The Powerpuff Girls Q&A with Nick Jennings and Bob Boyle, Executive Producers
Friday, March 18, 2016
The Powerpuff Girls
Q&A with Nick Jennings and Bob Boyle, Executive Producers
Q: Tell us about The Powerpuff Girls.
Nick: The Powerpuff Girls is a new show on Cartoon Network about three little girls: Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. They’re five-years-old and they’re superheroes. They have various powers, live in Townsville with their dad and creator Professor Utonium and fight monsters all while trying to get all their homework done and get to bed on time.
Q: Why were you interested in reimagining the original series? What drew you to the project?
Bob: I was a huge fan of the original series [Cartoon Network, 1998-2005]! It was one of my favorites. It’s a fun set of characters that everyone can really connect with. It’s a great universe to play with: The Powerpuff Girls has comedy and action, it’s cute and dramatic. A whole world of contrast that’s made some really great stories. It’s just super adorable, which I love. Put all those things together—my respect for the show, the original and the potential to move forward—all drew me to the project.
Nick: The Powerpuff Girls, in my opinion, has the perfect comedic-adventure dynamic. You have these cute—sort of innocent and fun—little girls, but they also have superpowers. They’re able to fight and save the day! They make the most unlikely superheroes, and that dynamic makes for a great combination of comedy and adventure. It’s a perfect scenario. Like Bob, I’m also a huge fan of the original show.
Q: What do you like to watch? What are your influences?
Bob: Some of my favorite cartoons were Cartoon Network shows, such as The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory. I loved the stylized nature of those shows and how they told the stories. They were influenced by Japanese animation, which I’m a fan of. I’m married to a Japanese-American woman who introduced me to Japanese culture and the kind of media that comes out of Japan. I have an office full of cute toys that are very similar to The Powerpuff Girls, so it’s really in my wheelhouse as far as aesthetics.
Nick: I don’t really watch anything! [Laughs.] I’m a huge fan of Japanese animation. I love of a lot of the old Miyazaki films, like My Neighbor Totoro. There are a lot of similarities between Miyazaki’s films and The Powerpuff Girls insofar as there’s a lot of action and a lot of charm.
Q: What were some of your favorite cartoons growing up that influenced you or inspired you?
Nick: I was raised on a lot of old Warner Brothers cartoons, especially ones that featured Bugs Bunny and Wiley Coyote. I loved the cartoons for the comedy, but I was also a huge fan of Scooby-Doo and Johnny Quest, all the adventure shows. Those shows, growing up in my formative years, are really helping me now when we’re doing this combination of comedy and adventure.
Bob: Same as Nick! I grew up watching Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, as well as the reruns of the old Hanna-Barbera stuff: Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones and The Jetsons. They influenced early Cartoon Network shows like The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory. Those were the things that stylistically influenced me the most: they had limited graphic animation. I like the Miyazaki stuff as well—it’s got such an appeal: it’s cute as well as realistic.
Q: Tell us about the characters in The Powerpuff Girls. What makes them interesting or different?
Bob: Blossom is the leader: she’s a little over-organized and Type-A. She leads the girls forward, likes things clean and organized in a specific way and has a penchant for office products. Buttercup is the aggressive one, the tough one: her instinct is to hit things first and think later. Bubbles is the purest of the bunch. She’s the pure child: innocent, loving, artistic and free-spirited with a wild imagination. Even though they’re so different, everyone can tap into a little bit of each one to varying degrees. I think they’re really easy to relate to.
Nick: They are very relatable. In this iteration of The Powerpuff Girls, we’re making them more real, as far as characters go, so that you can relate to them. As Bob says, everyone has a little of each one in them. Everyone, though, is predominantly one of them, and that’s been helpful to us in our writing. We want to have more realized, honest and sincere types of characters. Even though they have super powers and they punch monsters, we recognize you have to connect with them. If you connect with them and like them, you’re going to come back again and again to see what they’re doing.
Q: Which one are each of you most like?
Bob: I’m going to say I’m Bubbles at heart. I’m a little loopier and playful. I’ll speak for Nick!
Nick: You can speak for me, it’s fine!
Bob: Nick is the Blossom: he takes charge and directs things. He likes things a certain way. At the same time, there’s a little bit of each of them in us.
Q: What is the sibling dynamic like with these characters?
Nick: In general, they all love and lean on each other. They bring different things to the table; collectively, they’re a perfect little triad. If one is off and not with them, then it shifts the dynamic a lot. Although they get along really well, they do things that sisters do, like fight over silly things.
Bob: We’re trying to make these characters very real and I think we’ve done a pretty good job at that and understanding their characters. We find some of the most interesting times are when the girls are at the dinner table or on the couch just having conversations with some sibling banter. They can only have that banter if they truly know and love each other, so we’ve tried to make that dynamic a big part of the show.
Q: Tell us about the casting for The Powerpuff Girls. How did Amanda Leighton, Natalie Palamides and Kristen Li come to be a part of the show, and how do they relate to their characters’ personalities? What is it like to work with them?
Nick: We decided, for this reimagining of The Powerpuff Girls, to infuse a new tone and energy. We reached out for casting and had a number of auditions to explore whether this was a good idea and would take us in a direction we wanted to go. We met Natalie, Amanda and Kristen during auditions and they’re pretty much exactly like the characters.
When Amanda showed up, she had a little binder. She was all organized and ready and prepared and proper. She sat down, did her lines—they were perfect, and she said, “Thank you,” and then she left. When she walked out, we were all in agreement that she was Blossom.
Usually in auditions, when someone comes in, everyone greets everybody and there’s some chit-chat. When Natalie came in, she basically walked in and said, “Uh huh,” after we said hello. She did her lines and we gave her some direction. When she walked out, we were all in agreement, she was Buttercup.
When Kristen came in—she was just 13 when she auditioned—she had these big pigtails. As soon as she walked in, she immediately started saying hi to everyone, telling stories, laughing and walking around. We had to shuffle her in and sit her down. Then, she read her lines and she was happy to do it as many times as we wanted, but she also wanted to tell jokes and got up to wander around. We had to shuffle her out and as soon as she left, we were all in agreement that she was Bubbles.
I think they really are the characters!
Bob: They really are like sisters, too. Once we got them all together, they were immediately connected. When we record, they’ll be dancing in the booth together or doing hand games. And they hug constantly! They hang out together after recording sessions and do things socially together. They even bake cakes together! They might fight crime, too—I’m not sure. But, they’ve definitely become sisters.
Q: What makes The Powerpuff Girls special?
Nick: The Powerpuff Girls has three female protagonists! It offers things other series don’t in that regard.
Bob: It’s got action! It’s got comedy!
Nick: Yes, but a lot of shows have action and comedy. It has an honest and sincere approach to storytelling. For us, character is paramount, so we dig as deep as we can with the characters. You’ll be immediately enamored with these characters and connect with them. So, whatever they’re doing, whether it’s at home or fighting crime, you want to be with them because you like them.
Bob: In some superhero shows, it’s really hard to relate to the hero because they’re perfect. These girls are certainly not perfect—they’re human. They’re little girls who make mistakes and have to overcome them, sometimes by fighting crime. I think that’s why you can connect with them. You’re not going to connect with them fighting a monster; you’re going to connect with them when they argue with each other and learn things with and from each other.
Nick: When you think about story, the plot of the story isn’t what’s important. The important thing for us is the character story, and the character story should drive the plot. Monsters tend to be results of their problems. For example, if I’m selfish as a character or do a selfish act, then that results, in The Powerpuff Girls, in a monster being released or a problem all three of them have to combat. It usually results in the girl who was selfish having to apologize, learn and then triumph.
Q: Can you describe the animation process? What goes into producing an episode?
Bob: We’re a board-driven show. Some shows work from scripts, but we work from outlines. The first thing that happens is Nick and I meet with our two writers and generate story ideas. Once we flesh that out into an outline, we give that to the storyboard artists. They have several weeks to rough it out. We’ll look at it along the way and give them some direction. The story will evolve as we go along.
Then, we’ll go into the design phase, where we’ll have a team of designers design all the backgrounds and ancillary characters. Those get painted and colored. Once the storyboards are done, we’ll build an animatic and then record. As for what an animatic is: once we have a storyboard, we’ll basically film it and match it up with the voices that have been recorded for the show.
At that point, we’re working on timing of jokes and cutting down the length of the show. Once we’re done with that, it gets shipped over to [an animation studio in] Korea. From there, it takes twelve to fourteen weeks over there to produce the animation. We do all the key poses and the storyboards, then they do all the animation in between and coloring. Once it gets sent back here, we edit and call retakes if there’s anything wrong with the animation, before editing it together to its final time. We’ll put music and sound effects to it. It takes about nine months from writing to delivery.
Q: How many episodes do you produce at a single time?
Nick: Our first season has forty eleven-minute episodes and it’s a staircase method of production. Every week, we’re finishing written material, we’re handing out written material, looking at storyboards in rough phases and finished phases. We’re doing animatics, records, mixing, finishing and delivering.
Bob: We’re working on about twelve episodes at a time.
Q: Describe the design and style influences of the reimagined Powerpuff Girls.
Nick: We looked a lot at the original and loved the original. Some of the designs of The Powerpuff Girls are so good. When we were tasked with reimagining it, we went through a lot of design iterations. Really, there’s not much you can do to make it better. We did add a few little things: we added these little balls in Bubble’s hair and a sprig of hair on the back of Buttercup’s head, and we changed the size of Blossom’s bow.
The original show has such a strong graphic look, which is great. However, we also understand that our audiences today, and the way we tell stories are different, which goes along with how we’re trying to be a little more in-depth and realistic with our characters. The graphic quality of the original could be an impediment to audiences connecting with the material, so we softened that graphic look a little bit. We pulled back and tried to keep that mid-century sort of look. We wanted to keep a lot of the good stuff from the original show, but soften it a little bit in different areas.
Palette-wise, we’re trying to make it for younger audiences, so we try to make it bright and colorful. It’s an amalgamation of a lot of years of different types of productions coming together to make this series.
Bob: Overall, we made a lot of little changes. As artists, we notice those because we’re really close to it all the time. But we wanted someone, a general viewer, to look at it and still think, “Oh! That’s The Powerpuff Girls, exactly as I remembered it.” Yet, it’s still radically different because it’s ten years later and things have changed. Technology has changed. Even though it looks radically different when you put it side-by-side, it still feels like the same and we wanted that sense of familiarity.
Q: Tell us about your career and how you got started.
Bob: I went to college in Richmond, Virginia. I studied illustration and lived in New York doing freelance illustration. After that, I followed my childhood dream out to Hollywood to become an animator. I started working as a character designer at Film Roman, an animation studio, on a show called Roman’s World.
I worked on a bunch of television shows, learning the craft of animation, character design, and got into storyboarding and background design and art direction. Along the way I was able to do my own projects and pitch those. I created a show for Nickelodeon called Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and then a show for Disney called Yin Yang Yo!. Then, I had the opportunity to come to Cartoon Network and work on Clarence as a supervising producer, which led me to work with Nick on creating the new Powerpuff show.
Nick: I lived in the Bay Area when I started my career in animation. I worked with Joe Murray on Rocko’s Modern Life for Nickelodeon. He had a small illustration company and I worked for him—we had met in college. I moved to California to be an art director for Rocko’s Modern Life after it was sold to Nickelodeon. After that, I worked on shows like Angry Beavers, CatDog, and Hey Arnold! Then, I worked on SpongeBob as the art director, working with Steve Hillenburg for three seasons and the first movie. I also worked in development and produced Nickelodeon’s first CG show, Tak and the Power of Juju. I left Nickelodeon for Cartoon Network, worked on some development projects and then acted as art director and supervising producer on Adventure Time for six seasons. Now, I’m working with Bob on The Powerpuff Girls—it’s been super exciting to be given that opportunity and we’ve had a great time.
Q: What can kids and their parents expect from The Powerpuff Girls?
Nick: I think they can expect a lot of what they loved about the original series: cute little girls fighting monsters, familiar villains, like Mojo Jojo, and a whole host of new villains. The girls are growing in different ways and we’ll see that exemplified in episodes coming down the road.
Q: Is there anything else we should know about you or The Powerpuff Girls?
Nick: I drink a lot of coffee.
Bob: I run a lot. He drinks coffee, and I run a lot!