Interview: Tom Warburton

Creator of Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door, co-director of Sheep in the Big City, and character designer for Disney’s Pepper Ann, Mr. Warburton has left his mark on the television animation industry. Luckily, we had an opportunity to interview the man himself, and learn a little more about upcoming series, the new season of “Sheep” and his other projects.

CNF: What inspired you to get into the animation business?

Warburton: Originally it was the lifestyle that attracted me. Someone tricked me and
told me that being an animator was like being a rock star. You know, wild all night parties, beautiful girls, and bushels of cash. Like in the rap videos. But it’s not like that at all. If I ever find the guy who told me that he’s in big trouble.
Actually, what really attracted me was the simple fact that i¹ve always loved cartoons and I’ve always loved to draw. Making people laugh is one of the greatest things in the world to me and making cartoons is a great way to do it.

CNF: Did you go to school to become an animator? What was your first job animating?

Warburton: I actually went to college to be a graphic designer! I thought that to be an animator you had to be the best artist in the world and then you had to be able to make it move. I didn¹t think I was good enough. So one day I was out with a friend and she asked me how classes were going. I told her that I’d rather be in charge of refrying the beans at Taco Bell than get a job in graphic design. So then she asked me one of the most important questions in my life: “What would be the job that you would laugh at people for paying you to do?”. When I told her that making cartoons sounded like the best job in the world she said that if that’s what I really wanted to do that’s what I HAD to do. So I did. My school didn’t have a lot of animation courses, but I took every one I could and even made some up for independent studies. When I graduated I made lots of trips to New York with a list on animation studios and just showed up at their doorsteps begging them to look at my portfolio. Eventually, a company called Buzzco Associates got sick of hearing my whining and gave me a job as a production assistant. That’s where I really learned the basics of animation from the ground up.

CNF: Who were your favorite cartoon characters as a kid?

Warburton: Who WEREN’T my favorite cartoon characters as a kid!? I watched them all. Except “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home”. Yeesh…that one just gave me the creeps. Like everybody else, though, I laughed the hardest at all the old Warner Brothers cartoons. I liked Daffy Duck as Duck Twacy so much I’d write my own episodes for my friends to read.

CNF: Do you have a favorite Cartoon Cartoon, aside from your own series?

Warburton: There’s so much good stuff on Cartoon Network right now I can’t just pick one. You can never go wrong watching Dexter or Powerpuff Girls and visually Samurai Jack just knocks you out! Last year’s Big Pick Winner Grim and Evil has got it going on and I can¹t wait for some more Robot Jones! And don’t forget about the new season of Sheep in the Big City! Oh yeah….and Justice League’s coming, too! To have my show among all these
is pretty exciting.

CNF: What are the plans for Sheep in the Big City, season 2?

Warburton: Well, Mo is going to KILL me for giving it away but it¹s so good that I just can’t hold it in anymore! Get THIS! It’s absolute GENIUS! In the 2nd season of Sheep in the Big City, Sheep returns to as an adult to confront the evil shape shifter Aku, but at the last moment he is flung through a time portal and lands in the distant future and then…wait a minute…um…did I
mention the part about the magic sword? Or the…er…giant robot beetles? Wait, that’s not right. Uhhhhhm…what was the question again?

CNF: What are the plans for Sheep in the Big City, season 2?

Warburton: There is DEFINITELY going to be a season 2 of Sheep in the Big City.

CNF: Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Warburton: Okay okay…season two can be summed up in just three words: MORE FUNNY HATS! It’s going to be AMAZING! (um…that last sentence doesn’t count for the “just three words” thing.)

CNF: How did you come up with the idea for The Kids Next Door?

Warburton: I did another pilot for Cartoon Network a while ago called “Kenny and the Chimp”. The Kids Next Door were going to be the kids who lived next door to Kenny and got him and his pet monkey into trouble. Every episode they’d have a different name like “The Deep Fryer Five” or “The Giant Gorilla Gang”. The super high powered execs at Cartoon Network always said they liked The Kids (obviously more than Kenny) so the day Kenny and the Chimp premiered ” sent them a pitch for a show starring The Kids Next Door, and NOW look at the mess we’re in.

CNF: I know its early, but people are already asking how The Kids Next Door will develop. Will it be action? Comedy? A mix of both?

Warburton: Well, after The Kids Next Door develop to adulthood, they confront the evil shape shifter Aku and…um…well…that’s not the way it’s going to happen at all. Actually, I want The Kids Next Door to be both action AND humor. They’ll come up with these really big super huge plans for world domination but, because they’re just a bunch of kids, so they screw it all up.

CNF: Do you base your characters off of people you know or is it strictly fiction?

Warburton: Kind of both. I try to make my characters like people everybody knows so anyone can make some kind of connection with them. They’re rarely based on any one person completely. But one time for a Father’s Day episode of Pepper Ann I drew a guy that looked just like my dad for a background character and told him to watch for it. When he finally saw it he called me up and said “What, that’s it? I was on the screen for, like, 2 seconds.”

CNF: Do you have to be clinically insane to work for Cartoon Networks, or is that optional?

Warburton: No…but all Cartoon Network employees must have some sort of super power. Mine is that i can make myself itchy at will. It’s really a lame power and it’s hard to prove to people whether you¹re itchy or not but it’s all I’ve got.

CNF: Pepper Ann was a big hit for Disney’s Saturday mornings. What role did you play in the show’s creation?

Warburton: I worked with Sue Rose (the creator of the show and West Coast Kung Fu champion 3 years in a row), during the development process to come up with the character design for the show. Sue and I had known each other for a long time and had similar styles so it was a perfect match. When Disney picked up the show, I became the Lead Character Designer. I would get a script and a list of the characters and special designs they needed, like Pepper Ann with a bobcat on her head, and get to work. Since I was here in NYC and they were out in LA, we’d do everything through fax, e-mail and Fed Ex. Working out of my apartment was great, but after a while it got to be a little like Tom Hanks in that movie Castaway. Except I can’t really grow a beard like that.

CNF: Is Sue Rose really the West Coast Kung Fu champion?

Warburton: Yes.

CNF: Come on, really?

Warburton: Um….no. Not really. Sorry. But once she confronted the evil shape shifter Aku…

Well that’s it. I’d like to thank Tom Warburton for the interview and for the fans that sent in questions to ask.