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THE MUPPETS

Making Mayhem
When A-listers Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the Muppets decided to return to the big screen after 12 years—much to the delight of their fans—filmmakers knew that the glitz and glamour of Hollywood would be the perfect setting for the film. Disney's "The Muppets” shot on location in and around Los Angeles as well as at some legendary Hollywood landmarks, including Grauman's Chinese Theater, Canter's Deli, Greystone Mansion and Pink's Hotdogs.

It's not easy being green and it's not easy creating the world of the Muppets either. Just ask production designer Steve Saklad. "We found that Muppets come to life in certain kinds of worlds and go flat in other kinds of worlds.”

Saklad did extensive research into the original set and props from "The Muppet Show.” "We arrived at an aesthetic that had a period sense to it even when we're doing contemporary work,” he says. "We have this great sense of history in every scene.”

And when it comes to creating the backdrop for Muppets, color is key, says the production designer. "We have main actors who are green and blue and pink and orange, so we were able to step things up to a richer red, a richer gold, a richer lavender.”

The film begins at the home of Gary and Walter in Smalltown, USA. According to Saklad, their house has a retro feel to it but nothing era-specific was used to convey the idea that the film could be taking place at any point in time. Since the story revolves around a trip to Los Angeles, Saklad decorated Gary and Walter's home with travel-themed rooms. There was airplane wallpaper in the bedroom, sailboat wallpaper in the bathroom, and a wide assortment of model airplanes, trains and rocket ships throughout their home. There were also several pictures on the walls dating back to their early childhood.

Saklad themed Smalltown with 1950s Norman Rockwell in mind, lining the streets with mom-and-pop shops, like a butcher shop, a flower shop, a drug store, plus a host of American flags. The old-school Americana theme extends to the props on shop teacher Mary's desk. "When we first meet Mary in her school, there's a row of 18 apples marching across her school desk—one for each of her students.”

Hollywood's grittier surroundings are a far cry from Smalltown, but Saklad found the perfect location for Muppet Studios. "We actually shot at the Jim Henson Company headquarters on the historic Charlie Chaplin lot, so it has this great history to it.”

The story called for a run-down look for Muppet Studios, so the set design incorporated rust, cobwebs and a lot of wear and tear. A sign at the entrance proclaims a series of tour attractions and their sad fates: Fozzie's Joke Room, "Closed”; Gonzo's Cannonade, "Closed for Repair”; Rowlf's Music Parlor, "Under Renovation”; Dr. Honeydew's Laboratory of Fun, "Out of Order.”

According to Saklad, Kermit's office offers a glimpse back in time to his heyday. "It's inspired by Brian Henson's office,” says Saklad. "We also incorporated the 1915 Charlie Chaplin–era architecture.”

Saklad's team mounted a collection of Kermit-inspired banjos on the wall as well as a treasure trove of Muppetabilia. A small exit door is seen within the desk alcove, modeled after the one actually found in Jim Henson's office. A leaded monogram in the stained glass bay window reads "K F” for Kermit the Frog. Decorating the office are two well-worn megaphones from the Cecil B. DeMille era, a mini-tuxedo on a silent butler, Underwood typewriters, Rolodexes and a framed blowup of an antique postcard to remind Kermit of his swamp from the first Muppets movie.

The exterior of Kermit's mansion was filmed at a private residence in Encino, while the interior of the mansion was filmed at the famous Greystone Mansion. Greystone, which is now in operation as a park in Beverly Hills, was once the home to the Doheny family, who coincidentally made their fortune in oil.

Miss Piggy's Vogue Paris office was shot inside the Pink Palace mansion in Bel Air. Saklad's team incorporated elaborate draperies and ornate furnishings.

One of the biggest and most important undertakings of the set design was recreating the Muppet Theater. Saklad studied images from "The Muppet Show” as well as iconic theaters on Broadway. The Muppet Theater was built into the original "Phantom of the Opera” theater set from the 1920s film, located on the Universal Studios lot. The set is now on the National Historic Register, so Saklad and his team had to get approval to turn it into the Muppet Theater set.

The film's big finale performance was shot on Hollywood Boulevard, just outside of the famous El Capitan Theatre. Coincidentally, part of the scene was shot under a lamppost banner with a picture of a grinning Jim Henson looking down onto the street below. Says executive producer Martin G. Baker, "I feel there's a little bit of Jim in a lot of us, and somehow collectively, we're able to keep the spirit of what the Muppets are all about.”

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