The Spongebob Movie Director Paul Tibbitt Talks Live-Action And That 50 Shades of Grey Parody Poster

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One of the 21st century's most enduring cartoon characters, Spongebob Squarepants, makes his return to theaters this Friday with The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water. But this won't be some extended stay in Bikini Bottom. Spongebob and his core cast will venture from the comfortable confines of 2D animation into the realm of live-action as computer generated cartoons. It's a first for the Nickelodeon franchise, which has been a staple of children's (and some adult's) entertainment since it's debut in 1999.

The movie is also a big step for its co-director, Paul Tibbitt. As the television series' show runner since 2004, Tibbitt has shepherded Spongebob through a decade of classic cartooning. But with all the new technology that the 21st century offered, Tibbitt decided to make a go three-dimensional storytelling. Below, the co-director spoke with comicbook.com about entering the new age of animation, the film's big-name appearances, and what he thought about that controversial 50 Shades of Grey parody poster.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water makes a jump from traditional 2D animation to a live-action and CGI animation hybrid. Why did you decided to steer the franchise in that direction?

[Screenplay Writer] Steve Hillenburg and I both studied animation at the California Institute of Arts, so we're very traditional. We've been doing this show in the traditional form for a very long time now, so when the opportunity to do another movie came up, we just felt like, "well, it's 2015 and computers have come a long way." I've recently watched films that have really impressed me with the CGI. I was impressed with films like Frozen, where a lot of the scenes almost looked like Cinderella. It almost looked like cell animation, and I was blown away by that.

So we thought, "Let's give it a try." We engaged a few companies to give us tests, and the company that we went with, Iloura, got it right away. They made us feel really comfortable about the idea. Initially, we were really nervous. We thought, if we build this third act in the movie on CGI, and it ends up looking weird or strange, that could hurt us. But it ended up being the most fun part of the movie—not that the other part wasn't fun. It was basically like two movies. It was all new to us, so it was really exciting.

Cool. So how much of the movie is spent in the live-action world?

It's really just the last part of the third act. It's kind of the climax of the movie. It's a little bit similar to the first movie, in that way, where they have to go on land and fix things and confront the villain. We were still interested in doing a large portion of the film in the traditional way. We even tried doing things that we don't have the time or budget to do with the TV show's  2D animation. So, we tried pushing it that so the whole product would reward viewers with something different from what was  on TV. That was the main reason for really doing all of it. We wanted people to feel like they got their money's worth, and that we made a movie.

What was it like switching from traditional animation and CGI? What was the experience like?

Like anything else, you get into it and think, "Oh, my god, this is a completely different animal from what I'm used to being around." But once you start doing it, you realize, "Oh, it's not all that different." It's all the same techniques, but applied in a different way. It's like switching pencils, I guess. We still need to follow the basic rules of animation, it's just how you get from Point A to Point B that's a little different. Once we realized that and settled into it, we breathed a sigh of relief and realized that it was going to work. It's all animation; it's all the same. We were able to really connect with the guys at Illoura because they're all fans of the show. They were eager to keep it true to what we wanted and what we'd done over the last several years.

Since the last act is set in live-action, are there any celebrity appearances that fans should look out for?

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We have Antonio Banderas as the villain, the pirate. He was the only major human actor. We have a cameo from Lloyd and Peter from the YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History. Their stuff isn't one hundred-percent kid-friendly, but they did a rap battle for us in the movie, and they also have a cameo. Matt Barry, who's one of my all-time favorite British comedians, plays the voice of the time-traveling dolphin. But much like with the show, we tried to avoid popular culture. We never want to get too "winky" with the audience. Putting celebrities in there can have the affect of taking you out of the experience. Antonio is almost unrecognizable with that giant beard, all that pirate gear, and the accent. He really got into the character and became the Pirate. So it's not like, "Oh, there's a celebrity!" Antonio really is the pirate.

I'm not sure if you were a part of it, but a Spongebob poster parodying the 50 Shades of Grey movie came out last week. It received a lot of feedback, with some people loving it and others saying that it was inappropriate for a children's movie. Where do you weigh in on the different reactions?

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I guess if they had asked me, I would have said that it was a little inappropriate. But, they're trying to appeal to a lot of different people. It's not that it's not funny. I just thought the other ones were much more tame and middle of the road. I wish that they'd done a third poster that was a little less adult. I haven't read any of those 50 Shades books, so I don't know any thing about them. But it's a little uncomfortable. Again, it just comes from the fact that movies are a different mechanism from TV. The people involved are going do what they think is going to work. I guess they sit back and take their lumps, and hope that the reactions aren't too negative. But, I wouldn't say that I completely embraced that idea.

So, is there anything else that you wanted to mention? Are there any parts of the movie that you're particularly proud of, and are excited for people to see?

I am really proud of the live-action and CGI segment. For something that I was so, for lack of a better term, frightened about at the start of the project, now it's the part I anticipate the most eagerly. That's a great part.

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Check back in tomorrow for the second part of ComicBook.com's interview with Tibbit, where he discusses his relationship with comic books, the superhero he'd like Spongebob to team up with, and whether he'd ever consider retiring a series character.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water opens everywhere on February 6.