9/10-12/1970 – ‘In Denver doing Computer Animation for Sesame #’s 10 and 4 – Second season of Sesame Street.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

Jim was always interested in the next technological advancement to further express his creative vision, so it’s not surprising that he would seek out the earliest innovations in computer animation. For the second season of Sesame Street, Jim was contracted to make a series of counting films using a range of techniques. Some were live action, some were made using stop-motion animation, Jim painted under the camera to bring other numbers to life, and he worked with Maurice Sendak to produce two traditionally animated films. For numbers 4 and 10, however, Jim was eager to try a new analog computer system called Scanimate. Invented by Lee Harrison III in the late 1960s and built by the Computer Image Corporation in Denver, the Scanimate process involved back-lit high-contrast artwork that was mounted on animation pegs and scanned by a progressive scan monochrome camera. According to Scanimate chronicler Dave Sieg, those working on this technology were, “…an interesting mix of technicians and creative geniuses that understood the subtleties of color and motion that gave the work its real value.”

It’s unclear how Jim learned about Scanimate, but he had been interested in electronics in general and had used his Moog synthesizer to great effect on numerous projects. His colleague, Jerry Juhl, was an early adapter of computers and would have been intrigued with the process as well. Jerry wrote the scripts for “Number 4” and “Number 10” which Jim recorded the week before going out to Denver. The system allowed for the animation to be created in real time which made for an efficient production process. Jim arrived with the audio tracks and detailed storyboards in hand, and was able to complete the visuals for the film in just three days. While visually unimpressive in the context of today’s digital graphics, Jim’s Scanimate work was cutting edge in 1970 and an example of how he was always leading the way in the world of visual media.

For more information about the Scanimate computer animation system, go to: http://scanimate.zfx.com/

Jerry Juhl’s script with Jim’s directions and annotations for “Number 10”, 1970.

Jim’s planning pages for “Number 4”, 1970.

Jim’s planning pages for “Number 4”, 1970.

Jim’s planning pages for “Number 4”, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard for “Number 4”, 1970.

Jim’s storyboard for “Number 4”, 1970.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 09-September '70, 1970, Sesame Street | Tagged , , ,
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9/7/1979 – ‘Fly to LA for the Emmys – we don’t win but Frank and I do a very successful Piggy and Kermit bit introducing the rules.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

When Jim flew out to Los Angeles, he was no stranger to Emmy Award ceremonies. He won his first Emmy back in 1958 for his Washington show Sam and Friends and had taken home several more of the statuettes for his work on Sesame Street. The Muppet Show was popular with the Television Academy voters and had been nominated nine times, winning two awards by the time Jim and Frank Oz appeared on the 1979 telecast.

Awards shows are difficult to enliven for television audiences, so the producers of the Emmy program, looking for entertainment value, were eager to incorporate the Muppets into the proceedings. In 1977, the first year they were nominated, Kermit and Fozzie were assigned to present the award for Outstanding Writing of A Drama or Comedy Special – Adaptation. They made a joke about the difficulty they might have opening the envelope, given their physical limitations. Fozzie theatrically dropped it, coming up with the enclosed card (with some help from below), thus solving the problem. That year, Rita Moreno won for her performance on The Muppet Show.

The 1979 appearance featured Miss Piggy and Kermit in a much longer bit, starting the program with the standard reading of the rules. Miss Piggy was decked out in her red carpet finery, working under the assumption that she was hosting the show and presenting awards. Kermit explained their true purpose, adding “After all, how can you give out awards unless people know how they were nominated in the first place?” Miss Piggy replied, “Who cares…as long as I win!” She made some catty remarks about the real host, Cheryl Ladd, and burst into song. After more stalling, Miss Piggy finished the rules and left the stage complaining, “I bet Steve Martin wouldn’t have done it! The dinner better be good, I’m warning you…There goes my career, I just know it…I struggle for years to make it and I blow it in one lousy night! You only like these things ‘cause they have a green room backstage…”

Press release about Kermit and Fozzie’s 1977 Emmy show appearance.

Kermit and Fozzie on the 1977 Emmy Awards show.

Dave Lazer, Dave Goelz, Jim, Frank Oz with their Muppet Show Emmys, 1978. Photo courtesy of CBS.

Invitation to the 1979 Emmy Awards Presentations.

Various awards on display at The Jim Henson Company.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 09-September '79, 1979, Appearances | Tagged , , ,
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9/4/1980 – ‘Begin shooting The Great Muppet Caper! Begin in Battersea Park – bicycle sequence – Brian operates Marionettes.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

When production got underway for the second Muppet feature film, it seemed wise to start with one of the most complicated production numbers of this incredibly ambitious project. Along with water ballet, sky diving, and the precision of donning a tuxedo, The Great Muppet Caper was to include a musical scene featuring all the characters riding bicycles in the park while singing Joe Raposo’s melodious “Couldn’t We Ride.” Kermit had ridden a bike in The Muppet Valentine Show, Emmet Otter’s Jug-band Christmas, and most memorably, in The Muppet Movie, but this would be the first time multiple characters took to the road at once.

To make the scene believable, Jim planned to use whatever was in his arsenal – this included animatronics, radio control, and numerous shots from different vantage points. He also used marionette techniques, having used stringed versions of his characters over the years, dating back to commercials in the ‘60s and The Great Santa Claus Switch and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen in the early ‘70s. For the large marionettes in Caper, a special piece of equipment, an Iron Fairy crane, was needed to hold the puppeteers. Jim’s teenaged son Brian had a knack for this form of puppetry and joined the 110-member production team. He would go on to operate marionettes in many productions over the years.

In his application to be considered for a visual effects Academy Award, Jim detailed the work on the scene. Part of the challenge, he explained, was that, “…the puppet’s feet on the pedals had to turn in time with the beat of the music and both to be in time with each other and travel at realistic speed.” He went on, describing that there were three different types of platforms rigged to the crane. When Miss Piggy and Kermit rode side by side and then turned in two circles, the marionettists worked on two circular platforms. As the bicycles went into their circles, the crane stopped moving and the momentum was carried on by the puppeteers who worked around the outside of the platforms. Once the puppeteers got back to their start position, the crane started up and the bicycles continued on a straight path. Several additional paragraphs detailed the use of radio control for the heads, and the use of a tow rope from a large tricycle and variously sized trolleys for the group shots. Additional pages described six additional scenes from the film. Incredibly, the film’s only Oscar nomination was for the music.

Tad Krzanowski, Jim, and Franz “Faz” Fazakas in Battersea Park shooting the bicycle scene for The Great Muppet Caper, 1980.

Map plan for the bicycle scene in The Great Muppet Caper, 1980.

Storyboard for the bicycle scene in The Great Muppet Caper, 1980.

Publicity still featuring the Muppets on bicycles, 1980.

Brian Henson marionetting Scooter on a bicycle in The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1983. Photos by Kerry Hayes.

Brian Henson marionetting Scooter on a bicycle in The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1983. Photos by Kerry Hayes.

Brian Henson marionetting Scooter on a bicycle in The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1983. Photos by Kerry Hayes.

Brian Henson and Jim above the set of The Christmas Toy, 1986.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 09-September '80, 1980, Great Muppet Caper | Tagged , ,
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9/1/1964 – ‘Signed Bernie as manager.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

After a September 1961 appearance on The Today Show, Jim got a call from the William Morris Agency offering to represent The Muppets. This was a big step toward becoming more nationally recognized and opened the door to expansive opportunities. A young executive at the agency, Bernie Brillstein, took on Jim and his characters and set out to make them stars. It was through his efforts that Rowlf landed the job with The Jimmy Dean Show and began appearing regularly across the television dial. In 1964, Brillstein branched out to work with Marty Kummer and Jerry Weintraub under the corporate banner of Management 3 and signed Jim as his client.

Brillstein spent the 1960s marketing the Muppets to variety shows and pitching other projects developed by Jim and Jerry Juhl that ranged from experimental television specials to live-action feature films. He created a summer variety show in 1967 called Our Place and made Rowlf a lead, introducing him to other celebrities like Carol Burnett. When Brillstein went out on his own the following year, Jim went with him. Brillstein got Jim meetings with network executives to discuss a Muppet series and sold them on one-off Muppet specials. In 1975, Brillstein sold Saturday Night Live to NBC, making sure that there was a place for Jim’s creations that first season, and cementing access to a host of young talent that were connected with the show. Between the comic actors and guests of SNL and his other clients, Brillstein’s contacts made finding guest stars and cameos for Jim’s projects relatively easy.

With great mutual respect, the relationship between Jim and Brillstein weathered an array of business arrangements over the years. Brillstein represented Jim in various capacities for most of his professional life, and Jim expressed his appreciation in many ways. As a token of friendship in 1973, Jim had a Kermit-headed turtle made by his workshop as a gift, reflecting Brillstein’s company’s logo which featured a turtle. Jim’s affection for Brillstein was memorialized in The Muppet Movie – the opening scene where Kermit is first tempted by the silver screen features a Hollywood agent lost in the swamp named, appropriately enough, Bernie. Brillstein returned the tribute in 1991 by co-hosting the dedication of Jim’s star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Bernie Brillstein in the 1960s.

When Brillstein went out on his own in 1968, Jim showed his loyalty by taking out this advertisement.

Letter on The Bernie Brillstein Company stationery featuring his turtle logo, 1971.

Brillstein in the 1990s.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 09-September '64, 1964, Muppet Show, Muppet Specials, Saturday Night Live, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,
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8/23-27/1965 – ‘Bob Miltenberger works for us – Rick too. Shoot 6 commercials for Wilson’s Meats and a sales film – shoot 8 commercials for Claussen’s Bread – All color.’

Historical information provided by The Jim Henson Company Archivist:

By the summer of 1965, Jim’s business was growing by leaps and bounds. Jane was busy with their four children, including a new-born, and the others, Jerry Juhl, Don Sahlin and Frank Oz were juggling to keep up with all the appearances, commercials, sales films, and the development of a Cinderella special. Jim’s other activities included developing Rowlf merchandise, work as a board member of the Puppeteers of America, creating a cow puppet that would work with Chroma-key for the Cloverland Dairy, and following up on interest in Time Piece. He would hire a couple of people in the fall to help in the office and on shoots, but that summer, he needed help fulfilling his commitments and called on his cousins, Barbara (aka Bob) and Rick Miltenberger to help out.

The Chicago-based Wilson’s Meat Company became an important client for Jim and launched his relationship with the Campbell-Mithun agency and their other advertiser, La Choy Chow Mein. Along with commercials featuring the characters Skip and Scoop in Wilkins style ID spots, Jim created two short films for the Wilson Company sales meetings highlighting the advertising campaigns and parodying the creative process. The first set of commercials and the first sales film was shot in August 1965. For the latter, Jim spoke reverently in voice-over about Muppets Incorporated while depicting scenes of a fictional shoot that seemed to be more of a wild party with music, girls and beer than a serious television production. It got great laughs from the sales force and led to a second campaign and an even more ambitious sales film the following year.

The work for the Carolina-based Claussen’s Bakery was a continuation of an ad campaign that had started the previous year with sixteen Wilkins-type commercials featuring Kermit and another character called Mac. The 1965 shoot, in color, would be for the final eight commercials for this advertiser and was featured the following January in Advertising Age.

See Skip and Scoop in a Wilson’s Meat commercial, 1966.

Jim’s list of commercials produced for the Wilson’s Meat Company in August, 1965.

Jim’s list of commercials produced for Claussen’s Bakery, 1964-1965.

Jim’s Claussen’s Bread ads featured in Advertising Age, January 17, 1966.

Jim’s storyboard panel for the Tower of Pisa Wilson’s Meat ad, 1966.

Skip and Scoop selling hot dogs for Briggs, a subsidiary of Wilson’s Meats, 1965.

Read more from Jim Henson’s Red Book in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal available from Chronicle Books.

Topics: 08-August '65, 1965, Commercials, Time Piece | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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