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February 07, 2012

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The Making of a Sesame Street Comic

By Mark Magner


Ed. Note: Mark Magner is a Design Director at Sesame Workshop. His team released a new comic strip today in conjunction with the release of our newest home video, “Elmo’s World: Favorite Things!” Mark wanted to take a few moments to tell you just how he and his creative team go about conceiving of and creating a comic strip.

Our mission here at Sesame Workshop is always at the forefront of our mind. We want to educate children, to prepare them for school, to help them better understand the world and each other. We want them to think, dream and discover, to reach their highest potential. Sesame Street‘s home videos are already effective tools for helping and inspiring children. Alicia Durand, who handles public relations for Sesame Street, approached the creative team about creating some activity or artwork to accompany the release of the home videos, and we were excited by this new challenge.

For the first video, “Bye Bye Pacifier,” Diana Leto, an artist who creates visuals for everything from our apparel to style guides to web elements, and I created spoofs of old propaganda posters, which were a big hit. The second video released was “Iron Monster,” and because of its cartoonish nature Evan Cheng, associate art director of character design, created a comic strip that would parody the story in the video, another idea that proved popular.

We realized that comic strips were the perfect way to connect parents and children while encouraging literacy. That’s why we’ve created another comic strip for our newest home video release, “Elmo’s World: Favorite Things!”

We start our process by watching the Sesame Street home video that we plan to feature in the comic strip. We choose a section of the video that lends itself well to a comic strip, and then discuss how to tell the story in a few frames. We decided it would be fun to spoof a famous comic strip. In this instance, a spoof of Calvin and Hobbes worked perfectly. The layout and design pays homage to Bill Watterson, the author of the comic, and features dinosaurs, a perennial favorite of Calvin’s.

At this point, Evan Cheng starts to sketch out his ideas using pencil on paper. Evan does several small sketches until he knows what the final comic strip will look like. Evan then sketches the final illustration, refining each frame to tell the story. Evan scans his final artwork into Photoshop and passes the file onto Diana Leto.

Diana takes Evan’s illustrations and digitally applies color, texture and halftones to the artwork, bringing it to life. In this instance, the color palette and texture was chosen with the style and tone of Calvin and Hobbes in mind. Using Photoshop, Diana layers the color and textures, fine tuning the look until it’s perfect.

We always work to ensure children engage with a story or a lesson in as many mediums as possible. That’s why, in addition to the home video and comic strip, Diana also created a coloring activity based on the comic. Our hope is that, if the child watches the video, uses the coloring activity and is read the comic strip by their parents, they’ll not only have lots of fun but they’ll learn a little something too.

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February 03, 2012

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This Week in Sesame Street: Elmo’s Birthday

By Graydon Gordian



I
t’s birthday season here at Sesame Street. For the second week in a row we’re celebrating the birthday of one of our beloved Sesame Street MuppetsTM. Last week we celebrated Ernie’s birthday. Now it’s Elmo’s turn to have cake and open presents.

Performed by Kevin Clash, Elmo has gone from being an unheralded baby monster to one of the most popular furry friends Sesame Street has ever had. Elmo turns 3½ this year – Elmo always turns 3½ on February 3rd. In honor of his birthday, here are 3½ fun facts about Elmo you might not know:

1. Elmo is the only non-human to ever testify before the U.S. Congress. In 2002 he was invited to testify before the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee to urge more funding for music research and music education in schools.
2. Elmo also appears on Sesame Workshop co-productions in China, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa.
3. Elmo’s favorite food is wasabi, which is why his eyes are so wide open when he’s awake.
3½. Elmo loves you (but you already knew that).

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February 01, 2012

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Behind the Scenes: Sesame Workshop in Pakistan

By Graydon Gordian



In December of last year Pakistan’s PTV began broadcasting Sim Sim Hamara, one of Sesame Workshop’s newest international co-productions. During the lead up to the show’s inaugural broadcast, our Pakistani partner Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop made the above video to document all the wonderful work their team of Pakistani producers and performers are doing to enrich the lives of their country’s children.

Like Sesame Street, Sim Sim Hamara features lovable puppet friends that help children attain the building blocks of literacy and numeracy as well as encourage healthy eating habits and cultural understanding. Sim Sim Hamara might also have the catchiest theme song of any Sesame Workshop production. We apologize if it gets stuck in your head!

We’re so excited to be working with Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop to educate and entertain the children of Pakistan, and after watching the above video we think you will be too.

Generous support of Sim Sim Hamara is made possible by the American people and government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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January 31, 2012

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OK Go and Sesame Street Team up to Teach Primary Colors

By Graydon Gordian


Between performing a dance routine on a group of treadmills and setting up an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, the rock band OK Go has produced some of the most imaginative and refreshingly fun music videos of the last few years. So when Sesame Workshop decided to make a new video explaining the primary colors to young children, we knew exactly who to ask.

Today we released the music video for the “3 Primary Colors Song,” in which Damian Kulash, Tim Nordwind, Dan Konopka and Andy Ross of the band OK Go help kids learn the colors red, blue and yellow and which colors they make when mixed together. We also released a game, created by Plug-In Media starring OK Go that allows kids to mix the colors however they want and make a painting of their own.

Sesame Workshop has a long history of working with musicians, actors and other celebrities, going all the way back to James Earl Jones’ appearance on Sesame Street in 1969. But with todays’ release of the OK Go song and game, we have broken the mold in a few different ways: The online game is the first game we have made that does not include an appearance by a Sesame Street MuppetTM; and this is the first video we have produced in which learning the primary colors is the primary educational goal.

Although the video, directed by Al Jarnow , is simple – nothing more than the band, some colored jumps suits and colored sheets of paper – an elaborate team here at Sesame Workshop was needed to make the video and game a reality: research and education, digital media and show production all played a large role in making sure the video and accompanying game are inventive, vivid and enriching.

The video and game are an excellent example of our firmly held belief that children learn more effectively when taught lessons using multiple mediums. In this instance, children have the potential to retain the information about colors the music video teaches if they also play the game. It’s just one example of the many ways we here at Sesame Workshop are combining fun, education and innovation.

To watch OK Go’s “3 Primary Colors Song,” click here. To play the 3 primary colors game, click here.

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This Week in Sesame Street: Ernie’s Birthday

By Graydon Gordian


One of our favorite things here at Sesame Workshop is celebrating the birthdays of our beloved Sesame Street MuppetsTM. That’s why we’re so excited for this Saturday, January 28: It’s Ernie’s birthday!

Ernie and his best pal Bert are some of our oldest friends on Sesame Street. They’ve been living in the basement apartment of 123 Sesame Street since the show’s premiere in 1969.

Aside from providing us with some of the show’s funniest moments – who could forget the classic “banana” sketches – Ernie teaches us all a very important lesson: it’s possible for two people who don’t have much in common to be great friends. Ernie and Bert don’t have many similar interests: the excitable and mischievous Ernie enjoys playing tricks on Bert and taking baths with Rubber Duckie, while Bert, always the lovable curmudgeon, loves his pigeon Bernice and collecting paper clips and bottle caps. But despite those differences, they’re still best friends.

Given that Ernie’s been a part of the show for over 30 years, he’s been played by more than one performer. Originally Jim Henson did both the voice and puppeteering for Ernie. He last played Ernie in the 1989 episode, “Don’t Throw That Trash on the Ground.” Nowadays Ernie is performed by Steve Whitmire.

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January 26, 2012

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To Square One TV, With Love

By Dan Lewis


Twenty-five years ago today, my life changed for the better. Twenty-five years ago today, Square One TV debuted.

Square One was a thirty minute delight featuring short sketches about math. There was Mathman, a math-parody of Pac-Man, who would go around the game board looking for tasty numbers to eat — but only ones which met the rule of the day. (Fans of the show can probably hear the voice in their head: “Mathman, Mathman, multiples of three, multiples of three, Mathman.”) The show had miniature game shows, like Piece of the Pie and But Who’s Adding?, featuring regular children as contestants. It had math-teaching music videos like Nine, Nine, Nine (“times any number you can find, it all comes back to nine”) and Less Than Zero (“a certified, nationwide klutz”). There was Dirk Niblick, Blackstone, Mathcourt, and more.

And of course — of course! — there was MathNet, which closed every episode with a piece of a week-long story. Be it the kidnapping of Steve Stringbean or the complicated confidence scam perpetuated by the mysterious swami, these MathNet memories are ingrained deep in my psyche. Trying to figure out how George Frankly and Kate Monday (or Pat Tuesday!) would solve the case became an obsession; tuning in on Friday to have the answer revealed became a core part of my week.

It was math. And it was wonderful.

The nine year old me did not know it at the time, but like everything else we do at Sesame Workshop, Square One was designed to address an educational need of children. In this case, Square One‘s goal was to address the “math crisis” of eight to 12 year olds in the United States, using media to help teach mathematical concepts in an enjoyable fashion. And while writing this blog post for the organization which created the show appears self-serving, if you’ve spoken to me about Square One, you know that I can still sing significant parts of 8% Percent of My Love (and have also reserved 10% of my love for the New York Football Giants; sorry Patriots fans) while reciting esoteric plot points from series of MathNet. Does anyone else remember the kid who tried to sell George the $50,000 pencil? He only needed to sell one!

Happy birthday, Square One TV. And may you avoid Mr. Glitch.

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Sesame Street Partners with 100Kin10 Movement to Promote STEM Education

By Graydon Gordian


Sesame Workshop is excited to announce that we are now officially part of the 100Kin10 movement, a collection of non-profits, government agencies, corporations and universities working to recruit and retain 100,000 new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teachers over the next ten years.

STEM education is already a major part of the Sesame Street curriculum. For two laughter-filled years we’ve incorporated STEM education into the show. STEM lessons are also integral to our online content, outreach initiatives and efforts to work with pre-school educators. For years our team of childhood development specialists has been refining our multi-platform STEM curriculum to make sure it’s not only fun but effective. That’s part of the reason why we are in a unique position to meet the challenges of teaching critical STEM knowledge and skills to children through the involvement of their teachers, parents and caregivers. Helping raise a generation of children that is excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a critical part of our mission.

That mission is why we partnered with the 100kin10 movement. Founded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Opportunity Equation and NewSchools Venture Fund, the movement has brought together dozens of organizations that are concerned about the future of STEM education in the United States. Every organization brings something unique to the table. Sesame Workshop is proud to bring our expertise in early childhood education and firmly held belief that it’s never too early to encourage kids to be excited about science and math.

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January 24, 2012

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Sisimpur Celebrates Anniversary of USAID with Ambassador to Bangladesh

By Graydon Gordian


It’s an exciting time for Sisimpur, Sesame Street’s co-production in Bangladesh. The cast and crew are looking forward to their seventh season this February, and earlier this month the Sisimpur MuppetsTM helped Dan W. Mozena, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of USAID.

USAID has been working to improve the lives of the people of Bangladesh for all 40 years of the country’s existence, while Sesame Street and Sisimpur have been educating and engaging the children of Bangladesh since 2005. USAID and Sesame Street were fast friends. Our longstanding commitment to literacy and numeracy, cultural appreciation, nutrition and hygiene went hand in hand with the goals USAID has in Bangladesh and around the world.

That’s one of the reasons why Ambassador Mozena stopped by the show and visited with Ikri Mikri, Halum, Tuktuki and Shiku, four of Sisimpur’s beloved MuppetTM friends. Ambassador Mozena and his Sisimpur pals talked about all the wonderful work USAID does in Bangladesh, and counted to 50 in honor of the organization’s landmark anniversary.

For Sisimpur’s Bangladeshi production team, making the show (the opening of which is above) is both a joy and a challenge. The lessons Bangladeshi children learn about health, cultural awareness and literacy are critical to their development, but given the economic conditions in Bangladesh – many children don’t have access to electricity – the team has to do more than air the show on TV to ensure those lessons get learned. That’s why Sisimpur created a small fleet of rickshaws equipped with a TV and a power generator. The rickshaws can travel to areas the show doesn’t easily reach and play episodes for young children there. That’s just one of the many ways the people behind Sisimpur are using their imaginations to help make the lives of Bangladeshi children more fruitful and filled with laughter and learning.

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January 23, 2012

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Augmented Reality Technology Brings Sesame Street Characters to Life

By Graydon Gordian


Having been around for over 40 years, here at Sesame Workshop we understand that there are some time-tested ways children learn and play – there’s no need to reinvent the playset. But we believe that, as new technologies emerge, there are ways to enhance and support the tried and true ways children use their imagination to make sense of the world.

That’s why we have partnered with Qualcomm to explore how augmented reality technology can encourage learning and emotional growth in young children. Our CEO Mel Ming, Innovation Lab team member David Glauber and Grover demonstrated the Vuforia augmented reality platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 10th. By merely holding up a tablet to a traditional playset, children can interact with their favorite Sesame Street characters while developing socially, emotionally and cognitively.

Quite simply, when a child points a tablet or smart phone at these toys, the camera recognizes the objects and they come to life on screen. The camera on the tablet recognizes 3-D objects – in this instance specially designed versions of Bert and Ernie as well as a television, a bathtub, a racecar and other toys for Bert and Ernie to play with. (The characters are designed with special code-infused clothing so the camera can identify them. But developers at Sesame Street’s Innovation Lab are confident that, someday soon, the camera will be able to recognize any of the plush Sesame Street characters children own.) T-shirts, books and countless other items also have the potential to “come to life” when viewed through the app.

When Ernie is placed onto the playset, the camera recognizes the floor and triggers a response on screen, creating “walls” around him.  In the prototypical version of the technology presented at CES – the app is not yet available for purchase – Ernie says hello to the user and asks for another Sesame Street character to play with. But in future, more developed versions of the technology, Ernie and the other Sesame Street characters will have a wide range of reactions to any given scenario. This will allow for both a more guided form of pretend play, as well as child-directed experiences.

 

Both kinds of play – guided and child-directed – are important for fostering social confidence and a children’s ability to manage their own behavior and emotions. As children move toys in and out of the playset, they choose what kinds of social situations they would like to experiment with. Meanwhile, the app provides the structure necessary for them to learn more advanced forms of narrative construction, such as telling stories with a beginning, middle and end.

It was important to our Innovation Lab team that, in the words of team member Jason Milligan, the use of the augmented reality technology not be “gimmicky.” Milligan and the rest of the team wanted it to genuinely support and enhance the well-established ways children already play with their toys. So they reimagined the ways information can be input into a digital tool like a tablet.

For instance, when children play, they physically move their toys in and out of the playset. That’s why, instead of using a mouse or touch screen as an input device, the toys themselves are the input device. It’s also why all it takes to “activate” the toy’s digital rendering is to point the tablet at it. Directing the camera at the jukebox causes music to play; directing it at the TV turns it on, and causes whatever Sesame Street scene is playing to fill the tablet screen.

Because it comes in the form of an app, the technology is very malleable. As new characters are created and new storylines for them imagined, the software can be automatically updated like any other app. This is just the first generation of a new technology that has almost limitless possibilities.

The future is a fun place to play.

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This Week in Sesame Street: Big Bird’s First Visit to Hollywood Squares

By Graydon Gordian


Welcome to This Week in Sesame Street, a new feature in which we’ll revisit all the funny, touching and memorable moments Sesame Street has produced since it was first aired in 1969. This week we’re taking a look back at the first time Big Bird appeared on the classic game show Hollywood Squares.

Hollywood Squares has had countless famous guests over the years, but none quite like Big Bird. On January 19, 1976, Big Bird was a guest on the show for the first time. Plopped down next to Broadway star Carol Channing, best known for her work in Hello Dolly! and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Big Bird answered questions on birds (an expertise of his), Broadway musicals and even chimed in to help out Channing a time or two.

It would hardly be the last time Big Bird appeared on the now-defunct show: Between 1979 and 2001, Big Bird would appear on the show 14 times, most coming during the years in which Peter Marshall (whom Big Bird lovingly referred to as “Mr. Marshmallow”) was host. He also wasn’t the only Sesame Street character to appear on the show: Oscar the Grouch and Elmo have both been guests as well.

For video of Big Bird’s appearance, click here.

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