Life In Motion
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Ben, Russ, Jake, Melissa, Robert, and Lex are all still in the running for the chance to work full-time for the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Our contestants were truly psyched to take on this week's challenge. Lady Gaga's mechanical unicorn from her "Born This Way Ball" World Tour inspired this week's challenge. In fact, our contestants even got to get up close and personal with the unicorn as they were given this week's brief.
The brief: the contestants were teamed up in pairs to design and build a large-scale creature, which came to life more through its movement than its appearance. Much like Gaga's unicorn, which was designed so that the puppeteers were visible as they were making the creature move, our contestants were allowed to make the puppeteers visible. The believability of the creature movement was the most important factor for this week's challenge. In a change from normal procedures, the puppeteer would be consulting with each team at the very beginning. Since the contestants would also be puppeteers on this build, they were going to be allowed a technical rehearsal in the shop on the last day as well. To make matters even more interesting, the creatures were to be painted in UV paint so it would come alive under blacklight.
Our contestants were in three teams: Team Lex and Jake, Team Ben and Melissa, and Team Russ and Robert. Our creature shop master this week was, once again, the one and only John Criswell.
Team Ben and Melissa were already thinking of a birdlike creature. The puppeteer loved it, and really wanted to be the one operating the wings. Ben took the head, which, given his height, gave them a very tall creature to work with. Team Lex and Jake were on a different approach. With Jake's affinity for reptiles, they were thinking of a lizard based on the Komodo dragon. As neither Jake nor Lex had experience as foam fabricators, they were definitely working out of their comfort zone. Team Robert and Russ were also on the page of an ostrich-like creature. Russ didn't care that Ben and Melissa were working on a bird. They could take it and run in a different direction all their own.
When Jake began sculpting the head of their reptile in clay, Ben looked at him a little sideways. When detail wasn't part of the judging process, why was Jake going for a sculpted head?
Team Ben and Melissa were having communication issues from the beginning. Melissa didn't feel as though she were being heard, and was worried it wasn't going to bode well for her during the judging. While Ben felt as though while he knew the idea would work, Melissa was either needing too much explanation, or telling him it wouldn't work. They were going to need to find a better way to collaborate.
Team Jake and Lex were in trouble. While Jake was working on sculpting the head and the feet, that left Lex working on all of the foam for the lizard's body, something that was decidedly not her specialty.
Team Russ and Robert were having a grand time putting their bird together. Russ experimented with ways of making the backpack lighter contribute some grace to the bird's movement.
When John Criswell came through the shop for his master session with the contestants, it was not the dour session that some had been before. Team Russ and Robert wowed him with their bird's head. Robert had wired the eyes to blink, and the sculpted foam of the mouth was decidedly unique and designed for the puppeteer's wish to have his hand inside the head.
John cautioned Team Ben and Melissa about their bird's wings. Ben was confident the plan would be good, but John's experience told them that there would always be a challenge on that front. John was worried that Team Lex and Jake were not quite there. He cautioned Jake that while he was sculpting the head, Lex was spending all of her time fabricating with the foam for the body. Jake, however, dedicated himself to trying to put the legs together, even though they were also out of his comfort zone. They ended day two with more to do than they could probably pull off.
Day three saw Team Ben and Melissa falling victim to John Criswell's prediction. The wings were too complicated. Fortunately, Melissa had figured out how to communicate with Ben on her ideas to have them heard. Team Jake and Lex spent the last four hours covering their creature and doing the airbrushing. Lex was more willing to have an ugly creature when the lights came up, just as long as the creature looked good when the lights went down.
Team Russ and Robert decided to add a last-minute nest and eggs for their creature, allowing them to set more of a scene with their creature.
Screen test day came, and the teams were all additional puppeteers with their assigned performer. Team Russ and Robert were first with their creature, named "Lady Cacaw". Team Ben and Melissa gave the judges the Long-Necked Loon. The judges loved the creation. They especially loved the final design for the wings. It was simple, but absolutely effective.
Team Lex and Jake introduced their reptile, "Tiny". Kirk Thatcher gave them credit for doing the go big or go home, but it was hard for him. He said they'd used a similar trick to what they'd used on the Rancor in Return of the Jedi, where instead of a foam suit, they used layers of latex "fabric" to achieve the rippling effect of the skin.
During the critiques, Brian Henson gave viewers (and aspiring creature designers/costumers) some fascinating tidbits of information. Every feather on Big Bird is individually applied in order to make the body look as good as it does. Big Bird gets a first-class airline ticket whenever he travels, so the costume doesn't get crushed.
Also, he gave anyone working in blacklight a nice trick of knowledge. To keep something from glowing under blacklight? Spray sunblock on it.
When it came down to it, the judges liked "Lady Cacaw", but were blown away by the Long-Necked Loon. The movement was what really worked. The wings and feathers were the lynchpin. Unfortunately, "Tiny" wasn't working. The movement didn't come across as well as it should have, and Brian was concerned about Jake spending time sculpting a head when the challenge was about movement.
Team Ben and Melissa won the day, with Melissa's wings earning her the winning designer title for the week. Team Russ and Robert were deemed safe for the week.
Team Lex and Jake were the team that did not impress. The creature was far more ambitious than they had time to accomplish. Lex was, unfortunately, the eliminated designer this week.
We wish Lex all of the best, and we know that we'll see her work again in the future.