"Hey Arnold!," Tuck Tucker RIP "Hey Arnold!," Tuck Tucker RIP

Veteran animation artist Tuck Tucker, best known for his close involvement with Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants and Hey Arnold!, died on December 22. He was 59. His death was announced by his family on Facebook.

Tuck Tucker.
Tuck Tucker. (Credit: Longwood University)

Across more than three decades, Tucker worked in many roles in the industry, including layout, storyboard, writing, and directing. After quickly fulfilling his goal of working at Disney, he made his mark on some of the most popular and influential animated series of recent decades, including The Simpsons, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Family Guy, and of course Spongebob and Hey Arnold!.

Tucker was born William Osborne Tucker III in Lynchburg, Virginia on August 20, 1961. Watching cartoons with his father as a boy, he developed a keen interest in animation, which was encouraged by his schoolteachers. He attended the communication arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University while moonlighting at Candy Apple, the state’s only animation studio at the time.

After graduating in 1984, he moved to L.A. and joined Filmation, where he worked on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and the feature Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. “The actual animation wasn’t very high-quality due to a number of factors,” Tucker later said of this period, “and I had to draw more scantily clad superheroes than I ever dreamed I would. But it got my foot in the door.”

His stint at Filmation led directly to his employment at Disney, where he worked as a breakdown animator and inbetweener on The Little Mermaid. From there, Tucker to transitioned to television. In the early 1990s, he bounced around on a variety of series including The Ren & Stimpy Show, Duckman, 2 Stupid Dogs, and The Simpsons, before settling down for the long haul at Nickelodeon — the studio with which he would become most closely associated.

Tucker worked as a layout artist on Rugrats (on which he also boarded), and when Hey Arnold! launched in 1996, he was promoted to storyboard director and later supervising director. He picked up his sole feature directorial credit on 2002’s Hey Arnold!: The Movie.

Later, he was supervising storyboard director for dozens of episodes of Spongebob Squarepants (writing six of them), and a storyboard artist on 2004’s Spongebob Squarepants The Movie. In 2011, he was one of the recipients of an Annie Award for best music in a television production on Spongebob Squarepants.

On several of these shows, Tucker benefited from a new tendency to let the storyboard team take charge of the writing. As he told Animation Magazine in 2015, “The advantage of letting animators be the driving force behind the show is that you put art at the center of the show, and quite often something spectacular arises.”

Other credits include Family Guy and its spin-off feature Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, Comedy Central’s Drawn Together, Nickelodeon’s The Fairly Oddparents, and Klasky Csupo’s Duckman. Most recently, he was working as a storyboard revisionist on the upcoming Bob’s Burgers feature.

In an Instagram post, Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett paid tribute to his colleague:

A great friend, a master draftsman, a tireless practical joker, a brilliant storyteller, the first one I reached out to when I began Hey Arnold! because he was the best board guy I had ever met. I’ll always remember him at his drawing board, arms blackened to the elbows with graphite, eraser shavings everywhere, bringing my characters to life. A killer work ethic, passionately into it. I’m so lucky I got to work with him for so many years. He gave and gave. I miss him already, my heart is broken. Rest in power, Tuck Tucker.

Others have taken to social media to share their memories of the artist. Many tributes came from Tucker’s former students at Virginia’s Longwood University, where he began teaching graphic and animation design in 2015.

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