Blue and All-New
Sony Pictures Animation’s new feature Smurfs: The Lost Village goes back to the characters’ Euro-comic past to craft an adventure sure to surprise even the little blue guys’ biggest fans. By Tom McLean.
Smurf world is bigger (and more gender-balanced) than anyone had thought. The film also features the voices of Mandy Patinkin as Papa Smurf, Ariel Winter, Julia Roberts, Ellie Kemper and Michelle Rodriguez.
A Classic Look Among the production are some Smurfs super fans, including character designer Patrick Mate and production designer Noelle Triaureau, both of whom grew up on the comics in France.
“For us, it was always the starting point, the comic books,” says Triaureau, who along with art directors Dean Gordon and Marcelo Vignali, brought a painterly quality to the movie. “This movie, because it’s more of an odyssey, it’s more of a trek, figuring out signature colors for locations was really helpful for us. Also there’s a signature color with a few main characters.”
Translating the Smurfs to full CG animation was both easy and difficult. “Fortunately, the Smurfs are designed with a dimensional quality in mind,” says Asbury. “If you look at Peyo’s roughs, before he did the line work with his pen, they were actually very sketchy and shaded, and you really got a sense of dimension from his drawings.”
The biggest problem turned out to be the Smurfs’ eyes. Peyo drew the eyes together, as a single white shape. Early designs separated the eyes, but the characters didn’t look right. Animation supervisor Alan Hawkins says a few mockups that put the eyes together made easy the creative decision to go that way, even as it complicated the technical side of things.
“We wrote out a bunch of maps and a bunch of mattes that would allow us to create different looks and different shadow densities as the eyes came together,” says CG supervisor Mike Ford. “We just kind of worked around it and tried to get a really good esthetic that, again, always leads back to Peyo.”
Moves Like Mickey In figuring out how Smurfs move, Asbury went back to Mickey Mouse, whose design is similar to Smurfs’, and the shorts The Brave Little Tailor (1938) and Mickey and the Beanstalk (1947). Hawkins says the animators studied Mickey’s performance in the Brave Little Tailor, even rotoscoping it to dissect the specifics of the timing. “You really see the shapes,” he says. “Once we got this figured out it really informed a lot of the rest of the film as far as the general timing goes.”
The movie arrives in theaters April 12, and Asbury thinks it has a chance to change some people’s minds about the Smurfs. “If they don’t know anything about the Smurfs, they might be surprised how rich the story can be,” he says. “If they do know about the Smurfs, I don’t think they’ve ever seen them presented in quite in this way before and I think we presented it in a very positive, good way.” [