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Friday, October 17, 2014

Puppets on Film 2014: The Dark Crystal Legacy

Next Friday marks the opening of BAMcinématek’s fourth annual collaboration with the Jim Henson Foundation on the ever-popular Puppets on Film, and we’re kicking off the festivities with an epic Dark Crystal fan fest extravaganza showcasing some of the film’s collaborators (the celebrated conceptual designers Brian and Wendy Froud) and the work of a few very talented fans.

Earlier this year, and the Jim Henson Company held two contests celebrating the film’s legacy: the “Create a Dark Crystal Creature” Contest for puppet designers and “Author Quest” for fiction writers. The winners of both contests will present their work at the fan fest, and we spoke to both of them about the experience of creating their entries.

Create a Dark Crystal Creature winner Jeff Brown

When I first heard about the contest, I was very excited to try my hand at it. The first few weeks were just spent watching the movie at any chance possible, listening to the soundtrack every day on repeat, and reading all The Dark Crystal books ever written.  I began building the creature and his story in my head.  I didn't actually start working on the physical sculpture until a week before the deadline.

Working from a few quick sketches, I sculpted the main body using Super Sculpey over a wire armature.  After baking, I painted everything with layers of acrylic paint.  I then hot- glued the fur on, being sure to pay attention to flow and pattern as I went.  The final step was adding the delicate feathers and whiskers.  The wings are detachable and after much trial and error, were made from shaped wire between two sheets of clear contact paper.  I also cut up one of my wife's old purses and sewed together his satchel with waxed thread.  For the photos, I got some different mosses and weird flowers and set up a scene outside my house near the woods.  Once the photos were taken, I spent the night before the deadline writing up Inouri's background and submitted my entry just in time.

I enjoyed the fun visuals of The Dark Crystal as a child, but it wasn't until re-watching as an adult that I could really appreciate the creative genius behind it.  Beyond the incredible story, it is a great artistic inspiration for me. The sculpting, fabrication, and set design of each of the characters, creatures, and environments is amazing. The Dark Crystal proved to me that with enough patience and hard work, you could bring your imagination to life.

Author Quest winner J. M. Lee

When it comes to how I approached the contest, I’ll admit I thought a lot about what I’ve learned from Project Runway: Read the rules, listen to the judges, manage your time, and most of all, stay true to who you are as an artist. I probably spent the most amount of time doing the research for my initial entry… reading all the companion stories, borrowing a beloved copy of World of the Dark Crystal from a family friend, reading the A. C. H. Smith novelization (even if it wasn’t to be considered as part of the canon material), and lurking in the Dark Crystal community forum.

Despite the daunting level of opportunity, I decided to write a story that was, nonetheless, very “back to basics.” I distilled my favorite themes from The Dark Crystal and other Henson stories, and threw in some of my personal favorites. There, I found the characters, their origins, and ultimately the journey.

During the second stage, after the finalists were selected and asked to revise and resubmit, I was extremely relieved to have feedback from the judging panel, Dark Crystal conceptual designers Brian and Wendy Froud and the Hensons, and the editors at Grosset & Dunlap. Having the feedback at that stage, and throughout the outlining process after finding out I was writing the final manuscript, has been invaluable.

The Author Quest anthology, featuring Lee's work, is available for purchase now.

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