Blue's Clues

by Ken Sanes

Actors have the job of playing people (or creatures) other than themselves. The goal is to make their performance as realistic as possible, so we will respond emotionally as if they are who they pretend to be, and be drawn into the story.

But here's an interesting variation: an actor who's trying to simulate a fictional character. He isn't merely playing a fictional character -- he's pretending to be a fictional character.

He plays an animated character -- or something a lot like an animated character -- and thus has to make his performance seem not realistic but unrealistic -- cartoonlike -- so we will perceive him as a character who belongs in a world of make-believe.

The program is Blue's Clues. It was created between 1996 and 2006 and, according to Wikipedia, it still airs on the family of channels connected to Nickelodeon. The program helps teach young children about reasoning and figuring things out by giving them clues they can use to come up with answers to questions about what the dog Blue wants to do that day.

Using what is known as a blue screen technique, the program superimposes the actor's video image on an image of a simple, but almost 3D, animated environment, so he appears to be inside it. It also uses cartoonlike props.

He then interacts with the props, and pretends to interact with the animated images.

One of the things that is particularly interesting about Blue's Clues is the way Steve Burns, the original actor hosting the show, rose to the occasion, engaging in large, exaggerated, and whimsical movements, so he would seem like a human cartoon or a storybook figure come to life. Of course, his large features, which he exploited through exaggerated expressions, helped as well.

Blue's Clues is an example of the way art and technology have come together to create new kinds of fiction, in this case, for very young children.

Now that's a puzzle worth thinking about. Isn't it Blue?

Blue? Has anybody seen Blue....

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