Saturday, October 12, 2013

Free Birds AKA Time Turkeys

I did some early development for my good friends at Reel FX on "Free Birds", their first movie. It's coming out in November so go check it out. The animation is more Looney Tunes than Pixar so it should be fun.

I don't think anything I did was actually used; it was mostly exploratory stuff but here are some of the  drawings:


 First I wanted to know what turkeys actually looked like, so I did some studies from photos I nabbed off the net.
Turns out that Turkeys aren't the most beautiful creatures in the world. 

Their heads are pretty rude looking, actually and the director, Ash Brannon asked me to see if I could cuten them up somewhat.
 So next step was to draw more cartoony versions. My tendency of course is to make characters as cartoony as possible, so I tried retaining some actual turkey traits, like their snoods (the erotic appendage that droops over their beaks), their warts and their long thin necks and bald heads.
 I tried many variations.

 I don't think I was getting cute enough though as long as I kept trying to make them look like turkeys.

Here was a basic generic turkey that wasn't too complicated to animate that I figured we could do some animation experiments with. The movie is CG and I was asked to help the animators get a more cartoony, Warner Bros. movement as opposed to the typical Pixar-Dreamworks style of motion.
 We actually did some animation with this design (I wish I could remember the animator's name who did some really funny walks!) We created a Busby Berkeley style sequence of a hundred turkeys doing a crazy retarded march to doom.


 The script called for Reggie to be kinda nerdy so I messed around with that.


Then I found out that Reggie would be played by Owen Wilson so I was asked to try making thew character look kinda like him.

I did some straight caricatures first:

 I tried applying some of his characteristics to the turkey:


The movie is a buddy film, so there are 2 leads. Owen's Reggie, has a partner named Brock, a big manly turkey played by Woody Harrelson.

I don't think I actually tried making his character look like him, but here are some initial studies of Brock:

It was pretty hard to make a manly character also look like a turkey, so I finally settled on this:

I really wondered if they could translate a 2d cartoon drawing into a 3d model. Here's where it started:

I worked with the modelers and did some draw overs
It eventually looked pretty good. I asked for some asymmetry and cartoon concepts like line of action and negative shapes. We also studied clips from classic cartoons and the Reel FX crew quickly picked it up.

I drew some storyboards too but this is a long post so if you're interested I'll show them in another post:

FREE BIRDS comes out on November 1 to celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a wacky family film, so bring the kids.

Here's the website and



Ali Gee said...

These are hilarious! Im sure most would agree with me that your turkeys are much more funny than the final version!

Im going to copy some of your turkey sketches... theyre just too good haha

paul said...

OMIGOSH! Youre makin' a modern CG film?!!!?!

I am SO psyched to see Free Birds.
It's gonna be more cartoony than the Cloudy Meatballs movies.

paul said...

Gee whiz, Johnny. You're doin' Free Birds?

"I don't think anything I did was actually used..."

Aw, man. Sorry about this, Johnny. That's OK,better luck next picture.

But that's not all, I wanna see more of your funny story sketches!

Andrew said...

this was the most unexpected thing ever but u know i loved every minute of it . i wanna see a story board post.

Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
koenma said...

Ehh, the trailers to these kids movies usually don't indicate any of the good animated parts, if there are any. All of the shots and "flow" of interaction between those characters felt like it was trying to be a PG-13 comedy film for adults, but with even weirder jokes. Not that I want to go on a curmudgeon-y tangent all of sudden, but I look at how you developed these characters, and then the trailer, and the biggest difference I see is that they don't attempt to make the designs lovable. I think it's SO possible with 3D even if it's damp compared to line drawings, but they aren't taking it.

Anyway, your drawings are soooo cute; you might be operating outside of your usual taste, I don't know, but you do a good job outside of your own zone. I appreciate how you share the experience of translating turkeys into cartoons too. Referencing is hard.

chris said...

Would love to see the early CG tests you say you guys did. Must get those up here John.
Trailer/final movie looks like pretty standard stuff unfortunately

akira said...

whoa! what an aweseome barrage of artwork you unloaded on us! i'd buy that art of book if there's a generous helping of your stuff in it! well this is a great post to put up, because if i was a studio with money i would be coming after you to run my film, and that means we'll have a better chance of seeing more of your stuff in the future. thanks for sharing (no offense but i way more enjoyed looking at these drawings than the trailer. i wish they'd stuck to your designs instead of letting the shapes melt into the final more generic lumpiness. i'm sure your designs would have inspired the animators to do something more unique as well)

Sara (Perry) said...

I am absolutely going to see this movie. I'll probably drag one of my mom's friend's kids with me.

John Rouse said...

Hey, John. Are you familiar with the Blender Foundation? They have some pretty impressive, free, open source software. It just keeps getting better. I would love to see some artfully crafted cg directed with your aesthetic sensibilities.

Trevor Guitar said...

The first Reggie drawing is very endearing. In my personal opinion it would make a nice design for a character.

I think that's the one you scored with. It's conventional enough it would be accepted but also warm enough, and designed/drawn well enough to still have character and be fun to look at.

Great design.

That'd be the one I'd ask you to play with if I was the one lucky enough to choose. XD

Carmine said...

Wow, amazing!! Your designs are WAYYY better than anything in the trailer. Too bad they didn't have the balls to use them.

The non-celebrity turkeys are great, and the Owen/Woody ones are really funny too, much better than the final ones used.

Please post the rest of the story boards, and could we maybe get to see the animation tests? That would be a real joy.

Erik Butter said...

To bad they didn't had the guts to go with a more cartoony design, these drawing you did are realy funny. If I look at the final results the played it realy safe.
But i hope the learned a lot of your principles about movement and posing.
Maybe next time they loosen up the designs a little more.

kurtwil said...

Pity the trailer doesn't show much of the Looney Toons animation you inspired the Reel FX artists to create, but nice to see a 3D company take 2D inspiration seriously!

Meanwhile, the Big D folks are picturing their FROZEN cast in a nest of snow. Does its animation seem any different from that in TANGLED, or PLANES?

TParker said...

Aw, MAN! They should totally have used your designs, or even better, put YOU at the helm!

Jesse Oliver said...

You sure know how to draw turkeys funny!

J C Roberts said...

I always find it amusing to see some of the early concept sketches for today's CG features. They go through dozens of distinctive hand drawn designs, many of which would be near-impossible to do well in CG, and they employ artists with vastly different styles. You'd think they were searching for a unique new style, but without fail, the final product is the same type of design all CG features use.

I mean, this project sought out John K to advise them, and he did all these workups for them using a ton of interesting takes on the subject, but look what they boiled it down to. Stick some "cutified" waddles on the standard "shrimpy" and "brawny" stock designs, and there you go. They could have done their character design studies just by going to the multiplex. I hope John got a nice little payment for his input, but why ask him for design input if you're just going to homoginize it into the standard fare?

I don't want to disparage something I haven't seen, and John's recommendation for a CG feature says a lot right there. If there is less formuliac stuff in the film, you wouldn't expect to find it in the trailer anyway, but from only that it mostly looks like any other Dreamworks/Pixar formula piece.

ari said...

wish they had gone with your designs instead of smoothing it all out into nothing. looks like that pidgeon cg movie that came out a few years ago

David Germain said...

You did a great job turning those celebrities into turkeys. Right now I'm trying to do just a straight drawing of Audrey Hepburn and am having an awful time of it.

This movie does look like fun. If I could afford to go out and see movies, I would put down money to see this one in a heartbeat.

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Jean Franco said...

The final designs are the usual crap in these movies... Why they didn't follow your designs? When I started reading the post I was expecting your characters in CGI... *sight*

Walter Anderson said...

John, I understand that you like Looney Tunes. So do I. I also believe you like Tom & Jerry. I like them. I know you like animation. Same here, dude. You are independent & you use Toon Boom. I am young, but independent & I use Adobe Flash. We may not be family, but I've just come to find we have a few things in common: Our enjoyment of watching & making cartoons, We love our families (Who doesn't?) & we wish to take the animation world by storm. I can make a Ren & Stimpy fan animation. I'll make it to try & please you. When I give it to you, please note the lack of vocals. My microphone doesn't work. I will make music & animation. I got your style down. I hope to please you.

Walter Anderson said...

John, I am an animator who likes old cartoons, like to animate my own & is young, but trained & independent. I will make a Ren & Stimpy fan animation to please you.

Kinky Kinniku said...

They were so reluctant to give him the nice ass and chest you suggested that they completely butchered him in the final design. Yours looked waaaaaay better.

Kinky Kinniku said...

They were so uncomfortable with the ass and chest you drew they butchered him in the final design. Lame. Yours were really great!

paul said...

Hey Johnny, thanks for the post, but, can you please do us a favor and fix 27 out of the 53 images on your post?

Thank you.

SeaKing said...

I knew it! I was watching this movie and noticed that the general looks an awful lot like George Liquor. You might not think that they used anything you did, but I recognized enough that I wanted to get online and check it out. I'm glad that you lent them a little of your style, and I think that's really cool! =)