Oscar’s Hotel is filled with some pretty bizarre creatures. Based on a surreal short by PJ Liguori (a.k.a. KickThePJ on YouTube), the six-episode series focuses on a hotel filled with crazy residents, ranging from a spacy humanoid hermit crab (Grace Helbig) to an art-loving, aristocratic queen bee (Hannah Hart). So when Liguori partnered with Vimeo and New Form Digital to turn his surreal short into a full-blown series, he knew he was going to need some help bringing his crazy creatures to life. And who knows crazy creatures better than Jim Henson’s Creature Shop?
The resulting monsters range from a troop of sentient food (led by Elliott Gould, who voices a piece of meat) to a pair of enormous repo men fish (voiced by Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart). But of all the monsters who stop by, the Creature Shop’s craziest creation might be Octochef, the enormous eight-armed head of the hotel’s kitchen.
“She’s really fun, and a bit boozy, and has these crazy tentacles that are out of control that kind of have minds of their own that assist her with her cooking,” Liguori says.
When Liguori and his team were sketching out characters for the series, they immediately fixated on YouTube star Mamrie Hart as the perfect choice for Octochef. Although they had never worked together before, Liguori reached out to gauge her interest, and Hart promptly signed on. “When PJ first asked me to be a part of the series, I immediately said yes because it was Jim Henson, but I had no idea that I would have the biggest, most badass creation of the entire series,” she says. “But I might be biased.”
Octochef was the biggest project the Creature Shop tackled, and to bring the character to life, they built an enormous costume out of foam, latex, and armature wire, which allowed Hart to sit and operate the front two tentacles. Six other puppeteers crouch around her feet, each operating a tentacle of their own. “I learned that you get to know the puppeteers very well and very fast when you’re dealing with such a beast of a costume,” Hart says. “Luckily for me, the Henson crew is the epitome of professionalism, despite me having a panic attack being glued in the first 10 minutes, followed by me sweating buckets.”
Although Liguori says he wanted the series to still maintain the homemade “KickThePJ aesthetic,” he was psyched to take advantage of the Creature Shop’s resources to build even bigger, crazier creations. “Everything my team and I have ever made has always just been hobbled together with whatever materials we could get our hands on, and to us, we see that as a really unprofessional way of doing it,” he says. “But then when I actually saw the Creature Shop folks working in the shop, what they were doing wasn’t too far away from what we would normally do. It’s just that everything was a lot more professionally executed.”
The Creature Shop even helped bring some of Liguori’s older ideas to life, like the Repossession Fish, which first appeared as a 2-D animation in one of Liguori’s old YouTube videos. Thanks to the Creature Shop, they appear in Oscar’s Hotel as 8-foot-tall puppets — and they’re voiced by Stewart and Molina.
“I think the world is so bizarre and intriguing that I would like to hope that it’s kind of an inviting thing to come and do,” Liguori says. “It just feels like one big family, where you go into work the next day and it’s different from the last, and one day you’re in this crazy small cramped cave, and the next day you’re in a fridge, like this open tundra fridge.”
“It was truly a surreal day in the Octochef costume,” Hart says. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be a Jim Henson creature, and thanks to PJ, that became a reality. Plus, when you’re glued into a costume operating several tentacles, you don’t seem like a bitch when you scream at someone to grab you a Redbull. So it was nice to have that excuse for a while.”
All six episodes of Oscar’s Hotel are available now on Vimeo On Demand.
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