Thursday, May 05, 2016

Nickelodeon Animation: "Rugrats," "Doug" and "The Ren & Stimpy Show" Helped Carve Studio’s Niche

"Milestone" is a word that gets kicked around a lot, but it actually applies to the launch of Nickelodeon Animation Studio 25 years ago. When the studios' original Nicktoons Rugrats, Doug and The Ren & Stimpy Show made successful debuts in 1991, Nick hit a trifecta that still impresses. Even the creators of those shows couldn't have predicted that.

"Cable was new at that time," recalls Paul Germain, co-creator/producer of Rugrats with Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo. "I had worked on The Simpsons for The Tracey Ullman Show, and I fell into animation like slipping on a banana peel." Germain made a one-line Rugrats pitch to Nickelodeon executive producer Vanessa Coffey.

"The pitch was about babies who didn't seem cognizant, but when adults left the room, the babies talked."

Rugrats got a greenlight.

Doug creator Jim Jinkins also found ready acceptance at Nick for his show about a middle-schooler. While Jinkins was an experienced animator when he pitched Doug to Coffey, he only had a book proposal to present. “Vanessa saw my drawing of Doug and ran from the room, which was disturbing. But she had left to tell her boss that she wanted to take Doug to pilot. I still can't believe that happened."

Rugrats and Doug earned success by following a script-based approach, in which the creatives mined their own experiences. Their characters didn't need superpowers - they were simply kids being kids, trying to survive childhood. As Jinkins observes, "Best friends and bullies are issues that never go away."

The Rugrats creatives had their own babies back then, which provided source material. Klasky remembers, "There was lots of psychobabble about raising kids in the 1990s - like when you potty-trained them you could ruin them for life. We poked fun at that. I think that's why parents watched it with their kids."

When The Ren & Stimpy Show creator John Kricfalusi had pitched his idea about a dimwitted Cat and a testy Chihuahua to Coffey, he explained that they would develop dialogue through the storyboards. "There was no single style," says Kricfalusi. "I wanted artists to follow their own styles. I 'cast' particular animators for different shows."

One of Kricfalusi's picks was Bob Camp, who recalls, "The show wasn't paint-by-numbers. The characters could appear in a Western or a fairytale. We weren't doing sitcoms. It was more like Three Stooges. As kids who watched it grew up, they understood more of the jokes, and that gave the show longevity."

Kricfalusi thinks the irreverence of Ren & Stimpy is a big reason it succeeded. "I put boogers and farts in it because kids love things that adults find gross. I remember what it was like to be a kid - that's why I'm a cartoonist. I thought that kids would get morals from church and school. So give 'em a break!"

Original source: Variety.
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Nickelodeon Animation Studio: Pop-Culture Powerhouse Got an Unlikely Start

While it's hard to imagine a large entertainment entity beginning this way now, back in 1990 it was a Nickelodeon contractor who got Nickelodeon Animation Studio off the ground.

At the silver anniverary mark, cartoon gamechangers still draw audiences and colorful new hits

Vanessa Coffey was hired as a creative consultant to develop Nicktoons, which became the trio of animated series, Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show.

Prior to NickToons, which debuted 25 years ago this year, Nickelodeon was home to acquired animated series and original live-action shows. Original animation was a new endeavor for the network.

"They gave me pretty much free rein to look for properties as a consultant," Coffey says. She put out the word that she was taking pitches and met with John Kricfalusi.

"He never pitched Ren & Stimpy," she says. "He pitched me this project called Your Gang and there was a Dog and Cat in Your Gang and that was Ren and Stimpy. I asked him if he could create a show called Ren & Stimpy and then pitch it to Nickelodeon."

Nickelodeon president Geraldine Laybourne watched the three pilots and greenlit 13 episodes of Doug, created by Jim Jenkins, and Rugrats, created Arlene Klasky, Gabor Csupo and Paul Germain.

"She wasn't going to do Ren & Stimpy. It made her very uncomfortable," Coffey recalls. "I said if it doesn't work, she can fire me. She said, 'OK, I'll give you six episodes.'"

Coffey was then hired as Nickelodeon's executive producer of animation between the pilots and series production; she brought in Mary Harrington as supervising producer. "We were producers before we were executives," Harrington says. "We felt we could do a better job making our own shows than subcontracting to the (animation) studios."

That approach led to the founding of Nickelodeon Animation Studio in 1990, but it operated under the name Games Animation until 1998, the same time a NAS building opened in Burbank, California. "Nickelodeon had a corporation already set up called Games," Coffey says. "They didn't want to spend money to open a new corporation so they put (NAS) under (Games)."

Despite softer ratings numbers at Nickelodeon in the past couple of years, the NAS pipeline continues to yield new series, including The Loud House, Pinky Malinky and Welcome to the Wayne.

"The creative center of what we're trying to do is to maintain all the integrity it had when it started," says Cyma Zarghami, Viacom Kids and Family Group president. "We're looking for innovative ideas and we look for creators who are telling their own stories about their own childhoods."

With Nickelodeon as a global brand, Zarghami says animation is an important part of the programming mix because it travels well and is more repeatable than live-action programs. And with some of the earliest NickToons still playing on the Splat, a programming block on cable's TeenNick channel, there's interest in reviving the classics.

A two-part Hey Arnold! animated TV movie was already announced and executives have been talking with the creators of other NickToons, including Kricfalusi, Klasky Csupo studios and Jhonen Vasquez, creator of Invader Zim.

Zarghami says the now-adult fans of the original shows have been asking for the NickToons to return. "The appetite for their childhood is driving them to ask for Nick stuff, watching it in repeats and asking us to bring it back in different ways," she says. "And now some of them work here, too."

Original source: Variety.
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Nickelodeon Revs Up Virtual Reality

Virtual reality poses a compelling challenge for filmmakers: If you can literally make anything, then what do you decide to create to lure audiences? And how exactly do you sell it to them?

Pictured: Dan Krall created "Sage," a Nickelodeon VR project in development.

Nickelodeon is grappling with these questions as the network pushes into the VR world by way of its gaming business and the software engine it used to get them there - Unreal Engine!

According to James Stephenson, Senior Vice President (SVP) of animation and games at the network, they're in the earliest stages of exploring VR content and tools to learn more about what's possible for storytellers who want to work in this realm.

"For us it was an offshoot of a lot of the technical development we were doing for CG animation," Stephenson told Variety.

While Stephenson didn't go further into exactly what they're making, Kim Libreri, chief technology officer for Epic, which makes Unreal Engine, acknowledges that they've been collaborating with Nickelodeon to create tools geared for their projects. "They've been asking all the right questions and they're very smart (about) how they're looking at this process," says Libreri, who adds that the modular qualities of Unreal Engine makes it flexible enough to adapt to different uses, even when the content creators aren't exactly sure what those uses might be.

Stephenson says the network is also involved in partnerships with Apple, Google and Amazon, among others, in the virtual reality arena. For now, Stephenson is also focused on finding content creators who can work in an entirely new area and find new ways to tell their stories. That means they can come from anywhere, even the network's short film program or other development programs.

"I think it's going to emerge as a platform, so it will have its own storefronts, its own medium and business rules," says Stephenson.

Original source: Variety.
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Nickelodeon's Shorts Program Develops New Talent And Shows

In the 25 years since Nickelodeon launched its animation studio, more players have entered the animation business than ever before. And the playing field itself has expanded to include more than just television and movies, as audiences consume content on different platforms.

To keep up, Nickelodeon is reaching out to new talent through its successful Shorts Program and giving audiences small bites with its digital shorts and Web-exclusive series like Welcome to the Wayne, which proved so popular that Nickelodeon greenlit the series for television.

"Everything comes down to talent development for us," James Stephenson, Senior Vice President (SVP) of animation and games, told Variety. "We have a lot of different ways to do that. We have a screenwriting fellowship that's going into its 17th year. We have an artists' program that's six years in. We have the Shorts Program, which is a great way to find and develop talent."

One of those talents is Chris Savino, whose new series The Loud House debuted to fantastic ratings on Nick USA this month, after being part of the Shorts Program.

"The Shorts Program, for me, was a really smooth operation. The short was greenlit for production in March 2013 and the actual series was greenlit a year and two months later, which is very fast compared to the normal development process," Savino explains.

"Bug Salad", created by Carl Faruolo

Savino isn't the only Shorts Program graduate to have a project become something more at Nickelodeon. Carl Faruolo, one of Variety's 10 Animators to Watch this year, will have his Shorts Program piece, Bug Salad, become a short-form digital series for Nick. In all, according to Stephenson, 47 different shorts have produced talent for the network in the last three years.

Nickelodeon is also using its Animated Shorts Program and Writing Program to mine new talent and develop content overseas. Pedro Eboli and Graham Peterson pitched their idea for a short called Monster Pack that is now being developed further as a potential series for the network. The filmmakers have been given guidance and financial support to follow through on their initial pitch.

"Once they worked with us on our ideas, they were really hands-off when we were making Monster Pack," says Eboli. "We made the film in Brazil and when we were done they gave us feedback but they gave us a lot of trust."

With Nickelodeon channels in more than 70 countries, the network is on a push to create content that will play in Turkey just as well as it plays in Peoria.

Nina Hahn, senior veep of international production and development, says they look to preserve the unique cultural footprint of their content creators while still coming up with programming that appeals to kids on a global scale.

Pinky Malinky from Nickelodeon's new animated series Pinky Malinky.

Another area that's crucial to Nickelodeon is games. "Games are hugely important to our audience," says Stephenson, especially games connected with Nick properties. "We're finding ways that the productions we're doing are driving all different kinds of content, including games, so when the audience finds our games they feel like they are dynamically connected to the shows," he says. Stephenson cites Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a notable success for the studio. "And we’re trying to figure out whether some of our newer properties like Welcome to the Wayne and Pinky Malinky can build productions that feed into all the different things at once."

Original source: Variety.
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What Did Zoey Say? Part 2 - Did Chase Ever Find Zoey After The "Zoey 101" Time Capsule Video Was Unearthed?

Last September, Zoey 101 creator Dan Schneider gave fans the answer to the question they've been waiting 10 years for: What did Zoey Brooks (Jamie Lynn Spears) say in her time capsule video? In a video uploaded to YouTube titled "What Did Zoey Say?," fans got to catch up with Chase (Sean Flynn) a decade after the time capsule episode aired on Nickelodeon!

He was about to propose to his girlfriend, Alyssa (Jamie Snow), a Zoey lookalike, until his best friend, Michael (Chris Massey), interrupted the moment and presented Chase with Zoey's time capsule message. In it, Zoey called Chase her "soulmate" - and that was enough for Chase to ditch Alyssa, grab the ring, and run off in a blind, adrenaline-fueled panic to find Zoey.

But what happened after Chase literally ran after his dream girl? Where did he go? And most importantly, did he ever find Zoey and profess his undying love to her?! Thanks to Zoe Borden, an International Development student at UCLA, fans finally get the resolution they've been waiting for. Except, well, it all goes down a little differently than you were probably anticipating...

As you can see, Flynn reprises his role as Chase in this hilarious video encouraging students to vote for Zoe Borden for UCLA's General Representative. (He's even wearing the same clothes he wore in the "What Did Zoey Say?" video, so: nicely done, Zoe Borden.)
It may not be the "official" end to Chase and Zoey's story - that's still to be decided - but it's sure to give fans some satisfaction.

Original source: MTV News.
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Nickelodeon Orders New Digital Series "Bug Salad"

Variety has announced the very exciting news that Nickelodeon has greenlit a brand-new short-form digital series titled Bug Salad, based on the animated short of the same name from Nickelodeon's 2013 Animated Shorts Program!

"Bug Salad", created by Carl Faruolo

Created by animator Carl Faruolo, Bug Salad follows Scott, a Worm who tries to be a good influence on his bug buddy Winston in the garden neighborhood...even when Winston makes some dangerous choices. The series will be available to watch on Nickelodeon's digital outlets, including and the Nick App.

Nickelodeon animator Faruolo is no stranger to the animation biz, having worked just about everywhere, from Cartoon Network to Disney Television Animation and even Comedy Central. After serving as a director on Nickelodeon's Sanjay and Craig, Faruolo recently moved up to become supervising producer on the network's new animated series Pig Goat Banana Cricket, as well as working on his own project, Bug Salad, Nickelodeon's latest digital short-form series.

And it all started with a scanner.

In the days before storyboards went digital, Faruolo dropped out of school to take a job scanning boards into the computer at Cartoon Network. "Once I got in, I felt like a beneficial parasite. I started learning from everybody that I could," he says. "I was able to work my way up from the inside."

Faruolo is happy that Bug Salad will be a digital series. With all the different ways to find content, "there's no set viewing time anymore. Kids watch what they want when they want."

Carl was recently named as one of Variety's 10 Animators to Watch in 2016.

Watch Carl Faruolo's original Bug Salad short in the super video clip below!:

Nicktoons USA To Premiere More Brand-New Episodes Of "Miraculous" From 5/7

Nicktoons USA, Nickelodeon USA's animation and action channel, will start to premiere and show more brand-new episodes of Zag and Toei Animation's popular CG-animated Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir television series every Saturday at 8:30pm ET/PT from Saturday 7th May 2016!

Below is a list of currently announced brand-new Miraculous Ladybug episodes set to debut on Nicktoons USA in May 2016!:

Saturday 7th May 2016 - The Mime: When Fred Haprèle's stand-in tricks him into missing his next performance, he is akumatized into the Mime.

Saturday 14th May 2016 - Princess Fragrance: Princess Fragrance causes mayhem with her magic perfume; when Marinette realizes Tikki is missing, she loses the ability to transform.

Combining action-packed adventure with superhero elements, Miraculous Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir is a 3D, CGI-animated sitcom that follows two junior high students, Marinette and Adrien, who have the ability to transform into superheroes Ladybug and Cat Noir, with the help of their Miraculous accessories & magical kwami, Tikki and Plagg! Together, they keep Paris safe from the evil Hawk Moth and his army of mind-controlling akuma. The storylines and adventures are rich with friends, family, fun, secret identity, transformation, villains, fashion, creativity and more, all within the spectacular backdrop of Paris.

Sources: Nick and More, Zap2it TV Listings; H/T: ToonZone Forums member kanc.
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