So far, My Life as a Teenage Robot (2003) is the last short from Oh Yeah! Cartoons to go to series (read: “so far”). Here’s the final interview and album from Jerry Beck’s and Russell Hicks’ Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons!. And there’s more from the book on Oh Yeah! Cartoons, Random! Cartoons, and The Fairly Oddparents.
Rob Renzetti, Creator: What made Teenage Robot truly different was the way it looked. Alex Kirwan and my designers gave the show what we called a “future deco” look, which means they brought 1930s influences into designs.
Alex Kirwan, Art Director: We both liked the look of the 1930s Max Fleischer cartoons, and we noticed that no one had really done animation in art deco style. We wanted to see what sort of influence that style could bring to the character designs. We took the “pie cuts” out of the character’s eyeballs, which helped define the genre we were going to use.
Rob Renzetti: We used art deco influences for the architecture and the props, and we tried to get a deco poster feel in all the backgrounds. We made a great-looking and very different world. It’s very sophisticated, but not too sophisticated for kids.
Alex Kirwan: We loved the look of the old Astroboy cartoon series, because you can feel all the cool things that you associate with anime and science fiction. One of the things we loved about Astroboy was the weird hairstyles that made humans look like cartoon animals or birds. We latched onto that right away.
Rob Renzetti: We tried to translate that look into Nora and Brad, and, to a lesser degree, Tuck.
Alex Kirwan: It was as if we could define the personalities of the characters by giving them hair that resembled cartoon spiders or birds, or maybe even cat ears. It was cool.
Rob Renzetti: That includes Jenny too, who is a robot and has no reason at all to have two ponytails stuck up on her head. We gave her a reason by making them into jets. Originally, the ponytails were supposed to give her a kind of Mickey Mouse silhouette, and, in fact, we often mistakenly called them ears.
Alex Kirwan: Some things that became important to the production were not part of the show. Every year Nickelodeon holds a Halloween event where the employees bring their children and their friends into the studio.
Rob Renzetti: There’s an ocean of kids– thousands of them.
Alex Kirwan: Each Nick production would build a haunted house, and every year the houses got bigger and the crews more competitive. In our last year we built a giant flying saucer facade over part of our production area, and a cardboard city that the saucer had invaded.
Rob Renzetti: Kids could walk through our demolished city and then into the flying saucer and see aliens. We had an elaborate diorama with Jenny being attacked and electrocuted by aliens, and we built a life-size replica of Queen Vexus with light effects. We had Eartha Kitt, who voiced the character, record some cackling for our replica.
Alex Kirwan: That haunted house was so elaborate that it took quite a chunk out of our production time to built it. A large portion of our crew was not only working hard to meet our show’s deadlines, but also to assemble and paint these cardboard buildings. We took almost as much pride in them as we did in the show, and the kids were just thrilled.
In 2001, ChalkZone was the second series put into series production out of Oh Yeah! Cartoons. But CZ was one of the first shorts we produced; I greenlit storyboard soon after we started production in 1997, and production chief (and prime OY! supporter) Albie Hecht fell in love with the idea from the board alone.
Here a short interview with the creators and a scan album of the pages from Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons!. Only MLaaTR to go; and here’s Oh Yeah!, Random!, and FOP.
Larry Huber, Co-Creator: It would be hard to find two guys with such incredibly diverse opinions–political, social, and otherwise–who work so well together that they can make a show as creatively in sync as ChalkZone. We drew on each other’s talents and styles, as well as our own eclectic viewpoints, to produce an entertaining, well-rounded show that features many different perspectives.
Bill Burnett, Co-Creator: Larry is a mountain man who loves to go hunting and camping. He uses flintlocks, like they did in the 1860s, and when Larry shoots a deer, he uses every last bit of it, down to the marrow in the bone. He’s conservative and methodical, always doing things strictly by the rules. The word “virtue” hangs above his door.
Larry Huber: My specialty is graphic drawing, and Bill’s is music. As a musician and performance artist, Bill is a boisterous, outgoing type of guy. I’m a little more laid-back and reserved. But our personality differences are really the strength of ChalkZone, because if two partners think the same way, then one of them is certainly unnecessary.
Bill Burnett: We found ways to work our different backgrounds and personalities into the show. My mother was an opera singer, and so is Rudy Tabootie’s mom. She sings in a high, sing-songy voice when she wants Rudy to come to dinner, just like my mom used to do. Larry’s father was a butcher, and so is Joe Tabootie, Rudy’s dad. Larry actually worked in his fathers’ shop and knows how to butcher animals.
Larry Huber: Bill brings experience from his days in an advertising agency, and he’s kind of like the grandmeister of jingles. I’ve heard kids in the playgrounds humming these songs in English. I’m talking about kids who don’t speak English as a first language–that’s how catchy they are.
Bill Burnett: ChalkZone is where Larry’s interests and mine converge. It’s a high-concept show about an alternate universe that’s really trippy when you think about it. In this universe, any place on Earth–a classroom, the “specials” board at a restaurant, or a hopscotch court–can be a portal to another world, where all the things that people have drawn over the centuries still live. The idea of ChalkZone is very empowering to kids: when they create a work of art, they’re actually bringing something to life.
Larry Huber: I’m a little emotional about the characters on ChalkZone. Rudy, Penny, and all the other characters are like living creatures to us, just like Rudy’s drawings of Snap are real to him. Bill and I are just two big guys who never grew up.
Bill Burnett: With our own magic piece of chalk.
Continuing with our dance through the Frederator productions featured in the new Not Just Cartoons: Nicktoons! here’s an interview included in the book and some scans of the pages.
Butch Hartman, Creator: In 1996 I was working on Johnny Bravo over at Cartoon Network, having the time of my life. Then the first season came out, and they didn’t like it. Fred Seibert, whom I knew from Cartoon Network, had moved over to Nickelodeon to develop a series that featured original animated shorts called Oh Yeah! Cartoons. I decided that I would make up a cartoon for Fred.
Fred Seibert, Creator, Oh Yeah! Cartoons and Random Cartoons: I used to call Butch’s agents once a month and ask if he was free yet, and they would tell me he wasn’t. By the end of the year I stopped calling, because I was tired of being rejected. When his agents finally called me at the end of the year, I signed him, characters unseen. The first thing he brought in was The Fairly OddParents.
Butch Hartman: I wrote the pitch in fifteen minutes. I wanted to make a show about a boy who could go anywhere, because I never wanted to be stuck for a story transition. I wanted to be able to just pop him from place to place. Magic seemed to be the best way to handle that. I drew the boy, and I named him after my youngest brother, Timmy. Then I thought, Okay, how do I do the magic thing? I decided to give him a fairy godmother. So I drew Wanda. I thought that it would be even better if she had a husband. I’d never seen a fairy godfather before, but I drew Cosmo. Timmy is an only child–he’s lonely–which is why his godparents show up to help him in the first place. His enemy is his babysitter, Vicky. Once I mapped out the characters, the show developed from there, with one thing leading to another. I did ten Fairly OddParents shorts for Oh Yeah! Cartoons. Kevin Kay really liked them, so Nickelodeon tested three of them on a focus group. Lo and behold, they gave me six half-hours of an actual series to create.
Kevin Kay, Former EVP, Programming and Production, Nickelodeon: When we looked at The Fairly OddParents, we immediately said, “Well, there they are. Great characters, great frenetic energy.” And nobody has more frenetic energy than Butch Hartman.
Margie Cohn, EVP, Development and Original Programming, Nickelodeon: I went to Burbank for the first board pitch and literally almost jumped out of my skin. It was so funny and felt like it was going to be a monster hit.
Fred Seibert: The series was hugely successful. It is the second most popular show currently on Nickelodeon, and one of our three or four most popular shows since the network began.
Butch Hartman: The cool thing about The Fairly OddParents was that the ratings kept going up every time they’d run a new episode. Nick ordered more shows, and the original six episodes had to run by themselves for about a year. In that time, I took the original Oh Yeah! shorts that I did and reformatted them. By the time the new ones came out, The Fairly OddParents really started doing great. The show was just pure fun to work on. It was everything I had wanted to do as a kid. I got my wish.
From a Frederator fan:
Andrés, from Chile.
Good question Andrés, and one we get fairly often, even from some of our potential creators.
Of course, the answer is “Yes and No.”
Ultimately, the purpose of doing all our shorts (not only World Premiere/What A Cartoon! and Oh Yeah!, but also the latest set of Random! Cartoons) is looking for filmmakers and characters that are strong enough to sustain lots of great cartoons. Not unlike it was back in the day when Felix, or Betty Boop, or Mickey or Bugs launched with one short that led to another and another and another. The optimistic hope we always have is developing the kinds of relationships we have had with creators over the last 15 years that lead to wonderful series of films.
However, when we call for ideas to come in, one of the first things we always say is that we’re not really looking for “pilots,” but great stand alone cartoons that have memorable characters at their center. A pilot” often tries to solve all the problems and answer all the questions that might arise in the future of a series. Frequently, there’s an attempt to introduce all the main characters and plot points. I think that’s a mistake, because the pilot episode then becames pedantic and sometimes pretty boring.
Our hope in a short is, not to put too fine a point on it, great. A tall order to be sure. But the way I figure it is that a fantastically funny short without all its questions answered has a better chance to be a wonderful series, than an only OK short. And yes, I understand that it’s not so darn easy to make a great cartoon. Look at all the talented creators we’ve worked with over the years, and how seldom their films become hit series.
In the end, the reality is no matter how hard we try to find cartoons with rich, memorable characters we have a lot of shorts that are just fun one-offs. We’ll be running one on Channel Frederator in a couple of weeks, Harvey Kurtzman’s Hey Look!. It’s based on an early newspaper strip of Harvey’s, sublimely adapted and directed by Vincent Waller, and we tried like the dickens to make the characters funny and indelible. Are they? You’ll tell us, but to my mind, it’s a great one-shot.
Ah well, that’s the way the cartoons animate.