On air, bucktoothed Timmy Turner has been 10 for a decade now, confronting school bullies and an evil babysitter with the help of his fairy godparents, Cosmo and Wanda, in Nickelodeon’s animated series “The Fairly OddParents.”
The show’s 10th season premiered last weekend, but its creator, Butch Hartman, is already looking past the milestone and ahead to something monstrous: a new show called “Bunsen Is a Beast,” about a monster who becomes the first “beast” to go to a human elementary school.
“He’s a sweet little guy,” says Hartman, who talked to KidsPost by phone from his home in Bell Canyon, California, “but he eats furniture and sometimes his head falls off.” Not your typical new-kid-at-school problems.
Fortunately for Bunsen, he’s got Mikey, the head of the school’s welcoming committing, to show him around. “Mikey shows Bunsen how to be a human, and Bunsen shows Mikey how to be a monster — because there’s things that monsters do that humans can’t do,” like stay up all night and eat a ton of candy without getting sick.
Hartman, 51, says Bunsen was “one of the hardest characters” he’s had to create.
“When you’re designing a monster, there’s kind of no rules. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with him; I had 10 million drawings of him as a scaly reptilian monster” before deciding on “a fuzzy, cuddly monster.”
As a kid, Hartman loved watching Bugs Bunny and “The Flintstones” on television. He’d copy Fred Flintstone and Yogi Bear, learning to draw their expressive faces on a pad of paper, and make characters of his own — like Super Butch, who “had every power and an Ace Ventura tower of hair.”
Hartman says he knew early on that, as he put it, “all I ever wanted to do was draw.” At home, where he doodles different poses for Bunsen while making tea, and at work at the Nickeolodeon Animation Studio in Burbank, California, he’s doing it almost all the time, using either plain old paper or a new-age Wacom tablet.
The tablet’s nice, he says, because “instead of one shade of red, I have a hundred million shades of red to choose from. It makes things a lot more convenient.” He still carries a sketchpad with him wherever he goes, though, along with a couple of thick Sharpie pens — never pencils.
“You should almost always draw in pen,” Hartman says. “It forces you to be confident. You can never erase, so it makes you really focus on your line and not wimp out.”
It takes about 10 months for an episode of a show such as “Fairly OddParents” to make it onto your television screen; “Bunsen,” because Hartman and his team are starting from scratch, may not air for a year or two.
About 50 people are involved in shows such as “Bunsen” or “Fairly OddParents,” Hartman says. On a typical day, he might meet with the show’s writers to work on the story, developing the plot and adding jokes. Or he’ll work with the show’s artists to go over character designs and “backgrounds,” “the settings that the characters move through.” He might even sit in on a recording session, listening to the voice actors who bring his creations to life.
Hartman still draws, of course, but his main job is “supervising the whole process” of the show getting on television.
“I actually love my job so much that to me it’s not even a job, it’s not even work. I tell people I really haven’t worked in 30 years.”
But there are still bumps on the road, especially in getting a new show on air. Hartman says that before “Fairly OddParents” became popular, he felt like giving up “about a million times.”
“Life is full of challenges,” he says, “but I always have the Three Ps: Passion, patience and persistence.
“And the fourth one,” he adds, “is pizza.”