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Nickelodeon’s Christmas Gift to NYC Animators

(photo from Paint Monster blog)

The holidays just got a little less jolly for NY animation artists. I’m hearing reports that among the casualties of yesterday’s massive 850-person layoffs at Viacom is the entire Nick Digital Animation Studios division. If word on the street is accurate, they’re shutting down the whole shop; from top to bottom, everybody is out the door. This would be a big blow to the New York animation community: Nick is not only one of the largest animation employers in the city but also the last network animation studio remaining on the East Coast. Among the affected shows are Dora the Explorer, The Backyardigans, Go Diego Go, Bubble Guppies, and the forthcoming Umi Zumi, the latter being the only show animated in-house. No word yet on how they’re going to continue producing these shows or when everybody is getting laid off. Feel free to add details in the comments.

UPDATE: Nick employee Linda Beck has written a lengthy post on the ASIFA-East blog about the current situation. Here are a few excerpts from her post, “The End of an Era, Nickelodeon Digital Animation Studio Closes Shop”:

Wednesday morning, a large portion of your community crowded unsuspectingly into conference room 4-110, and were given the news that 1633 Broadway would no longer be the home of the Nick Digital Animation studio.

The crushing blow was that, after a long and difficult deliberation, the Network had made the decision not to rebuild the studio in a new location. After a decade of producing ground-breaking, award-winning pre-school animated television, an Era was given an end date.

The studio itself and the production units, or shows, are two different things. There are four remaining production units on the 4th Floor of 1633. “Dora the Explorer”/”Go, Diego, Go!”, “Backyardigans,” and the yet to premiere “Bubble Guppies,” and “Team Umizoomi.” The former three stay mostly intact and will simply move to other locations. “Team Umizoomi” has a full team that includes Designers, Animators, and Editors. Those are the people who no longer have a Network studio to call home.

But if you’re looking for a villain in all this, you’re not going to find one, at least not on the Network level. In a move that, in my knowledge, is unprecedented, the artists who are being dismissed early are not only being paid through the end dates on their contracts, but are being given severance packages on top based on the years they’ve worked with Nick Animation. It was a classy way to handle it.

  • Saturnome

    Wow. Scary and very sad news. I can’t say much more…

  • Well………….good thing ramen is still cheap. :/

    I think I’m gonna go lay down now and try not to think about it. I just can’t think about it now. .

  • I had no idea Nick Digital in NY was so big. I did a freelance stint there back in 2002 for The Alan Brady Show pilot, and it felt small then (during Blues Clues and Little Bill times). You should probably use a photo from NYC, and not Burbank.

  • Sean

    So does that mean these shows are still going to keep going but they will be done overseas in Korea or India now?

    Yuck. I wish studios would just find a way to keep the jobs of American animators intact.

  • Bugsmer

    That’s going to leave a lot of talented people competing for menial jobs to pay the rent. This is also a great time to hire these animators.

  • david

    what a GREAT time to finish art school…

  • I’ve been a New York freelance animation artist for the past 4 years… as if the industry over here wasn’t tough enough already, now this.

  • Fantastic. It was already so easy to get a job in animation, too.

  • Shit balls!! That really sux for everyone affected!!

  • I interned at Dora and Diego last year. Fun while it lasted! I feel awful for everyone on those shows.

  • Andrew

    If these types of stories occur so frequently, apparently like every-day news, how come they’re so hard to believe? Do people even consider their own judgments when it comes down to money? Your blog is the first place I have even HEARD about the lay-off at Viacom. What’s next? The entire New York animation industry?

  • As someone new to NYC, I can say that the animation community here is just about the most embracing, warm and enthusiastic art community I’ve known.
    I don’t know really know any of the folks who were at Nickelodeon, but I am certain they are going to have a lot of friends looking out for them and buying them beers.

  • linda beck

    stand by. i’m writing up the whole scoop right now. it’s not QUITE as doomsday as the rumours have it.

  • Celia

    I didn’t get laid off (yet), but I would like all my friends to buy me beers. How about Saturday?

  • MattSullivan

    Jesus. I really hope this isn’t true. What a blow it will be if it is.

  • Kevin Martinez

    How do you can the staffs of some of your biggest cash cows (how many millions does Nick make off Dora and Backyardigans merchandise) for no particular reason whatsoever?

    Viacom may be the most actively evil corporation ever.

  • Brad Constantine

    The Corporate send off letter forgot to say what we are all thinking
    “Happy Fucking Holidays!”
    My most sincere condolences to all concerned….

  • UM,

    I need more data on this before I pass judgement, But still.
    These do feel like dark times.

  • Tom

    I already think that Nick, like the nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, will hire only “strong backs” and will only pay pennies for them. Other than “Mighty B” what new strong programming choices have they got? None. Now is not the time to lay off, Nickelodeon.

  • I rather blow some breeze of optimism over as I truly believe that the industry will eventually find a way to absorb those talents again.

  • I guess there’s a lot of that going around.

    Phil Vischer just announced that BIG IDEA is pretty much ka-put. Sounds like no new Veggie Tales or 3-2-1 Penguins will be produced any time soon.


  • Floyd: The Blue’s Clues/Little Bill era was quite a big thing for NYC animation. At the time, Nick Digital was the largest animation studio in the city, IIRC. It hasn’t been the same since then, but still kept alive through the likes of Gary the Rat (a Spike TV show), Umizumis, The Backyardigans and others where the animation wasn’t done in-house, and various pilots.

    Linda: Looking forward to your scoop.

    Celia: I’m there!

    Heard about this first from a friend. Nick Digital was my first job out of school. I’m saddened, but also feel that this was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s tough being an animator in this city these days…

  • linda beck
  • GregH

    Big Idea laid off most of its remaining creative force on Monday as well. Fun times.

  • i’m on the fence with this. the building that viacom rents its space from has raised the rent and so viacom has decided to not renew its lease. they have space down on hudson street which is where a few people within the organization are now. i’ve heard that viacom is actually treating the nick digital staff very well by paying out their contracts.

    i’ve been told that there is the promise of a second season of umi, and that once nick finds the space they will bring everyone back to finish up season one. however, this is where i am not so sure viacom will deliver. will they carry through with their promise, and re-open a new studio? my fear is that they won’t open up nick digital, and instead outsource the productions that were done here in NY. this would be a huge blow to the NY animation industry.

    nevertheless, things are looking bleak around town in the short term.

  • Bill Field

    What can be done to finance small studios and re-think media property so all are able to benefit from creating it? What is needed are lawyers and brokers like those who made the TMNT deal for Eastman and Laird, to fairly restructure and mandate good salaries and pay without the need for any other body or union acting only in their own self interests.

  • Everyone interested should read Linda’s article –

    Kudos to Viacom for paying out the remainder of people’s contracts and offering severance packages. They have really done the best they could with a sad situation.

    My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected. Things will be rough for a while, but NY animators always seem to bounce back. Best of luck everyone.

  • David Levy

    The 850 listed in the report above are actually mostly non-animation Nick staff. But, its still a massive loss. For the full story, I recommend Linda Beck’s and Dayna Gonzalez’s acurate reportage at the ASIFA-East blog:

  • Stasis

    This might be fallout from Sumner Redstone’s recent dumping of his Midway Games/National Amusements stock at a huge loss, or not. Nick has been a gold-plated sweatshop from day one, on both coasts. It’s a shame NYC’s animation industry had to depend on the likes of them at all. Where will Nick move their labor intensive operation now, Mumbai?

  • Alison Wilgus

    I just keep reminding myself of all the good things that happened after CatBot shut down, and the great team of animators I ended up working with at Curious Pictures as a result….of course, the economy wasn’t going to hell back then. But I hold out hope that some shiny new creator-driven series will materialize in time to rescue these folks.

  • Corporation’s relationship to in-house production goes in cycles. In 10 years, Nickelodeon will be back to where they were a couple years ago.

    In the meantime, they’ll contract studios for content.

    They’ll do this until they convince themselves they can make more money producing under their own roof.

    This cycle will continue until they are rightfully prosecuted under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act for being a vertical monopoly (controlling the means of production and the distribution of a product)

  • Any chance of an animation industry bailout?

  • I like to draw

    it wasnt just New York… we lost about 10+ people at my job which is viacom owned…. 1or 2 artists included….

  • linda beck

    Anyone know the story on Big Idea?

  • Danielle: Yes, I remember some of the Spike stuff now. That was up at 1633 (along with Stripperella, I believe). I was down the street in the MTV building.

  • Paul N

    Not good, but it sounds like Viacom did all they could to make the best of a bad situation. Linda’s summation is excellent – I wonder if anyone who’s cast aspersions will read it and recant?

  • Mike

    Floyd, I was in the office while you guys were making the Alan Brady pilot. That was in the 1515 building. There was a much bigger space over at 1633 that housed the Television productions (Little Bill, Blues Clues, etc)

    That pilot was looking great, guess it never went anywhere.

  • GregH

    Here’s Phil Vischer’s (founder of Big Idea) take on what happened to Big Idea this go-round:

  • Mike

    And here’s Phil’s very long, but interesting thoughts on what happened to Big Idea the last go-round:

  • Oh man. My first job out of college was working in layout for “Little Bill.” Met a lot of cool artists there. I was at 1500 Broadway I think? Anyway here’s hoping these layoffs don’t actually include the ENTIRE Nick Digital studios dvision.