If you dont know who Brian Froud is
you should. Froud is the painter
and illustrator who created the otherworlds of The
Dark Crystal and Labyrinth for
Muppetmaster Jim Henson. Hes also illustrated books like Good Faeries/Bad
Faeries and collaborated with Monty Python alum Terry Jones to publish Strange
Stains and Mysterious Smells and Lady Cottingtons Pressed Fairy
Book. Froud lives in Dartmoor, England with artist/dollmaker Wendy Froud,
but he does occasionally venture to the states, as in this Q&A panel at
the San Diego ComicCon.
On The Dark Crystal:
Id always loved the Muppets. But I never sat on a chair watching the
Muppets, because I always found I slid off. I always found myself on the floor,
because they were so funny. And I really wondered about turning my work into
a film. And wondered about it. And realized that it couldnt really be
flat animation, because although you could get the form in animation, you couldnt
get the details, and there was something in the details of what I was painting
that seemed to suggest a lot more about the characters. And I thought, it had
to be puppets. So, when the Muppets phoned, I was delighted, and then enchanted
when I went up to London and saw them making the Muppets. This wonderful
I always remember walking into this dark studio, and way way in the distance
was this wonderful magical world of color and laughter. Everybody was just laughing.
And thats where they were filming The Muppets.
And then meeting everybody there, and meeting Jim. And he said, "Come
to New York." He said, "Ive got this idea." And his initial
idea was reptiles living in a castle. Hed come across this childrens
book, and he loved the idea. One day, he was with his daughter, Cheryl, and
they were snowed in at an airport, and they started to develop the idea. So
I came, and he hired Wendy. There was about nine of us, I think, that started
as a group. Puppet makers. So that was it. He said "Reptiles living in
a castle" and thats how we started, and we just sat around in a circle,
and talked about it, and I scribbled and drew in sketchbooks, and gradually
the Skeksis started to emerge, and the Mystics started to emerge, and all the
characters. And I just had so much fun imaging just how disgusting the Skeksis
For the Mystics Jim really liked my troll-like figures. He thought
they felt very wise, and so we sort of developed those.
Initially, I made small maquettes of these things in three dimensions to get
a feeling for it, and then Wendy was starting to sculpt some of the early Mystics.
And it took a while for me to learn how to direct people, because I was used
to being on my own, at the drawing board, developing characters, and I had to
get my hands on it. I worked on peoples sculptures for a while, but then,
of course, it wasnt very politic. I soon learned how to get them to do
what I wanted.
What mythologies influenced The Dark Crystal?
There are lots of influences. Lots of people say its European, and people
in Europe say its North American Indian. Its a whole mixture of
that stuff. But its that movement of ideas and forms that went across
the top of the world, from Scandinavia and Finland and across Iceland, Russia,
and across to Canada. We were looking for ideas that were common to us all.
Why didnt they use your art on the movie poster for The Dark Crystal?
I did one. It probably wasnt good enough. I dont know. I think
they used it, eventually, on the book cover. I dont know. Its interesting,
cause although the posters are great, they dont sort of look like
it, do they? Those marketing decisions are always taken out of everybodys
hands once you make the movie.
On the art of The Dark Crystal:
We had photographs taken of all the creatures, and they were all sepia printed.
We had one of the best sepia printing experts in the world to do it. Because
what you were seeing was a craft, an art. We deliberately hired people who didnt
work in films
that had all sorts of different skills and disciplines,
and I always felt that I wanted to put the puppeteers into a puppet or a creature
that looked good and felt good. And we used only the best materials. In fact,
most of the things were made of silk, mainly because silk is not only light,
but it also drapes much better. Especially if the creature is slightly miniaturized,
it looks better. And a lot of they Mystics clothes that looks like its
just burlap and scruffy old things, its actually raw silk.
On the Mystic Valley:
We had Ozzie Morris, who was a famous lighting cameraman. He did Moby Dick.
He talked about Moby Dick. Houston wanted Moby Dick to look like
scrimshaw, so it had a little extra edge to it. And we did experiment a lot
with filters, so the film would actually look like one of my paintings, but
we discovered quite early on when we did it, that the film looked too flat.
It looked like it faded. So, I planned all the color schemes. It all comes from
getting the sets the right color.
The first day of shooting was the Mystic Valley, where the Mystics walk down,
and we spent all day filming it. So, we had a half-an-hours worth of film,
and we projected it down in a big cinema in London. We watched it, and Gary
Kurtz from Star Wars, who was one of our producers, came over and said
"You know, Brian, when those Mystics walk down, they just blend into the
background," and hes shaking his head, and I said "Yes, isnt
it marvelous?" I think it was probably the finest moment, watching them.
When they were part of the landscape, it did look like one of my paintings.
But in the Mystic Valley, they lit it, and we had, at that point, the most
lights ever, on any movie. I dont know, it might be superceded by now.
Where are the Dark Crystal puppets now?
Well, some of them are in a traveling exhibit the Muppets have. Some are in
various museums, like the Museum of the Moving Image in London. I think theres
a puppet in Atlanta. Although, if you do see one, youll be looking at
the real costumes, but you wont be looking at the real heads, because
theyre all made of foam latex, and foam latex disintegrates. If you put
it in a plastic bag away from the light, it will last a few years, but eventually
it just goes sticky and collapses. So we cast all the heads in fiberglass and
made replica heads.
On designing the puppets:
We did lots of prototypes. A lot of the design of things
we started off
with sketches, and then we mocked things up, built them, changed the scale,
changed everything. And I changed lots of things in terms of design to accommodate
the mechanical things, cause puppets really hardly do anything, and what
youve got to do is create the illusion that they can do everything. Lots
of the costuming, for instance, is there to hide either somebody hiding behind,
or mechanical things like rods going up to the hands. Thats why a lot
of the costumes have other dangly bits. Its to confuse the eye.
It was actually quite interesting to create a whole world. It was actually
quite a challenge. So I did all this sort of mythology and underpinned it with
lots of geometric images.
One of the challenges, of course, is that these creatures are so bizarre,
something youve never really seen before, the Skeksis and the Mystics.
Youve got to try to make each one of them individual so you get to recognize
them very quickly. And then, the other secret of the Dark Crystal, it turns
out that they actually were the same race, they split themselves, so we had
to find a way to bring their anatomy together in the end to become another creature.
Frank Oz always said it was like Grand Central Station on the set. You always
had a pile of people trailing behind any one of these creatures. The film got
sort mislabeled because of E.T. coming out at the same time, as being
a special effects film. And it wasnt at all. What you were seeing was
performance. You could almost have done the whole thing on a stage. Almost.
And what I tried to do in designing creatures was to give the puppeteers the
ability to give a good performance.
Jim wanted reptiles, and as you look at them, I pushed them towards birds,
so they become almost like early dinosaurs. All my best work is always an amalgam
of various elements into one creature. And so when you see the creature, it
seems familiar but you cant figure out. For hours and hours we looked
at nature films, just to look at movement. To see how things moved. The problem
is that nature does it so much better. We can try to recreate, but
we always looked to nature to inspire.
We had monitors everywhere so that the puppeteers could see what they were
doing. We had monitors inside the Skeksis.
On the pod people:
One of the initial concepts for them was a potato head. The idea that a potato
has eyes all over it, and we experimented a lot with just having literally eyes
anywhere on the head, which was fun, but it didnt work for the puppet.
We found that you always needed focus, so you needed the two eyes close together.
The pod people. I think, the only bit of puppeteering I did in the whole film
was somewhere [in those scenes]. I was always too busy, generally, because not
only was I preparing the characters, to make sure they were ready to go on set,
supervising the sets themselves. By the time we started filming, I was moving
onto the next set, getting ready for that, so I never really saw much of the
On The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth:
The whole film took five years. We did various prototypes of the Mystics. Things
like the Garthim, we would build, and Jim would come in and look at it, and
he would say, "Well, how heavy is it?" Jim was marvelous. His major
concern was for not only the safety of the puppeteers, but their health and
comfort. So we actually built into each creature either a way of getting out
quickly, or getting access to air for them. They always had like a partner who
would rush in and deal with them. So, the Garthim were rebuilt several times
just for getting the lightness. We spent a huge amount of money just for the
sake of the comfort of these puppeteers.
So its difficult to say when everything starts and everything finishes.
I know we worked for three years of Labyrinth, and we did those creatures
over a great period of time. But near the end, we asked Terry Jones to come
in and tweak the script. But what that involved
he suddenly looked at
my sketchbooks and developed new creatures. We did a huge rebuild of characters
right at the end, and we were all ready to do it. We did some of the creatures
really quickly, and in fact some of the things we were doing from scratch in
a couple of weeks at the end. A lot of the goblin things.
On the start of Labyrinth:
So, when we had actually finished [The Dark Crystal]
. It took
five years of our lives, and we were just exhausted. There was a special showing
of it in San Francisco. And they showed the film, and then when it was over,
the screen went up, and there were curtains, and the curtains parted, and behind
it there was a table set up as a Skeksis banquet, with all this wonderful
food. Jim and I and a whole lot of people sat down.
When we were in a limousine, driving back to the hotel
having done the
film and saying "Never, ever again"
Jim said, "Should we
make another one?" and I said, "Oh, why not?"
So I said, "Well, what about?" He said, "I dont know."
He said, "Actually, my daughter was studying mythology and he said, "What
if we do Indian mythology?" I said, "Do you know anything about that?"
He said, "No." And I said, "Well, neither do I."
So I said, "Look, what about goblins?" He said, "Oh, that sounds
interesting. What I want to do is, this time I want to have human beings in
it. I dont want just puppets." And immediately what flashed into
my mind was the image of a human baby surrounded by Goblins. And he said, "Whats
the story?" and I said, "I dont know. But a labyrinth is always
a good metaphor for lots of things."
So thats how it started. I painted this picture of the baby, and six
months later, Toby was conceived. And by the time we built everything and were
about to film
we always said the baby would be a year old
a year old, and so he became the baby. But astonishingly, he looked like the
I designed Tobys costume. It refers to Alice in Wonderland. There are
a lot of Alice in Wonderland references in the film. And his costume refers
to Alices striped stockings. We knew we were going to use a real baby.
But we also knew we were going to use puppets at various points, and I thought
something very distinctive makes the baby stand out against the mayhem of all
the goblins. We bought these baby clothes, but we discovered that all the stripes
didnt match up, so we tracked down the original material, and we made
identical baby clothes, about 30 of them, something like that.
On David Bowies costume:
What was described in the newspapers as "perv pants", the very tight
originally we wanted to give him a codpiece as well, but
nobody could pluck up enough courage to ask him to wear it.
On the goblins:
We did all sorts of goblins. Some were small hand puppets. Some were people
in costumes with mechanical heads. We had small people in costumes. Who was
R2-D2? Kenny Baker. I ran into Kenny Baker once, and I said, "Oh, you were
in my movie." He said, "Legend?" I said, "No. Labyrinth."
He said, "Oh, did you set fire to me?" I said, "Not personally",
but he was one of the goblins, and evidently he was on fire at one point.
I saw a bit of the film recently, and I had just forgotten about those chickens
all this mayhem going on
people on the edges throwing chickens.
On The Dark Crystal DVD:
I was a bit disappointed with the DVD of The Dark Crystal. In the section
where you get all the extra information, there was none, and all they needed
to do was scan the book [The World of the Dark Crystal] in, and they
didnt really bother.
On movies and books:
Theres a huge amount of work that happens between the drawings, and
what you get on set. If I just did a drawing, and walked away, it wouldnt
happen. Youve got to be part of every step along the way.
I draw these things. I draw and paint pictures that suggest stories, but have
no idea what the story is. I like to give that away to somebody else. Weve
done a whole series of books that way. Where the pictures come first, and we
have a writer. And thats how the films were made. The scripts got developed
from all the drawings that I was making. So, the way it got to the screen was
actually a wonderful surprise.
On Home Sweet Home:
We all live in England
in the west country, on the edge of Dartmoor,
which is a land of mists and myth. If anyone knows Conan Doyles The
Hound of the Baskervilles, thats set on Dartmoor. We live in a
traditional house in which the animals lived in one half of the house, and people
lived in the other, and they all go through the same door.
Its an old house. We were on the little mini-tour of Seattle, and they
proudly pointed out this wooden shack, and said it was the oldest house there,
and I dont know what it was
1820 or something, and suddenly I snorted.
And they said, "Well, what?" I said, "You call that an old house?"
They said, "What do you call an old house?" I said, "Well, our
house on the front was renovated in 1690. It is described officially as probably
late medieval, so thats 1500, and its very likely that the foundations
are Anglo Saxon." So they had to agree that that was an old house.
My studio is on the left hand window, and Wendy has her studio on the other
side of the house.
All artists are supposed to have wonderful light. Big windows, lots of beautiful
light coming in. I have this tiny window. The light so timidly knocks at the
window and creeps in.
When we have visitors, and they come and see where it is, theyre often
really disappointed, because they discover that my drawings look like the landscape.
Theyd always thought I made it up. And I said, "Well, no, I dont
really have any imagination." So, it really looks like this. When we worked
with Jim Henson on Dark Crystal, he came to visit, and he said, I want
the film to look like this. He wanted the qualities of the rocks and the water
and the moss.
Across the moor, there are lots of standing stones and bronze age stone circles.
On his books:
The Faeries Pop-up Book, thats out of print. The Wind Between
the Stars, thats out of print. Master Snickups Cloak,
thats out of print. The very expensive The World of the Dark Crystal,
which can be bought for a mere five hundred dollars. I think Im deceased.
Its been a long arc to my career, I suppose. We did Faeries,
and then I worked on Dark Crystal, which was five years, and then Labyrinth
three years, and then, basically it took ten years to Good Faeries/Bad Faeries,
with Lady Cottingtons Pressed Fairy Book in the middle. So, its
taken all this time to get on with some more books.
After Once Upon a Time
. From this one, I was offered The Land
of Froud, which was ostensibly a retrospective of my work, but I just sat
down and painted a whole bunch of new pictures. And its format was the large-size
paperback, and I was one of the first living artists to be in that series, so,
for years, when Id meet people, theyd say, "Oh, I thought you
On The World of the Dark Crystal and Faeries:
We are trying to get The World of Dark Crystal republished. I wouldnt
hold your breath. I fought so hard to get all the overlays in it. Nobody wanted
to do it, because it was too expensive and they didnt understand why it
was there, so I think we would have the same problem now, but you never know.
Thats one of the problems I had when I was trying to get the next Faerie
book published, because I went back to the original publishers, and they said,
"Well, nobody buys big illustrated books anymore," and I said, "Oh,
dear. But, originally, it was a bestseller." And they said, "Well,
you know, that book about giants didnt do very well." And I said,
"I didnt do the book about giants." They said "That book
about witches. That really didnt do well" and I said, "I didnt
do the book about witches."
So, they said, "Well, I dont think anybodys interested in
faeries. And then they said, "Well, I suppose the only way you could get
people to read a book about faeries is to get somebody famous to write it."
So I said, "Fine, can you find me somebody whos famous?" Six
months later, I found out that they hadnt even thought about it. I kept
painting, so the book got bigger, but it also got more focused. And I fought
them. I fought them. Because I became famous, and then wrote it myself. I was
lucky to stumble across Lady Cottington and her pressed faeries, and that was
such a success it paved the way for the real thing.
Were going to do a big book about trolls, and its one of our next
And then there was Faeries. Ian Ballantine
the grand old man
of publishing who brought paperback books to America
. Under his arm, he
had a book, and he showed us, and we looked at it very politely, and said "very
nice" and handed it back. And it was the book of gnomes. And he said, "we
want you to do a book on Faeries." So I said fine. So, he went away, and
I started to work on it.
We did all the research, we started to write it, we started to paint the pictures.
And then Ian Ballantine came back with this book of poems, and we looked at
it quietly, and handed it back again, and at that point, we went, "Oh my
God", and we just realized that what he was expecting was the follow-up
to Gnomes, but they wanted Gnome-like Faeries. They wanted something
that was fluffy and fun and jolly, and here we were doing these terrible green
things with gnashy teeth that bite your ankles. And, at that point, there was
a moment or two when they doubted that they were going to publish, but luckily
they let us go ahead, and it went on to be the success it was.
Initially, the intentions of Alan [Lee] and I was that we would paint the
pictures first, each of us, and then we would draw on top of each others
art. Unfortunately, there wasnt time, because it was a rush to do it in
six months, and we couldnt do it. But that started the idea off of doing
paintings and then lots of drawings that went around the outside. And, in fact,
when we realized that we didnt have time to do that, we deliberately,
then, in various pictures, tried to copy each others style so wed
confuse people about who did what. Alan did all the beautiful ones. And I did
all the funny, ugly ones.
Twelve years ago, I painted a series about runes. Were getting close
to getting it published. Its being written now, and its one of the
next big projects.
Any plans for a new movie?
Maybe. I mean, over the years, Ive had lots of talks with lots of people,
and nothing happens, so its hard to say. Were in talks again that
might be something.