The Muppet Movie sure is a gorgeous-looking film. While there are several people responsible for that fact, the man who truly deserves the bulk of the credit is Isidore Mankofsky. Unfortunately, we’re saddened to learn that Mankovsky has passed away.

In addition to his role as Director of Photography on The Muppet Movie, Mankovsky is also known for his work on films like Somewhere in Time, Better Off Dead, and Carrie.

The American Society of Cinematographers interviewed Mankovsky, who spoke about his time on The Muppet Movie:

In 1979, Jim Henson called upon the cinematographer to shoot The Muppet Movie, the Muppets’ first big-screen venture. Henson’s The Muppet Show had a high-key, live-TV look that everyone knew wouldn’t translate to the cinema, and Mankofsky had to devise more film-appropriate visuals. The only caveat Henson had was that the color of the Muppets’ fur, especially green, had to be true. “Green on film, especially at night, can be tough, and Kodak stocks at the time weren’t particularly sensitive to green,” notes Mankofsky. “But it was great working with the Muppets. First of all, no one complained about the light in his eyes or how long he had to stand in — you just stuck them on a pole. And the puppeteers were really nice guys. When I asked Henson to move Kermit to the right a little for a better frame, Henson wouldn’t answer; Kermit would answer.

“The question I’m asked most about The Muppet Movie is how Kermit rode the bike. We took a crane with an arm extended out, and monofilament ran from that down to the bike. Kermit’s feet were strapped to the pedals, and the pedals would turn as the bike wheels turned. The voice and mouth movements were remote-controlled; we’d just pull it along. However, the shot I’m most proud of is the one that shows Kermit sitting in the director’s chair in the big soundstage. Where’s Henson? I did that in such a simple way, and no one has figured it out. I put a couple mirrors in, and Henson is behind the mirrors. I lit it so the shadows in the mirrors looked like they continued past the chair legs.”

Over a decade later, Mankofsky reunited with the Muppets to serve as the Creative Cinematographer on Muppet*Vision 3D. It was a natural fit, as Mankofsky bookended a very special time in Muppet cinematic history.

As you can see, Isidore Mankofsky wasn’t just any crew member – he was responsible for creating a professional, film-worthy look for Jim Henson’s creations, and his influence is still seen in the franchise today. He’ll be missed.

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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com

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