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EXPRESS ROUTE FOR YOUNG ACTORS NEW HANKS FILM SHOWS LOCAL TALENT.

Byline: Eugene Tong Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - For budding actors Jimmy Pinchak and Connor Matheus, hitching a ride on ``The Polar Express'' required a bit of concentration and a grand dose of imagination.

``It was an empty room and we were sitting on metal bars,'' 8-year-old Jimmy said, recalling the interior of the North Pole-bound train he saw while working on the just-released, computer-generated film based on Chris Van Allsburg's award-winning children's book.

``I have to focus,'' he added. ``You get into the scene to really think it's happening, then act it out.''

The holiday film starring Tom Hanks follows a group of children on a magical Christmas Eve train ride to visit Santa Claus. Though computer animated, it uses ``performance capture'' technology to map the actions of human actors to better replicate them digitally.

Jimmy - in the credits as the child performer for ``Know-It-All'' - and Connor, 11, of Castaic don latex suits and sensors to help filmmakers re-create the subtle and often unseen tics in children.

``It took about 20 minutes to get the suit on,'' said Connor, credited as a child performer for the character ``Toothless.''

``Everything you see has a dot,'' he said. ``They're part of your body. If a dot falls off, you lose that part of your body (on the computer).

Jimmy of Canyon Country added: ``They had to put green dots on hats and dots on my face. We have to say the lines slowly so they can get it on the computer. I got coached on it.''

It's an unusual gig for two children who have a steady string of commercials, television and movie credits. Born in New Jersey, Jimmy began acting at age 3, and moved to the area more than two years ago when he was cast in ``Family Affair,'' a 2002 remake of 1960s sitcom.

``(My parents) just asked me if (I) wanted to act,'' he said. ``I said no. But then I said yes. It occurred to me instead of watching TV, I could be on TV. I can see myself on television.''

The same idea motivated Connor, who has been acting in commercials since he was 4. He appeared in the 2000 comedy ``Snow Day'' and the 2004 Jack Black comedy ``Envy.''

``I told (my mom) I've always wanted to be on TV,'' he said. ``It's fun, and I enjoy seeing myself on TV. But I don't like getting mobbed at school - by girls and boys.''

Even young actors need time to get into character.

``Depending on my character, I'll get into it and say my lines over and over again to memorize it - to put it in my memory,'' Connor said.

Still, it's been an interesting ride, especially for the parents. Though being a stage mom isn't as glamorous as some may imagine.

``We would wait in the trailer and play Monopoly,'' said Wendy Pinchak, Jimmy's mom. ``It's like a Little League game. You sit, you watch your kid do something they're talented in.

``The most important thing is to (know) he is enjoying it. I want him to keep enjoying what he is doing. I don't want it to be a sacrifice.''

Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253

eugene.tong(at)dailynews.com

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Jimmy Pinchak, 8, of Canyon Country and Connor Matheus, 11, are in the new movie ``The Polar Express,'' a computer-generated film based on a popular children's book.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 14, 2004
Words:570
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