Watch: The Hilarious, Painstaking Process of Jim Henson's 'Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas'

Practical effects were all the rage in the 1970s, for better and for worse.

Tis the season: The great Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas television special celebrates its 41st anniversary this year and it remains one of Jim Henson's finest achievements.

Based on a children's book by Russell Hoban, the special tells the heartwarming (and remarkably grounded and adult) story of a Depression-era set of mother-and-son otters who compete in a talent show for a cash prize. Their reasons for competing are altruistic in nature: they want to obtain the necessary funds to buy the other a special, thoughtful present for Christmas. Complications arise and, in a cruel twist, both Emmet and his Ma lose the talent show, going home empty-handed. Brutal! 

One scene in particular, in which Emmet and Ma walk past a music shop and spot what will become Emmet's instrumental obsession, stands out, if not for its place in the narrative than for the complications that arose attempting to film it. Check out the video below to see what we mean. 

It took considerable time to get each movement and literal drum roll just right, and the above video is a rare look into the complicated and often frustrating process that Henson and his team had to go through on a daily basis. Thanks to CGI and other advanced special effects in the modern age, you most likely wouldn't get this type of intense concentration today for such a minuscule detail that takes up one second of screen-time. The hilarious outtakes show just what improvisational talent the puppeteers possessed and the intense labor of love they had to work through to get the moment just right.      

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Physics didn't change because we have CGI. Have you ever thrown something *just right* into a frame? Rained papers from above into it? Waved a curtain exact the way the director wanted it? Blowed leaves in front of a window, or sand from a prop?
Something like that should not and cannot be "solved" by computer animation - because its still very expensive and still very difficult to achieve to have something digital interact with actors, the lighting or the envirement.
This video is an ode to the tedious filmaking process in general. Cars crossing at the wrong spot. An actor who forgets a line. A cat that does not do what it should. Hairs where they should not be after a head was shaking. Its physics. It did not change.
Things like that are some of the things that did *not* change in the history of filmmaking. It was the same 50 years ago.

December 21, 2018 at 3:35AM