Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge Episodes





What Lies Beneath

When our ten creature-making contestants arrived on the beautiful grounds of the Henson Creature Shop, they're greeted by our hostess, the wonderful Gigi Edgley.  Yes, you might remember her as Farscape's Chiana!  Within a few moments, the one and only Brian Henson, Chairman of the Jim Henson Company, also joined our contestants. After a round of applause for the man of the hour, Brian informed the bright-eyed contestants that one lucky winner will receive an exclusive contract to work with the Creature Shop. 

Next, the group was off to take a grand tour of the famed Creature Shop where they'll be toiling away creatively for the next eight weeks. Of course, the contestants were like kids in a candy store the second they stepped foot inside their new workspace.

And speaking of our contestants, a quick rundown:

Lex:  35 years old from Sonoma County, CA.  She has her own creature effects shop, but would really like for her work to be more widely known so that people can see what she can really do.
Josh:  27 years old from Minot, ND.  He's an art director in a casino and freelances doing creatures, costumes, and props for others.
Melissa:  24 years old from Barstow, CA.  She started out in theatre, and went on to an internship with an effects and fabrication company. 
Ben:  24-year-old Ben is from Woodland Hills, CA.  He's picked up a lot of formal and informal training working in effects shops around Hollywood.
Chaz:  27 years old from West Falls, NY.  He's a mechanical kind of guy, but he believes his years of experience will prove his worth.
Robert: 29 years old from Kissimee, FL.  He's currently working in animatronics for Walt Disney Imagineering.
Jake:  21 years old from Pittsburgh, PA.  While he's amassed a lot of experience, he hasn't been worked in a shop yet.  He believes that fact will make him push harder to prove himself.
Tina:  28 years old from Hollywood, CA.  She grew up in a machine shop, and says she's much more at home in a studio than at a party.
Russ:  41 years old from Salt Lake City, UT.  He's been making creatures for 15 years in indie films, and firmly believes he's going to win.
Ivonne: 35-year-old Ivonne is from Los Angeles, CA.  She's been in the business for 10 years and has worked with numerous puppeteers. 

Since it's just the first week, did Brian and his merry band of mentors go a little easy on the contestants? Nope. This week's challenge was to envision a world that man has never seen, three miles below the surface of the ocean.  The contestants broke into five teams of two contestants, and those teams were tasked with designing a full-body creature that might be spotted on that ocean floor for the very first time as a sub's searchlight falls upon it.

Their mentor for the competition was Pete Brooke, the Creature Shop's creative supervisor and the top creature designer in the Henson Company. Jake could not have been more psyched by his presence. 

Ivonne and Jake were amped to get going with their crustacean-inspired design. Melissa and Ben were on the 'why hasn't it been seen yet?' question from point one, using the puppeteer's necessary motions as the base to build their design from. Over on the other end of the workshop, Tina and Russ were in trouble from the beginning.  Russ believed that Tina had put herself in charge, and he didn't feel comfortable interrupting her to put his ideas out there. Russ ended up even deferring to Tina as she went to put the detail into the foam.  Russ was worried that it was going to be a disaster before the end of the first day of the creature build.

Chaz and Robert were also not doing quite as well from the beginning.  Their idea of a slug-like creature was intriguing, but as they both came from the same educational background in the field, they weren't really building off one other's work.  Neither had a tremendous amount of experience working in foam, but they threw themselves into the creature and did their best. Practice makes perfect.

Lex and Josh were firing on all thrusters from the start. Josh's experience with low-budget creations was something that they thought would be an advantage, even though Lex originally thought it very "garage level". Tina devised the notion for her and Russ's fish that the puppeteer would wiggle their hips, and that would generate motion in the fish's tail.  Still, the communications issues that she and Russ were suffering from were not abating with time. Russ was growing increasingly frustrated, but he did his best to not be 'that guy'.

By the end of day 1 of the build, Jake and Ivonne were working like a well-oiled machine, and their crustacean had a slightly humanoid-looking face just about ready to go into the shell. When Day 2 of the build rolled around, Ben and Melissa were proving that while they might not have had as much experience as the others, they were ready and had been forged to kick butt.

When Pete walked through the shop on Day 2, Josh and Lex were already on their creature's story.  Why would he have three sets of eyes?  Why would it have a red belly for warning?  Pete was suitably impressed with how they were getting on with the creature, and looked forward to seeing the screen test.

Chaz and Robert admitted to Pete that neither of them were foam fabricators, but they were doing their best as they explained how the slug-like creature would move and how the light would hit the creature. Pete was worried about Tina and Russ's time management, as they weren't as far along as they'd like.  Russ also, perhaps mistakenly, said they were working together just fine. 

Melissa and Ben, as well as Ivonne and Jake, were both working through a lot of details in a very short amount of time.  Pete cautioned them to remember that the details would be nice, but what they had wasn't bad, and it had to be finished that day.  In all but the exact phrasing, he reminded them of that old adage, "Perfect is the enemy of done." Touché.

When screen test time rolled around, each team worked with their puppeteer to make their creature come to life. Creature designer Kirk Thatcher and creature fabricator Beth Hathaway joined Brian Henson at the judges' desk, interrogating each team on the story of their creature. 

Melissa and Ben, and Ivonne and Jake were declared safe right off the bat. 

Ultimately, the judges gave Lex and Josh's creature the highest praise.  They worked so well as a team, and they gave Josh's part of the team effort the winning stamp of approval for this week's challenge. Tina and Russ were safe this week, but by the skin of their teeth.  Brian Henson even commented on how appalling they worked together as a team. Ouch.

Chaz and Robert finished last.  Chaz, unfortunately, was the first eliminated designer. It's a bittersweet loss, as he was tasked with working on an aspect of the project that was not his strong suit. But he took it with professionalism and walked away a better designer for the experience.

With nine hopeful contestants left, it's anybody's competition!