A boisterous crowd greeted the start of New York Comic Con’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” panel as fans poured into the convention room in homemade turtle and Shredder costumes as they prepared to listen to the creators and stars of the newest “TMNT” animated series from Nickelodeon.
After the show’s opening title sequence played on the big screen, costumed actors dressed as all four turtles entered stage, waving to the cheering and laughing crowd. Moderator and “Entertainment Weekly” writer Ray Rahman began the panel by introducing series executive producers Ciro Nieli and Peter Hastings, Rafael voice actor Sean Astin, Donatello voice actor Rob Paulsen (who originally voiced Rafael in the very first animated show), Michelangelo actor Greg Cipes and Splinter actor Hoon Lee.
Paulsen announced that Andrea Romano would step in to direct some “TMNT” episodes in the next season and asked the animation director to stand as the audience erupted into cheers.
“This guy here, I’ve been listening since I was eight years-old,” Cipes joked while pointing to Paulsen, who rolled his eyes.
“That was four years ago!” Paulsen said as the crowd cracked up.
Rahman then showed a picture of April O’Neil, describing her as the “leader” of the upper side of the city while Shredder led the underground.
Handing the microphone over to Nieli, the animator thanked the audience for tuning in and giving the show “huge numbers” before showing off images of new mutants and villains for the recently ordered second season. The first image on the screen was of Donatello’s pet roach, which he had trained to be a spy. Nieli revealed that, while on assignment, the roach falls into acid and mutates into the “Cockroach Terminator,” a huge, evil cockroach. Nieli then showed an image of the roach” second mutation, “Cockroach Terminator 2” which was a huge, gloopy green monster with wings.
“He has sweet little butt flaps!” Nieli said, pointing to his 3D model as the audience laughed.
Nieli then brought up an image of the original Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comic book, saying that he modeled the Mousers in the show after their design in the original comic. He also displayed sketches for the appearance of season two’s Leatherhead, another character from the original comic.
The audience gasped and burst into applause as Nieli then revealed he had raw footage of the turtles fighting Leatherhead from Season 2. Since the footage lacked sound, Nieli asked the onstage cast to voice the scene and the audience cracked up as the voice actors grunted and screamed their way through the mainly wordless fight sequence.
Continuing in that vein, Hastings showed a montage sneak peek of clips from upcoming episodes, the first of which showed the turtles jumping into the sewers as they were tracked by two human opponents and a group of Foots. As the clip went on the Turtles quietly knocked out the Foot one by one in the shadows. A second clip showed the turtles running across the New York skyline, Michelangelo skateboarding from rooftop to rooftop, while the other clips displayed the turtles spying on Dr. Stockman — who was in the midst of trying to come up with a codename — and the breaking back in to the sewer after curfew and getting caught by Splinter. The clips also gave a sneak peek of Metal Head, voiced by Phil LaMarr, as well as Dimension X favorite Krang.
“There’s a real love for the original [material] — one of the things we see on the [internet fan] boards is people saying, ‘Hey, I wanted to hate this, but I don’t! It thought they would suck, but they don’t! I thought Rob Paulsen was dead, but he’s not!” Hastings said as the room laughed.
Praising the quality of the animation in the clips, Cipes told the audience he thought each episode was “feature film quality” and it was the first time the voice cast had seen the complete footage.
“Ciro is truly the master at directing these action scenes, I’ve never seen anything like it — There’s Leonardo, there’s Donatello, there’s Michelangelo, these great Italian artists — and then there’s Ciro!” Cipes said as the audience laughed.
“What’s fun is seeing Sean, who plays all these super sweet guys, get to be a complete bad ass on the show,” Hastings said, pointing to Astin’s roles in “The Goonies” and “Lord Of The Rings.”
“We photo bombed Corey Feldman’s ‘Goonies’ party at San Diego Comic-Con,” Cipes laughed.
Astin explained, “Corey was sort of vamping for some reason, waiting to introduce it, and they just walked out and went, ‘And Mikey! And — wait, who?'”
“If you’re at the Con you loved that cross-pollination!” Astin laughed as the room cheered.
Talking about the show, Nieli and Hastings said their process of picking what stayed from the various “TMNT” animated series, movies and comics was less a weeding out process and more prioritizing what they wanted to use first.
“I haven’t discarded anything, we’ll get to it when we get to it,” Nieli said.
Adding that he loved the spirit of the animated series, Nieli explained that while April went through the most changes it was important to him that she never becomes a, “damsel in distress every week.”
“To me, she’s the same April,” he added. “She will grow up to become the yellow-jumpsuit girl.”
Comparing the turtle’s party spirit to the film “Animal House,” Nieli said he had to be careful because “they are so damn cute and you can get into that thing then all of a sudden they become homicidal!” Nieli said to audience laughter.
Paulsen, a veteran of the first animated series, praised the new cast and director Romano, adding, “It’s a pleasure to work with such competent folks on another iteration of an iconic show.”
Citing that the show was being made by fans, for fans, Paulsen also stated that Nieli and Hastings really “got” the show and the spirit of the Ninja Turtles. Cipes then told fans he accidentally changed Michelangelo’s iconic catchphrase from “Cowabunga” to “Booyakasha” during the pilot.
“There was a moment in the script where it was empty, and it was the catchphrase moment, and they’re like, ‘Hey Cipes! Try something!’ And I’m all, ‘Booyakasha!’ And it stuck!” Cipes said.
“‘Cowabunga’ is my roots and I hear it might come back at some point but for me ‘Booyakasha’ is such an awesome thing, it’s actually a call to action in a positive way,” he added, explaining it was a real term that means “all praises to the most high,” before leading the audience in a huge cheer of “Booyakasha!”
“How perfectly cast is Greg Cipes?” Paulsen asked as the audience applauded.
Lee then spoke about his take on Splinter, saying he felt Splinter was essentially the father of the group and his dynamic with the Turtles was an often frustrated parent/child relationship.
“[Splinter’s] constantly battling this tension between understanding that they have to expand their awareness and get out to the world and they may get hurt and wanting to prepare them for that, but then also not wanting them to go at all,” Lee said.
Slipping into his Splinter voice, Lee pretended to address the turtles. “Don’t go, it’s safe here! Just stay here! Don’t eat that! Stop! Just stop!” Lee said as the audience laughed.
“Can I go out tonight, pop?” Cipes asked Lee.
“No!” Lee said, still as Splinter, as the audience cracked up again. Lee also praised the writers for putting so much thought into the characters and the scripts.
Rahman then moved onto questions viewers asked via Facebook and Twitter, the first coming from a fan who wanted to know how much the animators pulled from actual Japanese martial arts when directing the action sequences.
“There’s a guy who is an actual ninja master and we go see him for test footage, but the bad part about it is all the cool stuff he does you can’t see,” Nieli said. “If you are to do the real physics of trained martial arts you don’t get fight choreography. The cool stuff he will do is the smallest, subtlest movements that drops someone to the ground and you can’t see how he did it.”
“Ciro is a Ninja!” Cipes joked.
“I know how to board kicking your ass,” Nieli said as the audience laughed.
The next social media question came from a fan who wanted to know what obscure Turtles villains viewers will see in the next season, the audience shouting out in unison, “Rat King!”
“There were twenty-six episodes in the first season so you’ll probably see twenty-six more,” Nieli joked. Hastings added that they looked at villains from across the spectrum of the comics and previous animated shows.
Turning to animating the fight scenes Hastings believed that the CG nature of the show enhanced the action as it was all three dimensional, labeling it “puppet warfare.”
The last question came from an online fan that wanted to know which Turtle Paulsen enjoyed voicing more. Paulsen told the audience he enjoyed playing both Donatello and Rafael, saying, “People always ask me which is my favorite job and I say, ‘The next one!'”
“If you’re lucky you get a job, if you’re really lucky you work on ‘Ninja Turtles’ and if you’re really, really, really lucky you work on ‘Ninja Turtles’ twice!” Paulsen added as the audience burst into applause one final time.
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