Jake Corrick always loved monsters. Little did anyone suspect he would design them on television one day.
Mr. Corrick, now 22 and a senior at Seton Hill University, is one of the 10 contestants featured in Tuesday's debut of "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge" on Syfy.
"I loved the old Frankenstein movies, but the Muppets and 'The Dark Crystal,' all those epic things the Henson Company did, they showed me that monsters don't always have to be scary, that monsters can have more personality and character."
Anyone knowing Gobo from Kermit will attest that Henson's world of strange and wonderful creatures is never lacking in character. Mr. Corrick, who grew up in Belle Vernon, said he submitted to the audition process without knowing it was attached to the Henson workshop.
"That was a huge push for me wanting to do [the show] when I found out," Mr. Corrick said.
There are similarities between "Creature Shop" and Syfy's well-done special effects make-up program, "Face Off." Designers are given a challenge -- in the case of the "Creature Shop" pilot, it's working with a partner to create an original deep-sea inhabitant in just two days.
Unlike "Face Off," these creatures must move and act, and their performance is judged during a screen test. Also unlike "Face Off," the judges don't go for hands-on inspection.
"The camera sees things differently and we very deliberately don't touch it," said Brian Henson, chairman of The Jim Henson Co. and one of the judges. "Your creature has to do this performance and the truth is, if it falls to bits [after the scene is shot], you still win."
"Creature Shop" is hosted by Gigi Edgely, who played Chiana, the gray lady of "Farscape." Joining Mr. Henson at the judges desk are designer Kirk Thatcher and fabricator Beth Hathaway.
Mr. Corrick grew up creating his own mix-and-match action figures: "I recently just made a figure of Roland from the 'Dark Tower' series by Stephen King," he said. "It's so cool to make figures of those that don't have action figures already."
Sculpting and painting are his forte, and Mr. Corrick sells his fantasy creations through his Facebook page. His favorite medium is Walter E. Disney (WED) clay, and he said he draws inspiration from the works of fantasy painter Frank Rosetta and sculptors Jordu Schell and the Shiflett brothers, Brandon and Jarrod.
For the television show, which airs on Tuesday nights, he had to become a quick study in puppetry and fabrication.
"I had kind of a working knowledge of fabrications, but I don't do it very often," he said. "And puppeteering was something I went into kind of blindly, but it's incredibly fun. I got to work with some seriously impressive puppeteers."
Because "Creature Shop" filmed in the fall, he had to miss classes at Seton Hill. He is scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in fine arts.
Although he cannot disclose how he finished on the show -- the winner gets $100,000 and a contract with The Jim Henson Co. -- he said that at the very least, "It's a great validation that my work holds up in a professional setting."
• Poor Oompa Loompas -- there are Snozzwangers and Whangdoodles on the hunt.
For this week's spotlight challenge on "Face Off" (Syfy, Tuesdays), designers had to imagine their own versions of author Roald Dahl's predatory creatures,as mentioned in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
Mr. Dahl's daughter, filmmaker Lucy Dahl, served on the judges panel. Winning the day was Tyler Green, a Savini program grad. His effort was "cautiously playful," according to judge Glenn Hetrick.
Mr. Green created a Whangdoodle, a nasty, earthwormy creature with Oompa-Loompa hair stuck in its teeth.
The judges had fun with their comments this time around, suggesting that one creature's "goofy static gaze" was going to make it "subject to gang beatings by Oompa-Loompas."
Worst look was the Vermicious Knid sent out by Chloe Sens of Hollywood, Calif. The mold for her cowl became gummed-up, and she ended up making a Venus flytrap mask that looked cheap and unfinished.
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.