Channeling Charles Schulz for The Peanuts Movie

Director Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who!) discussed upholding the look, styling and spirit of “Sparky” Schulz’s beloved Peanuts gang (in the coming months, I will dig deeper into the making of this unique hybrid).

I recently visited The Peanuts Movie at Blue Sky, nestled in lush Greenwich, CT. The footage looks terrific and the story seems very promising about Charlie Brown’s quest to woo The Little Red-Haired Girl. In fact, it’s the most difficult example of character building yet at Blue Sky. Despite the simple shapes from Schulz’s characters, Blue Sky had to raise its game to get the pen line accurate in CG. Since Charlie Brown’s features shift around for every pose, they built separate rigs for each major pose so you could switch off every time he moves. Similarly, there are separate rigs for the other characters as well. Every frame looks correct and consistent in keeping with Schulz’s iconic drawing style.

It began at the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa where they experienced a deeper connection with the family and the work. It was really hard to capture the heart and soul of Schulz as they drew but they got the major beats while storyboarding. They also made use of the digital library of all the comic strips. The mantra was: “When in doubt, go to the strips.”

Bill Desowitz: Tell us what it was recreating this iconic, precious world and nailing the DNA of the drawings in CG.

Steve Martino: It’s been for us an interesting journey as we look at the purity of what’s in the comic strip. The characters were always first and foremost. He’d often do his text first and put in the characters and background was always last, only supportive in the sense of giving you a little taste of the space and where they were. As we put this up on a bigger screen, you get a little more sense of that place than maybe we did in the comic strip.

But we tried to do in the color design of the film is that the characters are the most saturated and in our compositions they’re always meant to be the thing that comes forward. It was an interesting balance to preserve the aesthetic of what the comic strip was but bring it to life, and my hope was that we took a little trip into that world.

BD: And you actually get a lot of drawings in there as well.

SM: Yeah, we use drawings throughout the movie more so than I ever done on the films here at Blue Sky. We have some wonderful 2D animation moments whenever Charlie fantasizes about something whether it be good or bad. That’s done as the daily black and white strip. BJ Crawford has created some of the best 2D animation in terms of actually replicating the pen line that Sparky drew with, that wonderful little wiggle. It gave us a chance to include that in the movie in a way that was important to the story but is also our connection to the source. And then throughout whenever there’s speed lines. If someone gets bonked on the head, we bring back some of those graphic elements that are so iconic in Peanuts. I always liked those flower shapes when somebody trips or falls or gets knocked on the head. It becomes like cartoon language and to not include that would be terrible.

BD: Talk about the new techniques required to pull off the iconic pen line.

SM: Our 3D animators in essence became 2D animators because every drawing was important. We weren’t utilizing the computer to interpolate and give us the in-betweens of the main keyframes. In any film we certainly finesse those in-betweens. This was drawing with 3D forms. Moving those objects around, we didn’t use motion blur. We used old-style 2D approaches so that when a character’s moving or running real fast, we used multiples. And adding on top of that pen line accentuation, so if someone moves quickly, it’s multiple feet.So it was embracing the old and utilizing the new. So it’s this hybrid experience.

Read the rest at Animation Scoop/Indiewire.

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

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