Hey, Arnold, You’re Still a Cool Kid!

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Thir­teen years after the show went off the air, Craig Bartlett’s beloved an­i­mated char­ac­ter re­turns in a won­der­ful new movie on Nick­elodeon. By Ramin Za­hed

nold, Gerald and Helga re­spec­tively.

The de­sign team made a big ef­fort to re­fresh the char­ac­ters and back­grounds. As Bartlett ex­plains: “We re­vis­ited the de­signs and colors since the movie was go­ing to be made in high-def and 16:9 as­pect ra­tio. We could now use bet­ter tech­nol­ogy and big­ger for­mat. Some time has gone by since we last saw the char­ac­ters. The kids are now fin­ish­ing fifth grade and get­ting ready for sixth grade. I wanted it to feel like vis­it­ing the old home, but every­thing is a lit­tle more vivid, and we have a broader, more in­tense color pal­ette.”

The writer/di­rec­tor also points out that he was very pleased with the way fans re­acted to some of the im­ages at last sum­mer’s Comic-Con. “We had a day and night­time view of Arnold’s board­ing house, and ev­ery­one pored over the im­ages, and an­a­lyzed the as­sets. They knew that we spiffed up the al­ley and planted a few trees. That’s the kind of scru­tiny our movie has been get­ting on the In­ter­net…We showed ev­ery char­ac­ter that had been on the show, and fans could see that they are all slightly up­dated, but the core of every­thing is the same. Arnold is still Arnold, Gerald is still Gerald, and Helga, of course, is still Helga.”

A New World Bartlett points out that mak­ing the movie for Nick’s au­di­ences in 2017 has its own spe­cial kind of chal­lenges. “We have three groups that will be tun­ing in,” he says. “There are the Hey Arnold! su­per fans who grew up with the show and are now any­where be­tween 20 and 35 years old. They are in­ter- ested in the Arnold can­non and are very in­ter­ested in all the de­tails, and en­joy the foibles of the adults as well. Then, there are Nick’s cur­rent au­di­ence, who are be­tween six to 11 and may not know the se­ries and the char­ac­ters. There’s a third group, which is made up of the chil­dren of the adults who orig­i­nally watched the show, whose par­ents showed them the episodes on DVD. I am happy that we were able to be true to what the se­ries was and didn’t have to make a lighter ver­sion. I think ev­ery­one can han­dle that.”

Bartlett says he is very pleased with the great mix of pro­fes­sion­als who worked on the movie—half of them are old-school orig­i­nal Hey Arnold! staffers, and the other half were its tar­get au­di­ence. “I think the movie re­ally ben­e­fited from the mix. The younger crew were ac­tual fans of the show when it was first on the air, and it in­spired them to be­come an­i­ma­tors or writers. They got to work on it with this deep love of a show that only a kid can have. Stu Liv­ingston, who codi­rected the movie with Raymie, has such a deep knowl­edge of the se­ries and was able to of­fer such great de­tails about the his­tory of the show that none of us would re­mem­ber.”

Clo­sure Is Cool! “I was hired years ago to co-di­rect the movie, and the project got moth­balled,” re­calls Muzquiz. “It took mul­ti­ple regimes at Nick­elodeon un­til some­one thought it was a good idea to re­boot the show. So we started to work on the script and re­freshed the char­ac­ters. Re­ally, this movie is the cul­mi­na­tion of get­ting a clo­sure that we had dreamed about for 17 years.”

“We did some trim­ming along the way,” says the movie’s co-di­rec­tor. “We had to boil down the re­caps and char­ac­ter ex­po­si­tions in the first half of the movie. We learned that it’s a good idea if Arnold just goes along on his ad­ven­ture.”

Muzquiz re­calls that back in the early days, he and the rest of the team would talk about the movies they had seen over the week­end. “We were re­ally into Miyazaki movies back then, so we were al­ways try­ing to find ways to in­fuse some of those mytho­log­i­cal el­e­ments, amulets and mag­i­cal ma­chin­ery from films like Cas­tle in the Sky into our show. For this movie, we also took great pains to make the char­ac­ters a bit older, so in a way, we were road-test­ing them for a sixth sea­son if that hap­pens in the fu­ture.”

Both Bartlett and Muzquiz are hop­ing that fans will be de­lighted with the movie they’ve been toil­ing away on for th­ese past few years. “I know it’s a big cliché, but just like fine wine, this prop­erty has aged very well,” con­cludes Muzquiz. “I think the added grav­i­tas and un­der­ly­ing foun­da­tion of the show make it stand out from every­thing else that I’ve ever done in my ca­reer. I hope it’s not all in my head!”

You know you’re in good hands when you have writer/pro­ducer Ken Scar­bor­ough adapt­ing a book prop­erty as an an­i­mated TV se­ries. After all, Scar­bor­ough’s amaz­ing cred­its in­clude such beloved shows such as Arthur, Doug, Cu­ri­ous Ge­orge, Po­coyo and Martha Speaks. And he won the Emmy for Best Chil­dren’s se­ries this year for his work on Sesame Street. Oh, and you know he’s fast and funny, be­cause he was a staff writer for Satur­day Night Live for four sea­sons. That’s why he was the per­fect choice to lead the team when Ama­zon picked up the rights for Laura Numeroff and Feli­cia Bond’s pop­u­lar 1985 chil­dren’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

“It’s funny, but I guess they al­ways call me for all the book projects,” says Scar­bor­ough dur­ing a re­cent phone con­ver­sa­tion from his home in New York City. “The chal­lenge for this par­tic­u­lar project was, each of the books are a few pages long, but they are won­der­fully struc­tured. I think peo­ple love them be­cause the sto­ry­lines are cir­cu­lar: Mouse wants some­thing, goes on an ad­ven­ture, and then he asks for the same thing in the end, which is usu­ally some snack food. We thought it was a great op­por­tu­nity for the show to ex­plore de­ci­sion mak­ing and cause-and-ef­fect themes for young view­ers.”

The Ama­zon project, whose pi­lot pre­miered as a hol­i­day spe­cial last Novem­ber, fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of a boy named Oliver and his cu­ri­ous pet Mouse, as well as four other kids and their an­i­mals—Moose, Pig, Cat and Dog. Ac­claimed Cana­dian stu­dio Mercury Film­works uses Toon Boom Har­mony to pro­duce the (26 x half-hour) show’s eye­pleas­ing an­i­ma­tion, which is quite faith­ful to the charm­ing il­lus­tra­tions of the books.

Where An­i­mals Rule “I think the heart of it is that peo­ple can have dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties and val­ues and still get along with each other,” notes Scar­bor­ough. “We have five dif­fer­ent kids and their five an­i­mals, so that’s 10 dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. What I re­ally love about the show is that Mouse is a char­ac­ter that is ex­u­ber­ant and en­er­getic. Here’s a lit­tle crea­ture that doesn’t let his size put any lim­i­ta­tions to what he wants to do. I also love how the kids are to­tally yanked around by their an­i­mals. In a way, kids be­come the par­ents to th­ese wild an­i­mals who can make a mess in the house, while hav­ing their fun and liv- ing life ac­cord­ing to their own rules.”

One of the big chal­lenges for Scar­bor­ough is com­ing up with sto­ry­lines and funny ad­ven­tures for the cast of char­ac­ters that fol­low the strict struc­ture, while still con­vey­ing deeply felt emo­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences. “I like to say that I quit ev­ery show after do­ing about a hun­dred sto­ries, be­cause you don’t want to start re­peat­ing your­self,” he shares. “You re­ally need to have 52 heart­felt sto­ries—each half hour is made up of two episodes—which fol­low the same story pat­tern. It can be tricky at times.”

Although he’s been part of so many hit an­i­mated shows, Scar­bor­ough still isn’t sure about the magic for­mula. “You never know why and when kids re­spond to some­thing,” he points out. “You and I could own our own pri­vate is­land if we knew the se­cret. I just know that it’s im­por­tant to have a sense of ad­ven­ture and dis­cov­ery about the main char­ac­ters. If they’re in­volv­ing, and you like them, you want to come back to them and see what’s next for them, just like peo­ple in real life. Peo­ple still talk about Doug and Arthur; they con­nect with th­ese char­ac­ters. It’s like jump­ing in a warm bath. You want to see what they’re up to, so they can in­clude us in their world and we feel as if we’re part of their ad­ven­tures.”

In a way, Scar­bor­ough says, that is why writ­ing for kids is sim­i­lar to writ­ing for grownups. “You watch The So­pra­nos be­cause you want to see what Tony is up to,” he ex­plains. “He is your friend, in a way, and you don’t want him to die—but he might. You also want the ex­pe­ri­ence to be mean­ing­ful, so you want to come back. It’s about hav­ing im­por­tant, heart­felt con­ver­sa­tions that mat­ter.”

When peo­ple come to him for ad­vice, Scar­bor­ough tells that they shouldn’t give up if they’re not good at one spe­cific kind of writ­ing. “I have had ex­pe­ri­ences where I just wasn’t the right fit for a show,” he ad­mits. “If you’re not a good writer for Sesame Street that doesn’t mean you won’t be a per­fect writer for an­other show. Also, just be­cause you’re a good kids’ writer doesn’t mean you can’t go on to do other things. Look at Ken­neth Lon­er­gan’s ca­reer: He started out as a writer for Doug. Then he went on to write movies like An­a­lyze This, You Can Count on Me and Manch­ester by the Sea. Me? I was lucky be­cause I wrote the pi­lots for Doug and Arthur. I could de­fine their world, and char­ac­ters that I was good at writ­ing. Don’t give up just be­cause you haven’t yet found some­thing that you’re good at. Some­times it takes time to fig­ure that out.” If You Give a Mouse a Cookie pre­mieres on Novem­ber 7 on Ama­zon Prime Video.

The world­wide suc­cess of Dis­ney’s Os­car-win­ning 2014 fea­ture Big Hero 6 left some big shoes to fill for Kim Pos­si­ble cre­ators and col­lab­o­ra­tors Mark McCorkle, Bob Schoo­ley and Nick Filippi, who hero­ically took on the task of ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ing a se­ries ver­sion for Dis­ney TV An­i­ma­tion.

“For any­body who does a spin-off of a movie—a good movie—the main char­ac­ter goes through an emo­tional jour­ney that’s sort of a trans­for­ma­tion and they’re pretty com­plete at the end of it. And Hiro went through some­thing re­ally big with grief and re­venge and heal­ing and all of that [in Big Hero 6],” McCorkle says. “As sto­ry­tellers, we were ex­cited [about do­ing a se­ries], be­cause the next day he still has plenty to learn.”

The se­ries also is a chance to more fully ex­plore the char­ac­ters and world cre­ated for the fea­ture, which set up young ge­nius Hiro Ha­mada and his health-care robot Bay­max with a group of he­roes that in­cludes GoGo To­mago, Honey Lemon, Wasabi and Fred in the mashup city of San Fran­sokyo. The movie was loosely based on Marvel Comics char­ac­ters cre­ated by the writ­ing group Man of Ac­tion.

Most of the orig­i­nal voice cast from the fea­ture re­turns for the se­ries, with Ryan Pot­ter as Hiro, Scott Ad­sit as Bay­max, Jamie Chung as GoGo, Ge­n­e­sis Ro­driguez as Honey Lemon, Maya Ru­dolph as Aunt Cass, Alan Tudyk as Alis­tair Krei and Stan Lee as Fred’s dad. New to the cast are Khary Pay­ton as Wasabi and Brooks Whee­lan as Fred. Trans­lat­ing to 2D Char­ac­ter de­signer Jose Lopez says the first ma­jor de­ci­sion made in trans­lat­ing Big Hero 6 to TV was go­ing with a 2D look in­stead of the 3D CG im­agery used in the fea­ture, giv­ing the show a chance to find its own ap­proach to the ma­te­rial. “We try to re­tain this el­e­ment of the hand-drawn en­ergy, where every­thing is just a lit­tle bit off, and I think that’s cre­at­ing a unique and ap­peal­ing lan­guage for our de­signs,” says Lopez

Lopez says the team fo­cused on sil­hou­ettes and graph­i­cal shapes to push the de­signs to a place where they worked for 2D, with Filippi re­fer­ring to the in­flu­ence of Bruce Timm’s iconic work on Bat­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries. “He made sure that there were an­chor points for the an­i­ma­tors to latch onto so that when you an­i­mate a char­ac­ter you def­i­nitely have th­ese stylis­tic points that are go­ing to make it that char­ac­ter. That’s some­thing we were def­i­nitely go­ing for,” says Filippi.

One of the less ob­vi­ous in­flu­ences on the look of the show is the 1961 Dis­ney clas­sic 101 Dal­ma­tians, which Lopez says they learned was also an in­flu­ence on the de­sign of the fea­ture’s back­grounds. “We dis­cussed things like how the lines would in­ter­sect, what type of lines we would use, and then go­ing for this rough line that’s try­ing to em­u­late the Xerox pen­cils of pre­vi­ous Dis­ney fea­tures,” says Filippi. The Bay­max Chal­lenge The break­out star of the movie was Bay-

Fans of Ri­d­ley Scott’s clas­sic movie Blade Run­ner (1982) have been an­tic­i­pat­ing the se­quel, which ar­rived in the­aters last month, for quite a while. Given the fact that the first movie is con­sid­ered one of the best-look­ing sci-fi movies of all time, it’s not sur­pris­ing that the vfx as­pects of the new movie play a cru­cial role in the suc­cess of the project. To pro­duce the 1,200 vfx shots for Blade Run­ner 2049, Os­car-win­ning vfx su­per­vi­sor John Nel­son ( Glad­i­a­tor; I, Robot; Iron Man) tapped a highly skilled team of artists and tech­ni­cians from Dou­ble Neg­a­tive, Frame­store, UPP, BUF, MPC, Rodeo FX, Atomic Fic­tion and Ter­ri­tory Stu­dio, who worked on the project for two years.

“Some­one asked me, ‘How does it feel to be de­liv­er­ing?’” re­calls Nel­son. “I said, ‘I feel like San­dra Bul­lock in Grav­ity. I’m com­ing back to Earth after a long trip out there!’”

The se­quel, which is set 30 years after the orig­i­nal film, brings back Har­ri­son Ford as the gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned repli­cant as­sas­sin Rick Deckard and in­tro­duces a host of new char­ac­ters por­trayed by Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Ar­mas, Sylvia Hoeks, Dave Bautista, and Macken­zie Davis. Tak­ing over the di­rec­tor’s chair from Ri­d­ley Scott, who serves as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, is film­maker De­nis Vil­leneuve ( Si­cario).

“Usu­ally with De­nis, I re­viewed things in the cut and gave him two or three op­tions. De­nis, Roger Deakins [cin­e­matog­ra­pher], James Deakins [Deakins’ wife], Den­nis Gass­ner [pro­duc­tion de­signer], Bill Car­raro [ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer] and I, all said in the be­gin­ning that, ‘We want to keep it as grounded as pos­si­ble. It’s not just a big splashy vis­ual ef­fects movie.” Sto­ry­boards Be­fore Pre­vis As with Si­cario and Ar­rival, sto­ry­boards il­lus­trated by Sam Hudecki were piv­otal in com­pos­ing shots. “De­nis and Roger worked out all of the big se­quences on sto­ry­boards and we stayed close to them,” ex­plains Nel­son. “We would vary some­times, but not that much. The sto­ry­boards were the pre­cur­sors to the pre­vis where we would in­put real lenses and say, ‘That looks like a 40mm or 32mm.’ For the big CG ex­ten­sions or full CG en­vi­ron­ments, it was im­por­tant to be talk­ing about real-world lenses. De­nis knows what he wants in his head, so shoot­ing with him is straight­for­ward. There’s not a lot of cov­er­age that you end up not us­ing.”

Aerial di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Dy­lan Goss de­signed a cus­tom­ized hous­ing for he­li­copters to hold six ARRI Minis so to get six 3.4K over­lap­ping im­ages that could be stitched to­gether for 180 de­grees. “We would look for over­cast skies to shoot our plates and for the most part we got them. We shot aeri­als of Mex­ico City dou­bling for Los An­ge­les and did mas­sive CG ex­ten­sions on top of that. De­nis was en­am­oured with Bru­tal­ist ar­chi­tec­ture so we put in topheavy build­ings with over­hangs into the city. Then we shot in Ice­land as well.”

Climate Cri­sis “Ci­ties are made from bil­lions of de­ci­sions made by mil­lions of peo­ple for hun­dreds of years,” notes Nel­son. “For us the two big ci­ties are Los An­ge­les and Las Ve­gas. Los An­ge­les is bru­tal. It snows a lot be­cause global warm­ing has got­ten so bad. There’s a big event that makes Las Ve­gas un­in­hab­it­able. It has a fu­tur­is­tic patina that is also in­cred­i­ble and heav­ily aug­mented. It’s a heavy 3D en­vi­ron­ment. Syd Mead was in­volved in

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