INTERVIEW: Butch Hartman on Nick’s “Bunsen Is A Beast” – Animation Scoop

INTERVIEW: Butch Hartman on Nick’s “Bunsen Is A Beast”

It might seem “fairly odd” to have a best friend at school who’s not only non-human, but he also goes crazy when he eats beets. But coming from the mind and pen of animator/director/producer Butch Hartman, it’s not unusual at all. I recently spoke with Hartman about his new series, Bunsen is a Beast – his 4th for Nickelodeon – which makes its debut this week, Feb. 21st at 5:30pm.

Jackson Murphy: What have you seen change in TV animation since The Fairly OddParents began 16 years ago?

Butch Hartman: Well, mostly my hairline. No, I’m kidding There were no computers in the studio when I first got here. I think there were a couple of Macs. Remember the old Macs that were all colorful like jelly beans? There were those, but hardly anybody had them – certainly not the artists. And now every artist draws on a tablet of some kind. We don’t draw on paper at all. If we do draw on paper, it’s in our own sketch pad. Very rarely do we draw on paper. So that’s been a huge change.

JM: So “Bunsen” is your fourth series, following “Fairly OddParents”, “Danny Phantom” and “T.U.F.F. Puppy”. Was it easier to get “Bunsen” up and running since it’s your fourth go-around at Nickelodeon?

BH: Absolutely not. I’m glad you asked. You’d think it would’ve been, but no it was just as much of a challenge because…the studio has different needs at different times. It’s easier for me to get a meeting, that’s for sure. But they always look at everybody the same way. Is this a show we need at this time? Will the show fit our audience? Between the time “Fairly OddParents” started airing and now, the audience has completely changed. Kids have different things they’re interested in. There’s a whole different sensibility.

JM: Coming out in theaters soon is the new version of “Beauty and the Beast”, and you make a reference to Godzilla in the first episode. What is it about the human/beast relationship that you really wanted to explore with this show?

BH: What I love is that it is a show about – it doesn’t even really have to be a beast – but it’s about ‘What if you had a friend that was completely different than you?’ And what would you and that friend do, and how would you show that friend all about your life and your world? And also: what’s your friend’s life all about? And that’s kind of where the idea stems from.

It mainly came from the title. I thought of this title, “Bunsen is a Beast”. I drew it as a kids book cover. I was gonna make a children’s book out of it, but I just thought it was such a great title that I thought, “I’ll draw a little beast and a little boy looking at each other.” And it sort of sat in my room for many years, and then someone here at Nickelodeon said, “We should make it into a show!” And so I started developing it out that way, and here we are today.

JM: Wow. So it was an idea of yours even before a couple of your other shows got produced at Nickelodeon?

BH: I think I came up with it right around when I was just getting “T.U.F.F. Puppy” off the ground. I was doing “T.U.F.F. Puppy” one night, and I just drew this drawing of the beast and the boy and kind of put it down. In fact, I thought of the title right away and just kind of kept the title the whole time. It’s never changed.

JM: In the first episode we learn a lot about Bunsen and his body and how the two relate. Tell me about Bunsen’s designs.

BH: Bunsen was a little reptile at first. I drew him as a little lizard. And I literally had hundreds of drawings of him as a lizard. I finally settled on one I liked. And then an executive at Nickelodeon said, “I think you can do a better character design.” And I thought, “Of course I can’t! This is the best one!” And then, I decided to get rid of the reptile look, and I went for more of a fuzzy look. And everybody loved the more fuzzy one, so we stuck with that one.

JM: One of your guest stars is Cheri Oteri. What was it like working with her?

BH: She’s great. Very funny. Ben Drew, who does the voice of Mikey [the boy] on the show did another Pilot for me. And I called Ben in to do Mikey, and I remembered Cheri Oteri was in the same Pilot. I said, “We should get Cheri Oteri in here again.” And she’s so random with the way she reads stuff. No one else could do the part the way she does.

JM: And you collaborated on the music with Guy Moon, who also did the music for your other shows. You seem to have a really great working relationship with him.

BH: I do. We’ve done a lot of stuff together. We’ve done the entire run of “Fairly OddParents”, “Danny Phantom” and “T.U.F.F. Puppy”. He’s done my three “Fairly OddParents” live-action movies. He’s done everything I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t use anybody but Guy. He’s just fantastic, and he’s kind of a musical genius. Anything that I need him to do – he can do.

JM: Going back to those “Fairly OddParents” live-action movies, was it a risk pitching that to Nickelodeon?

BH: Nickelodeon actually pitched it to me. They came to me and said, “Hey – we want you to do a live-action ‘Fairly OddParents’ movie.” And I said, “What?” And they said, “We’d love to see it.” And I said, “Okay – let’s give it a try.” So it was actually their idea. And lo and behold it actually worked and…people loved it, so we ended-up doing three of them.

JM: Getting back to “Bunsen”, you’ve got Picture Day as one of your topics for the first episode. It makes Bunsen so happy he shoots confetti and balloons out of his head. Were you as excited about Picture Day as a kid?

BH: Oh, heck no. No – are you kidding? No way. I was terrified of Picture Day because I would always somehow mess my clothes up before Picture Day. And my hair never looked good. It was very embarrassing to sit in front of a camera when you were a kid and everyone’s looking at you. And if you see my pictures from back then, you’ll understand why.

JM: Have you posted any of those pictures online?

BH: I have a few times. They get quite the response.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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