Another Interview with Sesame Street’s Louis Henry Mitchell

Today we are so gracious and excited to welcome back good friend of the blog (and personal friend of Ryan Dosier), Louis Henry Mitchell. For those who don’t know, Louis is a fantastic individual who works as the Associate Design Director for Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop. This is a complicated position that basically means Louis is in charge of most photo-shoots involving the Sesame Street Muppets, DVD cover designs, storyboarding for the show, and a lot more. Louis has been kind enough to share his experiences with us in three separate interviews in the past, the first of which debuted on The Muppet Mindset exactly two years ago on September 30, 2009. Louis has truly been a friend to us since the inception of the site and we’re so thrilled that he keeps coming back!
Another Interview with Louis Henry Mitchell
Conducted by Ryan Dosier

RYAN:   We’re so excited today to welcome back a good friend and an awesome guy, Louis Henry Mitchell! Louis, welcome back to The Muppet Mindset. Make yourself at home. Let me know if I can get you anything. There’s a penguin butler around here somewhere…

LOUIS:   Hello, Ryan! A COOKIE will do, please, if you have one! I am really just grateful to be back here with you!

RYAN:   We’re all obviously very excited about Sesame Street Season 42 which premiered fairly recently. How involved were you in this season?

LOUIS:   September 26th to be official! I was extremely involved in doing storyboards for some really complex special effect shots and dance sequences. I spent more time on set than any other season, partially because I also design the DVD covers and sometimes there is not enough time to get me a screener (a DVD of the rough footage to review as design support).

RYAN:   What were some of your favorite things that you worked on in season 42?

LOUIS:   I once spoke about my feelings against “spoilers” and I am sticking to that. But I will say that there are some amazing special effects that we are doing now that bring Sesame Street to a whole new level.

RYAN:   What was the most exciting aspect of season 42? Is there anything special or close to your heart that makes an appearance?

LOUIS:   Even though it was not particularly tricky in the way it was achieved there is a segment featuring Elmo where his size changes–I won’t say in which way–but it is really great, especially the way Baby Bear reacts! It is a classically hysterical moment!! Keep watching, folks!!

RYAN:   I’m sure you’ve been keeping busy doing lots of photo shoots for Sesame. What were some of your favorite recent photo shoots that you were a part of?

LOUIS:   Each and every one is pure joy! I am in preparation for my very favorite time of the year dealing with photo shoots: the yearly Photo Library Additions Shoot! I am in John Barrett’s studio for an entire week for nearly 9 hours each day posing and directing the Sesame Street Photo Muppets. It’s a big shoot because we must replenish the photo library regularly as the pictures are used. Some are used more than others and it becomes necessary to refresh often; many times I am called to do a special shoot. I did a series of Rock and Roll pictures of the Sesame Street Muppets using rock instruments; electric guitars, full drum sets, keyboards, and all in classic rock poses. Jimi Hendricks and Pete Townshend were particular inspirations for these shots! I had a blast!!

RYAN:   For our readers who might not know, you are very good friends with Kevin Clash. How’s Kevin doing? Is all of this spotlight for the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey going to Elmo’s head?

LOUIS:   Kevin is running all over the world, as he is accustomed to doing, but still appreciating it with his entire heart. We touch base on occasion while he is travelling and if he gets and idea for a photograph or something that may not even be Sesame related; he just gets my take on an idea or lets me know that there is something he would like me to work on with him. The wonderful documentary about him has shed light on him that I am just so thrilled about. Many people don’t get to see what an extraordinary human being Kevin is away from Elmo. To see where he came from and all he had to endure to stay true to himself and beat such extraordinary odds is among the greatest of all stories in my opinion. Not only is this experience not going to Elmo’s head, nor Kevin’s, I actually saw the most tender parts of Kevin I had seen in our nearly 20 year friendship. He is truly humbled by the celebration and cherishes how so many people are interested in his life and are getting inspired by it–especially children!

RYAN:   You have a multitude of great Kevin Clash stories that I know you love sharing. Are there any on your mind now that you’re just dying to share with us?

LOUIS:   There really are so many, but I am going to ask for your indulgence on this one. Kevin’s beautiful daughter has just been such a precious person to me. Kevin and I measure the time of our friendship by her birthday because we became friends the year she was born, which I mentioned in a previous Muppet Mindset interview. Well, she just entered college and really wanted me to make some binder covers for her school binders. I do this for Kevin when he is directing. I do a design based upon whatever he is directing and it helps him keep track of the binders as well as enjoy the art done just for him. Kevin’s daughter saw them and went wild. So he called me telling me that she was going wild over them and asked if I would do some for her subject binders. Because Kevin has been like a brother to me over the years I was thrilled to do this for his daughter. I designed a character just for her and made seven or eight covers. There was, of course, no charge for this because I truly love him and his family. To get the chance to encourage her as she entered into college was a gift to me especially because she was SO EXCITED and GRATEFUL when she saw them. The part of this story that is my favorite is that for so many years she has called me Uncle Louis. To have Kevin Clash’s daughter call me Uncle Louis is indescribable! I am a HUGE Kevin Clash fan as well as being a close friend and, basically, family with him. So to be privileged to participate in his daughter’s life as her “uncle” just is… no words.

One more quick story that I truly love may not seem like much to anyone else… well… except Muppet fans…

I watch Muppet videos all the time at work for inspiration and to constantly learn about the Muppets and review; to stay strong in the lineage and heritage so I can bring the work to everything I do for Sesame Workshop–especially the photo shoots; which are what I call “still performances.” But I do not restrict myself to Sesame Street Muppets. They are all still one big family to me. I still love and study Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear… the entire Muppet family! Well, one day I was watching Dinosaurs and it was a scene where Baby Sinclair was dangling from stalactites at the top of a cave. I was amazed at this shot and kept rewinding it to study it and try to figure out how it was done. After about a half hour of studying this Kevin comes into my office just to say hello before some meetings he had at Sesame Workshop. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was trying to figure out how they did that scene and then I asked him. He explained it to me in detail and then he sat down with me and we laughed and talked about the other episodes we watched. I asked many questions about things were done on that show and he answered them all.

When he left it really struck me… first of all to be blessed where he regularly stops in to my office just to say hello and see what I’m working on is a true gift. But to have such access to someone I am a huge fan of and get to ask any question I want like that… I was truly stricken with tremendous gratitude. While he was there I almost took it for granted because we are such great friends. Two guys just hanging out and enjoying a great TV show. But it wasn’t just any TV show nor just any other guy watching it with me. Just spectacular!! I am truly blessed and duly grateful as the song goes!

RYAN:   We all know how much you love your job… I mean, how could you not? But I’ve always wondered… What is your favorite part of coming to work each day?

LOUIS:   You just said it. That I get to come into work here at Sesame Workshop each day! There are SO many aspects to this work and not one part EVER feels like work. I do apply myself with tremendous diligence and dedication but it NEVER, EVER feels like work and I am SO HAPPY to do the MANY things I get to do for Sesame Street!! Getting to share it with friends and fans is also part of what makes it mean so much to me so thank you again for this opportunity to talk about it again on Muppet Mindset!

RYAN:   What does Grover like to do on set in between takes? Does he enjoy Sudoku?

LOUIS:   It’s funny that you mention Sudoku! You can walk around the set and find people either playing it between assignments or just find newspapers left open to half done Sudoku games. I mean, really, all over the set! Out of the camera’s view, of course! But this question is really about Grover!! He just likes being cute and furry while he waits for his next assignment.

You know, even when they are on their puppet stands I secretly say “hello” whenever I pass the Muppet Wrangler table on the set and any of them are propped up.

RYAN:   Well… I can’t think of any more questions to stall any longer—because I know you’re just itching to share. Louis, I believe you have an extremely exciting special announcement… something that you hinted at way back in our very first interview in September 2009. Take it away, my friend!

LOUIS:   Thank you, Ryan. I want to officially announce the launch of The Spiritstorm School! It is my art school with a real twist because it deals with the process BEFORE the artist approaches their creative discipline. I am truly excited because I started this way back just before I started working on Sesame Street and shortly before meeting Kevin Clash. So it started with the great career success I had before the Sesame Street Dream became a reality!

RYAN:   Since it is a school primarily for artists, how does The Spiritstorm School’s curriculum differ from most traditional schools that offer art degrees?

LOUIS:   This curriculum comes right out of my life. It is not theories but outcomes of my challenges and struggles as well as breakthrough, breaks I got and some really extraordinary situations and circumstances that I use to tell my story; not as an example of how to achieve your dreams but an example of how much dedication your life deserves in the way you are called to approach whatever art form you are called to. Before one really immerses into the building of their career in the arts they must come to terms with who they are creatively and remove any obstacles that distract or destroy their creative process. The foundation curriculum where I share stories and put forth question and checklists is called Qreative Evolution. When you go to the website you will see the logo I designed to communicate the essence of the school. This school is not just for artists who draw or paint but for all creative disciplines from cooking to dancing to writing… truly all creative disciplines. Qreative Evolution deals with breaking barriers and building confidence as a creative person. And the “Q” is not a typo. It stands for “Question Everything!”

RYAN:   How will the school nurture the artist within every student? Since every student is a unique artist, how will their individuality come into play?

LOUIS:   The curriculum provides the structure and challenges. The student provides the substance and meaning. In a real way the student is the co-teacher of the course as well as co-author of the curriculum. No one can teach an artist how to become an artist but the artist can be nurtured and encouraged toward their creative fulfillment. And this is the foundation of the school! The defining statement of the school is, “The Intimate Practice of Creative Fulfillment Through Guided Self-Education.”

RYAN:   I know how much of a dream the school was and still is for you, Louis. What is it like to finally see your dream come to life like this?

LOUIS:   I feel like I have another child having just been born! But now the real work begins!! I have to “raise” it and the way I will do this is to produce projects that demonstrate the principles presented in the curriculum. I am involved with many art forms and each one demonstrates a part of the whole of my creative life. It really is one life where all the art form come from and feed one another. The future curriculum is described in detail on the website but I will say that I will demonstrate the evolution of a children’s healthy self-esteem program, the evolution of a graphic novel, a rock opera I wrote, and an animated feature film; again, all demonstrations of the approach to creating them. Not the production process but the CREATION process. These days you can learn production and every technical part of doing just about anything and it’s getting easier. The idea is to create work that is worth producing and adding to the legacy of human creative genius. So many creative people have SO much to contribute to the legacy of human creativity and they feel limited because they are not as technically proficient as many others are. Some artists give themselves over to technology so much that they get lost in what I call “The Digital Wilderness” and lose all sense of why they entered the creative field. Also they become conformists to what others believe should be their creative approach and I have known artists who have given up and took on other careers to support themselves in creating art that means something to them.

The school is all about creative fulfillment and that doesn’t automatically mean getting a job in a field of art. It means knowing that your creative vision deserves to be seen and is desperately needed. Even if one does not earn their living in the arts that does not mean they don’t have a genuine and legitimate need to give vision on a given subject that means a lot to them. So many artists have supported their art pursuits and got their work out there when they were not professionals in their discovered creative area. That is a very important point; I truly believe no one decides what they are to become in life but they DISCOVER it. This is why some are quite fulfilled when they follow their hearts even though they may not be working as a professional in their creative discipline. I know of people who earn a lot of money but hate their work. In some cases they hate their very lives because they make that money doing what they hate or know that their hearts are guiding them toward something else. But pressure from others or bills and such things can distract and discourage many from their creative fulfillment. I, too, went through some of this pressure and learned how to stop it from getting in my way. And I want to share these principles right from my life through the Qreative Evolution curriculum.

RYAN:   And where can people go for more information on the school?


RYAN:   Louis, thank you so much for yet another awesome interview with me. Your friendship means the world! Congratulations on seeing your dream realized. It’s exciting enough for me… I can’t imagine how thrilled you must be! 

LOUIS:   Ryan, I am really proud of you and all you are accomplishing. I am here for you and for anyone else involved with The Muppet Mindset who would benefit from my experience and the “work” I so LOVE to do. Thank you again for this great opportunity. Maybe we can do it again… just please have that COOKIE ready.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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