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‘The child is father of the man’

‘The child is father of the man’

Thomas M. Columbus July 20, 2021
Wordsworth said it. Director Jonathan Judge ’93 lives it.

“For the first season of Blue’s Clues,” said Jonathan Judge ’93, "the camera didn’t move. The actor was on a big green screen and looked at green-painted pingpong balls on the floor. One was a dog; another, a mailbox; another, a salt shaker.”

Having been a director for that successful live-action/animated Nickelodeon show decades ago, Judge was asked to help find the new host and make the first few episodes of a recent reboot of it, Blue’s Clues and You.

Jon Judge

“It was cool to be asked to do a reboot of the first TV series I had ever done,” he said, “and it also made me feel old.”

Things had changed. The technology was better. The show was shot in Canada, not New York. But “everybody on set looked the same,” Judge said, “just 15-20 years older.”

Some had kept touch. “Both hosts,” Judge said, “were in my wedding, and I have collaborated with them on other projects.”

For Judge, feeling old is temporary. He often asserts that he never grew up. He just gets to do cool stuff he couldn’t as a child. “I got to destroy a shopping mall,” he said. “The 10-year-old me would not believe that.”

Jonathan Judge (in blue) shoots the first real-time motion-capture live-rendered animated sitcom in the Unreal Engine by Epic Games for a pilot.

He gets to build things, too, like a city. More precisely, he had other people build one. “I drew it on napkins,” he said, “and talented people created it using Unreal Engine.” It’s software that helped make fixed-camera-pingpong-ball animation obsolete and helped bring to life Avatar and The Mandalorian.

Judge’s directing career has UD roots. After seeing a movie with a friend, he said, “It would be fun to make movies.”

She said, “You should. You’d be good at it.”

Today he can say, “I never looked back.”

Besides directing episodes of numerous TV shows, Judge has directed 18 pilots, 16 of them turning into series. In 2014 he won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Television.

Attributes he exhibited at UD served him well, particularly in creating enlightening entertainment for children.

“Mischievous” is a word former UD administrator and religious study professor Father James Heft, S.M. ’66, used to describe him.

“He brought a sense of creative playfulness to the job,” said Deborah McCarty Smith ’93, who edited his writing as a student in the department that creates this magazine. “He also was a very good student,” she said, “and he didn’t mind working hard as long as he was entertained, which is why he took nearly every course [English professor] Larry Ruff and Jim Heft taught. And he was a brilliant writer.”

A short story he wrote, she said, “was heartbreakingly beautiful and made me cry — my highest editorial litmus test.”

Judge is, Heft said, “generous and good — I love watching him interact with his talented wife, Christine, and his twin sons.”

Someone once told Judge he had gotten everything he wanted — to produce and direct. “I’ve realized I’ve gotten everything I wished for. But even before I wanted to produce and direct,” he said, “I knew I wanted to be a husband and a father.”

He met Christine Field while working on the Nickelodeon show Naked Brothers Band. “They weren’t naked,” he said, “which was good because Chris is a costume designer. I fell in love with how she designed before I fell in love with her.”

“I’ve realized I’ve gotten everything I wished for. But even before I wanted to produce and direct, I knew I wanted to be a husband and a father.”

Their twin sons, now 8, were born 62 days early, each weighing about 2 pounds. Their hospital stay was long. Judge can now joke that “we had $30,000 per day babysitters.”

Father Heft with the premature twins
Father Heft with the premature twins

But he also remembers with gratitude Heft, who then held an endowed chair at the University of Southern California, coming to the hospital and blessing the twins.

“His hand,” Judge said, “was bigger than the boys.”

The boys grew. The family took them from the hospital to the family’s Los Angeles home. Then Judge got on a plane to Vancouver. In the movie and TV business, one goes where the job is. Judge was working on a movie being shot in Vancouver.

Business was also the reason they were living in Los Angeles rather than in their New York apartment. Vancouver was closer to home than other places Judge has worked. He lived in Iceland (and liked it) for a year.

The family — mom, dad and two boys“We planned to be bicoastal,” Judge said, “but most jobs have been in LA and Vancouver. Most of the work now in New York is hour dramas; I do mostly half-hour comedies.”

The New York apartment came in handy, however, when Field got the opportunity to work on the remake of West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg.

“The boys love New York,” he said. “You can buy pizza on every block.”

Besides Blue’s Clues and You, Judge’s recent work has included revivals of Punky Brewster and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters; he also has worked on Young Sheldon, Life in Pieces and The Cool Kids.

Sid and Marty Croft’s Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Judge said, “was my favorite show as a 5-year-old.” He was thrilled that while he was working on the revival, Sid Croft came up to him on his birthday and sang, in a very raspy voice, “Happy Birthday” in its entirety.

Judge earlier this year finished a movie about a family Christmas in snowy Michigan; it was shot in a very green Atlanta. Since Field also worked on the movie and COVID shut down in-person learning, the family was together during the shooting.

The movie has 11 kids in it; Judge was himself the youngest of 7. “That may be a reason I do well in this business. I can handle different personalities,” he said.

“We cast the movie,” he said, “entirely by Zoom. Before the cast got to Atlanta, I had seen them only from the waist up. I was afraid one would be a centaur.”

Judge takes on the zombies