If you grew up in the 1980s or before, chances are puppets delighted and frightened you. Later generations have become increasingly exposed to computer graphic creations. That's the norm. And puppets....
Thanks to the brilliance of puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the 1970s were a puppet Renaissance of sorts with Henson creating Sesame Street and Henson collaborator Oz going on to do puppetry work in Star Wars and later in Labyrinth. The two co-directed a film together — fantasy film The Dark Crystal.
It was an analog era, an era that corresponded with the rise of video games, and as we hurdled closer to the current HD generation, the number of puppets dwindled slowly, but steadily. Of course, puppets, muppets rather, forge on at Sesame Street. But if Frank Oz's 1986 flick Little of Shop of Horrors was made today (by another filmmaker, that is!), the picture would certainly be CG, not puppet, heavy. And in 3D, no doubt. Stage versions, however, continue with the puppets!
But it is in Hollywood where the art of puppetry has been hit hardest. Something that stuck out when watching the behind the scenes documentary for Star Wars Episode I (yes, I actually watched it!) is how director George Lucas had Frank Oz do Yoda puppetry as he had for the older Star Wars films, but then decided during production to make yoda digital. In the documentary, Frank Oz, an accomplished filmmaker in his own right, lamented how computer graphics were pushing him out of work.
Of course, there are the occasional exceptions, but Hollywood has largely come to think that computer graphics are the end all and be all. Computer graphics look great, though. As website Cinematical points out, as our technology rapidly advances, the difference in computer graphics in film is somewhat akin at times to the difference in graphics between PlayStation and PlayStation 3 games.
The charm about puppets is that they are analog, that they do have a very tactile human artistry and that they certainly do not age as badly as CG has in the past. (That aging curve is closely though as computer graphics charge on towards Uncanny Valley territory.)
Cinematical believes that there is a place for puppets and CG to co-exist. I agree. They certainly can complement each other. Video games, titles like LittleBigPlanet have done a brilliant job at reproducing puppetesque characters through computer graphics. Filmmaker Genndy Tartakovsky is helming a sequel to The Dark Crystal, called Power of the Dark Crystal. He agreed to direct the project on the grounds that it would use live-action puppets and computer animation. Hopefully this project will spur on more and more films that use puppets and computer graphics.
Can the Magic of Puppets Persist in a Virtual World? [Cinematical]