The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a prequel series to the 1982 film directed by Jim Henson, and new documentary The Crystal Calls - Making The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance goes behind-the-scenes to reveal just how this monumental puppet show came together. Age of Resistance season 1 is available on Netflix, as is the documentary, and both are must-sees for fans of not just puppets, but anyone who appreciates the artistry of the craft.
The Dark Crystal is a revolutionary movie for dark fantasy aimed at children as well as puppetry in film. Henson, of course, had already made his mark on the industry thanks to The Muppets, but The Dark Crystal is by far his most ambitious project. Set in a strange world populated by creatures that his team would bring to life entirely through puppetry, The Dark Crystal was a massive undertaking at the time. Now almost 40 years later, The Jim Henson Company has returned to Thra with The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance - a ten-part series that again employs many of the same techniques as the original Dark Crystal, but on much larger scale.
The Crystal Calls - Making The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look what went in to making the Netflix series a success. The documentary details everything about the production, examining just how The Jim Henson Company made sure that their version of The Dark Crystal would not only seamlessly connect but also honor the work done on that original film. Here are the biggest reveals from The Crystal Calls - Making The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance:
Age of Resistance Was Almost Animated - But Netflix Wanted Puppets
When The Jim Henson Company first came to Netflix, their idea was to make an animated series based on The Dark Crystal. In fact, during the early stages of production on what would become Age of Resistance, they commissioned test footage of a computer-generated Gelfling interacting with a puppet Skeksis in order to explore what could be done with today's digital technology.
But upon re-watching the original movie, Netflix's VP of Original Content Cindy Holland realized that, "what makes it really special and transcendent is the puppets." So instead of an animated series, Netflix came back with an offer to make a Dark Crystal live-action series. This shocked Henson Company CEO Lisa Henson, since it's much more expensive to create a 10-episode series with live-action puppets. Still, Netflix knew they wanted the very best version of The Dark Crystal that could be made today, and that meant giving The Jim Henson Company the creative freedom (as well as the financial backing) to do what they do best.
Age of Resistance Still Includes Some Digital Effects
What that CG test footage revealed is that while The Jim Henson Company could technically make the two mediums work together, there was still a disconnect between them. In the end, it was decided that the best approach would be to use all puppets for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and then augment them with digital effects from Double Negative (the studio behind the test footage) whenever necessary.
For example, the Gelfling's faces are digitally enhanced to allow them to blink or smile, making them appear more expressive. CG also gets used in a few action sequences, performing actions that are simply impossible for a puppet to manage. In large part, though, CG is used in Age of Resistance to digitally remove the puppeteers. This was the case with a character like Lore, the rock creature, since the massive puppet requires three puppeteers to operate it and they had to be digitally removed from every scene.
The Podling Language is a Real Language
Most of the creatures in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance speak a language that is indistinguishable from English, but the Podlings have their own unique language which, as it turns out, is entirely real. The Podling language was created by J.M. Lee, the author of many Dark Crystal YA novels and comics as well as a writer on Age of Resistance. Using his background in linguistics, Lee put together a packet of English to Podling vocabulary words for Hup's puppeteer, Victor Yerrid, to study. Over time, Yerrid became fluent enough in Podling that he'd write emails in the language that no one, not even Lee, could fully comprehend.
Dark Crystal’s Gelfling Are Why Labyrinth Stars Human Actors
Jim Henson was never fully satisfied with the Gelflings in the original Dark Crystal film, particularly their limited movement and expression. This why when it came to making Labyrinth a few years later, he opted to cast human actors in the lead roles instead of using puppets. For Age of Resistance, Lisa Henson was nervous about using puppet Gelfling for the very same reasons. As designer, Wendy Froud explains, "it's a hand in a very small head," and that creates limitations on what the puppeteer can do. Luckily, thanks to advancements in puppet technology such as fabrication materials (3D printing, for example) and remote controls for the animatronics, the new Gelfling puppets proved more manageable.
The Skeksis Are Bigger - But Still The Most Challenging Puppet
By far, the Skeksis are the most challenging puppets because they are cumbersome rigs worn by the puppeteers, as opposed to a held puppet. In terms of a giving a performance, being inside a Skeksis can be very freeing since it obscures the puppeteer entirely, but it is also very heavy and hot inside. The Skeksis are basically bodysuits that the puppeteers are strapped into, wearing it like a rucksack with one arm up inside the head and the other controlling an arm. Often, more than one puppeteer is required to fully operate a Skeksis, making them even more cramped inside. And yet, according to Louise Gold, the only puppeteer working on Age of Resistance who also worked on The Dark Crystal, these Skeksis are actually bigger than the original puppets!
Making Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a Family Affair
For The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson collaborated with illustrator Brian Froud and his wife, Wendy to create not just the mythology but also the look and feel of Thra. Their work together is what forms the very DNA of The Dark Crystal, so it's fitting that Age of Resistance keeps it all in the family, so to speak. Henson sadly passed away in 1990, but his daughter, Lisa, heads up The Jim Henson Company and served as an executive producer on Age of Resistance. Both Brian and Wendy Froud returned to work on the series, but this time they also brought along their son, Toby (known to many as the babe with the power from Labyrinth), who is himself a talented builder and worked on many of the puppets used in Age of Resistance.
Age of Resistance Built Double the Sets of Dark Crystal in Much Less Time
The Dark Crystal was an incredible undertaking, but Age of Resistance surpasses it in just about every way. Like the original film, everything from the puppets to the props, sets, and even backdrops have been painstakingly crafted and often by hand. Every hair on a Landstrider puppet, for example, is hand-punched. The artistry on display in Age of Resistance is unmistakable, but what's truly astounding is the scale on which it's done. There were around 30-50 sets built for the original Dark Crystal and they had about three years time in which to build them. For Age of Resistance, there are 70-80 sets that they built in just six months!
The Crystal Calls - Making The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is available to stream on Netflix.