Friday, September 8, 2017

SESAME STREET _ The Count's Castle

Concept Art

A little while ago, I had the tremendous opportunity to design the exterior to the Count's Castle for Sesame Street as Art Director at Magnetic Dreams Studio.

I based it on a number of his previous castles (on-air sets, book illustrations, theme park attractions) and situated it in the middle of a park, a la Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

Overhead Reference

It's finally seeing the light of day in this Sesame Street: Trick or Treat DVD and you can see it in action in the promo here:

Here are some details of the model by Stephanie Miranda Goldstein and Brad Applebaum:

A look at the full model:

And, a comparison of the final lighting and rendering by Don Culwell and compositing by Rhea Borzak:

Thursday, July 20, 2017


For about two weeks of my life, I was consumed by a country song. Specifically, DOING IT TO COUNTRY SONGS by Blake Shelton & The Oak Ridge Boys.

Magnetic Dreams producer Jeff Galle pitched the concept of Blake and the Oaks as country critters living and loving around a local watering hole, Lake Shelton. When we landed the job, one of the few notes we got was that Blake needed to be a deer. Blake Shelton loves deer, he thanks them on every album. And, although it’s no easy task to caricature someone as a deer, Blake Buck was born.

an earlier more graphic version of Blake

final version of Blake

I’m grateful for the opportunity to shepherd this project on an incredibly tight turnaround at the service of country royalty, a devoted fanbase, and this cheeky barroom tune. I did a little bit of everything on the spot, from creating the narrative and look and Blake to peppering the place with easter eggs, but the real thrill was to captain an A-Team of talent in getting it done. Thanks to Mike Halsey and Don Culwell for bringing us all together.

Full credits and links below along with my favorite contribution from each artist.

Character Designer
Rickey Boyd - Fun fact: Rickey once designed animatronic animal versions of the Oak Ridge Boys for a proposed theme restaurant, but that’s a story for him to tell. Here, Rickey designed most of the characters, immediately capturing the Oaks but also lending a sultry charm to our lady skunk that I didn’t know he had in him.

an unused version of William by Ben Fosselman

Trea Bailey - My right hand on the project, Trea did finishes on characters and especially made his mark on the crowd and his final version of Ol’ Red the bartender.
Ashley Malone - That moose! The utensils on the antlers is a sight gag that still makes me nod when I see it.
Kimberly Cranfield - She owned the raccoon, in all his underlit glory.

detail of the exterior BG - I wanted to show off Joe's boats!

Background Designers
Joe Spadaford - I knew I needed a background designer/ painter who could own the exterior. Joe created a centerpiece for our video, even though he had never worked in the style before.
Amanda Wood - Mandi painted all of those Bill Wray-inspired detailed DOING IT stills. In the thick of things, when I received her painting of the buckle, I knew we had our key art and the heart of the piece.
Michael Lapinski - hey, that’s me. I was just pleasantly surprised they let me ride with the John Hubley meets country-fried Samurai Jack style I cooked up.

Kimberly Cranfield - Kim and Ashley pulled double duty on this. All-Stars, both. Kim really brought the raccoon to the forefront as the bar’s soul.
Ashley Malone - Although she brought a sly charm to the Oaks, its her spastic chattering of Joe Beaver at the end that never fails to make me smile.
Shin Matsuda - Shin hadn’t done much character animating before but man did he ever nail that smushy slow dance buckle grind.
John Hill - Fire! Once I knew we would have John on the piece I had to have him animate the few EFX we had.
Ben Fosselman - I couldn’t imagine doing this without Ben on it and luckily we got him long enough for some Crow meets Hound romance and Richard Frog’s post-show snack.

Compositing Supervisor
Rhea Borzak - As always, everything flows through Rhea and it wouldn’t get out the door or look nearly as good without her. But, it was her late addition jowel jiggle to Ben’s hound animation that I applaud her for.

Shin Matsuda - blazing fast as a compositor but now I want to get him character animating again
Joel Robertson - with more than a few music videos under his belt, Joel livened up our camera and delivered on the red light scene change in middle of the piece.

Thanks team, thanks Blake, thanks Warner Music, thanks Lindsay, and, most of all, thanks to the deer.

Monday, December 7, 2015

SESAME STREET _ Smart Cookies

SMART COOKIES will be a new recurring segment on Season 46 of SESAME STREET (the one premiering on HBO in January).

The segments star Cookie Monster as the rookie agent of a team of crime-fighting cookies called "Smart Cookies." His teammates include leader Chipowski, tech-guy Figby and clue-giver Miss Fortune. In each segment, Cookie Monster learns about self-control and regulation as the team thwarts the dastardly attacks of a villain known simply as "The Crumb."

Here's a preview episode on Sesame's YouTube page:

As with other Sesame segments like SUPER GROVER 2.0, ELMO THE MUSICAL, and COOKIE'S CRUMBY PICTURES, the Muppets are shot on green screen and it's the privilege of the artists and animators at Magnetic Dreams Studio in Nashville to create and integrate the world around them.

I thought I'd use this post to share some development art and to credit the team involved.

As an educational parody of an action adventure cop show, we first explored the possibility of doing 2D illustrated backgrounds like the ones below (by me with layouts by Creative Director Rickey Boyd).

Ultimately, Sesame asked us to build a world from baked goods and packaging that complimented Cookie's "fish out of water" position on the team. Below you can see some stills of the day and night versions of the city exterior featured in the open. All assembly and renders by Tim Crowson.

(my Photoshop style frame reference for city asset CG modeling)

(unsurfaced CG models)

(Ext City Day 01)

(Ext City Night 01)

(Ext City Night 01, with final color correction and compositing)

The Smart Cookies drive around in a tactical vehicle that I always imagined as a cross between a cookie jar and the A-Team van. Modeling by Brad Applebaum, surfacing by Stephanie Goldstein and Tim Crowson based on my design. Will there be a toy? (I hope there's a toy) Also fun incorporating kitchen details into the interior consoles.

Lastly, a look at the classy gallery interior of the preview episode. We're just about finished with all of season one and have created our full share of corrugated cardboard and piped icing.

I love working with this Magnetic team and so much talent and ingenuity went into developing the look for this show. Here's a rundown of those involved:

Executive Producer - Mike Halsey
Producer - Randy Saba
Creative Director - Rickey Boyd
VFX Supervisor - Julian Herrera
Storyboard Artists - Benjamin Fosselman, Kimberly Cranfield
Concept Designer - Kimberly Cranfield
CG Modelers/Assembly Artists - Tim Crowson, Brad Applebaum, Stephanie Miranda Goldstein, Wenie Rahardja, Don Culwell, Andrew Trout, Meghan Connor
Dynamics - Wenie Rahardja
Compositors - Rhea Borzak, Josh Stafford, Judd Eschliman, Abdel Pizarro, Joel Robertson
Rigging - Steven Alley
Animators - James Coakley, Richard Aldridge, Abdel Pizarro
The Money Lady - Lisa Halsey
The Computer Guy - James Ramsden

Monday, April 6, 2015

SESAME STREET _ Game of Chairs

Recreate one of the all-time classic opening credits but substitute chairs for castles? 

No problem. 

Especially with Stephanie Miranda Goldstein​ and Tim Crowson​ on some stellar modeling. This was another fun job for Magnetic Dreams to partner with Sesame Street on one of their pop culture parodies.

Morbid inside jokes for "Game of Thrones" fans and a great use of Grover in this one. 

Here's a closer look at some of the details and my development art.

I also snuck a personal homage to both my family and GoT creator George RR Martin into the first frame if anyone can identify it...

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.