Friday, July 9, 2010

CHICKIEPOO & FLUFF _ The Evolution of CUTE

Presented for the first time, I would like to take you through the evolution of the character designs for the Nick Jr. animated short and series Pilot, Chickiepoo & Fluff: Barnyard Detectives. Solely based on my recollection, but, hopefully, this will give a sense of the time, work, talent, and many hands that went into their creation. It takes a lot of effort to look this cute!

CONCEPT (Spring 2005)

When creators Amy and Liza Steinberg first asked for me to take a shot at visualizing their concept, I remembered a chickie doodle I had done for a friend with cel paint at the old Jumbo Studios.

My idea was to communicate that sense of "puffballs with life" by using a spontaneous fingerpaint technique. It really helped me capture the spirit of the characters and, of the designs, the baby brother Fuzzworth remained largely unchanged all the way through production.

It wasn't exactly what Amy and Liza were looking for, but enough to go forward and develop further.

(Spring 2005)

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I appreciated that the Steinbergs had complimentary tastes. Amy had brought pastoral, magic hour, baby animal reference while Liza preferred flat, Eastern, "children's book" art. More than that, they are connoisseurs of cute and had a shared vision for their chicks.

At this point, I started to use a digital collage technique similar to one we employed on Blues Clues. My friend and co-worker Scott Dodson coined it "2d-3d." With scanned textures from those pipe cleaner chick and actual swatches of fabric, the chicks started to get dressed and take shape. This is the way they were presented in the pitch book and the way they existed for some time. Although they seem a little raw to me now, they have a spazzy energy that I adore.

DEVELOPMENT (Summer 2006)

After the concept was picked up for Pilot production, we had meetings throughout the summer to start to refine the story and designs. I can't do justice to all of the variables and iterations that were brought to the table. In design only, some include: wardrobe, beak shape, eye type (scelera or not), footwear, proportions. The production team, including Jennifer Twomey, Elly Kramer, Irene Sherman, and Jason Patton, helped shepherd the chickies to the point you see them below. Fluff became less bookish and Chickiepoo covered up a little. In general, they became more realized than the pitch designs, less abstract and hopefully more relatable as little kids.

(Fall - Winter 2006)

The greatest impact on the evolution of the design came as a result of Animation Director Elanna Allen's storyboards. While I was primarily a Photoshop designer at the time, she's a natural animator whose pencil drawings already communicated a buoyancy and movement that the designs were lacking. Plus, based on the demands of the story and their actions, the chicks needed to be tweaked for symmetry and with altered proportions that were more animation-friendly.

We employed a pretty new process, at the time, in which the guys at Peach Nova Productions would first animate key actions by hand in Flash and artists, like Hilda Karadsheh, would use actions to add the texture and shading in Photoshop. Then, After Effects animators, like Dayna Gonzalez and Keelmy Carlo, would also employ the Photoshop pieces for puppeted animation.

I'm sure I'm leaving a lot out but you're all welcome to add to the story in the comments below. This all happened to go down during a particularly rough spell in my life, but, then and now, I'm so grateful to have helped bring these little fluffs into the world and for the opportunity to work with the team that made it a reality.


  1. I am late to this game but I just wanted to reach out to you to tell you how obsessed my 21 month old daughter is with the ONE short of Chickie Poo and Fluff she has seen. If I have to rewind one more time...!!

    I immediately googled the show only to find a ton of message board posts by other moms who were looking for the same thing after seeing their toddlers go crazy for your adorable show.

    Shame on Nick Jr for passing on your show. Is this something you own where you could shop it to Babyfirst tv or make an app about? People pay anything to see their kids happy and I would SO buy an app of Chickie Poo content. Also, Babyfirst tv is a great network for small shows. We subscribed after she fell in love with a low budget show called Shushybye.

    Basically, I just hope more kids will get to see your supercute show especially Good luck to you.

  2. Thanks so much for reaching out Fab. It means a lot to hear that the short touched a chord as it was something that we were all quite passionate about.

    I'll pass this info onto the creators and will definitely mention any new news on this blog.


  3. I just asked my three year old what she would like to watch while I make dinner and she said "Chickie Poo." My two girls are always signing the song. I even herd my husband whistling in the other day. The girls both love the short clip on Nick Jr. We all wish there were more!

  4. Hey - thanks so much for saying so! Always nice to hear and I wish there were more too!

  5. My 3 year old daughter loves this little chickens.

  6. We just started catching sight of the ChickiePoo & Fluff shorts again this week after not having seen them since it was still "Noggin." Any chance this means there's hope for a future with ChickiePoo & the boys, since lately the only shorts we see are either station identification, "Moose and Zee," Nick Jr. product "non-commercials," or excerpts of full-length shows?

  7. Thanks for the update and I wish that were the case. We haven't received any new news and to my knowledge there are no plans to revisit the characters (who I love and still believe would make for a great show).

  8. It's a shame that Nick jr. didn't appreciate how good this show is, my 10 month old goes crazy every time he sees them on TV and I know a lot of kids all across Latin America also like this shorts on nick jr for what I've seen on you tube, congrats on creating these wonderful characters, hopefully they'll think twice about this and the show will go on, do you know who could we contact on their side to ask for this show? I'm pretty sure it would be a hit and I would totally pay for it to see my son that happy

  9. Thanks for saying so, Pedro. I'm still very proud to be one of the parents of those Chickies. I'm not sure there's enough interest for the network to revive the show but it can't hurt to share your love for them.