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The Hidden Animation of ‘Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock’ Season 2

Storyboards, previs, and innovative ways to digitally support the unmatched charm of its puppetry mark the all-new season of the Apple TV+ series, which dives deeper into the captivating world of Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red with a host of new Fraggles, new songs, and themes of interdependence and environmental awareness​​.

Who runs the world? Puppets! At least, that’s how the Fraggle Rock team sees it. 

“We always say puppets are cool,” says John Tartaglia, executive producer, writer and Gobo actor and puppeteer on Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock. “And no one can really explain why they're so lifelike and why you believe them. Even those of us who do it every day have a hard time explaining it. They're tactile, they're real, they’re right there, and they're your best friends. We need more puppets.”

Folks at the Jim Henson Company have always felt the same way and certainly delivered on their mission when they partnered with Picture Shop and New Regency Productions to reboot their 1983 series Fraggle Rock. Developed by Alex Cuthbertson and Matt Fusfeld, the reboot follows Fraggles Gobo (Tartaglia), Mokey (Donna Kimball), Wembley (Jordan Lockhart), Boober (Dave Goelz), and Red (Karen Prell) as they live their lives within Fraggle Rock – located through a hole in a house belonging to a woman named Doc (Lilli Cooper) and her dog Sprocket – while experiencing different adventures along the way. 

In Season 2, which airs all 13 episodes on Apple TV+ Friday, March 29, there are big changes affecting the Rock, the Fraggles, and friends Doozers and Gorgs. They will be forced to confront their past and celebrate their interdependence as they move through challenges together with glittery hope, rainbow portal silliness, windstorms, and brand-new songs. New Fraggles and Doozers are voiced by special guest stars including Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose, Emmy Award winner Brett Goldstein, Emmy Award winner Catherine O’Hara, Tony and Grammy Award winner and Emmy Award nominee Daveed Diggs, and Grammy nominee Adam Lambert.

Check out the trailer:

“With all the reboots and remakes out there, we feel like this is the one to watch,” says Halle Stanford, executive producer with Tartaglia on the series. “The world needs more Fraggles. And those sets are real. They’re not CG-generated. That water is real, and those puppeteers are in scuba gear.”

Tartaglia explains, “If you're watching the first episode of the first season, when they're flying through all the different caves on these waterslides, 90% of that was animation, but we puppeteers did get into this water trough we built that was probably 15 feet long and there was this rushing water coming down past us. When we were shooting it, we were like, ‘How’s this going to look?’ And then you see, and you're like, ‘This is the most gorgeous sequence I've ever seen.’”

The Fraggle Rock team leans heavily into practical effects, doing their best to stick with the tactile theme of the show. But, as willing as the puppeteers are to sport scuba gear at a moment’s notice, there are many times when animation makes a great effects dance partner. 

“I feel like puppetry and animation are brother and sister, in a way,” says Tartaglia. “Because, either way, you're taking an art form and using it to make people believe in life. You're giving life to something inanimate. We use animatics. We use storyboards. We use a lot of those things to sell the concept of what we want to do, which are used in animation all the time.” 

Though much of the animation assistance last season consisted of creating CG backgrounds, this season the team is adding more physical sets and more visual effects animation. 

“Sometimes we’re just using visual effects to hide puppet rods, but not in this season,” says Stanford. “We're leaning into messaging about climate change, and you will see in one episode that we have these big windstorms with big effects. And it was pretty thrilling because it could take it to another epic level. So, the animation helps us either enhance the action, the scale, the drama, or sometimes the sparkle.”

And she means that literally. 

“There’s a fun episode directed by John [Tartaglia], ‘The Great Glitterini,’ where we have a lot of animated glitter. Possibly more glitter than ever has been on television before.”

The Great Glitterini features the Fraggles friends as they lean the art of being themselves, loud and proud, from a tall and dazzling glitter guru, voiced by Lambert, in a place called The Glitter Globe. 

“Alex’s and my first job was in animation,” shares Fusfeld, who has written for animated series like American Dad!. “And this was our first puppet show. Writing for it’s been a huge learning curve. The windstorm was enormous, and The Glitter Globe was enormous, and when we wrote that first episode last season with the waterslide, we were completely ignorant as to how challenging that would be to make. In an animated show, yes, that would be complicated, but it would not be complicated in the way of people getting into scuba gear and getting into a big water slide that we then had to make look good. We get to take advantage of animation from that standpoint.”

Check out this exclusive clip, “A New Look,” featuring Lambert as “The Great Glitterini:”

One of the biggest challenges in the whole season was figuring out how, in The Great Glitterini, the puppets, shrouded in glitter, would then change their outfits and hairstyles, and make it all look real and believable. 

“That was a puzzle to figure out,” says episode director Tartaglia. “We ended up using the motion capture camera but, if we hadn't had the previs and those storyboards, I think people would have been just staring at me blinking.”

Previs proved to be the MVP on multiple episodes for The Fraggles. Luckily, Karen Prell, who played Red in the original series and plays the same character in the reboot, is a veteran animator who has worked on blockbuster hits like A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2.

“She's animated for Pixar, Disney and beyond, so Karen can, very quickly, put together an animation or an animatic example,” says Tartaglia. “Sometimes, when she'd have this great idea for Red to do some kind of dive and bounce off this pole and then land in the pond, she’d say, ‘Give me one night to put together this animatic,’ and she'd come in next morning with this visual that would really help the director see what she saw instantaneously.”

Stanford adds, “And it helps us stay on schedule. Jonathan A. Rosenbaum, one of our fantastic directors, is famous for his storyboards because he's terrible at drawing. We actually had them framed for him because he embraces it. But he has big visions for either action sequences or musical numbers. And he has to demonstrate to all of us – the producers, the production designers, everyone – how we are going to achieve this in our day.”

Along with the glittery transformations, there are multiple sequences where The Fraggles slide through a portal that takes them to places like The Raddish Ball. The Fraggles are transported through the tube – which features a seemingly never-ending, glowing rainbow swirl – multiple times.

“It's this great collaboration of all departments figuring out all the pieces that have to be there,” notes Tartaglia. “For the special effects department, if the Fraggles are flying through this tunnel, do they need the wind in their hair so it can look like there's movement? Then there’s the visual effects department saying, ‘Okay, we can shoot it on blue, but it needs to be lit a certain way so that it matches the animation that we might have a pre-vis of, but maybe we don't.’ Then the post department makes sure that they're enhancing what we've already done on set. Then it's the puppeteers on set going, ‘So it curves here, but how does it curve there? And which time is this?’ All these different people come together under the guidance of the director to know how everything should collaborate to make these kinds of moments happen. We really have to think ahead because something that we shoot that day has to work six months later in post-production.”

Along with credit going to Fraggle Rock’s “A-Team artists,” as Stanford puts, the success of the show’s animated portions also lies with the practical efforts that come on the front end of production. 

“We use animation to plus it but none of this would be possible whatsoever without what’s been really built and physically done,” says Fusfeld. “Truly, as much as possible has got to be done practically. I think it's cool that we ended up building a Fraggle-size Gorgs garden. Last season it was a lot of greenscreen, but now you'll see, when they're standing in soil, that’s real.”

Tartaglia says he personally loves all the Kermit-Riding-the-Bike moments in the show, referring to the times when the puppets’ full bodies are shown. The team actually tries to incorporate a sequence like this at least once per episode. 

“When Red would do one of her crazy jumps off the cliff and spin six times in the air and land, we could have just animated that,” admits Tartaglia. “But we were like, ‘Let's do it live.’ And Karen would lead a team of puppeteers and we'd be directing like, ‘If you're over here, and then you duck under this elbow here with the rod for the tail, so it doesn't cross the body…” That kind of problem-solving, we love.”

He adds, “And I do really love puppets in water. Whenever there was a chance to put the puppets physically in water, it was hilarious to do. I’d get on my scuba suit, dive in, and get out of frame. It would be easier to animate, but not as much fun.”

The EPs, if given the chance, all hope to up the amount of new fantastical places and funky caves in future episodes and do more to make the most of what animation has to offer a puppet show. 

“And I'll say one other thing, which is that I love taking Uncle Traveling Matt out into the real world to Mexico City, to Seoul, and doing a K-pop video in this season,” notes Stanford. “It would be great to see him go around the world more. It would be so much fun.”

Tartaglia concludes with, “The fact that this is probably the biggest puppet production in years on television, and that it's been so successful, is really encouraging. We're grateful to our fans and the families that have discovered it, and we hope to take them on more adventures.”

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Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at