fraggle rock

Puppet builder Amanda Maddock with Junior Gorg, whose parents she helped refurbish for Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock 

Ray Kachatorian
fraggle rock

The workspace of animatronics supervisor John Criswell, who designed the animatronic inner workings of Back to the Rock's Doozers (pictured) and Gorgs

Ray Kachatorian
fraggle rock, jim henson

Fabrication supervisor Scott Johnson with the five main Fraggles — Mokey, Red, Wembley, Gobo and Boober — plus Uncle Traveling Matt and musician Jamdolin, voiced by Daveed Diggs

Ray Kachatorian
Fill 1
Fill 1
May 06, 2024

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Takes Imagination to New Heights

Behind the scenes of Hollywood's famous home for practical puppet effects.

Step inside Jim Henson's Creature Shop in Burbank, and you're apt to be greeted by Pepper, a Henson team member's miniature schnauzer. The tail-wagging pooch not only embodies the shop's friendly, informal vibe, but also bears an uncanny resemblance to Sprocket, a character on Henson's popular puppet series Fraggle Rock (1983–87). Sprocket returned for the reboot, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, now in its second season on Apple TV+.

The colorful Fraggles are furry, singing, dancing denizens of a world that's accessed through a hole in the wall of Sprocket's home, where she lives with her owner, Doc. They're among the many characters dreamed up by puppeteer-animator Jim Henson, who died in 1990, and his successors. The company's other creations — some of which surround the table in the Creature Shop conference room — have appeared in such programs as Netflix's Emmy-winning fantasy series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Lifetime's holiday film Jim Henson's Turkey Hollow and, of course, the classic Sesame Street, now on Max. The Muppets, who became famous on the latter show, were sold to Disney in 2004, but the Henson–Sesame Street relationship endures; in December the show and the Creature Shop won a Children's & Family Emmy Award for Outstanding Puppet Design and Styling.

Back to the Rock continues the original series' gentle message of interconnectedness, with contemporary themes. "Jim Henson created Fraggle Rock to bring about world peace," says Henson Company president of television Halle Stanford. "We talked about [a reboot] being a show that could bring about positive peace, and what does that mean for today's families? This came out during the pandemic, and it's what we needed, to feel hopeful about being connected to our communities and to one another." The series addresses such topics as food scarcity, mental health, climate change and climate hope.

The Fraggles and Sprocket were built in the company's New York facility, which specializes in the hand-puppet style, says Scott Johnson, Creature Shop fabrication supervisor. Characters such as the tiny, industrious, green Doozers and the giant furry farm family the Gorgs are crafted in the Burbank location, which focuses more on animatronics.

"[Most of] the [five main] Fraggles are created exactly the same as they were on the original show," he notes. (Mokey had a makeover.) "They're made from the same patterns. With Sprocket, in some cases, we use the same puppet from back in the day."

That's because it's the interiors that tend to degrade over time, not the outer shells. "The puppets are primarily made of reticulated foam, covered with a material," he explains. "For Sprocket, it's a faux-fur fabric, and on the Fraggles it's a nylon fleece fabric. It's the foam that would need replacing."

Newer characters are built of sustainable materials, making them "green puppets," as Stanford says. Advances in animatronics and robotics make for more realistic details and fluid performances, while 3D printing speeds up the puppet-building process.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #4, 2024, under the title "Puppet Masters."

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