Watching their favorite childhood shows, children rarely wonder what goes into creating a cartoon.
It isn’t until they’ve grown up that they realize how much effort it takes to bring these shows to the screen. Behind the scenes, various actors, writers and animators take part in the process, bringing these classic characters to life.
With animation experience under his belt, Tuck Tucker, the supervising storyboard director for “SpongeBob SquarePants,” knows what it’s like to take part in such a phenomenon.
Tucker visited Virginia Tech on Wednesday, Feb. 20 to hold a presentation, exploring his time with his animation career as well as talking about his work with “SpongeBob SquarePants.” He also took the time to work with a 3D animation class taught by Thomas Tucker, assistant professor for the School of Visual Arts.
After Tucker showed them an animatic form of an episode called “The Splinter,” the students had the chance to create their own endings to the story. These versions of the episode were later shown during his presentation.
The Collegiate Times had the opportunity to sit down with Tucker to discuss his work.
The Collegiate Times: Can you tell me more about your time in Virginia, how you became involved with animation, and how that took off?
Tuck Tucker: My family went to school here, and my dad’s an old Hokie. I was a terrible student and just drew all the time, and my parents pulled me out of the public school system to get me into private school. (It was) one of those Harry Potter schools where you go in a coat and tie and go to chapel every day. I was still this unrepentant doodler, always drawing, and I wound up at VCU taking all the animation courses they offered. It was one of those things where I knew if I was going to make money in this life, it would have to be for doodling. So my animation teacher decided to go out to Los Angeles right when I was graduating, and we moved out there together. He wound up at Pixar, and I wound up at Filmation. I wound up going from there to Disney on “The Little Mermaid.” I told everybody when I left that I was going to work at Disney, and then I got there and the talent pool was so rich. There were so many people between me and where I wanted to be. I’ve really been in Nickelodeon going from “Rugrats” to “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters” to “Hey Arnold!” My thing was Helga, and once I made director on that show, my thing was to grab as much good Helga stuff because she was such a rich character and so angry and in love with this odd kid. It kind of culminated with directing the movie. I already missed the boat with SpongeBob because they asked me to come over right before the movie, and I said no. Then they asked me again when they went to make their movie, and I was going to have to take a demotion to do it. But I wanted to do it, and I knew all the people, and I liked what they were doing, so I said yes. I segued from that into a writing job on SpongeBob. I went from storyboard artist on the movie and writer on the TV show to supervising storyboard director. Now I’m directing on a show called “The Fairly OddParents.”
CT: I’ve grown up with this, and even now I’ll admit that I still watch cartoons. But I know that some people think, “Well, you have to grow up,” so how do you feel that cartoons and animation are important to both children and adults?
Tucker: I started watching cartoons with my father, and even he knew what was good. Every once in a while it was a treat to sit down and watch it with him. What’s important for kids — it’s not what people think is important for kids, like modeling behavior for instance, or giving them a sense of right and wrong. SpongeBob, for instance, is a bunch of grown men making a kid’s cartoon. You start with a premise about a very innocent sponge and you let older hands work on it and wind up with something that’s very special that you can’t create with a sense of purity.
CT: As you were saying before, being in Lynchburg and then going to L.A., everything was so competitive. If you could go back, what would you tell your younger self about trying to reach your dreams when they seem unattainable?
Tucker: Your first fear is that you want work, and now the fear is that I’m going to let myself get overworked. I’d tell that younger self to have fun outside of animation, because the older I get it seems the less time we have to do stuff. It seems like the work is getting even more intense and like I’ve got more balls to juggle. So I’d tell (him), “Don’t worry about the work. You’re going to have more than you want, and in fact you’re going to wish you had an extra hand or something. I was always worried about how I was going to make it, and it was never a problem. For most of the people I know, they did well. We all have the same fears, but it all works out."