Photo of Yoda, Kathryn Mullen and Frank Oz on the set of "The Empire Strikes Back", via [CC BY-SA 3.0 (
Photo of Yoda, Kathryn Mullen and Frank Oz on the set of "The Empire Strikes Back", via [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

From Puppets to Performance Capture, with Frank Oz and Andy Serkis

Shown: Yoda, Kathryn Mullen and Frank Oz on the set of "The Empire Strikes Back." Credit: [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

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About This Episode

Yoda, Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, King Kong, Caesar, Gollum – these are some of the most iconic characters in pop culture history, and on this episode of StarTalk Radio, we’re sitting down with the men who brought them to life. Neil deGrasse Tyson is joined by Frank Oz, legendary puppeteer, actor and director, and Andy Serkis, undisputed king of performance and motion capture, to investigate the ins and outs of their craft. In-studio, Neil is joined by comic co-host Adam Conover and astrophysicist Charles Liu.

You’ll learn how Frank got started with Jim Henson and The Muppets. Explore Jim Henson’s legacy on television and the art of puppeteering. Investigate the educational influence of Sesame Street. Frank tells us about the nuances of puppeteering. Find out which Muppets character is Frank’s favorite to play. Go behind the creation of Yoda, the legendary Jedi master from Star Wars. Frank explains how he got the role and why Yoda speaks in backwards sentence structure, and we discuss why Yoda has had such an impact on popular culture and the zeitgeist. We also investigate the truth behind “The Force.” Neil tells Frank his biggest gripe about Yoda and Adam calls out Neil on ruining everyone’s favorite movies. We discuss the emergence and future of CGI and where it works best in films and television, as well as where CGI might apply in education and comedy.

Next, Andy Serkis takes us behind-the-scenes of performance capture. You’ll learn more about the evolution of Andy’s character “Caesar” in the recent Planet of the Apes films. You’ll also find out how Andy prepares for a role that’s primarily motion or performance capture and he tells us how he captured Cate Blanchett’s performance as “Kaa the Python” in Mowgli. You’ll hear why audiences are drawn to imperfections in performance. Frank tells us why it’s important for every director to step in front of the camera. Bill Nye checks in from the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image to give us a history lesson on how we’ve been using puppets for thousands of years to tell human stories. All that, plus, Neil gives us the cosmic perspective as it relates to the realm of puppeteering.

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