On November 24th I got a chance to talk with Brett Jubinville about his show, Super Science Friends, which is being produced at Tinman Creative Studios in Toronto. As of right now there are 41 hours left to go on the Kickstarter Campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2034721517/super-science-friends) to fund the project. The campaign has reached it's main funding goal, but if you haven't donated already, I'd advise checking it out. The more money raised, the better the episode will be - plus the rewards are really awesome.
Check out the "Super Science Friends - Series Intro" and then carry on down the page for the full interview.
Super Science Friends - Series Intro from Tinman Creative Studios on Vimeo.
Grayden Laing: How and when did you come up with the idea for "Super Science Friends"?
Brett Jubinville: I came up with it the first year after we launched. Morghan was at Kidscreen in New York. I was at home sketching. I’d sketched the Soviet Space Ghoul and when I went to sleep I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There was something about a Russian zombie astronaut that was keeping me up. So I got up and worked through the night creating the one sheet for the show.
When I'm drawing a character I'm usually thinking about their backstory, and the world they inhabit. So when I come up with a show concept it generally starts with drawing rather than writing. That sounds awfully romantic, but for every project that goes somewhere there’s 900 that end up just being half an arm or part of a torso on a page. I'm pretty wasteful in my sketches, and if it’s not working right away, I just turn to a new page and start fresh.
Grayden: How does that impact your choice of sketchbooks? And have you considered a digital alternative?
Brett: Yeah, when I’m at Curry’s I buy the $5 sketch books that are near the cash. I also just got the new iPad with the stylus and am trying out the Paper app. It's pretty good, and is better than any other mobile sketching tool out there, but because the nub is rounded to imitate a finger you can’t see the point where the pencil touches the screen. That makes it difficult. A Cintiq, or paper and pencil is still better.
Grayden: What were the initial pitches to broadcasters like and what were the reasons they didn’t pick the show up?
Brett: Well, when I came up with the idea that night Morghan was in at Kidscreen. She was there with preschool concepts that we were going to pitch. The next morning she got an email from me at 7am (keep in mind I had been up all night) saying “throw out everything you have, and pitch this!” She was a trooper and she did, but it went about as bad as you would think pitching a show about scientists and nazis and Winston Churchill to kids networks could go.
So we thought about what networks we could pitch it to, and they were all a bit of a stretch. Maybe National Geographic - from an educational angle, or Discovery. Maybe Spike from the more mature content angle, but there wasn't any one network that would be a perfect fit.
So we came to grips with the fact that no one is going to buy this, but we knew we wanted to do it. So we figured we'd give Kickstarter a shot. It seemed like a good way to get the concept out there and see what people thought of it. The hope being that we weren't the only ones who thought it was a good idea.
Grayden: What about Amazon? You’ve worked with them before? Would they be interested in something like this?
Brett: Amazon has been a great client. We've done two full feature-length animatics with them. And we did send Super Science Friends along for them to look at. Their focus is primarily on kids content though, so they weren't able pick it up (though some of them have since donated to the Kickstarter).
“For Sale by Super Hero”: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBrZCRTzA58) - A trailer for on of the projects Tinman worked on for Amazon.
Grayden: At what point did you decide to go into development on the series regardless of development money from a broadcaster?
Brett: We held off for a long time, mostly because we had a lot of client projects in-house that we were working on. We had a one month hiatus on one of our commercial projects earlier this year and took the opportunity to start developing Super Science Friends in a big way. A lot of the storyboards and animation that's been done to date got done in that month.
Grayden: How was the initial reaction from your staff when you started working on the show?
Brett: It was good, everyone here is pretty easy going. When we decide to do a “Super Science Friends” day they’re all like ‘yeah, let’s do it!’. Everyone was excited to see how well received the animated intro was when we posted it. It's nice to work on something that your friends are also digging.
Grayden: What can make a show like this, with a strict visual design, more tedious for animators?
Brett: I designed the characters on this show and I designed them to be fairly economical to animate. That said though, there isn't a whole lot of room for interpretation in how they're drawn. So there's a very particular way I drew their hands, and how their line weight looks in certain situations. Once you've got those rules down though, it's a pretty fun show to animate.
Grayden: Because you’re on a tight budget, how did that impact the design for the show?
Brett: I designed them as economically as possible (except Tapputi, she's a bit of a nightmare). One way I kept them economical was I made sure the characters were flopable, so no pockets only on one side, no detailed belt buckles, no diagonal stripes. That's a big one that saves you down the road. I also kept things like shoes very simple and graphic.
The mouth kit is the one thing that we planned out really well. We figured out which shapes we needed to include in order to give it the appearance of fully inbetweened animation, when really we're choosing from existing artwork. Update #5 is the best example of that I was pretty picky about getting it setup right.
Super Science Friends - Animation Update #5 from Tinman Creative Studios on Vimeo.
Super Science Friends - Animation Update #5 from Tinman Creative Studios on Vimeo.
We also designed the show to only have two main line weights. That way the we're not reworking the line of the characters for each shot. There will obviously be unique angles, zooms and extreme closeups that happen (particularly during the fight scenes) but we’ll deal with those as exceptions.
An example of the way we're simplifying the animation is when we were developing the Freud's walk cycle, one of our animators added a little rotation to his chest. It looked great, but in the end it was too good and would have made keeping up with it troublesome. So we ultimately took it out and kept his chest movement to a simple up and down.
All those things really go a long way to help make the animation on the show as efficient as it can be.
Grayden: Why go to the trouble of having the so many line weights for a show?
Brett: Line weight is a necessary evil on any show that's frame-by-frame animation (not symbol-based) where there's a thick and thin to the line of the character. If you leave the thickness of a character's line the same, a character in the foreground will have a much thicker line than a character in the background, it will look sloppy. I don’t like those types of line weight discrepancies. An example of a show, which I thought was hilarious - as far as the writing goes, but that had a constant line weight which looked terrible was Unsupervised. On a show like that however, the focus is the action and the writing, and not necessarily the artwork (or at least that's not the main concern of the parties involved).
Grayden: How did you decide to go with Flash instead of a software like Harmony?
Brett: Harmony is a lot like Maya, in that it is very complex. We prefer to use software that you can pick up and be animating within a few minutes. And since most of what we do is frame-by-frame, we really only use it as a timeline. When we launched Tinman I did some Harmony tutorials, but between its complexity, and the fact that at the time Toronto was very much a Flash town (as opposed to Ottawa, which is very much a Harmony town) we had to think about the talent pool we would have access to.
Grayden: How would you describe the online response to Super Science Friends?
Brett: Kickstarter has been very interesting because I didn’t really know anything about it when we started. Originally we were going to try and fund three episodes and ask for about $100,000. Then a few days before we launched the campaign we did some checking and found that asking for more than $100,000 gives you about a 3% chance of success, whereas asking for $20,000 you have closer to an 80% chance of success. We knew certain people would like our show idea, but we also knew it's not an idea that's very broad. I suspect our audience is a small group of people who are enthusiastic about science, history and cartoons. So we figured we'd play it a little safe and just fund the pilot. Not wanting to play it too safe however, we set a goal of $25,000.
When we first started the online campaign friends and family were all chipping in, and after that initial bump it was really slow. Then we would notice little bumps here and there. There was a day when we got a bunch of people pledging who were all from Germany. Other days there would be nothing. It wasn't until we finally wrapped up the animation on the intro and got that posted that were really saw the numbers take off. I think at this point it's been shared on Facebook over 4,500 times, and has reached over 700,000 people. That is something we never expected.
We have gotten some complaints and critiques. When we pitched to networks the fact that we had nazis in our show was a huge problem, and made it a non-starter for the broadcasters (despite our insistence that they were "Indiana Jones" style nazis). To date, we haven't had one complaint from anyone during the Kickstarter about having nazis in the show. The one complaint we've gotten a lot however, is that there weren't enough female characters.
This is a totally valid complaint, and when we took a look at the show, and who we could add we landed on Marie Curie. She had been suggested by quite a few people on our Facebook page.
The reason we didn't have many women was purely a legal one. We basically can't use anyone who was alive past 1964. And anyone who died prior to that, and worked in science was most-likely a European man (with some very notable exceptions). On top of that however, that person also had to be well-known and have done research in an area that can be easily boiled down to a simple super power.
We struggled with Marie Curie's power because of this. It wasn't until one of our designers suggested we outfit her with a radioactive ring that her character came together. Now all of a sudden she was like a radioactive Green Lantern.
Tapputi is the other female member of the team. She was the world’s first chemist, and was a perfume maker. Because perfume is generally used to attract a mate, the exaggeration on her chemistry to give her the ability to create powerful perfumes able to hypnotize men so that they think they're in love. Then when they least suspect it she chops them up and adds them to her collection of bones.
Now that we've lived with having Marie Curie on the team, we're really starting to see that she'll play an important role in the comedy of the show.
Grayden: At what point would you not modify the show regardless of the feedback you got?
Brett: I’m open to having the show evolve, but I think at this point it'll be the artists who work on the show that add to it, and make it better. If I only limited the show to my own ideas then I don’t think it would be as good as it could be. I’m not an Alan Sorkin, or a Dan Harmon where the show only works if exactly what's in my head is on screen. I’m picky about the style but there's room to explore with the rest of it.
Grayden: Are you concerned about people pitching you ideas for the show and then later on saying “hey, that was my idea, where’s my money?!”
Brett: Ha. No, not even a little bit. Mainly because there'll never be any money to fight over. Which is actually pretty nice. We can just focus on making the best show we can. I suppose it's like going into battle knowing you're going to lose. It becomes about having a really good fight, rather than worrying about what will happen afterwards.
Grayden: What are some characters or actors that you’d like to have in the show?
Brett: If I could choose from modern day scientists, I would love to make Jane Goodall a character. She'd be like Aquaman, but with apes.
One role that would fit a modern scientist actually, would be the bartender at a nightclub we've added to the show called Studio 3.14 (a play on Studio 54). It exists where time and space connect and any time traveller can stop in for a drink. We want that to be someone like Bill Nye () or Neil deGrasse Tyson. Someone who could plausibly be a time traveller. They would be there to give advice.
I’ve also tried to get in touch with Ricky Gervais to play Churchill… but I haven’t heard back from my tweet. I don't really expect to though. If Ricky is reading this, he should know we could also find a role for Karl.
Grayden: With Winston Churchill as a main character, are we going to see Hitler in the series?
Brett: He's in the show briefly. I don't want to spoil it though. It's a funny scene.
Grayden: What are the praises about the series from the online community?
Brett: Pretty non-specific, aside from ‘YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS SHOW!’. Everyone's been really supportive. It's been amazing.
Grayden: What is the animating cost per minute of producing a show like this?
Brett: Because we’re not in production and have been developing this as a back burner project, I couldn’t say for sure. I’m assuming a show like this, with 20 minute episodes… It would normally cost about $100,000 per episode to make - including voice acting and music costs. We’re doing it very economically and really only spending a lot of money on the action shots. We'd like to find funny and clever ways to reuse animation. The Clerks cartoon has had some success with this.
The best we can do is keep a multi-episode run in mind, and do a lot of prep. I'm glad we spent the time doing the mouth kits properly. With that, we’ve add value without adding additional costs per episode.
Grayden: How does it feel to crowdsource opinions on design choices - like car models and monsters? Have you learned anything from the process?
Brett: When we posted all the different sciencemobile designs, for example, we wanted to see what everyone thought. In the end, I went with a car that had one or two votes. The one with 20 votes was a great design, but I wanted to go with the one that was like the bat mobile.
Grayden: What are some of the major story points that you’ve struggled with the most during development?
Brett: The main story points. I don’t know. Because we’ve been developing it for so long, we haven’t been banging our heads against the wall too much. The one thing that has recently fallen into place is Einstein. We had designed him to be 12 years old, but also gave him white hair so he'd be recognizable. That really didn't make a whole lot of sense until way later when we decided that he’s a clone of the real Albert Einstein. Basically he dies, and then they clone him because there is no Super Science Friends without Einstein. Having him grown in a tank of goo by the CIA allows him to have a North American accent too. We wanted at least one character to be North American.
The other hurdle is referencing all the quirks in the characters we’ve picked. For example Darwin, he married his first cousin even though he knew how dangerous that was for any children that he would have. He was also a member of a Gourmet Club, whose mission statement was to eat as many rare animals as possible. Out of the 48 giant tortoises he loaded onto the Beagle… not one made it back to England to be studied. Instead of hitting people over the head with that, we’ll just have Darwin order turtle soup each time he is in a restaurant.
Grayden: To wrap up, is there anything I should have mentioned or asked about that I didn’t?
Brett: Just a thank you to everyone who donated and that if the Kickstarter is still going we have a stretch goal that would allow us to create a gif comic set in the distant future. It would have Ada Lovelace and Z3 as the main characters.
Also, all the rewards are prime numbers. That makes me happy.