Brian Henson, whose father, Jim, created the Muppets, wasn’t always convinced that he would go into the family business. “I went through a spell in my teenage years where I absolutely was going to be an astrophysicist,” he admits. Now the co-CEO of the Jim Henson Company is channeling that early love of the stars into a new show, Sid the Science Kid, that’s designed to inspire preschoolers to question and reason like real scientists. New on PBS this fall, Sid follows a group of kids who pester parents, teachers and friends about the way things work, and it brings an innovative mix of motion-capture technology and digital animation to the television world.
Q: Are preschoolers ready for science? Isn’t that a bit early?
A: Here in America, we generally don’t go near science until about the fourth grade. That’s really too late. The child-development experts we’ve been working with have stressed the importance of trying to get to a child before the age of seven.
Q: What will the show teach them?
A: They’re not going to come away from Sid the Science Kid having memorized scientific rules and facts. The idea is to stimulate kids into thinking like scientists. The show is really about teaching kids to explore.
Q: Do any of the characters represent types of scientists? The girl May seems heady—is she the theorist?
A: We try to create characters that are universally true and credible. May is the careful thinker, and she spots the little details, but she’s not really “the theorist.” Sid is the most adventurous, the one who is always asking questions. The building blocks for each character are basic so that anyone can watch the show and think, “Oh, I know a kid like Sid, I know a kid like May.”
Q: The show is animated, but puppeteers control the characters. How?
A: Two puppeteers control one character. A motion-capture arena outfitted with cameras and tracking devices records the movements of the puppeteer controlling the body and transfers those movements to the skeleton of the animated character. Then another puppeteer controls the head, face and voice of the character using a system initially developed for animatronics.
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