides of character development within the Jim Henson Company. One side is … bringing to life of something clearly inanimate with puppetry. The Muppets, for example, are clearly fabric, stuffing and ping-pong ball eyes. They don’t look real or alive, but we bring them to life through puppetry, which is compelling art form unto itself.
Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge: Ben Bayouth“This show also explores the creature character development we started with Dark Crystal and continued through Labyrinth, Dinosaurs and Farscape. This is the side of the company where we create creatures that are not clearly inanimate. There’s an illusion of life there, and the more we bring it to life in a believable way, the stronger the creature is.
“We always say, ‘If you rip its arm off and expect there to be stuffing, it’s a puppet. If you rip its arm off and expect it to bleed, it’s a creature.”
While Henson is reluctant to make any comparisons with Face Off, he does concede that time is a major factor in Creature Shop Challenge. “Our people are building creatures in two to four days which are complex and ambitious,” he says. “I give everyone a ‘creature brief’ at the beginning of each episode to tell them what their challenge is, and those briefs are very ambitious.
“At that point, our creature designers have to focus on the full build all the way to the end. What’s nice is this is such a complex art form requiring so much attention, our show doesn’t require us giving them curveballs, flash challenges or any of those other bells and whistles you see on other shows … We screen test all of the creatures at the end of every episode and then critique them and judge them on the results of the screen test.
As for what viewers should expect, “What they will see are artists operating at such a high level, it’s almost like magic watching them pull it off,” he promises. “These are extraordinary and rare craftsman, so it’s really exciting to see it happen. And it’s not what you are used to. People are used to seeing creatures on screen, and saying, ‘Oh, that’s a creature, that was kind of cool!’ but they don’t know what goes into creating it, so being able to pull the curtain away from that process and allow the audience to see what’s really entailed is very exciting!”
Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge debuts on Syfy Tuesday, March 25, 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge: Jake Corrick

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