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NYCC 2014: The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Panel

TMNTNYCC2014_1NY Comic Con once again included a panel dedicated to Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, which is now in the early part of its third season on television. Nickelodeon VP of Current Series Animation Megan Casey took the stage to indicate a panel of familiar and new faces. Executive producer Ciro Nieli and his fellow producer and head writer Brandon Auman were joined by panel regulars Rob Paulsen (Donatello) and Greg Cipes (Michelangelo) as well as two new faces, voice actors Eric Bauza (Tiger Claw) and Seth Green, the new voice of Leonardo.Green was asked about his feelings on his gig voicing Leonardo, which he called a “surreal” and great experience. He described himself as a “spaz” growing up and his favorite ninja turtle was Michelangelo, and he never imagined he’d play a contrasting and serious role like Leonardo. For him, it’s been an “absolute privilege” to take it on. Casey followed up by asking Cipes about playing Michelangelo as the group’s “ball of energy”, prompting Cipes to say that “I empty myself out, I enter a meditative state, I become very free, and then Michelangelo comes out!”NickTMNTTigerClaw1The panel then turned its attention to Bauza’s character Tiger Claw. Nieli said that he and Auman “come up with monsters all day long” and wanted to do an original cat-type villain that would battle Splinter for the familiar cat vs. mouse matchup. In considering the kind of character they wanted him to be they settled on Bauza, who was actually considered for the role of Shredder. The audience was shown a familiar clip from last year where Bauza battles Splinter for the first time in season 2, and engage each other in Japanese a bit before the serious action starts. Bauza revealed that he’d actually never done Japanese before and so those lines were a challenge to do, as he was the “the whitest Asian guy you’ll ever meet”. It took a couple of recording sessions to get the line right, and Bauza quipped that accomplished voice director Andrea Romano was prepared to beat it out of him with a baseball bat. According to Nieli there were six people on staff that knew the language, all of which they had try to help out with it.TMNTNYCC2014_3

Casey asked Nieli and Auman about the finale of season 2. One thing Nieli always wanted to do was pay homage to the Leonardo one-shot from the Mirage TMNT comics, which they did with his valiant losing battle against Shredder’s forces in the two-part episode. The panel then ran a clip of the reveal that April’s friend Irma was simply a robotic disguise for Kraang Subprime, who was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. Auman asked the audience if they were disturbed by the reveal and if they wanted Irma back, but then followed up with a good-natured tease that “it’s not gonna happen”. Cipes was asked if he was aware that there were fans shipping “Irmangelo”, to which the amused actor replied “I do now!” Casey then remarked that they’d be “serving him up some love in the future” and panel displayed its first reveal of new character appearing in the third season. Renet, a “Time Master in training”, will be voiced by Ashley Johnson.

Past panel guest Sean Astin (Raphael) couldn’t make it this time because he was attending his daughter’s last cheerleading game, so Casey turned to Paulsen as another past actor of TMNTNYCC2014_4Raphael to say a few words. Paulsen took the opportunity to reflect on how he is fortunate enough to voice act for TMNT again 25 years after the first animated series, and that “it is such a joy” for him to see people who are grown now sharing their TMNT fandom with their own kids. Paulsen told the audience it’s like that for the producers of the show as well, “the biggest turtle geeks in the world” (“enthusiasts!”, Seth Green broke in). Paulsen feels the franchise is arguably as big now as it has ever been, and thanked the audience for it. After this the panel encouraged Paulsen to have a conversation with himself with this Raphael and Donatello voices, and then as all four of the TMNT, and he did so with a lot of silly dialogue off the cuff for about two minutes.

It was then time for the traditional advance look at things to come in the season. First up was conceptual artwork for costumes the Turtles will don during their time in the woods. Nieli explained that the TMNT will undergo a spirit quest as part of their effort to “basically retrain and recenter themselves as ninjas” before returning to New York to take New York from the Kraang. Each costume is something each turtle made himself, and is representative of their “power element”. An entire episode is dedicated to their spirit quest, and the audience was TMNTNYCC2014_5treated to an animatic clip from it where the each turtle ends up facing one of their past adversaries during their spirit quest. The clip reveals Michelangelo matched up against Rahzar, Raphael encountering Fish Face and Donatello taking on Tiger Claw. Yet another animatic clip revealed another new character in Hun, reimagined here as a slender young man but no less of a fierce fighter. In the clip Casey Jones tries to take him on, only to be methodically and brutally thrashed by a stoic Hun with little effort. For all his poise Hun apparently isn’t above a haughty taunt, as he finishes his display by extending his arm and giving Casey a thumbs down sign.

Another upcoming episode will include a “Speed Demon” character that ends up possessing Donatello, causing him to take on an outrageous appearance that the panel offered an advance look at as well. Nieli said the idea of it was to do a “60’s-inspired racing episode” and called it an “ambitious and cinematic” endeavor. After the reveal of the Speed Demon Donatello design the audience was shown another animatic clip that revealed the addition of two more villains to the show that long-time TMNT fans are thoroughly familiar with: TMNTNYCC2014_7Rocksteady and Bebop. In the animatic clip Shredder punishes Ivan Steranko and Anton Zeck for past transgressions by having them thrown into a vat of mutagen, transforming them into the iconic mutated Rhinoceros and Warthog. After this the panel screened the episode “Buried Secrets”, which is described as the season’s “Halloween episode”. Fans can look forward to a significant guest starring role played by Renee Jacobs, the original voice of April O’Neil from the 1980s TMNT cartoon.

After the episode screening, there was time for a Q&A session. In regard to how Seth Green came to voice Leonardo, Nieli said that Greg Cipes had pushed hard for him and that after a brief conversation with Green, it was decided he would work out and he apparently didn’t even have to do a reading for the part. The panel was also asked about action figures for Karai, which were affirmed to be coming. Greg Cipes was asked about how he pulls off different characters that can range from being zen-like to energetic and animated, to which he replied that these personalities are simply different aspects of himself. Another question asked how the creators decide what to reference TMNTNYCC2014_6and pay homage. Auman says that they try to take the coolest elements of the past that they like past and try to blend it into the show, making “iconic moments live again in our series”. One specific example Auman named was Leonardo recovering in the bathub, a moment from the Mirage comics that was also adapted for the 1990 film. Nieli remarked that “…you keep the mentality that you’re always a student so you’re always loving something, so you bring that into what you do.” For an example, Nieli is constantly buying music and that ends up influencing some of the tunes that end up in the show. For the final question a fan asked about the origins of Michelangelo’s “Booyakasha!” catchphrase, leading to Cipes retelling his story about how he improvised it himself on the fly while they were pondering something new for Michelangelo to say as a follow-up to the “Cowabunga!” phrase from the 90s.