LOS ANGELES - It was approaching Sid's bedtime, but when a grownup suggested a game of Simon Says, the preschooler bounded across the room and eagerly stood on one foot, leaped into the air and made silly faces, all before he ended the game by breaking into a dance without Simon's specific instruction.
"Oooooh, you got me," said the youngster who moped for all of about 2 seconds. "I'm just not a good listener, I guess."
Sid should give himself more credit. The short-lived performance served as a vivid example of how the blue-haired boy stands out.
He was played by dancer Misty Rosas, controlling the cartoon character's body movement on a stripped-down set at Jim Henson Studios, and puppeteer Drew Massey, who provides the facial expressions and voice. Their collaborative effort simultaneously plays out on video screens along the walls in a 3-D cartoon world, creating the world's first "live" animation star.
The primary audience for "Sid the Science Kid," which premieres today with a five-episode morning marathon, might be paying attention only to the series' catchy songs, corny jokes and easy-to-swallow lessons, but savvy parents will be dazzled by a process that's anything but child's play.
While other colorful characters, from SpongeBob SquarePants to Homer Simpson, have to wait months before their actions come alive, Sid and his pint-sized co-stars are instantly zapped into their colorful universe, which means a single episode can be shot and processed in two days.
"The current and future development of our whole company right now is devoted to this new digital puppetry studio," said series coproducer Lisa Henson, whose late father created Big Bird and Kermit the Frog. "We've got the power of retakes. We can rewrite a joke if it doesn't work. It's actually like filming a live sitcom."
The set, located on the site where Charlie Chaplin shot many of his classics, is no more than a huge empty space with lots of hidden gadgets that make the magic. Red lights scattered throughout the space are actually motion-capture sensors that pick up the action by Rosas, who manages to capture the awkward, giddy tics of a 4-year-old boy, despite having to wear a heavy body suit. Massey works out of a closed-off space where he can watch Sid on a video screen above, move his lips and head as if he were operating a Muppet and literally put words in his alter ego's mouth.
"It's like learning an instrument," said Massey, after stepping out of his box. "It's like we've built this virtual saxophone and then I have to figure out all the inputs."
None of these technological breakthroughs will mean much if "Sid" only inspires preschoolers to explore a midmorning nap.
Fascinated by charts
If the kickoff episode is any indication, "Sid" shouldn't have any problem. It may be a stretch to imagine that a kid would be so super-duper fascinated by charts, but it helps that his three classmates (it's a very, very private school) and teacher, who dances as much as she instructs, communicate through rap songs and swap jokes that could have come straight out of "Laugh-In, Jr." ("How does a chart sneeze? Ahhhhhhhhchart!!").
"There won't be any lab coats or test tubes or complicated technology," said Al Jerome, president of Los Angeles-based KCET, which is coproducing the series with Henson Studios. "This is a fun and active look at what makes the world tick."
Part of representing the modern-day world is the makeup of Sid's family. He's the child of an interracial marriage.
"We really wanted to have a healthy amount of diversity in the show," Henson said. "We're not shining a huge light on it, but we want it to feel diverse and modern because this is a really modern show."
Modern enough that when it's time to leave the set, Sid the Cartoon Kid can say goodnight -- and you can wave right back.
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