Interview: Craig McCracken

Creator of Cartoon Network’s “The Powerpuff Girls”, Craig McCracken touts an impressive resume of working as art director for Two Stupid Dogs and Dexter’s Laboratory. Currently Craig has wrapped up production of The Powerpuff Girls Movie. We were lucky enough to pull him from his busy schedule and chat.

CNF: The Fansite: What are your animation influences?

C. McCracken: Rocky and Bullwinkle, Underdog, were big for me. Though I love cartoons and comics so much that I can always find something inspirational in most anything.

CNF: The Fansite: Where do you get your ideas from, in general?

C. McCracken: I wish there was a simple answer for that, but in truth I really don’t know.

CNF: The Fansite: How did you get into the animation business? Did you go to school for it?

C. McCracken: Well I studied animation at Cal Arts, and through a friend of mine from school I got a tip that Hanna Barbera was looking for an Art Director for a new show they were producing called Two Stupid Dogs. I showed them my stuff and got the job.

CNF: The Fansite: Other than making cartoons, what are your hobbies?

C. McCracken: I’m a pretty obsessive music and toy collector.

CNF: The Fansite: The Powerpuff Girls are very eclectic super heros. What was your inspiration for creating them?

C. McCracken: I was always a big fan of superheros, and it was a genre I always wanted to work in. So I had decided that my second year student film would star a superhero of some sorts, but I didn’t want it to be the typical muscle guy in a cape. So one day I happened to draw these three little girls. The contrast of cute and tough was really appealing to me and thus The Whoopass (Powerpuff) Girls were born.

CNF: The Fansite: Besides the change of names from ‘Whoopass Girls’ to ‘Powerpuff Girls’, was there anything else from your original vision that has to be left on the cutting room floor for broadcast on Cartoon Network?

C. McCracken: The only thing that we had to change was “Him.” He’s actually supposed to be the Devil but we’re not allowed to have any religious references in our shows, so we had to make him a little more vague and refer to him as “Him”, the ultimate evil.

CNF: The Fansite: It seems the villians of Townsville are just as interesting as the girls. What inspired a few of them?

C. McCracken: Lets see… Mojo Jojo was inspired by Dr. Gori from Spectreman, his helmet from Kagestar, and dialog from Speed Racer. Him was inspired by the head Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine. The Gangreen Gang was inspired by Fat Albert and the Cosby kids as if designed by Big Daddy Roth. Fuzzy Lumpkins was inspired by Lurky from Rainbow Bright and Precious from the Muppets. Princess was inspired by Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka. The large city-wreaking monsters were inspired by the ones in Ultraman, Godzilla, etc. (the rubber suited monsters).

CNF: The Fansite: One of the hallmarks of the series is the stylistic, bold design. How did that come about?

C. McCracken: I’m a big fan of 50’s and 60’s animation design (UPA, Hanna Barbera, Jay Ward, Ward Kimball, Tom Oreb, Underdog, etc.) and the show is just my attempt to push that style further.

CNF: The Fansite: Are you surprised by the wide range of demographics the series captures?

C. McCracken: No, I’m not surprised, ’cause that was the goal of the show from the beginning. I’m just really pleased that it worked, that adults and kids can enjoy the show on completely different levels.

CNF: The Fansite: Cartoon Network viewers voted Bubbles their favorite Powerpuff Girls. Who is yours?

C. McCracken: I can’t say, it’s like picking your favorite kid.

CNF: The Fansite: When did you and the network decide to start the film?

C. McCracken: I believe it was early 2000 but we didn’t start production till October 2001.

CNF: The Fansite: Is the movie going to cause big changes in for the Powerpuff Girls series?

C. McCracken: Not from a story standpoint, because the movie is a prequel. But a lot of the digital filmmaking techniques we’re using in the film I’d like to carry through to the show.

CNF: The Fansite: How will the animation look and the music sound in the movie, compared to the television show? Will there be an actual orchestra working with James Venable?

C. McCracken: Visually the movie is much more advanced than the show. We are putting all the hand drawn animation, painted backgrounds, and a small amount of CG animation, into the computer and putting the final scenes together digitally. This affords us much more control over the final shot and lets us do things never possible in the show. For instance, with a traditional animation camera you can truck out from about a 4 field to a 16 field, but just the other day with the digital camera we finished a truck out that went from a point 8 field to an 8,000 field. The film is also much moodier than the show and there is much more atmosphere (or Flatmosphere as we have dubbed it) in every shot. As far as music goes, we are pushing things in new directions from the show, that will include some live orchestra stuff.

CNF: The Fansite: If the Powerpuff Girls movie does well in theaters, would you have plans for a second one?

C. McCracken: Yeah, I have an idea already that I know will please a lot of fans.

CNF: The Fansite: The movie appears to have created a more permanent-looking interior of the Utonium household as well as a more sinister looking Mojo Jojo. Are there other design changes coming?

C. McCracken: Yeah, the entire world has been realized in more detail to give the environments more mood and space. They no longer exist as mere backdrops behind the characters, but a place that the characters exist in. The character designs have been pushed for no other reason than I draw better now that I did when the designs for the show were done. It was simply a case of the natural evolution of cartoon characters.

CNF: The Fansite: Would you say it’s more enjoyable doing an animated movie or working on an animated television show?

C. McCracken: The show is fun cause you get to come up with a lot of ideas but the movie is fun because you get to spend a lot of time perfecting one idea.

CNF: The Fansite: This is the looming question for many Powerpuff fans: Will there be another season?

C. McCracken: Yes, we’ve already begun early production.

CNF: The Fansite: What other projects are you planning on after the movie?

C. McCracken: More Powerpuff shows, another movie? Who knows?

CNF: The Fansite: What advice do you have for would-be animation students?

C. McCracken: Keep drawing and take your time. Don’t try to be perfect right off the bat, let your style and ideas develop. I’d been trying to come up with a cartoon character to call my own since I was 12 and every year I was frustrated that I hadn’t done it yet. It wasn’t till I was 20 that I came up with the Girls and 11 years later I’m still trying to get it just right.

We’d like to thank Mr. McCracken for taking his time to speak with us and the great feedback he had for the site. Be sure to check out the movie, and the upcoming season of The Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network.