In another production, the role of Pajamas might not sound like a big break for an actor. But on "Summer Camp Island," a cartoon where seemingly every object can come to life, the sleepwear is a regular supporting character that just might steal the show, thanks to a local voice actor.
Naomi Hansen, 5, might need a little help with her lines, since she can't quite read them on her own yet, but that doesn't mean she can't deliver them like a pro. After more than a year in the recording studio, Naomi and her friends and family can finally see the end result of her hard work when "Summer Camp Island" premieres on Cartoon Network Saturday morning, with all 20 episodes airing back to back.
Describing the fantastical, magical show can be difficult, but Naomi got it pretty spot-on with a simple explanation.
"There's talking everything!" she said, waiting in the green room before a recording session last week.
The show follows Oscar, an elephant, and his friend Hedgehog as they realize the island is not your normal summer camp; it's ruled by witch counselors, and magic and monsters are around every corner. Oscar's favorite pajamas offer some comfort as he navigates the camp's craziness but when they come to life, they, too, become part of the camp's magic. Even suddenly alive, Pajamas tries to support Oscar.
"It's a pretty big role," said casting and voice director Kristi Reed, adding that Pajamas serves as Oscar's inner child as he goes about life without his parents' help for the first time. "She says what he feels ... Pajamas will always be there to check on him as he's establishing himself."
To Naomi, and likely to viewers, Pajamas is also just "really funny," the young actor said.
While the show will have some big name guest and recurring actors, like Elijah Wood, Melanie Lynskey, Cedric the Entertainer and Alfred Molina, the younger characters are voiced by actual kids, a preference for show creator Julia Pott.
Naomi landed the role after her agent set up an audition. Her family has plenty of experience in voice recording: Naomi is the youngest of four, and her older siblings have been in the business since before she was born. It's been more than a year since she got the part, but Naomi still remembers how she felt when she heard the news.
"I was super excited because it was my first audition," Naomi said.
Since March of last year, Naomi and her mom, Rachel Hansen, have made the trip to the Cartoon Network recording studio in Burbank about once or twice a month. The three younger kids are homeschooled, while the eldest goes to regular school, Rachel said, so it's a little easier to fit recording sessions into their normal lives.
"She likes it, so it makes it worth it," Rachel said. "It is a lot of time, but the kids have fun doing acting."
Recording sessions are about an hour long, with Reed coaching Naomi. Unlike other actors the director works with, Naomi can't read, so Reed typically reads the lines herself in the tone she wants Naomi to use. But Naomi is doing more than mimicking, she said.
"What's really great about her is she takes a direction ... and makes it better," said Reed, who happens to be a Bakersfield native herself. "She's not afraid to, when I say 'cry,' go big and cry. She'll just do it. She's fearless."
Naomi typically stands in the sound booth with her mom, while Reed helps her with lines on the other side of the glass, where other production members work on sound mixing.
Because the process of making a cartoon is so long (a single episode can take nine months to a year, start to finish), Naomi and her mother have had to keep pretty quiet about the show. Now that it's about to premiere, they can breathe a sigh of relief of having kept the nature of the show a secret.
"That's the hardest part," Rachel said. "I don't even tell her aunts and uncles. We just wait until (we're allowed to tell)."
There are still some things about the show they have to keep under wraps for now, like who or what else Naomi might voice, but the young actor is good at avoiding spoilers.
Last week, Naomi and the rest of the "Summer Camp Island" team went to a premiere party. She and her mom wanted to give Pott something to remember Pajamas by, and what better way to do so than with a pajama top just like the one in the show? Rachel embroidered a shirt with Pajamas' face and gave it to the creator.
"Julia never let it out of her sight, all night," Naomi said. "During pictures, she let me wear it because I'm Pajamas!"
The premiere, a casual launch party for cast and crew members, was "really, really, really, really fun," Naomi added.
While her daughter lends her voice to the project, Rachel is mom, manager and head of transportation. For her part, she's also enjoyed working with the team behind "Summer Camp Island."
"I'll have to brag about Cartoon Network," Rachel said. "Kristi and Julia, they work really well with kids. This group is so good."
There's likely to be many more years of Rachel taking her daughter to recording sessions. Naomi, who is also the voice of Lemondrop in Cartoon Network's "Apple & Onion," said she wants to keep acting when she grows up.
"This is the funnest thing on earth," Naomi said of acting, "except for ballet and gymnastics."