How Scooby-Doo became a movie star. The filmmakers behind the new ''Scooby-Doo'' movie reveal their struggle to create a real cartoon dog -- with computers
Credit: Scooby Doo: Warner Bros.

Forget the classic question ”Scooby-Doo, where are you?” For the team behind the new Scooby movie (in theaters June 14), the key query was ”Scooby-Doo, WHAT are you?” Engaging in the kind of debate that’s usually the province of bored kids and stoners, they had to decide whether the character is really a dog, or just happens to look like one.

The cartoonish yet realistic CG Scooby in the final movie was the product of a compromise between the project’s producers, who wanted a more doggy Scooby, and effects team, who wanted to keep the essence of the original Hanna-Barbera animation. ”There were some who were more adamant about total realism than others,” says visual effects supervisor Peter Crosman. ”It was a question about what the average Scooby fan would expect to see.”

The producers feared that using a faithful cartoon version of Scooby in a live-action movie would reproduce the jarring look of the 2000 flop ”The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle,” in which the title characters resembled animation cels incongruously placed among real actors. The effects team, however, felt confident that they could avoid the ”Rocky & Bullwinkle” look — which they saw as a deliberate (if, perhaps, misguided) choice on the part of that movie’s creators. Says Crosman: ”We’re actually animators at heart, so we felt that if you impose utter realism on the character, you lose some opportunities of expression.”

When director Raja Gosnell (”Big Momma’s House”) started production on the movie in November 2000, the conflict was still unresolved. (A finished Scooby, who was slated to appear in some 310 different shots, was a year away.) So stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Matthew Lillard viewed various crude stand-ins — some simply drawn on paper — inserted into their scenes to give them a vague idea of the final product.