Doozer Dig Inside the World of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock Season 2

Find out all of the Silly Creature skills used to bring Apple TV+'s Fraggle Rock to life

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Doozer Dig Inside the World of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock Season 2

Clap, clap — “Down in Fraggle Rock” — Clap, clap

If that tiny prompt instantly loads the Fraggle Rock theme song in your brain, then come join us down a special Fraggle hole that Paste took to a nondescript warehouse in Burbank last week. Inside, resides one of the most creative spaces in all of Hollywood: Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. It’s where the Fraggles, Gorgs, and Doozers were dusted off and, in some cases, rebuilt from scratch for the Apple TV+ revival, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock.

We made the trek there because the second season of the Emmy-winning series dropped on the streamer March 29th, which continues the slightly serialized adventures of the subterranean creatures known as Fraggles, their tiny industrious building neighbors, the Doozers, and the “Outer Space” (or human world) explorations of Uncle Traveling Matt. If you’re a little fuzzy with your history, the Fraggle world debuted in 1983, sprouting from the brains and hearts of Jim Henson, writer Jerry Juhl, and the creative Muppety minds at The Jim Henson Company. Today, the revival is executive produced by Jim’s daughter Lisa Henson, Matt Fusfeld, Alex Cuthbertson, John Tartaglia (who now performs Gobo Fraggle), and even original Fraggles Dave Goelz (Boober Fraggle) and Karen Prell (Red Fraggle).

The Jim Henson Creature Shop is the third fabrication and R&D workshop for The Jim Henson Company. It opened in the early ‘90s as a Hollywood-adjacent facility where the company’s local fabricators and radio control technicians behind the Henson Performance Control System could expand their character creations for external filmmakers, such as the animatronic characters in the recent ​​Five Nights at Freddy’s, or for internal projects like The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Earth to Ned, and this revival of Fraggle Rock. This shop’s speciality is animatronics, puppetry, and hybrid integration of both with digital effects… plus, Fraggles!

It’s here that Back to the Rock executive producer John Tartaglia welcomes Paste and reporters from a few other outlets into their non-public, inner sanctum of creativity to share some secrets about how they bring these dancing, singing, swinging, and now swimming critters to life in another Henson project that pushes forward the art of puppetry and storytelling with heart, which is the company’s signature mix of creative magic.

The Controlled Chaos of Fraggle Rock

Inside the main fabrication area, Tartaglia introduced us to Scott Johnson, the Shop Fabrication Supervisor and Puppet Wrangler Alex ‘Jurgen’ Ferguson and their whole Back to the Rock cast of classic characters and new additions. Right on the main table were the photo puppets for the series, including the “Fraggle Five” of Gobo, Wembley, Mokey, Boober, and Red; Matt and Sprockets the dog and newbies like Storyteller, Barry Blueberry, Jamdolin (Daveed Diggs), The Great Glitterini (Adam Lambert), and Pryce (Brett Goldstein).

If you’re wondering what a photo puppet is, Tartaglia explains that they’re puppets created with poseable armatures inside to look photo ready for press shots or events. It’s experts like Johnson and Jurgen who not only get them looking visitor-perfect, but are just some of the people who make the hectic shoot days with all of the puppet cast possible.

“Wranglers really are, for the puppeteers, our life source because if we need a puppet to hold something, or to do something with their hands, or to have their pupils stuck a certain way for a shot to work, they are the ones who do that,” Tartaglia details. “They’re masters on how to figure out very difficult situations. We have our production meetings right before we shoot the next day, and they really are the secret sauce to figuring out how we can actually get it done.”

During any given shoot day, the wranglers help do costume swaps and appendage swaps that will sell the magic of a Fraggle running or dancing. Back to the Rock features many scenes in the Great Fraggle Hall, which is about 22 feet tall. Tartaglia explains that they have 25 puppeteers on set to bring the array of Fraggles and Doozers to life.

Johnson says the support team usually consists of four full-time people per set. “But then we also have a separate crew that’s pretty much dedicated to the Doozers. Then we have a full crew that’s in the workshop prepping the next day’s work. We have about 17 people working with the Workshop that are just the technical support that doesn’t include any puppeteers. Then on Gorg days, everything just gets bigger. We’ll often bring in day players on Gorg days where we’ll have a few extra people that come in just to help lift the Gorgs.”

Jurgen continues, “Then there are some days where we have three different filming groups going on three different stages.We break it down to whomever has the biggest amount of puppets, so we have two wranglers there. If it’s more simple, up close stuff, we’ll have one person dedicated to that. And then whoever’s in the shop, come on over to the third stage.”

The revival also introduced waterfalls and a real water pond—not CG, as many viewers assume. “The pond in the Great Hall is about eight feet deep,” Tartaglia details. “It’s cool because you do get that sense that it goes down deep. But it’s also practical because this season, we really wanted to do more in the water. We actually got in wetsuits as puppeteers and got in there so that we could really puppeteer them, and they could frame us out to make it look like they really were swimming.”

Johnson adds, “For each of the main “Fraggle Five” that get in the water, we have a whole special puppet that’s just for them, just for the water. And they have special wigs that behave a little bit differently. The water is chlorinated so that it’s safe to climb around but it can kind of bleach out the puppet a little bit. But we have a special puppet just for that, which is a little more durable and then can also be refurbed quickly. We freshen them up between dives. It’s genuinely crazy after one of those scenes because Jurgen and the other wranglers, who are knee deep in the water, are handing them down the line and then we have to run it back to the shop [where we] have a special spinner to spin the water out.”

Looking at Back to the Rock’s felt and fabric cast, Johnson shares that Sprocket is the original puppet from the original show, just freshened up by the Creature Shops here and in New York. “On this kind of a puppet, what goes bad is really the foam inside. It degrades,” he explains. “As the foam inside goes away, they can replace that.”

“And sometimes finding this well-loved fur,” he says of Sprocket’s whole body, “would be almost impossible to replicate. But as a company, we’ve been doing this for a long time, so we have all the patterns. The same with the “Fraggle Five.” These aren’t the original ones, but they’re built exactly the same as the original ones. The methods, the materials, the techniques are the “Fraggle Five,” and that allows us to kind of play a little bit when we get into some of our newer puppets. The Great Glitterini is filled with lights inside hooked up to a lightboard so that they could control that on set. Barry Blueberry uses some of our updated techniques, like his pompadour hairdo is a 3D printed shell.”

Doozer Central

In the adjoining room where the fabricators keep their molds, tools, and 3D printers, Character Designer and Fabricator Robert Bennett introduces us to the Doozers of the past and present. As a computer modeler, Bennett was responsible for figuring out how to freshen up and make the tiny construction critters more mobile and expressive with current techniques.

“We wanted to make sure that we stayed true to the original designs, but we wanted to update them,” Bennett details. “I designed them on a computer, digitally.” In the software, Bennett was also able to create and render all of the Doozer accessories like tool belts, boots, and gloves in the computer and then print them out.

“It’s just easier to 3D print them than actually sculpt them, especially because they’re so tiny,” he explains. “They sculpted them by hand back in the day. Now, especially when you’re doing such high scale for 4K, there’s a massive amount of stuff that you have to do to make it read on camera. Using the computer and 3D printing, you can speed up your pipeline.”

For the Doozers themselves, Bennett says he sculpts their individual body shapes on the computer too, then creates 3D molds to cast them out of foam latex. “It’s basically makeup sponge material,” he reveals. “There’s an outer mold and an air mold so that we can control the [foam] thickness, because on the inside are tons of mechanisms, and so you want just a shell of a skin so that you can fit all that in there.”

For their movement, Bennett says they still puppet Doozers with radio controlled, hand operated devices to move their bodies and mouths. The work of gadget and mechanical genius Faz Fazakas established the animatronic systems, which allows them to use RC controls to make the Doozers to drive their vehicles or move their construction machinery, with hand puppeteering rarely needed.

The Land of the Gorgs

The cranky Gorgs, who have a love/hate relationship with the Fraggles, are the biggest puppets used in the Fraggle World, with Pa, Ma, and Junior brought to life in full scale body suits that are operated by an internal puppeteer working in tandem with an external puppeteer. Performers Dan Garza (voice and facial movements) and Ben Durocher (internal suit and appendage movement) gave us a real time performance of their character work as Junior. Together, they inherited the character who was originally played by legendary Henson puppeteer, Richard Hunt.

Garza says initially he was intimidated to fill Hunt’s shoes, but together they realized they were keeping his performance spirit alive. “There was a fine line between honoring Richard’s work and also making [Junior] my own,” Garza shares. “But a very trusted friend said, ‘You’re never going to be Richard, so you just have to make it your own.’ So, there’s a little bit of Richard and a lot of us. Because it’s not just me, but Benny [Durocher] inside the costume. Sometimes he leads and sometimes I do, and we just follow each other in the process. It’s a wonderful opportunity to improvise, especially when you know each other, and you [share] trust.”

Refreshing the Gang

Rounding out the tour, Tartaglia says that, in remaking some of the puppets and characters, they were able to do what Jim Henson was always trying to do with their performance and technology—make things better and more realistic for the audiences and the puppeteers creating their characters.

In the case of the Gorgs, Tartaglia says that, in the original series, the Gorgs had one or two facial motions like an eye blink and mouth movement. For Back to the Rock, he explains, “We added a lot more [facial] movements, which just makes them so much more empathetic. You could write scenes where Junior could be so much more expressive because he can show it in a much more realistic way now.” Using the RC controls and more wiring under the felt and hair, Garza can add eyebrow moves, cheek shifts, and more eye movements, which allows all three Gorgs to tell more of an emotional story on their faces.

And Garza shares that his feedback even helped change Junior’s final look in this series. “One of the things that was so awesome was the first time I saw Junior, not only did I cry because I cry at everything,” he jokes about himself, “but I went in and looked at the face design.” He says he noticed that Junior’s nose landed in a way that gave this design more of an automatic resting smile. He suggested if they tucked his cheeks up a little more, Junior’s neutral face was more friendly than ever. “When I was a kid, the Gorgs used to scare the hell out of me,” he admits. “So if I’m gonna be spending six months as this big boy, I want to see him in my dreams, not my nightmares.”

Last but not least, we get a story about new Mokey Fraggle (Donna Kimball), who is the Earth child of the Five. She’s got a much wispier hairdo now, which has drawn a lot of attention. Tartaglia says the change wasn’t just cosmetic but one that finally unlocked her whole countenance as a character.

“Even in the original series, [the team] were like, ‘How do we make her better?’ because they never thought her look was 100% right,” he shares. “If you watch her on the original series, she did evolve through the years. They were changing what necklace she wore, or if she had a sweater. Then her hair got flatter. They were always trying to figure her out. So we knew going into the new series that we wanted her to feel just a little bit more youthful and a little bit more part of the gang. A lot of people who didn’t know the show as well would ask, “Oh, is she like the mom? Or, is she like the grandmother character?” So we knew we wanted to give her something lighter and younger. Donna Kimball, who took on the role from Kathy Mullen, has this wonderful, unpredictable improv energy. And so we thought that would also be a fun thing to bring into Mokey. We call it a Moke-over,” he jokes.

Season 2 of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, NBC Insider, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written official books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel StudiosAvatar: The Way of Water and the upcoming The Art of Ryan Meinerding. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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