Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Night at the Jim Henson Company

SkekOk the Scroll Keeper, originally uploaded by smithco.
I was just at a technology demonstration at The Jim Henson Company, hosted by LA-SIGGRAPH and VES. They showed off the digital puppetry system used for Sid the Science Kid.

The evening was fantastically cool. The Jim Henson Company currently resides in Charlie Chaplin's studios. There is a lot of history at this location. And, all around the studio, especially in the reception, are amazing items from Henson productions. Unfortunately, I only had my iPhone, and could only take photos of the reception and exterior. The few decent photos I did get are on my Flickr page.
The picture above is from the reception.  It is a highly detailed, life sized, replica of a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal.  The reception also has all the awards earned by The Jim Henson Company, and a pair of Doozers were tucked above the reception desk.

The demonstration consisted of a few talks on the history of digital puppetry and then the live demonstration. A great surprise is that Brian Henson gave an unscheduled appearance to talk about his father's perspective on CGI. The live demo worked far better than I expected. Two puppeteers man a character, one for the voice and face controls and one in a motion capture suit. The performance in captured and rendered in to a CGI scene in real time. Thus, digital characters can interact with a live performance.

Afterwards, we got a short tour of the Creature Shop, where they make the puppets. They had both new and old puppets out on display and we got a short performance demonstration of a traditional rod puppet by Grant Baciocco. Among the puppets were some of the realistic animal animatronics, those used for Puppet Up! and some of the older puppets used in Dinosaurs and The Storyteller.  It is a bit surreal to see the puppets from shows I grew up with.

It certainly was a night to remember!