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Five things to do at the new "Animation" show at the New York Hall of Science

Serious cartoon lovers will revel in this up-close look at the tricks of the animation trade.

Saturday-morning cartoon fanatics are in luck. Thanks to the New York Hall of Science's newest exhibit, the Cartoon Network--sponsored they can now delve into animation's complexity and variety. The kid-friendly spectacle reveals every production aspect, method and use of animation through colorful, interactive stations—nearly all of which are accompanied by the famous characters of Cartoon Network and Hanna-Barbera. They're also rife with opportunities for parent-child cooperation, so parents won't feel like they're just tagging along. Here are five great things to do there.

Create your own scene
With a little patience and creativity, you can help your kid design an original animated scene made out of plastic colorful shapes against a black board in the Stop Motion station. It's the same technique used in the Wallace and Gromit series and in the feature film Chicken Run—create a pattern, take a photo, move the shapes just a tiny bit and take another photo, and so on. When kids are done, they simply press "play" and see how their work transforms into a smooth movement. Afterward, move on to the Computer Animation station, where children, with the help of the characters from Dexter's Lab, explore the similarities and differences of movement creation and scene building.

Experiment with live-action animation
As kids discover in the two "full-body" exhibits—by far the most popular with the younger set when we visited—animation is not used just for cartoons; it can also bring special effects to live video. In the Bullet Effect exhibit, a series of cameras record a child's image in quick succession as she poses in front of a circular screen. On the monitor, she and other passers-by can see how, just like in the famous bullet scene in The Matrix, a 3-D effect is created that seems to defy both time and space. In the Planned Action experience kids can experiment with pixilation, a technique in which they make a different pose for every camera shot, creating the illusion of broken movements and sharp shifts, as if they were an animated stop-motion figure. They'll see themselves doing the impossible, such as going from one end of the stage to the other without actually moving, or suspended in mid-air one moment and disappearing the next.

Be a Foley artist
What does a eureka moment sound like? How does one create the sounds of thunder when the sky is clear? Your family can grapple with such questions in the Foley Artist room, where you'll find a table lined with everyday objects, such as electric toothbrushes, cellophane paper and a xylophone, that with a little creativity can sound like a fly buzzing by or a newspaper crumbling. After a short demonstration, kids can try to re-create the sound effects for the scene onscreen (be prepared to help out, as it's hard to time it right alone). 

Learn the nuts and bolts
The process of producing a cartoon is dissected throughout the exhibit at various stations that invite experimentation. At one, cartoonists-in-training watch a short instructional film by a top Cartoon Network artist, then try to draw a character of their own using nothing but paper, pencils and a little bit of math. At others, youngers learn how storyboards present a narrative, explore what's involved in the nuanced task of lip-syncing their characters with the sentences they utter, and toy around with the dubbing process itself.

Watch cartoons
After all the hands-on action, take a seat in the intimate mini-theater, where clips from various cartoons are screened. The colorful space is comfortable and cozy, and makes for a good resting spot. If the theater is too crowded, or the kids just want to shut off for a bit before moving on to the next learning experience, make use of small stations equipped with a TV screen showing classic clips from the pantheon of Hanna Barbera, like Scooby Doo and The Flintstones.

is on view at the New York Hall of Science through September 2.

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