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Mind Your Business: Animating A Tooth Fairy

Larry the Cable Guy has always been an animated character. Mark describes the production of an animated version of Larry for his latest movie Tooth Fairy 2.

Simon and Alex Zamm working on a sequence for Tooth Fairy 2.

Larry the Cable Guy has always been an animated character, now more than ever. I produced an animated version of Larry for his latest movie Tooth Fairy 2.

Remember The Rock as the Tooth Fairy? Drop that large chest down a foot and add a huge helping of blue collar humor and you’ve got the new Tooth Fairy.

This project became one of my favorites to work on. The director Alex Zamm is really creative and great to work with, the crew all got along and we had a lot of fun during production.

In addition to producing the 2D character animation in the movie, I also drew all the live-action storyboards and animatics. In fact, I started as the story artist and landed the animation producing gig near the end of production.

Before I came on, Alex had worked with a great cartoonist/designer PJ Tamayo to design the look of the animated sequence Alex wanted in the movie.

Larry the Cable Guy animated fairy character turn-arounds by PJ Tamayo.

“This portion of the script gives us the entire mythology of Tooth Fairy’s universe” says Zamm. “It was originally written as a live-action talking head sequence but it had too much exposition. I thought it would be funny if we did this sequence like an old educational film and Larry had to sit there and watch an educational film about how to be a Tooth Fairy. Then we realized Larry had this pamphlet. Why not make it a pamphlet so when you open it each picture inside becomes like frames of a storyboard which turns into animated sequences, with the starting key frame being each illustration.”

Originally Alex had planned to shoot some of the Tooth Fairy backstory on a greenscreen, and we did board and did shoot some of the elements. But he felt the live action element didn’t move the story along fast enough.

We then planned a 1 minute animated sequence which would be comped onto a pamphlet that Larry is holding. We had the cover image and each picture on the inside animate in time to the Tooth Fairy narrator, voiced by Mindy Sterling (Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers movies). The animation was designed into 6 pieces. There are two short animations of the Tooth Fairy character on the front of the pamphlet which comes to life. The inside of the folding pamphlet has 4 images. Each image comes to life as the camera moves from one frame to the next.

Storyboard of a camera move from one frame to the next inside the pamphlet.

PJ had done some illustrative boards based on an earlier version of the script. I worked with Alex to refine the sequence, re-ordered the info and the did a full storyboard and animatic using much of PJs art and designs and flushed out the sequence, adding as many visual gags as we could without taking away from the scene.

Alex and I worked on the sequence for a while, getting the timing just right. We added gags and deleted gags, moved elements in the script, etc. I did the scratch track (and I sound SO MUCH like a tooth fairy) and added all the camera moves and moving elements directly in the animatic using Storyboard Pro.

I also like to add some sound effects into my animatics. Sometimes a sound effect really helps sell the gag. When I was boarding this, I would hear a buzzer or a giant clanging sound and it was funny to me. So I would add those sounds so it would be funny for everyone else. Those sounds, or ones very close, made it into the final mix of the movie, too.

Adds Zamm, “And then we took it to the next level of making it come to live with very clever transitions in and out of the sequences. It was a very nice collaboration between the four of us.”

Animation frame from Tooth Fairy 2.

The animatic outlined more than the animation, it also provided the effects house with details of how we wanted the animation to integrate into the live-action footage of the camera moving across the pamphlet from one image/animation to another. “It was invaluable,” says Zamm.

We were shooting the live-action while I was boarding the animated sequences. I would work in the Alex’s trailer and then carry my laptop onto set to show him the animatics between takes.

Once we were in animation, my lead animator Willie Castro animated in Flash. But there was one shot that pushed the animation beyond the limits of Flash. I had designed a shot where we started on a calendar and teeth up in the stars and then the camera pans off towards earth in the distance. Then we zoom all the way into Metro County, Florida to show where our character is.”

The end of a huge zoom in Flash that went beyond the limits of the software.

“Normally I would have approached this the way I’ve done big zooms in other projects where I create one giant piece of artwork and zoom in and out of it,” says Castro. “But this had such a drastic zoom that I went way beyond the maximum of the artwork size the Flash allows. So I had to break the zoom into pieces, copy and edit the edges of the artwork so I wouldn’t hit the maximum size. That zoom is actually many pieces carefully put together to look like one smooth move.”

Alex is thrilled with the finished product in his movie. “I love how vivid and colorful it is. It came out incredibly well. It’s an amazing little complex and dense bit of animation that I’m thrilled we were able to pull off on the schedule and budget and you guys pulled out all the stops to make it an A-Plus sequence in the movie.”

Tooth Fairy 2 is now available on DVD.

If you want to hear more of my conversation with director Alex Zamm and my lead animator Willie Castro on the making of this animated sequence, you can click HERE to listen to the 20 minute MP3 file.

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Mark Simon, is the co-founder of SellYourTvConceptNow.com and the owner of Animatics & Storyboards, Inc. and the animation producer for Tooth Fairy 2. You can join Mark online for his webinar, Producing A Profit In Animation with animation producing legend Max Howard (Lion King, Iron Giant, etc) at www.HitMakerWebinar.com.

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