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Drawn to the Business

Drawn to the Business Mark Taylor, head of Nickelodeon Animation Studios, says the creative atmosphere at the Burbank-based facility has made the Viacom unit a leader in the industry with such children’s favorites as SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer By SLAV KANDYBA Staff Reporter Mark Taylor has the job any kid would envy only he is an adult, with an MBA from UCLA to boot. As general manager of Burbank-based Nickelodeon Animation Studios, Taylor oversees daily operations of the hand-drawn animation house that has produced such kid favorites as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Fairly Odd Parents and a host of others. The ideas for the shows and initial drawings are created at the studio, while most of the drawings are done overseas. The studio’s facilities were designed to foster creativity. On premises is a large outdoor area with a ping-pong table where employees can relax. There is a snack shop complete with a cappuccino machine and freshly restocked bagels every morning in the lobby. All are designed to create the kind of environment where employees most of them creative types can do their job. Perhaps the environment has had something to do with the studio’s success. The animation house, owned by Viacom, has consistently produced hit shows, and has plans to increase the number of cartoons it develops. Also, there are plans to add more employees. Q: Did you ever think you would wind up heading an animation studio? A: When I was in junior high school, myself and a couple of other kids started our own radio station that’s what I was going to go into. When I got to Northridge, I thought I was going to be a Radio-TV major but that didn’t work out. I found geography it was an arbitrary pick because I wanted to graduate from college. I went into the restaurant business, had my own restaurant when I was in my late 20s early 30s. Then, I decided I wanted to get into business, so I started as a bookkeeper, worked my way up to controller and then VP of finance for a toy development company. Then, going further, I realized I wanted to get my MBA. That led to a more well-rounded business background and I think better prepared me for a job with Nickelodeon, where I don’t only oversee production, I oversee HR, facilities and other parts. Q: When did you come to Nickelodeon? A: I came aboard in May 1997. I had been at Sony for a year, when this job became available. I worked at Sony’s animation division as VP of production. Q: What’s your average day like? A: I come here at 7:15 a.m. I start off the day with answering e-mails and conversations with New York (where Viacom’s headquarters are). Another thing is the financial side. A lot of what I have to do is juggle numbers, look at financials and analyze spreadsheets. Q: What challenges have you had in this position? A: I learned how to pace myself it’s a long race, animation takes a long time. It’s about people, it’s about respect, you give respect you get respect. It’s just a true art form. Q: What are your top shows right now? A: SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Fairly Odd Parents. Then, we’ve also got Striperella for Spike TV, which has done well. Jimmy Neutron is another top show. Q: How long does it take for a show to be produced and how much does it cost? A: To make 13 episodes takes about 18 months. As far as costs, we’re as competitive as everyone else. Q: How is the studio surviving as a hand-drawn animation house in the age of CG (computer-generated) animation? A: We apply (the CG process) to help in our work. In editing stations, we do use some CG special effects, but we’re not a CG house. We let the property dictate the process; we don’t do as others seem to have done which is give away one for another. It gives Nick the opportunity to continue to offer breakthrough creative ideas in children’s programming. We look at what the creative vision is and then use technology to enhance it. Q: Where do you see Nickelodeon continuing to grow? A: There are too many good ideas out there and certainly Nickelodeon is aware animation-oriented programs are related to their success. Everything that we really put up in the studio has been a top-rated show, top 10 or the top 25. Also, from a retail perspective, our shows have been a great success. The future is certainly very bright. We’re starting more pilots. Q: What is your competition? A: Our competition is any other broadcasters that have children’s animation. Those are the competitors. I think the process that we use to determine what productions we’re going to move forward and the process that we use to do productions is what makes us unique. We really love to create different shows. We give our creators enough leeway and guidance to be successful. There’s a wonderful match between the creativity that the great brains bring and the guidance that the studio and the network bring. Q: What makes the studio stand apart and be a leader? A: Respect goes a long way in making everyone feel valued at the studio. When people feel valued and they are talented , which everyone is at the studio , then the results will lead to making No. 1 shows. The people at the studio make Nick an amazing place to work at. The talent, the desire to want to do the best job leaves a positive charge in the air everyday. I love coming to work knowing that I am surrounded by great and talented people. Q: Has Nickelodeon Animation Studios been profitable for Viacom? A: Nickelodeon has been the top cable outlet for the past six years so, as a broadcaster, I would imagine it is profitable. But I’m not privy to that information (because it’s handled in New York). Q: What is actually done here at this studio and what’s outsourced? A: We do pre-production. The actual overseas studio does all of the drawings that encompass that 11 or 12 minutes of animation. That studio could be in Korea and Japan. We’ve been using overseas studios for 12 to 15 years. SNAPSHOT: Mark Taylor Title: Vice President/General Manager, Nickelodeon Animation Studios Born: December 26, 1950 Education: Bachelor of Arts in Geography, California State University Northridge, 1973; MBA, UCLA, 1992 Career Turning Point: Leaving the restaurant business to work as a bookkeeper at an animation studio Personal: Divorced, son Matthew Most Admired Person: John Wooden

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