The Multiple Lives of "Guy Happy": a new Youtube series with a bold CG approach

"Guy Happy" has taken an unconventional path from conception to release. Former Pixar animator Sanjay Patel ("The Incredibles," "Ratatouille") initially developed this infant CG series with the help of French animation studio Superprod and the support of Netflix. At the last minute, however, Netflix decided to cancel the series, leaving Patel and his team with the choice of either releasing the show independently or canceling the project.

To honor the labor of the artists who contributed to the production, Patel created a "one-man distribution team" to bring "Guy Happy" to the world.

"If I could have done things differently in a time machine, I would have saved resources to properly distribute the show," Patel told Cartoon Brew.

"But my point is, as a creator, I'm actually thrilled to learn about Youtube. (Netflix declined to comment on the legal arrangement between Patel and the company that allowed the series to launch on Youtube.)

Lead animator and designer Chris O'Hara is similarly optimistic about the show's prospects now that it has landed on one of the most accessible platforms in the world. He said, "The fact that this show is going to Youtube is not something that saddens me, because it's free. 'It's free, and the whole world could be our audience. It's just less restrictive."

Ghee Happy identifies Hindu deities as children discovering their divine powers through daily adventures at the Ghee Happy day care center. The show's aesthetic, based on Patel's vector artwork, also draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including the work of British animation director Grant Orchard. Patel recalls, "The moment I saw Hey Duggie, my brain melted."

The changes that took place with "Gay Happy" were not just in delivery tactics. The series initially began as a 2D project, but over time began to take shape as a CG show that borrowed from the 2D animation philosophy. O'Hara joined the project during this transition, and his strong background in 2D was key to maintaining the show's original aesthetic spirit.

Before joining the production, O'Hara said, "I had a lot of 2D work. It was fantastic. It was graphic, highly stylized, and in line with the aesthetic I liked. So when I joined and moved to CG, the goal was to maintain this very clean graphic style in CG as well."[13

O'Hara added, "Thankfully, we were able to include designs similar to the original ones in some of the 2D sequences of the show. However, switching to CG required a lot of research into all the existing art out there and trying to incorporate it into the animation. Much of the art is quite gorgeous and quite busy. As a still image it is beautiful and stunning, but if you want to convert it into a moving show, you need to know where you want the focus to be."

The artistic success of "Guy Happy" depends on Patel's trust in his collaborators. He is a phenomenal filmmaker, animator, and character designer. And to have all of that in one person at the right time was incredible."

One of O'Hara's suggestions, which proved essential to the design of the show, was a different approach to character modeling. Instead of the usual 360-degree 3D model, O'Hara worked with Olivia de Thevenard and Tanguy Rhone of Super Productions to create a unique model for each rotation of the characters. Patel said, "It was insane, Superprod was so cool, we burned a lot of gas, but they were so excited about keeping the integrity of the 2-D in 3-D space.

As a service studio, Superprod's role in the production was integral to the finished show. According to O'Hara, "Service studios often do not get the credit they deserve or are not given the creative freedom that many studios feel they should get. We had a lot of back-and-forth with Super Productions. We wanted them to feel deeply involved creatively and feel that they were making creative decisions." By getting ideas from all angles, Ghee Happy was able to become more experimental and break the mold of a typical CG toddler show.

"We're going to play with frame rates here, but not just 12 frames per second. But we're not just going to play with 12 frames per second, we're going to play with three frames, we're going to play with four frames, we're going to play with six frames. There have to be rules for that." It's not just rambling. There is an appropriate timing. We may need a little more guidance for that. Certainly, it made it a little harder for the super productions and CG programs to do it, but they always seemed to embrace it and be excited about it."

The result is a show with characters who can snap satisfyingly between poses and characters who can express themselves through detailed movements. As O'Hara puts it, "If Disney is the 'illusion of life,' this is the 'impression of life.'"

"Ghee Happy," an interpretation of Hindu mythology and spirituality for preschoolers, is a lofty but personal departure for Patel. Pixar's short film Sanjay's Super Team explored the generational divide between American Desi children and their parents who grew up in the East. As a father, Patel faced mixed feelings about sharing his cultural heritage with his children.

"When I was making this program, I was very aware that I was doing the same thing as my father," Patel explains. 'But I didn't want to be a brown man trying to make his mixed-race children feel extra brown. I wouldn't go so far as to call it rejection, but it could create conflict. They see how I work, they come to my office, it's full of (desi) stuff, and they see that I'm totally into it. But they never say, 'I want you to draw this god,' or 'Let's read this book that is written about God. So with this program, I clearly wanted, first and foremost, to help all children, not just brown children, find the easiest step on this ladder (toward cultural understanding)."

The spiritual angle of the program also connected with O'Hara as his attitude toward religion changed. He said, "I read Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, and I rediscovered this whole idea of spirituality. It was interesting to see a little synchronicity there. When this project came along, I was in the middle of this chapter on Shiva."

One of the main goals of the show was to make a difficult and philosophical subject accessible to a child audience. [Because] there are so many things in the world that are just loud noises and bright colors," says O'Hara, "and there is a conflict between 'what is interesting to kids' and 'what has a meaningful impact.'

"It's very important to find real meaning in what you create, and to make sure that you're working on bringing the right things to the world.

For Patel, "Guy Happy" is a way to introduce a younger audience to a different philosophy than they are used to. She says, "When I worked at Pixar, my nieces and nephews knew everything about Pixar movies, but nothing about their cultural mythology.

In contrast, Patel explains, "There are universal ideas in 'Gay Happy,' but there are also Eastern ideas that I didn't want to dilute, that are unique to an indie perspective. For example, there is the Greek idea that life is linear. In a finite life, everything depends on making the most of it. But if you have an Eastern worldview, and I think Campbell calls it Western and Eastern, the East (or India) would say, "You know what, don't stress, there are multiple lives here."

Existential messages about reincarnation and the transience of existence are difficult to address in a show aimed at young children, but through animation, Ghee Happy conveys big ideas. There's an interesting episode about Vishnu, the god of preservation," Patel says. 'The gods discover that when Vishnu goes to sleep, everything disappears, and they figure out a way to wake him up and bring back reality. It's a big idea for a preschooler, but I think we pulled it off."

If there is a silver lining to Netflix's decision to drop "Ghee Happy," it is that this highly ambitious show is now available for free to viewers worldwide. Perhaps the Eastern concept of multiple lives applies not only to humans, but to animated works as well.

New episodes of "Ghee Happy" are regularly released on the show's Youtube channel.