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A Master Sculptor and FX Artist Explains How to Restore a Jim Henson Puppet

Image: Universal Pictures
Image: Universal Pictures

After making a movie, actors and directors typically go on to do other things—like make more movies, sell beauty products, or become the Governor of California, and then go back to making more movies. But what happens to the props, figures, and puppets that help make a movie come to life?

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Often, they end up in some Hollywood warehouse collecting dust until someone needs to dig them out for some ill-advised reboot. But sometimes, if you’re a puppet designed by Jim Henson, you’re brought back to be put in a museum. But before you get there, you need to be touched up a bit.

As part of the Museum of the Moving Image’s new permanent Jim Henson exhibition, sculptor and FX artist Tom Spina was tasked with restoring some of Henson’s most famous puppets, including a bunch from classic fantasy film The Dark Crystal.

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We met with Spina, who spoke at length about the intricate process of puppet restoration, and showed us some of puppets he and his team were working on.

“On something like the podling, it’s a relatively small puppet. It doesn’t look like it would’ve needed all that much effort. But quite a bit of time went into that one. We had to refurbish the hair, which had been matted over time. We had take some steps to conserve the foam latex skin of the face. We call it “sympathetic restoration.” We don’t want to paint over original paint that saw the film, we can’t modernize it. You have to be faithful to this original, magical stuff.

Watch the full video and our interview with Spina below.

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DISCUSSION

emmasaltsugar
ThisLatteIsRidiculous

Awww! 💚 Henson to me epitomized what scary should be. As a child, I adored his sweet but scary monsters. Nowadays when I watch a horror, I expect it to be not just imaginative but joyful. I also love reading scary muppet stories. Some people complied scenes of muppets eating other muppets. Then there was THIS ONE that was on fucking Sesame Street. Rubber ducky is basically a demon. Imaginative, but scared me to death. I understand the network pulled it as too scary for children. From frigging Sesame Street! What are your scary Muppet memories?