Charlie Brown and company drop by Astoria

By Merle Exit

Good grief — Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of Charles M. Schulz’s beloved cartoon gang arrived on the big screen last week during an early sneak peak of “The Peanuts Movie” at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

Charlie Brown, the world’s most beloved underdog, embarks upon an epic quest as he falls in love with the little redheaded girl. His best pal, the lovable beagle Snoopy, takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron.

This special preview featured the art director from the Greenwich, Conn.-based animation company behind the movie, Blue Sky Studios, Nash Dunningham and lead animator Jeff Gabor. The two took audience members on a behind-the-scenes tour of how the film was created.

“From the onset, our director, Steve Martino, made it a mission to honor Sparky’s (Schulz’s nickname) vision and the legacy of his work, analyzing countless strips and Christmas cartoons,” Dunningham said. “We became cartoon archaeologists, and had to figure out what makes Peanuts tick and how we could bring the charm back to the screen.”

The crew of artists who worked on the movie started their three-year journey of making the film with a trip to Santa Rosa, Calif. and a visit to the Shulz museum.

There they checked out a replica of Shulz’s office and were given a crash course in drawing the many characters at the Van Pelt University, named for Lucy.

Lead animator Gabor spoke about having to build 3-D models and the need for the artists to focus on the smallest details, like the planks in Snoopy’s doghouse, so the images would pop on screen.

“We had to hand sculpt the characters from every angle,” Gabor, who mostly worked on Snoopy, said.

For Dunningham, the original comic strip was super simple and always expertly executed.

If there was any question about how to move the film forward, the words of director Martino put the crew back on track.

“Whenever in doubt, go back to the comic,” Martino wrote.

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