Zhu Zhu Pets – End Credits Art 1

The first Zhu Zhu Pets animated movie (The Quest for Zhu) comes out tomorrow on DVD, so I thought I’d post something from the movie each day until Friday. If you haven’t been following my blog as of late, I worked primarily as a character designer on the film last year, and even spent some time with the storyboards.

As things were wrapping up on the movie, my director, Bob Doucette, approached me about utilizing my illustration skills to create some drawings to be seen on screen during the end credits. He wanted some key moments from the movie illustrated in a watercolor vignette style with room for some of the primary credits to be seen next to the art.

I spent some time laying out images for a widescreen format with room for a name or two on the “cards” as they are called. The idea was that my pencil drawings would be digitally inserted onto old parchment paper, and my pal Tom Cain would paint them in Photoshop to replicate a watercolor look. With that in mind, I drew the illustrations by hand with a black Prismacolor pencil on large 24×18 inch pads of Strathmore watercolor paper. That particular paper has a real bumpy texture to it, which would only enhance the organic feel the art needed to have.


Giant Carrots
The Zhu Zhus have to travel through a giant carrot forest during their quest for Zhu. Num Nums has a thing for carrots, and is happy to munch away! (Click on image to see it larger!)


So, this week I will be sharing with you 5 out of the 9 or 10 pieces I drew for the end credits. To see how they looked after Tom got through with them, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the DVD!

Zhu Zhu Pets – Mangawanga

Earlier this week I shared with you some character drawings of a leopard drawn in the design process of the upcoming Zhu Zhu Pets movie, The Quest for Zhu. While those beasties snarl and growl in the jungle portion of the story, they crouch and cower at the will of another character – Mangawanga.


Mangawanga Zhu Zhu
This is a drawing from my sheet of expressions that help the CG folks know how much pliability there is to the character’s face. Plus, it’s delightfully disgusting.


Mangawanga is our king of the jungle. He grunts, slobbers, and yells his way through the vines and branches while keeping his eye on Jane – er, Pipsqueak that is. So, since you already met the Leopard Zhus, I thought you should see some drawings that explored the primal Mangawanga.


Mangawanga and Pipsqueak
Looks like Pipsqueak is Mangawanga’s carry-on baggage for this flight.


Mangawanga Zhu Zhu Pets movie
Here’s Mangawanga looking all tough and menacing in his spotted jungle skirt.


Mangawanga and Pipsqueak
It was fun to do this development drawing, then several months later I actually got to storyboard it! This moment is staged slightly differently in the final movie. Let’s just say it involved more saliva, and it may come towards you. I hope you’ve had your shots.


Zhu Zhu Pets Jungle
I worked on Disney’s Tarzan, so it was a little hard to shake the image of a jungle tree surfer, though I think Mangawanga sticks to vine swinging in “The Quest for Zhu.”


This last drawing is a little extra special. It was just one of my early drawings meant to explore character personalities during the development of who these characters were. Late in the production, my director decided he wanted some illustrative images based on moments from the movie to decorate the end title sequence. He had one of the painters on our show work this up as a test image. She painted it in a semi-watercolor style and put it on a parchment paper background. Everyone seemed to like it, so this very drawing will be seen at the end of the movie, along with an additional 9 or 10 drawings he had me work up that were painted by my buddy Tom Cain. Come back next week where I’ll show you five more of those special end credit illustrations!


Mangawanga and Leopard Zhu
Feel free to click on this image to see a larger scolding!


Remember, The Quest for Zhu movie comes out on DVD NEXT TUESDAY, September 27. I already ordered my copy on Amazon!


Zhu Zhu Pets – The Leopard Zhu

When we set out to design characters for the Zhu Zhu Pets movie, The Quest for Zhu (coming to DVD on September 27th), we were told that all the Zhuniverse characters except the villain had to be based on the basic hamster design. So, that meant we ended up having a hamster based sasquatch, zebras, saber-tooth tigers, a skunk, and even leopards.

We had been drawing all these hamsters walking around on two legs and basically behaving like humans, but the Leopard Zhus had to behave like the jungle cat it was supposed to be. So, it was my job to come up with a few action poses of the Leopard Zhus for the model sheets. Here’s a few that popped out of my pencil. Enjoy!


Zhu Zhu Pets movie


Zhu Zhu Pets movie


Zhu Zhu Pets movie

Zhu Zhu Pets – The Photo Booth

As one of the character designers for the upcoming Zhu Zhu Pets movie, The Quest for Zhu, I had to get a lot of personality into my drawings so that the many storyboard artists and animators could more accurately work together to make these characters come to life as individuals. Most of the time my drawings remained completely behind-the-scenes and were only seen within the studio. This time things were different.

My director, Bob Doucette, asked for a series of photo booth style drawings of our one human character, Katie, and her pet hamster Pipsqueak that would be used directly on screen in the movie. As you know if you have spent any time at all in a photo booth, it is nigh impossible to not act a little goofy once that camera starts-a-clickin’! So, I set out to create a set of cute and goofy images as Katie and Pipsqueak would likely have done.


Katie & Pipsqueak


I will say that I had a little help with the above. In order to draw Katie juuuuust right for a few of those poses, I recruited some folks in the studio to pose for me. The bottom two crazy faces were expertly supplied to me by our wonderful production assistant Steffi Larson. Steffi dove right in without hesitation making the best crazy faces I had ever seen while my camera clicked away. If her face had frozen in any of the contorted poses she provided, I would never have been able to forgive myself.

For the image second from the top, I had a different model. Tom Cain, a bald buddy with a decidedly different physique than that of a 12-year-old girl, was helpful in posing with that outstretched hand. Inspiration comes from the places you sometimes least expect it! I’m glad Tom could help in that way, because you see, he was the next artist to have a go at these drawings. Tom is a painter on this movie painting all the characters and props so that the foreign studio knows exactly how to create everything in a CG (computer graphics) world.

Below are Tom Cain’s paintings of my drawings. Since these are going right into the movie, Tom’s goal was to make the drawings look as if they were photographs of the CG characters, even though they are really just two-dimensional paintings. Tom is an amazing artist, and I’ll likely be showing you some more of his paintings of my drawings in future posts. (Try not to think of that outstretched-hand Katie as a self-portrait by Tom.)


Zhu Zhu Pets movie art
Drawings by Chad Frye, paintings by Tom Cain! This past year you may have noticed Disney characters in ads for D23 in the margins of your Facebook page and on the D23 website – Tom painted those, too!


If you’d like another sneak peek at the animation from the movie, and get to see Katie and Pipsqueak in action, here is a music video that will be seen at the end of Zhu Zhu Pets: The Quest for Zhu when the movie comes out on DVD September 27 (CLICK HERE to order it on Amazon.com).



The Zhu Zhu Pets DVD

In May of 2010, I began working at an animation studio in Woodland Hills, California called Moonscoop Entertainment. I was one of two character designers hired to help turn the very popular Zhu Zhu Pets toys into living, breathing, and adorable animated characters. My partner in this endeavor was the highly esteemed Stephen Silver who had been developing the characters’ looks with director Bob Doucette. When I joined the team, it was my job to give the hamsters personality and to make them work for a CGI (computer generated imagery) animated film.

Fast forward seventeen months later, and you will be holding the results of our initial efforts in your very own hands. Amazon recently began to pre-sell our first Zhu Zhu Pets movie to be released at the end of September from Universal Studios (CLICK HERE to see it on Amazon). When I saw the video cover that the marketing folks put together, something looked strangely familiar – all the main four character poses were based on some of my early drawings!

Quest for Zhu movie
The very first Zhu Zhu Pets movie featuring Num Nums, Pipsqueak, Mr. Squiggles and Chunk with the sneaky Stinker poking in from the corner.

I was planning to share with you some of my work for the Zhu Zhu Pets series from time to time, so why not start by showing you the sketches that led to the first video cover!

After Stephen Silver created the initial designs, I took them and drew up lots of action poses. The goal behind these drawings was to really get their personalities across, and to show the range of motion that they should be able to have when they get animated. These types of drawings help the CG artists know how to build the characters, they help the storyboard artists get a handle on how to draw the characters, the animators on how to animate them, and sometimes they help the marketing people promote the film as was the case with these four drawings.

Our story is about the adventures of four hamsters who go on their Quest for Zhu – the title doesn’t lie! There is sweet and dainty Num Nums, the adventurous Pipsqueak, the heroic Mr. Squiggles and laid-back surfing aficionado Chunk. Below are just a few of the many sketches created really early in the process of developing who these characters are. While they were early sketches, somehow these particular four poses struck a chord with others who came after me since they influenced the video cover.

Zhu Zhu Pets movie

Zhu Zhu Pets movie

Zhu Zhu Pets movie

Zhu Zhu Pets movie

The Quest for Zhu movie is just the first of three DVD films that will be sure to capture the imagination of your little ones. In fact, even now I am at work on more Zhu Zhu cartoons that will eventually make their way to the internet as webisodes. Now and again I’ll share some of my behind-the-scenes work with you from this magical series here on my blog.

Here’s a trailer showing the characters in action….

Zhu Zhu Pets Movie Trailer

Last May I was contacted by a studio in Woodland Hills, California called Moonscoop to come work for them as a character designer on a series of DVD movies based on Zhu Zhu Pets toys. Zhu Zhu Pets? I had been oblivious to their existence, despite the fact that the Christmas before they had been THE “it” toy. Turns out that they are cute little electronic hamsters that roll around the ground squeaking, laughing, and bumping into things. They sounded a little bit like animation artists.

So, I jumped into the project with all four paws working closely with fellow character designer Stephen Silver (known for Disney’s Kim Possible designs). The two of us worked on adapting the toy characters into personalities that would help tell the story that lay before us all under the guidance of our director, Bob Doucette.

This past Wednesday the first trailer for The Quest for Zhu was released online. The film will be released on DVD in the fall through Universal. Hopefully as it gets closer, I can show you some of my actual drawings created in the planning of the movie. For now, here is the very short official teaser of what is to come for little hamster-loving kids everywhere (batteries not included):