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My Creative Hero: Jim Henson

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Aardman director Rebecca Manley explains why Muppets creator Jim Henson is her creative hero

My Creative Hero: Jim Henson

Director at Aardman, Rebecca Manley always brings a unique flair to her work. Bursting with imagination, Rebecca takes inspiration from many things. Her creative hero is puppeteer and creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson. 

Here, Rebecca delves into why Jim has been such a hero throughout her career. 

Q> Who would you say is your creative hero?

Rebecca> Jim Henson is a big creative hero of mine. Skilled in directing, puppeteering, acting and screenwriting, he was also an inventor and true visionary.

Q> How long have they been important to you and what are your first memories of meeting them or coming across their work?

Rebecca> I wish I had been able to meet him! He died way too young.

My first memories of his works are being shown programmes like The Muppets and Muppet Babies, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller, as well as one of my favourite movies of all time Labyrinth, as a child.

Q> If it’s someone you personally know, how did you get to know them and how has your relationship evolved over the years? If you don’t know them, how did you go about finding to learn more about them and their work?

Rebecca> Because I watched a lot of his work when I was very young, I think it is just something that I absorbed rather than actively found out about. His style has definitely influenced my work but also my humour too and I enjoy his films just as much now as I did as a kid. My younger brother Toby, who is now an actor, and I still quote many of his characters and giggle like we were ten years old!

Q> Why is he such an inspiration to you?

Rebecca> He is such an inspiration to me because he created shows, films and characters that will be loved for all time. He was very prolific and, as a director and creator, often described as hard working, amicable and innovative. These are all things that I aspire to do and be.

Q> How does he influence you in your approach to your creative work?

Rebecca> I would like to direct work combining live action and animatronics or puppets and expand my portfolio into long form and features. My short film Table Manners was my first foray into the world of live action puppets. I feel like I managed to imbue the production with at least a tiny bit of the Jim Henson spirit. I was inventive in my approach to the project, the budget was very low, so I took on the role of puppet maker as well as writer/director. I made the puppets out of recycled cardboard because it is free and readily available and because I wanted to make a production with a low carbon footprint. Audiences remarked that they had never seen a film made with cardboard puppets quite like them, and that it was an original look, which I am very proud of. The movement of the puppets was inspired by the physical comedy of the Muppets. But more widely, it was great fun to work with the professional puppeteers to bring the characters to life with such a range of emotions. When the film was selected to play at the Jim Henson BAM Puppets on Film Festival in New York City I was ecstatic. That year, I received a Christmas card from the Jim Henson company which was the icing on the cake!

Q> What piece or pieces of his work do you keep coming back to and why?

Rebecca> For me, Labyrinth in particular is a work of genius. It is a wonderful story with a strong female lead, rare for the 1980s, and the narrative still stands up today. (It is influenced of course by The Wizard of Oz which, in turn, is another of my ongoing creative inspirations). Many popular films from that era seem extremely dated in the 21st Century. But this film, with its rich storyline and colourful cast of characters, continues to draw the viewer in and still has tremendous power over me.  

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Aardman, Mon, 23 Nov 2020 09:49:22 GMT