Finding the Line in The Peanuts Movie Design

As director Steve Martino emphasized in our first interview, Blue Sky had to raise its game to get pen line accurate in translating Charles Schulz’s’ iconic 2D aesthetic into the CG version of The Peanuts Movie. Funnily enough, the design team had no idea that it would turn out to be its most difficult challenge.

“We figured it was going to be the easiest of our projects since Sparky’s shapes are so simple and we had a wealth of information to draw on from his comic strips [18,000 at the Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa],” remarked art director Nash Dunnigan. “It was the opposite. We needed a new workflow to capture the most authentic and recognizable version of the characters in CG. Production had this collective impression of how the characters are drawn. But Schulz’s style and characters evolved. Snoopy from the ’60s and ’70s was quite often a quadruped; his head shape is different and his eyes look like a windshield closer to the top of his head. His eyes don’t become the friendlier graphic shape until the ’80s and ’90s.”

But what versions to use? The design team created an extensive Sparky matrix of poses, particularly for the lovable blockhead, Charlie Brown, and Joe Cool, Snoopy, and then gathered a Blue Sky Braintrust consisting of the eight supervisors and tech leads throughout production to select a few of the ideal versions.

“He drew 3/4 front side views and occasionally up and down, but not in the round, which goes counter to CG,” Dunnigan continued. The Schulz experts at the museum revealed that the ’80s and ’90s versions were the creative apex for Schulz with pleasing and consistent proportions. With Snoopy, for instance, he has a [nice] head shape and great balance of eyes, nose and mouth. The group voted on the best version consisting of ear, gesture, head shape, silhouette, nice tummy, foot shape and the energy of Sparky’s hand. We came up with what we lovingly call ‘Frankensparky’: a combination of all these attributes. All of the principal characters got this rigorous, analytical approach in finding the best characteristics with a shape that is unified with similar head, eyes and nose.”

Subtly referring back to the comic strip style, it was all about “finding the line” in character and production design. And everything is skewed so there is no symmetry, which is another no-no for the computer. But it’s elegantly simple and imperfect and definitely organic to the world of the Peanuts gang. This allowed Blue Sky to develop a unique hybrid, 2 1/2D approach, with its shape language.

For Charlie Brown, there’s the subtle lean and that wild piece of hair. “We asked Craig Schulz what his dad intended with the hair,” Dunnigan recalled. “In the early ’50s and ’60s, it was a crew cut but it evolved into an elegant squiggly line by the ’80s and ’90s. Are we going to make this hair or honor the pen line? After nearly a year, Steve Martino committed to the graphic look: a curly Q pigtail that looks like a pen line so that when you step back to a medium or a wide shot, you have that reference point to the comic.”

Read the rest at Animation Scoop/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Crafts, Movies, previs, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production

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