Established in 1998, internationally renowned studio Nickelodeon Animation has been at the forefront of children’s entertainment, boasting a slate of memorable series produced by top creative talent. With the recent appointment of Academy Award-nominated producer Ramsey Naito (Art MFA 95) as president, the studio reinforces its commitment to authenticity and excellence.
In her elevated post, Naito will oversee the network’s plethora of animated content in linear, digital, television, theatrical feature, and subscription video-on-demand formats. Among the network’s key franchises are Stephen Hillenburg’s (Film/Video MFA 92) SpongeBob SquarePants, as well as The Casagrandes, Blue’s Clues & You!, Santiago of the Seas, the upcoming Rugrats reboot, and the recently announced original series Middlemost Post.
“I fell in love with the Nick culture when I was hired in the late ‘90s because I felt it truly embraced diversity and inclusion,” Naito told The Pool in a recent phone interview. “They wanted to hire leadership that mirrored the audience they were serving and telling stories to, for, and about. I loved that it was creator-driven and risk-taking.”
Naito was brought into Nick’s fold in the late ‘90s as vice president of Nickelodeon Movies. Since rejoining the studio in 2018 as executive VP of animation production and development, Naito has identified new key studio partnerships. Specifically, she oversaw a multiyear output deal with Netflix for animated TV series and features, with content pulled from the Nickelodeon catalog and original Netflix releases. She has also been a driving force in nurturing new talent and projects, hiring more than 500 employees across several of the studio’s productions (200 of whom were hired after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered physical animation studio spaces).
“What’s fantastic is that we’re continuing to employ new people on shows, greenlight shows, and give people their first chance in the industry, which is really one of the core spirits of Nickelodeon, too,” said Naito. “Nickelodeon has always been a place where fresh voices can come and get their first job and learn about working in this industry. And we’re continuing to do that, just remotely.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down Nickelodeon, which boasts more than 40 projects currently in (remote) production, as well as various up-and-coming projects. Among these are ones spearheaded by Naito, such as Star Trek: Prodigy, Big Nate, PAW Patrol: The Movie, Real Pigeons Fight Crime, Baby Shark, Tiny Chef, a new animated Smurfs series, an upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theatrical feature, and the first-ever SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years. These series and films are currently slated for 2021.
“I think that the animation community, on the whole, has really persevered,” Naito noted on the current state of the industry. “For us, there was a change of strategy centered around scaling the studio and reinvigorating the culture, bringing in talent, building a slate, making lots of shows, making movies—all animated. All of that was in place and really set us up to continue to scale after the pandemic and the quarantine landed. While it took a short time to pivot and understand what we needed to do in order to sustain our business, we gained traction very quickly.”
And Nick’s COVID-era endeavors didn’t stop at its usual programming. In July, the company held its first-ever virtual job fair, featuring workshops, portfolio reviews, and speakers across all stages of production. With nearly 6,000 people from around the globe in attendance and more than 1,000 consequent job applications, the summit allowed attendees greater access and transparency to the recruitment process. This accessibility was especially crucial to those whose socioeconomic backgrounds may have otherwise hindered them from getting a foot in the door.
Naito, who first joined the studio through a diversity and inclusion initiative, is also credited with promoting these values in Nick’s work environment. She assembled studio teams that work well together—a necessity, according to Naito, since animation teams can often spend years together on a given project.
“The slate and projects we have in production have really embraced diversity and inclusion in front of the camera and behind the camera, which is exactly what we need to be doing today,” said Naito.
Armed with a breadth of experience in the industry and CalArtian savvy, Naito’s arts background uniquely allows her to identify with artists and make them feel comfortable during the creative process.
“Animation is an art form,” said Naito. “And CalArts and Nickelodeon are both very creative-driven and artist-driven, so it’s a perfect match for being able to bring new, fresh voices and styles of animation into a platform that speaks to kids and families.”
As the studio’s new president, Naito’s aims are straightforward: “The goal is to continue building and cultivating the great culture at Nick, bringing in great talent, employing a community of artists that add to the culture, and producing the best animated content for kids and families.”
Naito is an American film producer and a member of Women in Animation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Producers Guild of America (PGA). Among her producer and executive credits are Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001), The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002), Hey Arnold! The Movie (2002), The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004), and Barnyard (2006). In 2018, she also received Oscar and PGA Award nominations for DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby (2017), of which she served as producer.