Saturday, February 27th, 2021

Shopper Client Stories


Former "Shopper" cartoonist lands job on "SpongeBob SquarePants"

Cartoonist Nick Lauer works as a storyboard artist on the hit animated series <BR>SpongeBob SquarePants from his family’s Western Branch home.

Cartoonist Nick Lauer works as a storyboard artist on the hit animated series
SpongeBob SquarePants from his family’s Western Branch home.

On weekday mornings, Nick Lauer starts his day with a run through the Miar's Farm neighborhood in Western Branch where he lives with his parents. Returning home, the recent graduate of Longwood University, showers, dresses for the day, eats breakfast and heads off to his office to work. His office is his family's front living room. There Nick spends the day working as the newest and youngest storyboard artist of Nickelodeon's hit animated TV series, SpongeBob SquarePants.

Wildly successful since premiering in July 1999,  the series has won countless awards, including four Emmys. It has also spawned lines of SpongeBob toys and merchandise, two successful feature films, and a critically-acclaimed, Tony Award-winning Broadway musical hit. Doubtlessly many children and their parents living in Miar's Farm are SpongeBob fans, having no idea that one of their neighbors is hard at work in his front living room on the nineteenth season of the animated hit series.

Nick developed a love of animated films as a small child, beginning with Disney videos. At an early age, he also began drawing the characters that he and his sister, Sydney, watched on TV. "I was watching Disney's The Three Little Pigs at my grandparents' house and then drawing them," he recalls. "I must have been about four years old. I went on to draw Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters. My grandparents babysat my sister and me, and I remember doing a lot of drawing at their house. The adults in my family thought I had talent and were always very encouraging when it came to my art."

"I guess I was six when I watched SpongeBob SqaurePants for the first time," Nick continues. "It was so different from the old Mickey Mouse cartoons and Rug Rats- another series I used to watch. The humor was goofier and a little more cynical than the humor in Disney cartoons. The characters were different visually and personality-wise- and super funny. It was only natural that I wanted to draw those characters."

By the time Nick entered elementary school, his knack for drawing a wide range of popular cartoon characters drew the attention and praise of his teachers and fellow students. "The others kids usually called me "the best artist in class,'" he remembers. "Whenever there was a class art project, I was always chosen to do the drawing."

When Nick entered Western Branch Middle School, one of the things he was most excited about was joining the school art club. All students were required to submit samples of their artwork to be reviewed before being accepted as members. Nick submitted a collection of his best drawings, confident that he would be accepted. But a week later, when the names of new art club members were read over the school's PA system, Nick's name was not among them.

"I remember sitting next to my sister on the bus ride home that day and crying," Nick recalls. "A few days later, I went to the art teacher's room to pick up the drawings I'd submitted. They were tossed aside, mixed in with other rejected drawings. I had to sort through things just to find my work."

The message was clear: cartoons were not considered "real art."

"I was aggravated, but I wasn't discouraged," Nick says. "I still knew I could draw, and I loved doing it. I thought the teacher was wrong, but her decision did not make me want to stop drawing. I knew even then that I wanted to work in animation when I grew up."

"I always knew that people had careers in that field," Nick explains. "As a little kid, I watched the documentaries and behind-the-scenes extras that came on the Disney and "SpongeBob" DVDs that my family bought. I remember watching videos of actors in recording sessions for animated features and realizing those features were just like other movies or shows."

As a student at Western Branch High School, Nick took art classes, developed his abilities in other art genres and displayed his work in student art shows. Graduating from high school, he went on to earn an Associate Degree in art from Tidewater Community College, with plans to then pursue a BA from VCU. But at the last minute, his plans changed.

"It seems surreal- like a dream.
This storyboarding job
is perfect for me...
If you love what you do,
it never really feels like work."

- Nick Lauer

"I was visiting my sister, Sydney, at Longwood University," he explains. "Her roommate- a graphic design major- knew I liked SpongeBob." She told me that William "Tuck' Tucker- one of the animators behind The Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants- had joined Longwood and had started an animation department at the university. I made the decision then and there to go to Longwood."

"For the first time, I took classes focused on subjects specifically related to a career in animation- like storyboarding and film language," Nick continues. "Those were a lot of fun! I learned a ton from someone- Tuck Tucker- who actually worked in the business."

While at Longwood, he was contracted to provide art for a cookbook inspired by the Super Nintendo JRPG EarthBound. Throughout 2018, Nick served as the cartoonist for The Shopper.

Longwood animation majors were required to devote their last year to a senior project. While other students created elaborate storyboards, Nick decided to do something that would stand out from his previous work and produce a short animated film. The result was Attack of the Mozzarella Martians. An hysterical film about a pizza delivery guy who is abducted by aliens, Mozzarella Martians not only won praises from Tuck Tucker, but was accepted as an entry in the juried 2019 Longwood Animation Film Festival. Judged along side films produced by animators from across the country, Mozzarella Martians won the festival's award for Best 2D Film.

This past spring, during his last semester, encouraged by Tuck, Nick submitted his portfolio to the producers of SpongeBob SquarePants at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank. Understanding the competitive nature of the entertainment industry, his initial hope was to merely make some contacts that might lead to work in the future. Instead, his work drew the immediate attention of the show's production team. Within a matter of weeks, Nick- at age 23, while still a student at Longwood- was contracted by Nickelodeon as a freelance storyboard artist for the 19th season of SpongeBob SqaurePants. In April and May, between finishing school assignments, he worked on storyboard assignments sent from Burbank.

"It seems surreal- like a dream," Nick says with a smile. "This storyboarding job is perfect for me. The producers send me very rough storyboards, and I add the details- funny poses and facial expressions, visual jokes- things that fill out the original ideas. I have a lot of input into the finished show. The elements that I add determine what the animators after me will do and what the audiences will see on the screen."

Nick's future plans include moving to Los Angeles- a necessity for a sustained career in TV or film. But for the moment, he considers it a dream come true living at home with his family while working on one of the most successful animated series in TV history.

"If you love what you do, it never really feels like work," he says with a grin.

Nick Lauer's animated short film

Attack of the Mozzarella Martians
can be seen at

Update: Nick has relocated to Los Angeles
to work on Netflix's new animated series
The Cuphead Show- based on the popular game.

Cartoonist Nick Lauer