November 1, 2018 9:34 pm

Neil deGrasse Tyson Explores Puppeteering and Performance Capture with Frank Oz and Andy Serkis

There was a moment in the most recent Star Wars film – Star Wars: The Last Jedi  –that really got to me. Luke is about to burn the Jedi temple and library when a subtle, gorgeous dolly shot reveals the ghost of Yoda, watching everything play out. I teared up for two reasons: because I love Yoda, and because I had read that the filmmakers did everything they could to model the new Yoda puppet from the original one used in the first Star Wars. Yes, a film nerd thing to cry over, but still.

Photo of Yoda, Kathryn Mullen and Frank Oz on the set of "The Empire Strikes Back", via muppet.wikia.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0).

Shown: Yoda, Kathryn Mullen and Frank Oz on the set of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Credit: muppet.wikia.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0).

On this episode of StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with legendary puppeteer, actor, and director Frank Oz to discuss the art and science of his craft. Neil is joined in-studio by comic co-host Adam Conover and astrophysicist Charles Liu.

Frank has been behind some of the most notable characters in film and TV history including Yoda, Miss Piggy, the Cookie Monster and many others. You’ll hear how Frank got started with Jim Henson and The Muppets. Learn about the nuances of puppeteering and the impact that Jim Henson had on the art form. We discuss the educational influence of Sesame Street and Frank tells us if he had a favorite character to play. Take a deep dive into the creative process of bringing Yoda to life: learn how Frank was chosen for the role, how he developed the voice, and why Yoda resonates with so many people. We also find out the truth of “The Force.”

We then move from puppeteering to performance capture when the undisputed king of the industry, Andy Serkis, joins our in-studio crew as we explore his pioneering career in the business, both in front of the motion capture camera, and in helping to actually develop the technology. Andy, who was a guest on our show for our Planet of the Apes episode, tells us how the process of motion and performance capture works and how it differs from animation. You’ll hear how Andy captured Cate Blanchett’s performance as Kaa the Python in the upcoming film Mowgli. You’ll also learn more about Andy’s performance and character evolution as Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes series.

We ponder the future of CG in TV and film – and why it’s true that story must always come first. Bill Nye stops by to give us a history lesson on puppeteering and how puppets have helped us convey human stories for thousands of years. All that, plus, you’ll find out why we crave imperfections in performance over perfection.

Please join us tomorrow night for From Puppets to Performance Capture, with Frank Oz and Andy Serkis at 7pm ET right here on our website, as well as on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and TuneIn. If you’re an All-Access subscriber, you can watch or listen to this episode ad-free at 7pm, too.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Ian Mullen