Emeryville, Calif.-based Athena Studios recently produced a stop-motion, animated short film, titled Peanut Butter in anticipation of a future project that the company is currently considering.
“I have always loved stop-motion films,” said company founder Jon Peters. “While playful and fun, like CG animations, these films offer a certain grounding – a basis in reality that I enjoy. This piece was a proof of concept for us, as we are presently considering a much larger stop-motion project, and are beefing up our plans to attract new commercial work. We really just needed a good story to move forward.”
The Athena Studios team worked on Peanut Butter in association with Dr. Rick Kirschner, the author or co-author of eight books, who had come to the studio to film a story based on one of his lectures – one designed to inform business people how to take accountability for their own actions.
Unexpected assistance came through a friend of Peters who put him in contact with Jon Berg, famed stop-motion animator and visual effects expert whose past credits include Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Gremlins. Berg visited Athena Studios and agreed to participate, acting as a mentor for the small team of in-house animators and designers. He provided input on facial design, set construction and character movement.
“Jon Berg really helped get this project moving,” Peters said. “He gave all of us great advice on many aspects of the short, providing guidance and real insight based on his years in the stop-motion field. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught us, however, was not to focus so much on the rigging, sets or puppet construction, but instead, to just start the animation process, to keep moving forward and stay motivated.”
With Berg’s help, things progressed quickly. The Athena filmmakers decided to use face replacement to get a full range of emotions necessary for the characters. Given the short duration of film, the team tossed out the ball-and-socket armatures that had initially been built, and went to wire armatures for the bodies, adding removable limbs in case of breakage. “I remember pulling an arm from the molds, and the thumb broke the first time one of the animators moved it,” said Peters. “From that point on, we tried to keep several sets of arms on stand-by for each character.”
Jeanette Vera, Athena Studios’ visual effects artist, whose past VFX credits include Captain America and The Avengers, helped sculpt, cast and animate the puppets in Peanut Butter. Athena’s lead editor Jorge Martinez helped animate the film, and operated the Dragonframe image capture software.