Imagine a future where your kids (or adventure-seeking adult friends) will finally be able to go visit a pineapple under the sea, eat pizza with the Ninja Turtles, or create their own Nicktoon.
Nickelodeon announced its new Entertainment Lab, a venture the network hopes will turn its vast universe of Nicktoons into a virtual “metaverse,” among endless other possibilities. The lab, which will be housed in Nickelodeon’s Burbank, Calif. complex, is for long-range research and development for new technologies.
The 38-year-old network is making an investment in tech that will advance its storytelling capabilities, with the hope that these “long-range” projects will put them ahead of the curve on emerging tech like real-time rendering, virtual cinema, virtual reality, augmented and mixed reality, and artificial intelligence.
Chris Young will head up the Entertainment Lab as Senior Vice President. Young joined the network’s animation lab in 2014 and spent the last three years analyzing new, immersive technologies and learning how to best utilize them within the various creative departments at the network.
“During that period, I came with the notion that the future is rendered in real time,” Young told Den of Geek. “How could we look at things like game engine technology and use it in a way that can reimagine how we produce our traditional CG stuff with the bigger idea that we can offer all these cool things like mixed reality and virtual reality?”
In his new position, Young will work with showrunners and producers to help crystallize their knowledge on these new storytelling tools and work with them to see where opportunities might exist. When it comes to implementation, the network is playing the long game on immersive technology.
“The lab is a resource to invest the time and energy two or three years out and identify what those tools are and how can we use those tools to unlock new entertainment opportunities,” Young said.
In February, Nickelodeon Animation teased its first VR project, Slime Zone VR, in a Facebook video. The forthcoming project is a multiplayer “social VR experience” that will put users inside the Nickelodeon metaverse, allowing them to play games, create art, watch cartoons, and slime friends and foes at will. No release date has been set for Slime Zone VR.
With parents rightfully concerned about safety when it comes to VR technology, Nickelodeon is taking the cautious approach to the emerging technology.
“We’re taking conservative approach to see how things play out. We knew it was a platform that was going to be heavily invested in.”
It’s to be determined where the new Entertainment Lab will take its audience within the Nickelodeon universe, but that’s the exciting part for Young.
“It’s hard to predict the future of how things will settle out. At the core of it, we’re storytellers, we’re world builders. We create characters that people love and we’ll continue to do that. Technology reveals new opportunities and we’re going to try to figure out how best to connect those characters and those worlds to the tech,” he said.