Butch Hartman knows a thing or two about making TV shows kids love.
The artist, writer and producer began his career as a character designer and storyboard artist for Hanna-Barbera, Disney and Cartoon Network before creating Nickelodeon’s smash-hit animated series “The Fairly OddParents” in 2001. He later followed that success by developing two more popular ’toons for the kids’ network—“Danny Phantom” and “T.U.F.F. Puppy.”
Last week at San Diego Comic-Con, Hartman was besieged by fans of all ages at the pineapple-shaped Nickelodeon booth, where he was on hand to promote the first season of his fourth Nick series, “Bunsen Is a Beast.”
“Bunsen Is a Beast” centers on an enthusiastic and adorably ferocious blue monster named Bunsen, who is the first creature of his kind to attend the all-human Muckledunk Middle School. As Bunsen works to fit in with his fleshy classmates, he befriends Mikey Munroe, a boy who helps educate him on the human world while Bunsen returns the favor with insight on the furry, scaly, gnarly realm of monsters.
Each episode, the duo enjoys varied misadventures of both the human and monster variety, all the while thwarting classmate Amanda Killman’s repeated attempts to have Bunsen expelled.
I sat down with Hartman at San Diego Comic-Con to discuss the origins of “Bunsen,” reflect on his career at Nickelodeon and find out how he’s still keeping “Fairly OddParents” fresh after 16 years.
David Onda: What is it like for you to come to San Diego Comic-Con and actually meet the people who love your shows?
Butch Hartman: That is, honestly—I’m not kidding—the highlight of doing this. We just signed for those young kids who are just discovering what I do, and then to meet people your age who grew up with what I did, it’s really a joy. One of my biggest thrills is when someone 25 says, “I finally understand all those jokes I didn’t get when I was 5!” That’s a blast.
Onda: It’s interesting that kids today recognize and appreciate the people behind the shows they love. It’s not just the actors, but the creators and writers. I think that’s something that has evolved with the internet.
Hartman: What’s cool about the internet, too, is … doing a cartoon is one thing, but now I can have my own YouTube channel, and kids can see me and see what I do and see how I do it. I wish I had that when I was a kid.
Onda: You have a new series out called “Bunsen Is a Beast.”
Hartman: “Bunsen Is a Beast” just came out in February. It’s doing really good. We’re super excited. We’re still in our first season, looking forward to a second season, and we’re just having a great time.
Onda: That’s your fourth series with Nickelodeon. What keeps you coming back to work with Nick?
Hartman: The fact that they keep letting me, basically. [laughs] They keep letting me do it. I keep loving it. They’re very creator friendly. I get to, basically, do what I want. Once the show gets going, you kind of get to do what you want—within reason, of course. They’re really very creator driven, creator friendly. They’re very supportive. I’ve got nothing but great things to say.
Onda: And you’re on the 10th season of “Fairly OddParents.” How do you keep that show fresh?
Hartman: You just keep doing it. You’ve just gotta muscle through it every day. I will say, doing 16 years of “Fairly OddParents” is a challenge. “We already did that episode! We already used that character!” It’s kind of funny, with the way technology is, in 2001 we couldn’t write a show about a cell phone. Now we can. We can do a show about iPods now, which we couldn’t do in the first place. Now we can do all that stuff. Being on for so long, you have new story areas to do.
Onda: Speaking of technology, how has the process of making your shows become easier?
Hartman: The great thing is, we can do it in Flash now. Flash animation is a big difference. “Bunsen” is entirely animated in Flash. And we did the most recent season of “Fairly OddParents” in Flash as well. “Danny Phantom” was done traditionally, but it’s not in HD. It would be nice if it was. If you watch it now on an HD TV, it looks not as great as it could look, but “Bunsen” looks amazing.
Onda: Where did the initial seed of an idea for “Bunsen” come from?
Hartman: It started off as a children’s book. I drew a cover for a children’s book, and I had a beast profile facing a human profile—a boy and a beast looking at each other. I thought, “This would be a great children’s book.” The name “Bunsen Is a Beast” just popped into my head. I have no idea where the name came from, but I thought it was really funny. I found a really cool font—it was called “You Murderer.” That was the font. [laughs] I had made a poster of it, and it sat in my office at Nickelodeon for 5 years until the head of Nickelodeon came in one day and goes, “What’s that?” I said, “That’s called ‘Bunsen Is a Beast.’” I had nothing but the poster. He goes, “You have anything on that?” I went, “Sure!” He walked out and I started typing up some stuff. That’s where those opportunities arise. Don’t ever, ever take an opportunity for granted. They’re like comets. You know they’re coming, and when they finally come, you might get a glimpse of them, but they might not come around again for another 100 years or so, so you better take advantage of those opportunities when they come by.
Onda: Do these characters you create live outside of the TV? Do you think about what they do in situations that you can’t animate?
Hartman: Oh, yeah, 24/7. I’m constantly thinking, “How can we turn this into a live-action movie.” I’ve got a sketchpad full of stuff here with other ideas that I’m coming up with. [Flips through his sketchpad, pointing at drawings] I don’t know who that guy is. Who’s that guy? He could be something, too. I even get a chance to do Danny Phantom meets Spider-Man [see above], which you’ll never see on the big screen. Imagine just the legal battle that would go into that!
Onda: Where do you do your best thinking for these ideas?
Hartman: Everywhere. Everywhere except the bathroom, actually. I’m constantly at my desk. I don’t play golf. I don’t play tennis. I just love what I do. And, I think if anybody out there loves what they do, they’re never gonna feel like it’s work.
Onda: If there’s someone out there, either adults or kids, who have never watched “Fairly Odd Parents” or “Bunsen Is a Beast,” why should they check out these shows?
Hartman: They’re gonna have a great time. It’s super-family-friendly content. You will never, ever go wrong with the content I create. It’s fun. It’s funny. You’ll have a great time. You’ll fall in love with the characters, and I actually wanna hear from you! Go on my YouTube channel and let me know what you think.
Watch all 15 season 1 episodes of “Bunsen Is a Beast” with XFINITY On Demand. Click here to watch online now.