EXCLUSIVE Chipotle 'Scarecrow' production art!

At Moonbot Studios, we are fortunate to be small, nimble, and versatile.  I am blessed to get the chance to conceive ideas, create concept art, storyboard and lead the story team, design characters, paint backgrounds, do character design, color keys, and much more.  It is an opportunity to really have hold of a project, and have your fingerprints all over it, which is rare at other places.

There are dozens of images and clips I'd love to share, but for now I'll just pop a few up here.  Click any image for a larger version.  Enjoy!


Character design and development 

One thing I truly adore about animation and film is character.  Naturally, I am drawn to character design (you predicted it nearly 10 years ago, Steve Silver!). At Moonbot, I'm also lucky enough to be the primary character designer for most of our projects, and even if I'm not on a project I tend to consult, as I just can't keep my hands off it or my mouth shut!  (hehe)  

With Scarecrow, director Brandon Oldenburg had a great production design pencil drawing of a scarecrow from behind.  Once we decided upon a scarecrow for certain, we had lots of silhouettes and doodles from the directors as a jumping off point - but I realized after a few days that the initial drawing by Brandon was charming and felt right.  The geometry, simple proportions, and innocence was what we needed.  So I used that as a jumping off point to do some exploration and posing.  

Our initial direction was to have more physical comedy, pulling from Charlie Chaplin.  These poses and expressions are more broad than we went with in the end, but you can see the silent film physicality in these, and how much we were thinking of that era.

These are just some of the sheets done while evolving this character.


The CrowBots

Once we had a scarecrow in place, it made a ton of sense to have little drone crows as "surveillance" and "management".  The first issue we tackled was, "How does a robot crow fly?"

When we started storyboarding, there were a lot of flapping metal wings, ending up looking like a hummingbird, or honey bee.  This didn't really work.  So one day I tried a new approach while doing the animatic for the sequence where we first see the bird lead our hero to a broken facade.  In an attempt at that physical comedy, I had him jump off, spread his wings as if he'd flap... then.... a little chopper popped out and caught him.  It was well-received with the group, so we explored that route and Chipotle just loved it.  Those are the organic creative moments that I live for, here at Moonbot.

Here you can see an evolution of the CrowBot, after we made that helicopter drone leap.  We also worked to incorporate a menacing aesthetic - similar to a stealth bomber, blackhawk chopper, or other modern military arsenal.

Matte paintings

We decided early on that our artistic focus and unique look at Moonbot can be really flexed for this short film. Mixing CG, miniatures, and paintings calls for a more detailed backplate design, so we used some photo ref and textures for things like ground planes and building surfaces (at times), but most of these were painted from scratch, digitally.  We had some great artists do a lot of matte paintings - I was lucky to do a large amount as well, but for now I'll share just one example.  Images like these must be clear, clean, and well done, even though they are only visible for 2 seconds in the film.

 Color and Light keys 

These are used to take the color script further, calling out special shots or something that represents a lighting scenario for a scene, and giving a very specific target for our lighting and compositing team.  From these rough paintings, we can target values, hues, light sources, atmosphere, etc.  

With Moonbot being so nimble and versatile, these often double for concept images.  A shot like the cow-boxes was not fully fleshed out yet.  While the cow and box design were there, and the storyboards were in place for that moment, the shot layout, composition, and other decisions were left to be solved.  Here is where the color keys were doubled as concept and layout ref for the shot.  The same goes for the factory designs, once our hero pops onto the conveyor belt - the "what do we see in the factory?" was answered through these color & light keys.

You can see another matte painting in the market opening and the truck shot, as well as miniatures in the market.

These are all quick and rough, simply to meet those needs, and are done in Photoshop.

I'll share more production art, design, and concept work when I can.  Thx!


Scott Wiser said...

So beautiful! The more work I see from you "Moonbots" the bigger fan I become. It looks like you are a very versatile artist as well - cranking out solid character designs all the way to Matte Paintings. How long were you on this project?

Estevao Lucas said...

Great great Work!! I really like the Moonbot Studios style. Very nice this visual dev and the idea though the project is wonderful! Fantastic work Joe, I'll follow your blog to see more of your good stuff! Best!

Joe Bluhm said...


Scott - The entire process from talking to CAA and Chipotle to release, was 2 years.

The actual process of work was nearly a year and a half.

I was on the project for nearly a year. The first several months were story development and some production design. Thankfully the directors knew what they wanted to pull from, aesthetically, and we have a great artist, Christina Ellis, doing simple color scripts to set the palette.

So as Art Director (after leading story, storyboarding) I was working for about 8-9 months. Character design, color keys, prop and environment design, leading layout, matte paintings, etc. It was super fun!

Don Flores said...

very nicely done!

alison said...

Hi Joe ~ You wrote "These are all quick and rough..... and are done in Photoshop." Ummm, PhotoShop doesn't have a stylus, does it? Are you saying that you drew and colored these with A Mouse??

Joe Bluhm said...

Alison -

Photoshop is the software, not the hardware. It is an image editing, design, and painting program.

I used a Wacom Cintiq to create these, which has a stylus. Both hardware and software are needed for digital art.

M@R@K! - Maria Gerofoti said...

Amazing job! Well done!! A video i will definitely show to my students in the following days! Love the music, the storyboard, the crows, the emotional transitions it brings on us.. Great job, really. Just wondering, what software did you use for the animation, besides Photoshop that i read somewhere above??