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Who’s the Next Big Squeeze After SpongeBob?

In the second year of its Animated Shorts Program, children’s network Nickelodeon received more than 900 pitches from veteran animators, digital artists, comedians, illustrators, cartoonists and other creative types. The network chose 12 of the pitches to develop into short series to air on the cable channel, its website, or on Nick App, launched in February and available on tablets and smartphones. The shorts program has become for Nickelodeon a farm system of sorts, a recruitment tool for the network to find what new programming proves popular with its audience before committing to a full-length series. “These are different characters we have not seen before or (creative) voices that we have not heard before,” said Russell Hicks, president of content development and production, who works at the network’s Burbank facility. Nickelodeon chose the 12 finalists in May, and in June picked another 15 ideas from 100 pitches submitted from artists in 20 countries. The shorts, each about three minutes long, have a production cycle of about six months. Among the shows picked from this year’s batch of submissions were “Welcome to Woodstump” (a deer trying to get home without being seen wearing his mother’s jeans) and “Broats” (a trio of goats who operate a petting zoo). Can these shows or others picked to be made into a short series be the next “SpongeBob SquarePants” or “Rugrats” for Nickelodeon? Reaching that level of popularity could be a stretch but what makes an animated show work on the network starts with the laughter. “A character that makes you laugh and has heart to it is a very powerful character,” Hicks said. Speedy Development When the producers of the new season of sitcom “Arrested Development” came to Shapeshifter for post-production services, their instructions were not what is typically heard in the entertainment industry. Instead of delivering an episode a week, Shapeshifter needed to work on all 15 episodes at the same time and deliver them to Dakota Pictures, the production company, at the same time. That resulted in changes being made to the show right until the last minute, said Russo Anastasio, president and co-founder of Shapeshifter, located in the Cahuenga Pass. “The way they were threading together (the season) was fluid throughout the project,” Anastasio said. “We finished four shows in four days at the end.” Shapeshifter, however, had not been the first choice to do the final conforming, final color correction, and visual effects on the show. A competing firm had started the work on the episodes but bowed out after the fifth one, not having been able to keep up with the work pace and handling the raw ultra-high definition digital files, Anastasio said. Shapeshifter could step in to finish the work by having the technological resources to handle the raw media files and put it onto a storage area network, Anasatasio said. “Some of the bigger facilities are locked in to the old hardware and cannot pull this workflow off,” he said. The crew shot the episodes on RED Digital Cinema Epic cameras. When shots were needed to be blown up by 300 percent, Shapeshifter was able to use the original digital file rather than using a converted file. In that regard, Shapeshifter’s contributions were significant, said Troy Miller, executive producer and director. “They are virtually unsurpassed in their ability to make quality changes quickly and efficiently,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “Their artistry and technical finesse added a level of quality that this genre rarely has.” Anastasio started the studio in 1998 with partner Dean Chu, who remains with the business. Stand-Up Specials New Wave Entertainment is flexing its funny bone with an aggressive release schedule of 45 comedy specials this year. The Burbank production house has been on a roll of late in gathering comedic material for the specials from established comics Louie Anderson , Joe Piscopo and Aziz Anshari and up and comers such as Josh Blue, Whitney Cummings and Moshe Kasher. The company distributes this specialized material to Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and Comedy Central under its New Wave Dynamics division led by its Brian Volk-Weiss, head of production. “Comedy specials are a wonderful market because people are passionate about their comedy and it allows us to work with some of the greatest comedians out there,” Volk-Weiss said. New Wave for years has been a client-based company receiving work from the Hollywood studios and networks. The Dynamics division, started in 2009, was developed to get exposure with viewers who were not familiar with the New Wave name. Staff Reporter Mark R. Madler can be reached at mmadler@sfvbj.com or (818) 316-3126.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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