cart button

NUKE and MARI power time traveling tales in Mr. Peabody & Sherman


Mr. Peabody & Sherman © 2014 DreamWorks Animation LLC. Character Rights ™ & © Ward Productions, Inc

Bringing the classic 2D animated characters and story of Mr.Peabody & Sherman to the big screen was always going to be a challenging project. DreamWorks Animation was up to the task transitioning the classic cartoon characters into an animated 3D world while staying true to the spirit of Jay Ward’s original 1960s TV series. The studio used NUKE and MARI to build the path from the past to the present with dazzling effect.

This animated feature had its origins in ‘Peabody’s Improbable History’ segments on the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’. Mr. Peabody was a gifted dog who mastered many skills including being a father. He was allowed to adopt a boy named, Sherman. In order to teach Sherman about history, Mr. Peabody invented a time travel device he called, the WABAC. This is where the adventure begins.

One of the biggest challenges for DreamWorks Animation’s artists was the sheer number of environments and sets that needed to be created. Travelling through time in the WABAC called for all manner of new and exciting environments from ancient Egypt and Italy to revolutionary France and current time resulting in 86 different locations. There were multiple catalogues of crowd characters with all different kinds of clothing and accessories for each time period. The textured finish on the surfaces of sets and on the characters, had to be approached very carefully.


"Using MARI, we were able to copy textures quickly between each character and change shading layers easily. Then when we output our work to lighting, all the layers were compressed into one simple file, saving render time."


MARI rides the WABAC

MARI was originally incorporated into the DreamWorks Animation production process for the production of Turbo. “The Turbo team got MARI working with our texture maps and models integrating the software into the DreamWorks Animation pipeline,” explains Surfacing Supervisor John Wake. “We found that MARI gave us great flexibility to build and tweak shaders and textures.”

Texturing was especially important for the characters in Mr. Peabody & Sherman as they were designed to give a clear nod to the wellknown 2D, stylised icons from the TV series. The skin of the characters for Mr. Peabody & Sherman needed to be simple and translucent. “The director didn’t want them to be too textural, but just enough to give them 3D form,” says Wake. “Using MARI, we were able to copy textures quickly between each character and change shading layers easily. Then when we output our work to lighting, all the layers were compressed into one simple file, saving render time.”

The DreamWorks Animation artists had room to explore and experiment with these characters because this was the first time they’d been seen in 3D. After months developing the leading characters, the tone was set. Secondary and background characters could be created much quicker because of previously created layers in the MARI 2.5 shader setups.

For the sets, “the textures of the interior walls of apartments and various structures couldn’t be created with a procedural pattern,” says Wake. “It had to be stylised with the essence of the original. Then that style was extended to the historic time periods and locations. It was a great challenge.”

Mr. Peabody & Sherman © 2014 DreamWorks Animation LLC. Character Rights ™ & © Ward Productions, Inc

"NUKE enables the production to work in a stereoscopic3D workflow that is integrated into the studio’s production pipeline. All of our tools are already setup for 3D and means my team can collaborate more efficiently with the other departments."


NUKE lights up the time machine

Laura Grieve, Head of Lighting on Mr. Peabody & Sherman, has worked with NUKE for the past few DreamWorks Animation productions, the first being Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. “NUKE enables the production to work in a stereoscopic3D workflow that is integrated into the studio’s production pipeline. All of our tools are already setup for 3D and means my team can collaborate more efficiently with the other departments. NUKE was especially beneficial in providing set extensions that the lighting and matte painting teams shared. Great examples of this are in the scenes where Mr. Peabody and Sherman are riding their red scooter through the city and when Sherman and Penny are soaring over Florence. Lighting established the look of the scenes and matte painting extended the 3D sets making those portions of the movie appear much richer and more varied. ”

DreamWorks Animation’s lighting department utilized NUKE to augment and seamlessly integrate visual effects elements. “Whether it is a torrential flood in a sewer, or torchlight scattered through heavy plumes of dust in King Tut’s crumbling tomb, NUKE enabled us to quickly integrate these effects, make our lighting changes, and then visualize our work, all in an interactive environment,” says Grieve.

DreamWorks Animation was able to fully utilize and benefit from NUKE’s color tools, applying them to shots much earlier in the production process saving time when post grading, explains Grieve. “NUKE’s color tools enabled us to quickly conceptualize color design early in the lighting process without needing to do multiple expensive lighting iterations. Nearing the completion of a sequence, we could perform a final grading session with the visual effects supervisor and production designer which gave us much more control of the final image and reduced the time needed for post grading.”

Another feature of NUKE that helped in the production of Mr. Peabody & Sherman was the ability to create special tools specific for the movie. According to Grieve, “eyes and facial reads are often a focal point in our movies. Eye highlights on our main characters were based around a graphic and a round main highlight with very subtle environment reflections. This was challenging for Sherman who was the only character to have glasses that refracted. Reflections on his glasses could not occlude or interfere with his actions. Therefore, we developed simple tools in NUKE to control precise placement, scale, and intensity of all eye and glasses highlights, and reflective passes.” With NUKE’s fast feedback, DreamWorks Animation artists have the capability to interactively direct lighting elements, adding to the feeling and graphic look of the characters in the movie.

From WABAC, to the future

The Foundry’s MARI and NUKE have found a place within the DreamWorks Animation’s production pipeline. The Surfacing, Lighting, Effects, Matte Painting and Compositing teams for Mr. Peabody & Sherman created unique animated sequences from history. DreamWorks Animation is currently using NUKE and MARI on their much anticipated sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2. Coming to theatres in June 2014, the movie takes place five years after Vikings and dragons have been united on the Island of Berk. The Foundry’s tools continue to provide the artists on this production the interactivity, layer management, and memory handling needed to support the creation of amazing new worlds and complex characters resulting in a thrilling 3D adventure.