Explosive Stuff
November 11, 2010

Explosive Stuff

Nailgun helps Nicktoons blow up their world with intense network IDs

Live-action/motion graphics studio Nailgun was tasked with creating four network ID spots for Nicktoons, which recently underwent a major redesign. And Nailgun took things to extremes. “'Nicktoons wanted us to take it to another place with these identities,” says Michael Waldron, creative director. ''Each ID targets the network’s primary audience of pre-teen boys with concepts that explore the mood and tone of the brand, and evolves it to a more a mature place.''

If there is a unifying concept to the four IDs, it is that Nicktoons--the kids’ network featuring such boy-centric programs as Wolverine and The X-Men, Speed Racer: The Next Generation, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Danny Phantom--is an expansive and larger-than-life world where adventure lurks just beneath the surface. It’s exciting and engaging, like a great theme-park ride or video game.

''They wanted an aggressive, cinematic look that would really pull viewers off the couch and into the content,'' Waldron adds. ''Each ID needed to be unique, not feel like a campaign, but each have its own aesthetic and idea.''

''Thunder,'' which features an intense marriage of cell animation and 3D, begins with a violent wave demolishing a dock. Struck by a lightning bolt, the water takes on added intensity as letters suddenly emerge from the water and form a colossal Nicktoons logo.

According to Waldron, each scene has a mix of cell animation created in Adobe Flash. The water and foam, though, was created with Next Limit’s RealFlow, while 3D elements were crafted in Autodesk’s Maya. “The composite is were things got tricky,” he says. “Each element had to be tracked and layered in such a way that it felt seamless and realistic. We wanted the movement of the camera work to feel like it was being shot on a boat.”

The second ID, ''Popcorn Type,'' features a cityscape, where the asphalt ruptures, spewing forth the letters from the Nicktoons logo, bouncing violently--so much so, it knocks the camera on its side. The ID ends with the camera still on its side filming the logo. 

For this spot, the team used Blast Code’s software to break open the asphalt ground so that the explosion of type could shoot into the air. The artists created the explosion using the particle system in Maya, mixed with a handful of keyframed letters falling out of the stack. The camera then circles the stack as it ascends to the top, where it runs out of steam and starts to fall back down. As it falls, a couple of letterforms tumble down in the background until they line up in slow motion to form the logo.

Another, ''Glacier Cave,'' begins with a shot from within an ice cave, where a beam of light shatters a thick ice wall that imprisons the letters of the Nicktoons logo.

“We built the cave in Maya and used Blast Code to crack and blow up the ice cave,” says Waldron. “We spent a lot of time composing the early shots so that the reflections and refractions didn't give away the Nicktoons logo.” He notes that the use of light was important in every ID, but even more so in this one. “Light and ice can be hard to handle when mixed sometimes,” Waldron adds.

Perhaps most surreal of all is ''Pull The Carpet,'' which begins with an overhead typographical shot of a desert-like environment that has suddenly been pulled like a carpet out from under itself. As the carpet undulates, random letters tumble like a stampede toward the camera. The spot ends with the fully formed logo literally breaking the proverbial ''fourth wall'' as it seemingly shatters the viewers’ TV screen.

“We used Maya quite a bit in this version, as well,” says Waldron. Setting up the particle effects in this ID was a challenge, though, he notes: The tumbling type had to look and feel organic and not computer-generated. “We played with the speed and went into slow motion to build up drama and show off the intensity of the wave,” Waldron explains. “The crashing into the glass went through multiple versions until we found the right technique and camera movement we wanted.”

The project, says Erik van der Wilden, director of editorial and animation, enabled the group to flex its 3D muscles. ''Most of the time 3D is used to make something--a product, a person, a logo--look great,” he says. “For this, we used it to tell a story, a compressed one to be sure, but definitely a visceral story with a beginning, middle and end.''

While the project allowed the studio to stretch creatively and technically, for Waldron the real fun comes from working with a client like Nicktoons, which is so confident in its brand that it allowed Nailgun to play with the coveted logo.

''Nicktoons, and Nick in general, really know their brand, and because of that they’re comfortable letting us push creatively,'' Waldron adds. ''They’re very collaborative and willing to let you go, and know instinctively when to pull you back. It makes for a satisfying process.''

View Nailgun's Nicktoons Promo Here: