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May 10, 2017

Pencils Ready!

At Nickelodeon’s new digs, artists who feel animated can start their drawings right on the walls.

Gina Piccalo
  • Nickelodeon’s new five-story property sits at Olive Avenue and Lake Street in Burbank.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • A sunny and spacious fourth-floor meeting space.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • Exposed ductwork and wooden arches line the walkways along workspaces.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • Exposed ductwork and wooden arches line the walkways along workspaces.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • Green reigns supreme in the first-floor work area.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • Staffers think pink in their fourth floor offices.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • Artists can seek inspiration in the archive gallery.

    Charley Gallay/Nickelodeon
  • A dousing of Nickelodeon’s signature orange.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • Color blocks border a second-floor conference room.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • The gallery exhibits rotating work by Nickelodeon employees and outside artists.

    Charley Gallay/Nickelodeon
  • The gallery exhibits rotating work by Nickelodeon employees and outside artists.

    Charley Gallay/Nickelodeon
  • A blue backsplash mirrors skies in the third-floor pantry.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • A seating area looks out onto a sunny deck.

    Bruce Damonte/Nickelodeon
  • The art gallery-waiting area features seating in the shape of the “splat,” once part of the Nickelodeon logo.

    Charley Gallay/Nickelodeon

With lobby chairs that spin like tops, swings with mountain views, an arcade and walls you can draw on, Nickelodeon’s new West Coast headquarters sounds like a 200,000-square-foot animator fun zone.

But the reimagined Burbank campus marks a strategic move by the media company, streamlining operations, cultivating collaboration and feeding the new generation of creatives who are helping drive its success.

“The building is very reflective of the way the current generation of artists and creators want to work,” says Chris Viscardi, senior vice-president, production and development, animation. “When people from the outside come and see it, it’s hard not to look at Nick in a whole new light. It’s a fun place that embodies the spirit of Nickelodeon.”

Collaboration was the design theme for the project, which includes a new five-story building overlooking the corner of Olive Avenue and Lake Street as well as redesigns and renovations of the courtyard and two original buildings. The campus now houses more than 700 employees who previously worked in five disparate Los Angeles offices, marking the first time in decades that the West Coast arm of the network has had a centralized operation.

“There was a feeling of not being all connected, before,” says David Steinberg, senior vice-president of production, animation. “It has been an incredible rush for the artists to now all be in the same space.”

At midday recently, the whole placed hummed with new-building excitement. It wasn’t yet noon, but staffers were lining up at the lobby-level Café Hoek and Stimpson, named for one of the network’s original animated series, The Ren & Stimpy Show.

Coworkers gathered at tall tables next to the giant, lighted Nick marquee sign that consumes one wall and also serves as an entrance to the 88-seat, state-of-the-art screening room. A wall of windows looks down from the café to the 23,000-square-foot courtyard, a plein-air workspace with wi-fi and a power outlet for every bench.

“This has been a long time coming,” says Vicki Fenton, vice-president, core services.

Back in 2013, Fenton and Steinberg started the planning process for the new campus, surveying staff and touring other properties for ideas, including the Googleplex in Silicon Valley. They realized that to support day-to-day collaboration, they needed a contemporary design and hired San Francisco- based architects STUDIOS Architecture to create it.

“The intent was to bring Nickelodeon together as a whole and to encourage interaction,” says Enrique Sánchez, the project’s lead architect and associate principal at STUDIOS Architecture.

“The facade of the new building can be considered as a vertical courtyard, with the porches and break areas focused on the outdoor courtyard. After talking with different groups at Nickelodeon, we understood how important it was for them to have areas of different scales for people to meet and share ideas.”

That communal sensibility — coupled with a bright, modern style — gives the space a stylish, even optimistic, feel. Rather than corner offices, there’s a corner fitness room, corner meeting spaces and a corner meditation nook, complete with three-quarters of a ton of pebbles for a Zen garden.

On two floors there are corner “maker’s labs” (animator workstations), one with old-school paints and pencils and the other with a 3-D printer and state-of-the-art animation software. “The hope is these labs will give artists the freedom to create their visions and then pitch them,” says Jim Leber, senior director, West Coast technical operations.

Right off the elevator on nearly every floor are wall-to-ceiling chalkboards that are already crowded with artists’ doodles of talking hot dogs and wisecracking sea sponges.

Each floor also has its own “porch,” which features a beverage bar with swings or rocking chairs affording panoramic mountain views. In the center of each floor, the open and subtly lighted artists’ cubicles allow for more relaxed cross talk and even more doodling, right on the walls.

“One of the biggest challenges was to make sure that light was regulated properly,” Sánchez says. “This required limiting access to natural light. We decided to locate the private offices and smaller conference rooms on the perimeter to help filter direct sunlight.”

Everywhere you turn in the new complex, there’s a balance between spontaneous whimsy and purposeful creativity.

Across the courtyard are the network’s original buildings, which will soon house three voiceover studios, a green room for voice actors and a dee-jay booth for Nick Radio. There’s also a corner wing stocked with pinball machines, an air hockey table and a jam-ready music room.

“Any architect — when they hear ‘Nickelodeon’ — they think crazy , zany , wild ,” Fenton says. “We didn’t want that. We wanted to be more curated. We wanted it to be grown-up and fun at the same time.”

A spacious new gallery in one of the adjacent buildings now features a rotation of independent work by Nickelodeon artists as well as artists outside the company.

And the new humidity-controlled archive and library offers artists easy access to models, pencil test renderings, creators’ notes and painted cels of Nickelodeon’s earliest series. The archive has already proved useful as animators prepare updated adaptations of some of Nick’s legacy series, among them, Hey Arnold! and Rocko’s Modern Life.

“We wanted to design a space that allowed for creativity, that inspired people, that reflected Nick’s brand and culture and that they could take ownership of,” Sánchez says. “When people say that they feel like home in a building, you know you have succeeded.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2017

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