Hey, Arnold, You’re Still a Cool Kid!
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