‘There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Creator’ : Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation’s Ramsey Naito Explains Why Animation Is the Hot Medium Right Now

As Variety's inaugural Executive Impact recipient, Ramsey Naito continues to transform the animation landscape

Published Time: 10.07.2024 - 21:31:36 Modified Time: 10.07.2024 - 21:31:36

As Variety's inaugural Executive Impact recipient, Ramsey Naito continues to transform the animation landscape.

Following a debut work-in-progress screening of Paramount Animation’s “Transformers One” last month during the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival, a capacity crowd at the 1,000-seat Bonlieu main theater erupted with a lengthy standing ovation for the movie and its Oscar-winning director, Josh Cooley.

It was a great moment for the studio and filmmakers, and underscored the direction of Ramsey Naito, president of Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Animation, who will receiveVariety’s inaugural Executive Impact in Animation award.

“I was so proud of Josh and so proud of the filmmakers,” says Naito of the response. “People really felt like it was a great film and a great story that appealed to them even though they weren’t super fans of ‘Transformers,’ which was a dream come true. We went into this wanting to appeal to everybody.”

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Naito’s comes from an artistic background, having studied at CalArts. She started her career at Nickelodeon and returned in 2018 before she was upped to her current role in September 2021. Since then, Naito has been steering the studios’ animation offerings with a slate of originals and franchise titles, while maintaining a culture that “embraces the artists and embraces individuality behind the camera” — an ethos that’s deeply important to her.

Brian Robbins, co-CEO of Paramount Global and president-CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, says, “I couldn’t think of a more talented executive to lead our animation business into the future.”

Naito explains that the goal is to create stories and characters for a wide audience “that have a real reliability, that feel broad and diverse.” She adds, “We want to make movies that have soul, that add to culture, that say something to today.”

Opening Sept. 20, “Transformers One” is a stylized origin story set on the planet Cybertron (featuring animation by Industrial Light & Magic) that mixes action with the character-centric story of how a young Optimus Prime, voiced by Chris Hemsworth, and young Megatron, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry, -

go from best friends to mortal enemies.

It will be followed by a string of originals in development, including the Bad Bunny and Will Ferrell-produced “Dropz,” which Naito describes as “our ‘E.T.,’ about real kids in a super extraordinary situation.” Among the studio’s franchise titles, “The Smurfs Movie,” directed by “Puss in Boots” helmer Chris Miller, comes to theaters in early 2025 with a voice cast led by James Corden and Rihanna; the latter will provide the voice of Smurfette in addition to writing, producing and performing original songs.

Meanwhile, recent releases “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” — with a sequel currently being developed by Jeff Rowe and Seth Rogen — and “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” helped the two franchises earn a combined $2.5 billion in 2023, according to the company.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the beloved Stephen Hillenburg-created “SpongeBob SquarePants” franchise, which revolves around the eponymous yellow sea sponge and his friends at Bikini Bottom. Starting in July, Nickelodeon will mark the milestone with anniversary-themed episodes and related content. “We want to reach the audience to participate in the celebration,” Naito says, promising that the studio will “synergize our entire ecosystem” leading up to a 2025 return to theaters with “SpongeBob Movie: Search for SquarePants.”

As the entertainment landscape changes, Naito maintains a keen eye on the challenges faced by animated projects. “Our audience has so many options, so many choices to make. The challenge of getting audience members into the theater is harder than ever,” she notes. “And in series, kids TV, there is a similar dialogue.”

But at a time when animation is becoming more diverse and more global, she also sees opportunities. “I think the state of animation is in a really great place,” she says. “There’s never been a better time to be a creator and to make things and put them out there in the world.”

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