The Muppets Take Mountain View.
Today, Google’s Bay Area-based imagineers and the Muppets’ digital puppeteers have teamed for a new, interactive “Doodle.”
The home-page logo animation — refashioned with six Muppets that the user can manipulate by clicking on “hand” buttons — celebrates what would have been the 75th birthday Saturday of late Muppets creator Jim Henson.
Google software engineer Kris Hom says there are “special animations to discover as you play with the Doodle.” (By clicking on each “hand,” the corresponding Muppet will follow your mouse pointer and open its mouth; you also can make the bespectacled head lose his glasses, or — our personal favorite — make the far-right-hand Muppet chow down on the long-necked character next to it, as if to remind that it’s not easy being green.)
[Update: Some fans are also using the Doodle to create Muppet Karaoke; the amateur video clips include “Rolling in the Deep.”]
The six new Muppets were designed expressly for this project, using the Henson Digital Puppetry Studio that boasts “immediate real-time performance of 3-D generated characters by a puppeteering system.”
The Jim Henson Company says the Google partnership is a way to ”commemorate and celebrate Jim’s creative legacy.” (Google tweeted: “Become a digital puppeteer today and tomorrow with our homepage tribute to Jim Henson!”)
“He loved gadgets and technology,” Brian Henson, chairman of the Jim Henson Company, writes about his dad in a Google blog tribute. “Following his lead, The Jim Henson Company continues to develop cutting-edge technology for animatronics and digital animation, ... But I think even he would have found it hilarious the way today some people feel that when they’ve got their smartphone, they no longer need their brain.”
Google and the Henson company have had a positive “synergy” for years. In November 2009, to mark the 40th anniversary of “Sesame Street,” Google featured a series of main-page character Doodles. Google’s first paid employee, Craig Silverstein, founded a Muppets newsgroup. And in 2006, Google Earth received a Jim Henson Honor for technology.
[TOP GOOGLE DOODLE: Our Fave Five logo animations]
Born in Greenville, Miss., in 1936, Henson created his fuzzy, goggle-eyed puppets in the ‘50s, and they soon began appearing on local television while he attended the University of Maryland (where he met his future wife and the show’s co-producer, Jane Nebel).
In 1969, Kermit the Frog, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and the rest of the lovable furry troupe began to appear on PBS’s new ”Sesame Street.” By the ‘70s, the Muppets gained a hit prime-time show (and Miss Piggy) and, soon, hit the big screen. (Their newest feature film is November’s ”The Muppets,” starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams.)
Henson died in May of 1990, at age 53.
“Jim was as nice a person as I've found in real life,” Muppets Studio director Kirk Thatcher told Comic Riffs last year. “He was always buying dinner and springing for dessert. He was warm and fuzzy. He was genuinely above and beyond what you would consider 'nice.' “
[THE MUPPETS: Another million-view viral success]
Henson once said: “The most sophisticated people I know — inside they are all children.”
This weekend, in his enduring spirit, his namesake company and Google let us all click like kids.