The Making of Sammy the Shark.

The Challenge: Create a kid-friendly animated shark with a playful personality who could diffuse fears someone might have of petting a shark.

To begin the computer imaging process, we needed a shark in which to model Sammy after. Sand Bars were chosen because of their classic shark-like appearance as well as the orientation and look of their mouths. They would make the best talking shark.

Animal Instinct’s Greg Newberry and underwater photographer Steve Miller dove into the shark tank at the Newport Aquarium. Steve shot Sand Bar sharks from every angle.

The digital images were given to Mark Cretcher at Command X who began the modeling process. Mark experimented with several looks for Sammy until we settled on the one used in the commercial.

To give Sammy a personality, we gave the script to professional actor Christopher Guthrie to interpret as if he were a shark. We videotaped Christopher acting out the script in a variety of personalities and voices. This gave us human mannerisms as reference points that Command X could use in bringing Sammy to life.

We auditioned several voice talents until we heard a voice that felt as if it was Sammy’s. Here, Rob Williams becomes the voice of Sammy and records Sammy’s lines at Sound Images, the region’s leading sound design and recording studio. We found surfer music in their library for the soundtrack that would add to the charm of the spot. Sound Images was also responsible for the sound design – the subtle sounds of water movement and bubbles as Sammy swims through the scene.

Sammy’s mouth had to match how a real mouth would move when speaking. Here, Mark Cretcher watches how his mouth moves as he reads Sammy’s lines from the script. Then he programmed Sammy’s mouth movements to match.

Sammy needed an environment in which to swim. We dressed out an aquarium in cinematographer Jeff Barklage’s studio and shot it on 35mm film. Here, hand model Gabe Lupinski simulates petting the shark. Once we captured the environment with Gabe’s hand, Mark Cretcher was able to place Sammy in it and maneuver him throughout the commercial.

The result? Sammy the Shark came to life and led hundreds of thousands of kids to the Newport Aquarium and their new Shark Central Exhibit to pet the sharks.