An Interview With Playset Customizer Lance Cardinal
April 25, 2011

INTERVIEW WEEK DAY 1

 A few weeks ago I was forwarded a link from a fellow collector that blew my mind.  I’m sure many of you have seen it as well, as it really started making the rounds even ending up on Fark.com and Digg.com.   The link showed what looked to be a super-human feat of creating a custom playset.   But not just any playset – the Muppet’s Theater.   On the off chance you have not seen this 8th wonder of the world, go here, be amazed and then come back and finish reading this.

OK, are you back now? 

I’ve always said that while I love Super Hero action figures,  one of my favorite toy lines of all time was Palisades’ Muppets line.  The figures were all on model, they were in a relative scale (some things were cheated to add value) and they had a ton of cool, fun, well thought out accessories.   It’s still in my top 3 lines-to-beat for shear awesomeness.  Of course with any mass retail line there are some things that a company just can’t produce or make at an affordable price point.

 

Enter customizer Lance Cardinal.  Lance is the perfect storm of design, theatrical background and love of the Muppets.  And the result of that trifecta is one amazing custom playset.   It would be one thing if it was just a cool custom facade, but Lance went a dozen steps farther and included things like working curtains and fly system, working footlights, a trap door, AND made it in scale with the other Palisades Muppet’s playsets, so that they can sit inside it like "sets."  He also built it to be compatible and connectable to the Palisades’ Muppets’ backstage playset.   There is so much TLC in this playset, no detail was omitted.  I’ve never seen it equal, and neither has the former staff at Palisades or at the Henson studios.  Both of which have now seen the playset and commented on it at Lance’s blog.

We thought it would be fun to reach out to Lance and find out what it took to make this custom marvel and what’s up his sleeve next.  Lance was also kind enough to let us show you some of his work in progress shots of the making of the custom Muppet’s Theater playset.

Let’s take a peek inside the mind of Lance Cardinal and find out where all of that talent and creativity came from, and how he is using his powers for good:

(Click on the title to read the full interview.)

 

AFi: Can you talk a bit about your background in design and in the theater?

Lance: I have spent a lot of years as a professional singer/dancer/actor (18 yrs), and most revently I have

]also gotten into set design, producing, directing and of course, Design. I am a self taught designer, I just went to the Library and got out all the books I could on set design, read all I needed to  and then put myself out there. People responded well to my designs and whimsical point of view on the world andI started getting a lot of work! I was doing about 20-25 shows a year! I set a goal of achieving the highest award Vancouver had in set design and I got it in 5 years.It confirms that following your passion can pay off if you are willing to work hard, put yourself out there and create magic from the heart.

AFi: How long did this project take from start to finish?

Lance:Roughly a month start to finish. This included a lot of sleepless nights and weekends in.

AFi: How long have you been customizing? What kind of a model-making/customizing background does you have?

Lance:I am fairly new to customizing, but I always approach things with this attitude “The only way to justify a passion for something imaginative is to make it a reality”. I have always done creative things with my hands every since I was in grade 3. I used to build entire working carnivals with a rainbow pad of construction paper and glue!! This never stopped through all my teen years and young adult years and through all my different careers and creative endeavours. I have sculpted other character lines including Nightmare Before Christmas and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. (Both are on the blog, as well as others.

AFi: What sort of materials did you use for this project?

Lance:I used so many different materials, but I tried to use what existed in reality. Wooden strips for the floors, custom wooden mouldings (Which I had cut at Ross’ Miniature Attic dollhouse store) for the exteriors, Concrete mix for the brick walls etc. I used small nails and glue, magnets and even Tuck Tape (Shh don’t tell anyone, but it hinges the Muppet Theatre Side wall open). Basically if it existed in the television show, it HAD to exist in the model.

AFi: Do you have a complete Muppets collection?

Lance: I own almost ALL of the Palisades Muppet Figures and play sets, but Im still missing a few (Ill get them one day). I also have a cool collection of vintage Muppet Memorbailia including dolls, lunch boxes, pins, View-Master, records and more.

AFi: Do you have a favorite figure in the line?

Lance: My favourite figure is Fozzie Bear. Such a perfect figure with the magnet hat, rubber chicken and fake nose glasses. So Cool! I also really love Uncle Deadly and Sweetums! Beautiful detailed sculpts.

AFi: Do you have an estimate on how much you spent to create this?

Lance: I have not yet figured out this number yet, I just finished building it and I’m really afraid to look at the bills.

AFi: Where did you get your reference to make this?

Lance: I watched the TV show hour after hour, recording the spots where the stage was shown…(there aren’t very many), the best one was Kermit singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, he starts on a empty stage with set pieces and props. I also looked at old British vaudeville theatre plans since thats what I think the Muppet Theatre is based on.

AFi: How did you go about creating the scale for this project?  It’s one thing to build a proscenium, it is quite another to build it so the other playset "sets" fit onto the stage.

Lance: I used the same scale as the Palisades Muppet line which is roughly 1”scale. This was to ensure accuracy and conveniently it is also the scale sold at dollhouse stores. I based the size on the biggest playset, Pigs in Space. Once I was sure it fit,  I designed everything around that. I also tried to keep realistic to what Palisades might have done while complimenting the existing Backstage Playset.

AFi: Now that it’s finally completed, is there anything you wants to change or update?

Lance: I have lots of things  I need to do like complete some of the backdrops and set pieces (Fozzies comedy backdrop, Veterinarians hospital, Planet Koosebaine etc). I also cant wait to make my “Add Ons”,  The first one will be, Statler and Waldorf’s box seats.

AFi: What advice would you give to amateurs who wanted to attempt something similar? 

Lance: The first thing to do is really make sure that you have the passion for the project. It has to be super inspiring to keep it fuelled. The second thing to do is come up with a plan. Really important. Figure out all the details and supplies, costs, etc. Then you know what to work on, and when. Third, have a vision of the final product. You MUST see the final product done in your mind clearly so you know what you are working towards. This might include sketches of the final idea or photos of similar things. Finally, be ready to work hard and take it seriously. The more you respect your craft, the more you will invest in its progress. So far these three things have worked for me.

AFi: Is there any one aspect of building (painting, casting/molding the brick wall, hanging the curtains) that was the hardest? 

Lance: It all had its difficulties, but the curtains were VERY difficult. So much sewing and measuring. Plus putting in the rope pully system for the opening and closing of the curtains was tricky (which I based on actual specs).

AFi: You also did some amazing tweaks to the backstage playset.   Can you talk a bit about that process?

Lance: This was just to make sure the accuracy was equal on both parts. There are aspects to the backstage playset which were not completed by Palisades due to time and budget. I needed to see this completed for my own satisfaction and of course to fulfill the vision put in originally by the Palisades team. I also really wanted the lights to work!

AFi: Where did you go to find the new scale props used in these new sets?

Lance: The place for me was Ross’ Miniature Treasure House in North Vancouver, BC. It an amazing Mom and Pop shop with the biggest miniature collection in North America. Heres the website: http://members.shaw.ca/ bossross/index.html . Of course I mostly used props from the Palisades Toy Line.

AFi: Some of the Palisades people and the Henson company have seen this now and commented on it.  The Henson company even put it up on their Facebook page.  How did that make you feel?

Lance: This was one of those amazing moments when you see your hard work and passion pay off. It was such an honor to have them speak of my work, these are the types of people I want to work with, and share creativity with. These are the people who shaped my creative mind since childhood and who I built the muppet theatre in honor of. Im still trying to process it.

AFi: Have you done any figure customizing?

Lance: Not yet…but the bug is hitting me and Im just learning how from another Muppet fan online. Im really excited to try it!!

AFi: Do you have a favorite episode or guest star on the Muppet Show?

Lance: I LOVED the Star Wars Episode, so funny, and of course Vincent Price, Harry Belefonte, Raquel Welch, and Martin Short.

AFi: Do you collect any other action figure lines besides the Muppets?

Lance: Nope……

AFi: What’s up next for you?  Can you give us any sneak peeks?

Lance: I have just begun drawings for the Box Seats add on…..but I cant show them yet;) I will send you some exclusive pics of the making of the Backstage Playset!!

AFi: Thank you again for agreeing to do this. I’m really looking forward to reading your answers.

Lance: Thank you so much as well. I’m very happy to be sharing this with everyone at Action Figure Insider. I hope to one day meet some of the members and talk about Muppets!!

 

A huge ‘thank you’ to Lance for answering all of these questions and being so generous with his answers.  Also thank you for being so patient as I have sat on this for a few weeks for it to debut during our 6th anniversary.

You can check out more amazing work in progress shots as well as getting a sneak peek at he next part of the project here at Lance’s blog.

Daniel Pickett
Daniel “Julius Marx” Pickett has been around toys his whole life. The first line he ever collected was Mego’s World’s Greatest Super Heroes line back in the 70s. He has been surrounded by collectables ever since. In 1999 he was confounded by a lack of information and news about some of his favorite toy lines he was collecting. Since he couldn’t find the information he decided to pursue it himself thinking other people might also be interested in the same news. He started writing a weekly column on the toy industry and action figure for a toy news site and in a years time he tripled the sites daily traffic with his updates, reviews and product features. He built relationships with every major toy manufacturer and many sculptors, painters and mold makers. He grew his hobby into a world wide expertise that the industry has embraced. In 2004 he teamed up with his toy buddy Jason “ToyOtter” Geyer and they created their own website www.ActionFigureInsider.com. Daniel has been quoted in both industry and mass media press outlets. Over the years Daniel and AFi have been sought out as experts in the field. Daniel was regularly featured on “Attack of the Show” on the G4 network as the primary contributor to their “Mint On Card” segment, and our front page has been linked to from USA Today’s “Pop Candy” Blog twice. Daniel’s content has also been featured on MSNBC.com, Wired.com, Fark.com, Boing-Boing, Gizmodo.com, Ain’t It Cool News, the Official Star Wars blog, Geekologie, G4, CNet and Toy Fare magazine, among many others. He has consulted on toy lines, books, documentaries and TV shows. But all of that really just sounds snooty and “tootin’ his own horn” – the long and short of it is that Daniel loves toys and he LOVES talking about them.
Read other articles by Daniel Pickett.

 

 

 

3 Comments »

  • George says:

    This guy is amazing. Someone should hire this guy right away. He has the skills, dedication, education, experience and right attitude.

  • CantinaDan says:

    Thank you so much for the interview, Lance! Being another huge fan of the Palisades Muppets line I begin to twitch a little knowing I can’t have this, haha!!! So well done. Thanks for your passion and for all the time and effort it took to build this playset. You are amazingly talented! Again, thanks for doing the interview here at AFi!

  • mr Articulate says:

    Very talented designer. Amazing as this piece is, his other work is great as well. A Dr. Seuss Whoville out of Crayola sculpt is a perfect blend of material and subject. His cabin from the “Evil Dead” is notable for the working interior lights and leafs on the roof. And his set for a production of “A Christmas Carol” is efficiently simple and has a fun Tim Burton vibe.

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