Former “SpongeBob SquarePants” storyboard artist John Trabbic III had just gotten a greenlight from Nickelodeon for his own animated series, “Middlemost Post,” about a rain cloud that just wants to make everyone happy, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing Nick to close the studio’s doors and send all its artists home.
But instead of putting production on “Middlemost Post,” or most of its other animated shows, on hold, Nick brass outfitted the staffs with the tools they’d need to keep working.
“The leadership at the studio and on the shows really took the bull by the horns and pivoted very quickly, giving everyone the support they needed to work from home pretty effectively,” says Ramsey Naito, Nick’s exec VP of production and development. “There’s no question that there have been challenges, but the resilience, the determination, the passion for what everybody does really shows, because we’re 100% working from home.”
Naito says things started out with a lot of trial and error, logistically, “but we really pulled it together within a couple of weeks. We got computers out the door to everyone who needed them,” making sure everyone had VPN connections, troubleshooting internet problems and ensuring teams could stay in contact.
It seems to be working. Between 17 and 25 shows are currently in production remotely. Not only that, but Nick is adding workers. “We’ve hired 60-plus people over the last nine weeks, all remotely,” Naito says. Some of those folks are working on “Middlemost Post.”
It was just Trabbic and writer and co-executive producer Dave Johnson at first. “I think our actual start date was about a week before quarantine,” Trabbic recalls. “Then we started hiring people, and the show was birthed in quarantine.” Adds Johnson: “I have a staff of writers that literally haven’t met each other in real life, and we’re two months in.”
They may not have met in person, but the writers and artists are getting a good start on the show’s first episodes. Nickelodeon has ordered 20 half-hour installments, which it hopes to air sometime next year.
Along with Parker J. Cloud, an exuberant rain cloud that helps deliver mail for the Middlemost Post Office, the show features rule-abiding mailman Angus and their pet walrus, Russell. “It’s a chance for us to just let our imaginations go wild,” Trabbic says.
“This show, when [Trabbic] first pitched it to us, just was so unique,” Naito says. “It had all the qualities we look for. It was character driven. It had an ensemble that illustrated a really comedic relationship, with a backdrop that was fun and exciting. [And] it really feels original.”
Adds Johnson: “Parker is just a kid who’s learning life, but he [wears his] emotions on his sleeve, and because he’s a cloud, he’s pliable and can transform.”
The animators at Nick know exactly how Parker feels.