How the Director of 'Peanuts' Created a 3D Charlie Brown

For Steve Martino, giving the Peanuts gang CG treatment using Charles M. Schulz's defiantly 2D comic strip required rewriting the rules. "Don't screw it up," the filmmaker recalls telling himself while making the computer-animated film.
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
'The Peanuts Movie'

This story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Charlie Brown — with his bulbous head and wisp of a forelock — has one of the most recognizable mugs in pop culture. But giving him a big 3D computer-animated close-up posed a unique challenge for Steve Martino, director of The Peanuts Movie, which cost Fox and Blue Sky Studios slightly less than $100 million to produce and grossed $45 million during its opening weekend. Martino, who kept reminding himself, "Don't screw it up," compares Charles M. Schulz's Snoopy to a Picasso: "The silhouette of his head doesn't change from front and side. But from the side, if he's looking to the left, the nose would be on the tip of his face and there would be one eye. But when Snoopy looks to camera, Schulz keeps the same silhouette and moves the nose to the interior of the silhouette and turns on two eyes. Artistically, it's quite amazing." As animation supervisor Nick Bruno explains, "Profiles are not the same as the front view." In the case of Charlie Brown, the team found that in the front view, his hair is a loop, while from the side view, it is shaped more like a candy cane.

In 3D computer animation, a studio usually makes one 3D model of a character that can be viewed from any camera position in 3D space, but that wouldn't work here because there was no single character design that would make the character recognizable from all angles. So, says Martino, "We modeled them for each perspective [roughly six models per character, including the front and side views] and then wrote software to allow the animators to transition these separate models together to help them move. The style [of the classic animated cartoons] also is more akin to holding the pose and 'snapping' [to the next pose]."

Blue Sky used a similar, "snappy" 2D style to make the movie, but that created additional challenges. In 3D, animators use cloth simulation to make costumes move in a natural way, but, says Martino, "We tried that once and the cloth shot all over, so instead the animators posed [the clothing in] each frame."