When the Apple Watch was first launched in 2015, there were 10 watch faces. Now there are more than 50. The newest among these is the Snoopy Watch board, designed in collaboration with Charles Schulz Studio.
The independent sat down to talk with Gary Butcher, Human Interface Designer at Apple, Eric Charles of Apple Watch Product Marketing and Paige Braddock, Chief Creative Officer at Charles M Schulz Creative Associates to find out all about the new watch face.
This isn’t the first time Snoopy has been on watches and he’s even appeared on high-end models like the Omega Speedmaster. As Eric Charles explains, “There’s a deep heritage of Snoopy that appears on dials from his early 1950s, and on Apple Watch we’ve been able to bring Snoopy to life in completely new ways.”
There are 148 different animations for the clock, which would run for 12 minutes if you played them consecutively; it’s tempting to try. They were all developed from an intense brainstorming session. Braddock, who was hired back in 1999 by Charles Schulz himself to work as an illustrator at the studio, reveals the creative dynamic: “Both Apple and Peanuts have strong identities and a strong desire to connect with fans in an authentic way.
“At the Schulz studio, we wanted to be authentic to Snoopy’s DNA and at the same time explore Apple Watch technology. Everyone knows that Peanuts is a series that exists in a different decade: there are no smart phones or iPads in the series.
“However, with mutual respect, it is possible to co-exist as a modern technology company and a series with a rich historical heritage. I always feel that a true collaboration is not one overshadowing the other, it is finding a balance and working with the contributors’ strengths.”
As Braddock points out, there’s something about Snoopy for the Watch that fits well. “If you look at a comic like this, it’s basically a four-panel storyboard. Even the aspect ratio from comic to dial is almost the same. We bought a lot of animated sequences directly from Schulz’s original comics.”
Snoopy’s appearance has evolved over the decades, from the fifties when he walked on all fours, to the sixties when he discovered he could do it on two legs. The shape of his dog’s head also changed. The collaborators had to decide whether the animation would be two-dimensional like the series or 3D like the Snoopy Show.
This led to a style that looks anything but electronic. Braddock again: “In the end, we chose to keep the clock animations as close to the original Schulz drawings as possible. Charles Schulz had a very specific and rare nib that he used. It was a nib that you had to dip into the ink bottle every time to fill it with ink and this meant he could create a varied line from thin to thick.
“This kind of active drawing brings the character to life. It’s obvious when you look at these drawings that they’re hand-made and not digital, and that’s the feeling we wanted to preserve in the Watch animations.”
But then Apple’s technology kicks in. When you look at Snoopy on the dial, there’s a level of subtlety that you only notice after a while. Sometimes his activity is based on the weather, sometimes on what you’re doing. For example, when you swim, Snoopy does too.
Sometimes he even interacts with the dial itself, especially the minute hand. Gary Butcher expands on this: “One of the things we were particularly excited to do is have Snoopy and Woodstock interact with the clock’s minute hand. He can lean on it, He can throw things that bounce off it. He can kick it when he wants to be fed. And he can jump on it to wave to Woodstock on the other side.”
This is one of those things that can mean you find yourself controlling time more than you actually need to. At one point he will peek out from behind the minute hand, his body magically hidden. He will then skate and bounce off the minute hand because it’s in the wrong place. Another time, a flying Woodstock will lose a leg to a prone Snoopy, which bounces off the minute hand into his mouth. Then… see, you have to discover these things for yourself.
On your birthday, Snoopy will celebrate. He will decorate his doghouse for Christmas, or dress up for Halloween. In the creative process, they realized that with a little ingenuity, they could make these animations appear at different times.
“To maximize the chances that you’ll see these animations,” says Butcher, “we figured we could simply rotate some animations. I say simply rotate but under the hood is a really sophisticated scene layout engine driven by an equally sophisticated decision engine .”
Sometimes the rotation only needs to affect certain frames in the animation. If Snoopy is standing on the minute hand, he is only affected when he is up, and his freefall into leaves below is unchanged and he naturally falls downwards, otherwise he would shoot off sideways. “Each animation is only five seconds long, but by looping the entire animation or even just a few frames at the end, we can keep certain scenes alive for much longer,” says Butcher.
There are more details yet. Look closely and you’ll see that the backgrounds are made up of dots – just like newsprint used to look. Monday through Saturday has a halftone dot background, but then bursts into color for Sundays, again, just as it appeared in newspapers. This is called the Sunday surprise.
Eric Charles comments, “What I love about how we’ve designed this watch face is that you may never see them all. Living in California, I may not see the winter animations. I may never see the icy ones. I hopefully never will stormy ones either.”
The team wanted to surprise and delight. Charles goes on to explain that they were trying to find more and more content, all day long: “Those two words, surprise and delight, were basically the mantra for how we looked at this project. A certain animation might appear at 10:09 but when you raise your wrist again and it’s still 10.09, what else can we serve you? What else can we present to you?”
The mission to introduce Snoopy to the world was key to the quest, it seems. Paige Braddock says, “I don’t want the generation that uses modern devices to miss out on this really great character. And I think the Apple Watch is a bridge for some of those fans to discover — or rediscover — Snoopy.”
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