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Ohio State alumnus on honoring legacies, ‘Peanuts Movie’

When Steve Martino first came to Ohio State, he knew he wanted to be an artist but wasn’t quite sure how to go about doing so. It all became clear when he took an introduction to animation class his sophomore year. Their first assignment was to draw an animated sequence, frame by frame, on 16mm film. Martino drew two eyes that blinked and came to life.

When he played the animation for the class of 12 students, to his delight, they laughed.

“I was hooked,” Martino said in an interview with The Lantern. “I couldn’t go back to just doing still graphics anymore. I loved that experience of making something move and having an audience be affected by that.”

Martino now affects audiences on a grand scale as a director, most recently for “The Peanuts Movie.”

Martino returned to OSU on Thursday for a panel discussion at the Barnett Center on staying true to Charles Schulz’s legacy. Martino then introduced “The Peanuts Movie” in a student-only screening Friday at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

With undergraduate and graduate degrees from OSU, Martino is no stranger.

“I applied to graduate school here and had the chance to get in really on the ground floor really of computer animation,” he said. “It was right here at Ohio State, and I really believe it was one of the first if not the only programs at the time where artists and computer scientists were working together to push the technology.”

Martino specifically cited Chuck Csuri and his Computer Graphics Research Group, later renamed the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, as innovative in the field.

But Martino had always been around art.

His father was an art teacher and eventual supervisor of art for the Dayton school system. Martino said his father never pushed him into art but always made art fun.

“When you’re a kid you’re like, ‘Oh, a museum again?’ But he always turned it into a game,” he said. “We would go into a museum and he would say, ‘You get to pick one painting in this room that you can hang on your bedroom wall. Which one is it going to be?’ and so we would go digging around. It made the experience fun.”

The writers for “The Peanuts Movie” include Craig and Bryan Schulz, comic-strip creator Charles Schulz’s son and grandson, respectively.

After meeting with Craig Schulz at Warm Puppy Cafe in Santa Rosa, California — located across the street from the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center — Martino was eager to tell his friends and family that there was going to be a Peanuts movie.

“People would light up and they would tell me their story like, ‘Oh, I had a Snoopy as a kid,’” Martino said. “They were so passionate about their story and then it always ended with this final statement, which was, ‘Well you better not screw it up.’”

Martino said that he and his co-workers at Blue Sky Media were devoted to honoring the legacy.

“We took on the project with a mission and a real dedication to trying to do it right and to give these characters to a new generation,” Martino said.

He did note that some changes were made — namely speeding up the pace slightly compared with traditional Peanuts specials. But they’re very much grounded in their roots.

“We don’t really ever write down to kids,” Martino said. “That’s something Charles Schulz never did. He wrote the comic strip for adults, it just came out of the voice of children. Kids are a lot more sophisticated than we ever give them credit for, and that’s how we approached it when making the film.”

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