NYCC2009: TMNT Animation: 25 and Going Strong
The heroes in a half shell have been around 25 five years. If you’re like me, that means you were six when the comic came out and I might have just made you feel very old. (I, on the other hand, will continue to live on in the bliss that is denial.) As part of this momentous occasion in the brand’s history, two panels, of which this was the second, were held. Here, panelists let the audience know who they were, their contributions to the current series and what is involved in the making of the show. On hand to participate were Jake Black (4Kids Writer Chaotic, TMNT Comics and Panel Moderator), Keith Conroy (Background Designer), Richard Kronenberg (Video Editor), Reginald Butler (Color Supervisor), Lloyd Goldfine (Supervising Producer), Sarah Nesbitt (Line Producer), Matt Durdeck (Writer, Producer), Emilio Lopez (Characters and Props Color) and Adrian Barrios (Character Designer). Also on hand, though not as part of the panel, was TMNT superfan, Michele Ivey.
After the initial introduction of the panelists, moderator, Jake Black asked panelists how they became involved in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Kronenberg had been a Video Editor at post production comany, Post Perfect. The company had edited several films for Jumbo Films which had worked on projects such as Doug and PB&J. He had also done editing on Daria. Kronenberg made the move to 4Kids and has been with the current Turtles show since the very beginning.
Butler was a fan who drew and colored the turtles as a kid. Color on the Turtles had been outsourced to a company called, Dancing Diablo. He was hired by them in 2003, between seasons two and three. He was the color supervisor for Back to the Sewer, Fast Forward, as well as the DVD.
Goldfine had worked at Sunbow. His background was in toy commercials and the shows these toys were based on. His résumé includes G.I. Joe, Transformers and Conan. His first project at 4Kids was Yu-Gi-Oh. During that time he had heard a rumors of talks on Turtles relaunch. They thought they could do it in a way that would work for Peter Laird. They contacted Mirage, put together a proposal and now they have eight seasons under their belts.
Nesbitt comes from an animation background. She had previously worked at Nickelodeon. She had started working on the TMNT in the development stage, after the executive in charge of production called her.
Durdeck studied writing at NYU. He interviewed with 4Kids right out of college and was hired by Goldfine. He did various writing assignments around 4Kids for seven years, including Yu-Gi-Oh, Viva Piñata. He eventually he ended up on Turtles where he did some story editing and then producing. Durdeck considers it a thrill to be writing for these characters that were heroes of his as a kid. The idea of family and ninjitsu had drawn him to the Turtles as a kid, even runnin a Ninja Turtles club with his brothers and friends.
Lopez grew up on the show and was later exposed to the comic. He and his friends would draw the Turtles and then trade those drawings. He has a vision of the Turtles in his head that’s an amalgam of both incarnations. Lopez became professionally involved with TMNT during an internship with the production team in the first season. He had made some friends on the original coloring company’s team. When the coloring was moved in-house, he went with it.
For those who aren’t in the know, Peter Laird was not a fan of the original show. Goldfine’s first exposure to TMNT was through the comic. He was a huge fan and considered that to be the standard as to what the turtles should be. He loved the charm of the cartoon, but much preferred the idea of turtles raised to be ninja assassins. None of the iterations of the turtles were headed in that direction. He thought there was a way to accomplish this without taking it out of family friendly territory. He wanted to take the characters further, set their personalities apart, and play up the family aspect. Goldfine and other representatives of 4Kids drove out to North Hampton and met with Peter Laird and Gary Richardson. After having just read a pitch from another company that involved Casey and April as high school kids, they liked everything in this one.
It starts with deciding the focus of the season. It may be left entirely up to the creative team or there may be involvement from the toy companies and other licensors. Goldfine will map out a basic outline for the season. He’ll go up to North Hampton and meet with Peter Laird. After hashing it out over the course of a few days, they’ll have all of the episodes for that season mapped out. Once the stories are mapped out, the outlines go to the Story Editor who will assign writers to the scripts. Scripts may take up to 6 weeks to complete. They then go into production.
Mirage is still involved in the scripts. Goldfine stated that Laird had been generous with his characters and was very open to idea of doing different things with the characters. He was involved every step of the way. He read every outline and draft of the script, approved most of the character designs. It was clear to everyone that had worked with him that he has the entire Turtles universe figured out in his head.
Once Nesbitt receives a story arc it’s up to her to create the schedule and get the budget from the executives. They then plot out the entire season’s lifespan from receipt of the scripts to the end of post. Nesbitt and the director hire the staff, keep the crew going, get the design, the boards, and color done. Once the script is finished, Nesbitt and the studio have to break it down by new characters, props and locations. Once that is done, Barrio, Lopez, Conroy and Butler. Every week has a new show coming down the pipeline.
When the materials go to Korea, they’re animated for equal amounts of time. Every episode stays in pre-production for 15 weeks. Post production lasts for 6 weeks. A season may take two years to complete, though they’ve managed to do eight seasons in the span of six years by overlapping production of seasons.
Kronenberg said they use post production as opportunity to make the show even better. Goldfine added that they may create whole new scenes that were never on the storyboard.
General consensus amongst the panel was that their favorite episode was the one no one had seen yet, the 25th Anniversary Special. Past that, Lopez loved the Turtle Titan episode from Fast Forward. Durdeck enjoyed Super Power Struggle. He thought it brought out the best in Raphael and Michelangelo. Nesbitt enjoyed the origin episode from the first season. Butler enjoyed Leo’s training in the Hidden Lands with the Ancient One. He enjoyed the departure of style from the standard to a more painterly one. Kronenberg enjoyed the Turtle Titan episode from season one and the Ninja Tribunal arc of the Lost Episodes. He thought it was atypical and he was proud to have had a part in pulling off a difficult season. Conroy enjoyed Same As It Ever Was and Hun on the Run. He’s looking forward to the 25th Anniversary special because they were able to do a lot background-wise.
TMNT is a huge worldwide franchise. What’s it like to be a part of that?
Goldfine thought if they regularly realized the were part of a gigantic worldwide franchise, they’d be crippled with fear. He’s very protective of the property because Laird entrusted him with his baby. Most of the panelists considered it an honor to be a part of TMNT and thought of it as a dream job. Durdeck recounted a train trip in which he was doing storyboard notes. A person sitting next to him on the train saw him working and was amazed. He found that excitement contagious. Jake recounted reading a history of Sesame Street on his way to NYCC. One of the original creators had compared the Muppets to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When it came to creating a brand, he said TMNT had done it perfectly and the Muppets did it almost as well.
Working on a show that has a counterpart in another medium/Influence from the Toy Companies
Panel moderator, Blake, asked the team how having a movie out at the same time might affect what they do on the show.
Goldfine thought it was important to remain true to the characters and their universe while working to accommodate the needs of the toy companies. When a movie comes out, resources may be reassigned from the show to the movie. The movie might get a great deal more hype during that time than the show. They might not do as many episodes because the show’s toys aren’t selling as well, when the reality is that they’re not selling toys based on the show anymore because those resources were moved to the movie. The aftermath of a movie might also cause changes to the show.
As a designer, Barrios found it to be a good mix of being given designs that were based off of toys and having the freedom to do his own.
Goldfine thought they had a good relationship with Playmates. A lot of the original toys were based on what they were doing in the show. Occasionally, they would receive a vehicle that the team would be asked to incorporate. He had a mandate from Mirage that said they should attempt to incorporate the requests from the toy companies, so long as it fit within the mythology. They didn’t have to force the request in if it didn’t work naturally. The Fast Forward and Back to the Sewers seasons have much heavier involvement from the toy companies. They wanted a big change. The creative team wracked their brains for an idea that accomplished what the toy companies wanted, but would be true to the turtles mythology.
Lopez found the Fast Forward season to be refreshing. He enjoyed being able to try something different within the same universe and thought it was great that the season could be a point where new viewers could jump in without having seen previous season, but still fit in within the TMNT time line and mythology.
Conroy thought it was “hellacious” from the perspective of a background designer. The entire style of the show changed. He mentioned having heavily drawn upon The Fifth Element for inspiration. Barrios recounted having had to design over 500 aliens for the season.
The Evolution of Personalities
Goldfine thought the personalities gelled as they went along and having tried to give everyone their time in the spotlight. Durdeck mentioned stumbling on traits as they went along. When asked if any of the panelists actually thought of the Turtles as teenagers, no one applied with an affirmative answer.
Blake moved on to the Q&A/Wrap up portion of the panel. Below is a quick hit list of mentions of interest.
Q&A Hit List
- The 25th Anniversary Special will be movie length. Characters from the present will collide with characters from the past. No release date has been set. It will be completed by the end of June, air on television, and be given a DVD release and premiere at San Diego.
- The team is waiting to hear back from Mirage as to whether there will be a new season.
- Lost Episodes: Takes places after the last episode of season 4. There were ten full episodes that did not get produced for Fast Forward.
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