Monday, November 23, 2009

A Special Day In Brooklyn

This weekend was pretty great [editorial note, this was written just after the weekend of November 21, 2009]. Friday had been my sister Kristy's birthday, and she and her boyfriend Nick went out that night while my husband Naveen and I went to a movie night with my SpeakeasyFX friends (featuring Star Trek, this summer's blockbuster). But on Saturday, we had a very special day out - in Brooklyn.

We started out just about on time - we had put together a pretty decent itinerary last week, starting out from South Brunswick around 10am (allowing ample time to sleep in after a night out), stopping at an ATM, picking Kris & Nick up in Woodbridge (leaving there by around 11 or so), and crossing the Geothals and Verrazano-Narrows bridges into Brooklyn by just around noon. These days, the trip is $8 eastbound and $11 to return, which isn't much considering we'd each be spending $10-20 on train tickets otherwise. This way we saved money and could keep our own schedule. I gave Kristy a birthday card with a face on it that looked just like hers (ha-ha), a Boyds "Sisters" bear, and Oreo cake for later to share with Nick. But today (Saturday) - the whole day was on me.

Upon arrival, we set out to find street parking for our lunch, beers, and chocolate goodness at a place called Bierkraft. No reservations were needed - it looks like a liquor store as you walk in (which it very much is) - but the sandwiches and chocolate came highly recommended to me by my Raritan train conductor Joe last week, and I'm so glad we went. We were highly skeptical at first, and as it turned out, no one really felt like having a beer at noon on a Saturday. Once we stepped further inside and around the corner, we found the sandwich selection and literally a handful of picnic tables wedged into the narrow shop, and I was really wondering if we should find a nicer place for lunch. But I'm so glad we stayed. The sandwiches were amazing. I ordered a Serrano sandwich which was out of this world - Serrano ham, manchego, fig spread, arugula, EVOO & Sherry vinegar on a baguette. Amazing. I mistakenly thought Nick asked for the same thing, but he seemed happy with the sandwich as well. I think he meant to say "make that two" when a moment earlier I had ordered the Pastrami Spiced Brisket sandwich for Naveen - a homemade brisket & Leyden with homemade sauerkraut, arugula, tomato, onion, and grainy mustard. Kristy was the most creative, with her self-created sandwich, including salt & pepper turkey, honey chevre, and apple-ginger chutney. I treated everyone to lunch and got to try a bite of each, but I must say I liked mine the best. Finally, we walked up a few blocks for some tasty Gorilla Coffee to keep us going on our eventful day.

We had thoughts about going up to the Flea Market, but we thought perhaps there wouldn't be enough time to fully appreciate it since parking anywhere takes a while on a Saturday in Brooklyn. Similarly, I had made a note about possibly going into the museum if the library presentation was a bust - I had made the unfortunate mistake of relying on my handwritten reminder about the presentation, which conveyed the date and time but not the fact that reservations were required for the event. I knew it would be memorable, led by Louise Gikow who I met weeks ago through Sally Anne Syberg at the Kids Media Salon gathering in Manhattan. I've only gotten about a third of the way through the sizeable 300-page work, Sesame Street: A Celebration---40 Years of Life on the Street, which I've posted about before. I desparately wanted to see the panel discussion, and on Friday I had spent quite a bit of time on the phone and in emails to library staff and even poor Louise, who offered whatever help she could and probably ended up with half a dozen notes from me in her inbox that night. Luckily for me, the gracious Meredith Walters, adult programs manager at the Brooklyn Public Library, called me back at the end of the day offering a chance to squeeze not only myself but my three guests as well into the presentation. I was ecstatic. I later spoke with her colleague who put us onto a waiting list Saturday morning, and so after lunch we excitedly headed to the library.

Staying on schedule, we were at the library at Grand Army Plaza by around 2:30 to check out some of the wonderful exhibitions on display in the lobby, foyer, and youth wing. On display in the lobby were several pieces of original Sesame Street book art from Sesame Workshop's Publishing Archive, featuring a range of illustrators' works in a variety of styles from the 1970s to the present. Foyer cases held the story of Sesame Street, from its inception to its present and future, told through photographs, scripts, original sheet music, celluloid animation and show props, as well as a special collection of Sesame Street Muppets, built by The Jim Henson Company over the show's 40 years. As you walk into the building, the foyer case on the left held a small model of a laptop computer with the famous press release image of Abby's Flying Fairy School, which was wonderful to see as well. Unless I'm mistaken, I don't think we made it to the youth wing, where there were supposedly more items, but we were thrilled to see Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie, among other characters and monster friends. Curated by Sesame Workshop, these are on display through February 21, 2010, and were a delight to see.

Around 3:15 I was too excited to wait any longer - I led the group downstairs to the Dweck Center to see if tickets had become available. I spoke with a woman who got the impression that I was one of the presenters, since I had mentioned speaking to Louise and Meredith, and she was ready to lead me into the Green Room where presenters relax - however I caught on to what was happening and admitted that I was only a waitlisted guest with her family hoping for tickets. As luck would have it, at that very moment Louise walked through the door and greeted me with a warm hug, and I recognized Meredith from a photo I had seen and introduced myself. In a rush, I think it was Meredith who went up to the desk and pointed back towards us, saying, "And that's Laura and her family - she gets in." We were thrilled.

We still had to wait of course - the 40th Anniversary Book Panel Presentation was not to start until 4pm, but it wasn't long before the line began to form, so we stood in the waiting area, books in hand - myself in particular starting to look a lot like an excited puppy dog. Finally the crowd started to roll in, and while everyone was being seated, a "Cool Reel" of Sesame Street footage was being run to the tune of Coldplay's "Life In Technicolor," which I love, and made it all the more dreamlike for me since I'm such a fan of their music. Meredith then went onstage to introduce Louise and begin the panel discussion with Chris Serf (lyricist and songwriter for memorable ditties like "Put Down the Ducky"), Carol-Lynn Parente (Executive Producer of Sesame Street), Rollie Krewson (designer and builder of Abby Cadabby among other female muppets), Bob McGrath (Bob, the ever-present, heartwarming, longstanding Sesame Street resident and singer), and Fran Brill (the advent of females-playing-female-characters on the show, including Zoe, and also known for her role in the film What About Bob). They each spent some time speaking about how they became involved in Sesame Street, what it was like working with each other at a sometimes very strange but always very rewarding job, and other fantastic tales of trivia.

Many people who have worked with Jim Henson commonly share the story that he brought a very low-key attitude within his studio. Some people didn't even exactly realize they were hired until they showed up at the studio, thinking it to be a visit, and overhearing Jim or someone mention their name as the "newest puppeteer."

Bob talked about when he was hired, essentially chosen by a test audience of five year olds. He spoke about how some actors don't know how to interact with puppets, and in his case, was sometimes strange and very unpredictable working with children. In the beginning, he was very concerned about who he should be, or who he should try to emulate - but clearly the best solution was to simply be himself.

Like some other puppeteers in the early years of Sesame Street, it seemed that Fran had been an actress but had never touched a puppet before, but since she had both acting and vocal performance talent, she was given the chance to play around with some "Anything Muppets" lying around in the Sesame Workshop. Prior to Fran's arrival on the scene, various members of the all-male cast would puppeteer the girl characters using falsetto voices. When Fran was asked to develop Zoe, it was the first time a woman played a girl puppet; soon whenever the script called for it, Fran was asked to play "the girl."

Rollie addressed the topic of building puppets, and despite her role in crafting monsters and muppets and fairies like Abby, she described the process as being very much a group effort. Carol-Lynn spoke about where Sesame Street is going, and how it deals with the many issues that they feel children are facing today. Chris unfortunately lost his voice, but he sang for us anyway with Bob's help, and played the piano, and everyone watching and singing along became five again. It was wonderful. I heard someone compare watching Sesame Street as an adult to the moment of climax in Pixar's 'Ratatouille' when the critic zooms back into his own childhood and reminisces within his own very fond memories - and that was exactly our experience.

I was overjoyed to find that Leslie Carrara-Rudolph was sitting in the audience just a row away from me, and after the presentation I scrambled forward to see if she would autograph my book, which she so kindly did - both as herself and of course as miss Abby Cadabby, which was wonderful of her. She also introduced me to John Kennedy, (who I didn't know) is a right-hander for several muppets and is featured on page 138-9. He as well as the entire panel signed my book, and the panel also signed the three other books I had purchased - one for Kristy's birthday, and one each for my mother and grandmother, who enjoyed seeing us grow up with Sesame Street and (even vicariously from the midwest) are just as excited about its 40th year as we are. Thankfully the boys helped us lug the books around all afternoon so we each had one in hand, so a special thanks to Naveen and Nick for their help there.

On our way out, I phoned the place where I had made our dinner reservation, a place called Char No. #4, a whiskey bar and barbeque that Kristy had recommended as she used to live nearby. When I made it on Friday, I knew we would be cutting it close, but they only had a 6:45 open, so I had taken it. It was nearly 6:45 when we got to our van, however, and when I got through to them on the phone, they weren't sure if they could hold the reservation if we were later than 7:15. I knew that with street parking we would just be arriving then, but we took the chance. As we walked in, the restaurant maitre d' thanked us for calling because he found a chance to move things around and was able to seat us right away.

It was an incredible dinner, I must say. Kristy had a delicious beef brisket sandwich and tasty potato salad, Nick had some pork sausage with peppers, Naveen had some fantastic melt-in-your-mouth ribs, and I had a delightfully tender smoked chicken with kale and walnuts in a dressing. Everyone had drinks - Kristy got a Wild Turkey Honey, Nick got a Bourbon Insider, Naveen got a Porkslap Pale Ale and Peak Maple Oat, and later I even sipped on a Henrique Madeira from Portugal. A delectable evening, and I treated again as it was in part a present to Kristy and in part simply a celebration of the amazing day.

I had thought about ending the evening with a comedy night at Vox Pop, but we already had such a full day that we agreed it might be too late into the evening to attend since we had a long drive home. Still, stuffed as we were, Kristy wanted to treat us to desserts on our way back to the van. She hoped to take us to Po for some affogato ice cream, but as they were booked for at least another hour, we wandered over to Provence en Boite and enjoyed some chocolate mousse domes (dark chocolate for Kristy and I, and a milk chocolate one for Naveen) and an apple tart (for Nick). Then we truly were stuffed! We happily made our way back across the bridges and back to New Jersey, getting to Nick's around 11:30 and then home a little after midnight. A truly full and joyous day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Brooklyn Library Sesame Celebration

Recently, I purchased a copy of Louise Gikow's book, "Sesame Street: A Celebration -- 40 Years of Life on the Street." I describe it in more detail in a recent post (see here) a week before AFFS aired.

Saturday, November 21 at 4pm, I attended an event at the Brooklyn Public Library (Central Library, Dweck Center) where the author and various behind-the-scenes folks gave a presentation and book signing. Cool huh? :) In honor of Sesame Street's 40th year on television, personalities from the show and behind the scenes came together to discuss the impact of TVs first educational program for children. This 90-minute event featured Louise Gikow, author of Sesame Street: A Celebration of 40 Years of Life on the Street; Bob McGrath, human cast member since Season 1 in 1969; Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente; Chris Cerf, Sesame Street composer and lyricist; Rollie Krewson, puppet builder with The Jim Henson Company; and Fran Brill, puppeteer for Zoe and Prairie Dawn. A book signing followed the event.

I've written a longer, much more descriptive posting on this event and will be posting it either tonight or tomorrow, when I get a chance to upload some photos and perhaps some video as well. Much more to come!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Yip Yips

I can't tell you how influenced I was by Sesame Street when I was a kid.

But I can show you something that makes me laugh, even to this day, and probably had an effect on the profession I chose:

Martians discover a book (The Yip Yips)

LOVE it. :)

A Bad Day For Trains, An Even Smaller World For Me

Yesterday was an all-around weird day for some Newark and NY Penn commuters.

It was a nice day. Unbelievably, my North East Corridor train arrived at the scheduled time at Newark Penn - something it rarely does - and I had enough time to walk leisurely to my next platform (rather than the usual sprint to try to catch the Raritan line before it leaves and doesn't return for a whole hour). However, yesterday, it wouldn't have made a difference if my NEC train had been half an hour late - the Raritan train wasn't even idle on the tracks. It wasn't there at all.

As usually-precious minutes ticked by, I wandered around the platform looking for the couple of coworkers from NY whom I routinely meet when on board the train - Sean Smith, our editorial assistant, and JoEllyn Marlow, our producer. I saw Sean first, said hello, and told him about a text message on my phone saying that the train was delayed between Cranford and Newark due to police activity. We weren't terribly surprised - it's pretty common that someone on the Raritan line doesn't want to pay the fare, and they do whatever they can (traincar hopping, picking up old tickets from the floor to use like a decoy, the "I lost it" excuse, etc). It happens probably once every month or so near enough for me to notice. But the situation was apparently a bit more serious this time.

Without a train in sight or any word on when it would arrive for boarding, I decided to run downstairs for a quick breakfast. When I returned, I found JoEllyn and sat with her until the train finally did show up a half hour late. Folks on board looked pretty peeved, probably too late for their regular connections in their commute to NY. Thankfully, there wasn't anything in particular that was pressing for us at the office, so we chatted away the time and got there eventually. When I got into my email, however, I had received an alarming notice:

NJ TRANSIT apologizes for the delay and inconvenience many of you experienced during this morning’s commute due to police activity in Mount Laurel.

At approximately 8:15 a.m., Mount Laurel police responded to a bomb threat involving the Conrail dispatch center responsible for controlling train movement on a portion of the Raritan Valley Line near Newark. The dispatch center was evacuated as a precaution, and service between Newark and Cranford was temporarily suspended.

Local police cleared the incident shortly after 9:00 a.m., and rail service was restored at 9:15 a.m. Several trains were delayed 30-60 minutes.

I had to shake my head in disbelief - this is very unusual, I think, for this area.

Other than the strange morning, it was a pretty regular work day - except to say that 'regular' for me (as of the past week or so) entails not actually putting in any real hours until the last interactive project is finalized, so like many others, I come in voluntarily to visit with each other, review work that might be used on show reels, and talk about (or animate on) new projects we're working on together. I'll get an hour here or there of paid work, but not much until that last interactive episode is finalized and ready for production.

Leaving work was nothing out of the ordinary - but once again, upon arriving at my next platform at Newark, things began to spin out of whack again. The computerized track information board started re-arranging entries, as it sometimes does when a train is delayed or another train arrives earlier than normal - but it kept rearranging them, and after only a minute or two, it stopped completely and every single train line reported, "DELAYED -- DELAYED -- DELAYED."

I was a little uneasy given the news I received that morning on the Raritan line, and this time it was all across the board. I wondered what might have caused this halt on all lines. Soon I heard a message come in on my cell phone, and felt a little relief at the news:

Rail Update: Trains in and out of New York Penn Station are subject to 60-90 minute delays due to disabled Amtrak train blocking one Hudson River Tunnel.

I was glad to know I shouldn't be letting my imagination run wild, but it was unfortunate to read about the 30-60 minute delay. I called my husband to let him know. Meanwhile, some nearby men waiting for the Amtrak to Harrisburg overheard me and were joking around, instant friends by situation it seemed. They joked about it being the crazy NJ Transit system, and although I would have liked to agree, I laughed and informed them that it was because of an Amtrak train, and they laughed and rolled their eyes. I mentioned my earlier troubles on the Raritan line, which prompted one of them to ask where I worked. When I told him Westfield, he looked surprised.

"I built the new building out there a few years ago, in the downtown area," he claimed. I wasn't exactly sure which building was new, since I'm fairly new there myself. He said it was for Salon Visage, and I instantly realized which one he was talking about. "That's right next door to us, on North Avenue - they have the big glass windows and a big screen tv you can see from the street."

He looked a little confused, asking, "Well, where do you work then?" I tried to describe the building we worked in, on the second floor, with the large parking lot out front, brick face and white siding exterior, with a clock on it. "And a gazebo on top?" he asked, with the answer of course being yes.

"I built that gazebo," he said. "I helped build that building! That was supposed to be for Visage - they were going to move next door." I had to laugh - we get calls all the time for hair appointments because apparently the phone companies thought the move happened too - but something must have changed at the last minute. I told him I thought that some lawyers might have worked there before us, but that our company had the building since sometime last summer, and that I had worked there just over a year. When he asked what I did, I was all too excited to tell him that we were a small but growing commercial shop that got to work with Sesame Street this past year, producing the new cg-animated show, "Abby's Flying Fairy School." He had a wife and three kids, ages 4, 5, and I think 7, waiting for him at home. He seemed like he couldn't wait to tell them.

Suddenly my train arrived, and I said goodbye to them and wished them well. I had lost all sense of time and couldn't say exactly how long my wait had been, but unfortunately I'm sure they were stuck there longer. I boarded the very crowded train and was surprised to get a seat - I asked to squeeze in on a four-seat section, which is sometimes uncomfortable since passengers in those sections sit knee-to-knee, but the two men I was sitting with there were very friendly. It's funny that however inconvenienced people are when these train problems occur, most people seem more approachable and friendly despite their troubles.

It was because of this that we struck up a conversation - one of them happened to be Indian, and of course I talked about Naveen and our time at Purdue - and his eyes lit up. His son is majoring in Electrical Engineering at Purdue and is hoping to go on to get his Master's degree there. He mentioned that his younger son (in 10th grade) wants to go to John Hopkins, which they are all in favor of since there are no doctors in their family, but he joked that he might have to take three jobs to put his son through school there.

We continued talking about our families a bit - and when he heard ours lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he was surprised and asked if we might know a Jyotir Reddy, a renowned doctor in that area - and I smiled, pretty certain that she is a family friend of the Nattams. I felt even more certain when he mentioned she had just been involved in the founding of a new Hindu temple in Fort Wayne, and I think the celebration of its opening occured the weekend we were home for Zander's birthday. He became friends with her because he was involved in the founding of a temple in South Jersey (I think probably this one), and I believe he said she was there and wanted to involve the same priest, perhaps for groundbreaking ceremonies or something. As we were leaving the train (he parks at my station but lives in North Brunswick), he got to meet Naveen and we chatted a little more. Unfortunately, tired as I was, I somehow did not think to take a moment to write down his name, but at least earlier when he said he would talk to Jyotir, I asked him to mention that he met the youngest Nattam son and his wife.

So that was my day yesterday - a very strange one indeed. I am staying home today to catch up on some personal work, and got sidetracked for a little while in wanting to write about yesterday's experience. Today I got this message in my inbox:

NJ TRANSIT apologizes for the significant delay and inconvenience many of you experienced last night.

At approximately 6:35 p.m., Amtrak Train 137 became disabled just outside of New York Penn Station, unfortunately blocking access to the North Tube under the Hudson River. Until the disabled train could be moved, all NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains in both directions were forced to share the single-track South Tube for service in and out of New York Penn Station. This caused delays to all trains ranging from 30-90 minutes throughout the remainder of the evening peak period and into the late evening.

To provide customers with an alternate travel option during the disruption, we established cross-honoring on NJ TRANSIT bus service out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

At approximately 9 p.m., the North Tube was returned to service and normal operations resumed using both tunnels. Residual delays affected service until about 11 p.m.

I also got an alert on my phone that there is a 20-minute delay on the Raritan line again, around Union station. I wonder what wonders I might have encountered this morning if I had been there!

Hope you have a good one - so far as I've heard, "AFFS: Pinocchio Process" re-ran today - let me know if you heard differently!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Abby's Flying Fairy School: "The Cinderella Challenge (The Fairy Godmother Test)"

Some Trivia, if you'd like... This show, called The Fairy Godmother Test (aka, The Cinderella Challenge), was the very first show in production at Speakeasy FX. At the show's beginning, we only had eight animators. Shots back then were counted up incrementally by one, while later we numbered our shots by multiple of five to ease technical issues if shots were added in between (for continuity). We used to tack up storyboard panels all over the walls. While getting our feet wet in XSI (since we were all brought up on Maya), not to mention learning the character rigs and production flow, this episode took us nine weeks to accomplish. By the end of the first season, we had thirteen animators and accomplished shows in an average of two to three weeks (our record being one week - just to see if we could pull it off - needless to say, nobody slept that week)!!!

My work on this episode, which aired today:

  • (EP001SH006) Blogg, Abby, Gonnigan
    "Well Cinderella is a girl, and Abby is a girl, hehe, hint hint, nudge nudge!"
    This was my very first shot assignment with Speakeasy FX. I think when all of us AMers got here and got shots done in a few days instead of a few weeks, we were pretty shocked at what we were able to do!

  • (EP001SH013) Mrs. Sparklenose
    "You will be playing Cinderella!"

  • (EP001SH015) Mrs. Sparklenose
    "I'm sorry dear, but eenie meenie is legally binding. You'll have to be our Cinderella.."
    I loved this line and did not want to overact it, but I wanted her to appear half like a teacher, half like a lawyer laying down the line! A render still of this shot (frame 120, pictured below this shot list) was used in Louise Gikow's book, "Sesame Street: A Celebration -- 40 Years of Life on the Street."

  • (EP001SH030) Mrs. Sparklenose, Fairy Timer, Dress Badge
    "You've now completed the first part of the Cinderella Challenge!"
    Unfortunately the original camera was changed during the render, so the composition is off - which bothers me, but hardly anyone else. :)

  • (EP001SH037) Abby, Gonnigan, Blogg
    "Oh don't worry, Gonnigan! My mommy does this all the time. We just have to wave our wands and say - 'Fragile Footwear.' (all together) FRAGILE FOOTWEAR!"
    This was my first time animating Abby dialogue. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with animating her!

  • (EP001SH053) Abby, Gonnigan, Blogg
    "(Gasp) Twelve might have something to do with the shoes!"
    Twinkle think... twinkle think... ;) Also, Blogg likes his dress. ;)

  • (EP001SH066) Gonnigan, Blogg, Abby, Niblet
    "Oh, oh, Oh no! Niblet ate the pumpkin!"
    This shot (pictured at the top of this post), along with my first shot, were favorites in early playblast screenings.

  • (EP001SH069) Gonnigan, Abby, Niblet, Mrs. Sparklenose
    "Mrs. Sparklenose, does Cinderella's ride have to be made from a pumpkin?"

  • (EP001SH084) Blogg, Gonnigan, Abby
    "A tricycle?"

  • (EP001SH090) Abby, Gonnigan, Mrs. Sparklenose, Fairy Timer
    "Now we have to get Blogg to the ball!!!"

  • PS - I was surprised to hear this aired today (Monday, 11/16/09), since they aired all new episodes throughout last week. We'll see what they air tomorrow - if it's a new episode, you allergy sufferers may like to tune in for a tickle!

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Colbert Report Questions Values on Sesame Street

    On Wednesday, November 11, 2009, Comedy Central's satirical late show, "The Colbert Report," openly questioned the values conveyed through Sesame Street. It was so funny that I had to take the time to post my favorite moments. Please enjoy!


    "Tonight - Sesame Street celebrates its 40th birthday. Soon it will be 'C is for Colonoscopy.' "

    (By the way, on the November 9th show, Stephen Colbert started with "Happy 40th Birthday Sesame Street. That bird's not gettin' any bigger. I say we eat him now.")

    "Nation, yesterday marked the anniversary of the most insidious, socialist, brainwashing program in our nation's history. Of course, I am talking about Sesame Street."

    "For forty years, our socialist muppet masters have been turning children to alphabet-reciting, Snuffleupagus-hallucinating, Elmo ticklers. Well I've had my eye on the Children's Television Work Collective, ever since the show premiered in 1969. I was five, and I could not believe my eyes, folks. Big government, funding little children being indoctrinated into singing the praises of numbers."

    (Video: A fast-paced hypnotic song ensues about the numbers 1, 2, and then repeatedly 3. "One, Two, Three! Three! Three! Three! Let's sing of the number three! How many is Three...")

    "Let's see, Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. Is that three enough for you? And the propaganda does not stop with numbers! Oh! You've got to do the alphabet the way the man says!"

    (Video: A charming moment when Kermit sings the alphabet with a little girl who insists that "q.. r... Cookie Monster" is in the alphabet. Kermit disagrees.)

    "Yes, Cookie Monster! So what if that's not a letter. Jam him in there. Because not only is Cookie Monster a friend of the show, he is the only one teaching kids to consume like an American."

    (Video: Cookie Monster appearing with Stephen Colbert earlier this year; Cookie Monster frantically piling food into his mouth.)

    "Thank you. And just look how these furry fascists attack the institution of marriage."

    (Video: Grover asks the boy, "Do you know what marriage is?" The boy answers, "A marriage.. a madgredge... is... is when somebody... when two people get married." The boy nods happily as Grover replies, "Yeah. Yeah. That's good, that's marriage.")

    "That is not marriage! Two people??? Excuse me, Grover, a marriage is between a man and a woman. Not a man and a man, or a man and a monster, or a monster and the other head on the same monster... I think these guys are sharing more than the same torso..."

    (Image reveals the two-headed monster.)

    "Plus, Sesame Street gives aid and comfort to illegal aliens. This is America! Try English guys. Me no speaka the yop yop!"

    (Video: The yip yips, discovering a book.)

    "So it is no surprise who the guest for their 40th anniversary was."

    (Video: Michelle Obama planting a garden with children. Elmo introduces her, and she asks, "Who has seeds?")

    "Ooh! Ooh! Oh, I know a seed you'd like to plant! An acorn."

    (Image: ACORN logo)

    "And why, why folks, why are these kids only growing vegetables? Where are the meat seeds? But luckily there is a glimmer of hope that Sesame Street is changing. On last week's show, this was an actual conversation between Oscar the Grouch and his girlfriend..."

    (Video: Oscar apologetically says, "Yea yea, I know what you're gonna say." Grundgetta blurts out, "Hugging and kissing?!? That is it! I am changing the channel. From now on, I am watching POX News! Now THERE'S a trashy news show! Ha!")

    "Sesame Street now has POX News. Well this little crack has upset many conservatives. One right-wing blogger wrote - 'I can't even sit my kids in front of 'Sesame Street' without having to worry about the Left attempting to undermine my authority.' - And nothing says parental authority like propping your kids in front of the tv so you can blog about how tv is undermining your authority."

    (Image: 'Conservatives Grouch-y' article)

    "Now personally folks, I wish my cable company carried POX News. They provide insightful coverage at my reading level. And the citizens of Sesame Street are desparate for fair and balanced coverage. Just look at how the muppet media covered tea party protests..."

    (Video: Kermit scorning an inaccurate re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party.)

    "Mister Frog! You can not silence the people with your web-footed storm troopers! And I am not saying that Kermit is Hitler, but doesn't this look a little too natural?"

    (Image: Kermit with a small imperialist mustache)

    "I would much rather my children watch opinion chicken Glen Beak squawk about how President Barrack Opossum wants to euthanize Big Bird and legalize Bert-Ernie marriage. So kids, turn off Sesame Street and turn on POX News. You'll love their great commentators, like Shawn Hammadee, Bull O'Reily, and Mitt Romney. We'll be right back."

    Abby's Flying Fairy School: "Sugar Plum Fairy Dancing Shoes"

    Some Trivia, if you'd like... This fourth show to air, called Sugar Plum Fairy Dancing Shoes, was actually the second show in production at Speakeasy FX. This was the first show in which the animators used extensive video reference to help us convey some kickin' dance moves!

    My work on this episode, which aired today:

  • (EP002SH011) Mrs. Sparklenose
    "[All right class, is everyone ready to] shake their groove things? Wait a minute, where's Gonnigan?"
    A lot of people say she looks like a mosquito. But have you ever seen a mosquito with these moves? ;)

  • (EP002SH013) Gonnigan, Abby, Mrs. Sparklenose
    "Sorry. I won't dance. Don't ask me."
    I had a really fun time getting Abby to do a little bit of Maniac / Flashdance here. If you watch the music video, I took my inspiration from the part that comes right after the famous part, where the girl pulls the chain and the water cascades down on her (around 3:24 into the full version 6:27 song, but about 3:54 in this YouTube link).

  • (EP002SH014) Mrs. Sparklenose, Dancing Shoes
    "I think I have something that may help you, Gonnigan. Sugar Plum Fairy.."

  • (EP002SH015) Mrs. Sparklenose, Abby, Gonnigan, Dancing Shoes
    "..Dancing Shoes! Made especially by the Sugar Plum Fairy, to teach dancing!"
    These last two shots appear one right after the other. Mrs. Sparklenose's line is cut right in the middle of the sentence. This was a conscious, frequent directoral decision to keep dialogue and action continuing through the cut.

  • (EP002SH017) Mrs. Sparklenose, Abby, Gonnigan, Blogg
    "[It's almost] Recital time! Your parents should be here any minute now!"
    As animators, we enjoyed a LOT of freedom with acting choices while working for Sesame Workshop. We had to use the composition and general idea behind the storyboard panels, but for example, in this shot, my only direction was to get Abby and Blogg offscreen before the next shot - so it was fun to be able to make the choice to have Blogg poke Abby before flying away with her offscreen.

  • (EP002SH035) Abby, Gonnigan, Dancing Shoes, Lunchbox
    "Tippety Tappety Prippety Prance. Make those two feet start to..." - "The shoes!" - "DANCE!"
    All I can say here is... Daaance! ;)

  • (EP002SH069) Mrs. Sparklenose, Gonnigan
    "That's because you don't need them. You already danced." - "Huh?"
    You may notice that I only claim the first four seconds of this shot. You see, because the camera angle for the next shot was so similar to this one, it was later decided that the two shots should be merged together, keeping my original camera angle and animation. When two shots merge like this into a single animation file, it can be very complicated on a technical level, since you have to match exactly all the character controls in the last frame of the first shot perfectly with the first frame of the following shot. This process became known as Frankensteining, and thankfully was only used seldomly during the creation of these episodes.

  • PS - I haven't heard yet whether our next show will air on Monday, or if they will re-run these past four, for a while. I'll try to keep you posted. Be on the lookout for a new episode when Blogg steps up to the challenge in a magical new outfit, fit for a prince, you might say...

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Abby's Flying Fairy School: "Genie In A Bottle"

    Some Trivia, if you'd like... Even though it was the third show to air, Genie In A Bottle was actually the sixth show in production at Speakeasy FX. It combines a message about recycling with a fun surprise - a genie pops out of an old bottle!

    My work on this episode, which aired today:

  • (EP006SH015) Abby, Blogg, Gonnigan, Peck, Mrs. Sparklenose
    "Oh, don't you remember, Blogg? Recycling is when you take something that's been used, and turn it into something new, that can be used again!" - "Oh yea! Why do we do that exactly?" - "So that there's less trash." - "That makes sense! Come on, let's recycle!"
    Probably one of the longest shots I ever got to work on. It took several days, as opposed to the average 2-3 days of animation on a single shot, which is why I can claim so few shots in this episode as opposed to others.

  • (EP006SH120) Gonnigan, Genie, Niblet, Abby, Mrs. Sparklenose, Blogg
    "Oh, what do we do now?" - "All right, all right. But make it quick! I haven't found my swim wear."
    Sadly (for me), this shot never made it to render. After animation was finaled, a chunk of the dialogue was repuprosed into another shot when new dialogue, or "pickup audio," was recorded and sent to our studio to help with a continuity issue. This sort of disappointment is fairly common for animators and must be accepted with a shrug of the shoulders.

  • Here's what an un-rendered shot looks like, without all the pretty fur and magic:

    PS - Friday's episode is shakin' - it brings some real toe-tappin' fun!!! Enjoy!

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Abby's Flying Fairy School: "The Pinocchio Process"

    Some Trivia, if you'd like... Although it was the second to air, Pinocchio Process was actually the fifth show in production at Speakeasy FX. Personally, I think it's our most gorgeous show.

    My work on this episode, which aired today:

  • (EP005SH067) Gonnigan
    "Oh, that doesn't sound like a good idea!"

  • (EP005SH095) Blogg, Abby, Mrs. Sparklenose
    "I can do that, no problem! Eeeh! Oooh! Huh?" - ("I'm off to find the cricket!" was later cut.) - "Uhm, maybe I'd better poof us there. But where do you find a cricket?"
    While this was originally a longer shot, the second part of Blogg's dialogue had to be cut to make room in the episode for a crucial change elsewhere.

  • (EP005SH120) Abby, Ladybug, Gonnigan, Blogg
    "A ladybug, ha! We better keep looking."
    One of my favorite little Abby moments. I love Abby!!!

  • (EP005SH170) Blogg, Cricket, Abby
    "Well you can help if you want, but I definitely do not need it."
    I had a great time adding the stiff wooden shake characteristic to various Blogg puppet shots.

  • (EP005SH220) Abby, Gonnigan
    "We don't need a giraffe or a monkey, what we need, is a donkey!"
    One of Abby's many cheerleader-style rhyming moments.

  • (EP005SH340) Blogg, Abby
    "Eghh, Eeeh, Oohm..." - "What's wrong?" - "I can't do it!" - "Sure you can! Your arms and legs and wings are all back to normal."
    I really put as much love into this underwater shot as I could in just a couple of days! When I saw a test render of the whale, I knew the caustic lighting would be really impressive for a kid's tv show, and so I tried to really get the weight right as well as believable secondary action on the fairies' flippers.

  • PS - Thursday's episode introduces a really fun new character, so don't miss it! I think he will leave you *wishing* for more!

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Abby's Flying Fairy School: "Niblet's Wand"

    Some Trivia, if you'd like... Niblet's wand was actually the fourth show in production at Speakeasy FX. However, it fit better within the season to be shown first, as it introduces the class pet, Niblet, who is a clever, mischievous, gerbilcorn - that is, a gerbil/unicorn mix.

    My work on this episode, which aired today:

  • (EP004SH080) Gonnigan, Abby, Blogg, and Mrs. Sparklenose
    "And there he goes!" - "Let's go Gonnigan, we need all the fairies we can get!" - "You know gerbilcorns, they love to be chased! A little fairy chase music please!"
    Note - the first part of this shot was the last shot shown on the earlier YouTube promotional video.

  • (EP004SH307) Blogg, Gonnigan, Abby
    "Oh no, we're on top of a mountain!" - "And Niblet's at the bottom!"
    While originally animated in the close up perspective, this shot was later split into two shots, the latter portion merging with shot 310. Niblet was animated by Will Robertson, a freelance generalist and animator who came in briefly this spring to help while Scott (our owner) was away.

  • (EP004SH495) Gonnigan, Mrs. Sparklenose
    "Then how will we ever catch him?" - "Oh you can't catch a gerbilcorn."
    Initially, we were given notably the deepest, most out-of-character vocal performance for Gonnigan. The shot was later extended slightly to accommodate improved vocal characteristics.

  • (EP004SH500) Mrs. Sparklenose
    "Unless he wants to be caught."

  • (EP004SH505) Abby, Blogg
    "I'll never get to pet him again?"

  • (EP004SH510) Gonnigan, Blogg
    "And I'll never get to try to pet him again."

  • (EP004SH595) Gonnigan, Blogg, Niblet
    "Uh, oh... okay!" - "Meep!" - "Oh! This feels nice!"
    One of the cuddlier moments I ever got to animate on the show, with Niblet jumping into Gonnigan's arms.

  • PS - Be sure to tune in tomorrow for Episode 2... you won't regret it, it's a gorgeous episode with some amazing visual sequences... don't miss it!

    Monday, November 09, 2009

    AFFS Airs Today!!! Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009

    (I'm posting this in advance so folks can find airtimes.)

    Congratulations to Sesame Street on 40 years of fantastic children's television!!! And congrats to all of us at Speakeasy FX for the production of the show's second daily segment, Abby's Flying Fairy School!!! it all begins in the morning on PBS.

    We'll be watching on WLIW, at 9am over at Dillon's in Mountainside.

    To save you the trouble: Here are the times Sesame Street airs for my biggest supporters!

    Fort Wayne, IN: PBS 39, 10:00am

    Milwaukee, WI: MPTV, 11:00am

    Indianapolis, IN: WFYI, 10:30am
    (although for Indy the show listed is "The Help-O-Bots," whereas it should be "Frankly It's Becoming a Habitat" - currently listed Wednesday, you may want to tune in both days!)

    PBS couldn't possibly make their tv listing website more complicated.. you navigate to the website , choose the zip code or location near you, and you'll see a list of available stations for your area. Find out on your tv which one you can tune into, and pick "This One" on the website. You'll see TV Times, but you must navigate to where it says "Full Day" in the top right box, and just hit the nearby right arrow for Tuesday, November 10. Make sure your listing says "Sesame Street: Frankly It's Becoming a Habitat" or you may not be watching the premiere show! In this show, a real-estate agent tries to persuade Big Bird to move to a warm climate by taking him on a virtual tour that stops at a beach, a swamp and a rain forest. Meanwhile, in our show, the class pet gets a little greedy with a magic wand and sends the fairy kids on a wild goose chase. Enjoy!!!

    I also hear that they're actually airing our first four shows this week - highly unusual! Usually they get a segment and repeat it a ton, but they're actually going to show a new episode EVERY DAY this week! How awesome!!!

    Yeay!!! Thanks everyone! So excited!

    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    Kids Media Salon (11/04/09)

    (Click the image to watch the latest 40th anniversary promo):

    I just realized Kids Media Salon has my sister's initials.. KMS. ;)

    Well last Wednesday night was a lot of fun. It was a change of pace for me since I usually spend my free time goofing around with Naveen or watching animated comedies like the Simpsons or catching up on one project or another. It was a night with a very intellectual, opinionated, friendly group called Kids Media Salon, a melting pot of talented industry folks working in children's entertainment who have been invited together by none other than miss Sally Anne Syberg.

    This particular event was held at the home of Louise Gikow, who most recently published "Sesame Street: A Celebration -- 40 Years of Life on the Street" which has been a great, nostalgic read and has also served as a sort of memory keepsake for my past year working at Speakeasy FX. I've even started calling it 'my yearbook' and have asked my coworkers to sign it. Louise offered to sign the inside cover page, "Hope you enjoy it, Laura!" I was thankful for that, even though I hoped she might sign it later on November 21st at the Brooklyn Library event, but this was a more intimate meeting anyway. I greeted her with some nice products from a new store in Westfield called "Bath Junkie" - one being a soft-woven menthol baggie for headache relief, and another being a eucalyptus ball that effervesces in the shower for sinus relief. Tis the season, after all - I'm going back for some myself later.

    Louise had a gorgeous apartment. As the ten of us sat around her living room, I started out fairly quiet, but by the end of the night I was actually trying to be more reserved because despite my usual standoffishness or indecisiveness, I was finding myself just as outspoken as the rest and had to restrain myself from interrupting or interjecting possibly too much. After all, I was in the room with an Emmy winner, Louise Gikow; an independent foreign documentary film maker, Tania Cypriano from Brazil; writer/illustrator/Dogshark President Robert Wurzburg (a clever but subtle hoop earring on the right); the analytical President of Paradigm Research & Consulting, Iris Sroka (of Polish descent, and reminded me occasionally of my friend Joanna Leathers); President ("Countess") of Relevant Research, Patricia "Pat" Tobin; directors/animators for, Max Porter and Kaoru "Ru" Kuwahata (a couple of bright, creative people - beware the quiet ones, they have the talent!); project manager/producer Diane Strack (the friendly, laid back woman who sat next to me and was willing to chat with me superficially about monetizing strategies in a changing world for broadcast models); and of course, miss Sally Anne Syberg who was our EP at Speakeasy FX during the AFFS project, is a networking superwoman who was able to pull us all together for the Salon group (which meets regularly), and is now coming up on some really exciting new ideas for production.

    Add Laura Skowronski Nattam, character animator on Abby's Flying Fairy School (the new second segment of the Sesame Street hour), also former art director for CVC Communications... :-) yeay me.

    The conversations really escalated at times, regarding today's content for children: the appeal and values of yesteryear's classics as opposed to the quality of television, film, and games made today; the amount of layering happening with syndicated television, dvd sales, and recording programs like TiVo; current topics in media and our own current projects; etc. I got the vibe from Sally that the evening was perhaps somewhat more disjointed and socially-motivated than topical or socratic as it typically may be. Nevertheless, good time, good company, good evening.

    My major contribution of the evening was recommending "Everything Bad is Good For You" by Steven Johnson, regarding the Sleeper Curve theory and "How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter."

    This morning (I'm finishing this recap Monday 11/09/2009), I'm excitedly watching the hours pass until the airing of Sesame Street tomorrow morning. The local stations air the program at 7 but then again at 9am, which is good because that's when most everyone from the AFFS crew can make it out to Westfield. We're gathering at a family restaurant called Dillon's up in Mountainside to watch the premiere of our show. How very, very exciting. :)

    PS, Sesame Street is throwing a birthday party next Saturday, 11/14, following the premiere of the new season tomorrow (11/10). Folks have been asking me what time it airs - you'll have to look it up through this website:
    The party website is here:


    Thanks again for all your support!

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    One Week Before Abby's Flying Fairy School Airs

    One Week Before Abby's Flying Fairy School Airs...

    I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'm leaving work early to catch a train to NY as I've been invited by Sally Anne to take part in a Kids Media Salon meeting with a couple handfuls of really intuitive-sounding folks in the children's educational entertainment industry. It is being held at the home of one Louise Gikow, author of the book I recently purchased: "Sesame Street: A Celebration -- 40 Years of Life on the Street."

    It's a GIANT book. It's making me feel really "big" right now.

    Of course since Louise visited us at the studio and spoke to me at length about the animation process, I knew the book would at least mention us. So, I gambled and bought the book online before I knew for sure - but I knew I'd want it anyway as part of my collection.. it is the 40th year for Sesame Street after all. Sure enough, though, our little NJ studio has a full 2-page spread in the "Believe in Little Things" section, pages 234-235, where yes, Speakeasy FX is mentioned in the process of bringing computer animation into the world of Sesame Street puppets. The famous render still that was leaked for the August press releases was included, as well as stills from David Shirk's Abby test for the bid, and some of our David's preproduction work. It's a great little section, and does quote Scott and Jan well, and mentions David and Andy also.

    I am proud to say, although I was not credited, I realized that page 234 has a render still from the third shot I ever animated professionally for television - something like frame 120 of Shot 15 in the Cinderella episode. It's the one where Mrs. Sparklenose looks apologetically at Blahg the fairy troll, saying, "I'm sorry dear, but Eenie Meanie is legally binding. You'll have to be our Cinderella."

    Yay me!

    On an aside, designer Peter de Seve was unfortunately credited with a name misspelling: "Animator Peter Sepp -- a veteran of Pixar who created the characters in Ice age, among others -- designed all of the new characters in the segment, like Gonnigan, Blahg, and gerbilcorn Niblet." Now, as it turns out, his original designs were truly important, but sketched out only very quickly, so I've heard. It was actually David who really fleshed them out and designed the bulk of the look of the show. A few folks who realize this may chuckle at the unfortunate "Sepp" credit, but this is obviously a luckless slip for Pete's sake.

    Yes, a strained use of the pun.. I know. I'll try harder when it isn't almost midnight.

    I was entertained that Louise chose to describe us as working and sitting silently at our computer screens... silently... woah, do we get points for good behavior? :-) Most days, back in "the day," there were nerf gun wars, YTMND and YouTube shares, and the very usual hilarity of office craziness. This was indeed a special place.. although my sense of humor is not as innocent as it once was, perhaps. :)

    The book comes with a DVD of the first episode that aired Nov. 10, '69, which is fantastically reminiscent of our childhoods.. and also a brief 40-year recap video which is framed cleverly onscreen in a changing television (that is, it goes from an old fasioned tv border of the video which morphs over time, starting from early episodes in the 60s, and gradually the border changes to newer tv models until in 2009 it's a plasma screen.. pretty cool, and very subtlely done).

    Actually a glimpse of that video can be seen on Leslie Carrara's website:
    And also on YouTube:

    Finally, in a few weeks, on Saturday, November 21 at 4pm, I plan to attend an event at the Brooklyn Public Library (Central Library, Dweck Center) where the author and various behind-the-scenes folks will give a presentation and book signing. Cool huh? :) In honor of Sesame Street's 40th year on television, personalities from the show and behind the scenes come together to discuss the impact of TVs first educational program for children. Featuring Louis Gikow, author of Sesame Street: A Celebration of 40 Years of Life on the Street; Bob McGrath, human cast member since Season 1 in 1969; Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente; Chris Cerf, Sesame Street composer and lyricist; Rollie Krewson, puppet builder with The Jim Henson Company; and Fran Brill, puppeteer for Zoe and Prairie Dawn. A book signing follows the event. This program will last approximately 90 minutes.

    I'm psyched. A lot going on this month.

    I can not believe that November 10 is only a week and a half away!!! The unveiling is fast approaching!

    Thanks again everyone for your support!!!