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CG Animation Abbott and Costello

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By Henry Turner
Abbott and Costello will soon be making a comeback. Producer Scott Essman and the artists of Cantina Pictures are producing a two-minute test film for their proposed feature, Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters, a horror/comedy based on the 1948’s fondly remembered Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The new film will be produced as computer-animated feature.
“The first idea was that this was going to be a live-action movie,” Essman explains. “But I didn’t want to just do a remake, so I decided to make it an animated movie.”
His concept led him to Cantina’s Doug Beswick. “Doug has done some amazing stuff in his career, and he is very much now a complete CG animator,” says Essman. “I knew he came from the traditional, hands-in-the-clay animation background, so I thought he’d be perfect, and when we started talking, he said we could do it in CG.”
With films such as Scooby Doo Two and Van Helsing coming out, many feel that the time is right for a monster-reunion movie. Essman’s script includes many scenes that expand on the original film. “In the first movie they met Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if they met all the monsters in one movie? So they also meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Phantom, Mr. Hyde, the Mummy, and the Bride of Frankenstein. We are combining all the Universal classic monsters with Abbott and Costello, who themselves are a Universal classic–they made all their most famous films at Universal.”
A stylized visual approach was decided upon early in preproduction. Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters takes its inspiration from Mad Monster Party, one of Essman’s favorites. “That’s from 1967, and it’s a Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated movie, where all the monsters have a party on an island. We’re not taking their style, because they were unique, but just the idea of slightly caricatured characters.”
Sculptor Brent Armstrong created the maquettes. “I’m working with an artist who drew caricatures of each of the characters,” Essman says. Though some exaggeration is evident in the maquettes, Armstrong stayed with fairly realistic limits. “I kept the flavor as much as possible of each one of the individual characters, the way they were in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”
Beswick will serve as head animator on the project. Because of the relatively small size of the maquettes, which measure little over a foot tall, Beswick chose not to scan the figures, but to have the CG modelers create their characters based on detailed drawings. “We are freehand-modeling them in the (digital) modeler,” explains Essman. “We’re using this method because we want a sort of loose feeling to it; we want to free up the modeler to add details. But when we do the actual project and we get into doing the final models, we may change the approach.”
One reason a test film is necessary is to obtain the rights for the characters from Universal. Essman says, “We’re hoping that the test film impresses Universal to the degree that we’ll be able to secure the rights.” One of his primary goals is to make the film locally, with local crew. “The idea is to do this film 100% in town, with no overseas animation, and no outsourcing. We’re doing it with a minimal number of vendors, and proving that we can put a CG film in the can for small fraction of what a big CG film is budgeted at.”

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