In March, I visited the home of Nickelodeon Animation in Burbank. I had seen photos and video footage of the pristine site after its renovation in January 2017, and was eager to appreciate its innovative features in real life.
After arriving at the front gate, a tall metal structure off Olive Avenue, I entered into a sprawling menagerie of botanical wonders, stone statues of iconic Nick characters like SpongeBob, retro-looking lawn furniture in splashy shades of orange, pink, green and blue; honey bees and towering palms.
And this is just the courtyard.
The five-story building has a free-form layout; its floor-to-ceiling glass walls serving as a circulatory system for creative collaboration. The campus seamlessly connects animation and live-action studios with offices, a café, screening room, employee lounges and more pockets of relaxation and entertainment.
Burbank Animation’s on-site screening room:
I was at Burbank to meet with Nickelodeon’s Culture and Digital Community team. Since I was a bit early, I took the opportunity to relax in one of the ultra-comfy lounge chairs and check my email, surrounded by a regalia of color and charm.
Watch: Burbank employees show off their work perks:
I met Director of Culture and Digital Community Narbeh Minasians, Social Media Coordinator David Watson and Social Media Production Assistant Samantha Armiger. We talked shop for a bit in the courtyard about the team’s community outreach initiatives and web engagement (like the series they curated for Women’s History Month, featuring women in Nickelodeon cartoons). Then, Minasians asked if I wanted a tour of the studio. Are Krabby Patty burgers delicious? Yes, of course.
Our first stop: the game room:
Minasians pointed out the custom wallpaper emblazoned with Nickelodeon animation references, and led me to a door off to the side. This, he explained, was the “jam room.” Equipped with a keyboard, guitars and amplifiers, a drum set and a tambourine, it had everything necessary for an impromptu jam sesh.
“Everyone’s an artist of some kind here at Nick,” said Minasians, “Music is just another way our employees can express their creativity.”
Then, it was on to the cabinets. There’s a lot of work being done around the building, and storage cabinets aren’t exactly a highlight of a state-of-the-art animation studio…unless, of course, they double as whiteboards for doodling. At Burbank, design isn’t confined to a studio—employees’ creativity literally floods the building, via canvasses in the form of chalkboards, magnetic walls and whiteboards. The glass walls leave no barrier to ingenuity.
I asked Minasians to point out the coolest displays of artistry—which, as I soon found out, were everywhere. One highlight? The Post-Its wallpapered outside of employee offices, each with a hand-drawn sketch of a Nickelodeon character.
Next up: the archive room. As Watson explained earlier that day, the archive room is a capsule of Nickelodeon history, safeguarding hand-drawn cells from every Nickelodeon animated show, including the first three original NickToons (Doug, Ren and Stimpy and Invader Zim).
“Archiving is an invaluable part of the artistic process,” said Watson. Upon entering the “vault,” I saw flip books of the original sketches for every old school Nicktoon, including this fascinating collection of artwork from Blue’s Clues…and a “handy-dandy notebook.”
And in a section of the archive room called “The Alchemy of Animation,” I saw this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anthology – a rare, special edition made for Nickelodeon.
Take a look:
Along the way, Minasians pointed out more treasures: the replica of Helga Pataki’s disturbing love shrine to Arnold (it was originally presented at Comic Con) and a bookcase full of delightful Nick trinkets, including the most anxiety-inducing game ever, Operation (SpongeBob edition, naturally).
Burbank’s lounge areas are decorated with a distinct brand of flair, to match the whimsical energy of Nickelodeon. Each couch, carpet and bench emitted a regalia of color. My eyes darted to this wonky sitting area—I was particularly smitten with the abstract SpongeBob print on the cushions.
After the tour, Minasians brought me upstairs to the employee kitchen—which embraced the “eco-lodeon” initiatives put in place by several employees to increase sustainability by re-using mugs and glass cups. Minasians had to run off to set up an employee Mario Kart competition (a typical end-of-day task in the Nickelodeon universe) but first, he showed me where I could continue working for the day: the magnificent Zen Garden, right outside of the cafeteria overlooking the courtyard.
I had about half an hour before my next meeting, and I was soaking up every minute of time in that calming space like SpongeBob soaks up the salty seawater of Bikini Bottom. (Can you tell what my favorite Nickelodeon cartoon is, yet?)
As a New York-based employee, sometimes I get caught up in my day-to-day work. I work at Viacom Headquarters in Times Square, where there’s surely no shortage of engaging and eye-catching décor. Still, visiting Burbank was an eye-opening adventure. I grew up on Nickelodeon cartoons and live action shows, and to see the hub of productivity firsthand cemented my appreciation of the brand and its shows.
Photos by Lisa Di Venuta.