Minute 61 – One Upping It – The Great Muppet Caper

Kermit and Piggy go for a bike ride.

NOTES AND RESEARCH

Couldn’t We Ride

Why couldn’t we fly

I know we’d get by

Sunny sky

Pretty day

Just a push

And we’re on the way

Yes couldn’t we ride

Side by side

They keep taking it a step up

The circles

The stunts

Lots going on the background

Cars

Horses

Other bike riders

Statler and Waldorf

“Look ma, no brain”

 

Kermit showboating and Piggy doesn’t care

 

To make the scene believable, Jim planned to use whatever was in his arsenal – this included animatronics, radio control, and numerous shots from different vantage points. He also used marionette techniques, having used stringed versions of his characters over the years, dating back to commercials in the ‘60s and The Great Santa Claus Switch and The Muppet Musicians of Bremen in the early ‘70s. For the large marionettes in Caper, a special piece of equipment, an Iron Fairy crane, was needed to hold the puppeteers. Jim’s teenaged son Brian had a knack for this form of puppetry and joined the 110-member production team. He would go on to operate marionettes in many productions over the years.

 

In his application to be considered for a visual effects Academy Award, Jim detailed the work on the scene. Part of the challenge, he explained, was that, “…the puppet’s feet on the pedals had to turn in time with the beat of the music and both to be in time with each other and travel at realistic speed.” He went on, describing that there were three different types of platforms rigged to the crane. When Miss Piggy and Kermit rode side by side and then turned in two circles, the marionettists worked on two circular platforms. As the bicycles went into their circles, the crane stopped moving and the momentum was carried on by the puppeteers who worked around the outside of the platforms. Once the puppeteers got back to their start position, the crane started up and the bicycles continued on a straight path. Several additional paragraphs detailed the use of radio control for the heads, and the use of a tow rope from a large tricycle and variously sized trolleys for the group shots. Additional pages described six additional scenes from the film. Incredibly, the film’s only Oscar nomination was for the music.

 

https://www.henson.com/jimsredbook/2014/09/941980/

 

Although marionette devices continued to be used in this sequence, the process was simplified when multiple bicycles were in the same shot. Two bicycles could be connected together with a stiff rod from axle to axle, eliminating the need to hold the bicycles up and enabling them both to be pulled from in front. In shots of the whole Muppet gang, the entire mass of bicycles — all wired together — was pulled by a fleet of over-sized tricycles and bicycles, ridden by Brian Henson and other performers. Another innovation in this sequence was the use of radio controls to move the characters’ mouths in long shots.

 

Just as in The Muppet Movie, bike-riding Muppets were hand puppets in close-ups. Some shots featured Kermit in the foreground as a hand puppet, with Piggy as a marionette behind him, and other such mixtures of technique.

 

Jim Henson explained all this in the Jim Henson Hour episode “Secrets of the Muppets,” adding that the rig that allowed Kermit and Piggy to ride their bikes around in opposite circles and then come up next to each other “was so complicated that you’re going to have to figure that one out for yourself.”

(These are mostly my thoughts and observations. I have occasionally added some of Annie’s thoughts after the recording. I have done my best to attribute info where needed. Many of the more common facts about the film and The Muppets are not directly attributed to any one source. It is not my intention to claim all of the above information as my own. If you find a place that needs attribution, please contact me with the source and I will be happy to add it.)