Tuesday, July 31, 2007

At the Con - Henson panel

One of my most anticipated panels of comic con had to be the Henson panel. I am a huge fan of the Henson company for really a whole lot of reasons that I don't need to go into now, but aside from any politics, the most important thing is that they simply make good product. I am an old school fan of Fraggle Rock, and the muppets, and a die hard Farscape fanboy. So especially with the recent announcements of Farscape's surprising return I was eager to hear the scoop on that and any other upcoming Henson projects.

Henson came to the con mostly to present two new ventures of theirs, The Skrumps, and Puppet Up! but first they went through a few smaller developments.

Farscape. They started by mentioning the news about the webisodes. This produced a roaring cheer from the audience but that was about all they really gave us. Brian Henson and the president of SciFi.com were able to confirm that there will be a minimum of 10 webisodes of 3 - 6 minutes long each. They were spurned by the success of the Battlestar Galactica webisodes last year and hope that this can be a new beginning for the show. Henson is taking the stance that this web series could act as a bridge between two separate Farscape series. Brian Henson referenced the example of Star Trek: TNG as his aspiration a number of times, and is obviously as passionate about the franchise and its possibilities.

The panel then mentioned briefly the Fraggle Rock and new Dark Crystal films in the works, but didn't give any updates on them. They did announce a special edition Labyrinth dvd though, and mention their two new manga series being made with Tokyopop, Return to Laybrinth and the prequel Legends of the Dark Crystal.

We then were treated to a new series that they are developing called Tinseltown. It's another muppet show starring a pig and a bull. They are a gay couple living in West Hollywood. The pig is an actor, the bull an agent and it was utterly hilarious. I mean really REALLY funny. They showed us video of a 5 minute sketch that they used to sell the show, and wilkl probably act as the pilot. While you can't see the show online anywhere right now, it will make its debut on the LOGO network this fall.

Onto the really main event for the panel though, we we're quickly introduced to The Skrumps. The Skrumps are new characters/creatures that live in Skrumpland, love to rock out, and have adventures. It is a series of books, a series of really neat toys, and now is a new animated television series as well. It stars Whisbone (the blue one) and his best buddy Skrumpy (the red one) they are in an awesome band called the Grumblebellys (while i think they really are supposed to be totally awesome it reminds me a bit of Wyld Stallions, mixed with Tenacious D). Their friend Raisins is the green one and she is kind of the level headed groupie of the bunch. She is also like in love with Skrumpy. Together these friends plan to take the rock world by storm. or at least thats the basic gist of the stroy. :)

The panel session was cool though. They made a really big deal about their animation process, and the Henson Digital Performance Studio. Its really an interesting process, I'd encourage you to check out this production video of how they do it. Basically they animate much the same way they puppeteer, which gives the characters a kind of more organic feel, and a kind of less fluid feel. It really moves quite different than any animation I've ever seen though. After showing us the video linked there, they actually did a live demo in full get up of creating and bringing the character to life. And then we had Raisins do a live Q&A with us. from a video monitor. It was pretty fascinating.

I liked the idea for the Skrumps, and I love the design but I'm not thrilled about the style or content of the show. I also don't know how funny it will be. I mean its aimed squarely at kids, so maybe they'll be more interested in it. And maybe it will grow on me, there are a couple of pretty funny elements to the dynamic between the characters, and I like that the world has really been expansively fleshed out by the creator in his book and toy series. Check out the Skrumps on Yahoo Kids! if you'd like to see more of them, including a bunch of videos. For now the Skrumps are being shopped around to various networks, although I'm sure it will land somewhere soon.

Finally, they move onto the big finale for the panel: Puppet Up! This is an adult improv stage show that the Henson people have been putting on for a year or so now. It is basically a solid acting troop doing uncensored improv live on stage, only they are doing it all through puppets. So simple, yet so effective. I think the puppets let people release their zaniness.

What we saw was very funny at least. Although unfortunately everyone on stage had to censor themselves as there were a number of kids in attendance. But one of the best things about Puppet Up! is that they get people from the audience to participate. For the comic con panel though they had a special guest come in to join them on stage for a live demonstration. And who was that special guest? None other than Ben Browder, of Farscape and Stargate SG-1 fame!!! Awesome! He walked out on stage and assured us that while he had a passing familiarity with puppets he had never operated one before. And then Ben Browder, Brian Henson and a third puppeteer (the same girl who operates and voices Raisins) performed a sketch for us which was needless to say totally hilarious.

Puppet Up! has been on stage in New York, Vegas, and Edinborough, but from now on it will be held monthly at the Avalon theater in Hollywood. If you, like me though probably won't be making it down to LA anytime soon, you can go watch sketches that people have performed with the puppet up crew at TBS.com just select the Featured videos section, then Puppet Up! Uncensored. There are like 25 sketches online right now, and I believe they add a new one every week. Its pretty damn funny stuff, and I'd recommend you check it out. Although keep in mind that its really not all super safe for work. I mean nothing too bad, but if you're looking for puppets making sexual innuendo and swearing, this is definitely the show for you. The latest episode of the Henson Company podcast features audio from the stage show at comic con.

And that finally brought us to the end of the Henson panel at comic con. It was a pretty awesome panel I thought. There was a bunch of fun stuff in the works for the company. And I'm looking forward to even more in the future.


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