MAKING MONSTERS

From Cult Times #62

See also: Part 1 here

The Jim Henson Creature Shop: where fanciful ideas become fantastic creations. They’ve got their own skin, you know…

Too long in the make-up chair, and D'Argo became hysterical

Part of eight pages of Farscape coverage - illustrated with behind-the-scenes photographs of the monster-makers - in this issue of Cult Times!

Who knows what bizarre alien creatures lurk in the depths of Space? It’s a mystery that guarantees almost limitless artistic freedom. Renowned world-wide, who else but Jim Henson’s Creature Shop could be relied upon to take Farscape into such territory? After dazzling audiences with the likes of The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Storyteller, Babe and various Muppet movies, the workshop is using its trademark blend of cutting-edge puppetry, animatronics and prosthetics to create a whole new galaxy of weird, wild and completely wonderful aliens.

Farscape is a terrific place for us to show what we can do,” notes the Sydney Creature Shop’s creative supervisor, Dave Elsey. “It’s always been a great showcase for animatronics and puppets and the prosthetics, but it’s actually started to go beyond that now. We’ve started mixing them all up: we’ve got animatronic make-ups and we’ve invented new stuff that we’ve never thought of before. This show has just got such a huge appetite for ideas and it’s become a cavalcade of monsters every week.”

“If you asked everyone in the Creature Shop what their dream project would be, it would probably be something like Farscape,” agrees the London Creature Shop’s creative director, Jamie Courtier. “It’s also really exciting for the Creature Shop to be working on our own product. Over the years, we’ve been of service to other production companies a lot of the time. So it’s nice to be doing something for The Jim Henson Company.”

As soon as Rockne S O’Bannon had developed the core concept of the show (under the working title of ‘Space Chase’), veteran Creature Shop designer Jamie Courtier was charged with the task of designing its principal elements. “We had a fast and furious design phase which involved drawing the principal characters,” he recalls. “We also worked on Moya, various bits of Space paraphernalia and a bad ship – the equivalent of Star Wars’ Death Star – which wasn’t used. We even worked on a robot who was going to be a major character, but that idea was dropped as well.”

Armed with a “pretty good map of the characters’ psychological make-ups,” Courtier and crew came up with a set of initial designs which drew upon an extremely eclectic range of visual metaphors. The look of the symbiotic Pilot was inspired by the mental image of “an overworked office worker”. Rygel was visualized as “the ultimate Napoleonic small guy” with a Mekon-like flying platform, while the villainous Scorpius was always conceived as an “insect-based character”.

In a radical change from the finished product, the Delvian Priestess Zhaan was originally envisaged as “a rotund bald blue man called Zen”. Similarly, D’Argo was initially set to be “a snub-nosed reptile” before he was reworked into the bony-skulled Luxan warrior viewers are familiar with.

“The characters we came up with weren’t quite the same characters you see now on Farscape,” elaborates Courtier. “But our ethos was always the same. Our main goal was really to avoid stereotypes and come up with our own original designs. And the whole idea behind the project was always to make a show that would be edgier and funnier than Science Fiction series had been. We also set out to bring movie-style production values to the show. The intention was to bring Rolls Royce animatronics to a venue which usually depends on prosthetics...”

David Bassom

• This is just an excerpt. Get Cult Times #62 for the full feature...

• Back to Part 1 of our online feature, for insights into the scripts...

Don't miss this issue of Starburst, #267 - Rockne O'Bannon discusses creating Farscape inside!

Starburst #267

Images © The Henson Company
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction.