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Immersed in Movies: Paul Tibbitt Talks ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’

Immersed in Movies: Paul Tibbitt Talks 'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water'

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 11 years since the first SpongeBob Movie, but it’s been worth the wait as creator Stephen Hillenburg and show writer/exec producer Paul Tibbitt have come up with a fresh and funny mixed-media extravaganza as well as a timely superhero parody. Tibbitt, who directs the sequel, tells us about his experiences, including transforming the beloved 2D characters into CG.

Bill Desowitz: Let’s begin with the story. What was the biggest challenge?

Paul Tibbitt: Well, obviously the biggest challenge is expanding the short form into a feature-length. Also, for us, we’ve been on the air for a while, so for us the other challenge is making something different to get people to drive to a movie theater and pay $12. But the seed of the idea came from an outline we wrote for the show where the Krusy Krab runs out of napkins and they realize that that’s what holds their civilization together. And then everybody goes into Mad Max mode. Then we realized this could be a bigger thing and that’s how we latched onto this as a movie. But because SpongeBob is so unflappable and we didn’t want him to change in the movie, so we wanted him to remain positive and decided to hook him and Plankton up and had Plankton go through the change. That was our starting point.

BD: And then you had the superhero aspect to play with.

PT: That was fun figuring out what kind of superpowers our characters would choose based on their personalities. I was never a huge comic book fan growing up but I do like superhero movies a lot and it was feeling like we were on a Batman/Superman treadmill for a long time, so I’m really excited about what Marvel’s doing. I really loved Guardians of the Galaxy and I’m looking forward to Ant-Man and how they’re digging into these weirder characters. And we were taking our hats off to that new wave of funny superheroes, which I think is refreshing.

BD: And it was funny to witness Bikini Bottom without Krabby Patties and the post-apocalyptic craziness.

PT: It’s sort of like the first cup of coffee in the morning. Yeah, it was a funny idea that things would digress that quickly. And it was a pretty fine line because we didn’t want to seem too dark because we know that our first audience is kids. So we tried to keep it light and fun. We were also influenced by the irreverence of Monty Python.

BD: Which comes across in the back and forth between animation and live-action. Tell me about the challenge of going CG for the first time.

PT: We were pretty nervous about that because we had never done it but there was a moment when we started getting stuff back from Iloura, which also did Ted. So we were able to let loose and have fun. So what we did was we gave them a piece of an episode and they could look at what we did with 2D. So they took that with a vocal track from one of the old shows and they were able to translate a lot of the acting. 

BD: But there must’ve been a challenge in figuring out the right look.

PT: We were really aware of not going too photoreal. We wanted them to look like the characters on the show. SpongeBob was a particular challenge. A lot of people look at him and say, “Oh, a square with a face on him.” But  we had to figure out what to do with his cheeks, how to handle his nose. Those are things we sort of cheat around with pencil. Squidward is a hard one to draw too. But overall we were pretty happy with the end result.

BD: And what about the stop-motion dolphin character?

PT: We wanted to be true to the show and we’ve always been mixed-media and try different things, so we called out to a company called Screen Novelties here in LA. We had just worked with them on a Christmas special that pays tribute to Rankin and Bass and they actually did a little claymation for the first SponbeBob movie. We didn’t want the dolphin to look too realistic and have some of that cartoony feeling so that worked out good too.

BD: And what was it like working with Antonio Banderas as the live-action pirate villain?

PT: He’s an amazing collaborator. He just shows up ready to have fun and we was a fan of the show. But he didn’t want to do the Johnny Depp pirate — he’s more of a Long John Silver fan. And he knows that it has to be fun for kids.

And we made some story changes and went back to shoot some new live-action scenes and our director Mike Mitchell wasn’t available, so I actually got to step in and do some live-action directing for the first time, and it was exciting for me. They gave me an amazing crew and Antonio did some of his own stunts, and the reason we wanted him in the first place was we knew he could be scary and funny at the same time. So Antonio was great and it was a new experience for me.

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