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Matt Hoyle for USA WEEKEND

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After layers of collaboration, USA WEEKEND editors helped a flirty Smurfette photo bomb our July 21 cover story with Neil Patrick Harris. Harris stars as a human friend to a cast of animated Smurfs in The Smurfs 2, premiering July 31.

Going into the cover story process, USA Weekend senior designer, Leon Lawrence, creative manager, Casey Shaw and senior photo editor, David Baratz didn’t have a single solution in mind. Cover ideas included a solo Harris cover, Harris holding a Smurf, Harris with an animated Smurf, among others. The Smurf-related concept was pitched to Harris’ publicist and Sony, the Smurfs 2 studio, since it would require animation work; everyone was game to give it a go.

Shooting a conceptual magazine cover isn’t simple, but photographer Matt Hoyle nailed it. “He gets the idea of having a visual joke in a photo,” says Baratz. For the Smurf animated cover option the image would be added in post-production, so Hoyle shot Harris in several set-ups wearing a Smurf-blue jacket and “looking” in all directions at his imaginary friend. After the photos were processed, the team opted to pursue the animation angle.

Initially, USA WEEKEND design and photo team envisioned the mischievous Smurf peeking out from behind Harris or dangling from the WEEKEND logo, but unfortunately, Harris’ gaze didn’t align. Sony Pictures Imageworks animators suggested replacing the Smurf with a Smurfette and situating her peeking from behind the logo. “I posed her body, what her body language should say, what her face and hair should look like,” says Robert Fox, one of at least four Sony animators.

“We thought it might be a fun way to get something playful since it’s kind of a bit of a silly film,” says Baratz.

The result? Smurf-tastic!

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