MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN
Animation, Design And Origins
The actors and their performances are critical elements in shaping the
characters and the relationships, but Minkoff and Schwartz also give huge props
to their team of animators. Their unheralded work, says the director, really
turns them into "actors with computers."
"They're true performers," he continues. "They take the three dimensional
character models and bring them to life. They have to get into the heads, hearts
and souls of the characters, to understand who they are and how they should
Schwartz echoes this idea, stating that the animators "are all actors
themselves, and that was one of the film's greatest gifts. They really fell in
love with these characters and made them real."
The animators ensured that Peabody, befitting a super-genius, is a biped who
carries himself with supreme confidence. The animation team saved quadruped
behaviors - those of a typical canine - for a few special instances where
Peabody has a more instinctive, less intellectual response to his situation.
According to Jason Schleifer, the film's head of character animation,
Peabody's prominent muzzle was a particular challenge to deal with. "If Peabody
were to look straight at the camera and smile, you wouldn't see it because all
the corners of his mouth are wrapped around the ball of his muzzle. We spent a lot
of time turning him just ever so slightly so you could see the corners of his
mouth come up when he smiles. There was a lot of fun and complexity in his
facial animation, to make it look really nice and appealing."
"Peabody is a very controlled character who has an answer and plan for any
situation," Schleifer continues. "No matter what's thrown at him, he's never
taken aback. We enjoyed figuring out the most efficient and controlled method
for him to respond to a given situation."
For Sherman, Schleifer and his team ensured that he feels and looks like a
child. "I looked at my own kids to see how they respond to certain situations,
and I discovered interesting kid-like things to make Sherman feel authentic and
support the story of his adventures and transformation."
A key challenge was dealing was animating Sherman's oversized - Schleifer calls
it "ginormous" - head, which adds to the character's appeal and fun. But it did
make even a simple turn of the noggin somewhat problematic. "The head is so big
and it's attached to a tiny neck, so we had to incorporate Sherman's entire body
into even a simple head turn," he explains. "Or it would look like it would just
Prominent eyeglasses are a key feature shared by father and son. The animators
had to carefully maneuver the specs and the characters' eyebrows to ensure that
Peabody and Sherman were able to convey the necessary expressions and emotions.
"The glasses cover their eyebrows, so if we did nothing you'd never see their
expressions change," says Schleifer. "So when Peabody and Sherman convey
excitement, we had their eyebrows go way upon the tops of their heads. And when
things get intense, the brows drop straight down and cover their eyes."
MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN is based upon the beloved characters that first appeared
in in the late 1950s and early 1960s animated television series "Rocky and His
Friends" and "The Bullwinkle Show," produced by Jay Ward. The characters
appeared in the "Peabody's Improbable History" segments created by Ted Key.
Peabody was voiced by Bill Scott, while Sherman was voiced by Walter Tetley (an
adult). Ninety-one shorts, each running about four and a half minutes, were
The new film updates the classic dog-and-his-boy team for contemporary audiences
with state of the art CG animation and 3D, while retaining the charm of the
original cartoon. "The movie pays loving homage to the show," says Alex
Schwartz, "including the WABAC, and Peabody's wonderful puns, which are woven
throughout the movie. There's a great deal of the show's DNA in the movie."
Jay Ward's daughter, Tiffany, is the custodian of her father's legacy, and
worked closely with the filmmakers to ensure that MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN
remained true to Jay's vision. The results, she says, were everything she had
"The movie, like Jay's short cartoons, never talks down to children," says
Tiffany Ward, also the film's executive producer. "He made them just as much for
adults. And now the movie is a dream-come-true for me and my family - to have
dad's work, over 50 years later, being produced by DreamWorks Animation and put
on the big screen in 3D. It's spectacular. Jay would have been so incredibly
proud. The movie is a particularly emotional experience for me, because to me,
my dad was Peabody - a true genius."
Minkoff, in turn, is grateful to Tiffany for her ideas and support. "Tiffany was
a great champion of the film and of me, personally. It's been a wonderful
Some of the filmmakers and actors remember, with great fondness and admiration,
the original series. Stephen Colbert has already mentioned his childhood
shenanigans in sneaking into the living room to watch the past-his-bedtime show.
And Rob Minkoff similarly remembers watching the show and loving the characters.
"I was very happy to get the chance to bring them to life on the big screen and
into our modern world."
In a stylistic nod to the TV shorts, Minkoff and production designer David James
embraced mid-twentieth century design. "It was important to make the film feel
somewhat of that era, and yet make it new, as well," the director explains.
That design aesthetic is reflected in Peabody's penthouse, to an extent that
seeing the film's rendering of the abode for the first time was, says Tiffany
Ward, an eerie experience. "It's almost identical to my dad's house - to the
Eames chairs, arc lamp, artwork and shelving. It absolutely sent shivers down my
For the time traveling sequences, the art of each historical period informed its
look. "In Renaissance Italy, for example, we see a palette that's common in
Renaissance paintings," notes Minkoff. "In eighteenth century France, we used a
design that evokes the court of Marie Antoinette, though we did take some
liberties with the Parisian sewers, which are much brighter than the actual
As work on MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN neared completion, famed composer Danny
Elfman began writing the score, which was recorded at AIR, a former church,
which legendary Beatles producer George Martin had transformed into a recording
Minkoff says Elfman was the perfect choice because he "loves quirky, and he
really understood the quirkiness of the Peabody-Sherman relationship, and used
that in his score. It really adds another layer to the story."
"The score is whimsical, fanciful and fun, and really speaks as another voice in
the movie," adds Schwartz.
Elfman, in turn, says he loves writing for animated features, which allow him
"to shoot all around the map, musically, from really big, to really small and
idiosyncratic, to outrageous, and then suddenly, be very emotional. I like
everything in extremes in my writing, so this is definitely the kind of score
that's really fun for me."
Other musical highlights include the aptly titled end title song, "Way Back
When," by the band Grizfolk. The band was unfamiliar with the WABAC, so it was
happy coincidence that the song's title and the film's time traveling marvel
were sound-alikes. But the song's themes were always intended to convey the
history of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and their memories of their shared
Additionally, there is an emotional interlude where Peabody remembers adopting
the baby Sherman, to John Lennon's ballad "Beautiful Boy."
DreamWorks Animation SKG presents a PDI/DreamWorks production, MR. PEABODY &
SHERMAN. The film is directed by Rob Minkoff, and produced by Alex Schwartz and
Denise Nolan Cascino. The executive producers are Tiffany Ward, Eric Ellenbogen
and Jason Clark. The screenplay is by Craig Wright, a noted playwright who was
also the head writer on the television shows "Six Feet Under" and "Dirty Sexy
Money." The screenplay is based on the series produced by Jay Ward. Music is by
Danny Elfman. The soundtrack is available on Relativity Music Group.
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