Most Hollywood stars get their own trailer on set, but when you are working with the Muppets you need an entire workshop—a place for cleaning, dressing, and giving the Muppets a little TLC between scenes. Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie, and, as it turns out, even a piece of Muppet cheese needed such a studio on The Muppets‘ set. Longtime Muppet designer Stephen Rotondaro and fashionista/costume designer Rahel Afiley took D23 on a tour of the workshop during the production of The Muppets. As the film lands on Blu-ray this week, Stephen and Rahel reveal what it takes to keep these furry characters looking fabulous.
The workshop itself is just an unsuspecting three-room trailer on the Universal Studios lot, snug up against an empty parking lot. But this place has the power to transform cloth, wire, and foam into a band of iconic Muppet characters. “Some of the puppets here date back to The Ed Sullivan Show,” Stephen says, pointing to a couple of Muppet monsters in his workshop, which appeared in the classic variety show. “We often refurb them from the inside out, which is why it’s important to have good patterns and profiles so you can recreate these things.”
A massive table sits in the center room. On it, plastic cases containing eyelashes, eyes, eyebrows, and other facial features—tools of the Muppet-making trade—are neatly organized and labeled. “A lot of stuff was recreated,” Stephen adds. “Some puppets had gone missing—like Marvin Suggs [the Muppet Show musician known for playing an instrument made of living balls of fluff]. At this point, there are bibles, so everything’s patterned and labeled.”
Hanging on the wall of the workshop are foam legs in the shape of Miss Piggy’s. They dangle there above “how-to” kits like McCalls patterns, which help guide the designers. One especially curious kit is marked, “Burned Chicken.” Perhaps it’s everything you need to give Camilla the Chicken a Kentucky-Fried makeover. But when it comes to new looks, Miss Piggy holds the record for the most costume changes in The Muppets film—12 in all.
Fashion designers went hog wild over Miss Piggy’s wardrobe. “All her pieces are one-of-a-kind,” Rahel, who was responsible for coordinating all the diva’s designer styles, says. The most extravagant, she points out, is the Zac Posen dress. “It’s a lilac dress—very vintage-inspired,” Rahel says. “When we started pre-production it was Fashion Week, and so many designers wanted to be involved. Louis Vuitton designed for Miss Piggy and they were super excited. Most fashion people are pretty excited to do anything for Piggy.”
You’ll see Rahel and Stephen’s handiwork in just about every second of The Muppets. “There’s a scene with Bobo the Bear fencing and he needed a fencing coat,” Stephen says. “You’re just not going to go out and buy a coat for him—so over the course of four or five days we made it. And then the day that they were going to shoot the scene, we were told that he needed gloves, too. So we made gloves in the morning so they could shoot them in the afternoon! He certainly could have fenced without a coat, but it’s not as believable.” And in a movie where hand puppets live in our world, believability is everything.
By D23′s Billy Stanek