(CNN) – A little lighter fare now and perhaps the best comic strip ever, Peanuts. Its creator Charles Schulz died more than 15 years ago, but his widow, children and grandchildren have been hard at work keeping alive the legacy of the gang, Linus and Lucy, Snoopy and Woodstock, and of course good ol’ Charlie Brown.
Trailer quote: “It’s not often you get to start over with a clean slate, this time things will be different…”
The animators behind the new peanuts movie were not starting with a clean slate. But like Charlie Brown they were also tasked with making things different.
The challenge, to lure today’s graphics addicted audiences with the deceivingly simple smile, ink dot eyes and relatable characters of peanuts, beloved by audiences enamored of Charles Schulz’ comic strip and TV specials for more than 65 years. What a task.
You could develop some serious neurosis trying to bring a classic two dimensional comic strip into the modern 3D, CGI era. Luckily the team at Blue Sky Studio’s rose to the challenge. They even decorated their offices accordingly.
Nick said, “When they announced it to the studio we were elated, we were elated but we were terrified at the same time.”
Scott Carroll and Nick Bruno, the film’s lead animators told me this was the biggest undertaking of their careers.
Nick said, “This was such a challenge because you have an audience that is used to spectacular, 3D, CGI animation and you have to also stay true and not violate the perhaps greatest comic strip of all time.”
Back at their desks, the animators explained one of many challenges: those ink dot eyes.
Scott said, “If you just have these two little dots, how do you communicate all that emotion? I mean it’s hard enough to get them to look down or to the right…And we can change the shape of the eyes themselves to help create a certain emotion and the periwinkles are a huge help.”
Periwinkles I learned, are these emotive lines to the side.
Reporter: Did you try different kinds of eyes?
Nick said, “We did yea. We actually tried at one point 3D eyes and we all were just horrified.”
The biggest challenge, Schulz never planned for the peanuts characters to be seen in three dimensions.
Nick said, “If we built a character that worked at all angles it didn’t totally look faithful to Charlie Brown so we built very specific head poses for the angles that he drew them at.”
6 poses to be exact.
Nick said, “So we have a profile left, sparky left, sparky right, profile right, up when they yell and down and then looking down when he’s writing.”
Scott said, “It’s amazing how little leeway you have to still make it feel like the characters he drew and that was ultimately what was important for us.”
Reporter: And snoopy must have been complicated.
Scott said, “Snoopy was far more complicated than Charlie Brown.”
It’s like animating Picasso really
Scott said, “It is! It really is.”
For director Steve Martino and his team, having Charles Schulz’ son and grandson as writers on the film made staying true to the characters easier, Schulz’s son was particularly influential in one scene.
Craig Shultz is a pilot and he owns a biplane that’s a lot like the Red Barron’s. He said come on lets go up, I want to show you what it’s like to do dogfight maneuvers. We went up and he did stalls. We did loop da loops and it was really informative to me.
Being humble and open to new ideas is a trait the team here picked up in part from a familiar friend, Charlie Brown
Reporter: I always thought that’s why it’s so successful is because he represents what we all feel and never talk about.
Martino said, “Absolutely. We want to feel like uhh we’re all buttoned up and together. Charlie Brown, he lays it all out there.”
But we get to celebrate his attributes of kindness that never give up spirit that he’s always had.
A spirit that remains intact, and still lovably insecure, even in spectacular 3D.