Finding the Line
Blue Sky Studios strives to recreate the authenticity of Charles M. Schulz’s comic strips in 3D CG animation in hopes of turning
The Peanuts Movie and its tale of a blockhead into a modern blockbuster. By Tom McLean.
eventually became about honoring Schulz’s pen line and getting the right feel into the characters. That ended up eliminating ideas like adding whites to the eyes or hair to Charlie Brown’s head and retained such 2D concepts as “sixes and nines,” a term used to described Schulz’s eye shapes.
“When we put it up, if it didn’t feel like Charlie Brown, we all knew immediately,” says Dunnigan.
Ideas in Motion When it came time to make the characters move, there was another set of challenges.
“Our idea was that we would take the sensibility of the specials and the poses from the comic strips as the guiding idea,” says animator B.J. Crawford. But when some of the technical issues became clear, sticking with the TV style in some respects was the way to go.
“Seeing the limitations that they had in terms of budget and time was really great for us to sell a more limited animation style,” Crawford says.
Jeff Gabor, a lead animator and animation colead with Joe Antonuccio on Snoopy, says sequences like Snoopy’s dance demonstrate how these techniques were used. Going frame by frame through the sequence, multiple limbs and the limitations of working on twos with no motion blur become clear.
“It hopefully doesn’t pop out while you’re watching; it hopefully just makes the animation look smooth,” says Gabor. “It’s expanded upon everyone’s animation skills to relearn that: how to animate on twos, how to make it look smooth and fun and not overly broken and edgy.”
Another trick that was harder than it appeared at first was moving the camera. To keep with the style of the specials, it was decided the camera would pan instead of track.
“To go backwards is actually so difficult in 3D animation because 3D wants to add the parallax, it wants to add all that stuff,” Gabor says.
Recreating some of the poses Schulz often used in the strip revealed that what looks great in 2D involves some unusual changes in 3D. For example, a three-quarter shot of Snoopy as the Flying Ace waving his fist in the air at the Red Baron was impossible to make work without stretching and distorting the part of Snoopy’s arm hidden by his body to get it to the right position.
Unaltered, the CG model of Snoopy that looks fine in other positions was physically unable to reach that pose. That required animators to customize almost every frame of their character work, using custom tools to sculpt the characters into images that works.
“Every single animator on a per-frame basis is sculpting every single frame, so you are essentially a traditional animator with 3D parts, like you’re moving a Mr. Potato Head around. It’s more stop-motion than it is using the CG tools,” says Nick Bruno, animation supervisor.
Character Quirks The characters also morph in unexpected ways from one Sparky pose to the next. “There are hand poses that use five fingers; there are hand poses that use four fingers; and a lot of the time you’re transitioning over just a few frames from one to the next,” says Bruno.
Snoopy was the most difficult character to work out because he looks so different from one pose to the next. “Snoopy is the most pushed, for sure,” says Gabor. “When he opens his mouth, his volume changes and he become a completely new character. That came very late in the game.”
Given that, the decision to work on twos saved a tremendous amount of work. “Having that extra frame to show that in-between would mess us up,” says Gabor.
Conveying all these stylistic qualities to the animation staff was a job in itself, with animators attending what was dubbed Van Pelt University to learn the poses and styles for the characters.
“Everyone here really embraced the limitations and brought new creative ways, acting choices and stuff, that all live in the Peanuts universe,” Gabor says. “So everyone really rose to the occasion.”
In the home stretch of finishing the movie, Martino says he’s optimistic the movie and its slightly different message will strike a chord with Peanuts’ legions of fans.
“I feel really good about the story we’ve got, I feel great about the execution,” says Martino. “At the end of the day, Charlie Brown doesn’t change, he doesn’t become the hero that saves the day, and we learn that the little things that I think we often overlook — qualities like kindness and honesty and perseverance — are actually more valuable.”
Martino also is excited by the possibilities the movie suggests for new ways to create CG animation that is less photorealistic and more iconic.
“Maybe we’re like the impressionist painters, we’re starting to look at storytelling in different ways that doesn’t fill in every little detail but gives you the same emotional response,” he says. “If you look at a Renoir or a Monet, you’re like, ‘I got the same emotional connection’ — sometimes even more powerfully. So I feel like that’s the opportunity and maybe the exciting part of this time we’re in now.” [