Tavern At The Crossroads
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The Grand Finale challenge arrived. Melissa, Ben, and Robert arrived for their last creature brief. Gigi Edgley met them outside the Shop, delivering the nerve-wracking news that Brian Henson wanted to meet with each of them one-on-one in his office before the final challenge.
Melissa's meeting was first. Brian noticed that she has been pretty much unflappable so far, and this challenge was going to involve her being given a team of Creature Shop workers to manage.
Ben's meeting was next. Brian had one major piece of advice for Ben. It wasn't "The Ben Show". Ben needed to learn to delegate, or he wouldn't win the contest.
Robert was the last to meet with Brian. Brian thought Robert's creatures were beautiful, but perhaps a little too clean and gentle.
When it was time for the three designers to get their last creature brief, they were tasked with building a full-body creature, a fantasy traveler who meets two other travelers in their wanderings. When the three creatures meet up, they tell their stories of the journey they're on. For the first time, the designers' creatures were going to interact with each other.
But, as it was the final challenge, there were added requirements. Each designer had to design and build their own prop for their creatures, and the story of that prop had to be part of the traveler's story. What Brian considered to be the "tough" part? The creatures were going to be walking into the bar set, and once the creature walked in, the designers would be allowed to cut camera and re-set the creature while it was sitting down to make for the best performance. In addition, there needed to be one special effect of the designer's choice. And, of course, they only had three days to build the creature.
All three of the Creature Shop masters were involved this week, with each one being randomly assigned to a designer. When the designers went to the shop to meet their teams, they got quite a surprise. Each of the previously eliminated designers were back to help them build this last challenge.
Team Robert was comprised of Robert, Russ, and Ivonne.
Team Ben was comprised of Tina and Jake.
Team Melissa was comprised of Chaz and Lex.
Ben's planned for his creature to be very sad and the last of his species. He spun a tale that involved his creature creating some embryos that he wanted to give to someone to raise. Ben knew that Jake's skill in sculpting would help, and he knew that Tina's ability with fabrication would be of benefit. The special effect? Ben wanted Tina to find a way to make the creature cry.
Melissa's creature was an older character, wearing tattered clothing and who would have smoke coming out of his nose. She began with sketches, using Lex's ability with fur and costumes, and trying to determine what Chaz's strengths actually were. As Chaz had been the first designer to be eliminated, Melissa had no idea what she was working with.
Robert took Brian's words to heart. He sketched out a rougher character, one he called a "lost traveler". Robert envisioned scruffy, ratty clothes. His prop would be a crystal ball.
Ben was immediately faced with the need to delegate, and while he knew his team's talents, it was still difficult for him to let go and let them work. He fought the urge to jump in, but it was a battle. His one trick was to let Jake sculpt as much as possible.
Team Melissa began Day Two of the build with Chaz having difficulties with the eye mechs. Melissa tried her best to help him, but it was still worrying her. Chaz had some experience with different eye mechs, but Melissa had developed her skills on the set used by the Creature Shop. Finally, they got it fixed.
Robert felt comfortable knowing that Ivonne had already managed to get a good portion of the body up and running. Russ had moved on from working on the creature's hands to the prop. Robert designed a prop crystal ball, and decided to incorporate the special effect into that prop as well. When the box containing the ball opened, there would be a dry ice effect inside that gave them a nice spooky fog effect.
When Ben finally had the small prop embryo fabricated and lit, he seemed to take great pride in creeping Melissa out with it.
Robert did finally get to incorporate something he'd always wanted to do. He designed this creature mask to incorporate a mechanized sneer. Just one bit to bring up the left side of the creature's upper lip. He thought it would be the something extra to wow the judges. He also decided to use Russ's abilities to manufacture the option for the creature to sneeze and wipe its nose with a hanky.
Along with Day Three came some serious pressure. It was the last day of the final challenge. Team Melissa was busy with Chaz designing a way for the performer to control smoke coming out of the creature's nose. It took some work, but he finally rigged a button that the performer could step on that would control the flow of smoke through the nostrils.
Master Sessions were interesting. Julie Zobel was assigned to Team Ben. Pete Brooke was assigned to Team Robert. John Criswell was assigned to Team Melissa.
Julie had some advice for Ben based on her experience with the Flintstones to make sure the connections are really tight, as the crying special effect had the capacity to blow out the creature's electronics if the water connections weren't really tight.
Pete was truly impressed with the sneer that Robert had managed to incorporate, but he suggested some touchups with the creature's face to scruff it up a bit more.
John loved Melissa's ideas for the special effects that were added to her creature. He asked her specifically what she had planned for the cut-camera reset of the creature for its close-up, and suggested mechanizing the eyebrows on the creature. He thought she had enough time to pull it off, and so did she. Melissa put Chaz right on it as soon as John left their workspace.
When Day Three wrapped, Melissa, Ben, and Robert were by themselves. They were given a little time alone to finish their creatures while their team left the shop. When all was said and done, the trio indulged in a group hug and headed out of the shop for the last Screen Test.
During rehearsal, each designer got a surprise from their family. Melissa's father and husband arrived, as did Robert's parents, and Ben's mother and girlfriend. Melissa was moved to tears by their presence. Robert couldn't have been happier to share that moment with his parents after all of their years of support. Ben was thrilled that his mom and girlfriend were there, but he felt an added pressure because of that.
The designers walked into the screen test to a full round of applause from a packed house. In addition to Kirk Thatcher, Beth Hathaway, and Brian Henson at the judges' table, we were joined by Lisa Henson, CEO of the Jim Henson Company. The family members were in the audience as well as the three masters who've been with us all season. The rest of the audience was filled by employees of the Jim Henson Company. The designers were about to audition not just for their future boss, but their future colleagues as well.
The creatures were each operated by the two eliminated designers who'd worked on it, as well as a professional puppeteer. Melissa's creature entered first, followed shortly by Ben's creature and then Robert's. The cameras were cut, and the extra performers were added to each creature for the close-ups. Melissa even took a moment to run a fan over the performer in her costume, as well as make sure he had something to drink under that furry costume.
Melissa's creature told its story first. Abernash was his name, and it was his task to give the elixir of life to someone. He gave it to Ben's creature, but didn't warn him of the spanner in the works. While the elixir would give him more life, if he didn't give it to someone else in 100 years, it would begin to drain that life away.
Ben's creature, So Lee, was one whose race had embarked on a quest for genetic perfection. Unfortunately, that experimentation resulted in a virus that destroyed his race, save for him. He worked to create the fetus in the jar, his son. But as he has the virus, he has sealed the fetus into the jar to protect his son from the virus that destroyed his people.
Robert's creature, Vlorkof, had traveled with the crystal ball to give it to someone who could control it. If he didn't his race would be completely destroyed. The crystal ball ended up with Abernash, who claimed he had traded one curse for another.
When the screen test was finished, the audience was dismissed and it was just the designers and the judges.
Melissa was first on the critique block. Beth liked the neck and deltoid build-out on Abernash, but she would have liked to see more articulation in the mouth. Kirk was particularly impressed with the entrance. Kirk just wanted teeth in the creature. Unfortunately, he was a little too clean for Brian to believe he was over 100 years old. He did, however, think it was the best sculpt she's had to date.
Ben was next on the chopping block. Rick was truly impressed by the crying effect, and thought he had an amazing sculpt, but thought the color scheme was too monochromatic. Beth pointed out a lot of empty space over the creature's head in the suit, and Ben pointed out that when they tested that, he had been in the suit and therefore not in a position to see it. She told him to look in a mirror going forward. Brian thought the story was very effective, and where Ben chose to use the special effect in the telling of the story was excellent.
Robert's Vlorkof was next up for critique. Beth loved the body work. She would have liked to have seen a little bit more of a neck, and he might have been a little too flat-faced. Rick was impressed by the wardrobe, and loved the sculpt on the face. Brian loved the sneeze, as well as the sneer during the screen test.
Melissa received the highest marks for fabrication, sculpting, painting, finishing, and costuming. She was knocked a bit on mechanization and the quality of her story.
Ben's story was excellent. The effect of crying with emotional high point of the story worked well. Unfortunately, the extra space at the cowl was too distracting and the paint job fell flat. Brian felt that Ben got the highest marks for the story, the special effect, and the importance of the prop to the story.
Robert's creature had a strong initial impact. Kirk loved the accent on the character. Beth loved the fabrication on the body. The story was fine, but the prop didn't quite connect with it, and Kirk thought the special effect fell flat. He said he didn't even notice the dry ice.
The eliminated designers were present for the final results, and everyone waited with anticipation. Brian wanted one last word with each of the designers before they announced the results. Brian was inspired by watching Melissa's growth over the weeks of the contest. He found Ben's ideas innovative. Brian had also found Robert's finishing and sculpting consistently impressive. It came down to the judges trying to determine which of those creatures they felt the most comfortable shooting on.
Robert won the day, and got a big hug from his new boss, Brian Henson. Robert has become the newest employee of the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Well done, Robert!