Brett Jubinville talks about Super Science Friends: Episode 1

This Canadian Animation Blog interview is with Brett Jubinville, who happens to be the creator of Super Science Friends as well as the Creative Director at Tinman Creative Studios. If you haven't watched the first episode of 'Super Science Friends', you should probably do that before you read the interview.

Note: If you get through this article and want more, you can also read the interview with Brett from last year by clicking here.

Super Science Friends: Episode 1 from Tinman Creative Studios on Vimeo.

Grayden Laing: How do you feel 'Super Science Friends' has been received thus far?

Brett Jubinville: Better than we could possibly have imagined is the short answer. Leading up to the release, I think I talked myself into a state of low expectations. I figured we’d share it with the Kickstarter backers, and friends and family would see it, but other than that, it would just be a funny little project we did. I think I did that so just in case it went that way, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Grayden: Are you now looking at taking the success of the pilot and shopping it to existing broadcasters?

Brett: We’re not actively shopping the series to broadcasters, mostly because I don’t think it’s a show that would necessarily do well in that traditional medium.  It doesn't have broad enough appeal.  There are a handful of networks it might do really well on because it fits their current content.  For example, National Geographic, Discovery, History, or SyFy.  It would fit in nicely from a “science” perspective, but I suspect the comedy might be a little too crass.  And from a comedy perspective, it might fit in with Adult Swim, Comedy Central or FX, but again, I think it’s a bit too niche.

On top of that, fully frame-by-frame shows like this are expensive to produce, so a lot of the more niche networks may not want to commit to that kind of budget for something that may not provide the ratings they need in a local area. For example, 'South Park' has something like 3 or 4 million viewers in the US alone and they’re able to produce each episode in a week.  'Super Science Friends' wouldn’t even come close to touching that because our audience is spread out so globally, and each episode would probably take about 10 months to produce. So I don’t really see it happening. In general, I think 'Super Science Friends' will be a show built for a next-generation distribution model. It’ll be online, it’ll be global, and it’ll be platform agnostic.

Grayden: I love the look of the show. The intro has some very cool animation. How many animators and hours did it take to produce that?

Brett: By the third week of Kickstarter, the intro was finished. I animated a chunk of it, mostly the Einstein and Marie Curie sections. And there were a handful of other people working full time on the intro for those three weeks as well.  But it was a pretty small team.

One thing that made the intro manageable is that it’s a lot of action shots, which aren’t always the most time-consuming to animate.  A good example of this is a character doing a backflip vs. a character getting up out of a chair.  With a backflip it’s fast, and it’s not something we as humans are entirely familiar with so you can’t really tell if it’s “wrong” or not.  Getting up from a chair on the other hand is a very slow, specific movement, and we definitely know what it is supposed to look like, so when you get it wrong it’s obvious.

Grayden: The year they go back to, 1666 AD, was there any satanic symbolism there?

Brett: Haha, no we don’t get into demon stuff until the Nazi episodes.  It just happens to be the year that Newton came up with his theory (or thereabouts).

Grayden: How exact were you with the historical details in the show?

Brett: We stayed historically accurate as long as it didn’t interfere with the humour of the show. These characters are meant to be caricatures, not accurate depictions.

For example, in reality Freud’s experience with cocaine was medicinal. It wasn’t an illegal substance at the time, and was commonly prescribed (and was in Coca-Cola back in the day too). The caricaturization of that is that he’s a 1980’s style cokehead doing lines in bathroom stalls.

We took the idiosyncrasies of our characters - usually based on what is general knowledge - and ran with it to amp up the humour value. Like the fact Darwin will always order turtle soup if there’s a scene in a restaurant.

Just like in shows like ‘Clone High’, the characters share the characteristics of their real-life counterparts, but need to remain as their own unique character.

Grayden: How do you feel about this finished episode? Is this the cookie cutter that will define all future episodes? Or do you see it as a work in progress?

Brett: To me ‘Super Science Friends: Episode 1’ is really a pilot and I plan on treating it as such when we go on to do our post-mortem.  It needs to be dissected so we can see how it worked on the pacing, story and humour levels.  We need to look at which jokes got missed, which jokes landed, and work that into how we want to structure the show moving forward.

One of the things we won’t have to worry about in future episodes is the introduction of our main characters. It’s a big cast, and getting them introduced was a big part of episode 1.

I’d like to make the humour of the series much more self-referential. This is something that’s done really well in shows like ‘Arrested Development’ or ‘Archer’.  The more episodes those shows have, the funnier it gets because there’s more to build on.

Grayden: Is the comic book story line going to mix with the animation storyline of season one?

Brett: No, I don’t think so.  But they are set in the same universe, so we might see the odd assassin from the future showing up randomly trying to kill Z3.

We’ve been toying around with the idea of mixing up the order of the shows.  Like, why should Episode 2 be the next one we see?  It’s a time-traveling show after all, so why not jump to Episode 17? If we do something like that we actually might end up hooking up with the comic timeline, but for right now the plan is to have the next three episodes we release be consistent with the first.

Grayden: When we talked a year ago you were very specific about your feelings on line weight for this show. After a year in production, how do you feel?

Brett: At the time I was pretty strict about trying to only use three line weights, and that didn’t really work out as well as I’d hoped. The thickness should remain consistent across the whole episode, or at least from shot-to-shot, but it’s hard to stick with a standard and also give your board artists the freedom they need to craft story and gags.

We also produced the show completely out of order from what you should do. We didn’t have a script locked down until after we’d already animated half of the episode. By the time we had a locked animatic, we had had to rejig a lot of the pacing, and we suddenly had shots right next to each other with completely different line weights. A good example of this is when Freud zaps the two Space Ghouls, and they start making out and then Tesla walks in.  Watch the line weight on the ghouls, and then look at the line weight on Tesla.  This is a pretty drastic thickness shift in the same shot, and the way we got around it was by having the two ghouls out of the shot before Tesla walks in, and then we retraced the ghoul’s butt that keeps going up and down to match Tesla’s line weight.  Ultimately, we should have just retraced the ghouls entirely, but by that point we were pretty short on time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the line weight will never be absolutely perfect, so the best you can do is make sure that any inconsistencies you have don’t jar the viewer out of the experience.

Grayden: What’s your favourite part of this episode?

Brett: The ending. Definitely. We did a big “punch up” session three months before production ended and during that meeting we decided to completely change the ending.  The sad part is, the ending we had was completely animated already.  I could hear Morghan groaning from the other room when she heard us decide to scrap it and go with what we currently have.

That change did a couple of important things to the story, but the main thing it did was make Einstein the main character - something we were sorely lacking.  So he kind of became like Jubilee from the X-Men show. He’s the character the viewers experience the show through.

Grayden: Now that you’re done the first episode, what are your thoughts? What’s next?

Brett: Right now I’m taking it easy and playing Fallout 4. And that’s really, really nice. Production becomes all-consuming, especially during a pilot where everything is new, and especially near the end of production.  So being “done” is feeling really good.  But now that I’ve seen the feedback, I’m ready to dust off my sketchbook and start up again.

So I’ll be sitting down with two of our crew, Laurel and Kevin, who played big roles during the first episode, and going over the ideas for the rest of Season 1.  Laurel was our storyboard artist on Episode 1, and Kevin did a lot of our research.

Grayden: Will you be doing all the episodes as board driven shows?

Brett: We tried that for the first episode, and we won’t be doing it again for this series.  If we were doing a show like 'Adventure Time' or 'Spongebob' where it was really visually gag-driven, I would start at the board stage in a heartbeat. But this show is too plot and dialogue-driven for that to work.  We’ll be starting with scripts, and we’ll most likely be writing the next six scripts simultaneously.

Alexandra Papouchina: Are you looking at doing any holiday-themed episodes for the series?

Brett: I could definitely see working holiday-themed episodes in, but we won’t ever have a firm grasp on exact release dates for the episodes. That being said, I would love to work on a Halloween episode that includes the Salem witch trials, because that was happening when Darwin was alive. Maybe Tapputi is the witch?

Grayden: You decided to release your episode on multiple video service providers (Facebook, Vimeo, and YouTube) and in the case of YouTube, you released it on your own channel as well as on Fundlebundle. Why go for so many distribution points instead of having one where all the views would be monopolized?

Brett: I’m pretty platform agnostic, meaning I don’t see why it shouldn’t be in a bunch of different places for people to see. Our main audience is on Facebook, so I knew we had to release it there.  At the same time, Vimeo has the best player (in my opinion), and YouTube is the standard. And that’s worked out really well.  It took off on Facebook first, because it’s so easy to share Facebook video, then as that started to slow down, the news coverage we got was pointing to the Vimeo video, and now as that’s starting to slow down YouTube is beginning to pick up.

One thing that’s driving YouTube right now is the fact that fans have actually approached us offering to do the captioning for their native languages so they can share it with their friends who aren’t fluent in English.  And so as we upload those subtitles to YouTube, more and more people are going there to watch it.

As for the monetization part, something that is really bugging me though, is that Vimeo removed the ‘Tip Jar’ feature on their site and replaced it with a ‘Vimeo on Demand’ paywall. I loved the ‘Tip Jar’ and was planning on using it because it allows people to watch it and then donate if they feel like it. I don’t know why they couldn’t have both options.

As far as other funding sources go, we’re going to open an online store in the next couple of weeks where we’ll sell cool stuff. It will have stuff that was showcased during Kickstarter and a bunch of new stuff. Also, we’re looking at Patreon as another crowd funding platform.  It looks like it would be a nice fit.  Another Kickstarter is definitely an option too.

Grayden: Final words: what are your next main goals for the series?

Brett: Our next step is to start pre-production for the rest of Season 1.  While we’re doing that, we’re going to figure out how we can pay for production so that everyone has some cool 'Super Science Friends' stuff to watch sometime in (probably late) 2016!