Speaking of the way that you had to work with the puppets specifically, at Comic-Con, director Louis Leterrier spoke about tunnels and ramps built in the sets for the puppeteers to navigate. Were there any specifications you had to adhere to because of the unique puppet-centric nature of the production?

I think the main aim with that whole system of trying to make the puppets work was to give Louis the simplest platform to shoot and direct on without too much confusion about how the puppet world would need to operate. You have the Skeksis, who are basically human-size and can either be a full puppet with one person inside it or a pelvis-up version with five operators. And then you have Gelflings who are three foot high, and needed a two-foot high rostrum. Some scenes, each of those type of characters could be in the same scene, so we had to develop a series of platforms or rostrums, which were basically tables, that could be interchanged very quickly to help Louis not have to wait too long while the puppeteers operate. It’s not exactly NASA what we did, it’s not rocket science. But we did create quite a clever basic rostrum system where the tops were very interchangeable very quickly without destroying the sets and allowing Louis to direct in a natural way as possible. We kept all those rostrums, if it then goes to another idea of Dark Crystal, all that work is being kept.

And the difficulty was — if you’re doing a Muppets show, generally you have kitchen sets and squares, you could work with square rostrums or four-foot rostrums, it’s a little bit easier. We always used to joke that there are no straight lines in our world, everything is very organic and sculpted. So that created an issue with making joins in the floor, how you make them seamless and the audience not noticing that we have spaces to build up. There are obviously straight lines, but in terms of the architecture, you can probably say there isn’t much that comes across as a normal piece of architecture.

You touched on this before, but what percent of the production design was a practical effect versus a digital effect?

The whole balance between physical sets and digital sets on any project is similar, it’s like where do we stop and where do visual effects start? Pure theory about that: You look at each scene, how long you’re in an environment, what action is in that environment, and generally, even visual effects companies will tell you to build as much as you can because doing the compositing and creating worlds is not the cheapest. So within your budget you try to get a balance between where you want to use those little elements to expand your world.

Generally I would say that 95% of what you see is a physical set. We only use visual effects in terms of sets and environments where you wanted at certain moments to show that distance and a bit of magic to it. And that’s a big discussion between Louis, Lisa, myself, and Sean [Mathiesen] the visual effects supervisors on each set and each scene, how much you can go into that direction. With the puppets, I think there are some CG versions of some of the characters. But I think the idea was that they wouldn’t create any characters or creatures that wouldn’t initially be a physical puppet. They weren’t going to create elements that would only be CG. They were really saying that this is a puppet show. Hopefully it will be like nothing else out there right now because everything else is a little more CG-oriented.

For sure, I would say that of the digital effects used in this series, it only enhances the physical effects and design.

Yes, I’ll just say with every department you never have quite enough money to do all the things that you want to do. So you really have to choose your moments when you do something a bit extreme for a scene or visual effects, whether Sean or Lisa decide to go in that direction. Thra itself is a world we know, it’s got trees and rivers and mountains and snow. It’s not a new physics, it’s not a new world. And I think wherever all our environments we started to base it on things we might see on our planet — bit of a reference of rock, or the snowy fjords of Norway, or the deserts or woodland areas, or underground areas. You’re always looking for something as a bit of reference to sort of key off and then move it into a more fantastical world, but still basing it on something the audience can relate to better. I think if you’re trying to create new physics, new worlds, new materials, and new technology, that’s sometimes harder for the audience to feel connected to. But if you’ve got something that’s sort of fantastical, that makes it easier for the audience to connect to.

Going into that, how would you say Age of Resistance sets itself apart from other familiar high fantasy worlds? Or was that something you didn’t concern yourself with?

That’s a very big analytical question. You hope that you don’t think about other worlds. You basically get very focused in on the script, and the story, and the characters you’re telling. And your aim as a production designer is to help tell the audience what those characters are like, to build them up and help move the story along. When you’re looking at the different Gelfling clans — from the backgrounds in Ha’rar, to the woodland in the Stone-in-the-Wood, and the groves down in the underground world — you’re hoping that your environments that you designed, whether it’s the architecture, where they live, or the surrounding environments, help tell the story of who they are and what they are.

The Vaprans in Ha’rar are the most sophisticated, elegant group of Gelflings. Their architecture and where they live have a very elegant, sculpted feel to it. Whereas the Stone-in-the-Wood Gelflings are a more woodland group of fighters and farmers. And the underground Domrak-dwellers [a village cavern deep in the Mountains of Grot] were obviously very subterranean. Once you get into it, you’re not really aware of what other films or shows you’re trying to avoid, you’re just happy if what you designed for Louis and Lisa helps tell the stories of those characters in those environments. Sometimes it’s instinctive, you just do what feels right for that moment, or character, or environment. And I suppose it’s best to avoid all the other things that are out there because they’re all created for their specific scripts and their specific characters. I think our biggest connection, as you mentioned earlier on, was paying homage to the whole feel of what you saw in original film with Harry Lange, Jim Henson, and Brian Froud, trying to use that as your basis.

The world is so much more expansive in Age of Resistance, from the more organic designs of the wildly different Gelfling civilizations, to the sharp Gothic designs of the Skeksis castle. How did you go about creating a distinctive look for each setting and group of characters?

We joked that we had no straight lines, so everything that you see is slightly organic or slightly not-as-geometric as you’d imagine. And that was a design by nature of what we see in the original film, I think that’s where it came from. And certainly when you look at the four areas that we had, including the Circle of the Sun, which comes up later. The Vaprans in Ha’rar had a fjord-an snowy landscape background, the Stone-in-the-Wood was a woodland background, Domrak was an underground world, and the Circle of the Sun is in the desert environment. They’re pretty good separation of Gelflings, so you really help the audience not [get] confused about where they are or who they’re with.

When you’ve got four different environments like that, you’ve got a short time to let the audience understand where you’re moving geographically. So if you could create four or five different environments where the different Gelfling clans live, you’re already in a good position, because the audience immediately perceives that it’s a whole different world. Some of that came from the history of expanded Dark Crystal, the Encyclopedia of Dark Crystal. But even in the encyclopedias, they’re quite simply explained, they’re not expanded too much. But it gave us a good understanding of where to start when you’re trying to create these environments and separate out the different Gelfling clans visually.

How many brand new environments and settings did you get to create for the series?

Obviously we haven’t broken it down, but I always felt that there was 15% of our world that took place in the existing Skeksis castle world. Though we created some new environments in the castle as well, like the bathhouse scene and the subterranean catacombs. Oh, I suppose I should include the forest with that, though we did create some of the forest. I would say about 70-75% of the new series were completely new environments that we didn’t see at all in the original film. Somebody might analyze that in more details, but that was the gut feeling we had.

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