When children’s’ television network Nickelodeon was looking to rebrand Nick Jr., the company’s popular channel aimed at kids three to seven years old, they turned to a company they had already come to trust. Founded in 2005, New York-based creative production company Gretel has worked on several of the Nickelodeon brands in recent years, notably a rebrand for nick@nite. Discovering and revealing a new identity for a channel aimed at an age group rapidly developing new and changing abilities, skills, and interests, however, proved a unique and inspiring challenge for the company.
“Between the ages of two and six years old, kids go through some incredibly profound developmental changes,” says Greg Hahn, Founder and Creative Director at Gretel. “Nick Jr., of course, has a variety of popular live action, animated, and 3D animated characters and shows to bridge the changing interests of that age group. Our job was to create something that would simultaneously appeal to three, five, and seven year olds, as well as their parents. It was a challenging, but also deeply rewarding experience.”
The Gretel team would have to find an innovative and appealing way to bring all of Nick Jr.’s favorite and familiar offerings – Dora the Explorer, Team Umizoomi, Max & Ruby, Diego, Bubble Guppies, and more – into a single, united look and feel. Gretel also brought Nick Jr.’s brand into alignment with the more modern sensibility of Nickelodeon’s other brands. The team took the new network tagline: “The smart place to play” literally, and set out to design that very place. Armed with a comprehensive and informative demographic study provided by the network, the Gretel team drew further inspiration from an unlikely source.
“In the early stages of the pitch, I happened upon an interesting article in the Times during my train ride home,” says Ryan Moore, Creative Director at Gretel. “It was about a new method for teaching math to kids in grade school, which was developed by mathematician John Mighton, involving effectively guiding students toward the brink of discovery, but letting them make their own knowledge breakthroughs. Mighton called his process ‘guided discovery.’ That phrase immediately resonated with me. It ended up becoming the cornerstone of our pitch to the network, and ultimately the entire rebrand.”
Gretel brilliantly combined elements and characters from the diverse group of familiar shows into a striking world of curvilinear shapes and numbers, all interconnected by winding pathways. The rebrand seamlessly blends the network’s live action, animated, and 3D offerings into a colorful, engaging, and sensory environment of creative search and discovery.
“Once Ryan zeroed in on the idea of guided discovery, the creative possibilities really opened up for our A-list team of animators,” says Hahn. “We didn’t want to just populate the space with characters standing around and waving. Our Nick Jr. world is connected by a series of pathways punctuated by various natural and architectural play spaces, all providing endless possibilities for discovery. Ryan and his team did an amazing job of finding interesting character actions and cleverly integrating them into the Nick Jr. landscape, whether it’s Dora kicking a ball off a mountain or Diego navigating an obstacle course. In creating this integrated world of diverse elements, we also provided Nick Jr. with a versatile, modular toolset of elements that they can repurpose in all manner of ways going forward.”
The overall design owes some of its inspiration to the eclectic post-modern style known as “Memphis,” an aesthetic whose flagrant rule-breaking in using wildly disparate colors, shapes, patterns, and prints was wildly popular during the 1980’s.
“I never thought I’d be looking to the Memphis style for influence,” says Hahn. “But the simple, off-beat, chunky shapes lent themselves well to a play space for kids. Our designer Danny Ruiz took that vision and ran with it. He took the Memphis inspiration with a grain of salt, and came up with an amazingly modern take on that very playful aesthetic by tweaking the colors and curves, but maintaining the feeling of random fun.”
To create the inclusive and engaging world, the Gretel team relied on a combination of Cinema 4D software for 3D design and animation, and Adobe After Effects for rotoscoping and compositing. The result is a visually striking and deeply memorable vision for the future of the Nick Jr. brand.
“Everyone is nostalgic for the shows they watched as kids,” says Carl Burton, Staff Designer at Gretel. “They stick with you as you grow up. We were excited by the opportunity to create something that today’s kids would remember and look back on with fondness and recognition.”
“We could not have asked for a better team,” says Moore. “Everyone worked together to define and expand the style for the successful pitch, which was a formidable task in itself. Once we moved into production, we brought together a tremendously talented and creative crew. Together, the team embraced the idea and committed themselves to making it better and better.”
Nick Jr Credits
VP, Creative Director: Matthew Duntemann
VP, Production: Jeffrey Blackman
Director, Production: Farrel Allen
Art Director: Noel Claro
Art Director: Jennifer Cast
Sr Editorial Director: Liza Steinberg
Executive Producer, Rebrand: Sarah Jackson
Director of Animation: Christopher Papa
Writer/Producer: Kimberly Chalmers Diaz
Editor: Rick Deutsch
Editor: Tim McGonagle
Production Assistant: Ryan Walsh
Production Assistant: Virginia Hamilton
Executive Creative Director: Greg Hahn
Creative Director: Ryan Moore
Art Director: Danny Ruiz
Designers: Dylan Mulvaney, Carl Burton, Salih Abdul-Karim
Producer: Ryan McLaughlin
Production Coordinator: Lynzi Grant
Compositor: Irene Park
3D Animators: Carl Burton, Jack Myers, Wes Ebelhar, Gary Tam, Craig Davis
3D Assistant: Thai Ngo