Justin Simonich presented “Inside Sesame Workshop” at SVA last night, a panel of four employees at Sesame (Louis Mitchell, Margot Duffy, Marcus Pauls and Nikon Kwantu) who discussed what they did.

It’s interesting hearing their experiences with the company and the issues that artists and producers have.


I’ve worked on a lot of projects for what I still reflexively call CTW. I’ve lately been able to translate that to “Sesame” before verbalizing so I don’t sound like such a codger.

One thing that came up repeatedly was the issue of “notes”. Everyone seemed to think Sesame was notorious for its notes. By and large that hasn’t been my experience. They give no more needling revisions than an advertising agency or any other broadcaster -it’s just they pay less than advertising (and most other broadcasters, though not necessarily) so that any change equals little dollar bills flying out the window.

On that note, and before I get to my story, one person asked how late in the day revisions affected the budget -who paid? This is one thing that always bugs me about network producers -they’re on staff, they get paid no matter what. If a project goes over budget on their company’s insistence they don’t have to miss a rent payment to make up for it. So it was no surprise that there was no answer there. It’s a systematic problem in television production.

Anyway, back to “notes”. For the most part, I haven’t worked with Sesame “characters” so that may have something to do with it. The last project I worked on was a development assignment with classic Muppet characters in a new environment, and honestly, they talked about what a pain they were going to be more than they gave any kind of revisions.

Most of the Sesame Workshop stuff I’ve done has either non-canonical characters, logos (the final incarnation of the CTW logo by Pentagram, and then the “exploding house” Sesame logo), or short films.

The first of these was “Troubles the Cat”. I was just an production assistant on the first season -“Associate Producer” was the title I lobbied for and got -and had no creative or practical input. I just watched and learned. After the first pencil test -there were notes. Lots and lots of notes. Like six single spaced pages for a five minute film. Longer than the script notes.

Most of them were actually from the Cartoon Network side who was co-producing with CTW. I get the feeling there was some territorial salvos being exchanged over the production.

After discussion some were addressed, some weren’t and it went to final.

This was being animated in Krakow under Maciek Albrecht’s direction (Suzan Pitt was directing Stateside).

Film comes back, we deliver the rough cut.

Big problem.

One big issue that Cartoon Network had was “model”. No one on the production end really cared about this issue -we wanted beautiful and honest animation, not sterile talking heads. It seems the animators’ followed the model a little too closely in one instance. Santiago Cohen, the designer, put a little black dot of anatomy smack under the tail of the feline star. Whenever she her back to the camera the audience got to see a great black cat bunghole.

This was unacceptable. I can’t really blame the broadcasters, and I wouldn’t have given them a hard time about removing it. If I were in charge, though, even cartoon cats have to make business and there’s no shame in that.

For the first time The Ink Tank, where is was produced, used After Effects. This was 1997 or so and Mike Turoff tracked out the little spec on Troubles’ backside.

Children’s Television Workshop also paid $3500.00 in overages to get it done.