When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their comic-book debut in 1984, the subterranean vigilantes looked comically fierce, with their chubby snouts, oversize protective pads, and ninja weapons. But in the new TMNT movie, they're taller, heavier, and darker. ''We looked at a ton of real-life skins and textures of different reptiles for inspiration,'' says director Jonathan Liebesman of his CG-animated heroes' muted green shade.
The quartet leader Leonardo, cutup Michelangelo, rebel Raphael, and brainiac Donatello now resemble a reptilian NFL team, a macho makeover in keeping with producer Michael Bay's bigger-is-better style. ''It's definitely more badass,'' says Liebesman (who last worked with Bay on 2011's Battle: Los Angeles). Gone too are the cheesy grins, a signature trait that endured through four films, several animated series, a stage show, and scores of comic books. ''The original Turtles had mouths that didn't articulate well, with huge teeth,'' notes Lucasfilm F/X supervisor Pablo Helman, who led a team of 350-plus artists to create the characters' new look.
Unlike the 1984-era Turtles, who had clubby toes and prominent tails, the 2014 versions have little in common with their reptilian counterparts. But the 30-year-old warriors could still be considered teenage. ''Turtles are very late-maturing animals,'' says Kate Mansfield, a marine biologist at the University of Central Florida. ''It's definitely possible to have this extended teenage period.'' Just like the human TMNT fans who'll be lining up on opening weekend.