How does the design staff at Sesame Workshop handle all those Muppets? With lots of creative talent, discipline, a sense of humor, and Wacom’s Cintiq interactive pen display.
When Sesame Street launched as a children’s television show in 1969, no one could have predicted what a worldwide phenomenon it would become. Inspired by Jim Henson, Muppets Kermit, Big Bird, and dozens of other characters now reach children in more than 140 countries and through all forms of media that include television, books, magazines, home video, and the Internet. Overseeing the production of all content (foreign and domestic) is Sesame Workshop (www.sesameworkshop.org), a nonprofit educational organization that’s making a meaningful difference in the lives of children worldwide by addressing their critical developmental needs.
As one of several creative directors at Sesame Workshop, Nancy Stevenson specializes in character graphics for licensing, marketing, interactive media, web and community outreach. She and her colleagues are responsible for translating the look of actual 3D puppets into 2D images, doing photo shoots and editing photography for video packaging and point of purchase, and the blue-lining of book illustrations. Most of their work involves vector art, using Adobe Illustrator, as well as Photoshop, InDesign, and SketchBook Pro.
The workload at Sesame Workshop grows with each new international co-production that requires localized artwork and character interpretations. Although designers had Wacom Intuos3 tablets, their toolset also included traditional blue pencils and tracing paper. Sesame Workshop wanted to upgrade to a state-of-the-art platform.
A Leap Ahead on the Technology Curve
The solution presented itself at a trade show, where designers saw Wacom’s Cintiq 21UX LCD display. The Cintiq’s advanced direct pen-on-screen image editing and sketching capabilities were exactly what they needed. Half the design staff is now using Cintiqs, doubling the speed of many tasks and providing new creative techniques.
“Drawing fur and feathers is much easier with the Cintiq,” Stevenson says. “In order to emulate the textures, we need to give the fur and feathers a specific thin-to-thick shaped line,” she says. “The only way to do this efficiently is with the pressure-sensitive Wacom pen. Otherwise, it takes hours or even days to tweak and pull anchor points to achieve that look.”
Editing and retouching photography directly on screen with the Cintiq 21UX LCD was a revelation to Mark Magner, Sesame Workshop’s Design Director for home video covers, package design, and point of purchase materials. “Editing photographs on the Cintiq is fantastic,” he says. “Working directly on screen provides a more intimate and creative experience. You feel as if you’re actually retouching a physical photograph.”
Drawing at the Speed of Digital
Other designers had similar reactions, including Evan Cheng, Art Director for International and Domestic Publishing, who oversees blue-line corrections of freelance illustrations. “I would go through and actually draw on tracing paper over the illustrations to correct the artwork and make sure the characters were on model and that the perspective worked,” he says. “But it’s much faster with the Cintiq. Plus, you’re not smearing blue-lines you already drew, because it’s digital.”
The Cintiqs are easily recouping their investment. “Even though Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit, our ROI with the Cintiqs is increased productivity and workflow benefits,” says Stevenson. “Artists familiar with the Cintiq can whip through blue-lines and concept sketches. I’d say it takes half the time it would take to get tracing paper out, sketch with a blue pencil, and then scan to send files to partners.”
Because of the considerable productivity gains that the Cintiq has delivered, there’s no question as to whether it has found a permanent home at Sesame Workshop and that it plays a key role in shaping Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, and the rest of these beloved characters for new generations of children worldwide – which would make Cookie Monster say, “Kowabunga!”