When the Apple Watch first launched back in 2015, there were 10 Watch faces. Now, there are more than 50. The newest among these is the Snoopy Watch face, designed in conjunction with the Charles Schulz Studio.
The Independent sat down to talk to Gary Butcher, human interface designer at Apple, Eric Charles from Apple Watch product marketing and Paige Braddock, chief creative officer at Charles M Schulz Creative Associates to discover everything about the new Watch face.
This is not 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 horological legacy of Snoopy appearing on watch faces from his early as the 1950s, and on Apple Watch, we’ve been able to bring Snoopy to life in whole new ways.”
There 148 different animations for the Watch, which would run for 12 minutes if you played them one after the other; 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 in an authentic way with fans.
“At the Schulz studio, we wanted to be authentic to Snoopy’s DNA and simultaneously explore the Apple Watch technology. Everyone knows that Peanuts is a comic strip that exists in a different decade: there are no smart phones or iPads in the comic strip.
“But with mutual respect, it is possible to coexist as a modern tech company and a comic strip with a rich historic legacy. I always feel like a true collaboration is not one thing eclipsing the other, it’s finding a balance and working with contributors’ strengths.”
As Braddock points out, there’s something about Snoopy for the Watch that’s a great fit. “If you look at a comic strip like this, it’s basically a four-panel storyboard. Even the aspect ratio from the comic to the watch face is almost the same. We sourced numerous animated sequences directly from Schulz’s original comic strips.”
Snoopy’s look 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 canine head also changed. The collaborators had to decide whether the animation should be two-dimensional like the comic strip or 3D like the Snoopy Show.
This led to a style that looks anything but electronic. Braddock again: “Ultimately, we chose to keep the watch animations as close as possible to the original Schulz drawings. Charles Schulz had a very specific and rare pin nib that he used. It was a nib that you had to dip in the ink bottle each time to fill it with ink and it meant he could create a varied line from thin to thick.
“This sort of active drawing gives the character life. It’s obvious when you see these drawings that they’re handmade and not digital, and this is the feel that we wanted to preserve in the Watch animations.”
But then Apple’s engineering kicks in. When you look at Snoopy on the Watch face, 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 instance, when you go swimming, so does Snoopy.
Sometimes he even interacts with the Watch face itself, specifically with the minute hand. Gary Butcher expands on this: “One of the things we were especially excited to do is to have Snoopy and Woodstock interact with the minute hand of the watch. He can lean on it, He can throw things that bounce off of it. He can kick it when he wants to be fed. And he can jump up on it to wave to Woodstock on the other side.”
This is one of the things that might mean you find yourself checking the time more than you actually need to. One time, he’ll peep out from behind the minute hand, his body magically hidden. Next, he’ll be skating and bounce off the minute hand because it’s in just the wrong place. Another time, a flying Woodstock will drop a bone for a recumbent Snoopy, which will bounce off the minute hand into his mouth. Then… look, you’re going to have to discover these things for yourself.
On your birthday, Snoopy will celebrate. He’ll decorate his dog house for Christmas, or dress up for Halloween. In the creative process, they realised that with a little ingenuity, they could make these animations appear at different times.
“To maximise the chances you’ll see those animations,” Butcher says, “we figured out we could simply rotate certain animations. I say simply rotate but under the hood is a really sophisticated scene layout engine being driven by an equally sophisticated decision engine.”
Sometimes the rotation only needs to affect certain frames of the animation. If Snoopy is standing on the minute hand, he’s affected only when he’s up top, and his free fall into leaves below is unchanged and he falls naturally downwards, otherwise he’d shoot off sideways. “Each animation is only five seconds long, but by looping the whole animation or even just a few frames at the end, We’re able to keep certain scenes alive for much longer,” Butcher says.
There’s more detail yet. Look closely and you’ll see the backgrounds are made up of dots – just the way it used to look in newsprint. Monday to Saturday has a half-tone dot background, but then bursts into colour for Sundays, again, just like it appeared in newspapers. This is called the Sunday Surprise.
Eric Charles comments, “What I love about the way we’ve designed this watch face is that you may never see all of them. Because I live in California, I may not see the winter animations. I may never see the icy ones. I hopefully will never see the stormy ones either.”
The team wanted to surprise and delight. Charles goes on to explain that they sought to find more and more content, all day long: “Those two words, surprise and delight, were basically the mantra of how we looked at this project. A certain animation can show up at 10.09 but when you raise your wrist again and it is still 10.09, what else can we serve you? What else can we present to you?”
The mission to present Snoopy to the world was key to the endeavour, it seems. Paige Braddock says, “I don’t want the generation that uses modern devices to miss out on this really fantastic character. And I think Apple Watch is a bridge for some of those fans to discover – or rediscover – Snoopy.”
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