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The makers of Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance were happy to throw dolls

Just because dolls are involved does not mean that The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is for small children. "It's not what they call it The light Crystal, ”Executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach made jokes with The edge on the eve of the premiere of the Netflix series, which serves as a prequel to the cult-favorite fantasy drama from 1982.

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Grillo-Marxuach collaborated with fellow executive producers Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews to revive the world of Thra. They used a mix of recent technology and old-fashioned craftsmanship to portray the Gelfling clans living under the control of the evil Skeksis. The story focuses on a young adult audience and has real commitment, dark twists and intense action. Louis Leterrier, healed The transporter and The Incredible Hulk, directed every episode.

Addiss, Matthews and Grillo-Marxuach sat down The edge to discuss the making of the series, with a remarkable voice cast – including Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Isaacs, Mark Hamill, Eddie Izzard, Keegan-Michael Key, Awkwafina, Simon Pegg, Alicia Vikander, Andy Samberg and Helena Bonham Carter – as well as some truly state-of-the-art puppetry. How the technology came to help story telling, and vice versa, is almost as fascinating as the story being told.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you become involved in this project?

Jeffrey Addiss: Well, it's the marriage of happiness and hard work. So (Will Matthews and I) we thought we really wanted to continue Labyrinth. And we thought, "Well, what are we going to lose?" So we told our agents to call the Henson Company. They didn't want to work Labyrinth 2but they said: "We are working on one Dark crystal thing. Do you want to do that? ”So we stayed up all night and came up with a great pitch for a follow-up function. We go to Lisa Henson in her office and she says, "I am so happy that you are here to tell us about your idea for our prequel TV show." And we had something like: "Yes, no problem! We can do it!"

When we got the green light, it was when Javi came in, because we had never been in a writer's room, let alone run. It was a very collaborative experience.

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Javier Grillo-Marxuach: We say that working on a Jim Henson product is a team sport. With this more than anything else, the theme of the entire show is unity. Jim Henson's ethos works very well together. There are many different artists involved in all disciplines, including writing.

Everything about this project was really inspired by the idea that we were all employees working on something bigger than all of us. The mess that circulated was that this was a garden that was maintained for 37 years, and we came to take care of it for a while. We could decide where to put plants, but it was part of our work to keep the legacy intact and to re-honor that legacy.

YES: Don't waste the garden, because hopefully we can pass it on to someone else. We had all the space we wanted – there was never a mandate of "You can't do it." We created entire characters, leads and bows. We got a lot of space.

JGM: To give you a concrete example, we went inside and looked at the head sculpt for the doll of the scientist, and they formed it with two eyes. We kind of like, "Well, he has a mechanical eye in the movie." And they were from: "We know, but we have to fully sculpt them, and then we'll take the eye out and put it in the mechanical eye because that's a separate support. & # 39; And then we said: & # 39 "Well, we have to tell a story about the duplicity of the chamberlain and his ability to maneuver events to his advantage. Let's have the scientist with two eyes in the beginning and show how he only got one eye." And that helped us with our stories.


Photo by Kevin Baker / Netflix

There was a time when this was being developed as an animated series. Why has that changed?

YES: Netflix developed an animated prequel series. And we only came after Netflix called Lisa and said, "Let's do it with dolls." She said, "Are you sure? Do you know how difficult that is? & # 39; It is a proof of Netflix that they made this crazy leap of faith and performed the show well. It must be done with dolls. It should be live action, it must feel tangible, it is a built, created world.

Will Matthews: It was just lucky that when we called, they had a new beginning and we said, “Okay, great. This is how you do that. "And it all came together.

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YES: I think the animated show was a little younger, a little more magical. We were a little more grounded in this world. We found that this was a much more tangible, dirty world. We spent a lot of time literally making the dolls dirty.

JGM: We saw this as a 10-hour drama. We never considered it "a puppet show." We came here with the intention of making Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, something that could compete with those characteristics. And the thing that informed everything we did was that we needed characters with a rich inner life and a world with real commitment.

The voice cast recorded their lines after production. Were there cases where on the set the line would go one way and then you would try something else in the post?

YES: Yes, and there were times because the production was so fast that I would literally (with the puppeteer's mouth) have about eight to 10 syllables, and then I could go back later and write the line. I rarely did that, but sometimes it happened, and we could also create those moments in the mail.


Photo by Kevin Baker / Netflix

Did that lead to the improvisation of the cast?

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YES: We had Eddie Izzard. It is one of his great skills. It is difficult because we have so many rules in terms of words. For example, we try not to allocate genders to the Skeksis. It is very checked and written. But within that, if the performer has an idea and we can match it with the mouth flaps, we come up with a new line.

WM: Eddie Izzard got "bugger" in it.

YES: It was really funny and it made us laugh, so there we go. Everyone is building on each other. And the voice actors became very protective of their puppeteers. As Taron (Egerton) would be if: "No, no, Neil (Sterenberg) is mine." They form a connection. It is a synthesis. All puppet players also have voices in the show, so they are everywhere.

How many people would be present on the set at your largest group scenes?

YES: On average I think we were around 200 people because we also had our stores in the warehouse. We took over a warehouse with 89 sets, which was about the size of two football pitches. We also had a pet shop there. So there are many people, even separated from the design and art department, many people in the building separated from what is on the set, if that makes sense. And then our biggest days, I think we had 100 puppet players on the set, which is crazy. Some of them do radio control or a second unit, things like that. Sometimes we had puppeteers who just kept two dolls in the air as background because, like: "We need bodies on the screen." I think if you ever picked up a doll and lived in England at some point, you were finally working out The dark crystal. It was big.

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WM: A great thing about puppeteers that I don't think everyone understands is that they can play the lead role on a character, a big role with a main character, and in the next shot they are someone else's left hand. They are really a group. There is a lack of ego. They go from one character to another. It is really encouraging about humanity.

YES: It really feels like the idea of ​​an old-school theater group, where you are in charge one moment and the next moment you give someone a cup. That's how they treat it. It is really cool.


Photo by Kevin Baker / Netflix

How many puppeteers are needed to serve one Gelfing?

YES: Usually three. You have the head puppeteer doing the mouth and one arm, then they have an assist on the other arm, and then there is someone who performs radiographic control of the blink of an eye, and things like that. Unless you are Alice (Dinnean), who did Brea. Alice had a separate performance system of which she controlled a lot herself, with a literal Wii nunchuck that they had converted. So she often only had herself and an assist because she was in control of many of those facial movements.

WM: It is one of the reasons why Brea is so good at eyerolls.

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YES: Yes, because that is Alice, who together with her helps every part of the performance to do the other side, all at the same time.

JGM: One of the nicest things to do this work was every Friday, we had a meeting at the creature store. And we watched people there take on new ways to play puppetry. So for example, one day we arrived there and the 3D printers were just puffing. It is clear that 3D printing has been an advantage for stories like this. But they built a system specially designed for the puppeteer's hands, with individual controllers per finger, so that the puppeteer would be completely faithful from his or her hand movements to the hand at the end of the rod.

I was also there on the day they first tested the AI ​​system with the Wii nunchuck controller. We need to see in real time how they make this art of dolling that they have done for so long, and when meeting the challenges of the show, creating new technologies to do the things that the creature shop has been doing for 50 years does year. One of the most interesting things was to see how many 3D print figures are now incorporated in it and how much it helps to build custom pieces for dolls, custom pieces for everything. That process has changed the game.

WM: I remember one day in the store that one of the designers very carefully handed me the emperor's scepter. He said, "Be careful. This is the original from the movie. & # 39; And then he accidentally dropped it and I started screaming. And then he thought," Oh no, I just printed it 3D. It's just a perfect match. "(laughs.)

JGM: Although the Jim Henson Company is not exactly lax about archiving – they are the managers of the legacy of one of the most revered creators in popular culture – there are certain things they had to guess about. One day I went to the pet store and there was a man who airbrushed Aughra & # 39; s skin. He had a magazine that was printed in 1982 when the movie came out, he had stills from the movie, and some of the books that came out when the movie came out. Because nobody could figure out exactly what the actual color of Aughra was. She looks different in different shots because of the way she is lit up, the way every actor looks different. So sometimes you see an exact copy of what was on the screen 37 years ago, and some things on the screen are substantiated guesses.


Photo by Kevin Baker / Netflix

When creating the action scenes, did you feel limited by knowing that you had to perform them with dolls?

YES: It was not about restrictions. It was about collaboration. Louis had a pretty good idea of ​​how he would shoot it.

WM: It was a very impressive storyboard. I remember many versions of storyboards.

YES: But there's nothing I would say we ever threw, someone ever said, "We can't do that with dolls, it's too far." Thats crazy.

WM: I mean, everybody always tries to push the envelope. And so everyone is the best at what they do. And everyone is trying to find a solution. So it was really free.

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JGM: An action sequence is no different from a musical song. In a theater musical, it is what happens when dialogue no longer serves a dramatic purpose. So you always have a real north when you organize things like this, in what the story tells, what drives the emotional commitment home. So there are a number of sequences where you might not see what we came up with in the room – not because the dolls couldn't do it, but because there wasn't enough time or money or whatever you have. But all that is on show is to serve the emotional reality of the world and the characters. And whether you do drama or puppets, action scenes are difficult to choreograph, technologically difficult. But you always have your true north of what serves the character and story.

Nowadays you can do almost anything with CGI if you have enough time and money, but this feels so much more real.

JGM: We treated the puppets like you would in a movie. There is a big conversation in it Dark crystal reporting on: "Oh, they didn't use CGI?" Of course we did that. We are building a world. It is a huge VFX project. But the puppets are the most important event, the puppets are the actors.

The biggest lesson I think we can all learn from CGI when making movies is that we have to be selective about what we show on screen. Because in the end one of the disadvantages of being able to do anything and everything is that you get too much. You will not get enough of the gaps in the stories that involve you. There is a reason for that Star Wars won the Oscar for best editing. Because their technology was limited enough, they had to make very strong choices about how the film was put together to serve that story. And while we do this, although we have access to all of this puppet show, although we also have access to CGI technology, did we have to look at all of this and find out how the rubber comes together with the road scenes so that they only serve a story?

YES: That is a very high-quality answer. I'll tell you, one of the nicest things is throwing dolls away. We just had the best time. So when you watch the show, when you notice in the back half, dolls start to throw more around because we just enjoyed it. Just throwing things was the best.

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JGM: They threw so many dolls that it would be an Olympic event.

YES: We have become really good at it.

JGM: Many people will see this and assume that we have done a lot of things with CGI. And the truth is, we didn't usually do that. You look at really old-fashioned technologies that work together with CGI. I mean, so much of this product is handmade. I think it will be interesting to find out what people thought what was and how often they are right or wrong.


Photo by Kevin Baker / Netflix

It is said that if Jim Henson had this technology, he would have used it just as much.

JGM: Jim Henson was not exactly a Luddite. For example, if you look at Jug-Band Christmas by Emmet Otter, they spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out how to get Kermit to cycle in the prologue, and then that technology was applied to all subsequent films. Puppetry is not a static art. It is an art that depends on technology. The technology continues to feed the vessel.

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WM: That said, there is nothing better than a few Podlings yelling at each other.

YES: Because they are the most puppty. There are variations such as how you can get puppty with it. Yes, the Gelflings are more & # 39; human & # 39 ;. They have a little more weight. But a Podling can run in, scream, fall, jump up, get drunk and run out the door, and you have a great time. A Gelfling who doesn't feel well; a Skeksis who doesn't feel well. So Podlings are really fun and liberating because they are just physical comedy.

WM: You didn't live until Lisa Henson said, "You shouldn't put that in the script." "Why not?" "It might be too puppty." "I think you would know!"

Do you have a target group in mind in terms of age?

YES: I think Netflix does, and I think other people do that. We just tried to write the story that felt good to us. We thought of a younger audience. We did not consciously try to & # 39; dark places & # 39; to go. That is part of the show because it is part of the legacy. There were times when we would talk about the violence for a long time, but it was not from a perspective to reach an age. It tried to say, "What is the use of the violence? What are the consequences of the violence? And how is it part of this story?"

Do you have a plan for a second season?

YES: Yes, we have a written document that plans season 2. Everyone is very enthusiastic about it. And now we just wait to see what the numbers are and we wait for that phone call that we get back to Thra.

WM: If you look at it, we will write it.

The production in season 1 was probably accompanied by a lot of development, construction and planning. Do you think season 2 would go much faster?

YES: I think it would be more efficient, but I would try to use the time to make the show even bigger and crazier.

JGM: We know a bit about what you can do with dolls and what the advantage is. But we are ready to move it to the next level afterwards.

Plus, throw more dolls.

JGM: Throwing dolls at the Olympic level.

YES: Oh my God. It's so nice to throw dolls.