VeggieTales Concepts for “Merry Larry”

I was hired by Big Idea to do some character concept art for their latest VeggieTales DVD, Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas (Amazon link). This episode features a guest narrator, Uncle Si from the runaway hit cable series Duck Dynasty.

Here’s a few rough concepts and final turnarounds, followed by some screen captures from the episode. Bob’s glasses were removed for the final show (I suspect because having unobstructed eyes makes the acting a bit clearer), but overall the end result stayed pretty close to what I submitted.

(Click to enlarge)

Bob Turnarounds for "Merry Larry" Christina Turnarounds for "Merry Larry" Larry Turnarounds for "Merry Larry" Mr Lunt Turnarounds for "Merry Larry" Miss Lewis Turnarounds for "Merry Larry"

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VeggieTales Concept Art for MacLarry and the Stinky Cheese Battle

A new VeggieTales episode recently landed on store shelves, MacLarry and the Stinky Cheese Battle (Amazon link). The story is built around a battle of escalating practical jokes between two rival tribes, sort of Braveheart meets Gladiator but with cream pies. I was hired by Big Idea to do some character and costume design for the episode, including designing two new characters: Chog Norris (who plays Larry’s dad) and some Turnips.


Concept art for VeggieTales episode "MacLarry and the Stinky Cheese Battle"Veggietales-ChogNorris-TurnsVeggietales-Turnip-turns

I also did a few illustrations for the episode. For example, this map:


Here’s a trailer for MacLarry and the Stinky Cheese Battle:

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Veggies In The Unemployment Line


Sad news. It appears that VeggieTales may soon be no more.

Big Idea, the studio that fifteen years ago gave us Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, has recently laid off most of its staff and announced that the company’s owners are facing bankruptcy. Details are posted at Phil Vischer’s blog.

This isn’t the first time Bob and Larry have seen hard times. Phil Vischer founded the company in 1993 and VeggieTales became an overnight sensation in the Christian retail world. The company grew fast and furious but eventually overextended itself. Vischer was forced to lay off staff and in 2003 filed for bankruptcy. He’s written an excellent book about his rise and fall entitled Me, Myself, and Bob ( link) in which he takes full responsibility for his mistakes and shares some valuable lessons that he learned. Terrific reading for anyone interested in Christian entertainment. For the abridged version, read Vischer’s 11-part blog post about his experiences entitled “What Happened To Big Idea?”.

After Vischer’s bankruptcy Big Idea was auctioned off to Classic media who eventually sold it to Entertainment Rights. Due to a number of factors (including a steady decline overall in the children’s video market) Entertainment Rights is now deeply in the red. Hence the massive layoffs. Like I said, Bob and Larry have been through tough times before but this appears to be the worst they’ve ever faced.

I know several Big Idea employees personally and worked with a few of them on the TV series 3-2-1 Penguins! (which was also a Big Idea property). They are all quality people, total professionals who were absolutely terrific to work with. My heart goes out to them and their families as they search for new employment in a less-than-stellar economy. If you think of it, remember them in your prayers.

And if you are looking to hire any animation artists/writers/directors let me know. I’ll be happy to give you some terrific referrals.

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.