Interview Transcript – Episode 14: Derrick J. Wyatt

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Original Mystery Incorporated yearbook photo. Photo courtesy Derrick J. Wyatt.

AL: What’s your relationship to Scooby-Doo, did you grow up watching?

DJW: Yeah, I grew up watching Scooby-Doo. I kind of grew up in the dark ages of Scooby, you know, the Scrappy era, so it was like 13 Ghosts and that kind of stuff. But also, when I would come home from school they would have, in syndication, they would have the first Scooby series and the (New) Scooby Movies which I really loved. I would always hope the Batman episode would be on, or the Addams Family. I liked Laff-a-Lympics and even A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, I liked that too.

AL: Do you have a favourite personal memory related to Scooby-Doo at all?

DJW: I just remember coming home from school and hoping that Batman episode would be on, that’s kind of my favourite memory of Scooby.

AL: How did you come to work in animation?

DJW: Well I started, I think in like 1999 interning at Spümcø for free. Then eventually I got my foot in the door at Warner Bros., and then kind of went from there. That started my real, actual career in animation.

AL: Was that something that you had always wanted to do?

DJW: Yeah, I originally kind of wanted to be either an animation or a comic book artist. But when I was in school the bottom fell out of the comic industry, and I really liked the New Batman Adventures. A lot of cool cartoons were coming out. Really it kind of influenced me to go that direction.

AL: Do you remember a specific moment when you realized that character design was something that you wanted to do?

DJW: Yeah, there was a Wizard magazine that had all those, the redesigned Batman characters in the New Adventures of Batman, and I just remember thinking like I didn’t realize that you could take these characters and make them so much cooler than they were before, and I just instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do.

AL: How did you come to work on Mystery Incorporated specifically?

DJW: They asked me to do some early character designs, like I think Sheriff Stone and the Slime Mutant. And they initially wanted them to be in classic Iwao style. And I couldn’t do it. That was my attempt at drawing in Iwao Takamoto style, is what kind of became Mystery Incorporated style. But I had always kind of wanted to work on a Scooby DVD or something, I thought it would be fun. 

AL: For people who maybe don’t know, can you describe what a character designer does?

DJW: Sure. We sort of set the templates for all the characters you see in the cartoon, establish their looks and proportions so they’re consistently animated and they look like the characters you know and love.

AL: Can you describe what maybe a typical day of work on Mystery Incorporated was like?

DJW: Hm, well I don’t know if there was a typical day on Mystery Incorporated. We would always start with a story breakdown meeting where we’d kind of go through the script and we’d assign out characters, which character designer got what character. Then we’d kind of go back to our desks and come up with some rough ideas of what we thought. Then if those roughs were approved then we’d take them to a more tight stage that the board artists could use. Eventually we’d clean them up and then send them off to the ink and paint department.

AL: Are your designs always based on what’s going on in the script, or have you ever had to work with just a name or something?

DJW: Yeah, I’m sure I have. It’s not always described in the script. And a lot of times Tony Cervone would have a photo reference from 1969 that he would want us to use, or maybe he’d have a, like in the case of Professor Pericles, he had a pretty detailed sketch of how he wanted Pericles to look, and I just translated that into the style of the show.

AL: What’s your specific design process?

DJW: It’s a tedious and horrible process with a lot of erasing. A lot of false starts. I start out, like on Scooby I would take a big size comp and I would take a little tiny Post-it, and I would draw the character’s silhouette in so it fit in with the rest of the cast of the show. And then I would take that little tiny Post-it and blow it up and refine that character. And that’s where I kind of came from. Oh, a huge part of the Scooby design process was our reference library. We had actually gotten catalogs, clothing catalogs from 1969, and would reference those things for the show, because the whole thing was like design didn’t evolve past 1969 in this world, it stopped there. So it was really fun to adapt that stuff.

AL: Are things still done (on paper) or is that moved more towards working on a computer?

DJW: It’s still done by hand, even when you’re drawing on a computer you’re still drawing with your hand. The colour process is a little bit more click and fill but even they have to draw out the shadows and stuff. I still work on paper for my roughs, and then I move those into the computer, and go from there.

AL: Were there any challenges in designing for Scooby?

DJW: Well the initial challenge was I couldn’t do it. But the other challenge, I guess the biggest challenge was the epic scope of the show. Even though I’m used to working on big action shows, the scope of Scooby would be crazy. We would have an entire prom one episode, and then the very next episode we were going to the knights fair and the pirates were crashing. It’s almost like designing two completely different shows with different settings and different characters or even the same characters in different costumes. So just the scope of the show was really hard. It was really, really challenging.

AL: What was it like to tackle these iconic characters?

DJW: I love that. It’s one of my favourite things to do is kind of take on these big iconic characters like that. It was just a lot of fun and I tried to put as much of my love and respect for the characters into the designs as I could.

AL: You mentioned that you had that reference library and you were working off the original, but did you have any other inspirations for the designs for the characters?

DJW: Well sometimes it was the actors, you know. They would want to capture, not a caricature of the actor really, but like a hint of the actor. Enough that it would feel right with his or her voice coming out of the character’s mouth. I can’t think of anything else offhand like that right now.

AL: Do you have any specific examples of a character that was maybe designed off the actor?

DJW: Yeah, but I can’t remember the actor’s name.* What was the guy from Community, he plays the Dean in Community right, and then he was, was he the publicist of the Crybaby Clown? I’m butchering this, but that is just the first one that pops into mind. Like it doesn’t really look like that actor but it’s just enough that it seems right with the voice coming out of his mouth, at least to me.

*His name is Jim Rash, and he did voice the publicist J.R. Kipple in The Night the Clown Cried II: Tears of Doom!

AL: What was it like to work on designs for a darker version of Scooby-Doo?

DJW: It was fun. Because the villains were never not dark, design wise. Especially the original guys, they’re pretty scary for kids. Even, I think of the werewolf screaming “Help, help” while he’s paddling down the river and it’s like, that’s creepy. But it was just fun to amp it up a little bit and bring a little more, I don’t know what you want to call it, a little more horror into it. 

AL: Did you have a favourite villain that you had worked on?

DJW: It’s always hard for me to pick favourites. I tend to, I have to kind of tell you what I’m in the mood for I guess. I really liked Char Gar Gothakon, where we kind of put Cthulhu in a cenobite dress. I just liked how he came out, and I really love that episode too. I like the gnome too, because I tried to make the gnome look like a Rankin/Bass design kind of. He’s really wrinkly and has a big bulbous nose and stuff. Yeah, those are the ones that stick out right now.

AL: What was it like to develop some of the villains from myth, like the Manticore and the Hodag?

DJW: That’s just like, it was cool because you get to look up a different kind of reference for that. Like with the Manticore and stuff you can see what the ancient interpretations of it were and what everybody else’s thought of it. I think again, I tried to make that a little Rankin/Bass-y. It has kind of Smaug’s wings and stuff. The Hodag, I think Brianne Drouhard designed the Hodag. That was based on a real myth, right? A real local legend or something. The guy is real too right? What’s his name, I designed him I think. Gene Shepherd. I wonder what the Gene Shepard estate thinks of that. That’s the cheese episode too right, that’s one of my favourites because I love the design for the cheese shop owner and his little assistant that turns out to be the monkey. 

AL: There’s a lot of really cool supporting characters in the show as well, do you have any favourites that you had worked on, or just ones that you really liked?

DJW: Well obviously like Vincent Van Ghoul is probably my top, top favourite. Just getting to bring him into the show was really cool. And we got official sanction from his estate to use his likeness and voice and everything, which is awesome, they were really excited about it. Actually, they wanted a hand-painted animation cel, so we did a little animation cel for them special. Oh and also I love Fred’s dad the mayor, and Sheriff Stone. I like Janet Nettles too, I think her design came out really cool. The colour they used on her outfit came out really awesome.

Vincent Van Ghoul. Photo courtesy Derrick J. Wyatt.

AL: What was it like to grow up watching 13 Ghosts and then be able to recreate Vincent Van Ghoul for Mystery Incorporated?

DJW: That was cool because I kind of got to take the cool part of 13 Ghosts and leave the rest of it alone. It’s not horrible, but it’s just not my Scooby, you know.

AL: And there’s one of the episodes that starts off with Daphne and Fred in the museum with the statues of Scrappy and Flim Flam, did you work on those?

DJW: Yeah, I drew those. It’s funny, Flim Flam’s original voice actor was Susan Blu, and I worked with her as a voice director on Transformers and Ben 10.

AL: Why do you think that the style of the character designs worked so well for a darker show and an overarching theme?

DJW: I think we’ve had so many generations of animators now that have grown up animating sort of Bruce Timm style. And they really get that more angular style. Especially the studios Warner Bros. uses, they’ve been using them for a long time and it seems to really translate well, I think, into motion.

AL: How do you think that character design contributes to how the show looks in the final product?

DJW: Well it’s the most important thing, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a big part of the show. Obviously, if you have great characters and nothing else, you’re not going to have a successful show. But it’s like, that’s like what they say about food you know, you eat with your eyes first. So you’re kind of judging the book by its cover by the character designs. Then if that pulls you in, then you’ll give the story a chance maybe.

AL: How do the character designers maybe work with the people who are designing the backgrounds?

DJW: Well, we’ll design the characters and then they’ll design the backgrounds simultaneously. And then the color stylists, Brian Smith and David Patton on Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated, they were the color stylists. They’ll take the characters and colour them, and then kind of plunk them onto the background and see if it works. Then they’ll tint them to the background if they need, and they did a lot of affected colour, Mystery Inc. is a lot of special colour. So that’s a very important job, to make sure the characters live in those backgrounds.

AL: I wanted to talk about the designs for the Hex Girls. What was it like to update their designs as well?

DJW: Torture. We went through so many versions of Hex Girls. I think I only designed, no I didn’t design any of them actually. I took a pass at one of them, but they didn’t end up using it I don’t think. So I don’t even remember, it was all hands on deck that one. Hex Girls designed by like 10 people probably. 

AL: Why was it such a process, was it to keep the integrity of the characters or?

DJW: Yeah, I think Tony (Cervone) just had a real specific vision in mind for what they should look like in Mystery Incorporated. And we were getting close, but we just weren’t quite getting there. I mean, we got there in the end, but it took a while.

AL: Also for Marcie/Hot Dog Water, did you work on that one?

DJW: I did, I did, yeah. 

AL: What was your process for that (design)?

DJW: The funny thing is, originally I designed her, and the body was exactly the same as Hot Dog Water, but she had my friend Brianne Drouhard’s face instead of the current face. So that’s what I turned in originally. And then they’re like “Oh no, Linda Cardellini is going to play this role, so she needs to kind of reflect that in some ways.” So I made a kind of nerdy character that looked like Linda Cardellini could voice. But it was just like two versions for that, so it was pretty quick. She was pretty fun. Oh and then they originally coloured her in like lavender and pink and green and stuff, and I’m like “Guys. Look it, no. Her coat is the bun, and then mustard and ketchup. Hot dog, hot dog.” They’re like “Ohh.” Her coat even kind of looks like bread in a weird way. The wool part of her coat.

AL: One thing that always amazes me is the texture of the wool in that sweater, how did that work?

DJW: I can’t specifically remember. I think I just tried to make it look bread-y. And then added some kind of textural notes to it. 

AL: What about the colour palette for the supporting characters, does each person kind of have their own design that way?

DJW: Most of it, like I said, was done by the color stylists. They did that. But some of them were, you know, you can tell, like all the Rogers family is a greenish colour palette, the Blakes all have that royal purple. So things follow rules and have palettes. The others are kind of case by case. The individual characters that come in and out. 

AL: Did you often have input, like if you had a specific colour palette in mind?

DJW: Sometimes. Not super often. I know, the one thing I had specifically mapped out colour wise was when Hatecraft was writing the teen novel, and he was trying to think like a teenager so he had plastered his room with teenager posters and they were all old Hanna-Barbera shows. And so I had to kind of do a colour guide for that so they could plug in the right colours, cause that was pretty complicated. Nobody remembers those old characters except for me, so.

AL: Speaking of those older characters, in the Mystery Solvers Club State Finals, did you work on a lot of those as well?

DJW: Everybody loves that episode right, but it is for me, the most disappointing episode of Mystery Incorporated, because I didn’t work on a single one of those mystery crews. They were all just reuses of their classic stock model sheet from the Hanna-Barbera library. And I wanted to redesign them. I wanted it not to be a dream at all. I wanted it to take place for real, and that’s why they would unmask the Funky Phantom, because he would turn out to be a regular person in the end. But they just, they thought, there were two reasons, and one was we were really far behind on schedule, and it was another giant episode that they were super scared of. And the other reason was that our executive producer didn’t think that Jabberjaw belonged in the Mystery Incorporated world. He just thought it was too far out. And I had like an hour and a half intense discussion with him on why Jabberjaw should have been there, but I lost. 

AL: How about Dynomutt then, since you came in on freelance for that one?

DJW: Yeah, that was super fun. I love those classic characters. I kind of wish we had done a Scooby-Dum or like a Pup Named Scooby-Doo flashback so we could adapt a few more of those classic characters. But Dynomutt was super fun. I didn’t get to do any of his transformations though, those looked awesome in the episode.

AL: What was it like to come back on freelance after not working on the show for a while?

DJW: It’s always hard because you know, you have a full-time, another full-time job and you want to do your best, especially since I love that character I want to put my best into it, and you’re already worn out from putting all the hours into your normal job and you have to go try to muster the energy to do that. But it was just one character, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. And I would’ve done it no matter what, because it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

AL: And why did you leave Mystery Incorporated?

DJW: I got offered an art director job, a promotion to head up Ben 10: Omniverse and I would be working with one of my best friends in animation, Matt Youngberg, who I worked on Transformers with. And I just, like I was really sad to leave Mystery Incorporated, but I just felt like I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Plus Ben 10 was going to have lots of cool toys, and Scooby never got any toys. And I really wanted toys.

AL: Yeah, that would’ve been cool!

DJW: I actually have, they did a Man Crab figure and a Freak in those faux LEGO figurines. And then there was a set of figures that came out, but they were just not great. There was a box set of figures. But you could tell it was Mystery Incorporated because Velma had bows. That’s the only way.

AL: Where did the idea come from to give Velma the bows and kind of update her look? 

DJW: That was Tony Cervone’s idea to do the bows. The idea of giving Velma lips had just been rejected flat out. They said “No thank you.” And then Tony was like “What if we give her little bows?” And I was like “That’s a really cool idea.” And they went for that. It just seemed, it just doesn’t seem like it’s outside of what Velma would wear to me. Like yeah, maybe she could wear little bows in her hair, I don’t think she would mind doing that.

AL: And I want to go back to the toys for a second, if you could have created a line of toys for Mystery Incorporated, what would you have done?

DJW: I would have like a line of action figures, and like I said I would have all the monsters have removable masks so you could unmask them. And I would love to see little like trap toys, little playsets with traps and stuff, or like a haunted house playset. I don’t know, like all kinds of cool stuff like that. A Mystery Machine car would be really cool. They did a pretty good job with all the LEGO stuff that came out.

AL: And what was your opinion on the show in general, what did you think about developing the relationships between the characters and things like that?

DJW: I thought it was cool. Especially like you mentioned earlier, one of my favourite parts is just adding all the secondary characters and the townspeople. And not only did the Mystery Inc. kids have relationships to each other individually and as a group, but they had relationships with the townspeople too and it’s just a lot of fun to see Hot Dog Water show up before she ever does anything really. Or Skipper Shelton, just show up every once in a while and do something weird. And then have seven brothers or something? He was, when I was designing him, Tony kept making me make him bigger. He’s like “No, no. Bigger.” And I was like “How big do you want him?” And he’s like “Do like Marv from Sin City.” And I was like “Oh my gosh, okay. Can that exist in this world?” But I guess it does, so.

AL: And Mystery Incorporated was really the first show to have a lot of those recurring supporting characters, and really just an overarching storyline. What was it like to be able to work on that show?

DJW: I’m so glad I worked on this version of Scooby, I think this was the one out of all of them that I would’ve picked to work on, if I had my choice. And I’m just super glad that it worked out that way. It was just so much fun, I love world-building, you know. And Crystal Cove is its own little world. It’s so full of, every little thing is designed so cool, like down to the phones and the hair dryers and you know, all the cars on the road. That’s all Jerry Richardson, he was our prop designer and he did all that cool stuff. The locket. Just love all the little details in everything.

AL: If you were ever able to work on another Scooby show in the future, would you take it?

DJW: I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d want to do another series, because I don’t know how it could ever top the experience I had on Mystery Incorporated. I just don’t think it could get better than that. But, if they wanted to do a Mystery Incorporated vs. Teen Titans I would be there in a heartbeat. 

AL: Speaking of that, you sent me the Teen Titans as Mystery Incorporated, where did that come from?

DJW: That’s from, we did these little shorts for a short-lived Saturday morning series on Cartoon Network called DC Nation. And there were little shorts and they did a sort of sequel series to Teen Titans called the New Teen Titans, and there was an episode where Mad Mod was kind of sending them back in time, and when they got to the 70s, that’s what they looked like. 

Teen Titans as Mystery Inc. Photo courtesy Derrick J. Wyatt.

AL: There’s a lot of fans, I think Mystery Incorporated is maybe either a love it or hate it show, but there’s a lot of fans that really want a third season. Would that ever be possible at all?

DJW: Like them starting over from scratch and stuff or would it be like… I don’t know. Huh. Interesting, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about that, I’ve only thought about what else you could do within the confines of like season one or season two. I don’t know, it would be interesting. Maybe they could do like a direct to video movie or even a graphic novel or something to kind of show what happened.

AL: Were there ever any characters that you designed that didn’t actually make it into the show, or did everyone get in?

DJW: Oh yeah. There was a fake Shmoo I designed for the Mystery Solvers, in case they wanted to do the, I don’t even remember what the team with the Shmoo was. Seems like they were yet another bunch of teenagers with some boys and girls in them. But he was like half Shmoo and half Gloop and Gleep from The Herculoids so he wasn’t legally the Shmoo, but they didn’t end up using it.

AL: Why do you think that a cartoon about a mystery solving dog has held up for over 50 years now?

DJW: I just think that the character designs and the character performances from the voice actors are so iconic, you know. They really resonated for some reason. And just that fact of having a group of tight knit friends like that, I think that’s really what it’s all about, you know, you can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends, kind of thing. I don’t know, something like that.

AL: What was your favourite thing about being able to work on a Scooby-Doo project?

DJW: I really liked designing Fred. And drawing Fred in new outfits and stuff. That was a lot of fun. And he became my favourite character in the series.

AL: Oh, did you do the uniforms in the Humungonauts episode?

DJW: Yes, I did that. Yes. I love those uniforms so much. That’s a whole other reason they should’ve had action figures, just to make those. I think they’re sort of like part Macross, and like part Speed Racer or something, I can’t remember exactly what I was looking at. It was some 80s anime I think.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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