Monday, December 15, 2008
Charlie Brown- proof of concept test
Last year around this time a small team of folks at Big Idea were given the task of trying to come up with a way to do Charlie Brown in CG. We were one of a group of studios pitching to get the Peanuts animated comic strips project headed up by Warner Bros.. Since the general expertise of Big Idea is in developing shows for CG, the decision was made to try and make this in CG. My old friend and former colleague Brian Roberts was assigned as the director. He had been following my non-realistic rendering tests on this blog, so he asked if I'd like to lend a hand at driving the CG art direction. I was in the US at the time on other business so I decided to join the project. The team was small and the schedule was smaller- just two weeks. We started with nothing but an idea. Brian's goal was to try to express the original cartoon strip look and feel without resorting to the 'typical' CG approach of literalism- especially of form. With that, we set off.
Brian was the director. Chuck Vollmer was the production designer did the background painting along with some beautiful painted textures. Joe Spadaford was a 2d concept artist and he painted a number of the flats and textures as well. Steve Fuller was responsible for the CG set- including modeling, texturing and lighting. I did everything with Charlie Brown, modeling, rigging, texturing, animating. I also took the lead on getting the CG style to look the way we wanted it to.
We wanted to keep things feeling as 'analog' as possible. All the textures on the set and flats were hand painted with gouche on board and scanned in. We found that a nice painting of a texture got dumbed down once it was applied as a texture-map and rendered. So Chuck went back and "sloppified" the paintings a bit. It looked kinda rough when you held the painting in your hands, but that roughness was needed if even half of it was going to show up in the render. Where this was most evident was the dog house.
The other challenge was getting Charlie Brown's facial animation, as well as the scratchy ink lines on his shorts and shoes. Once I solved that I felt really confident that we could hit the style. The animation is on 2's, another nod to the original Melendez approach. I also tried cycling a non-uniform procedural texure to the solid areas of color to avoid that computery perfection of color. I wasn't too happy with how that turned out. Given time I would have used Prismacolor markers to make 4 or 5 versions of the colors and cycled them as an animated texture on 4's, but the deadline intervened. Anyhow, watch the test and see what you think. There's no post process here-- everything you see is rendered straight out of Maya.
Ultimately the powers that be went with another studio using Flash animation. Back in early November Cartoon Brew had a short note about it. You can buy them for your very own on iTunes. While I suppose I'm a bit disappointed that our approach didn't win the day, from the objective standpoint of maintaining the look and feel of the property I think it was a wise choice to go with using Flash. They did a very good job of faithfully continuing the visual style of the Peanuts cartoons, whereas using CG we could only re-interpret it and try to be faithful to the original intent. I don't think our approach was necessarily inferior- it was just different. And for this project that probably wasn't the best choice. I recall a similar experience back when I was at Blur. Blur did a test of Mike Kunkel's Hero Bear in CG. For CG it looked quite good. Blur does great work, so that's no surprise. Yet it just didn't seem to "fit" the property. Some things are just better done 2d, I think.
Posted by Keith Lango at 12:55 AM