One of the most exciting projects happening at Nickelodeon right now will never crack the top of the children’s ratings (as so many Nick shows have lately). It will not feature a talking sponge or a gaggle of rambunctious children or anthropomorphic monster trucks. It will never be on television at all.
Instead, it will serve as an animation and idea factory that will help launch all of these things and much more out into the wider world. It is Nick’s new Burbank animation studio, currently rising on a busy intersection between the Verdugo and Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California.
Viacom commissioned Southern California filmmaker and photographer Brian Hawkins to distill the project’s energy as it rose in the sun-dappled landscape. He’s headquartered nearby and was able to visit the site several times per month. The result was this stunning video:
I caught up with Hawkins to ask him a bit about how he executed the project and what he thought about Nick’s spectacular new building. The conversation below is edited for length and clarity.
Stuart Winchester: Really awesome video. What was your process for shooting and editing this?
Brian Hawkins: When Viacom initially reached out to me, they wanted a long-term construction time-lapse, so a mounted camera on the old building to capture the new building coming up over the course of a year. We used a solar-powered camera with a 3G connection that sends the photos back to me where I can process them. My goal was a cinematic approach, so I also returned during during times of interesting activity to film those using shorter-term time lapse and regular video. Once I had all that, I start fitting things together into a story, and editing the video from that.
SW: What you just described is a ton of footage, and you condensed it down to this one-minute video. What was your editing process like to bring this together into a story?
BH: It’s not necessarily chronological order. I put everything on the video timeline and then move things around until they fit together to tell the story. You eliminate redundant clips and whittle it down to the best action, and try and get down to a minute or so, which seems to be the sweet spot for social media postings these days. Then I put the music on there to try and see how you can cut the video to the beat of the music and get that integrated. So it’s mostly a trial-and-error process, but you eventually get to something that looks intriguing.
SW: What story were you trying to tell through the video as you were putting this together?
BH: I was trying to show the intricacies involved in construction. A lot of people think you just get some steel and a crane and these things pop up. It’s a fascinating thing. I’ve been interested in construction ever since I was a little kid – you go out to the site and watch the trucks move around. I love getting on the site and seeing these guys doing what they’re so skilled at doing, so I want to get that across and show the grand scale of what they’re building and what Nickelodeon is trying to create here. Hopefully once it’s done and they have the interior of the building decorated in their style, that’s when you’re really going to see what Nickelodeon is all about. It’s going to show Nickelodeon’s personality and put an entertaining connection to this, in addition to the human element I was trying to illustrate before.
SW: Most videos like this focus on the structure itself, but you showed a lot of the workers.
BH: I found through years of shooting video that, sure, people are interested in buildings and places, but what connects them to a video of any kind is other people.
SW: So what’s the challenge of telling a story with no words at all?
BH: It comes down to having strong visual content, and choosing the right time of day for the right kind of lighting. You need good post-processing skills and music. You need something that gets the audience engaged and excited and complements the visuals.
SW: It looks like you used a drone for that one amazing shot – it starts inside and zooms out to a wide view of the entire building.
BH: Yeah, we used a drone on almost every visit while the exterior of the building was going up. For that one, we had to fly it from right inside the building out of it. It was a pretty tight fit, actually, because they were starting to put up the window frames, so I really had to aim it pretty well, but we got it.
SW: So what do you think of the building itself?
BH: I think it’s going to be a wonderful place. It’s hard to get a sense of what it’s going to be like when it’s finished, but I think that, interior-wise, I really like the exterior and all the glass work they’ve done. I think they’re creating something that’s going to be very Nickelodeon. From the renderings I’ve seen of the inside, I can’t wait for them to finish that and get that fitted out with all the unique things Nickelodeon’s going to be doing with it.