Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Dark Crystal

I first saw The Dark Crystal on the big screen when it came out in 1982. I was 12, and I was instantly enchanted. I loved the characters and the story, but what particularly caught my attention was the world-building, and all the different creatures that inhabited the world of Thra. I really wanted to make my own strange and wonderful creatures, but I wasn't sure how I would achieve that. It wasn't until I realised that crochet could be used to make things in three dimensions that I started to work on my own creations, and I was very much inspired by Brian Froud, the artist who designed the world of the Dark Crystal.



 Various creatures I've made that have had a bit of inspiration from Brian Froud's creativity.

So, you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that Netflix were making a prequel series to the film - The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. A few weeks ago I saw that the magazine SFX was offering readers the chance to go to a talk with Brian Froud at the 'Into Thra' exhibition in London (for free!) and, being lucky enough to live fairly close, I booked it immediately.

Once the show was released I binged it in a few days, so that I would have finished before going to the exhibition. As I started watching I knew that I had to crochet something to take with me, and the obvious choice was Fizzgig, the fuzzy little friend of Kira in the film. His species appears in the prequel, including one with an eyepatch called Baffi. I will write a separate blog post with more details about making him, but suffice to say that I just finished him in time, and so he made the trip up to London with me. My rucksack was rather full, but luckily he's mostly fluff, so he didn't weigh too much!


I had a fun day up in London, visiting the British Library and the National Gallery, and in the early evening I headed to the BFI Southbank. When I arrived I was greeted by sight of the Emperor on his throne, Aughra in a glass case, and staff who were all wearing 'Order of Lesser Service' t-shirts (which I would very much like to have). We all went into a screening room to watch The Crystal Calls, the 'making-of' documentary which is also available on Netflix. I'd already seen it, but it was good to watch it on the big screen. Then Brian Froud came on stage (to loud applause) and was interviewed. He was just as lovely as I'd hoped he'd be, full of lots of interesting information about his work on the film and the show. He joked that after seeing his younger self on the documentary, he was turning into one of his creations!

He talked a little bit about how great it is to create something entirely with puppets, because of the reality they bring. He's not against CGI (and he thought that Jim Henson would have embraced it, as he loved new technology), and said what a useful tool it was on the show, to remove puppeteers in green screen and add more details to the puppets' expressions. However, he did say that CGI characters often lack weight, and that animators would do well to create puppets of their characters to see how they move in the real world.

Lore, an unusally shaped puppet (no spoilers, but if you've seen the show you'll know which character this is) was performed using the Japanese Bunraku style of puppetry, where you can see the puppeteers, but they were removed to give a character with a really unusual way of moving. An interesting mix of an ancient art and modern technology. Brian said that Lore was insprired by the stone tors on Dartmoor, where he lives, and the head was based to some degree on a hamburger!

Brian talked about the fact that Thra has a very different sensibility to our world. Everything is alive - rocks, plant, maybe even clothes. You'll see on the documentary that the people who made the costumes tried to neaten up his designs, not realising that the clothes are supposed to be asymmetrical and organic to a degree. Many of the costumes were made from expensive fabrics, and some of the designers were horrified by the amount of 'aging' he and his wife Wendy were subjecting them to to make them look more like they fit in the world. Luckily the director, Louis Leterrier, was fully behind what they were trying to create or, in this case, destroy.

Brian and Wendy wanted to spend time at the beginning of preparation for the series to make lots of background creatures, which is something they did when they started work on the original film. Unfortunately there wasn't time in the schedule for this and they had to get straight on with the main characters. So they came in at weekends (I think along with their son Toby who also worked on the series) and made little creatures, often out of scraps in the bins, to go in the background of the scenes. However, when Louis saw them he liked some of them enough to put in the foreground!

One fact Brian shared was that when he started designing the Mystics for the original film, Jim Henson suggested he base them on trolls that he drew. The only trouble with this was that any designs he made for the film became the property of the Henson Company, and he didn't want to lose the copyright on creatures he'd already designed, so he gave the Mystics and extra pair of arms, thus making them different enough. The Skeksis also have four arms, but on most of the the second pair has atrophied and is hidden in their clothes, although there's a new Skeksis character in the series that uses all four of his arms.

A question was asked about whether it was his decision for the Gelfling to have a matriarchal society He said that was down to the writers, but that they'd been inspired by the 'Wall of Destiny' he designed for the film which teaches Jen and Kira about the prophecy they are part of. It features a queen figure, which became the All-Maudra in the show. It also inspired the pink Sanctuary Tree which Brian was a bit confused by, until he realised that the image they thought was a tree was actually supposed to be a castle!

All in all Brian talked for about an hour, and he was fascinating to listen to. He mentioned that when people met him, so many said that they had been inspired to do something creative or work in a creative job after watching The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, and I saw many heads nodding in the theatre. I know it's true for me, and the person I chatted to next to me was working on a stop-motion film, so I think that's very much the case.



 

Various otherworldly beings - over 70 different species were created for the series.

 Brea's journal, paints and paintbrushes.

Brea's journal and another book from the library.

After this, we were able to go and look at the exhibition, which was just crammed with interesting items and puppets from the show. There were displays of various small creatures, props, photos, scale models, and a Podling bottom! Round a corner was the Crystal itself, glowing purple, and then a table set with Skeksis delicacies and with the Chamberlain enjoying them. Round another corner were various tableaux, filled with the plants and animals of Thra, as well as several Podlings, and the  Gelfling stars of the show. It was all a treat for the eyes, and I managed to get a photo of Fizzgig in his natural environment.

 Fizzgig and I enjoying a meal with the Chamberlain. The Gelfling ears were part of the experience!


 Deet

 Brea
 
 Rian


Podlings, and a Podling bottom!

Fizzgig, feeling right at home.



  

Afterwards I picked up a free poster, and a can of Stone-in-the-Wood pale ale! I had a great time that evening, although sadly the exhibition is now over. If you're a fan, and it appears anywhere near you, make sure you go along! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy all the photos, and I'll post more about making Fizzgig in my next post.





No comments: