by David Mendez
As a nerdy man-child (read: blogger) my heart breaks at the thought that I could have spent part of my childhood being encouraged to use computers by the creators of both Kermit the Frog and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"Jim Henson's Red Book," a project by The Jim Henson Company Archives that curates and selects entries from Henson's daily log, has the details on the meetings of two of popular culture's finest minds.
When Jim Henson had dinner with Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, they must have had much to discuss. The idea of working together on a project was intriguing and in 1985, Adams got involved with some Henson projects. Their shared interest in technology brought the two men together, particularly as Jim explored the possibilities for computer animation (for the Labyrinth opening and Starboppers) and various computing tools.
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Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute — a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”
For more, including concept art of the proposed Muppet Institute of Technology project, head to "Jim Henson's Red Book."