For decades, the Jim Henson Company has immersed audiences into the worlds of Muppets, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock. In January, Disney+ will incorporate even more content from the Jim Henson Company library with the release of new episodes of Earth to Ned on January 1 and the addition of all four seasons of Dinosaurs on January 29. We had the chance to sit down with Allan Trautman, who worked on both Dinosaurs in the 90s and Earth to Ned in 2019, to learn more about his experiences as a puppeteer with the Jim Henson Company and what fans can expect when these shows land on Disney+ in January.
Keep reading for our full, EXCLUSIVE interview!
CORBAN: What was your first experience working with The Walt Disney Company, and how did you get involved with Earth to Ned on Disney+?
ALLAN TRAUTMAN: My first experience working with the Walt Disney Company would probably be MuppetVision 3D, the movie installation that played in a few of the Disney theme parks, California Adventure included. It was my first job with the Jim Henson Company, too. The earliest BIG job I did with Disney would be Dinosaurs, the ABC series from the early nineties.
I got involved with Earth to Ned much the same way I get involved with most productions—a phone call for an audition. I have been working regularly with The Jim Henson Company since MuppetVision 3D, and I’m pretty sure that Brian had me in mind for Ned’s animatronic puppeteer because of my experience with the digital performance system they use. Still I auditioned for Cornelius, and didn’t do a great job. I’m glad Michael Oosterom was cast—he’s terrific in the role.
CORBAN: Man, MuppetVision 3D is one of my favorites! Plus, as you mentioned, Michael Oosterom was the perfect Cornelius, and the combination of Cornelius and Ned set up some great moments for the show. While you have worked for projects ranging from the parks to the screens, what did a “day in the life” look like for you on the set of Earth to Ned?
ALLAN TRAUTMAN: In a word, packed. We had a lot of ground to cover each day. We shot 40 segments (to fill 20 episodes) completely out of order. Little bits and pieces of this script and that script, mixed in with interviews done whenever it was convenient for the guests. It was crazy. Things would get started early, and we wouldn’t finish for about 12 hours. For me, the entire day was spent next to Paul Rugg. We shared Ned’s control system, and so I was essentially lashed to the mast, just hanging on for dear life as Paul would improvise. (Even when there was scripted material, I never know how Paul was going to deliver it.) I would perform Ned’s facial expressions (other than his lips, which Paul performed) in reaction to what I was hearing. The same went for the four other puppeteers inside Ned’s body. What a ride!
CORBAN: Wow, it sounds like you had your hands full every day, both literally and figuratively! You also starred as Fran Sinclair (among other characters) in the ABC comedy Dinosaurs, which will be landing on Disney+ on January 29. While it’s been over 25 years since Dinosaurs aired on ABC, what can viewers still expect to gain from the show when they watch it in 2021?
ALLAN TRAUTMAN: Dinosaurs, as they say, was ahead of its time. The pace might be slow compared with today’s TV, but the material, I think, and the comedy, should hold up. The writers on the show dealt with social conditions that still exist, after all, and I’m hoping most of them remain relevant.
CORBAN: Well, I can’t wait to watch Dinosaurs in its entirety on Disney+! You described a bit of the differences in pacing between shows like Earth to Ned and Dinosaurs, but how did working on the iconic Dinosaurs compare to your experience performing on Earth to Ned?
ALLAN TRAUTMAN: First the differences. Dinosaurs was my first major-network, prime-time series. I was still learning my way around the performance system that was used then, which eventually evolved into the system we used for Ned. We had five overly-full days to shoot one half-hour of Dinosaurs; we shot the equivalent of one half-hour episode of Ned in one day.
Similarities: both shows were wonderful experiences. I knew, at the time we were in production, that each one of them was an unusual, funny, worthwhile production. I had the cushy job on both: animatronic puppeteer. Other puppeteers were inside Ned, wrangling his body and arms—not easy. I was either sitting or standing at my station—like I said, relatively cushy.
CORBAN: The team of puppeteers on Earth to Ned was top-notch, and your animatronics work helped give the perfect amount of realism to the character of Ned. Having been a puppeteer for the Jim Henson Company for decades, what puppet characters have you worked with over the years, and which character has been your favorite to operate?
ALLAN TRAUTMAN: I gravitate toward big characters. Characters that aren’t afraid to let you know how they feel. Fran was one. Pre-Henson, there was Johnny Paste from Timmy the Tooth direct-to-video series from the nineties. Gush from Splash and Bubbles was a big, joyous hoot to play. Even though none of my actual performance made it to the finished product, I performed Bagheera and Shere Khan in the 2016 Disney “live-action” version of The Jungle Book, an experience I enjoyed immensely. And now, of course, Ned!
CORBAN: Those are some awesome characters to have on your resume! While the film and TV industry has seen its fair share of challenges in 2020, do you know if a second season of Earth to Ned is in development, and do you have any future projects in the works?
ALLAN TRAUTMAN: I don’t know any more than you do about Disney’s plans for Earth to Ned. I would love to do a second season, though!
At the moment, I’m in production on a show for Nickelodeon called The Barbarian and the Troll. I play two characters that are fast becoming two of my favorites—a kooky wizard and the commander of an army of the undead! Look for the premier of this show either in January or in March of 2021.
CORBAN: I am excited to watch the new episodes of Earth to Ned on January 1, and I will definitely be on the lookout for the premiere of The Barbarian and the Troll in 2021. Thanks so much for joining me to chat and to share some of your story!
And, to the reader, you can check out brand-new episodes of Earth to Ned on Disney+ starting January 1st and watch all seasons of Dinosaurs on January 29th.