“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.