Over the past 20 years, the name Butch Hartman has become synonymous with imaginative childhoods and adventurous adolescence. Since 1997, Hartman has amused viewers with his television creations, including The Fairly Oddparents and Danny Phantom. In addition to being an animator, writer, director, producer, and actor, Hartman is also the creator of the video network, Noog Network, as well as the founder of the non-profit organization, Hartman House.
During last weekend’s San Diego Comic Con, Blast Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Hartman about his entertaining television series, innovative video platform, and influential charity work.
Blast Magazine: Your most recent television series, Bunsen is a Beast, premiered earlier this year. The show tends to focus on the issues of fitting in and adjusting to new environments. Were these ideas based on real-life experiences that you witnessed?
Butch Hartman: Definitely. I think Bunsen is a show that is relatable for everybody. Everybody has had that experience where they were the new kid in school or didn’t fit in well in a new place at first. Everybody wants to be accepted and I think Bunsen really speaks to that. I never go into shows trying to make them deep and philosophical. I just want to have a good time, but that is the basic premise of the show. Can Bunsen fit in? What is it like to hang out with a beast friend who is a kid unlike any other?
Blast: The Fairly Oddparents has now been on the air for 16 years and the initial child viewers have long since grown up. What do you think it is about the show that keeps it thriving and encourages people to come back and watch it years later?
Hartman: I think it’s the characters. The characters on that show have made it what it is because it’s not just about the situation. Anybody can make a show about a situation but the characters are who you want to continue to follow. When I watched The Office, it took place in the most boring environment of all time, an office, but I kept coming back week after week to watch those characters interact.
Blast: Between all of your projects, you still managed to find time to found the non-profit organization, Hartman House. What type of work does the organization do and what plans do you have for the immediate future?
Hartman: Hartman House is a non-profit organization that helps people around the world. We build houses, feed families, do home makeovers, and give scholarships. We do all these things for people who can’t do it themselves. In two weeks, we will be in Africa putting in some water wells. We just like to help where we can. We can’t change the world all at once, but we can change it one little piece at a time.
Blast: In your career, you’ve had the opportunity to perform a variety of roles, from storyboard artist and writer to director and producer. Which of those jobs do you prefer and how do you feel that each of those positions has helped prepare you for the others?
Hartman: I really prefer drawing. I just love to sit and draw. I love writing too because without writing, there is nothing to draw. Writing is the story. When you are an artist, everyone thinks you’re just an artist. You’re not. You’re a storyteller. All artists are storytellers so learn how to tell a story not just with your art, but with your writing as well. If you don’t know how to write, learn how and practice because you make yourself more valuable that way.
Blast: When you created The Fairly Oddparents, what was your creative process like and how did it differ from the process for your subsequent show, Danny Phantom?
Hartman: Fairly Oddparents came about as a short cartoon. I was working on the Oh! Yeah Cartoons show on Nickelodeon and I made 10 fully animated Fairly Oddparents short cartoons. They aired them on Nickelodeon and then focus tested them before making them into a series. It took about 2 or 3 years’ total. The process was a little bit different for Danny Phantom. I was at dinner with the head of Nickelodeon and he asked me if I had any ideas for other shows. I told him that I had a show in mind called Danny Phantom and he was excited and wanted to make it. It was a much faster process than Fairly Oddparents. However, after the immediate agreement phase, it still took over 2 years to develop the show. Nothing happens overnight.
Blast: With so many episodes of The Fairly Oddparents already released, does it ever get difficult to come up with new, fresh ideas?
Hartman: Yes, it does. However, we do our best to make everything fresh and different. The show has been on so long that technology has even changed. Back in 2001, we couldn’t do a show about cell phones or iPods and now we can. Technology and advancements in the world are actually really helping us out.
Blast: You recently created your own technological advancement, the video platform, Noog Network. What was your reasoning behind that decision and do you see all of your work being on there, rather than Nickelodeon, in the future?
Hartman: I do. The Noog Network was created because I want to make my own original programming all the time. Nickelodeon can’t just do all of my stuff, since they have to buy stuff from other people. Since Nickelodeon wasn’t going to buy everything, I figured I’d make it myself. I’m making all of my own original cartoons, live-action shows, and video games on Noog and adding new stuff all the time. I’m the only one who makes the decisions so I can add new stuff whenever I want to. I’m just limited by my own imagination and time is a bit of a factor. I can’t do everything on my own but I’m slowly assembling an awesome staff to really build this network into a powerhouse.
Blast: Since you’ve had quite an incredible career, what would be your best advice for someone interested in pursuing a career as a writer or an artist?
Hartman: Don’t ever stop and don’t ever give up. If you stop, it’s completely your fault. There is no reason to ever give up and say you can’t do it because I’m living proof that you can. Every show that I’ve gotten on television has started with just one drawing before anyone else believed in it. You have to believe in yourself and your work. You also have to keep moving forward and be nice to people. Never be a primadonna because the person you’re rude to today might be your boss tomorrow.