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Craig Bartlett on the Legacy of HEY ARNOLD

Hey Arnold was always kind. The adventures of Arnold, Gerald, and Helga were like formative friendships for many of us who grew up with ’90s Nickelodeon. In a sea of cynical and edgy shows, Hey Arnold was sweet, and friendship focused. Its legacy is its moral compass. That impact is one of the things that means the most to Bartlett who spoke with us about the 20th anniversary of the beloved show. “There’s somebody for everyone in that group, and that was our purpose from the outset.”

The show was also stylistically unique with its iconic animation style and character designs, all of which came from the shows origins as claymation shorts. Whether it was Gerald’s cylindrical high top, or Arnold’s football shaped head, the recognizable designs are something that Bartlett and Co. still hear about it today. It’s because their bespoke styles got to the heart of what the show was about: learning about yourself by understanding others. “It’s the sweetest, most flattering thing of all, to think that we put these characters out there–that we really love–and people found someone to identify with.”

Nerdist: Nickelodeon in the ’90s was the home of what’s now seen as a renaissance in animation. What was it like to be a part of that?

Bartlett: Well, it was the mid-’90s when Hey Arnold came out, and that was a great time for animation. It seemed like they were handing out shows, and there was definitely something in the air; it was incredibly exciting. Nickelodeon kept expandin, and they moved into the studio where they are now in Burbank, and we moved with them after three seasons. Before that we’d been in a more humble setting, but those were the days that everyone loved the most. The crew who worked on the first three seasons of Hey Arnold in this dumpy little place on Vineland–they loved that best. I remember there was this great big room with these little desks, and everyone would catch the same cold each winter. It was totally funky in there but, you know, the journey is the destination.

Nerdist: The DVD collection contains some really interesting stuff. Are you excited to share the pilot and the shorts with fans?

Bartlett: I am! You know the pilot we shot that on 35mm film, and it was all hand inked animation. You look at that now and it’s like a long gone craft. But when I see it it feels great, because it reminds me of how it all started. I’ve always wanted that version to be available. There are a few different versions, but this the one that I really love. Later, the pilot was used to create “24 Hours to Live” in season one, but I always particularly loved the original pilot. There’s something so fun about creating a pilot because you’re laying out what you want this entire world to be in eight minutes!

Also my super funky 8mm “Arnold Escapes From Church” is on there! That’s how actually Arnold started, he was made of clay! I created Arnold in the summer of ’88 when I first arrived in L.A. and had worked on Pee Wee, and was doing the Penny Cartoons which were made in the same style of this flat shooter clay. So when I had the chance to work on Arnold I’d learned that technique, and so I animated three stop motion Arnold shorts in my own living room!

Will you be grabbing the Hey Arnold Collection? Can’t believe you never knew that football head started as claymation? Jump into the comments and let us know!

The Hey Arnold Ultimate Collection is out now!

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