Part of what made Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance one of the best (if not the best) shows on television last year is that, in an era of CG whizzbang delights that define our blockbuster entertainment, its handcrafted, intimate puppetry was something truly enchanting, heightening its vivid fantasy all the more. But it wasn’t all puppets and real sets. CG was vital to making Thra feel bigger than ever.
As this excellent reel from Double Negative shows, the company’s digital work on Age of Resistance was primarily in extension and enhancement—adding to things that were already shot on the series’ myriad physical sets. That included expanding them or patching up where sections had been removed to make way for puppeteers, or by breathing further life into vehicles, creatures, and the puppet heroes themselves through blinks and subtle movements. But Double Negative also crafted a significant number of purely CG environments, creatures, and doubles for the puppets as well, not just to aid in moments either too grandly scaled or too hectic for physical puppetry, but to help Thra itself feel as fantastically vast as it does in our minds.
There’s a remarkable section of The Crystal Calls, Netflix’s behind-the-scenes documentary about making Age of Resistance, that is almost as fascinating as the show it’s about, where the team at the Jim Henson Company could’ve very easily leaned on the narrative that their approach was better, superior, more human, in comparison to an overreliance on CG effects.
Instead, it rightfully championed the place Double Negative’s work had in making Age of Resistance the remarkable production it was, working in tandem not just to enhance what was done in the show’s practical work, but push that practical work even further that the Henson Company thought it could. Lore, for example—the stone guardian that aids Brea and her friends throughout the season–wouldn’t exist in the way it does from a design or movement perspective, without Double Negative enhancing what puppeteers and craftsmen could do on set with the character’s design and movement.
So yes, Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’s puppetry is rightly celebrated as one of its most triumphant and successful attributes. But it was allowed to be as remarkable as it was not because the people behind it eschewed digital artistry for practicality, but instead worked in tandem with it to make something truly magical.