Nickelodeon Animation Studios New York Showcases the Power of Desktop Animation
by Stacy Williams

Animators looking for jobs would normally think of heading for "Tinseltown," but the opening of Nickelodeon Animation Studios New York this month is changing all that. The new studios are at the forefront of technology and technique, using 100 percent desktop digital production technologies and pioneering a new style of animation, storybook animation. This new style combines digital images and drawings created or manipulated using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop with live action footage of actors, composited together using Adobe After Effects. With the launch this month, Nickelodeon has become the largest producer of animation on the East Coast-and all of the animation is created using Adobe software on the desktop.

New Levels of Creativity

The new studios extinguish any doubt that desktop-based animation tools have come of age. Much of the animation done today for children's television is traditional cel animation, created in Los Angeles or sent out of the country. To maintain the highest possible level of creative control and productivity, Nickelodeon is bringing it all in-house, from start to finish. Using desktop computers and Adobe software should prove to be a cost-effective alternative to sending animation outside of Nickelodeon. It also allows Animation Directors to give direct feedback to the animator and see immediate results.

Leveraging Existing Content

Best of all, shots, characters and elements can be archived and accessed later for re-use on future cartoons. The ability to archive digital files keeps Nickelodeon's property safe, and alleviates worries about the quality of the images or footage degrading over time. The digital files are archived as layered Photoshop files, so designers can bring up the file and quickly adjust color, lighting, positioning and other factors to fit the needs of the new shot. Without the ability to re-use artwork, Nickelodeon would have a difficult time accomplishing the labor-intensive task of creating animated shows, without sending work outside.

Pioneering Productions for Preschoolers

Currently, production at the new studio is focusing on two shows: Little Bill, an innovative new television show being launched this Fall that is 100 percent animation, and the popular Blue's Clues, an engaging, educational show for preschoolers that is now going into its fourth season.

An Engaging Experience

A show that is 100 percent animation, Little Bill engages children not only through good story lines, but also through rich, colorful textures that are scanned in and manipulated using Photoshop. Real cloth is often scanned into Photoshop and used as the basis for clothing. Cotton might be used for clouds. Using real textures brings the show to life for children, as does the depth of the animation. Instead of using two-dimensional characters that move in two dimensions, Little Bill's characters move in three dimensions - forward and back and side to side. The result is that the show is more engaging for children.

Like all Nickelodeon productions, Little Bill begins with a heavy dose of research to be sure that children learn while they view. The actual production of the Little Bill show begins with hand-drawn art and photographic references, which are then scanned into Photoshop or Illustrator. For street scenes especially, designers take advantage of the precision of Illustrator to line up buildings, cars and other scene elements before bringing the scene into Photoshop. In Photoshop, elements are combined and colors and lighting are adjusted to ensure that the scene will have maximum impact and will animate properly. Animators then use After Effects to animate the scene and synchronize voice-overs with the characters' lip movements.