A Visit to Blue Sky Studios for THE PEANUTS MOVIE

Adventures by Daddy was invited, along with several other journalists, to go to Blue Sky Studios in Connecticut to explore the studios and to meet with the creative team behind THE PEANUTS MOVIE. This is the team chosen by the Schulz family to bring the Peanuts characters to life on the big screen and they took the responsibility seriously.

Steve Martino, Director

Steve Martino, Director

Our first presentation included Steve Martino, Director, Nash Dunnigan, Art Director, and Nick Bruno, Animation Supervisor. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how close to the comic strips the movie looks. The characters in the movie look like they’ve peeled themselves off the newspaper (Sunday edition, obviously) and walked onto the film set. There’s a very good reason for that and it wasn’t as easy as you might think. Their mantra throughout was “Find the Pen Line.” They wanted to replicate the drawing style of Charles Schulz (who went by Sparky – keep an eye out in the movie for an Easter egg referencing his nickname). Research took place at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rose, California. All story meetings took place in Schulz’s office and Schulz’s drawing table became a touchstone for Martino.

Charles Schulz's Office

Charles Schulz’s Office

 

One of the main challenges for the filmmakers came from Schulz’s drawing style. Have you noticed that Snoopy’s head almost always has the same shape, no matter which way he’s looking (think Picasso)? Just pulling the shape up and making it three dimensional didn’t work, because his head and body looked weird when rotated. So, they found a way to make it happen. As a collective group, the filmmakers analyzed the evolution of the characters over their life-span of 50 years and created an archetypal version from which the base model for each character was drafted. The process was entirely democratic and everyone had a say in how the characters turned out for the movie. “When in doubt, go back to the comic” – Steve Martino.

Snoopy's Different Face Shapes

Snoopy’s Different Face Shapes

Charlie Brown's Different Face Shapes

Charlie Brown’s Different Face Shapes

 

Scale was also an issue. They had to transition everything from the comic and television to film. The filmmakers deconstructed elements of the drawings to enable them to scale various scenes. The falling water scenes were created from scans of Schulz’s actual penlines, further enhancing the impression that the film is just a 3D version of the comic strip.

Water Drops

Water Drops

 

What would Charlie Brown’s neighborhood look like on the big screen? They took a research trip to Schulz’s hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, and found themselves in the real-life backdrop for the Peanuts strip.

Charlie Brown's Neighborhood Background

Charlie Brown’s Neighborhood Background

 

For the Flying Ace stories, they followed Schulz’s lead and made those scenes more detailed and realistic, which makes a lot of sense. When I was a child, my dreams were much more interesting and exciting than my actual life was, or, at least, it seemed that way at the time, and Schulz was very attuned to the child’s point-of-view and reflected that sense in his comics.

Flying Ace Snoopy Scene

Flying Ace Snoopy Scene

 

In order to ensure uniformity, animators attended Van Pelt University, created specifically to teach the animators how to animate the Peanuts characters.

Van Pelt University - Where Animators go (Pea)Nuts

Van Pelt University – Where Animators go (Pea)Nuts

 

I think Blue Sky Studios needs to feed their team more.  Almost all of the nicknames given to various elements were food-based:  popcorn clouds; baguette clouds; drumstick forearms; egg soles (foot and shoe); etc.

Food-based Names for Drawing Elements

Food-based Names for Drawing Elements

 

When it came time to cast the talent, Martino drew on his memories of the television specials. He wanted THE PEANUTS MOVIE to feel like an extension of those stories, so he wanted voices that matched the sound he remembered from those specials, even down to the timbres captured in the vintage recording technology.  Music was meant to be like a skipping stone, touching back to that remembered sound every now and then throughout the movie, highlighting special moments.

Studio Tour

After the presentation, we split up into small groups and embarked on a tour of the studio. My group started with Sabine Heller, Character Development Supervisor, who took us through a rigging explanation. Take a look at this rigging model. There are so many different ways to move the characters that they had to create a way to simplify the rigging program so that everyone could use it.

Sabine Heller Demonstrating Rigging

Sabine Heller Demonstrating Rigging

 

Our next stop was for an explanation fo the 3D process by Dan Abramovici, Stereoscopic Supervisor. Starting with a graph of the 3D arcs that Martino wanted for THE PEANUTS MOVIE, Abramovici used the storyboards to find the key sequences. The 3D effects were added prior to filming, rather than converting the finished film. For the Charlie Brown segments, he wanted a 3D effect similar to looking through a View Master and, for the richer, more vibrant world of Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasies, the 3D effect was to be akin to riding a roller coaster. Because filming in 3D creates issues for composition, the various departments work together, going back and forth until they get everything right.

Our final stop on the tour was with Jeff Gabor, Animation Lead, who gave us details about the animation process, specifically creating the illusion of speed, through the use of smear frames, which is basically a frame with multiple features – four eyes instead of two; two left feet in close proximity, etc.

Jeff Gabor Drawing Snoopy

Jeff Gabor Drawing Snoopy

Snoopy Smear Frame

Snoopy Smear Frame

 

As an added bonus, along our studio tour, we got to see some of the creative enhancements people had made to their work spaces. The creativity was mind-blowing!

Snoopy's Dog House Cubicle

Snoopy’s Dog House Cubicle

Movie Marquee Cubicle

Movie Marquee Cubicle

 

I think this Dr. Seuss themed cubicle is my favorite.

Dr. Seuss Cubicle

Dr. Seuss Cubicle

Learn to Draw Snoopy with Steve Martino

Right before lunch, we were gathered in a conference room and taught how to draw Snoopy. Steve Martino used a slide show to take us through each step from…

Drawing Snoopy - First Step

Drawing Snoopy – First Step

 

to

Drawing Snoopy - Final Step

Drawing Snoopy – Final Step

 

My Snoopy wasn’t nearly as good as his. Snoopy himself came in to judge our drawing skills, but was overwhelmed by selfie requests, luckily for me.

My Snoopy Drawing

My Snoopy Drawing

Snoopy Arrives to Judge Our Snoopy Attempts

Snoopy Arrives to Judge Our Snoopy Attempts

Even the cast and crew were lining up for pictures with Snoopy! You never outgrow Snoopy.

Steve Martino, Alex Garfin, Snoopy, Venus Schultheis, and Marelik Walker

Steve Martino, Alex Garfin, Snoopy, Venus Schultheis, and Marelik Walker

Pictures with Snoopy

Pictures with Snoopy

Lunch Time

We then sat down with Steve Martino, Nash Dunnigan, Nick Bruno, who had given us the presentation in the morning, plus three of the voice actors: Marelik Walker (Franklin), Alex Garfin (Linus), and Venus Shultheis (Peppermint Patty). There was only one table, so we were all sitting with the cool kids! I got to sit closest to Linus (I mean Alex), Franklin (I mean Mar Mar), and Peppermint Patty (I mean Venus). Steve Martino was right across the table, too.

Lunch with Linus, Franklin, and Peppermint Patty

Lunch with Linus, Franklin, and Peppermint Patty

 

It was great hearing the kids talk about their favorite moments from the movie and which scenes stood out for them, individually. We could hear the affection in Martino’s voice as he talked about the actors. One of my favorite stories involved his casting decisions. He and the others involved in casting had spent some time talking to the actors on a personal level, trying to gauge their temperaments. They wanted to make sure their actors could hold the characters, in the event ad libbing was required or last-minute changes were made. For the most part, each of the actors is similar to the character s/he was cast to portray. One exception was Hadley Belle Miller, who played Lucy. Martino told us that her personality is very sweet and kind and he was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to portray the grumpiness of Lucy well. He tested opposite her in the opening scene, when Lucy has a tantrum at Charlie Brown, and she lit into him just like Lucy would have. When he told her she’d done a good job, she reverted to her sweet self and thanked him. That’s acting for you. On a personal note, I think Lucy has the best hair of all of the characters!

Lucy with Her Perfect Hair

Lucy with Her Perfect Hair

Super Sneak Peek

We had one last treat in store for us. I can’t say too much about it, because it’s still in production. We were among the first to see scenes from the new ICE AGE movie. If you’re wondering if you should take your children, there was a young boy in our group and he laughed through every scene! ICE AGE fans will not be disappointed.

ICE AGE

ICE AGE

Surprise!

As we were gathering our things to return to NYC, a surprise visitor joined us, delaying out departure considerably. It was none other than Charlie Brown! Well, Noah Schnapp, the actor who plays Charlie Brown, anyway. Time for more selfies! And it wasn’t just us, either. I even caught a shot of Martino and Schnapp.

Marelik Walker, Venus Schultheis, Noah Schnapp, and Alex Garfin

Marelik Walker, Venus Schultheis, Noah Schnapp, and Alex Garfin

Steve Martino and Noah Schnapp

Steve Martino and Noah Schnapp

 

THE PEANUTS MOVIE is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.  For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.