Screen Rant is proud to present the exclusive premiere of the Muppet Guys Talking poster. Following the delightful documentary's world premiere at SXSW, its subjects and stars Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, and Fran Brill along with producer Victoria Labalme sat down with us to share its origin story, which involves Pixar luminaries, a treasured snapshot of the late Jerry Nelson (who also appears in the film), and a versatile medical illustrator.
Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched offers a never-before-seen extended conversation between the pioneering Muppeteers who defined the world of Kermit and the gang from the earliest days of Jim Henson and beyond his passing. The doc was in the can before Nelson (who played Count Von Count and Mr. Snuffleupagus, among many other Muppets) passed away in the summer of 2012. And Goelz (The Great Gonzo and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) wanted the poster to represent each of them in a way that spoke to the performers hidden beneath the magnificent monsters and Muppets they puppeteered.
Goelz explained the reasoning behind the poster's design as follows:
"It was just how do we convey the idea that you're going to hear from the people under the characters. So, there were two levels of it that intrigued me. I did a lot of sketches of ideas. Hands are an obvious gateway. But if there's nothing on the hands, there's no puppet covering it, all of a sudden it's unmasked. And then if the hand is coming out of a box of some kind, and we're going to peek into the box, we're going to find out the story of what makes the hands move."
But not just any hands would do. Every living cast member pitched in, snapping a series of shots of their own hands in different Muppet performance positions, then sending them to Goelz. From there, a string of Pixar people cam into assist. Friend of the Muppeteers Pete Docter (Up) suggested Ratatouille composer Michael Giacchino, who suggested The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn for help composing this poster (see below). "Peter Sohn over at Pixar drew the safe for us," Goelz said. Then Sohn took the hand shots of the cast, and began to fiddle in photoshop to pull them together into a pleasing picture. "Then he ran up against the wall of his photoshop skills, in terms of getting the color balance of the light sources working and everything," Goelz explained.
Jerry Nelson's photo proved a special challenge. By the time the cast snapshots were being taken, Nelson was gone. Thankfully, Baretta (Pepe The Prawn, Bobo) found a photo he'd taken years before that had Nelson and Goelz crouching under a golf cart, the former's bare hand raised in a Muppet pose for the camera operator's reference. The original photo had been lost, but the scanned digital copy seen in Muppet Guys Talking allowed Nelson's history-making hand to be added to the mix. Still, the low-res quality of the scan coupled with it being black and white meant Sohn was at a loss.
Goelz considered perhaps having the hands sketched like the safe, perhaps white on a black background. But Oz (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear) pushed for the pictures, and a vibrant yellow backdrop. "And I said, 'Well, I don't know how you're going to tie that together,'" Goelz recalled. "How are you going to tie photographs and an ink drawing and a yellow background? But it's worth trying, so we went down that road." But to get down that road, they needed one last favor. Goelz shared:
"I got this friend of mine who is a medical illustrator (Cyndie Wooley)…medical illustrators illustrate medical textbooks and publications. They might look at a cadaver and draw what's going on. They might look at a skeleton and do a graphic version of how a joint replacement works, that kind of thing. So she's really good at drawing people. She's really good at figuring out how to save a bad photoshop job. So she took the photoshop and just took a whole weekend figuring out how to work it, to get the colors to work. I think when Peter was working on it I switched a couple of arms so they'd be talking to each other. And between Peter Sohn and this lady, Cyndie Wooley, they pulled it together. It took a lot of work."
And all of it was volunteered, Oz noted. "What's cool is all of these people also helped us for free," Oz marveled. "They just wanted to be part of it. Dave had such a great idea. And then he talked to Pete, and Pete suggested Michael, who suggested Peter Sohn, and Dave had his friend (Wooley). And that all of this came about like it did is wonderful."
"It ended up feeling pretty good," Goelz concurred. "It felt like it worked pretty well." He shared the credit with his fellow Muppeteers as well, saying, "All this comes down to the value of a collaboration and how much we love working together." But for Oz, it's Goelz who deserves the credit. He said simply, "It's Dave's poster and we love it."