Monday, February 23, 2015

SESAME STREET _ House of Bricks & More


This week saw the premiere of a few more Sesame Street segments with backgrounds and animation produced by Magnetic Dreams Studio. It's always a treat to be able to dive into a classic Sesame parody and marry the aesthetic of the show with that of another pop culture institution, in this case the very adult Netflix series HOUSE OF CARDS. AND, we got to filter it through the tale of the 3 Little Pigs. Marty Robinson's "Frank Underwolf" may be my favorite recent Muppet performance.

You can see the full spot above and here is the original HOUSE OF CARDS opening for reference. Re-creating the time lapse montage was my most enjoyable task for this spot.

The first challenge was to re-imagine the Capitol Building, Supreme Court, and White House as constructed of straw, sticks, and bricks. These are my concept designs, final modeling was done by Stephanie Miranda Goldstein.

But, the real test was for us to destroy them. All three buildings needed to be built and rigged to be blown apart. Our simulator Wenie Rahardja did all of the heavy lifting here, working out the particle dynamics with Stephanie under the guidance of Creative Director, Rickey Boyd. Additional animation by Jamie Coakley. Here's a cool sneak peek at our Capitol Building sim in one of its later stages.


SUPERGROVER 2.0 - "Fruit" and "Underwater Bowling"

This week also featured the return of 2 new segments of Super Grover 2.0.

"Fruit" starred a pineapple painter who allowed me to include some paintings of food-related inside jokes from Sesame's past.

"Underwater Bowling" featured the amusing premise of an Octopus and Shrimp unable to keep their pins from floating away. Brad Applebaum and Ayan Akbar on modeling and Josh Stafford and Judd Eschliman on compositing did a fantastic job capturing the detail, lighting, and spirit of the location.

I shared the above model sheet by Rickey and myself to give a sense of the production process involved in one of these spots. For more on this pipeline, check out the video below. Our production manager John Hamm illustrates what it requires to take a Sesame short from green screen to your screen.

pipeline process from John Hamm on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

SESAME STREET _ The Cookie Thief

The Museum of Modern Cookie Art (MoMCA?) made its debut on a recent special episode of Sesame Street, "The Cookie Thief." A closed door whodunnit, the show features a self-regulating Cookie Monster who is falsely accused as the titular art thief by the museum guard, guest-star Rachel Dratch.


Magnetic Dreams Studio provided CG set extensions and exterior of the new location as well as historical art studios of some master painters (by Stephanie Goldstein and Brad Applebaum). More than that, the special afforded us the opportunity to paint cookie-themed Muppet parodies of classic artwork. They were all painted digitally (with the extremely responsive brushes by Kyle T. Webster) and then printed, framed, and hung in the set. What an incredible way to collaborate with the stellar Sesame crew. You can see my "Cookie Night" and "Girl with a Cookie Earring" paintings as they were hung, below. Note: It's humbling and futile to try to do justice to a Vermeer in 3 hours.

Some paintings, like the above two and the "Pablo Picookie" below as well as the featured "Muncha Lisa" were scripted inclusions. Otherwise, it was fun to draft up a museum's worth of iconic imagery. 

Our cookie painters included: Rickey Boyd, Kirby Atkins, Ben Fosselman, and Kim Cranfield, along with Rhea Borzak, Taylor Blair, and Joel Gibbs. The Muppet Fans at Tough Pigs featured some of our paintings HERE (along with some half-baked art criticism) but you can check out a collection of mine below:

(this one is a cross between a Kandinsky and the opening credit chalk cookies)

(Matisse does "The Ladybugs' Picnic")

BONUS: Here's a look at my rough logo concepts for the Museum. Number 3 was clearly inspired by the Met's logo. Number 2 was the approved design.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


At Magnetic Dreams, we've had the chance to work on a number of Sesame Street spots in the past including one-off parodies like BIRDWALK EMPIRE and recurring segments like COOKIE'S CRUMBY PICTURES, SUPER GROVER 2.0, and ELMO THE MUSICAL. Most often, we're creating 3D computer-generated worlds and characters to populate around Muppet performances shot on green screen. But, with ELMO'S CHRISTMAS DREAM, we had the great opportunity to re-imagine the characters for 2D animation.

The spot is a music video greeting card of Elmo and friends celebrating the holiday. I conceived of a somewhat hand-crafted aesthetic of cut shapes and oil crayon with graphic patterning introduced as the character textures. This approach allowed me to play to my love of Mary Blair and Maurice Noble and the final animated product is 2D After Effects puppeting much like that we used on BLUE'S CLUES. I think we were able to make some magic with an incredibly short turnaround and create something lively and quick.

This was an all-hands-on-deck-the halls way for us to end the year with an incredible crew: Creative Director Rickey Boyd co-directed with me while also boarding it and overseeing animation (it was also his idea to do those character-themed snowflakes). Abdel Pizzarro rigged these guys and he and Kimberly Cranfield animated the leads. Rhea Borzak animated the secondary characters and heads up the comp department of Judd Eschliman and Joel Gibbs on effects. And, producer and john-of-all-trades John Hamm was crucial in bringing it all together and making it happen even as he reminded us it was impossible.

Here's a closer look at my character and background art. Ernie in his full snowsuit still puts a grin on my face.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, your friends, and family!

Monday, November 10, 2014

SESAME STREET _ 45th Birthday Easter Eggs

Today is brought to you by the number 45, as in, the 45th Anniversary of Sesame Street.

It's not an overstatement to say that I wouldn't be the artist, and person, I am today without Sesame Street. As a kid I was a twice a day viewer and early on I identified Jim Henson as my first artistic idol.

This has been a dream job to follow and walk alongside all of the great talents that have had a hand in making the show what it is.

Over the last few years, I've hidden a number of Easter Egg references to classic skits inside spots that I've art directed. They're nods to other fans, tributes to creators, and generally continuing the visual legacy of the show.

I've shared the King of 8's castle HERE and some Star Wars-themed guest appearances HERE but below are a few more along with their original inspirations to honor the occasion.


The insanely catchy animated classic is referenced in the "Sesame Kinect" game as a wall clock and as the animated graphic behind Elmo in the "Dance, Dance, Revolution" parody in "Elmo's Alphabet Adventure."


The main hall of the "Crumby Pictures" Harry Potter parody is loaded with Sesame references, including the Dragon as gargoyles, Elmo and Abby in their World of Wordcraft costumes as statues, paintings of the Amazing Mumford, Herry Monster, and the witch from Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree, as well as house banners featuring semi-retired Sesame characters Sammy the Snake (Slytherin), Chicago the Lion (Gryffindor), and Little Bird (Ravenclaw).

Here's Herry Monster in action counting with John John, one of my favorite kid moments on Sesame.


Super Grover 2.0 was the first regular segment that Magnetic Dreams Studio worked on for Sesame, providing full computer-generated environments and some characters. This season was the first time I got to design for the segment as well. Two of them have already aired, including this one with a super cute duckling.

But, it's an upcoming episode where I added these references to two of the most memorable clips, including:

 The slightly unnerving Operatic Orange

and the oh so 70s "I Can Remember"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

STAR S'MORES _ Art Direction

The 45th Season of Sesame Street premiered last week and with it came the 2nd Season of COOKIE'S CRUMBY PICTURES, a show within the show that features Cookie Monster parodies of popular films.

It's a continuation of Magnetic Dreams Studios' work on various Sesame projects and another chance for us to do farcical recreations of movies that inspire us. None of them elicited more enthusiasm and creativity from our team than the Star Wars spoof, STAR S'MORES!

Below are some pieces of concept art and finished frames. As Art Director, I create the initial brainstorming pieces with Sesame and Creative Director, Rickey Boyd. 

Determining the nature of our dessert-based "Death Star."

Once it was confirmed that it would be mechanical, I incorporated baking-themed hardware (muffin trays, spoons, waffle irons) into the interior design.

From there, I'll do rough photo plate work-ups as reference for backgrounds that will be fully modeled by our CG dept. There's usually one per episode but we ended up with 4 for this one.

My rough concept for a graham cracker and kitchen cockpit for the "S'morellennium Falcon."

And... the final model by Brad Applebaum with additional lighting, color, and effects by our Compositors. 

Finally, I'm responsible for any of the 2D assets: photo plates, logos, graphics, and any puppeted characters.

A closer look at my 2D Tatooine and our cameos of a "Banthalupagus" and "R2-PU."

With stellar writing, performances, and source material to work from, these have been a blast to develop. We're currently in production on the recently-announced Avengers and Jurassic Park spoofs and here's a sneak preview of a few more upcoming episodes this season...

Monday, September 22, 2014

THE SHOWING _ Poster Illustration

I got to illustrate this poster for S/Lang Entertainment's stellar short film,

It's dreamy material and I had a beautifully shot still and "Hitchcock blonde" lead actress Katie Morrison to work from.

It was also my first time doing digital watercolor, abetted by Kyle T. Webster's extremely natural and responsive brushes.

The film will drop this fall, trailer below and an IMDb profile has been added HERE:

The Showing Trailer from S/Lang Entertainment on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NINJA TURTLES _ Color Supervisor

The Bay-ification of The Ninja Turtles has hit movie theaters, noses and all. These characters have been realized in so many iterations across every medium but I still enjoy that such an oddball concept can continue to have such cultural currency. The impending release resulted in a little reminiscing with color artist Emilio Lopez and director Roy Burdine about our time working on the 4Kids' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series in the early 00s. 

The series ran closer to the action roots of the comic book than the popular pizza eating version of the 80s. Aesthetically, the characters had an angular athleticism and the backgrounds were built around large swaths of black.

I wrote about the cinematic approach we had to color HERE but here are two more of my paintings, the first featuring one of my favorite places on the planet (the blue whale room of the Museum of Natural History in NYC).

By the end of the series, the Turtles visited dark alternate futures and went on an epic adventure tracing the origins of the original Shredder. There was the episode, Insane in the Membrane, that didn't originally air in America. Although it's notable for delving into Baxter Stockman's back story, his decomposing clone body gets his jaw kicked off by April O' Neil (!). And, another show had its plug pulled before we completed production because it featured the back alley surgery of conjoined infants who become two of the Turtles greatest enemies. Yeesh.

Going after a lighter tone, the network sent the team to the future and rebooted the show as Fast Forward in 2003.

A flatter, brighter palette accentuated the change and I had the opportunity to develop the color for the core cast and vehicles:

I mean, really bright. I originally colored the "Dark Turtles" skin tones in off shades of green before they landed on something closer to their corresponding bandanna colors.

And, with their future swank penthouse headquarters and training dojo, here are a few of the Fast Forward Turtle backgrounds I painted: