written by VictorMoran
Once the head was complete I couldn’t help but play with it (don’t worry it’s not THAT kind of blog) and so there I was, a grown man in the dark playing with a puppet head. Needless to say it wasn’t long before I was talking to it. Look, I’m fully aware as to how crazy what I’m saying is but I can explain it VERY simply. Remember when you were a kid and you would randomly find an old worn out puppet in a toy bin in after school care, or your grans closet or those shitty ones they’d have at doctor’s offices? Remember how you’d put the puppet on your hand and suddenly YOUR brain just designated a voice for it? You didn’t think about it, you didn’t question it, it just came. So long story endless, in conversation Rickles and myself agreed on one thing for sure and that’s that he was furry.
Now, as I passed through rows upon rows of rolled up fabric, heading towards the faux fur area, I must admit that days of online browsing had made me close minded. I knew the color, length and courceness I felt Rickles required. I thought a non flashy purple with the vibrance of maroon was NECESSARY. The length needed to be medium but leaning toward short and matty like Oscar the Grouch and ALL THIS was in MY MIND chiseled in stone. So imagine my surprise when I ended up leaving the store with a roll of bright royal blue long strand faux fur. I don’t know what it was. I just saw it and it SCREAMED Rickles at me and you know what the best part is? They actually had a roll of faux fur almost identical to the specifications I went in looking for.
It was a gut reaction but if there’s anything I’d learned from all my research was that Jim Henson was really big on letting things happen. Sure, he went in with a plan but he never let it become a box and it’s with that spirit in mind that I justified going on instinct. OH, I also got a couple of rectangular felt fabric sheets for the mouth. Black for the inside of the mouth and pink for the tongue. I know, I’m basic as fuck when it comes to puppet mouths and I’m ok with that aspect of myself. Bet THAT’S a sentence you didn’t think you’d be reading today. But seriously, it was actually something that mattered. I’m not sure if it’s Animal or Sesame Street but the influence was oddly specific.
So I cut the felt fabric into the appropriate shapes for the mouth and tongue and put them into place with some crazy glue. Now for the faux fur. I watched a BUNCH of videos on how best to make a pattern for a puppet head and clearly none of them sunk in properly because this was an ordeal. Which is why I’m glad I don’t have a lot of pictures of it cuz I wouldn’t show them to you if I did. There was SO MUCH glue involved and the blue hairs were EVERYWHERE by the end of it. The great thing I found about the faux fur was that it’s very nature actually did an amazing job of hiding my mistakes and any noticeably ratty looking bits kind of added to the character of this puppet made from scraps.
Overall I was happy with the way Rickles’ fur lined up. The color was inviting in the way that a muppet from Sesame Street’s is but was long enough to give that Muppet Show monster vibe and as if it wasn’t perfect enough, the length also made it easy to style in a variety of ways. Everything came out so good that it made it abundantly clear that the eyes were shit. I know you were thinking it, it’s ok. I totally agree. Originally I really liked the natural color of the racket ball for the eyes but that was back when I thought the fur would be short and purple. Also something about the positioning of the pupils was bugging me but first the obvious color problem had to be taken care of.
As I sat there painting the eyes that I’d just ripped off Rickles that had been so hard to place and glue down just a few days prior I got to thinking about the early days of Jim and Jane Henson’s television careers when Sam & Friends was taking off and how they were reusing, repurposing, redressing and redesigning muppets for national tv appearances and local coffee ads. How Jim kept that spirit going when him and Frank Oz had THEIR run of projects. That idea that you cannot be precious about a thing while you are making it.
The reality is that nobody is perfect and no art exists without discovery. There are LAYERS of beautiful paintings beneath the paintings we think are beautiful paintings. But Jim Henson knew this. Something isn’t working in the scene? Rip the thing to shreds if it means it ends with the solution. You gotta rip the eyes off the puppet that took you an hour to figure out how to stay in place? Just means you already know the right way so the second time shouldn’t take so long. That’s apparently just how Jim was. Anyway, while the paint dried I cut out some penny sized felt pupils and researched the positioning.
Ok, this is actually the coolest thing. So there’s this thing called The Henson Triangle that people that have worked for the company say is the most important aspect of making the puppet feel alive. Essentially the position of the eyes in relation to the nose and mouth gives the puppet a central focal point that works perfectly on camera.
Basically you have to make your puppet a little cross eyed. I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. Not too much of course but just enough that if you got up really close to it’s like it in that picture, you’d notice it’s crosseyed but take a step back and and if you did it right suddenly the magic of The Henson triangle can’t help but do ALL the work for you.
After what had turned into a long night of bringing Rickles’ head to life I went to bed quite pleased with my progress… but Rickles had a body in mind.
…to be continued.
written by Victor Moran