Like anyone who spent their formative years in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I have been familiar with Jim Henson and his muppets. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that in a way my generation was raised by Jim Henson and his lovable, multi-colored friends because of “Sesame Street,” a daily staple for a growing, creative mind and possibly the best children’s show to ever grace international airwaves.
The first “Dark Crystal,” the movie that came out in the ‘80s, also came from Henson’s vivid imagination. But this was much darker than the cheerful, singing neighbors who populated the sunniest street on earth. That one was a world where things were not always in the hero’s favor. It’s a world so beautifully textured and complex but also very gritty, perhaps a bit too much so for the core audience. It didn’t do as well as everyone hoped in the box office, but in time it found its way to cult classic status, with a large and formidable fan base.
Enter Netflix, the streaming giant who, 37 years after the movie’s release, is now putting out a new series based on the movie. Called “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,” it covers events prior to those in the movie, giving fans a chance to finally see the land of Thra and Gelfling society in their prime.
In an ambitious move, the production crew decided to keep computer graphics in more of a secondary, supportive position, opting to rely more on physical sets, animatronic and puppets. That is not to say that computer graphics has no part to play on the show. DNEG, the British special effects house behind such Hollywood movies as “Interstellar,” “The Dark Knight” and Netflix’s own “Altered Carbon,” did its own form of heavy lifting in expanding the world of the Dark Crystal.
Lisa Henson, Jim Henson’s daughter and the show’s executive producer, says, “The way it’s developed, even the effects that are CG effects, we’ve now complimented those by realizing them in a dual capacity. Where we have the puppet version of it and the CG version of it. So there’s almost nothing in the whole series that exists only as a CG effect.”
“For me, it should always be its not just for the art department to work out, because maybe the VFX guys can do it better,” says Andy Hargreaves, the VFX Supervisor. “It’s not just for the VFX guys to do it, because actually if you build it, it would be better.”
The story is a much larger story now, and that requires a much larger world. The sets that were built for the show, along with the CG extensions, together get across how richly textures and vast the world of Thra really is, as well as how epic the story gets.
Brian Froud, the original conceptual designer of “Dark Crystal” once again returns to the fantastical world of Thra, bringing his unique, fantastical vision to bear. This time around, however, is extra special, for him as well as fans of the world of Jim Henson. His son, Toby Froud, who played the little baby brother in another Henson hit, Labyrinth, is now all grown up and a skilled puppeteer and creature fabricator in his own right. He now lends his talents at the Jim Henson workshop, bringing his father’s creations to life.
Jeffery Addis, co-executive producer and one of the writers on the show, says, “How amazing is that the whole Froud Family has kind of come back. Like to see the three of them working together is incredible. And to see him watch his son follow into sort of the family business, But it’s not even the family business. It’s like the family world.”
Now firmly a family endeavor, “The Dark Crystal” is truly a labor of love for the Frouds. Their skills, as well as those of countless builders, puppeteers, fabricators and artists are proudly on display on Netflix’s latest series.
“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” begins streaming on Aug. 30. (All photos from Netflix)