Ani Shorts: Craig McCracken 2 - PPG, Foster's and Comics?

McCracken Talks Powerpuff Girls

All three Powerpuff Girls are in this small box - won't you buy it and let them out? All three Powerpuff Girls are in this small box - won't you buy it and let them out?

Craig McCracken was born in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 13, 1971, thus making him still slightly under 40 years old. In the late 1990s, animation titan Chuck Jones, who was just turning 90, declared he was leaving the animation industry as it was a “young man’s game.”

As McCracken declares in this interview, much to his shock he is now considered “the old man” at Cartoon Network Studios. Younger animators are coming up to him and declaring that his series Powerpuff Girls was one of their favorite and influential cartoons when they were growing up.

Yesterday we were reminded as to just how great that series truly was as CN not only ran a 10th Anniversary marathon of the girls, but also capped it with a brand spanking new episode entitled “Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!” Today, Warner Brothers/CN releases a six-DVD set featuring every possible bit of PPG video, except for their one feature-length film. There’s also more episodes of Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends and McCracken’s latest project, The Cartoonstitute.

So, as you can imagine, there was still a lot to talk to McCracken about, even if he follows Jones’ example, we lucky fans will have 50 years more of this old man. Here’s what he had to say (Click here for part one of our interview).

Newsarama: How does it feel to have almost the entire series, except the PPG Movie, out on boxed set?

Craig McCracken: It’s nice. It’s really nice to have it, but it’s also weird. It’s weird to sum so much of my life in one tiny package.

NRAMA: It is a lot of time by any standard.

CM: It is a lot of time. We wanted to pack it with every little thing that was televised with the Powerpuff Girls. You know, the interstitials, the Christmas special, you’ll get it all.

NRAMA: Did you have fun going through all this stuff?

CM: Yeah. It was fun re-looking at the stuff that I haven’t looked at for a while. As I looked over them I had to say to myself, ‘Wow! These really hold up.’

NRAMA: I didn’t notice any commentary tracks.

CM: Yeah. We didn’t do any. We used the time to work on the documentary.

NRAMA: Actually, it was interesting, and--let’s be real—look at the weight we’ve all gained since 1992.

CM: We have gained a lot of weight. I have gray hair too! I mean I’ve been with Cartoon Network for 16 years. I met my future wife here. The strange thing is now there are a lot of young animators who are in their early 20s. They’re all coming up to me and saying how Powerpuffs was their favorite show when they were kids…

NRAMA: And it’s those four words “when they were kids…”

CM: That’s exactly right. I mean it’s something to think these guys started as young animation fans watching Dexter’s and Powerpuffs. I entertained them and now they work for me! I see many of them as my peers! I’m saying ‘hey, you’re just a young artist like me’ and then I have to stop and say, ‘wait a minute, I guess I’m not that young anymore.’ I’m the old man now!

I was just talking to one of these guys who’s doing a new short for us. He’s having Mark Mothersbaugh doing his music. He was familiar with Mothersbaugh’s stuff for Wes Anderson. He walked up to me and said, ‘you know? I just went to a shop and bought some of his old Devo records. They’re really good!’ In my head I’m thinking ‘What? You didn’t start with Devo?’ That’s when I realized what I was facing was a real generational thing. I first heard Devo when I was in fifth grade. The new guy was barely born.

NRAMA: I bought the original “Mongoloid” single while I was in college and they were touring around in the yellow hazard suits. I guess this is as good a point as any to lead into the Cartoonstitute.

CM: It’s really a development program. The way we sold it to the network was concept and ideas are valid, so are writing bibles as is selling the concept of a show. But what really makes a show work, or not work, is how well you execute.

One thing I always use is a show called Pen Ward’s Adventure Time. It’s a show about a little boy and his pet dog who rescue a princess from an evil wizard. That idea can get misinterpreted so many ways it can end up amazing or completely lame. Yet what Pen did with it was completely amazing. It’s really entertaining and really original, and it’s all about his execution. It’s so good he ended up selling the television show to Cartoon Network (after it’s pilot aired on Nick—ED). It’s in production right now.

Now the way we’re setting up the Cartoonstitute is by saying let the artist make something first. Let them do a storyboard and show you the humor and type of filmmaking they want to put in there. Don’t just judge it on the concept alone. Judge it on the execution.

NRAMA: Well, let’s be honest Craig, a cartoon just can’t be done on a black and white, purely written, script. It has to be storyboarded and, really, have an animatic before it starts moving.

CM: Yeah! You got to have the pictures. You got to have the visuals. It’s about the experience of film making. The thing about the Cartoonstitute is there’s not a lot of executive interference. It’s myself, Rob Renzetti and a few other artists. We keep an eye out for animators with ideas. We assign them to do storyboards. They have to pitch that board to my boss, Rob Sorcher. If Rob Sorcher likes it, we start producing that short. Then that becomes an initial pilot for Sorcher to determine if we can make a new series from.

NRAMA: So it sounds like an institutionalized, for lack of a better word, version of the old What A Cartoon program.

CM: Yeah. The one difference is this is being run by artists. The artists are the ones who are looking for new projects, working with the other artists, and presenting them to the one executive. Then if he, Sorcher, likes it, we go ahead and produce it. If he then decides there’s a show there, we start developing it into a series.

We started pitching Rob about this in May of last year. In nine months we got about 25 projects now in the works. Also, Rob has looked at some of these and said they are shows. I don’t think we would have gotten this far if we went through the traditional ways of development. It would have taken a lot more time.

NRAMA: So who are the other artists besides you and Renzetti?

CM: It’s three other artists, who kind of work as both mentors and are also developing their own shorts. They are Christopher Reccardi, Derek Drymon and Dave Smith. Chris has been in the business for 20 years. Derek was the #2 man on Spongebob for a long time. Dave has been a storyboard man for Cartoon Network and Dreamworks for years. They are really experienced comedy guys.

The gang at Foster's

NRAMA: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you. How are things at Foster’s?

CM: There are five episodes that we have completed episodes on. I believe they are planning some sort of marathon, where they will air those.

NRAMA: So is Foster’s kind of ending its run, too?

CM: Well, we’ve kind of ended production on it for now. Like Powerpuff, there’s always the potential to make more specials.

NRAMA: Then are you doing anything animated right now?

CM: I’m just basically running the Cartoonstitute. I like working with other artists and taking a break from running my own shows for a while. I’m also working on some projects that are non-animated. I really want to get into publishing.

NRAMA: So are you thinking about doing a comic book?

CM: I’d really like to do a comic book. I really miss drawing. I really like the direct effect of something coming from my head to the page. It’s just my hands and some paper and I’m done, you know? There is no committee involved in it.

NRAMA: One last thing. There’s this show in Japan called Damashita! Power Puff Girls Z. What is your involvement in that?

CM: That got pitched to me a few years ago. What happened is in Japan they wouldn’t air our version of Powerpuff Girls on their network television because it wasn’t produced in an Asian country. At the same time, the Girls were airing on satellite TV over there and it was a hit. So a lot of the broadcasters were coming to us saying this could be a real profit center for us, but for us to get it on TV Tokyo or any other network, we would have to produce it here. So we would like to produce an anime version of the Puffs. What do you think about that?

So I thought, well, Batman has been reinterpreted about a million times, and they are all viable versions of Batman. As long as they stayed true to the heart and soul of the show, I would be fine with it. So a lot of studios came up with their own versions and pitched them to us. So I met with them, and with Damishita I only had to make a few basic notes. From there, I really didn’t have that much else to do with the construction of it.

NRAMA: This is all interesting, being you did a lot of the real animation of Powerpuff Girls in Rough Draft Korea. Last I checked, that was part of Asia.

CM: Yes. What I actually was saying is it actually had to have some sort of Japanese connection. That’s the only way you can air a cartoon on a network in Japan. That’s the way it was presented to me.

Also, they wanted to age it up a little bit. Over that I told them that it still had to be a kids show. It could not be adult. It could not be sexual. Also, the first time they presented it to me, Professor Utonium wasn’t in it, and I told them that wasn’t going to happen. They had to have a father. They had to put that character in it. You can’t have the Girls without the Professor.

That’s an important point of the show. The Girls have tons of power, but they still have a parental authority. So they kind of put the Professor in it. I’ve seen some of the episodes and I have to admit it’s kind of surreal looking at it. It’s like it’s something I’m incredibly familiar with, but at the same time I just don’t have an idea of what’s going to happen next.

NRAMA: And it’s not available in the States in any way, right?

CM: No. It hasn’t. I understand there are plans for it. It’s already aired in Japan and there are DVDs out. In fact, I just got a three-DVD boxed set. They really are on top of it that way. It seems there is a real diehard anime fan base who have embraced it.

So I would love for it ultimately to be shown here. I don’t know if there are any plans for that yet.

STAR WARS CLONE WARS TAKES ON CANCER

Every year the Lucasfilm companies join together to raise money for the AIDS/Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, which provides critical financial assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. This is an extraordinary group, and last year, Lucasfilm raised more than $60,000.

“To raise the money, we hold an annual Trivia Night, in which teams of Lucasfilm employees embarrass themselves by showing how little they know about the world outside their offices and computers,” says a Lucasfilm spokesperson, “which they so rarely see. But it's a heck of a lot of fun. Each team has to raise a minimum of $500 to compete.

“It's an overused cliche, but I know times are tough. Still, if you could donate $2, $5 or $20 to the Fund, it would make a tremendous difference! And, best of all, donations are fully tax deductible. (Let me know if you need a receipt.)

Donations would be massively appreciated. If you'd like to make a donation, you can send a check made out to "AEF" or "AIDS/Breast Cancer Emergency Fund" to:

John Singh

Lucasfilm Ltd.

P.O. Box 29901

San Francisco, CA 94129

“I realize it's not the best time to be asking for charitable donations,” said the spokesperson, “but if you possibly can make a donation, this is an organization that makes sure every cent is used well!

Thanks ... and may the Force -- aw, you know.”

NEXT COLUMN: We discuss the healing effects of smoothies with Fred Tatasciore, who Marvel has declared the voice of the Hulk for life. Why, you ask? Well, there are these two things called Hulk Vs. as well as Wolverine & The X-Men coming out in a few weeks, and Tatasciore has had a Beast-ly good time working on both of them.

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