Things That Didn’t Need to be CG: Charlie the Tuna

Starkist has created a Charlie the Tuna TV ad for the first time in 12 years. The character has been “updated,” which today means only one thing: computer animation.

Besides the fact that it makes zero sense conceptually to have Charlie float in the middle of a room with air bubbles spouting up, the spot’s clumsy character animation and unattractive rendering leaves much to be desired. The biggest surprise may be that CG veteran Steve “Spaz” Williams (Jurassic Park, The Mask, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) directed the project. Buffalo, NY-based IBC Digital and Cornerstone Pictures handled the animation production.

Starkist could have done something really fresh and original had they hired traditional animators to revive the strikingly stylish look of the original character developed by Chuck Jones in the early-1960s:


  • DMacB

    That’s one way to do a gritty reboot I guess…

  • jhalpernkitcat

    At least Charlie isn’t hip hopping with Nelly a la Buzz Bee–that honey nut Cheerio commercial really bugs me because the last thing I want to see is Buzz Bee shake his honeymaker. It just doesn’t suit him.

    As for Charlie, well this is the first time I’ve seen the original animated advertisements which are fantastic–this new advertisement pales in comparison. Nothing exciting is going on–just a character popping up to make people’s food less boring.

  • Bob

    I like the fact that Charlie has a death wish and wants to be eaten, it’s not the same when he isn’t suicidal.

  • Nick

    Man, this is my first time seeing the original commercials, and they’re fantastic. Great character and very nicely written/delivered dialogue.

  • Trevour

    1962: Charlie the suicidal hipster voiced by Herschel Bernardi. 2014: Charlie the bad John Travolta impressionist, just kinda hanging around?

    Also, the pacing on this ad is putting me to sleep.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It’s weird that it’s 30 seconds since it doesn’t feel like it!

    • Funkybat

      Yeah, the animation itself didn’t bug me as much as the pacing, it felt like a SNL parody sketch more than a real commercial. I would have expected snappier timing.

      The funny thing is, a lot of people under 30 probably don’t know who Charlie Tuna is, or at best barely remember him. The ads were all over the place 30 years ago or more, but I can’t remember the last time I saw him, but it was definitely more than 12 years ago!

  • Mikke

    Oh no, some lame two-bit mascot that nobody cares about has been converted from 2D to CGI. I guess animation is ruined again.

    Rabble rabble rabble.

    • Roberto Severino

      I didn’t even know this character still existed and thought it drifted into obscurity. I mean the original ads are interesting and I like the history behind them but you have a point too.

    • Athena Pallas

      I always cared about him and it is obvious here that some others do too.

    • Beatnik

      Don’tcha say nothin’ square about Charlie! He’s a hep kat who knows where it’s at!

  • Roberto Severino

    THIS!

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said. This whole doom and gloom mentality doesn’t help at all.

    • Rufus

      Talk to the “3D” CGI Mickey Mouse, dude. It’s like trying to relate to a sapient character balloon.

  • the Gee

    The new commercial makes it seem like Charlie is a pitch-fish who is working at gunpoint. He’s just not into it. But then again he is encouraging people to eat his own kind. Maybe the reality finally sunk into his beret-wearing head.

  • Uli Meyer

    If you work in animated commercials, Amid’s post will ring home with many animators who have gone through this process. I’ve been in many advertising agency meetings where ‘updating’ a character was discussed and the resolve would always be to try a CG version. The client would get all excited about the idea but usually never likes the result because it didn’t feel like the old version. It is always the same story. The production company would then spend weeks trying to tweak the CG version to look more like the old 2D version and the result would be a mess. Often the animation would go back to 2D until a new set of creatives starts to work on the account and the whole process starts afresh. The amount of money spent on these advertising escapades is mind-boggling.
    Here’s one we did based on one of my 2D Raid roach designs. http://youtu.be/zrprUtn8TIY
    I do like the drawn version better.

    • Larry Ruppel

      Hey Uli– I think that CG test looks great, and close to capturing the spirit of the drawn work! It seems you probably used an animator who works in both mediums.

      • Uli Meyer

        Well spotted Larry. Animated by Boris Hiestand who has a 2D background.

    • zac leck

      A good point to mention too is that this is the kind of shit clients want to see. You can bitch about the design and the animation style and all that stuff, but far too often the client (or the marketing agency that’s in between you and the client) will force things into your project that make it less effective. Also, with the ridiculous turn around time you’re often allotted to get these kinds of spots done, there’s just no time to make it amazing. So you just pump it out, make the client happy and move on to the next paying gig, regardless of whether or not YOU think it’s good.

    • Roberto Severino

      I really enjoyed the CG test you linked here, Uli. The roach take was excellent traditionally drawn or not.

      • Uli Meyer

        Thanks Roberto. We did this one off our own back to try and get the Raid account back into the studio and we knew the clients were looking to ‘upgrade’. We never got a response.

  • Kirby

    It does seem a bit pointless to “Freshen” up a character by making it computer animated. I do however feel a loss of character.

  • Matt Sullivan

    I’m Charlie! Enjoy my Mercury!

  • Jimbles

    Honestly, this is one of the good CGI renders I’ve seen of 2D characters. First off, the eyes look drawn aren’t realistic unlike other CGI renders where they ditch the black eyes for blue irises and stuff. It must be the glasses though.

  • Joe G

    For me,these `updating’ or `3D-ing’ trend that they`re doing on these product mascots somehow lost they`re character and` product representation identity’ ( on the product the`re selling of course ) e.g. The Honey Bee ( Honey bee Cheerios) making him a cgi/hipster is far different from the friendly product endorsing 2D character he used to be.Other product mascots also fell from this kind of disastrous situations like Tony Tiger, Cheerios Cheetah,Chucky Cheese mouse,Trix rabbit,lucky Charms Leprechaun,and most of all the hideous looking cgi Mr. Clean ( I`d be very afraid of arm wrestling this guy).The only product mascot that I`ve seen so far that is still in 2D is the Raid cockroaches which they are still identifiable characters in every Raid commercials.

    • 2MKcreations .

      Calm down
      The world has moved on,
      and you have to get used to it.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        ha-ha!

  • CommercialAnimator

    I do animation on commercials and the quality of it is likely due in large part to time constraints and client feedback and not the artist. I’ve been given scenes where I have to completely change a characters walk and i’m only given a few hours to do so. At that point quality obviously has to take a backseat.

  • Gagaman

    Could be much worse…did you see this character’s appearance in Food Fight? :P

  • iConcur

    Renegade seems to be taking things in the right direction by UN-3D-ifying The Delicious One for Wienerschnitzel. All is not lost!!

    http://youtu.be/gB9Mf4JDUkI

    • Funkybat

      That kicked ass. There are plenty of Wienerschnitzels in my area, but I’ve yet to see this on TV. If Dunkin Donuts can mercilessly taunt us west coasters with their national ad campaigns, sure this could get some wider exposure!

  • Timothy McKenzie

    I still have strong feelings for entertainment (i.e., film, TV, animation) made up to the completion of the Lord of the Rings films of Peter Jackson or Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack, but I am still NOT in sympathy with what the entertainment industry has become these days, especially the fact that computer generated images (or CGI for short) is spreading throughout the entertainment world like a virus!

    Like you’ve said, Starkist could have not only done something fresh, new and original with Charlie Tuna, but they also could have hired traditional 2D animators “to revive the strikingly stylish look of the original character developed by Chuck Jones in the early-1960s” as demonstrated by the two YouTube videos you posted.

    As for me, and in the case of my dream movie project that will hopefully take the world by storm (if I make it come true someday), Dexter’s Odyssey, which, in my mind, is to be a colossal thirty-six-hour, big screen live action/hand-drawn animation/CGI hybrid LOTR-style and dinosaur-infused epic adventure reboot of sorts of characters from the mid-to-late 1990s Genndy Tartakovsky kids cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory ( in widescreen and IMAX, and to be split into twelve epic movies made more-or-less entirely back-to-back but released a year apart in a similar LOTR-style fashion), and which will see Dexter the boy in the lab coat, Dee Dee, who is Dexter’s older sister in a ballerina’s tutu, and Mee Mee and Lee Lee, who are Dee Dee’s black and Asian friends, on an epic LOTR-style walk through a world where dinosaurs roam still and cartoon characters are real beings that live side-by-side with humans, on an epic LOTR-style quest to ensure that Lee Lee, who is one of Dee Dee’s friends, stop Dexter’s rival neighbor Mandark not only from becoming evil and powerful (like Lord of the Rings’ Sauron) but also from conquering and enslaving the world…

    I think that in order for even yours truly to bring the Dexter’s Laboratory characters, their character designs/animation art styles, the continuity and/or the character back-stories back to their old-gold Genndy Tartakovsky-involved original 1990s pre-21st century roots (and presumably banish all memory of the later 2001-2003 seasons of Dexter’s Lab as well as banish all memory of the derivative kids cartoon show Johnny Test) while at the same time do something really fresh, new, and original with them, I might possibly hire traditional 2D animators to revive the character design and animation look of the original Dexter’s Laboratory characters as seen on Dexter’s Laboratory season two episodes airing between 1997 and 1998, even though the traditional 2d (and largely) hand-drawn Dexter’s Laboratory animated characters might have to be seamlessly integrated into real (live action(?)) environments (shot possibly in New Zealand or someplace like that in both widescreen and IMAX) with interactive effects like interactive shadows and highlights and all.

    Just saying!

  • Steven Bowser

    They’ve done the same thing with many other mascots. Didn’t the Cheerios bee use to be hand-drawn and interesting-looking?

  • Pedro Nakama

    Sorry Charlie you don’t work as a CG character.

  • Dave

    Hey, at least it’s not Food Fight.

  • Peter McKennon

    CG is being whored these days, it’s troubling.

  • Eric Rowsey

    I like it.

  • spaz

    unfortunately, Amid, you don’t always get to chose how a characters is written. being a animator and certainly understand Charlie, i was concerned that he was being pushed as a pitch man. this was not in keeping with his real character. we did the best we could under the circumstances. i too, am leery about 3d adaption of 2d. for this reason i had the entire animation done in 2d first by Calabash. cg in general is destroying movie making. i always said after we did Jurassic, that it was the beginning of the end.

    spaz

  • SergeantLuke

    He doesn’t even look three-dimensional, he just looks like a heavily-shaded 2D character. What’s the point?