Nickelodeon Animation Studio, also known in Burbank as Nickelodeon Studios Burbank, is an American animation studio. The studio is owned and operated by television network Nickelodeon, and the studio produces many of the network's most popular animated series, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, The Fairly OddParents, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Harvey Beaks, and The Loud House. It also produces programs for Nicktoons as well.
The Nickelodeon animation division foundations begin with the creation of three original animated programs in 1991, Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show. After a falling-out with Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi in 1992, Nickelodeon founded Games Animation to produce future animated endeavors, including their first fully in-house series Rocko's Modern Life. Games produced much of the mid-1990s output of the network, in partnership with notable companies such as Frederator Studios. In 1998, the studio moved from Studio City, California to Burbank in celebration of a new facility, and was renamed Nickelodeon Animation Studio.
Aside from Nickelodeon, the studio has also produced cartoon series for Nick Jr., Nicktoons Network and other Viacom-owned networks such as Spike.
1991–1998: Games Animation
The Nickelodeon Animation Studio's earliest beginnings lie in the roots of the channel's Nicktoons endeavor. In 1990, Nickelodeon appointed Vanessa Coffey as Executive Producer of Animation, charging her with the quest of seeking out new characters and stories that would allow the channel a grand entrance into the animation business. The high cost of high-quality animation discouraged the network from developing weekly animated programming. Although most television networks at the time tended to go to large animation houses with proven track records to develop Saturday-morning series, often generally pre-sold characters from movies, toys or comics, Nickelodeon desired differently. Inspired by the early days of animation and the work of Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, Nickelodeon set out to find frustrated cartoonists swallowed up by the studio system. Nickelodeon president Geraldine Laybourne commissioned eight six-minute pilots at a cost of $100,000 each before selecting three. Seeking the most innovative talents in the field, the products of this artists' union – Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show – represented twelve years of budget-building toward that end.
However, despite the best efforts, relations became strained with Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. In fall 1992, Nickelodeon and Vanessa Coffey fired Kricfalusi. Nickelodeon asserted that the termination was due to production delays, whereas Kricfalusi suspected the real reason was that the network was uncomfortable with more crude humor. Nickelodeon objected to most of his proposed plotlines and new characters—including George Liquor, an Archie Bunker-ish "All-American Male." After Kricfalusi and Nickelodeon missed several promised new-episode delivery and air dates, the network—which had purchased the rights to the Ren & Stimpy characters from Kricfalusi—negotiated a settlement with him. The creative tug of war was closely watched by both animators and the television industry and covered in the national press.
In response, Nickelodeon formed its own animation studio, Games Animation. The series was moved to Games and put under the creative supervision of Bob Camp, one of Kricfalusi's former writer-director partners. Nick's plan was to hire bright, young animators and let them do almost anything they want. Coffey soon stepped down as animation vice president for Nickelodeon, to pursue her own projects. She was replaced by Mary Harrington, a Nickelodeon producer who moved out from New York to help run the Nicktoons division that was a near-shambles after Kricfalusi was fired.
In 1992, animator Joe Murray was approached by Nickelodeon with intentions of developing a new animated series for Games Animation. Murray's Joe Murray Productions and Games Animation rented office space on Ventura Boulevard in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California. The production moved to a different office building on Vineland Avenue in Studio City. Executives did not share space with the creative team. Games Animation's first in-house production, Rocko's Modern Life, premiered on the network in 1993.
The initial duty was to continue producing The Ren & Stimpy Show as Nickelodeon dropped Spümcø and its creator John Kricfalusi from their duties on the show. At the time, Games was located in an office building in Studio City, California. Apart from The Ren & Stimpy Show, Nickelodeon's other Nicktoons were done out-of-house at Jumbo Pictures (whose next deal with Nickelodeon would be a live-action/puppet series Allegra's Window for Nick Jr.) in New York City and Klasky-Csupo (who entered mainstream popularity as animation producers from Fox's longest-running animated sitcom The Simpsons from 1987 to 1992 when animation production duties were given to Film Roman, as well as Everett Peck's Duckman which was produced by Nickelodeon's sister company Paramount Television and aired on USA Network in 1994 through 1997).
Games Animation never had an official logo. Instead, every show the studio worked on had its own customized Games Animation logo. In 1993, Nickelodeon greenlit its first fully original in-house series, Rocko's Modern Life, produced by Games Animation with partnership of Joe Murray Studio. Games worked on the show for three years and employed over 70 people during the course of its run. The show was cancelled in 1996 by Nickelodeon due to its creator Joe Murray wanting to spend more time with his family. Following the cancellation, Games Animation produced the pilot of Hey Arnold!, along with its first 26 episodes.
1998–2016: Nickelodeon Animation Studio
In 1996, Albie Hecht, then-president of Film and TV Entertainment for Nickelodeon, met with Nickelodeon artists for a brainstorming session on the elements of their ideal studio, and, with their feedback (and some inspiration from the fabled Willy Wonka chocolate factory), created "a playful, inspirational and cutting edge lab which will hopefully give birth to the next generation of cartoon classics." He added, "For me this building is the physical manifestation of a personal dream, which is that when people think of cartoons, they'll say Nicktoons." Nickelodeon and parent company Viacom threw a bash to celebrate the opening of the new Nicktoons animation studio on March 4, 1998. During the launch party, a gathering of union labor supporters formed a picket line to protest Nickelodeon's independent hiring practices outside the studio's iron gates.
Located at 231 West Olive Avenue in Burbank, California, the 72,000-square-foot (6,700 m2) facility, designed by Los Angeles architecture firm AREA, houses 200–300 employees and up to five simultaneous productions. It also contains a miniature golf course (with a hole dedicated to Walt Disney), an indoor basketball course/screening room, an artists' gallery, a studio store, and a fountain that shoots green water into the air. The Nicktoons studio houses five, project driven production units. Each has its own color and design environment and includes a living room, writer's lounge and storyboard conference room. The studio also has a Foley stage (for recording live sound effects), a post-production area, sound editing and mixing rooms and an upstairs loft area with skylights for colorists.
In September 1999, Nickelodeon opened a major new digital animation studio at 1633 Broadway in Manhattan. The New York studio primarily took over production of Nick Jr. animated properties. At the same time, the Los Angeles facility animated the intro for The Amanda Show.
It was reported in 2005 that the studio was up for sale; this was later corrected, as the owner of the building was selling it.
2016-present: Nickelodeon Studios
In 2016, Nickelodeon's animation facilities will move into a five-story glass structure that will be part of a larger new studio complex next to the current Burbank facilities, which will become part of the studio as a means of bringing animated productions currently produced elsewhere in Southern California under a single production facility. Because it will house both animated and live-action productions, the studio will be renamed to simply Nickelodeon Studios. (not to be confused with the original Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios Florida.) The studio will also house the Nickelodeon time capsule, first buried in Orlando, Florida at the original Nickelodeon Studios and later at the Nickelodeon Suites Resort, which will move to the new studio by the latter's closure on June 1, 2016.