The Monthly Interview: Louis Henry Mitchell

Sesame Workshop’s creative director of character design discusses the joy of getting to do his dream job everyday, why story is everything when it comes to creating lovable characters, and how Sesame Street has stood the test of time

Louis Henry Mitchell’s introduction to character design came at the age of just six, when he was watching the Ed Sullivan Show on TV one night and Jim Henson came out on stage with Kermit the Frog still attached to his hand. “He’d never done that before as far as I saw, so it just blew my mind that it was a man doing it the whole time. It was him that triggered this creative spark that ignited in me and became this raging flame, and it’s been working ever since,” he says.

As the almost godlike creator, inventor and father figure of the Muppets universe, Henson’s work has been beloved by children around the world for half a century now. Arguably his most iconic show, Sesame Street, launched in 1969 against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty, using television as a medium to help prepare disadvantaged children for school. Sesame Workshop – where Mitchell has worked on and off for the last three decades – is the non-profit organisation behind the show, as well as a range of other educational children’s series, social impact initiatives, school programmes, and research and innovation projects.

While Mitchell knew that he wanted to play a part in Henson’s world from the first night he saw the man behind the Muppets, his first proper break in the creative industries was thanks to his other creative hero, Neal Adams, the artist behind iconic comics such as the Green Lantern. “I was 11 years old when I found that comic book and I couldn’t believe my eyes how detailed it was. I felt like I was watching a movie, rather than looking at a comic book,” he recalls.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon for Sesame Street, featuring Big Bird