Final “3-2-1 Penguins!” Post

Deadlines met, I can now resume blogging.

This past weekend NBC aired the final episode of 3-2-1 Penguins! for this season. Incidentally, it was also the last episode I had the privilege of working on. We originally did two seasons back-to-back and my role in the project was completed almost a year ago. I haven’t heard anything since about creating new episodes, and the buzz is that the show will not be renewed. Even though Penguins! is one of the highest rated shows on NBC’s Saturday morning lineup, the fact is that most kids aren’t tuning in to the Peacock Network on Saturday mornings. Most are running into the living room in their pajamas, cereal in hand, and flipping to the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or Cartoon Network. Bummer.

For this episode I designed a character that was to be the leader of a race of cow people. Here’s the final design:


cowcommanderexpresionsv31In this episode the main characters are hit with a shrink ray and become very tiny. One of the gags involved the dim-witted Kevin getting caught in a mouse trap. The tone of the gag was such that Kevin didn’t feel any pain, he just looked a bit dumbfounded. There was some discussion about how it should look and where on his body the trap should be, so I worked up some rough concept sketches. Eventually it was decided that only the top of his head should get caught in the trap. This was primarily for practical reasons. In hand-drawn animation it would be a matter of simply re-drawing the character with his body pinched in the middle. In 3D computer animation, to distort a character’s body takes a lot more work. In some cases it may involve tediously re-rigging the entire character from scratch. TV production is incredibly fast-paced, so by resting the trap on his head we avoided that extra work:


I had a blast working on two seasons of 3-2-1 Penguins! and I feel honored to have had the experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with, and I’m a better artist for the experience.

Jelly Worms!

Last weekend NBC aired another new episode of 3-2-1 Penguins! Here’s some of the character design work I did for that episode.

For this episode my job was to design some jelly worm characters: a pair of prison guards, and a gigantic jelly worm creature that would swallow the bad guy’s spaceship.

I spent more time than usual on the color because jelly worms are slightly transparent. At first we thought we could show that easily by just dialing down the opacity of the worms a little. Unfortunately it turned out to be not so easy.

First, if you look at a jelly worm from the side you’ll notice that the closer you get to the center the less transparent it gets. This is due to the worm being thickest at the center and therefore letting less light through. However, a 3D animated character is not really solid but hollow, making it hard to imitate this lighting effect.

Second, in my research (yes, I researched jelly worms and got paid for it) I learned that the candy worms are rolled in oil to give them a shiny texture. This added another wrinkle to the way light behaves when it hits the jelly surface.

Finally, we had to be careful with any transparency around the face and mouth so that the teeth wouldn’t show through when the mouth was closed or that the eyes wouldn’t show through when the eyelids were shut.

I did my best to wrangle all these elements in my color concept paintings. Eventually it was decided that because of the rapid Penguins schedule we didn’t have time to try and solve all these problems. It was best to just make the jelly worms solid like all the other characters. Oh well. It was still a fun project to work on and in the end the worms still looked yummy!

“3-2-1 Penguins!” Effects and Color Keys

Most of my work on the 3-2-1 Penguins! TV series was character designs and a few props here and there. However, for one episode I was asked to help out on some last-minute effects work. That episode aired this past weekend on NBC so I am finally able to show the art publicly.

In this episode the penguins and Michelle answer a distress call from a planet inhabited by sock monkeys. Their world has been flooded with grape soda (or grape juice, I can’t remember) and they’ve been living in a city protected by a giant glass dome, sort of like Atlantis. Now the glass is cracking, and like the hole in the proverbial dike it gradually gets bigger and bigger.

Various characters take turns promising to keep their finger in the hole, then abandon their posts. Each Penguins episode has a biblical moral attached (taken from the book of Proverbs), and this week’s lesson was about keeping your word.

Liquids can be extremely difficult to draw, paint, or animate. Unlike most elements of nature, water is constantly moving and changing shape. Also, it doesn’t absorb light and cast shadows the way most things do. Most objects bounce light back into our eyes (causing us to see color), but light passes through water. If the liquid has color (like grape soda) then some of the light passes through and some of the light bounces back. There was a lot of grape soda flowing and spraying in this episode, so a lot of drawings were needed to show the animators just how the liquid should look in each shot.

When you work on a weekly TV series deadlines are extremely tight. It’s like trying to lay down railroad tracks in front of a moving train. On this episode I had even less time than usual so I just drew right over the storyboards, only re-drawing an occasional arm, face, or pose if needed. A couple of color keys were requested to show the overall color scheme of the set, and once those were established no other color was needed except for the grape soda. I did a total of eighteen drawings. Here’s a few of them:

At one point in the story someone attempts to plug the hole with a wadded-up Sunday funnies from the newspaper (illustrated by the prop artist, I just added the bricks and soda). It holds for a while…

…then explodes!

It was really fun to stretch myself and try something different with this assignment. Looking back my only regret is that I didn’t add enough contrast to the soda. I should have added some darker values here and there to give it a little more solidity and depth.

More “3-2-1 Penguins!” Character Designs

Last Saturday NBC aired another new episode of 3-2-1 Penguins! Here’s some of the character design work I did for that episode.

In this episode the Penguins and the kids land on a planet inhabited by alligator-like characters. This guy was the Emporer. The script described him as an Elvis fan and director requested that he wear an Elvis-like jumpsuit with a soul patch. This is what I came up with. Probably one of the most fun jobs I had during my work on the series.

Here’s two of the palace guards. Because television production is so fast-paced there isn’t a lot of time or budget to build extra background characters in CG. The entire palace was populated by one of these two characters.

At one point various characters get splatted with a marshmallow gun. My job was do develop concept art to show what that might look like.

I also got the chance to do a little prop work. Here’s my sketches for a pair of blue suede shoes (worn by the emporer) and some suction cup devices that allowed characters to scale a wall. Both props figured into the story.

3-2-1 Penguins! Can be seen Saturday mornings on NBC. Check your local listings.

More “3-2-1 Penguins!” Concept Art

I’ve been at the Motion 08 animation conference in New Mexico all week. More on that tomorrow. For now, a blog post I meant to publish earlier this week:

The past weekend NBC aired another brand new episode of “3-2-1 Penguins!” for which I designed some characters.

Here’s a few misc. characters –  a butterfly, firefly, and frog:

The script called for the frog to be placed in a large glass jar, and then to get his tongue stuck on the glass.

At one point in the episode the villain (an evil hamster, far right) turns all the other characters into hamsters. So I designed hamsters loosely based on the likeness of each character. That was a fun challenge.

For each hamster character I had to do turnarounds, mouth charts, and an expression charts to assist the animators. Here’s a sample expression chart for one of the hamster characters:

Info about the Motion animation conference tomorrow!

More “3-2-1 Penguins!” Character Designs

This past weekend NBC aired another brand-new episode of 3-2-1 Penguins!, an animated series on which I was a character designer. I’m not sure but I think this was the premiere of season 2. The episode, titled “12 Angry Hens”, required me to design (among other things) some robotic hens with holographic heads and a robotic scarecrow. Here’s some of the concept art I submitted.