Hey Arnold

Background Design

I designed thousands of backgrounds from city streets to apartment interiors for Nickelodeon's Hey Arnold! across all five seasons of the series and the theatrical movie. Here is a selection of my favorites.

 
 

Final Production Layouts

This is one of many Arnold shrines that Helga erected in her closet. Part of the fun of drawing these was adding details about her obsession. "He touched this stick."

Gerald's house and neighborhood. These grand cityscapes full of windows took serious time.

A seemingly abandoned factory for the Hey Arnold movie. I really enjoyed drawing the grunge of urban scenery.

Rusty cars, puddles, cracked concrete, banana peels, crushed pop cans, discarded mattresses, and broken furniture. Arnold's hometown.

Another of Helga's Arnold shrines. I don't even know how many shrines I got to design.

"Things for next Arnold shrine." because I imagine Helga collects faster than she can build.

Arnold's bedroom through the skylights. I didn't design his room, but I drew it many, many times.

Architecturally complex perspective and pattern. Arnold and Helga got married here in one of her fantasies.

The elegant opera theater from the popular musical episode, What's Opera, Arnold?

A rare macabre scene, this was the background of a quick shot as characters ran through a cemetery. 

The indistinct cityscapes were great for drawing extra details.

One of my personal favorites, a hobo's boxcar. I gave it a mix of luxury and homelessness. Rusty water pipes and a hot tub. Weapon with board/nail and a Fabergé egg. Big screen TV (90s style) with a metal hanger for an antenna. Etc.

Cars! I don't think anyone in Arnold's city had a car built after 1980. I particularly liked drawing 1950s and 60s cars.

This is now outdated computer equipment. Oh the 1990s.

Art Deco gas station. Part of making Arnold's world so rich was remembering to draw details like those underground gas tank covers.

A flashback to the city during the 1930s. Notice how several bricks in the street have been jostled out of place.

Names in the art like "Doris" and "Seko" were coworkers who also worked on the show.

Here's the inside of that general store from the last scene. Jackalope, check!

This rural diner and gas station has seen better days. Those pumps still look pretty nice, though.

My influence on the show stems from my Chicago roots. This is inspired by the drawbridges that span the Chicago River. 

Budnick's Department Store during the Christmas shopping season, a grand interior.

"RVNGE" Another personal favorite from a spooky episode. Is this craftsman home the site of a murder?

I'm rather fond of that mural I made up for this government building. And I think that lone chair is funny.

The ice cream man's kitchen is how I imagined a low-income, 20 something, single guy would live. Mismatched metal chairs and a girly beer ad. This is another personal favorite for how it expands the character's story.

I love the random stuff tossed into this alley, all of which I put there with my pencil. I threw away a lot of old mattresses in the show.

The idyllic tropical setting where Arnold's parents got married - the ruins of a Mayan temple at sunset.

Other Mayan ruins from the episode exploring the story of Arnold's parents. 

Grandpa's secret fishing closet. Doors were often animated so you don't see them in many of the background drawings.

The Roundhouse is one of the top restaurants in the city. That Art Deco detail doesn't come cheap. Limo parking only.

When drawing restaurants, you have to draw gross, partially eaten food on plates and crumpled napkins. The free brochure stand in this one makes it seem like a place for cheap Mexican food.

Phoebe's living room decor shows her mixed heritage of Japanese and American southwestern. It's truly an odd combo.

Subway station on the outskirts of the city. McGrunty's Circus is just something made up to give depth to the location.

This is the kitchen of the restaurant from the Valentine's Day episode where Helga ends up washing dishes.

The realism of the city didn't often allow for more imaginative architecture, but sometimes I got to get more creative.

I loved drawing sophisticated, elegant detail as much as I did urban grunge, like in this his high style Victorian lounge.

The opposite side of the Victorian lounge looking into another room.

Dinoland. Dinosaurs = lots of fun to draw! You can't go wrong with a t-rex in a kid's TV show.

From a King Kong fantasy sequence, this epic shot pans upward across many, many windows.

The Museum of Fine Art. Classic figurative columns, modernist sculpture on the lawn, and a limo parked out front. Fancy!


Rough Background Designs

 

Every new location in Hey Arnold! had to be designed before the final background layouts were drawn with clean pencil lines.

These designs were based on the story in the script, how characters were to interact in the location, and the mood of the scenes. When designing new places, I typically drew in a faster, rougher style than the finished background layouts.

 
 

This is an unused Arnold shrine concept, though parts of it made it to one in the show. It always challenged my creativity to come up with different objects of which to construct Arnold's head and hair.

Exterior of a craftsman style haunted house. I'm not sure if we could put "666" in the show so 606 sounded close.

The interior of the craftsman style haunted house is decorated with lots of candles and a few gothic objects.

An ominous city park entrance for one of the urban legend episodes.

Interior of a fancy restaurant.

Location for a fantasy sequence involving vampires.

After I drew this, I realized that the east coast is better represented with the water to the right. The drawing was flopped before final production.

For this road in France during WWII, I researched what European power lines looked like in the 1940s.

Sometimes designing backgrounds meant drawing the characters in for storyboard artists to reference.