Jim Henson character from David Bowie movie, Labyrinth

Hoggle's transition through his "Labyrinth" of much needed restoration

by Gary Sowatzka of Sowatzka's Dolls

John Marshall, CEO of Unclaimed Baggage, contacted me in May of 2005. John tried to explain to me the situation he had with a very unique figure his company had acquired. At that time I knew very little about Hoggle other then he was a Jim Henson creation for a film called "Labyrinth", that the movie was produced by George Lucas, and starred David Bowie.

I asked John to send me a few digital pictures of Hoggle. After receiving the pictures, I knew I COULD reconstruct Hoggle, though not necessarily HOW it would be accomplished. I needed to have Hoggle before me to really know how I would proceed. I told John that if he could get Hoggle to me I would try and help Hoggle in his transition to a better-looking Troll.

Hoggle Arrives

We received Hoggle mid-August of 2005. He traveled from Unclaimed Baggage in the sleeper berth of a semi-trailer from Scottsboro, Alabama. Due to my backlog of restoration I wasn't able to start the restoration process till February of 2006. That, of course, is when the fun started for me. I'm always up for a challenge, and with Hoggle in his deteriorating condition, this restoration was going to be intense. . . and so it was.

During the months before Hoggle's restoration was started, much research was done on the movie, itself, to get a good feel for the personality he portrayed in Labryinth. I needed to study this carefully, so what was done in the restoration, would only add to Hoggle's appearance in reference to the people that love Hoggle, and the story the movie told.

I also studied the different techniques and products required to accomplish a positive end result. This is where many decisions had to be made. I knew that the original products used would have been temporary, since Hoggle most likely would have required daily repairs throughout the movie-making process. My approach had to be different, since the restoration would need to have more longevity. This is where much time was spent in experimentation of materials and products. I will expand on this later. To index

Restoration Begins

In early February of 2006 I was finally ready to attack the task at hand, restoring Hoggle. The actual restoration took approximately three weeks. From the pictures you see, we had a formidable job ahead of us. These pictures, show Hoggle's actual condition, just before we proceeded with the restoration.

Once we started the actual restoration, we had to dismantle Hoggle, as we know him. After the clothing was taken off and inventoried, we started with the head. When we removed the hat, hair, and the rest of the deteriorating shell -- that was Hoggle's face -- we noticed damage that had been done to Hoggle's nose, and mouth, possibly in a fall. There were pieces missing, and these had to be rebuilt

We carefully started this rebuilding process, piece by piece. It took a couple days to rebuild these missing areas, using buckrum, along with other molding products.

Speech Center Repairs

Next we turned our attention to a set of controls, located in the top of Hoggle's head (see picture, right). I was surprised to find these controls after taking the hat, wig, and a circular plate off the top of his head. "There was more to Hoggle then just good looks," I thought.

This seemed to be the speech control center for movement of his facial features: eyes, mouth, and cheeks. I'm sure these controls were used in the filming process to make the troll "talk," and to give him the facial movements that characterized Hoggle in "Labyrinth."

After about an hour of trying to find out which control worked what function, I realized none of them were working correctly. I didn't want to damage anything, so I carefully started using different products to loosen the controls. I hoped to possibly get them to work as they did originally. It took a couple days before the three functions finally began to work fairly well. The eye mechanism worked best and really made him come alive. The other controls worked the upper lip, and the sides of his cheeks. There was a small gear motor located in his lower chin area which, regrettably, I didn't have time to repair. However, I know it controlled his lower lip and was used in conjunction with the other mechanisms to help Hoggle talk. To index

Restoring Hoggle's Face

The next big step in Hoggle's restoration was to determine what shell could be used to duplicate his handsome look, and give him the longevity he needed. This was a long and drawn-out task. We experimented with three different types materials, and approximately the same amount of fillers before we felt we had the right combination. We had spent a least a full week on this part of the rebuilding process, going back to the original movie, again and again, so we would get the feeling that only Hoggle's true presence would give.

We ended up using a cloth with foam rubber backing. This gave his face an almost life like feeling when touched. It also worked like a painter's pallet. We were able to add and build his features, as needed. From the pictures you can see, we duplicated his ears, cheek jowls, and brow furrows.

Restoring Hoggle's Hands

After his face was done, it was time to rebuild Hoggle's disintegrating hands. This turned out to be more work then we had anticipated. We used one of his original fingernails to duplicate the rest. Then it was just continuing the rebuilding process matching the original hands.

As we proceeded with this we also started the finishing work on Hoggle. This included matching the original color and detailing, adding his chemically cleaned eye brows, and hair. This is where we looked for the greatest detail, adding and building where Hoggle told us. It is also where I usually have the most fun in the restoration process itself, where the best things come together. This is where all the previous decisions either prove us wrong or right!

Hoggle Completely Restored!

We did a certain amount of cleaning and restoration on the clothing, and props for Hoggle. We were very careful to maintain the originality, and not to degrade the wonderful outfit that Hoggle has. An artist wonderfully created the clothing, and all the clothing was marked. I regrettably didn't get this information, but on my next visit to Unclaimed Baggage to see Hoggle I will see if I can.

Hoggle was a great patient at the Doll Hospital. We enjoyed having him here for his "Labyrinth" of much needed restoration. I know people will be able enjoy him for many years to come.

Hoggle on Arrival

Hoggle Restored

Gary & Hoggle

Master Doll Doctor & Artist
Gary Sowatzka