Day Two: Introduction
Sunday's host: Craig Shemin, Associate Creative Director and Staff Writer for the Jim Henson Company. Craig doesn't have an Emmy like Kirk, so he brings out a bowling trophy instead. He promises lots of excitement for today's event: "We've got some special technical difficulties for you!" He introduces another taped introduction:
"Oh, yeah?" Piggy snaps. "You should see what they say about us on the Internet."
Kermit (and Steve Whitmire) enter as the clip ends, and Kermit greets us: "Good morning, MuppetFesters!... Sounds like some kind of skin disease." He introduces today's first guest.
Jane Henson enters and sits on a chair. She gives a brief introduction about meeting Jim, and starting Sam and Friends on WRC-TV Washington, D.C. in 1955. They got a terrific time slot, between the news and Steve Allen. "We got the Huntley-Brinkley audience, and the Steve Allen show audience... and what could be better?"
She introduces some clips from Sam and Friends:
"Punsmoke": Chicken Liver and Kermit appear as Marshall Dilly and Pester in a Henson-scripted parody of Gunsmoke.
"The Westerners": Kermit and Chicken Liver appear in a cowboy sketch set to a Bob and Ray soundtrack, trying desperately to control their horses long enough to talk to each other.
"The Yellow Rose of Texas": Kermit sings "The Yellow Rose of Texas", interrupted by a little out-of-control drummer.
Jane explains that they used commercial comedy records quite a bit on Sam and Friends, including Stan Freberg's. "Punsmoke" was one of the first pieces that Jim actually wrote and recorded. "We'd use a lot of records... if it didn't go well, we wouldn't use it again, but if it did go well, we'd save it and use it again. We would do ten shows a week -- about two or three would be Jim's originals, and the rest would be comedy records... The whole business was much more cottage industry -- it wasn't the way it is now."
Jane never used her voice on the show. She only performed the puppets to a pre-recorded soundtrack -- either Jim's voices or a record.
She takes questions from the audience.
Q: How many Wilkins Coffee commercials did they make?
- Jane: "One hundred and twenty three... No... A hundred plus."
Q: Did she have a personal favorite character?
- Jane: "I loved Chicken Little, actually... Well, Kermit really was the best -- but Kermit worked so well with the other characters. Sam was wonderful, Harry was wonderful. I guess I really didn't have a favorite character."
Kermit was very special on the show. Jim was on television for a little while before he made Kermit -- he realized that television could make a puppet face just as important and expressive as a human face, and Kermit was Jim's attempt to make an extremely expressive puppet.
Being on the "news strip" helped them a great deal: "You'd have national news, international news, weather, sports... and Kermit!"
Q: Did they have to clear the rights for the commercial comedy records?
- Jane: (pretending to tiptoe away) "I think we were working with something that was setting a precedent." They used records the way that they would use them on the radio -- because it was a live broadcast, it fell somewhere in the "fair use" category.
Q: Did the people who created the records get mad, or did they like the show?
- Jane: "A little of both. They were annoyed, and then they'd look through it, and say, hooray."
Q: Did they have dreams of a network show?
- Jane: "I never had any plans or goals. Jim always did. He would've gone straight to being a film director if he could -- but then he got intrigued with this puppet thing."
Q: How did Rowlf come about?
Q: Did Jim ever talk in character voices at home?
- Jane: "The only time he was a character at home was when he carved the Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey was always carved by Link Hogthrob."
Jane announces that the University of Maryland -- where Jim and Jane went to college, and met in puppetry class -- will be putting up a statue of Jim and Kermit in the next year or so.
Jane leaves to a huge standing ovation.
Craig introduces a historic clip that has never been shown in public before: The Muppet Show Pitch Reel.
Craig introduces the next panel of performers and characters: Steve Whitmire with Bean Bunny, Dave Goelz with Gonzo, Jerry Nelson with Floyd Pepper, Kevin Clash with Elmo, Bill Barretta with Pepe the King Prawn, and Brian Henson with Sal Minella.
Jerry -- "the Laziest Man on Earth" -- is wheeled out by Bill and Brian in a huge barcalounger armchair.
Gonzo talks as Dave puts his hand in: "Excuse me, I'm not ready yet. Whew! Even for me that hurts."
- Bean: "I love Elmo. I watch him on Sesame Street all the time. Can I have your autograph?"
- Elmo: "Sure! After the show."
- Floyd: "You guys gonna have a cute battle backstage?"
- Elmo: "You're just jealous! You're jealous."
- Floyd: "No, I ain't cute... but I'm hip to boot."
- Elmo: "Well, ex-cuse Elmo!"
Elmo turns away from Floyd, to Pepe.
- Elmo: "What's your name?"
- Pepe: "It's Pepe, okay."
- Elmo: "Hello, Pepe Okay!"
- Pepe: "No -- just Pepe."
- Elmo: "Hello, Just Pepe Okay!"
- Sal: "NO! He's just PEPE! OKAY?"
- Elmo: "O-KAY!"
- Bean: "That monkey scares me."
- Sal: "You are such a little wussy.
Bean turns away.
- Sal: "Oh, look -- I made him cry!"
- Elmo: "Bean -- these are more adult characters. We're more daytime characters. We need to stick together."
They take questions from the audience.
Q: What was it like casting Steve as Kermit after Jim's death?
- Brian: "We decided real early on not to do something crazy like an open audition, to bring on an impersonator for Kermit. It was a family decision." Steve came from the same part of the country as Jim and had a real feeling for the character. "It seemed like the logical choice. We didn't do any tests or anything -- we just sent you a Kermit, right?"
- Steve: "The puppet showed up in a box. I remember taking the puppet out of the box... and it smelled like Kermit." He took it out and tried to perform Kermit in front of a mirror. He could make Kermit look around, and nod. "I knew how to make a puppet work, y'know? And then I tried to make him say something... and I couldn't do the voice!" Steve put the puppet in a back room for at least a month, and didn't go near it. "So nervous. Everybody here was incredibly supportive -- but I was so inhibited." When it finally came time for him to perform Kermit for the first time in The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, he thought the taping would just be an intimate moment. "And it turned out to be this huge thing, with everybody that I've worked with for fifteen years! It was so hard."
- Pepe: "Who is this Jim person you're talking about?"
- Sal: "I have no idea. You lost me about fifteen minutes ago."
Audience member says that Steve does a great job performing Kermit. The audience applauds -- and so does Gonzo!
Q: When they make a new puppet for an established character, do they intentionally change the design, or do they try to keep it as similar to the original as possible?
- Gonzo: "Well, you know -- it's just like human actors. We've had work done. Y'know, with human actors, you get older, you get a little nip here, a tuck there... lipo... It sounded like fun to me, so I went in and did it without anesthetic."
- Dave: "So now here's the real answer to the question..." (Gonzo looks insulted.) Dave says that they never get exactly the same look with a new puppet, but the characterization always transfers through the new puppet.
Q: Pepe did ballet in Muppets from Space. Does he have aspirations to be a prima ballerina?
- Pepe: "As far as having perspirations... yes, dancers perspire a lot."
- Bean: "He's cute too, Elmo."
- Pepe: "I can't hear you."
- Bean: "I said you're cute."
- Pepe: "Ohh! Heh heh heh."
- Gonzo: "This is getting disgusting."
Q: What happens to old puppets?
Brian says that they have a huge storage of Muppets. In The Muppet Christmas Carol, they used 400 puppets -- over the years, there's been thousands.
- Brian: "We have a term here: They're toast. The foam inside characters gets old and hard... and they're toast. And you know they're toast when you put your hand inside, and it comes out all orange, and then -- my character's toast!"
Elmo starts waving at a little girl sitting in the front row. Pretty soon, Gonzo and Bean notice her too, and they all start waving at her. Kevin and Bill go to the front of the stage, so that she can meet Elmo and Pepe. She loves Elmo -- but when Pepe approaches, she gets a little scared.
- Pepe: "Oh my gosh! Don't be afraid. I'm just a prawn, okay."
- Elmo: "She loved Elmo!"
- Pepe: "She loved Elmo, that is true, okay. She hates the prawn. She must be a vegetarian."
Q: How do they know which characters will work?
- Brian: "The great thing about a television show is that every week you create new characters. You just throw them at the wall, and see if they stick... The idea of Bean is that he's the anti-Muppet. He's sort of cute and sweet and sappy."
- Gonzo: "He's so cute, he's evil!"
- Bean: "Thank you!"
- Sal: "You are so disgusting."
- Elmo: "What does that make Elmo? If Bean is so cute he's evil."
- Floyd: "You don't want to know."
- Pepe: "You remind me of a raspberry."
Kermit comes up, replacing Bean.
Q about Kermit and Miss Piggy's relationship.
- Kermit: "Well, the truth is... you guys have heard all the joke lines. The truth is, we only have a professional relationship. It's purely professional, and... I'm available!"
Q: Have they ever lost a puppet?
Brian says they have lost some. Dog (dinosaur) from Living with Dinosaurs was stolen. Jerry says that Robin the Frog was stolen. Kevin says that once he left Clifford in a dressing room, and someone came and cleaned out the dressing room -- it was a tense moment until they found him again.
- Brian: "We've lost others... We've lost lots of stuff!"
- Pepe: "We lost Jerry one time."
- Steve: "If you see anything on Ebay, let us know!"
Q to Pepe: Did you ever tell Gonzo why you asked him to build the jacuzzi?
- Gonzo: "What was that all about?"
- Pepe: "What was what about?"
- Gonzo: "The jacuzzi."
- Kermit: "Don't say it was Rizzo's idea, cause I can't change that fast."
Pepe tells the audience member that he never explained it, and he shouldn't tell Gonzo anything.
- Gonzo: "What's he saying? I can't understand Spanish."
Q: An audience member asks if Kermit remembers her. She called when Kermit was on the radio, and asked about Gonzo's relationship with Camilla.
- Kermit: "Sure, yeah."
- Gonzo: "Wait, I think Kermit is posing as an insincere Hollywood person. Can you tell us what city that was in?"
- Kermit: "Wasn't it just the other day, in Burbank?"
- Gonzo: "Just checking. Sometimes he tries to slide."
Q: Are there writing limitations because the same performer can't play two characters in the same scene?
Dave tries to answer, but gets all confused and makes a hash of his answer.
- Sal: "Are you okay? Cause that's an easy question."
Pepe gets up and starts rubbing Dave's neck. "Let me just loosen you up a little, okay?"
- Sal: "Do a little boneology."
Sal gets up and massages Dave: "Relax, relax... Okay... Nyaaaaaa!" Sal breaks Dave's neck, which seems to help. Then they all sit down again.
Steve says that in Muppets From Space, when they shot the Muppets all running down the hall, he actually did both Rizzo and Kermit's lines as they were shooting. But they don't usually do that, because it's so hard.
Q: How do you keep all the voices separate?
- Steve: "I have a filing system in my house." Actually, people sometimes ask if they take the characters home and talk to them. "I think of the puppets like a carpenter has a hammer. They're tools."
- Gonzo: "Like with me. You could drive a nail with me, actually."
- Jerry: "We do have key phrases to help us get into character. Like for Lew Zealand, I always have to count: 'Seven, Nine, Four, Three, Two, Sixteen, Eleven, Nine!'"
- Pepe: "They pay me a lot of money, okay?"
- Sal: "Yeah, what's your point?"
- Pepe: "It's very simple. Money money money makes the world go round."
- Kermit: "I haven't done any frog leg commercials, actually."
- Pepe: "You should... you make a lot of money, okay."
Q: Will the complete Muppet Show be available on DVD?
Craig says that there are currently ten volumes of The Muppet Show episodes on DVD. "Yes, we know that's not enough. And the best way to get more Muppet Shows on DVD is to buy them."
Q: What happened to Muppets Tonight? Why didn't it do as well as it should have?
Brian says that when MT started, ABC promised to do a big marketing campaign to "reposition" the Muppets as adult characters, but they didn't really do it. They marketed it mainly as a kid's show. When they did focus groups, they confirmed that the show was too sophisticated for 2-3 year olds. Starting at 4, kids thought it was Sesame Street, and they thought they were too old for it. 11-15 year olds thought it was a really good show, but they don't watch that much TV. Parents thought it was just Sesame Street. Critically, the show did very well, but it wasn't marketed well, and it didn't do well in the ratings.
Q: Can you tell stories with puppets that you can't tell with human actors?
- Brian: "I can give a real answer."
- Bill: "Do a fake one!"
Brian says that fantasy and science-fiction as genres are great for storytelling, because you can still do a heavy theme, and people will open up to it. Muppets as characters do that automatically. For example, Dinosaurs tackled a lot of heavy issues, like animal research and drugs, and people accepted it.
- Sal: "What he means is: yes."
Q: Pepe is a great character. With the new exposure in his Long John Silver's ads, will his role expand?
Pepe looks at Brian.
- Pepe: "What do you think? Am I going to expand? What does my future hold?"
Brian says that Pepe is very popular -- he's a breakout character.
- Pepe: "Oh, go on."
- Gonzo: "He's more of a peel-out character."
- Brian: "When a character becomes very popular, we call that a breakout character."
- Pepe: "That's very nice of you..."
- Brian: "Although I hope those ads would get better."
- Pepe: "You don't think they're good?"
- Brian: "No, they're good."
- Pepe: "What would you do different? Huh?"
Brian changes the subject...
Q: What is Elmo going to do on January 9th?
Kevin talks about the Tickle Me Elmo Surprise Contest.
- Sal: "So if you tickle Elmo..."
- Floyd: "You get a house?"
- Elmo: "Not this Elmo!"
- Sal: "Which Elmo?"
- Elmo: "None of your business, Brian!"
Bill and Kevin leave at this point to get ready for tonight's live show...
Q: An audience member simply thanks the performers for coming, and being so great.
- Steve: "So many people have come up, saying, thank you, thank you for being here. And I just want you to know, we feel the same way about you. There's a big gap here [the stage], but really, we're here with you."
Q: Why aren't there more female Muppet characters?
- Gonzo: "I'm a female character. A lot of people don't know that."
- Sal: "I didn't know that!"
- Gonzo: "Yeah. But I play a male part. Which is very liberating."
Brian says that aren't as many female puppeteers.
Karen Prell jumps out of the audience for a moment, goes up to the microphone and harrumphs: "Ex-cuse me!"
- Brian: "We've been doing almost exclusively female puppeteer auditions for the last five years. There's no real answer about why that's true. Men are more stupid, really."
- Steve: "Women can be more normal, and don't need this therapy."
- Gonzo: "And when we get better, we'll stop!"
Q for Floyd: Where'd you get that snappy Sergeant Pepper outfit?
- Floyd: "I got this at a used clothes store in England."
- Gonzo: "Chelsea, wasn't it?"
- Floyd: "Chelsea, yeah. I like to dress a little out of the norm... so people won't notice me." But he actually has a few different jackets, and changes between them. "I sweat a lot when I work."
- Gonzo: "We know."
Q: Is it true that Brian started out cleaning the toilets at Sesame Place?
- Brian: "No, that's where I met Bill Barretta."
- Gonzo: "In the toilet?"
Brian says that when he was a college student, he wanted to get a job that wasn't just because of his father's connections. So he worked for a summer cleaning at Sesame Place in Pennsylvania, and he and Bill Barretta became friends when they were both working there.
Q: How can someone become a Muppeteer?
- Brian: "Go get a job at Sesame Place!... No, really, you just have to start doing it."
- Floyd: "Lie."
- Brian: "And you -- like Dave said, you really have to be ready to make an idiot of yourself."
Q: With all the new advances in technology, is there anything they'd still like to be able to do technically?
- Jerry: "I'd like to be in Cape Cod, pick up the phone... and dial in a performance."
Brian says that they've all talked about doing a hockey story, because it would be a fun thing to do, just sliding around on the ice on platforms.
The performers are so patient, they'd stay for longer if they could -- but there's more stuff on the schedule, so Craig tells them they've got to go...
Kermit's Swamp Years
Craig introduces the next panel, on the new Kermit's Swamp Years direct-to-video special.
First, they show the teaser trailer, which is being shown in public for the first time:
"Every Tadpole has a Tale... Every Frog has a First Adventure... Come Home to the Swamp -- Kermit's Swamp Years!"
Kermit is seen as a 12-year old frog, with a big head and big eyes. "It's my true story -- warts and all!"
Michael Polis is the Vice President of Marketing for JHC, and the Executive Producer of Kermit's Swamp Years.
Ritamarie Peruggi is the Senior Executive Vice President of Production.
Steve Whitmire performs Young Kermit in KSY and has also done a couple of other things with the Muppets before.
Q: When will Kermit's Swamp Years be released?
Mike says that right now they're looking at late summer or fall of 2002.
Q to Jim: Is this Kermit's origin?
- Jim: "Is this sounding like an infomercial to you guys?... My son is six and my daughter is two, and for about the past two years, every day, we watch The Muppet Movie. They love it -- and as I watched it over and over and over again, it struck me that we don't really know how he got to be on that log there, playing the banjo. That was the genesis of the idea. It's about the first time Kermit leaves the swamp and enters the world of humans."
David says that KSY was shot on High Definition Video, so they could use real locations and keep it on budget. They finished principal photography just before Thanksgiving, and it's being edited now.
Steve brings up the Young Kermit puppet, and John performs regular Kermit, so we can see the difference. The body's about the same; the main difference is that Young Kermit's head is bigger and rounder.
- Kermit: "I've never seen you from this angle, Steve."
They show a temporary-mix rough cut of the scene with Goggles and Blodge being captured and taken away in a truck. Kermit and Croaker try to stop the pickup, and Croaker gets run over.
Jim talks about how great it was to film on location. "A real live swamp... There's nothing like it. God is the best set director in the world."
- Jim: "This is actually Kermit's Swamp Years: Episode IV. We're gonna go back... The next one is actually called The Search for Nanny's Head."
Q for Steve about keeping Kermit's characterization consistent.
- Steve: "I've tried not to let him just become a corporate icon."
- David: "What Steve brings when he comes down to the shoot... he brings Kermit with him, and that energy."
Q: Was this project more special because it was connected as a prequel to The Muppet Movie?
- Steve: "This project... It was a huge small project." They had a fairly low budget, but it felt great working on it. "It feels more like The Muppet Movie than anything we've done since Jim passed away. A really good spirit; I'm so excited about it. It felt like the same spirit, working on it." It was shot on the same soundstage as The Muppets at Walt Disney World, and they used the same offices. "It just felt like we were set up to be there."
- Jim: "I like to say, I sat down with Kermit... He gave me the bare bones, and I filled in the details."
Jim talks about Kermit's friends, Goggles and Croaker: "You'll learn more about them in Episode V."
Steve says that KSY "is about Kermit -- literally and figuratively -- learning his voice." This is the film in which he discovers his destiny.
Q: Will there be a sequel?
- Jim: "From our mouth to God's ear... We'd love to. These are a rich group of characters. If it does well, we could do many more. It's kind of like DC Comics' Elseworlds -- a whole myth all to itself. It's a fun place to go."
They wrap up the panel...
The Muppet Show 25th Anniversary Panel
Brian moderates the next panel, celebrating the 25th Anniversary of The Muppet Show: Jane Henson, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, Karen Prell and Steve Whitmire. They start by talking about the pre-history of The Muppet Show, including the pilots -- The Muppets Valentine Show and Sex and Violence.
Dave was the puppet builder who built Nigel, the host of Sex and Violence. Jim performed Nigel, and he never intended for Kermit to be the host. "As far as I know, Kermit would be free to come on. But Jim wanted something new."
- Brian: "It got very good reviews, but nobody really understood the idea of the Muppets on prime-time television."
- Dave: "It was someone who came in and worked with us just for that year and never worked with us again."
Then they got financed by Lew Grade to produce The Muppet Show.
- Jerry: "I think Lew Grade put it like this: 'I'll do the show, if you bring your lads over here, to keep my lads busy."
So they went to England to do The Muppet Show. Jane says that meant an end to "The Mucking Fuppets" -- John Belushi's nickname for the Muppets.
- Jane: "Jim had complete creative control."
Brian quotes the common statistic that The Muppet Show was seen in 100 countries, and 230 million viewers around the world. "It's presented a lot as fact... We also know it's virtually impossible to know how many people are watching around the world. But it's a pretty good estimate."
- Jane: "They used to say that we were on in more countries than there are in the world."
- Brian: "And then there were five years of The Muppet Show! As we're finding out, you know it better than us..."
- Dave: "As is painfully obvious!"
Karen talks about a TMS memory. During the "Rockin' Robin" number, she got to perform Rockin' Robin -- which was a big deal for her, since she was a new puppeteer at the time. The Robin puppet didn't have any knee joints, but it was supposed to dance -- so Dave Goelz jumped in and engineered knee joints for the puppet, and then performed the feet.
Dave has no memory of this. "This is a great panel, isn't it? It's like: aaaah... it's time for my noon tablets."
Karen says that there's a shot of them performing this number together in the Of Muppets and Men documentary.
- Steve: "Do you have any stories about me, Karen?"
Jerry remembers shooting "The Windmills of Your Mind", a completely exhausting number. He did it over and over, and it wasn't working: "I wore out after about take thirty-something... So Jim took it. I think we did a couple more. He had it down."
Karen shares a memory about Richard Hunt keeping Sweetums' legs on between takes -- there's a picture of this in the Of Muppets and Men book. She remembers once when Richard was napping on a couch, still wearing the Sweetums legs. Dave came over and poured sugar into Richard's open mouth. "So he woke up with a start -- who was it? He saw you... and just took off after you, in the Sweetums feet."
Dave talks about master Muppet builder Don Sahlin, who loved practical jokes and explosions. He'd run "squibs" -- little remote-control explosions -- all over the office. He'd wire one on your desk, with a wire going down desk legs to a doorbell under Don's desk. He would wait until you were having your coffee. "He would just sit there and choose when you would explode. He would just sit there, talking to you, waiting for the moment -- and then you went." Don used to rig up the most amazing, technically elegant jokes. Once he rigged up a little spring-loaded mouse: "He'd just wait until the right moment - wait until everyone was in the right position, and then just pull the ring."
Jerry remembers that Don rigged up a hose over Jerry Juhl's desk. He waited until Jerry was in the office for an hour and a half, then left the room and whispered through the hose: "Jerrrrry... Jerry Juuuuuuuhl..."
Dave says that Don would always win the practical jokes. "I used to say, I will kill you now. I will scare you so much that it will kill you. And he would say, oh no, I'm not well. I may only have a few weeks to live." Dave tried once to really scare Don. The joke was based on the fact that Don would always work really late hours, coming in the middle of the night to work. So Dave snuck into the office one night and sat in the dark, covered in black velour, waiting for Don. The idea was to just have his hand on the light switch, he would feel a human hand. "It would be the ultimate scare. And then he would die, and I would be the one who killed him. And I would win! And I got all set up... and he didn't come back that night. I was there about two and a half hours that night, and he never showed up."
Dave says that these jokes may seem weird, but "it's a key part of what The Muppet Show was. Don would never be working on what he was supposed to be working on... That spirit permeated everything that he did, and we caught it. It was all about having fun, and it became very passionate."
Brian talks about a practical joke that they've often played on each other. When they go to an Important Event, and meet Important People, they team up to make each other laugh. Brian asks Steve, Jerry and Dave to help him demonstrate the joke. Steve is, let's say, Michael Eisner, and Brian is talking to him at this Event. Jerry and Dave are standing behind "Michael", picking their noses and making faces at Brian. Then "Michael" turns around, and Jerry and Dave look away.
- Brian: "And people at all these high-ranking social events can't understand why we can't follow anything they're talking about!"
- Dave: "'Those Muppet people are so vacuous!'"
Speaking of cracking each other up, Dave says that you can hear Richard in the Steve Martin episode. They're supposed to be doing "auditions" in that episode, and they were planning to use the sound of the real cast and crew laughing. But Richard's laugh was so loud that they had to mix it with recorded laughter: "Nobody else could go up to that level!"
And with these fond memories, they move to the next panel...
David Barrington-Holt from Jim Henson's Creature Shop demonstrates their animatronics techniques. The highlight is a song by Mr. Tinkles, the evil white cat from Cats and Dogs, who performs a live version of "That's Life", assisted by a whole team of puppeteers.
(Bruce Lanoil was the main performer for the mouth and voice. Karen Prell performed Mr. Tinkles' tail, Michelan Sisti the neck mechanism, Kevin Carlson the main body rod, John Kennedy the right paw, and Allan Trautman the left paw. You know. Just in case you were wondering.)
Digital Performance Control System
Barrington-Holt also presents the next event, a demonstration of the Henson Digital Performance Control System. He's joined by Steve Whitmire and Dave Goelz, who take their places at the Control System boards.
The Henson Digital Performance Control System takes live puppet performance and translates it into data, which can be turned into computer animation in real-time. This data can then be used to animate characters in a movie, in a computer game, or over the web. It's a way of digitally "capturing" the performance of the Muppeteers.
Steve and Dave are totally into this. They've been practicing on the system, and they've each programmed different effects into their setup. They put their hands on the control devices, and the screen shows a real-time render of their performance of Kermit and Gonzo.
They immediately start playing with the cool effects.
Gonzo gets really tall: "That was my ego getting out of control." They bounce up and down a bit. Gonzo announces that he has a cool trick to show, and tells Kermit to hypnotize him. Kermit says he's hypnotized, and Gonzo's pupils shrink down to tiny dots.
- Kermit: "You are a chicken."
- Gonzo: "Bawk... bawk..."
- Kermit: "You are... a Muppet fan."
Gonzo turns to stare fixedly at Kermit. Kermit snaps his fingers, and Gonzo's pupils come back to normal size.
- Gonzo: "Was I hypnotized?"
- Kermit: "You were naked."
- Gonzo: "Really? Coooool."
Gonzo makes his nose flip up and down. "I'm experimenting! This is a new body for me." When he bends down, his arms go down: "If there was something here, I could pick it up." Gonzo can also bug out his eyes.
- Kermit: "Oh, that's new."
- Gonzo: "Back in the green room, they've got this box of licorice buttons..." He pretends to stare at a chicken in the front row.
- Kermit: "Hey. We're no talking cat, but y'know."
Kermit notices a limitation with his programming: "I can't look at my watch, because when I look down, my hands go down."
David says that what we're seeing is just a "low poly model" in real time. This is what the puppeteers would see as feedback while they're doing the performance, then it would get cleaned up and rendered more smoothly, and in a three-dimensional environment.
- Gonzo: "When they render us up, after we do the performance -- we're hot."
Then Gonzo asks David: "I have a question. It's more in the nature of a complaint. See on the top of my head, I have these four feathers? When I started on The Muppet Show, I had eleven feathers. When you look at the real me, I have eight feathers. Now I'm down to four. So, my question is: Can you make me a rug?"
David and Craig start talking about all the cool things they can do with the Control System, while Kermit and Gonzo bounce up and down and shamelessly mug behind them. When they're fully rendered, the characters can be completely free, moving as full bodies in a fully-rendered environment. They can even program each joint of each finger to move separately.
Gonzo and Kermit move towards each other, and their arms go through each other's.
- Kermit: "We're doing it again."
- Gonzo: "I can't even feel it."
- Kermit: "What do they call this -- collision protection! We have fire and flood, but no collision."
Kermit figures out how to move one finger alone, and he flips it back and forth.
- Gonzo: "What are you doing? Kermit, stop that! Wait till you go back to the hotel."
They're having a good time.
- Gonzo: "I don't think I want to go back to being real. This is great! You can eat all you want, and never gain weight."
Q from the audience: Is this the future of Muppets?
Kermit shakes his head vigorously. "It's just a complement, something new."
- Gonzo: "We won't have any future unless we get better at this."
Q: Is the animation program proprietary software?
- Gonzo: "This is all Quicken! Except the pants. The pants are Lotus."
David says that the animation program could actually be off-the-shelf. The Control System records all the data, but then that data could be ported into any animation program, or game engine, or anything. From the point of view of the puppeteer, it's not much harder to learn how to operate the controls than it is to learn how to perform a puppet. This system would allow a puppeteer to perform both the puppet and digital versions of a character, to create a unified performance -- unlike, say, Cats and Dogs, where the puppet animals were controlled by puppeteers, but the animated versions of the same characters were created by animators. "This is the current state of the art of a project we began in 1985... The performer doesn't need to know anything about computer graphics. It's the same as puppeteering, but easier on the arms."
Steve concurs that the amount of movement is the same between performing the puppet Kermit and the digital Kermit.
- Gonzo: "You need to make us some girls in here."
- Kermit: "But no pigs."
- David: "There's a plug-in for that."
- Gonzo: "I didn't hear what he said."
- Kermit: "Something about a plug-in."
- Gonzo: "Ohhhhh!" (His eyes bug out.)
- Craig: "Well, on that note..."
The panel ends, with a standing ovation for Dave and Steve.
Video Tribute to Jim Henson
Charlie Rivkin introduces the Jim Henson tribute: "I'm the President and CEO of the Jim Henson Company... and it's pretty obvious that I have the best job in the world. Don't be too jealous." He says he doesn't need to explain to us why he's happy to see us all celebrating the life and work of Jim Henson. "I think I'd be preaching to the choir... Jim pulled the best out of everyone, and made everyone feel wonderful at the same time." Their work now is "a responsibility, as well as an opportunity, to build a business on the tall and broad shoulders of Jim Henson."
They play a video tribute to Jim Henson. It's a lovely, touching video compilation, full of behind-the-scenes clips of Jim. The soundtrack is Uncle Traveling Matt singing "Follow Me", from Fraggle Rock. It's lovely.
The MuppetFest Band plays some more Muppet music.
Craig gives more prizes away for Trivia Questions as the band sets up, including some really hard ones.
Q: On Fraggle Rock, what's Doc's last name?
Nobody knows. Craig says, "I'm ashamed of you people!" The answer: He's Doc Crystal.
Q: What was the first song Paul Williams wrote for the Muppets?
Q: Which actor made a cameo in two different Muppet movies?
Q: How many times did the Muppets appear on The Ed Sullivan Show?
The answer: Twenty-five times.
Henson collectibles are auctioned off for charity.
Dark Crystal soundtrack record: $40
Eyeball, created by the Creature Shop specifically for this event: $160
From The Muppets Take Manhattan: a prop playbill from "Manhattan Melodies", invitation to the premiere, and a one-sheet program: $220
Two tickets to tonight's live show: $260
Guitar signed by Steve Whitmire and Kermit, with a huge Kermit doll: $720
Kermit candlesticks: $100
Number of fans puzzled by why the autographed guitar got the highest bid: All of us.
You Be The Star!
One more clip, to close the convention.
Then it's off to The Muppet Show Live...