August 15, 2014

muppet mural

The Muppet mural at Jim Henson Studios. Credit: JeffChristiansen / Flickr Creative Commons

This blog post is brought to you by the letter 'I'.

'I' - for the innovative world of Jim Henson.

Although puppetry has been around for a long time, Jim Henson invented techniques that breathed new life into the craft and brought puppetry into the modern age.

“Technologically, his best invention was the monitor feedback system that he kind of set up,” says Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, author of “Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career.” “So the system is a closed-circuit TV and what it does is it allows him to actually see exactly what the viewer at home sees.”

This advancement shouldn’t be underestimated. On Sesame Street, it allows the Muppets to talk directly to the camera, so it appears that they’re talking to kids at home. 

Stevens says that long before computer animation, Henson visited a workshop in Denver and created with some very early green graphics for some commercial work. “Then he worked with Pacific Data Images, who later became the DreamWorks Studios, to create the first computer generated puppet character.”

'I' – for Henson’s identification as an adult content creator

Jim Henson started out on local TV with a five-minute puppet lead-in to the nightly news. 

“Sam and Friends” was made for adults, and throughout his career Henson wanted to create shows for a grown-up audience. “He didn’t want to exclude kids, but he did at times feel pigeonholed, especially because Sesame Street made him a household name and made the Muppets basically every child’s friend.”

The Muppet Show gave Jim Henson a way to prove that puppets could successfully entertain adults as well as children. This Muppet Show Halloween special with Alice Cooper definitely did not cater to the Sesame Street crowd.

'I' – for the intersection between art and commerce.

Jim Henson had one foot in the artistic, creative world and one foot in the business world. “He had a really unique role as both an artist and entrepreneur. He was different from most artists, he thought differently because he made a lot of money. He thought differently from most businessmen because he spent a lot of money on art, on developing it,” says Stevens.

Seeing is believing, so go “behind the fabric” and watch Jim Henson describe the “Secrets of the Muppets” in this video.

the muppets, Culture, Jim Henson, Sesame Street

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