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Toonzone News Interviews Butch Hartman on "T.U.F.F. Puppy"

Being the creator of two successful Nicktoons, most fans of animation are well aware of Butch Hartman’s work. Having gotten his start in the industry working on Don Bluth’s An American Tail, he was later employed by Hanna-Barbera and worked on a number of Cartoon Network’s top shows, such as Cow & Chicken, Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo. He then began to work on various shorts for Nickelodeon’s Oh Yeah! Cartoons, which premiered his first The Fairly OddParents short in 1998. The series would be greenlit for a full series, which premiered on March 30th, 2001, and continues to this day. His second animated series, Danny Phantom, premiered on April 3rd, 2004, and its last episode aired on August 24th, 2007.

His third animated series, T.U.F.F. Puppy, premieres on October 2, 2010 at 11:30 AM (Eastern/Pacific). The series chronicles the adventures of Dudley Puppy (Jerry Trainor) and Kitty Katswell (Grey DeLisle), two secret agents for the Turbo Undercover Fighting Force, as they work to stop various villainous schemes and save their city of Petropolis. Working with them is Keswick (Jeff Bennett), the resident scientific genius, and The Chief (Darin Norris), a flea who relies on technology to be seen by his employees. They are opposed by the Diabolical Order Of Mayhem, which is led by Verminous Snaptrap (Matthew Taylor), a rat who is allergic to cheese. Butch Hartman was kind enough to answer a few questions about the series, as well as The Fairly OddParents, which will reach its tenth anniversary next year.

TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve had such a long career at Nickelodeon and your third animated series, T.U.F.F. Puppy, is going to premiere on October 2nd. Are you surprised by how well things have gone for you and are there any people in particular that you credit for making all of this possible?

BUTCH HARTMAN: I’m not surprised things have gone this well at all. Not trying to sound egotistical, even though I’m sure it does, but let me explain what I mean: these shows start out as my ideas, but with each one I have been blessed with a ton of hard-working people that have assisted me in making the shows I want to make. From the incredible artists to the super-hysterical writers, music people and production people, each plays a key role in helping to make these shows awesome. So that’s why I’m not surprised. When you work hard and have great people at your side, you can’t go wrong.

TOONZONE NEWS: Can you describe what were your inspirations for T.U.F.F. Puppy?

BUTCH HARTMAN: Over the last few years I kept finding myself absent-mindedly doodling this “dog in a black t-shirt” character. I really liked the way he looked (plus he was fun to draw) so I decided to build a show around him. I knew I wanted him to fight crime but, since I had already done a super-hero show with Danny Phantom, I knew we had to go the “secret agent” route. My pitch was: “It’s Get Smart with a dog”. Nickelodeon liked it and off we went.

TZN: Eric Bauza was replaced as the voice actor for Dudley by Jerry Trainor of iCarly. What was the reason for the replacement? How has it been working with Trainor in the booth?

BUTCH HARTMAN: Eric Bauza is an amazingly – and I mean AMAZINGLY talented voice actor. In this situation, however, we didn’t feel he was right for the lead character. It’s sad but that’s how it works out sometimes. But Eric is a great guy and I still work with him on Fairly OddParents. The decision to give the role to Jerry came strictly from Jerry’s audition. He was the funniest guy we heard so he was offered the part. It had nothing to do with him being previously known from iCarly. He got it based on his own talent!

TZN: I know it’s early, but if T.U.F.F. Puppy does very well can we expect to see specials for it similar to the ones for he Fairly OddParents?

BUTCH HARTMAN: You bet!

TZN: T.U.F.F. Puppy has been described as an action-comedy. You have commented before that the series will focus more on the comedy, but how much of a focus will there be on the action? Are all of the villains played purely for laughs?

BUTCH HARTMAN: It is, hands down, 100% comedy. There may be a moment or two in there that may lean towards seriousness, but we are going for laughs all the way on T.U.F.F. Puppy. BUT…there is still a lot of cool action in the mix, too. And, yes, right now, the villains are all played for laughs.

TZN: While still a comedy, Danny Phantom dealt with more dramatic themes and longer plots. However, The Fairly OddParents and T.U.F.F. Puppy are both more comedic in nature and you are working on both of them at the same time. Do you feel that comedy is more your strong suit? Are you able to do things with T.U.F.F. Puppy that you haven’t been able to do with The Fairly OddParents?

BUTCH HARTMAN: I do feel that comedy is something I feel more naturally comfortable with. Hey, I love to laugh! But I still like serious comic books, too. I can pretty much do all the same things with T.U.F.F. Puppy that I can do with Fairly OddParents since T.U.F.F. Puppy is a super-cartoony show. The characters aren’t magic fairies, but they can still do things that defy the laws of physics, you know?

TZN: Are you content with how Danny Phantom ended? Were there any loose ends that you would have liked to resolve, or stories that you would like to have told, that you simply weren’t able to fit into the final season?

BUTCH HARTMAN: I’m very happy with the way Danny Phantom ended. I do feel as though we were able to tie up all the stories we had started given the length of time we were able to do the series. Would I love to see it come back? ABSOLUTELY!

TZN: Regarding The Fairly OddParents, it’s difficult to believe that its tenth anniversary is coming up soon. Children have literally grown up watching the series, so it seems poignant that the big anniversary movie involves Timmy growing up as well. Can you tell us about the movie and how you came up with the idea? And why did you opt to make it mostly live-action instead of animated?

BUTCH HARTMAN: Nickelodeon approached me to make it a live-action movie. It was their idea. I had been toying with the idea for a long time so I was thrilled when they asked. But the story had to be something worth making in this new way. I didn’t just want to make a movie that was, essentially just a live action version of a typical episode. Once the ball started rolling the story came pretty easy: Timmy has had the fairies for a really long time and won’t let them go. That means every other kid in the series had to grow up, too. It started getting pretty funny at that point and we went from there.

TZN: The humor in The Fairly OddParents relies heavily on its cartoony nature. Has it been difficult to take its humor and apply it to a mostly live-action movie? Will the movie have to be toned down in comparison to the antics that the series is known for, or will it still “feel” like a regular episode of the series, albeit in live-action and with an adult Timmy Turner?

BUTCH HARTMAN: Good question. Obviously, in a cartoon, if we say “Timmy goes to the moon”, we just have to get a pencil and paper and draw the moon. Easy! In live-action, though, a huge set of the moon has to be built, lit, etc. It’s far more expensive so we had to be really careful where we put the characters and how many special effects we used. I’m sincerely hoping the audience feels like it’s an extension of the show. I think it does. There are still a ton of cartoony things in it. Including CG fairy godparents!

TZN: A lot of people saw the plot for the movie and assumed that the series was coming to an end. Is that the case or would you like for The Fairly OddParents to extend past the current season?

BUTCH HARTMAN: The series is not coming to an end. This is just an awesome way to celebrate the series’ 10th anniversary. We even left the story open-ended so there could be a sequel! And, yes, I’d love to see the show go beyond this current season. These characters are like my family!

TZN: If Nickelodeon does keep ordering episodes, will you still consider the movie the finale, albeit out of order, or would there be another finale down the road?

BUTCH HARTMAN: Good question. The movie is not a finale. It’s a new beginning, if anything. As far as a finale goes…I haven’t thought that far ahead yet!

TZN: Looking back, which episode do you believe is your all-time favorite?

BUTCH HARTMAN: Wow… I wish I could answer. There are far too many! But, to narrow it down, I love episodes that focus on Cosmo, Dad or Crocker. There’s always comedy with those three characters.

TZN: Which episode gave you and your colleagues the hardest time in production? Is there any episode that you don’t believe turned out as well as it could have?

BUTCH HARTMAN: The “Wishology” trilogy was a huge undertaking since it was three one hour specials back-to-back. Essentially a three-hour movie that we had to make in 18 months! An episode I felt could have been better? Here are two: “Deja Vu” and “Which Witch is Which?”

TZN: One of the artists working on The Fairly OddParents spoke with Steve Hulett of The Animation Guild back in January and casually mentioned the possibility of a Poof and Foop spin-off show. Is that something that has been discussed at all and would you be interested in doing such a show?

BUTCH HARTMAN: I’d love to do a Poof/Foop spin off show!

Toonzone News would like to thank Butch Hartman for taking the time to speak with us, and Maria Poulos of Nickelodeon’s PR department for setting it up. T.U.F.F. Puppy premieres on Saturday, October 2, 2010, at 11:30 AM (Eastern/Pacific).

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