Tricks of the Trade: Black Light Movement

Blackl ights and UV paint enhance the look of Ben and Melissa's long-necked loon.
Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge (Photo: SyFy)

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge Episode 5: Life in Motion — Six designers, working in pairs, have to design large creatures and show off their skills as movement makers.

This week’s Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge had the six remaining creature designers working in pairs to create large scale creatures with an emphasis on movement. We see a demo of this concept with a War Horse inspired black unicorn co-designed by the Haus of Gaga. The screen test will be filmed in black light, so the designers will have the opportunity to paint their creatures with UV paints. Ben/Melissa and Russ/Robert each decide to do birdlike creatures, reminiscent of the beast that teaches you the power jump in Super Metroid. Lex and Jake do a komodo dragon creature that is too ambitious. Since Lex was in charge of the components that didn’t work well in the creature, she gets eliminated. Melissa did a last minute fix on the wings of her bird, giving her the win.

What tricks did we learn from the creature designers this week?

Read the Project Brief.

The emphasis this week was on movement, not aesthetics. The painting of the creatures was to allow for crisper detail of movement in the black light rather than to make the creations look cool. Jake spent a lot of time sculpting his creature’s head when he could have been helping Lex with the execution of the creature’s large body.

Airbrushing > Brushing

The third and final day of the challenge was spent practicing with the puppeteers and getting the creatures painted. In general, airbrushing causes things to look rather fake on film. However, the combination of black light on synthetic materials makes airbrushing the ideal application method. Regular brushing looks too deliberate and unnatural.

Feet and Legs are Challenging.

Part of the reason Melissa and Ben won the challenge was because they were the only ones to properly execute walking. As anyone who has played QWOP understands, the mechanics of working legs are surprisingly complex. Lex and Jake failed completely, with feet not landing on the ground and knees not working as joints. Russ and Robert did an okay job, but there were some steps that did not land properly. Melissa and Ben considered ankles, knees, and hips in their design, creating realistic movement.


This is probably the most usable trick of the trade we lay people will get from this show. If you are working in black light and need to prevent something from glowing, just smear on some sunblock.

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Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: