I like to think of myself as the original fan of The Dark Crystal. For me, this web site is absolutely fantastic.
Before there was a film called The Dark Crystal, when there was no more than a concept of a world where reptilian creatures ruled without human interference, where the lines between animal, mineral and vegetable blurred so that rocks lived and plants walked, where the colors were muted and the creatures were intricately adorned in pattern upon pattern, where innocence triumphed over evil and the world was brought right, I was there cheering it all on. As much as I enjoyed all of the Muppets that my father created, it was the world of The Dark Crystal that meant the most to me.
Creating this world drew a wide range of extraordinary artists together in pursuit of a single goal. While I am proud to have been a young participant in the production team, it was my role as a fan and a cheerleader that I remember most clearly.
The Dark Crystal is an unusual film in so many ways. Before computer animation was used to create fantasy creatures, every puppet's movement was made by a human hand or body, some through cables never farther away than a few feet. The creatures and the environments in The Dark Crystal are tactile and real, yet unlike anything on our planet. It is an imagined universe unlike our own, yet familiar with echoes of what we know. You might wonder how Jim Henson came to make this world and why.
In the summer of 1977, The Muppet Show had been in production for a year in London and "Muppetmania" had taken hold in the popular culture. My father was thrilled with this success and loved working on the shows, but he was ready to try his hand at something new. He loved to challenge himself. As his success grew, so did his need to be challenged. He had always been intrigued with different styles of puppets. He believed that with new foam and cable control technology, puppets could be made to give nuanced performances and tell emotionally complicated stories. He wanted to build an entirely new world, populate it with creatures and then see what story emerged. I was in high school, and I was completely intrigued.
When my father was introduced to Brian Froud's illustrations, he was fascinated. He arranged to meet Brian in London. They decided to continue the conversation on Brian's home turf in Chagford, off of Dartmoor in Devon. I went along for the ride. The environment around Chagford is magical in its contrasts, the wind swept rocky landscape of the Moore crisscrossed with exuberant streams alive with green moss and brilliant vegetation. It is the natural environment for the fairies and trolls that Brian creates, a world where it seems they might pop out of the mist at any time. My father and Brian started to talk about the world that they would build together, and I listened in.
Eight months later, I was traveling with my father to London when we were delayed in New York by a blizzard and had to take shelter in a Howard Johnson hotel near Kennedy Airport. At the time, my dad was very busy rushing from one show to another with little time to focus on The Dark Crystal project. Suddenly he found himself with a quiet time to write out his ideas. He was most interested in the split between the Mystics and what were to become Skeksis: the divided nature of the ruling species. I hung on his every word as he described his thoughts.
Before long, a floor of my dad's puppet-building workshop in New York was devoted to this new fantasy project. Artists and doll makers who had an affinity for Brian Froud's work were hired to experiment with materials and techniques. In 1979, the team was moved to London where a workshop was set up across the street from our family house so that Jim could visit easily when he wasn't working on The Muppet Show. I took a year off before I went to college and joined the team. It was an extraordinary time of experimentation. Anything and everything seemed possible.
It took another couple years for the production to be completed. My father collaborated with so many excellent professionals, many of whom are profiled here on this site. We could hardly believe when the film that we had been involved with for so long was finally finished. Was it everything that we had hoped it would be? Our expectations were so very high. We loved it.
As the production drew to a close, some members of the costume crew asked to make a fashion collection based on the style of the film. My father agreed to fund the project. On a summer break from college, I traveled around to department stores showing these unusual clothes. Above is a picture of me posing in a suede outfit based on Jen's clothes and below is an outfit based on SkekUng, the Garthim Master. Gotta' love that eighties styling! The clothes were beautifully crafted, but perhaps not what Main St. was looking for. The Dark Crystal was never mainstream.
Looking at these photos today, I still feel myself to be a true fan of The Dark Crystal. And I am in good company. So many creative people have been fascinated by this film. The singer Joey Arias told me a wonderful story about making his own Skeksis outfit to make an appearance during a concert tour at the height of the performance art scene of the eighties. Not knowing the actual scale of a Skeksis, he made his Skeksis enormous by wearing platform heels and raising the puppet head high above his own. Another time, I heard that the talented fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte are fans of The Dark Crystal. I gave the sisters a tour of our workshop and found that they knew every detail of the film. Looking at the nuanced textures and playfully distressed fabric in their couture designs, it is clear that their appreciation for the craftsmanship in the film goes deep.
I am sure that many fans have stories about how The Dark Crystal inspired them. But until now, there has never been a place for fans to meet and interact. This website is meant to solve that problem. We hope that it allows you to connect, share and expand the world of The Dark Crystal.