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.

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"