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The Sesame Street Animator

Lawrence Bush
April 15, 2017

Jane Aaron, who created more than 150 animated shorts for Sesame Street that brought to life numbers, letters of the alphabet, words, and concepts, was born in New York on this date in 1948. Aaron’s animation mixed drawn images with live-action footage that she shot all over the country. She “dreamed up many innovative techniques,” said her musical collaborator, Christopher Cerf, “before the age of computers, to bring inanimate objects to life.” She was also a children’s book illustrator, and her animations appeared on MTV, Nick at Nite, and the Learning Channel, as well as at the Whitney Biennial and the Museum of Modern Art, among many museums. Janet Maslin described her work in the New York Times as “fanciful,” “charming,” and “wistful”: “An animated panel passing over a bare table may offer glimpses of a meal there . . . or put a jogger on a deserted beach or a person in an empty chair.” Aaron died at 67 in 2015. To see a Sesame Street animation about the number 18, look below. To see her animation, “Traveling Light,” with music by Donald Fagen, look below that.

“Jane was a master in both stop motion and traditional 2D animation at coming up with ways to make beautiful and engaging animations in any medium on the shoestring budgets that educational animation had to offer. It was something I always admired about her and drew inspiration from, that this incredibly talented person who could likely be making lots of money doing commercial work was instead making these wonderful little educational animations for next to no money. . . . Everything was created with an eye for economy and a childlike sensibility to the creative process.”--Robert Lyons

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.