The Importance of Being Kermit

24 Sep

**please note, I do not sell replicas of copyrighted characters. This build is for my own private collection**

Ah yes. The frog.

Is there any more iconic puppet? Anyone who loves The Muppets, who grew up with the work of Jim Henson and company, knows that this (apparently) simple little amphibian is the North Star of the genre.

It goes far beyond just the design and construction of course. Jim put so much of himself into Kermit, it’s hard to really see a delineation. Owing to a very simple structure,  Jim’s hands brought Kermit to life in a much more *direct* way than other characters. And over the years Kermit’s personality moved closer and closer to Jim’s; the kindly and occasionally frazzled leader who held together a ragtag gaggle of misfits and freaks, who’s biggest desire in the world was to entertain.

Kermit is *embedded* in the subconscious of everyone who loves this style of puppetry, and naturally, everyone would love to have a Kermit. And when you build puppets, you can make that happen.

To puppet builders, making a Kermit is a rite of passage. And this might seem odd because at first glance, Kermit is very simple. Really just an elaborate sock puppet with a couple of ping pong balls, right? Well, yes, honestly, on a purely structural basis. But with Kermit, the devil is in the details. His form is so iconic and so firmly rooted in our minds, that if you get one thing slightly off, the whole thing looks wrong. Kermit requires not just knowledge and skill at building puppets, but the ability to capture the *essence* of a character. You cannot build a good Kermit unless you *understand* Kermit.

The true test of a chef is not if they can make a complex soufflé, it’s how they make a slice of toast.

Two years ago when I set about to build a Kermit of my own, I was ill prepared for the task, and struggled quite a bit. Although I came close, something was just a bit off. Kermit’s famously flexible mouth was a big stumbling block. Of course I knew all the conventional wisdom that floats around puppet building circles — gasket rubber being the material of choice — but for various reasons it never worked out for me. The glue wouldn’t hold, the inner lip was too large, it was misaligned, etc.

First attempt at a Kermit head

It was really quite distressing. There’s a weight of responsibility one feels when working on Kermit that isn’t present in other builds. This isn’t any puppet. This is royalty. You have to get it right. After a series of failed attempts to make even a decent head, I had to shelve the frog. I wasn’t ready.

In the intervening time I worked on builds for the Esty shop and generally tried to improve my skills. Like any other craft, puppet building is a matter of practice. There are conventional methods and accepted ways of doing things, and the novice *must* learn those and internalize them; but once those lessons are learned, you find that sometimes you do things different than the standard way. Slowly, with care, you find *your* way.

A few months ago I felt ready to return to my Kermit build, and this time things were different. I had developed processes and methods I preferred, and I decided that I would be bold and try to build a Kermit that way. For practice. It went pretty well.

There comes a moment in every build, usually when placing the eyes and pupils, that the character springs to life. I will never forget the moment I placed Kermit’s pupils on and instantly knew I’d done it. He wasn’t technically perfect, but I’d captured the core feeling of the character. I was satisfied.

Practice Kermit done

Kermit’s design has changed quite a bit over the years, and in order to get things right I had to do a lot of research. The result is my goal was not to make a replica per-say, but to create a kind of composite Kermit, blending the qualities of many decades in an alchemy that resulted in the essence of Kermit.

That was for practice. Now is the time to do it for real. Now comes Final Kermit.

At the time of this writing he’s about 70% done, but I’m very happy with how it’s going. Folks who follow my Twitter feed will know some of the design choices I’ve made — pilly 70’s style fleece, muted colour, floppy fingers instead of armature etc — and it’s going much smoother thanks to the experience of building the practice Kermit. A few more days will tell.

Final Kermit under construction

As a character Kermit is very much a *summary*. He’s Jim’s kindness and creative drive, he’s Steve and Matt honouring a legacy, and he’s our hope for a gentler, more generous world. He’s not silly, but he is the axle around which much silliness revolves. He is quiet happiness.

It’s not easy being green, but it’s worth the effort.

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