I’m revising today’s entry now that I can finally share with you the full story of our visit to the set of Netflix’s The Dark Crystal prequel, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which was the genesis of The Lurkyloos Do Disneyland Paris in the Snow (So You Don’t Have To) trip report! Not only has the series just debuted on Netflix, but they also put together a fabulous making-of documentary that allows you to see a lot of what we saw that day but were not allowed to photograph.
Our whole trip—this once-in-a-lifetime tour of London, Disneyland Paris, real Paris and Scotland—came about solely because Netflix gave The Jim Henson Company money to create a prequel to The Dark Crystal. Honestly, Disneyland Paris would otherwise have been the last international Disney park we visited. As I mentioned in the intro post, I was just not that into it. And no trip gets planned around this joint unless I’m into it!
But, as you’ll see in the documentary, not only did Netflix give Henson the money for a prequel, they insisted that all the characters be puppets—not the originally pitched idea of half puppets and half CG characters. Which meant that Patrick got to spend nine months working at the Jim Henson Creature Shop in Burbank making hands, arms, bodies, neck sleeves and “brains” (foam head inserts) for Podlings and Gelflings! And it meant that we were able to arrange a visit to the massive set of the show, just outside London.
That morning, we’d arranged another private ride via Blackberry Cars, which was supposed to meet us at 8:45 am but didn’t arrive until 9:15 am, which made me very anxious about reaching the studio out near Slough by 10 am. The driver didn’t apologize, but he did manage to get us there on time via speeding.
When we arrived at the studio, a really nice fellow named Juan gave us hard hats and chic neon yellow vests and led us through a labyrinth (ba-da-bing!) of key-carded corridors to start our tour with the production areas before eventually making our way to set.
We entered through the red door at the back of this shot…
Jasper is one of Patrick’s building buddies from the Creature Shop who was lucky enough to be sent to the London shop for a few months to help out. You can bet I was asking Patrick why HE didn’t pull this duty!
Here’s a nice overview shot of the main costuming room featuring three people who were NOT there the day we visited: executive producer Lisa Henson, Dark Crystal conceptual artist Brian Froud and Dark Crystal puppet sculptor and builder Wendy Froud.
However, I will take this opportunity to brag that we have been to a few holiday parties at Lisa Henson’s place and they are AWESOME. One time Debbie Gibson was there singing Christmas carols!
I also love to point out that Brian and Wendy Froud’s son, who worked with them on the series, was the adorable baby in Labyrinth!
The production area is a warren of rooms for every creative department on the show, and Juan made sure we saw EVERYTHING. We saw where they did armatures…
…and where they styled the wigs….
….and where they painted the faces….
… and where they made Gelfling hands following Patrick’s patented method developed in Burbank!
Here are some Podling bodies and brains Patrick built…
And here are some finished Podlings!
You can see some of the neck sleeves Patrick made in this shot.
We saw the mold room…
…and the paint room…
… and the prop room…
…and the mech room…
…and wherever this was…
… plus this place…
…and a room where they were building crazy suits of armor that didn’t make it into the documentary! But here are some amazing swords that did…
Another room that I sadly cannot find a shot of was filled to the brim with big worms and little worms, creepy breathing creatures with robotic eyes trapped in cages, and other little crazy things that I didn’t know what they were. Most of them turned out to be for The Scientist Skeksis’ laboratory, like this guy…
We even saw a Fizzgig, which, never having seen the original Dark Crystal at that point, was the first item to pique my interest in the whole thing (on account of cuteness)!
In every room and at every station, all of the craftspeople we met were so kind to us and so enthusiastic as we told and retold the story of our anniversary trip and got all kinds of congratulations. All of the women in the wig room went, “Awwwwwwwwww!” when they heard our story.
After that, Juan led us through to the sound stages, where they were shooting what turned out to be scenes from the very first episode!
Patrick took great delight in surprising all his friends on set who didn’t know he was coming over to England. He got particularly great reactions out of puppet wranglers Jürgen Ferguson and Scott Johnson, whom I’d heard so much about from Patrick over the years but never had the opportunity to meet until all of us flew across The Pond. And when Kevin Clash spotted Patrick, he enveloped both of us in huge hugs—so now I’ve gotten to hug Elmo the puppet AND Elmo’s performer!
Patrick introduced me to Dave Chapman, who is one of the puppeteers for BB-8, and Warrick Brownlow-Pike, who—in addition to having THE most British name of all time—performs The Chamberlin Skeksis.
Jürgen and Warrick made it into the documentary, though you can’t see the latter under all that Skeksis!
Alice Dinnean—who performs Brea and Maudra Fara, among others—has always been an easy person to talk to at those Henson holiday parties. This time she graciously let me pass several hours chatting with her in between remote-controlling Deet’s eyes and ears for the big scene I’ll show you in a second.
You can see her performing Deet’s eyes and ears in the back of this shot from the documentary!
And here’s what the remote looks like in somebody else’s hands…
At lunchtime, the cast and crew headed to the canteen while we staggered around the tiny village of Slough in the cold, looking for a place to eat that had seating and a public restroom—a surprisingly rare combination. They’re big on greasy chip shops in Slough! Eventually we stumbled on Costa, and I’ve never been so happy to see a chain coffee shop in all my life. It was warm, had plenty of seating, served sandwiches and surprisingly good desserts AND had a clean restroom—hooray!
Then it was back to the studio, back into the vests and hard hats, back through the myriad doors with key-card access and back onto the set. While he was on a break, Warrick cheerfully escorted us on a private tour of both sound stages and introduced us to more puppeteers. I got to meet the legendary Louise Gold, who performed the Gourmand Skesis in the original Dark Crystal and in this prequel AND has done a ton of Muppet stuff over the years.
Everyone we met kept apologizing that it wasn’t a “big set day,” but we were pretty dang impressed! For one thing, we got to wander around the massive forest set…
…and get up close to the amazing matte paintings!
This wasn’t happening when we were there, but here are a couple shots of the set in action…
We also got to see the exterior passage of the Skesis’ Castle of the Crystal, where a lot of action takes place in the first episode.
But maybe the coolest part was getting to see them film a series of scenes that made it into the first episode of Age of Resistance: Deet’s encounter with a magical flower that shows her visions of the future, her farewell to her family as she sets out on her quest, and the moment when she ascends from the Caves of Grot to begin her journey.
I learned that when a puppet falls off a cliff, they don’t just drop it like a rag doll! The performer’s hand is inside the whole time.
The coolest part was that puppeteer Beccy Henderson was on the camera crane for this shot! As Deet is lifted up and away from her family, Beccy has to keep performing her while Alice is remote controlling her eyes and ears, so they strapped her into this crazy rig. So far, Patrick has had to puppeteer underwater and from inside a fridge, but not on any cranes yet!
The other thing that really impressed me was getting to see the director, Louis Leterrier, in action. He does his own steadycam work, and he spent most of the time we were there dashing around the set getting the shot. His enthusiasm for the project was almost palpable: This is not a film director who’s slumming in TV for a paycheck—he genuinely seems to love the material. Watching him work, I began to feel that Age of Resistance wasn’t going to be a soulless corporate retread or a slavish fanboy re-creation but something new and exciting.
And, having now seen both the original movie and the series, I gotta say that Leterrier’s shooting style is the best thing to happen to the Dark Crystal universe. Where before the Skesis were lumbering and labored, they have now leapt to life with thrilling menace just from the way he shoots them. The Gelflings are trickier (I dunno if they’ll ever be able to overcome the uncanny valley with faces like those), but they are certainly much more dynamic and watchable in the new series.
We didn’t get to see this being filmed, but it’s a good example of Leterrier in action!
We hung around set until the last possible second before we had to leave to make our dinner reservation in London. Instead of ordering another pricey/dicey car, we walked to the station around the corner and hopped on a nice new train that would have taken us all the way to Paddington Station. However, my Citymapper app alerted us to an upcoming 20-minute delay and showed us where to get off the train early so we could take the Tube instead.
Dinner was at Bronte, on The Strand, a place I’d picked almost exclusively for its award-winning Mid-Century Glam decor by designer Tom Dixon. This is another instance where I’ll have to show you pro photos so you can see what I mean…
So this is what it really looks like… at night… straight outta the camera….
They stuck us off in the dark back corner of this shot and then basically forgot all about us. It was a half-empty Monday night, but the service was sooooooo distracted (maybe because there’s a mandatory 12.5% service charge, so they don’t have to try?).
Our food finally showed up after we flagged down a manager. Amazingly, it was quite good!
I still don’t know if I’d really recommend the place to anyone but design or Tom Dixon lovers. We skipped their pricey, over-fruited dessert menu and walked to M&S Food at Charing Cross Station to get an assortment of British cakes and candies for dessert.
Then I indulged my fetish for doing laundry on vacation with this AMAZING travel wash bag and these handy detergent sheets (you only need to use half of one in the wash bag) and strung it up all over to dry til the place looked like a Depression-era tenement. Patrick, who laughs in the face of dirty clothes, played with the camera.
I give you…. ART!
(I do love Patrick’s new watch and think it qualifies as art because it looks like R2D2!)