Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How do you ignite a generation's imagination?

I often wonder what kind of impact the creative work we make will have on the generation we make it for. Will they watch it? Will they play act it? Will they talk about it with their friends? Will they think about it when they get older?

For my generation (call us Generation Y or Millennials, I suppose), it's undeniable that television has had an influence on our adults lives. From PeeWee Herman's Broadway debut to Rainbow Brite pint glasses, nostalgic media is everywhere. This heavy influence was very apparent last Friday evening at the Bowery Ballroom, where Pete and Pete themselves, along with Artie, Ellen, and Mom and Dad came out to share clips and stories about the much-loved '90s series. Show creators William McRobb and Chris Viscardi opened the evening by introducing The Blowholes playing some favorite Polaris hits. 
My favorite moment of the evening was hearing Will and Chris talk about creating the show. It all started as a series of promotional interstitials for Nickelodeon, showing the life of kids from the kid point of view. When developing the series, they decided to concentrate "on the backyard and the magic that happens there." They had an opportunity to define what childhood was all about. They also cited that the show had a meta-nostalgic feel to it. Their definition of childhood was based on all the things they loved and wanted from their own childhoods. 

This great interview was posted days before the reunion. "Nostalgia shit for aging hipsters." That's my favorite kind!
Don't be a blowhole. Show your '90s TV love and let it inspire your work.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brunch & Puppets

It has been so fun sharing iGeneration with my good friend Tara Hewlett from As Long As It's Fancy this month. Tara's Muppet party boards were smart, colorful, and are making me think that I need to bring these boards to life sometime soon.

I continued the puppet birthday fun on my actual birthday with mi amiga, Anuja. We started our morning with brunch and then headed over to Puppet Kitchen for a puppet making workshop. I wish I could spend every Sunday eating brunch and making puppets. Puppet Kitchen, known in part for building the puppets on Johnny and the Sprites, has a beautiful, little studio in an old school kitchen. We were there to make fuzzy hand monsters. I was nervous...how would we make these things? Would I need to sew?! Eek!

There were 8 of us in the workshop, the perfect amount of people to fit in the space comfortably. Our instructor was warm, encouraging, and knowledgeable. We started with pre-cut fabric, and then our instructor glued a mouth plate on for us while sharing some information about the company and all the "chefs" that work there. 

Sewing the puppet was a lot easier than I thought. The furry fabric probably helped make the stitches less noticeable.
Decorating the puppet was my favorite part. We all started with blank, furry canvases. 

It was interesting to see how each participant decorated their puppet friend and brought it to life. I absolutely recommend the workshop for anyone interested in what happens before the puppet hits the hand. Though the workshop is fun, it's probably best for kids over the age of 10, due to the stitching that's involved. I recommend taking the workshop with a side of brunch! For more information, check out their website!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guest Blogger: Rachel Yonda, animator

An animator's dream: Comic Con 2011
My name is Rachel Yonda, and I am an animator. I am so excited to be doing a guest post here! I thought I might use this opportunity to explain what its like to be an animator and show some examples of how different the definition of 'animation' can be these days. 

One fact people might not generally know about animation is that, like puppetry, it is acting at its core. You might be surprised to know that in our classes, we watched and analyzed just as many clips of live action footage as we did animation. Segments of Singing In The Rain taught us about beautiful character interactions, choreography, kinetics. In a sequence from a film made early in Marilyn Monroe's career, we studied the subtle transformations in her face from one emotion to another to help us understand  how to convey a thinking character. Silent movies and mimes taught us body language and strong silhouettes. To animate, you need to know how to effectively convey an action, thought, or feeling in the most universal, readily understandable way possible. The communication has to be instant. 

Like I said before, these days, 'animation' is a pretty loose term. Now, in addition to the traditional cel-style animation we all know thanks to Disney (plus the other familiar medium of stop motion) we also have CG, motion graphics, visual effects and compositing. 

Now to show you some examples! Rudimentary and embarrassing though it may be, here's the film I made before graduating from NYU in 2007, which would fall into the 'traditional' animation category:

Hopefully, I've come a long way since then, but I still have a soft spot for that lonely little girl and that friendly, soft-headed ghost. 

The name of the game for animators these days is adaptability. No one's really animating on paper anymore, so in addition to the artistry, the term animator is now pretty much interchangeable with the term "computer geek". Flash, After Effects, Cinema 4D, Maya…you get to know these complex software programs well if you are an animator!

Animators are primarily lone wolf freelancers, we wander from project to project. I was lucky enough to get gigs on shows like Adult Swim's SUPERJAIL!, Disney's Little Einsteins, and The BBC's 3rd and Bird, but now those projects are a comparatively small part of my portfolio as I work on more and more commercial projects. Shows are great because they offer a bit of job security (for a year or two at a time- thats LONG for animators), and you get to stick with one narrative and characters that you grow to love (ATTN Children's Media people: lets make more shows! That's what we animators love to work on!). On the flip-side, freelancing keeps you on your toes, you tend to get more challenging/exciting assignments, and you can expand your horizons very quickly by hopping around from studio to studio.

What would a freelance animator typically work on if its not a show or a movie? If you've ever taken a flight on Virgin America, you may have seen this already. Here's one of my most favorite commercial projects I've ever gotten to take part in:

This next piece here, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, goes to show another variation on what the term 'animation' has come to define these days. It is one of my favorite motion graphics projects that I've ever gotten to work on:

One last thing I'll mention, is an attitude in animation that I believe can extend to any of you who might be potential creators/writers/storytellers/artist - if you have a project in mind, don't wait for some network exec to buy the idea. Just do it! Seek out artists that can do what you can't, collaborate, and create a Kickstarter if you have to! Last October, my friends and I raised 5k to make a pilot of our own idea for a show called Muffin Buds, and I'm happy to say it is nearly finished, slated to wrap by the end of this month. 

If you'd like to keep up to date on some of the most exciting projects in animation, be sure to check out sites like Motionographer.com. Readers here are probably well acquainted with the animation happening within the scope of children's media, but like I said, there is a lot happening out there- it's a great site for keeping up on the latest and greatest!

Thanks for reading and feel free to say hello on Twitter! @rachelyonda

Editor's note: I hope you've enjoyed Rachel's piece as much as I have. In addition to her work, Rachel is currently fundraising to secure her place on a marathon team for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. To support Rachel and her great cause, head on over to: http://pages.teamintraining.org/los/rnr12/ryonda

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Songs To Inspire...

One of my favorite sessions at Kidscreen was about leadership in children's media production. One of my favorite people in the business, Donna Friedman Meir, led the panel discussion and asked each panel member to share a song that inspires them to do the work they do. I was so excited by what they shared, and wanted to pass that on to you all...

Tim Brooke-Hunt, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Angela Santomero, Out of the Blue

Tom Lynch, famed media creator and writer

Maggie Maguire, Scholastic

What song inspires you? This one really helps me get through the hard moments...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Prettying Up Your Puppet Party

By Tara Hewlett of As Long As It's Fancy

Now its time to dress up our party.  Let's start with our table decor, to ensure that all of the goodies we baked have an equally pretty backdrop!  Our centerpiece flowers get the Muppet treatment by borrowing some beakers and test tubes from Beaker and Dr. Honeydew.

vase 1vase 2vase 3vase 4vase 5

Next, let's add some fun to our chairs.  All we needed were a few pieces of paper and some string.  We cut a decorative edge on a large piece of card stock and attached to the chair back with ribbon.  Next, we printed a film frame and a still from our favorite scene of a Muppets show.  Finally, we glued this scene onto the card stock and we have dressed up the chairs for our party!

 I loved some of the modern artwork I found of the Muppets.  Need to let guests know at which home to stop for the party?  Try blowing up some of the graphic artwork and cut into streamers for the porch! 

An accent wall in your entry will get guests in the Muppet party mood immediately.  The best part about this accent wall?  It's temporary!  These wall decals get an extended life after the party by moving them to the playroom or bedroom.

wall decal

I used the cute Muppets alphabet to create garland.  String this anywhere around the party where you feel it's not looking festive enough. 

alphabet artwork

We definitely want our guests to remember how much fun they had celebrating this month, so make sure they grab a Muppets favor bag on the way out.  Fill the bags with treats and decorate with some contemporary Muppet artwork and bow!

It's time for the finishing touch on our decor - the theater!  Not sure how to put it together, check out the instructions here.    Don't forget about the personalized Muppets we made during game time.  This is the perfect setting to show them off.  Just make sure that you set up your theater in a prominent place so that all of the guests can see the show!

Monday, February 13, 2012

My First Kidscreen: A Timeline

Leading up to last week's Kidscreen, I had joked that my anticipation was comparable to Brad Goretsky's before attending his very first New York Fashion Week. I was there as part of Insight Strategy Group, and could not have been more honored to represent such a reputable, fabulous team. The following is a timeline of my week...

Monday: Team Insight puts the finishing touches on all presentations and our Insight Museum, presenting real kids and their thoughts to the producers and creators present at this year's summit. We had lots of boxes to open.

We also had the pleasure of attending a "Lift Off" party at Little Airplane Productions downtown. It was great to spend some time with my co-workers and friends before starting the big week.

Tuesday: I arrived at my office early in the AM to help load in and set up our Museum. I thought it looked pretty great.

Donna Friedman-Meir, one of the Insight execs and a true leader in the field, led a great panel discussion on what it means to be a leader and a boss in the industry. More about that discussion will be posted later this week!

Wednesday: I took some time to tour the summit and found some great attractions. I am a sucker for good marketing, and love Rocket Fund's slogan "Fueling Creativity," particularly at the "refueling" stations.

I was so excited to see Monster Factory present. I have been following the plush company for some time and was thrilled to see that they were working with 9 Story Entertainment. Conference attendees got mini Monsters. I was pretty thrilled about that!

This is a booth set up by a new production. I didn't have an opportunity to learn more about the show, but I truly appreciated the set up.

Wednesday evening, I met up with a bunch of friends at the WiCM party. It was great to see how many people came out to network and hang. What a great group!

Thursday: Mostly meetings...but did I mention there were Penguins at the conference?!

Friday: The Insight team celebrated a week of hard work with a little after work fun, and I was happy to find a place on my shelf of toys for my new Monster friend, Todd.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Games for Party Animals

By Tara Hewlett of As Long As It's Fancy

Miss Piggy is the ultimate fashionista.  Make sure she looks her best with a game of "Miss Piggy Bank Dress Up."  Start out with some plain piggy banks then grab some of Miss Piggy's favorite accessories such as pearl stickers for a necklace or earrings.  Lipstick and nail polish can be used as makeup or substitute paint for the same effect.  Finally, Miss Piggy loves a boa.  You can secure with a bit of hot glue.  Now you have the perfect spot to save up for your own fashionista accessories!

Gonzo has the most perfectly shaped nose for a game of ring toss!  Let's hang gonzo from the ceiling, grab a few rings and see which party guest has the best aim!
Animal loves to play the drums, but some of our guests might have other talents.  At our music station we can make guitars, drums and tambourines.  We just need some cardboard, tacks and string for our guitar.  We need some embroidery hoops, bottle caps and tape for our tambourine.  Finally, to make Animal's favorite instrument we need some lollipop drumsticks, a coffee can and fabric.  After we're finished making and decorating our instruments we can even record our own song!
Beaker wanted to join in on the musical fun as well, so he came up with a fun experiment.  He filled up a few beakers (or glasses if you want to simplify) with some water and added food coloring for fun.  With the water at different levels in each beaker he has created a range of different tones! 

And what Muppet party or Christina party would be complete without some puppet making!?  If you're feeling fancy you could head on over to FAO Schwarz before the party and have everyone make their own Muppet!  Christina is on the left sporting her signature glasses and a statue of liberty outfit to represent New York.  I am on the right with my red hair and cheerleading outfit from college!


If you are a bit far from the famous toy store you can still make your own Muppet using paper bags or socks.  Any of these options are fun and leave all of our guests with their very own personalized Muppet!

 birds, giraffe, sock, panda

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kidscreen Must Haves

With the official Kidscreen kick off only hours away, I thought it might be fun to share a few accessories that I think every Kidscreen attendee should be packing for the week...

2. A sturdy and cute business card case
3. Whimsical jewelry like Cynthia Rowley's bubble blower necklace
4. Kate Spade's Pittsburgh tote...it took me almost a year to find one on eBay, and it was totally worth it

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guest Blogger: Rachel Graham

Rachel Graham is a writer, researcher, and children’s media enthusiast hailing from Pittsburgh, PA. Trained in Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Rachel has written scripts for preschool television programs, articles for parenting magazines and websites, posts for screenwriting and fashion blogs, and the occasional grocery list. She is also a researcher in preschool television, working on projects for companies like Sesame Workshop, Disney, and Shalom Sesame. She gets to teach and play with kids as a tutor and substitute teacher. She lives in Queens and her current favorite kid’s TV show is My Babysitter’s a Vampire.

Free Play


A preschool classroom, walls covered in paintings and drawings, shelves of toys blocking off different areas to play. It’s slightly lower than ground level so the windows are up high on the wall. RACHEL, mid 20s, sits at the table with ISSAC, 4. Rachel is a substitute teacher and writer. Issac loves trouble, his best friend Ben, and music, in that order. OTHER CHILDREN and MARCY, the lead teacher, are putting away backpacks as Issac and Rachel play with lacing cards (letters that have holes to lace a string through).

Rachel laces the letter “U” in a running stitch, unlaces it, laces it in a whipstitch stitch, unlaces it, laces it in a slipstitch, and unlaces it. Issac is still working on stitching the first time.

Rachel looks at the “U.” She laces the string across the “U” rather than through it.

Rachel strums on the “U” while humming.

RACHEL: Look Issac, I made a harp.

Issac grins. Marcy approaches the table.

MARCY: I never would have thought of that.


Confession: I am Rachel, and the scene above really happened. I am a television writer, so it made sense to write the story as a script. Making that harp was a moment of free play for me. Free play is loosely defined as a time of unstructured play, where kids can choose what they want to play with and how to play with it. Free play has fallen somewhat out of vogue in the preschool world, however, due to a push for more curriculum in preschool and especially kindergarten. Experts are concerned that a lack of free play decreases levels of creativity in children, creativity that helps children become problem-solving, inventive adults.

I was reading an article about creativity on CNN.com and while the points it made about creativity and free play are very interesting, it also made me think about my own need for free play to tap into my creative side. The nice thing about working with kids is that it gives me an excuse to be creative and fun. While I don’t draw, make figurines with playdough, act like a robot, or play with toys in my adult “free time,” in my child “free play” time I do all of those things. I feel more inspired with my writing when I do creative things in my “free play” time.

This leads to a bigger insight that’s about more than just my writing process: I think my affinity for working with kids and writing for kids goes hand in hand, because my creative side IS still childlike. That’s not always true for people who just work with kids (see the story above: Marcy the lead teacher didn’t come up with the creative use of the “U” because she didn’t look at it with a creative child’s eye). It’s not true of all writers either (many of their creative sides I think comes from some level of adult insight).

I’m curious as to what other people who create media for kids think about this. Is the creative side of you more childlike? Or do you have to work to get into the mindset of a child? Or is it a combination of both?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pigging Out with Miss P and the Gang

By Tara Hewlett,  As Long As It's Fancy

You are going to need a lot of energy to celebrate Muppet-style, so let's take a look at some Muppet treats to get this party started!
 Miss Piggy hasn't caught sight of us eating her family - pigs in a blanket, but Kermit looks a little shocked that we are going to eat one of his apple cousins! , 
The dessert table is also full of delectable treats that resemble our favorite Muppets. 
fozzie bear peanut butter cookiesrainbow cakepunchcake pops

And the stars of the dessert table are some of the fanciest cupcakes I have ever seen.  You may have to travel to England to get the originals, but that just may be a trans-Atlantic ticket that is worth the price.