Byron Taylor interview

You’ve seen his name from the credits of all the classic Nickelodeon shows ranging from Double Dare to Finders Keepers to Nick Arcade to Guts to Weinerville to Figure It Out to Legends of the Hidden Temple and more! His job was titled “Production Designer”. His name is Byron Taylor and you can just say he was the one who transformed the sets and colorful features of alot of different shows. Our interview talks about how he was involved with the creation of Nickelodeon Studios Florida to his shows, how big everything was, good times, and challenges.

1. How did you first become involved with Nickelodeon?
 I became involved with Nickelodeon completely by chance. I was at the blue-printer’s with a friend and we ran into Jim Fenhagen who we had gone to NYU with. Jim needed someone to assist him. The other guy wasn’t available but I was. It was supposed to be two weeks of drafting on a new show called Double Dare. The set was almost completely designed, but I did work on the Sundae Slide, the Wringer, and other stuff. About a month later it was being built at shops in Brooklyn & Manhattan. I then went to Philadelphia to baby sit during load-in. There was a certain degree of chaos figuring out how to do a show like that and I wound up staying through the first 65 episodes.
2. When Nickelodeon Studios was first seen as an idea what was your initial reaction?
 My initial reaction to “Nick Studios” was: having a dedicated facility to produce the shows in would be a great idea, and a lot better than spaces we had worked in by that time, even though it would be in Florida!
3. Were there any changes to the studio’s final format than the one it was originally designed to be?
There were so many “tweaks” made to Nick Studio’s original configuration that you could write a book about it. The stages and production support space was set early on using the same Butler Buildings as the other Universal stages. Each stage was supposed to hold two shows the size of the original Double Dare, which had started out in a 50′ x 90′ studio in Philly. This was a huge error since the most recent version of Double Dare was considerably bigger. The cyclorama was scaled to the original Double Dare even though there was about 30′ to the overhead steel available. A “state of the art” automated lighting system was installed oriented for the two set configuration as well. This posed a problem for the rigging of all future sets. I could go on…
4. How exactly large was the studio?
Nick Studios stages were approximately 110′ x 150′, slightly larger than the other Universal stages. The 3 story Core Building was 80′ x 200′ and included space for the studio tour show.
5. The first tv show to produce there was Family Double Dare. What exactly did you change about the art direction than the original show?
I can’t remember what show was first produced at the studio but some version of Double Dare had been shot the year before on one of the Universal stages with the biggest change being a bigger obstacle course area to go along with a bigger home base first used in Philly on the Imax stage where Finders Keepers was produced.
6. Which set did you have the best time working on and which set was the hardest to shoot on?
 My favorite show to design at the studio was Double Dare 2000 (my favorite all time is Finders Keepers) but I also liked Legends, Roundhouse, Weinerville and even art directing Kenen & Kel and Shelby Woo.
7. Since the budget set of Roundhouse was big was it an easy task at first creating the design of the show?
 Roundhouse did not have a very big budget and I reused parts of older sets to create the environment. The original concept had an actual working turntable to hold multiple sets that would rotate into view for each scene. We wound up painting a turn table on the studio floor and all the scenery for each scene was made from “found objects” and sheets of corrugated cardboard by Art Director Diane Stapleton & the crew.
8. “Guts” was filmed in the largest soundstage at Universal. Can you describe how the production layout was formed for all the pyrotechnics and “Extreme Arena”?
GUTS was taped on the biggest stage at Universal (100′ x 200′). In later seasons it was basically configured wall to wall and grew to require an additional stage to store game pieces (as did Legends and DD2K for storage and prep). About 25% of floor space was given to the Aggro Crag at one end of the studio, and about the same for pool area at the opposite end. There were no pyrotechnics used in the show, just air cannons with metallic confetti, compressed nitrogen blasts and a lot of dry ice fog.
9. How great were all the staff you worked with in Florida?
The Florida crews were great to work with over the ten years the studios were in operation. And I’ve had the chance to work with a number of them on a shows subsequently shot at Universal like My Family’s Got GUTS.
10. Have you been slimed yourself?
The slimiest I ever got was when we shot a special episode of Family Double Dare with some of the creators of the show like Geoffrey Darby, Bob Mittenthal & Gerry Laybourne.
11. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?
I only went on 3 or 4 rides at Universal the entire time I was there, so I never had a favorite but I liked Back to the Future.
12. Was the studio tour ever a hassle for you whenever you were designing the production or working on a show?
The integration the studio tour both physically and from a content point of view had lasting effects on shows produced there, while at the same time, the type & scale of the shows themselves changed. Nick started producing multi-camera sitcoms that took up an entire stage with multiple sets. The studio tour that wound it’s way through the production facility (called the Core Building) necessitated the sets be oriented as much as possible to the long windows on the second floor that provided a view down to the stage for the guests. This was a real problem for shows that were shot single camera style like Fifteen and Shelby Woo.
13. Favorite behind the scenes memory.
There were are many behind the scenes memories at the studios it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll work on it…
14. What do you think made Nick Studios so great and special?
 The thing made Nick Studios so special was a combination of the growth of Nick as a network and the variety of shows it produced and of course, the people who contributed to them.
15. If given the chance would you like to see it reopened?
 The studios were never very sound proof, and that became evident once the Geyser was up and running and going off every hour! Now that there is a roller-coaster running by outside the stages I don’t think they could be used for television production due to noise and vibration. And I think they are very happy in Hollywood and Santa Monica.

16. Do you know where the big props from the studios are at now like the giant Nickelodeon sign that was in front of the studios and the slime geyser?

I’m not sure what Universal did with the sign or the Geyser… maybe they’re in the bone yard if there is room for one on their property.
17. And the colorfulness that made the front of the studio was very unique & lively. How exactly did you or the staff come up for the colors that blended in front and inside the studios?
The studio facade decoration took awhile to develop and there is an early version of it shown in a large aerial rendering of Universal Studios hanging in Building 22 (the production office) still as of 2008.
The actual Core Building between the two stages changed quite a bit as the Tour was developed and issues of capacity and accommodation were dealt with (if you bring several hundred people an hour to what amounts to a dead end at that section of the park, you have to provide restrooms, and if the there is a loss of power where the escalators and elevators are out, you need to provide an exterior stair from the second floor for people exiting the tube).
Eventually, it came down to two design schemes for the exterior that were essentially collages, with the one implemented more architecturally driven that the other.

 

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