Creatures featured

A native of the town of Collins can be seen on television starting tonight.

Chaz Vance, who currently lives in West Falls, will compete on Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge series on Syfy.

Vance grew up on a farm in Collins and started his interest in creature design at a young age. He said he really garnered interest for the field after seeing “Star Wars” re-released in theaters in the late 1990s. He said he would also modify his toys as a child.

“When I was younger, I would cut up and modify all my toys and craft materials together. I wasn’t content playing with stuff as it was,” said Vance. “The fun was in making something else.”

Vance applied to be a part of the television series after hearing about the contest through another individual. He applied and Syfy encouraged him to continue submitting his work. About a month later, Vance found out he had been accepted as a contestant and traveled to Los Angeles this past fall. He stayed in a house with the other nine contestants while in L.A.

“We were all super excited to be involved with Henson (Company), Brian Henson and all the guys from Henson,” he said.

Vance owns Technically Magic Effects in West Falls, a hamlet in the town of Aurora, specializing in entertainment design – all things visual from theater to TV and music videos to film – and also teaches sculpture at MUSEjar in East Aurora. When Vance was in college, he started doing personal contract work which eventually led to the beginning of his own business. Locally, Vance recently worked as art director on Springville Griffith Institute’s Seussical the Musical.

“When people have an entertainment-based idea that they want to explore the feasibility of, I normally encourage them to call and we talk about it. Sometimes it’s designing sets or props to go along with their short film or commercial,” said Vance. “In music videos, I’m brought in to do production design or art direction, which is being in charge of the visual look of something like the video or theater production. I’ll manage bringing in all the set elements and prop elements and costumes together in one vision.”

Technically Magic Effects is available for consultation and discussion for any one who may be working on media projects. Vance said he does not do much work around the area locally and noted many get their start in the field here but then move on to bigger cities.

“I’m always interested in meeting people around here that are working their way up to that level, but I don’t do a lot of work around here unfortunately. I’m always available to talk about somebody’s idea,” Vance said.

The series puts the contestants in competition in hopes of winning a prize of up to $100,000 which includes a chance to work at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, according to a Syfy press release. The reality competition series will feature host Gigi Edgley from “Farscape” and lead judge and Jim Henson Company Chair, Brian Henson. He oversees the ground breaking work of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and whose mentor was, his father Jim Henson.

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop is based in Los Angeles and New York City, with satellite shop capabilities internationally. They are best known for characters including the “Sesame Street” puppets, the classic “Muppets,” the dinosaurs from “Dinosaurs,” the aliens from “Farscape,” and creatures from “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.”

The aspiring designers take place in various challenges over eight episodes. Each challenge explores all different aspects of creature design and are judged by lead judge Henson, creature fabricator Beth Hathaway and creature designer Kirk R. Thatcher. The creatures designed weekly are made to perform and complete a screen test watched by the judges.

“It’s a fun show to tune in for because at the end there’s an actual performance from all the creatures. The workspace is a lot different because it’s just filled with archived Henson stuff. It’s just everywhere,” Vance said.

The creative work space is filled with memorabilia from television shows and movies. Vance said he was most excited to see sculptures from “Where the Wild Things Are,” including scaled sculptures that were used to make full-size suits in the movie.

“The sculpts were all around there, just really nice detailed sculptures. We got to meet the guys that worked there that did the sculpts (for the movie). I was pumped about the maquette (which are) scaled study sculptures of the creatures …” Vance said.

Vance plans to watch the premiere with friends. The show premieres at 10 p.m., on Syfy. He admitted seeing himself on TV will be strange. He hopes viewers will realize how much work it took to get onto the show and said for anyone interested in creature design, the show is a “cool way to see” creature design in action.

“There’s a lot of engineering that goes into reality TV. If they’re interested in the type of work that we do, it’s definitely a cool way to see it; just take it with a grain of salt,” Vance said.

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