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Paul Tibbitt Interview

The following is an interview from SpongeBob Online back in 2002-2004 that was given to us by PCbob since the closing of his fansite. Thank you PCbob!

You're about to read an interview with one of the biggest writers in the Spongebob world. Paul Tibbitt has been with Spongebob since the beginning, doing most of his work as a writer and storyboard director. Dive into his world as another chapter unfolds in the book of...meeting Spongebob...people...or something.
PCbob: What was your first love? What did you originally want to do for a career?

Paul Tibbitt: Well, I've always wanted to make cartoons. I was a big fan of Bugs Bunny cartoons. I used to carry around a tape recorder with me wherever I went. I tried to imitate the voices. I think maybe I thought I was originally going to be a voice actor or something. I spent a lot of time making flip cartoons in the margins of my text books at school. I'd get in trouble for that sometimes, but I guess it payed off. So yeah, cartoons.

PCbob: I like doodling in my spare time when I'm bored.

PT: It's important to keep your hand moving if you want to be an artist because that's how you do it. Even though I went to Cal Arts, I feel like I'm mostly self-taught. Most of what I learned came from trial and error, trying to copy things, finding things that I liked and trying to do my own versions of them.

PCbob: What was your big break into the industry?

PT: Well, I graduated from Cal Arts in '93. I took a year off, kinda did some travelling, and hung out. I had a friend that I was roommates with in college who had become a director on a show called the Itsy Bitsy Spider Show. It was on the USA Network on a show called Cartoon Express. They showed different cartoons. It's actually right down the street from where I am now, a studio called Hyperion. I was really lucky. My first job was storyboarding. We were sort of allowed a lot of freedom to write our own jokes. I did that for one season, and then the show got cancelled.

PCbob: How did you get to start working on Spongebob?

PT: I was working at Disney on a show called Nightmare Ned. That ended, and I took my portfolio to Nickelodeon when Catdog was starting up. I got a job doing character designs for background characters. I did that for about a year. I had to have back surgery and I left Nickelodeon for awhile to recover from that. When I came back, I sat at my desk, ready to draw Catdog. They came over and told me that they wanted to see me upstairs, so I went up and interviewed with Steve. He said that they had seen some of my other cartoons that I had done from the Itsy Bitsy Spider and Nightmare Ned and wanted me to come up and write Spongebob, so that's how it happened.

PCbob: Out of the many Spongebob episodes that you worked on, which one would you say would be your favorite?

PT: I think probably my favorite is the Nasty Patty that I did with Kaz. I think that one was somehow different enough from the rest. I had a lot of fun working on it and I was a big fan of Kaz before he came to work, so it was great to work with him. I was a little nervous at first. I'm a big fan of underground comics. He was one of my heroes. That one came out great. I really liked working with him. He was really easygoing. That was a good one.

PCbob: Any wacky moments from the office that you'd like to share?

PT: For the most part, it's a job. I think that since we're making cartoons, there's a general low level of wackiness that goes on all the time. I'd say 90 percent of the time, it's a job. You come in and you sit down and draw. There's always that little outburst that happens here and there during the day, but it's hard for me to pinpoint one perticular wacky moment.

PCbob: Which character did you enjoy writing for the most?

PT: I like Mr. Krabs. I think he's a good character, but Patrick's the most fun character to write for just because he's completely moronic and it's always fun to try to see how stupid he could be. Plankton's fun because he's evil in a really harmless way. I'd say it's probably a toss up between Patrick and Plankton.

PCbob: How do you feel about playing cameos (Mama Krabs, Doodlebob, etc.)?

PT: That's what I like to refer to as low level humiliation. How I actually got to do those voices was doing the pitch. I would just come up with a voice for the way I was pitching the character. Steve and Derek would laugh. They thought it was so funny that they wanted me to come in. It's a whole different ball game there. It's nerve-racking to sit in front of a microphone with a bunch of people behind glass staring at you. It's not an easy job. I was lucky to be around someone like Tom Kenny because he makes it fun. He's a really nice guy and you can't help but have some of his energy rub off on you.

PCbob: Doodlebob in particular was my favorite of your voices. He was really weird and funny.

PT: Thanks. When I was pitching him, the idea was that he couldn't really talk because he was still forming. I was just sort of doing a Jerry Lewis imitation when he said a nonsense word. I kept doing that in the pitch and it sort of stuck. It's kind of like a combination of Spongebob and Jerry Lewis. It's also me and my nasily tone.

PCbob: Have you ever been able to see any finished episodes?

PT: Yeah. I actually don't really get to see them. When the production was in full swing, we would screen them when they came back from the post house. The whole crew would get together. Sometimes we'd have chips and stuff and watch. There's still some episodes I haven't even seen. I don't get to see them on TV. Sometimes when I visit my family there's a Spongebob marathon on. My mom is a big Spongebob nut. She loves to watch it. I sit there with them and watch it. It's always fun to watch the show with people who didn't work on it. I could see those jokes a million times, and by the time they're on TV, they're not that funny to me anymore, but when you're with people who have never seen it before, it's always better that way.

PCbob: Do you feel Spongebob have evolved or changed since it first started?

PT: I think that with any show that you do a lot of episodes with, there's a natural evolution that the characters go through. Also, the ideas are going to change. You say "we sort of already did this idea" and you want to keep it fresh. The storylines kind of evolved and changed, too. I don't mean to make that sound like it's a bad thing, but it's a natural thing. It's just like people. You grow up, and certain things that you like about yourself you keep, and things that maybe offended people in the past or whatever you drop. That's kind of what happens with animated shows.

PCbob: On most of the episodes you write for, you're also the storyboard director. What's that involve?

PT: Well, it means a lot of different things, depending on what studio you're in. In some studios, the storyboard director is the guy who goes through and is responsible for the timing. For us, I would look through the board, and if there were shots that I thought could be made more interesting, I would do that. A lot of times, it really meant content, for me. I was sort of there to oversee the content during the writing phases. Whatever partner I was working with, if they came to me with a joke and I said "Spongebob wouldn't do this" or "this doesn't work, it takes too long" or "maybe this shot would be funnier this way". Mainly I was just trying to get as many shows written as possible and make sure we had the deadlines.

PCbob: What would you say has been the most rewarding part of working on Spongebob?

PT: One of the biggest rewards for me is seeing kids that really enjoy Spongebob, getting to see their reactions and seeing how excited they are about the show. When we're in our offices, it's a job. It's fun, but it's just a job. When I was a kid, cartoons meant a lot to me, and I know it's true for kids today. When I get to see someone who really enjoys watching the show and laughing at the jokes, that's the most rewarding part for me.

PCbob: How do you feel about Steve moving on to new projects?

PT: Television animation schedules are pretty intensive. We did a lot. For me, all I really have to do is take care of the story, and Steve has to oversee everything from the writing of the outline and storyboard to the animation process. For him, it's a full time job. He lies awake at night wondering if he could've made that one sound effect a little better. It's a pretty grueling thing. I feel good about it because we're making the movie, and I think it's going to be good. It doesn't happen this way a lot. Shows don't necessarily get made into movies all the time, especially not at the peak of their popularity. I know that a lot of fans would want to see a lot of new episodes, but the energy that it would take would take away from the quality of the movie. I think it's a good thing that he's taking a break from that. Maybe he'll come up with a better show than Spongebob.

PCbob: While keeping your organs intact, what can you tell us about the movie?

PT: All I can say is the plot spreading around the internet is the plot of Finding Nemo. The Spongebob movie is not that. We're working at an office building in Glendale. We're not working in the Nickelodeon studios because they want to try to keep a lid on what the movie is about. We've been working since October or late September of last year. Steve is the director of the movie, and Tim Hill is the head writer. He actually helped Steve with the pitch. Tim's been involved with Spongebob since way back. He was the director of Muppets in Space and a few other movies. Then there's Derek Drymon and Steve. I'm here. Aaron Springer, Kent Osborne, who was my partner in the last season. Nick Jennings and Kenny Pittenger are back designing backgrounds. Sherm Cohen and Mike Roth and Tuck Tucker (of Hey Arnold fame) are also cleaning up the storyboard drawings for the story reel. Sherm is designing some new characters as well. We're doing it the same way we did the show. They had an outline, and we worked on that for awhile. We're boarding it out now. We've got a rough assemblege of the whole movie. We're going back and forth and finding out what works and doesn't work. It's a long process. I think we're hoping to have it all written by August. The release date is still set for 2004.

PCbob: What influences have you had in your life?

PT: When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Peanuts. I liked the tone that Charles Shulz took. It was sort of kids talking like adults. I always appreciated when I was a kid not being talked down to or talked to cutesy wutesy. I think that's one of the balancing acts in Spongebob. You try to make it for kids, but you don't want to talk down to them. I was a big fan of the Little Rascals and the Marx Brothers when I was younger. Later in life I became more influenced by different musicians and things. I think as far as my career, Shulz and the Warner Brothers cartoons particularly. That's kind of cliche, everyone says that, but it's true. I was a big fan of J WARD cartoons, too, like Rocky and Bullwinkle. Woody Allen was a big influence on you. It just sounds weird to say those kind of things. It's hard to say that you're influenced by Woody Allen without sounding a little pretentious.

PCbob: I actually know a few people who are influenced by him. Any advice for those aspiring for a career in television?

PT: Don't do it. (chuckles) No. Like I said before, if you want to be a writer and you're influenced by Woody Allen, it's a good idea to try to emulate those people that you respect. Not necessarily copying directly like tracing drawings, but if you can look at things and try to figure out what it is about them that you like and try to test yourself and see if you can do that. Keep at it. Draw as much as you can if you want to be an artist, and if you want to be a writer, write all the time. Keep your brain working and your fingers working. I was really lucky. I kind of came into the business at a time when there was a boom in animation. I was attending Cal Arts and Roger Rabbit was just out, and the Simpsons was just starting to become huge, Ren and Stimpy. There was this big push for animated products. It was a good time. It's a different time now, but with the internet, there's a lot of people scouring the internet looking for talent. Keep at it and don't give up.

PCbob: What plans you have for the future? What can people expect to see from you next?

PT: I'm going to finish up the movie. I have a show that I'm hoping to be able to pitch to Nickelodeon. I'm going to try to pitch it around. Hopefully you'll see my show.

PCbob: I look forward to it. Do you have any closing words for the fans out there?

PT: It's amazing. I've been involved in a lot of shows, and never have their been rabid fans like there are for Spongebob. I thank everyone for watching. I know that it's going to be a rough time waiting through reruns until the movie comes out, but hang in there, because I think everyone will be happy with the movie. Thanks for watching.

PCbob: No problem. All of us fans appreciate all the work that you guys have done. We really enjoy the show.

PT: Thanks. Keep up the good work on that site. Take care.

PCbob: You too.

Thanks for sharing your spongy wisdom with us, Paul. We all appreciate it. =)