Nickelodeon Rendering Technology Albert
Courtesy of Bonnie Osborne/Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon gave itself an early Christmas present when it went into production on its first animated TV movie, the holiday special “Albert,” set to debut Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. PT/ET.

The story follows a tiny Douglas fir, voiced by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Bobby Moynihan, that dreams of being a Christmas tree and leaves its suburban nursery for the big city.  The film was directed by Max Lang, Oscar-nominated for animated shorts “The Gruffalo” and “Room on the Broom.”

In order to achieve the look the makers of the CG film wanted, production team members turned to Redshift, a super-fast rendering software that gave them more control over lighting, and allowed them to create the feel of such classic stop-motion-animated holiday specials as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.”

“When we got the greenlight for the project, conversations began about what the movie should look like,” says Nickelodeon’s senior VP of franchises and library content Chris Viscardi, an executive producer on “Albert.” Both 2D and CG were discussed as options, since Nickelodeon’s artists are adept at both, but the team decided to use CG to tell a story that has the appearance of “Rudolph” and “Frosty.” “We really liked the tactile look of stop-motion, where you feel you can reach through the screen and actually touch the characters and the world.”

That’s when Nick’s senior VP of animation production David Steinberg and his crew stepped in. “What I love about my job here is that every project is different and requires different tools and a different approach,” says Steinberg. “So when Chris and Will [McRobb, Steinberg’s producing partner] said this was the aesthetic we were looking for, we talked with our team about the best way to move forward.”

Lighting and compositing supervisor Tobias White had seen a demo of Redshift and recommended the software, which leverages a computer’s graphics card rather than its CPU. “The added power gave us the opportunity to do much quicker rendering and total global illuminations,” Steinberg explains. “It gives things an aura and a sense of real-world lighting.”

The technology also allowed Nickelodeon to do all of the lighting, rendering, and final compositing in-house, instead of using an outside vendor, which is part of the studio’s normal production process. For “Albert,” Bardel Entertainment in Vancouver did the character animation, but sent the layers back to Nick, where the production team could maximize the look with Redshift.

“We have an incredible group of artists who are used to working at a TV pace,” says Steinberg. “We were able to leverage their smarts and their ability to move quickly to be able to make a higher-quality movie in a shorter time than that of the big feature studios.”

Viscardi says the filmmakers got the result they wanted. “I’m really proud to say that I know we’ve pulled it off,” he says. “It really looks tactile and the textures are really bright and cool.”

Steinberg adds that that experience has expanded Nick’s toolbox. “Now that we know what Redshift can do, we absolutely will be talking about it again when we see projects that need this kind of lighting.”

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