The new TMNT movie already comes out next Friday? TUBULAR with a side of COWABUNGA! The turtles are looking pretty spiffy in the previews thanks to impressive CGI effects, but they sureeeee didn't always look that way. Grab yourself a slice of pizza to snack on as you scroll through our visual guide to the evolution of these radical dudes. We cover all of their looks starting from when Leo, Mikey, Raph, and Donnie, first crawled out of the sewer in 1983.
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The Many Mutations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Transcript
It started as a joke between friends and became a worldwide phenomenon. Take a look at how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have continued to mutate since they first climbed out of the sewers in 1984. They might be 30 years old, but they'll always be "teenage" to us.
Ninjas were the big thing in comics during the '80s, thanks to Frank Miller's Daredevil and Ronin. As a joke, Kevin Eastman sketched a slow-moving turtle dressed as a quick and stealthy ninja. His collaborator Peter Laird enthusiastically drew his own, and the two fell in love with the concept.
1984: Early Comic
The teenage mutants starring in the X-Men spin-off The New Mutants were also popular, so the artists named their creations Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Since the comic was printed in black-and-white, the Turtles were each given a different weapon so that readers could tell them apart.
The character designs continued to evolve during the first few years of the comic, gradually becoming less squat and more heroic in their proportions. When illustrated in color, the Turtles all wore identical red masks, a tradition that continues in the comics to this day.
1987: 1st Cartoon
A number of changes were made in turning the Turtles into a cartoon and toys. They were given different colored masks and initials on their belt buckles to help kids identify them. The cartoon also exaggerated the differences in their personalities, and introduced their love of pizza.
1990: Early Movies
The Turtles were brought to life by Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, who created animatronic heads that were worn by actors in suits, with facial expressions wirelessly controlled by puppeteers off-camera. The characters weren't allowed to use their weapons in the toned-down sequel.
To capitalize on Turtlemania, a stage show musical was developed that portrayed the Turtles as touring rock stars. Sponsored by Pizza Hut, the Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour opened at Radio City Music Hall as a pay-per-view event promoted with appearances on daytime talk shows.
Never released outside of Japan, a direct-to-video anime and manga series were created based on the "Supermutants" toy line. In these stories, the Turtles gained the ability to "morph" Power-Rangers-style into superheroes, with masks that bore an uncanny resemblance to Wolverine.
1997: TV Show
Produced by Saban—the company responsible for introducing Power Rangers to the US—Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation gave the live-action Turtles a makeover. Perhaps most conversationally, the series added a fifth turtle to the group, a long-long sister called Venus.
2003: 2nd Cartoon
The second animated series was much closer in tone to the comics, adapting and modernizing the original comic stories, while the character designs took inspiration from the first movie. The characters were drawn in a more angular style, without the soft curves of the 1989 series.
2007: CGI Movie
After a decade of trying to get a fourth live-action movie made, the decision was made to go fully CGI. Director Kevin Munroe wanted each Turtle to have subtle but recognizable physical difference from each other, with slightly difference facial features and body types.
2012: 3rd Cartoon
The current animated series puts greater emphasis on the "teenage" aspect of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles were designed to look young and a little awkward, as if still "growing into their shells." Their body types are based on the shapes of high school athletes.
2014: New Movie
The new movie is the first time the Turtles have been fully CGI in an otherwise live-action setting. These Turtles are taller and bulkier, but it's the addition of noses and lips that has been controversial among fans. Their clothing combines the fashion of feudal Japan and modern teenagers.
Illustrated & Designed by Jacob Kuddes
Written by Kate Willaert
Edited by Marlon Heimerl
Source: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History
Are a couple of your best buds Ninja Turtles super fans just like you? Then you might want to consider suiting up in a TMNT group costume this Halloween. We even have a cool Shredder outfit, new for this year. Dibs on Leonardo! Shop all things anthropomorphic turtle.