Monday, March 7, 2016

The Henson Connection

To be totally clear: Cosmo Kimball and the Perfect Hat is not affiliated with The Jim Henson Company. That said, the influence and inspiration of Muppets creator Jim Henson runs very deep with this project, and connects its creators together.
I was obsessed with the Muppets as a child. Although I was a couple of years past the target audience for Sesame Street when it debuted, I watched the show fanatically from the very first episode. So enamored was I that I wrote a letter to Jim Henson. And on August 25, 1972, he wrote me back. Enclosed in a nice, signed letter was this postcard:


It sits framed on my desk as I type this.
Many years later, I was fortunate to get to work as a puppeteer for The Jim Henson Company. I did a few Sesame-related video shoots, and also a large number of national and international live appearances as "Bear in the Big Blue House" and the "Coca-Cola Polar Bear":


My work for Henson began in 1994 when I was invited to participate in a weeklong puppetry workshop. Also attending that workshop was an incredibly talented 16-year-old kid we called “Tags”. John Tartaglia's lifelong inspiration with Jim Henson has been well-documented here, and he quickly became an indispensable member of the Sesame team. Here's John at an even earlier age:

In subsequent Henson workshops, John even played a part in teaching other aspiring puppeteers. Around 1999, one of them was none other than David Vordtriede, the artist behind the world of Cosmo. David would later pay tribute to the Muppets with his Muppabet poster, licensed by Disney. He also won the Grand Prize in WeLoveFine.com's Sesame Street Design Contest with this delectable design:

 So it's a common thread of inspiration that has led us to Cosmo. But beyond the obvious “television puppetry” theme, I can't help but feel that Jim Henson would have loved our project, with its nonlinear, interactive structure and branching storylines. After all…he was working on just such a project himself.
In 1980, along with his daughter Lisa, Maurice Sendak, and Jon Stone, Henson conceived The Varied Adventures of Mischievous Miles, an interactive movie to be shown in theaters. This would require multiple projectors, numerous reels of film, and apparently audiences were simply going to shout out which direction they wanted the story to go! Clearly, the technology wasn’t in place for this idea to work.
But that was 36 years ago. Tablets and touchscreen devices are the perfect way to deliver nonlinear storytelling experiences, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Cosmo!

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