ANNECY — For Hollywood, an Annecy Work in Progress sneak peek of “Scoob!” took one huge bull by the horns: How to reboot major IPs for modern audiences.
Joined onstage by “Scoob!” director Tony Cervone, production designer Michael Kurinsky at Warner Animation Group (WAG) and Bill Haller, animation supervisor at Reel FX, the panel, hosted by WAG executive vice president Allison Abbate, provided some possible answers.
Annecy’s first first look provided not only a detailed behind-the-scene look at “Scoob!’s” step by step creation over the last four years but served as a tribute to the painstaking passion and careful craft of animation. This was lapped up by a fascinated Annecy audience, made up itself mostly of animators.
Abbate provided a bigger Warner Bros. corporate picture. She began by reminding the audience that 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of Scooby-Doo. There hasn’t been any year since 1969 when a Scooby-Doo show hasn’t been playing on TV.
“Warner Bros. sits on some of the most iconic characters the world has ever known: Scooby, Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes; we’re starting to do movies with DC, also have Dr Seuss and ‘The Cat in a Hat,’” she said.
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She added: “A lot of these characters were born from TV or books, come from the world of 2D. So how do we make CGI fabulous motion pictures of the things we would usually see on a smaller screen?”
One key is not to loose the charm of the original, Cervone argued, getting up from his panel desk to screen with a sense of reverence what he explained was the first ever model sheet of Scooby and the gang in history, drawn by Iwao Takamoto, and visibly carrying a 1969 date.
“When Iwao created Scooby Doo, he wanted to create a very charming dog that was full of personality but wasn’t perfect. So he got a book, found out what are the rules for a championship great dane. Then he broke every rule,” Cervone said, to laughter from the audience.
“Look at his legs,” Cervone proposed. “Scooby has bow legs at the back; he doesn’t have a straight elegant back, his is kind of broken; his belly hangs out; his chin is soft; his ears and eyes are constantly asymmetrical.
At first, in tests, the animators tried to clean up Scooby, making him more realistic Scooby, taking advantage of CG. They ended up going back, however, to a figure much closer to the original.
“You have to listen to the characters, because they will tell you what they want to do. Scooby and Shaggy just kept telling us: ‘I just want to be Scooby and Shaggy,’” Cervone recalled.
There are ways, however, of remaining subliminally faithful to the original, while introducing change. Kurinsky proposed a game. He flicked up on the screen pantone color charts used for characters and then challenged the spectators to identify the characters. Some audience members were able to do so instantly for all the main figures. (They won some Scooby Snacks).
That’s because Kurinsky went back and used the pantone colors of the original. But, when working in CG, applying solid color for a cell painted character isn’t a walk in the park. To get Scooby right, Kurisnky had to create a pantone for the great dane in
light, in mid-tone, and in shadows, he said.
One way to update “Scoob!” was costume and props. Character design modified the cut of Shaggy’s shirt. The psychedelic Mystery Machine van took on more tech stuff on its roof. Daphne was given a dress that “felt like it was from 1969 in a more contemporary way, kind of high end,” Kurinsky said.
WAG and Reel FX created a “fashionable jock version” of Fred, gave him a smart phone but – shock horror – took away his trademark orange Ascot neck scarf.
“We went and got every [fashion] catalogue we could find from 1968, 1969 and 1970, we had a whole bookcase full of catalogues,” Kurinsky recalled.
“And we found that there were two or three months where men wore Ascots,” he went on. “I’m not kidding. And that’s when Iwao designed Fred. So we were able to find that little slice in history which our look was stuck with this for 50 years.”
Reel FX’s Haller has already worked on more “2D kind of feeling [CG] films, like ‘Hotel Transylvania’ and ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” he said at the “Scoob!” panel.
Cervone suggested to Haller that he should go back to the first episode of the first season of “Scooby-Doo.” Everything he needed to know about Scooby-Doo animation was contained there.
Haller did, and was surprised. “Scooby-Doo” was made on a lower budget. “I was amazed at just how few cycles there actually were. Probably like 10 or 12 cycles.”
But he was struck by the caliber of the episode’s animators. “‘Scooby Doo’ inherited crew from the ‘Tom and Jerry’ days.” Among them, for example, was the legendary Irven Spence. Takamoto himself was pulled out of a Japanese intern camp in Los Angeles by Walt Disney to go and work with Milt Kahl, one of – and for Haller, probably the best – of the Nine Old Men. Haller described how Takamoto had drawn Scooby’s double knee-cap with extraordinary anatomical correctness.
“‘Scooby Doo’s’ original animators couldn’t do full-blown ‘Tom and Jerry’ type of animation, however. They were on a limited budget. There was things in the animation that I’m sure that they would have wanted to do,” Haller said. He hoped that “Scoob!” will now finally do some of them, capturing “the softness in Scooby Doo’s jowls, how soft and pliable those ears are, the loose lips.”
Ultimately, much of the originality of “Scoob!” will come from its plot set-up. It’s an origin story. “For the first time ever, see how a little homeless puppy first met a young boy named Shaggy to form one of the most famous friendships of all time, and how the two of them went on to help launch Mystery Incorporated,” Warner Animated Group promises.
It adds: “The film takes audiences to the four corners of the globe and will reveal something amazing about Scooby-Doo’s true heritage and destiny that will shock everyone – including Scooby-Doo – and. have an unexpected impact on the world.”
In another departure, its all-star ensemble cast features Will Forte as Shaggy, Gina Rodriguez as Velma, Zac Efron as Fred, Amanda Seyfried as Daphne and Tracy Morgan as Captain Caveman. Frank Welker – who, remarkably, worked on the 1969 original – returns as Scooby-Doo.
Yet it is the care and craft of the animation and direction and production, described in terms that not only fascinated but moved an Annecy audience, which ensures that, in ultimate terms, it still channels much of the charm of the original.