SDCC2011: Toonzone Interviews the New "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" Creative Team
In 2012, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be returning to television with a brand new, computer generated series. Nickelodeon recently purchased the franchise, beginning work on this new show almost immediately. During the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con at a special Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles unveilling event at the Urban Kitchen + Bar in San Diego, Toonzone News caught up with the creative team of the series: writers and executive producers, J.R. Ventimilia and Joshua Sternin; and show character desginer, art director, and episode director Ciro Nieli.
(From L to R: J.R. Ventimilia, Joshua Sternin, and Ciro Nieli)
TOONZONE NEWS: Since this is a reboot, did you want to do anything to put your own personal spin on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that maybe hadn’t been done with the property before?
J.R. VENTIMILIA:Well I definitely felt it was important to differentiate the characters a little physically; push the way they look so that we can really make them look more fleshed out, fully realized characters. That was one thing I wanted strongly, and the idea of starting as a year one thing. We all felt it was very important we start over from the beginning because it got a little – they are coming out from underground for the first time.
TZN: For Joshua, what did you want to personally do with the characters unique to the show?
JOSHUA STERNIN:I don’t think we are reinventing the wheel. I think what we’re doing is really coming much more from a character place, more of a character comedy. And I think our martial arts are more from a real place.
TZN: Where are the Turtles and Splinter at the start of this show?
J.R. VENTIMILIA:At the very start of the show, they’ve been living underground for their entire lives. They’ve finally come to an age where they feel it’s time to come out and explore the world. Splinter reluctantly agrees that they can’t be kept down in the sewers forever, so he lets them go up for the first time freely. So it’s really a story about exploration and discovery.
JOSHUA STERNIN: Right. Everything is new to them. We start day 1. They go up top side for the first time and they’ve never seen any of this. They’ve been living underground on algae and worms for fifteen years.
TZN: Regarding the character dynamics, Joshua, you mentioned not reinventing the wheel. Does that mean you will have Leonardo the leader, Raphael as the hotshot rebel, Michelangelo is a party dude, and Donatello does machines?
JOSHUA STERNIN:Yeah, in a general sense, yes. Those are the archetypes. We feel like we can go deeper, we can find different dimensions to them. But that is the show and we are not going to mess with the core of the show.
TZN: While working on this show were there any previous adaptations of the comic you all thought were particularly well done?
J.R. VENTIMILIA:Josh and I have known each other for very many years. We actually were roommates when the original series came out. So we were fans of the show. We actually thought it was funny. We were just out of college and drinking heavily, but we had a good time with it. Josh and I were the only two adults at the showing of the movie where there were no kids. We both like those incarnations and that’s where we came from.
JOSHUA STERNIN: Yeah, we came through it at the same time. We really just thought it was fun with the brotherhood theme; it was just a really entertaining dynamic. And I know Ciro comes at it from a much earlier place in its run.
CIRO NIELI: That’s kind of our balance. I think I was from the camp that tuned out when the cartoons started because I was primarily a huge fan of like issues one through ten, and then maybe even later like where it picked up with Kevin [Eastman] and Peter [Laird] again doing like 1920-21, “The Return of the Orc” series, kind of a big fan of that original arc/storyline.
TZN: Did you look at the 4Kids series at all?
J.R. VENTIMILIA:Yeah we looked at a little bit of everything just to keep on track with everything that had been done.
TZN: Storywise, what did you think had the best writing before your series?
CIRO NIELI:I thought the original live-action movie was really cool. I know Kevin worked on that really hard, Kevin and Peter. It was a long way getting to that script, just figuring out the balance of what it would be in that format that would kind of serve all those avenues.
TZN: Besides the Turtles, Splinter, and Shredder, can we expect to see other classic characters in the show from Turtles lore?
JOSHUA STERNIN:Absolutely. Baxter Stockman makes an appearance. Mousers will be back.
J.R. VENTIMILIA: We just wrote the first story for Leatherhead so yeah.
CIRO NIELI: Metalhead too.
TZN: What about Ace Duck?
CIRO NIELI:No. Are you a big Ace Duck fan?
TZN: Yes I am.
CIRO NIELI:Was he in the show that much?
TZN: No he was in it for like two seconds in a movie on TV, but that was one of my favorite figures from the toy line back in the day.
CIRO NIELI:Well, we’ll slide one in there for you.
JOSHUA STERNIN: Never say never, let’s put it that way.
TZN: What about Casey Jones? Can we expect to see him as well?
JOSHUA STERNIN:Casey we all love and want to put him in there, maybe not in the first season or at least not early on.
TZN: What is the vision for April O’Neil in the series? Previously she was a reporter and later a scientist and also an archaeologist and martial artist.
JOSHUA STERNIN:Right now, April starts out as a younger version than we’ve seen her in the past. She’s sixteen years old. She’s more worldly. She’s been in the real world so she is kind of their conduit towards that. In an early episode, her father is kidnapped and she is spared, but now she has a whole mission to find him. The Turtles are going to help. And eventually we will find out that there are special things about April.
TZN: I think this is also the first computer generated TV series for the Ninja Turtles. How do you like getting to work with this format to bring it to life?
CIRO NIELI:It definitely has its limitations, but I think this is one of the few shows where we use it to our advantage. I would hate to have to make Justice League in CG. Making something like Green Lantern would be impossible. The turtles are coming into the world for the first time, so we can slowly explore.
TZN: The new Donatello’s voice is Rob Paulsen who voiced Raphael in the original series? Is there a funny story or irony when that happened?
JOSHUA STERNIN:Honestly, it wasn’t a plan. Rob came in and he’s awesome. The best voice wins. We aren’t doing it for any reason other than that.
J.R. VENTIMILIA: We actually auditioned just about everyone who had played a role in the Turtles. They all mentioned it just to make sure that we knew. But yeah we were aware. To us, it was just Rob – he was that role. He was Donatello. The moment he started speaking, we were all convinced.
TZN: Will any of you be doing cameo voices in the show?
CIRO NIELI:I usually have to fill in somewhere as a groaning zombie or something. I never get paid for it though.
TZN: Will this be the best Ninja Turtles animation ever?
JOSHUA STERNIN:Yes it will.
J.R. VENTIMIGLIA: I know so.
CIRO NIELI: Of course it is. Why else would we be doing it? We at least have to believe that while we were working on it.
TZN: Will there be any multi-part episodes or miniseries?
J.R. VENTIMILIA:The first episode will be a two-parter.
CIRO NIELI: Possibly the fronts and the tails of seasons, I’m thinking two-parters, nothing too crazy. I’ve never really been a big fan of stories that go beyond three.
J.R. VENTIMILIA: It really is just a matter of, “Does the story demand it?” If it doesn’t, then we won’t do it.
TZN: How many episodes will you be starting with for the first season?
JOSHUA STERNIN:Twenty six.
TZN: Gentlemen, thank you very much and Turtle Power!
CIRO:Thank you so much. Cowabunga.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will debut on Nickelodeon around the third quarter of 2012. Thank you to Nickelodeon for having us at the event and to the creative team for speaking with us.