Inside a baby dinosaur head, puppeteer Kevin Clash manages to keep a hand in the magic – Baltimore Sun


Thank you to the many callers who reported an error in the Accent story yesterday about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who plays the character Baby on ABC’s “Dinosaurs.” Clash is a resident of Catonsville, but he’s originally from the other side of town: he’s originally from Turner’s Station. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

HOLLYWOOD is doing magic, but on Stage 18 at MTM studio in Southern California, it’s some kind of crazy magic they do.

Behind the door that says “Closed Set: Authorized Personnel Only,” in front of all the cables, wires, chairs, and antennae, up there under the bright lights, the prehistoric and postmodern creatures that populate ABC’s “Dinosaurs” take on their own particular form of telegenic life. Whatever the magic is, it’s another box under another stage for Kevin Clash to sit on.

“I thought the other day, I’ve been crouching under stages, behind walls, sets and curtains all over the world,” said Clash, the Catonsville native who started playing with puppets in high school and ended up becoming a main cast member with the Jim Henson Operation which co-produced “Dinosaurs” with the Disney Studio.

Clash appeared to squint into the brightness of the California sun as he spoke offstage. With the hours he works on “Dinosaurs” and the schedule he keeps for his other commitments — he does Elmo on “Sesame Street,” for example, and tries to stop by to see his wife in Baltimore from time to time. in time – Clash do I don’t see the sun shine that often.

On “Dinosaurs”, he manages the character of Baby, the boiling creature whose birth was chronicled in the first episode of this show. Baby is a bit of the show’s escape character, the child’s constant cry of “Not the mommy, not the mommy,” an anthem of infantile rejection that appeals to all ages.

But, while Baby is the best known in terms of name recognition, he is the smallest in physical size. Which means Clash can do this with one arm tied behind his back while the other manipulates the puppet’s expressive face. The rest of the Sinclair dinosaur family members are large enough to fit puppeteers inside the elaborate costumes, all of which were built at Henson’s state-of-the-art Creature Shop in London, where customers produced the movie versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among others.

Clash’s hand fits inside Baby’s malleable head, which rests on various bodies constructed to position the puppet in situations such as sitting, crouching, or crawling. As for Clash’s body, it should be hidden under the stage or behind the refrigerator or wherever it can be hidden out of sight on this set.

One thing to realize about “Dinosaurs” is that it’s not done with mirrors or chroma-key or any other special effects. When you walk around the set, you can also see Earl and Fran, Robbie and Charlene, and all the other members of the Sinclair dinosaur clan. Sure, they might be missing their heads or something, but you get used to it.

“Dinosaurs,” which airs Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. on Channel 13 (WJZ), is shot like any other sitcom with one camera and no audience. This is done on a stage, in front of a set with a regular director who speaks to his actors through the open mouths of their characters.

In addition to the people inside the Henson-designed dinosaurs, there are also a host of puppeteers at the side of the stage, using radio-control devices to move the characters’ mouths, eyebrows, eyes, and more. It’s a complicated, multi-layered, high-tech operation just to register an expression of surprise on Fran’s face, which makes “Dinosaurs” cost a lot more than the standard price of around $500,000 for a half-hour sitcom.

The puppeteers deliver their characters’ lines, but the words are then re-recorded by actors – Stuart Pankin, Sally Struthers and others – on the show’s soundtrack. Clash is the only person who manages a puppet and also provides their character’s voice.

As Clash stood backstage and watched the filming of a scene that did not involve Baby, he became concerned about the character of the wheelchair-bound Grandma Ethyl.

“He shouldn’t be laughing like that. He’s going to get us in trouble,” Clash said, rising during a pause to lean over and look inside the granny suit, delivering his warning against the high-pitched cackling. .

“Who’s in there?” Clash asked.

“Brian,” said the voice, meaning Brian Henson, son of the late Jim Henson. Brian came to the company with Clash and took over after his father died. He is the co-executive producer of “Dinosaurs” with veteran producer Michael Jacobs.

“That’s how Brian relaxes,” Clash explained. “All these meetings and budgets and stuff gets to him. If he can just come here and be a puppeteer for a few hours, he can put it behind him for a while.

“But Michael will get mad at him if he laughs like that. We’re not supposed to do that.”

The way Clash spoke, you get the image of Henson’s Muppeteers as a roving gypsy-type band that travels the world in search of fun and employment. When the opportunity to do “Dinosaurs” presented itself, Brian phoned and rounded up the usual suspects, who descended on that California stage, bringing their own kind of madness that doesn’t always meet with sitcom producers’ approval. traditional.

Thankfully, more of that zaniness has appeared on screen this season.

“Dinosaurs” was somewhat of a disappointment when it first aired in the spring, a fairly lackluster and straightforward comedy that didn’t exploit the absurdity of its premise, but this year it had great TV parodies to accompany commentary. incisive social, as well as funnier, like an episode that saw the creatures that live inside the dinosaur fridge rebel and take over the house.

“We got a little mixed up last year,” Jacobs acknowledged, citing ABC’s decision to schedule the show in the middle of its Friday night children’s lineup. “We thought we were writing an adult show from the start, and then they put us in the middle of Friday and we weren’t sure what we were supposed to do.

“On Wednesday we know we’re supposed to have a big crowd to start the night off, so this season we’re trying to be a bit crazier.”

If you go to work every day and see a man-sized dinosaur walking around with its mouth open listening to stage instructions, going crazy should be easy.


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