Nickelodeon Revs Up Virtual Reality

Toon studio facing brave new world of immersive content

Virtual reality poses a compelling challenge for filmmakers: If you can literally make anything, then what do you decide to create to lure audiences? And how exactly do you sell it to them?

Nickelodeon is grappling with these questions as the network pushes into the VR world by way of its gaming business and the software engine it used to get them there — Unreal Engine.

According to James Stephenson, senior VP of animation and games at the network, they’re in the earliest stages of exploring VR content and tools to learn more about what’s possible for storytellers who want to work in this realm.

“For us it was an offshoot of a lot of the technical development we were doing for CG animation,” says Stephenson.

While Stephenson won’t go further into exactly what they’re making, Kim Libreri, chief technology officer for Epic, which makes Unreal Engine, acknowledges that they’ve been collaborating with Nickelodeon to create tools geared for their projects. “They’ve been asking all the right questions and they’re very smart (about) how they’re looking at this process,” says Libreri, who adds that the modular qualities of Unreal Engine makes it flexible enough to adapt to different uses, even when the content creators aren’t exactly sure what those uses might be.

Stephenson says the network is also involved in partnerships with Apple, Google and Amazon, among others, in the virtual reality arena.For now, Stephenson is also focused on finding content creators who can work in an entirely new area and find new ways to tell their stories. That means they can come from anywhere, even the network’s short film program or other development programs.

“I think it’s going to emerge as a platform, so it will have its own storefronts, its own medium and business rules,” says Stephenson.

Pictured: Dan Krall created “Sage,” a Nickelodeon VR project in development.

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