It isn’t easy to keep things in perspective and calls for some out-of-the-box thinking. Sets that show just Muppets are typically “Muppet-size”, while sets with human actors could either be man-size or a combination of the two.
Human actors sometimes stand on a platform at approximately the height of the Muppeteer, which means that the Muppet and the Muppeteer are at the appropriate height to interact. This is only sometimes practical, however, which means that trenches are sometimes used to build sets for the Muppeteers to stand in while performing, which are invisible when on camera.
When you go left, I go right
To be able to see the Muppets and what they’re doing, the Muppeteers have monitors that are either strapped to them or positioned in front of them. The Muppeteers are required to always bear in mind that whenever they move to the left or right, the Muppet moves in the opposite direction. If it’s live audio (songs are typically prerecorded and then lip-synched), the Muppeteer has a microphone attached to his headband. Often, scripts are taped to the monitor. However, Muppets don’t always perform one raised set. When outside, a whole new approach is given to Muppeteering. The Muppeteer is forced to either lie down or crouch in order to stay out of the shot while performing. Muppeteers are sat on rolling stools on Sesame Street. A special apparatus is something built to accommodate the Muppet or the Muppeteer.
Making it in the movies
When the Muppet Movie was released to theatres, many were in awe of how the Muppets engaged with the outside world. During an early scene, we see Kermit at his swamp sitting on a log while singing and playing the banjo. It’s real water in the swamp and the camera makes a 360-degree motion around Kermit, which had audiences wondering where the Muppeteer was. Kermit was operated by Jim Henson via a rubber sleeve while squeezed into a tiny chamber that was built below the water. Henson was able to breathe thanks to a tube to the surface. Other movies in the series have featured Muppets flying airplanes, driving cars, and riding bicycles- basically doing those things that humans do. For cycling, builders crafted marionette Muppets that were operated from a rigging device suspended above. Cycling scenes that came later have been achieved through the use of remote control. In driving scenes, Muppeteers had to crouch in the back seat with a little person driving from the trunk while keeping an eye on a monitor.
Flying airplanes and diving into pools call for a technique termed puppet switching. This involves creating some Muppets as both full-body Muppets and hand puppets. They can switch from one to the other depending on what the scene calls for. When Oscar moves around in the trash can in Sesame Street or when MissPiggy roller-skates in The Muppets Take Manhattan, they are little people performing full-body Muppets, as opposed to hand puppets.