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Hanks Rides 'The Polar Express'

"The Polar Express" has delighted children for 20 years, since Chris van Allsburg penned the tale about a train ride to the North Pole.

It's now a movie, starring Tom Hanks, who told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith he thinks "The Polar Express" is already a Christmas classic. "I began reading it to my 14-year-old probably when he was 3," Hanks says.

It became part of the Christmas ritual in the Hanks home: "It's on the shelf all the time and (the kids) wanted to read it, and they had 'Polar Express' days in December at preschool.

"It's a true new examination of the whole Christmas, what? Zeitgeist -- whatever you want to call it, and that's rarely happened.

"Chris van Allsburg did it here," Hanks continued. "It's a new way of looking at the entire North Pole, Santa Claus, how does it happen, story."

Hanks plays five roles, including the train's conductor, and Santa.

The movie was filmed with "motion-capture" technology. The actors' performances were digitally recorded by computerized cameras, then became the blueprint for the virtual characters. The result is real-looking characters, as opposed to animated ones.

"We put on a spandex outfit that would have these markers that were read by the computer that always kept track of where our body was and how our body moved," Hanks explained to Smith. "But we also had the markers on our face that kept track of where every eyebrow was raised and all of our expressions and was recorded just like a regular movie.

"Then, later on, they added the hair and the makeup and the wind blowing through our hair and the snow. They added everything else later on, on the computer, because we were just operating on the most basic of chairs with chicken wire props and things like that.

"But ... our job was to forget that that was what we were doing. In our mind's eye, our job as actors, was to be in a train going through the arctic night to the North Pole."

Hanks says motion capture technology had never been used to this degree. "'Titanic' and 'Gladiator' used it. It's always been there, but the length of what we were doing was the brand-new thing.

"Quite frankly -- and I'll speak for all the actors -- it didn't matter to us, because we were still pretending to be somebody we're not in this place.

"It went much faster than most movies go. We shot the whole thing in 35 days. And what honestly would take a week to shoot, would take an-hour-and-a-half, insofar as what we were doing in it. We would go in and act in one take or two takes in a three-dimensional volume. ...So I was hoping it was all going to work."

"The Polar Express" is opening in IMAX theaters and regular theaters.

Some Facts About Tom Hanks

  • Thomas J. Hanks was born in Concord, Calif., on July 9, 1956.
  • Hanks attended California State University, Sacramento. He dropped out to intern with the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.
  • In 1980, Hanks earned his first mainstream exposure opposite Peter Scolari in the television show "Bosom Buddies," in which he plays an ad man who cross-dresses to keep his cheap apartment in a women's hotel.
  • In 1984, Hanks had the lead in Ron Howard's "Splash"; the actor also had roles in "Bachelor Party" and "The Man With One Red Shoe."
  • In 1986, Hanks co-starred with Shelley Long in "The Money Pit"; in "Nothing in Common," Hanks played a workaholic who begins to bond with his ailing father (Jackie Gleason).
  • In 1988, Hanks co-starred with Sally Field in the movie "Punchline"; the actor also played the role of a young boy in a man's body in "Big," earning an Oscar nomination for the part.
  • In 1990, Hanks teamed him with Meg Ryan in "Joe Versus the Volcano"; the same year, Hanks co-starred in "The Bonfire of the Vanities."
  • In 1992, Hanks played the boozy coach of a distaff baseball team in "A League of Their Own."
  • In 1993, Hanks reteams with Meg Ryan for "Sleepless in Seattle"; the actor won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in "Philadelphia."
  • In 1994, Hanks won a back-to-back Best Actor Oscar for his role in "Forrest Gump" -- playing a Southerner with a low IQ who through happenstance takes part in many defining moments in history.
  • In 1995, Hanks played real-life astronaut Jim Lovell in "Apollo 13"; the actor lent his voice to the computer animated movie "Toy Story."
  • In 1996, the actor turned to screenwriting, producing and directing for the '60s-era comedy-drama "That Thing You Do!"
  • In 1998, Hanks headed HBO's 13-part examination of the history of the U.S. Space Program, "From the Earth to the Moon"; Hanks co-starred in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan"; he also re-teamed with Meg Ryan in "You've Got Mail."
  • In 1999, Hanks played a prison guard who becomes involved with a mysterious prisoner in Stephen King's "The Green Mile."
  • In 2000, Hanks won acclaim - and another Oscar nomination - for his portrayal of a castaway in "Cast Away."
  • In 2001, Hanks and Steven Spielberg collaborated as executive producers for the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers."
  • In 2002, Hanks portrays a 1920s Chicago gangster seeking revenge for the death of family members in "The Road to Perdition"; the actor played real-life FBI fraud investigator Carl Hanratty, who was on the trail of the youngest con artist ever to make the Most Wanted list, in "Catch Me If You Can."
  • Also in 2002, Hanks produced surprise hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
  • In 2004, Hanks co-starred in the remake of the cult classic British film, "The Ladykillers."
  • This fall, Hanks stars in the children's adventure "The Polar Express," which reunited him with director Robert Zemeckis. He also co-produced it. He plays five characters. The movie was filmed using "motion capture" technology, which results in real-looking, as opposed to animated, characters.
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