Nickelodeon’s “Happy Happy Joy Joy: 25 years of Creator-Driven Animation” Panel celebrates animation history

In Art, Arts & Entertainment, Film & TV
Butch Hartmann (right) autographs posters for students who had the opportunity to meet the creators after the panel. (Katie Albertson / Daily Titan)
Butch Hartmann (right) autographs posters for students who had the opportunity to meet the creators after the panel.
(Katie Albertson / Daily Titan)

The audience inside Meng Concert Hall erupted as creators of Nickelodeon’s famed cartoons were introduced and sat down in a semi-circle on super-sized lounge chairs. Cartoons such as “Doug” and “Rugrats,” were honored Saturday at Nickelodeon’s “Happy Happy Joy Joy: 25 years of Creator-Driven Animation” event.

Vanessa Coffey, one of the selected panelists, is credited as the founder of Nickelodeon Animation. Coffey recruited creators and animators to make shows that progressed the medium in 1991: the original three cartoon shows “Doug,” “Rugrats” and “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”

In addition to Coffey, four other creators were part of the panel: Butch Hartmann, creator of the famed animated series “The Fairly OddParents” and “Danny Phantom;” Stephen Hillenburg, creator of “SpongeBob SquarePants;” Jim Jinkins, creator of the popular series “Doug” and Arlene Klasky, creator of “Rugrats” and “The Wild Thornberrys.”

Hartmann was the moderator of the panel, asking the other creators questions about the process of making a show, as well as the pros and cons of working in the TV industry.

Jinkins was the first to be asked about his inspiration behind the creation of “Doug.” He said “Doug” began as a single-panel cartoon that he saw as a doodled version of himself.  Jinkins was living in New York at the time and credited himself for being at the right place at the right time when he met Coffey. To this day, Jinkins credits Coffey for changing his life.

Afterward, Hartmann shared insight with the audience and explained that when an opportunistic moment comes up as a creator, have an idea ready.

The next panelist who spoke was Klasky, who, with her husband and business partner Gabor Csupo, today run Klasky Csupo, which produces many popular animation TV shows. Klasky’s idea of “Rugrats” was eventually pitched to Coffey. At the time Klasky had a family and was working on an idea for “Sesame Street.” Klasky said the whole idea behind “Rugrats” was to depict what babies would say if they could talk.

Coffey was the next to speak. She elaborated on her retreat to New York to avoid the ‘80s animation concepts, which she said she was not fond of.  Nickelodeon did not do animation at the time, so Coffey called Nickelodeon herself, because they were the only kids business in town, she said.

Hillenburg’s journey began when he studied marine science at Humboldt University. At the time, Hillenburg thought he was going to go back to school for painting, but he landed a job at the Ocean Institute at Dana Point.

Hillenburg eventually went to California Arts Institute, where he realized his passion was animation. He was working for Joe Murray, creator of the show “Rocko’s Modern Life,” when he began sketching for the concept of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

An exhibition of Nickelodeon’s animation art and artifacts were displayed at the Begovich Gallery. The exhibit explored the influence behind the artistry that has produced several of Nickelodeon’s renowned animated TV shows.

Dana Lamb, professor emeritus of entertainment art and animation, coordinated the production of the show. Lamb shared details about the animation program at CSUF and its growth and how the program reaches out to the animation industry for advice on how to train the students.

“I think people love animation now more than ever, and traditional TV animation is even more popular now, so that’s exciting,” Hartmann said.
Looking toward the future, Nickelodeon plans to highlight new styles of animation. Nickelodeon wants to encourage students to pursue their risky visions and original ideas, as well as staying true to their craft.

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