completed June, 1995
4min 20 sec.
I've often said (and it's actually in the titles that way) that this film is based on a true story. Absolutely. Sort of. As a family we have always had a dog; we even took my wife's dog on our honeymoon. At the moment we have five dogs, and are trying to figure out how we can afford an electronic fence to keep them home so the neighbors won't complain. But that's another story (and maybe another film).
In the fall of 1993 we purchased a small shelty-mix puppy for my then 7-year old daughter Hilary, who named her Lucy. We all loved that dog right away, but it became obvious that Lucy had health problems. Her front-right leg kept popping out of it's socket, and when she got excited (and what puppy doesn't?) she would start this deep, hacking cough. Several veteranarians told us to take the dog back to the pet store where we bought her and get our money back. The cough was a heart defect, they said, and her leg could be fixed only though expensive surgery which couldn't be done until she was at least 8 months old, and she probably wouldn't survive anyway because of her heart condition.
After much anguish my wife Kathy took the dog back the next day and got her money back. Then I went in the day after and bought her back. We decided that love should be unconditional, and we would just wait and see about her health. After about 4 months her leg socket calcified to the point where it stopped popping out, and we keep her on a low fat, low salt diet. And she is still alive and happy. The pet store is now a mini-mart.
Kathy said at the time that she had a feeling that Lucy was special and that someday this dog would do something important for the family. I think she was thinking about waking us up in a fire or something like that. Instead, she created an incident that inspired my most popular film to date. As a puppy, Lucy would have an "accident" in the house, then she would pick it up in her teeth, carry it around the house to show everyone, and then eat it. Gross. She grew out of that, of course, but it's a hard thing to forget. Somehow that incident reworked itself in my mind until the story emerged about this dog that had to go out but couldn't. I even did a little sketch of the dog; I wanted it to look like it escaped from one of the cubist paintings of Paublo Pacasso. He had blocks for feet, swirls for eyes, and none of the jagged parts seemed to match. My son Alex took one look at this very angular dog and promptly named him "Fluffy".
I gave this sketch to my friend Robin Ator, who redrew it into something that, while still made of unconnected segments, loosely looked like a dog. He also created a master painting that I scanned into the computer and used to map all over the digital dog's body.
The script was easy; it just seemed to fall together on it's own. I was very proud of it. I showed it to Kathy who, after reading it, threw it at me saying, "Why would you want to make a film like THAT??!!"
With that ringing endorsement behind me, I began to block the character of Fluffy out in the computer, and I video taped reference footage of both Lucy doing just normal daily things and myself going through the specific actions required in the script. For software I turned to my friend Martin Hash, who's company Hash, Inc. makes Animation Master, a spline-based 3D software that runs on PCs and Macs and lends itself well to character animation. Then Martin went a step further by offering the services of two of his animators, Tracy Larson and Galen Beals, who animated the bulk of the film, and Will Pickering, who managed Hash's network of Pentiums used for rendering. But beyond just the basic design and animation of the dog, I was looking for an original approach without the conventional look of a "computer" film, and without the need for the resources of an entire studio. For that reason I kept the colors bright but flat, and I kept the ambience (the "inner glow", if you will) of the dog set rather high. But there was one other unusual step I wanted to do.
Within six weeks the basic animation was completed, and each frame was rendered at a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels which, though not film resolution, was still higher than most video standards. I then took each of the 5000 images and and printed them out onto textured parchment paper using two Canon color bubble jet printers. Each piece of printed paper was then registered by hand by taping a pre-punched paper strip to the top, then each sheet was filmed, in sequential order, onto 35mm film using an animation stand. This had the effect of giving the film an unusual grain-like, hand-drawn appearance. This process took over four months; Tom Sheft and Halle Hennesey donated their time filming these paper "cels", and then Tom edited the completed film. Jon Newton supplied the wonderfully appropriate music, the theme of which was based on a tune that had been running though my head for 20 years.
We completed the film by the summer of 1995, just in time to enter it into the "Electronic Theatre" at Siggraph, one of the computer world's most prestigious exhibitions. To my great suprise it was accepted, and the film went on to be my most successful film so far, winning awards around the world. And why is that? I think the delight of "Fluffy" is in the over-all design and in the comic timing. Sure, he looks cute, sort of the way E.T. looked cute. And when he barks, he actually says the word "bark" (supplied by my good friend Scott Sundholm). But the true spirit of Fluffy is in his thought processes; the long, bayful stare at the door, the sense of guilt he feels when he has done something particularly nasty on the floor, and the pleasure he feels when he gets away with it. This is something that, as humans, we can all relate to.