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Interview with the creators of ‘Super Science Friends!’

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Launched at the beginning of November and now with only a week to go, Tinman Creative Studios in Toronto are hoping to raise the funds on that good old platform Kickstarter for the action-packed superhero series Super Science Friends!

This comic book styled, high impact animated series aims to show how well-known historical characters such as Freud, Einstein and Darwin travel through time to battle Nazis, Edison and God himself, to keep humanity safe and entertain the masses as they do so!

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Tinman itself is small, boutique animation studio based in the animation heartland of Canada, Toronto. The small team of about 10-15 regular animators and designers band together to create a range of commercial and short work, in a variety of house styles.

Stumbling across this amazing little project through one of many frequent, nightly crawls through the Kickstarter Staff Picks (which ordinarily yield the same old ‘give me money for a Cintiq’ operations or yet another artisan coffee maker),  the distinct style caught our imagination as a project really worth getting on board with. Skwigly managed to grab a some time with both the Executive Producer Morgan Fortier and Creative Director/Super Science Friends! mastermind Brett Jubinville to discuss the project and their plans should their goal be achieved.

Can you tell us a little about Tinman Studios and what you create?

Brett: Well Morgan and myself started the company around three years ago. We had worked together on a few shows, mostly pre-school shows but also a show called Ugly Americans which was pretty popular over here. Then we kept getting hired to go into other studios and fix problems and we got tired off it after a little while. So we decided to make our own problems and start up Tinman.

Morgan: We are a boutique studio, other than Brett and myself they’re are only about 10-15 other people that work with us depending on what we’re working on in studio. We do commercial work and short-form work; series work for YouTube channels and the big passion project for the last year has been Super Science Friends! Everybody in the studio has had the chance to work on something, especially getting ready for the Kickstarter campaign. We primarily do 2D animation frame-by-frame. Using this traditional technique is a lot of fun. The Kickstarter has been really exciting and the feedback has been really positive and nice.

Brett: Were starting to get into some stop-motion which is more Morgan’s background, and I worked on a lot of CG but when we started Tinman we didn’t want to do either of those, mostly because they are both pretty expensive, you need so much equipment. Toronto is a weird town for animation, there’s a lot of it but it’s mostly pre-school production so you might be working on a show that’s really big, but really big with 6 year olds, so to work on something for adults is new and unusual.

What are the origins of  Super Science Friends?

Brett: Well there’s a market in New York called Kidscreen about shows for kids, Morgan normally goes down and I stay here and look after everything.

Morgan: It was the second year we had been operating and I had gone down to meet with a broadcaster for the first time, I was actually in the elevator on my way up to the meeting and I got this email from Brett.

Brett: Yeah. So I’d been doing some drawing the night before and I had drawn the Soviet Space Ghoul whilst watching TV and really liked it. I went to bed, and I don’t normally have any problem getting to sleep but I couldn’t get to sleep and kept thinking about it, thinking there’s something there. So I stayed up and started working throughout the night, fleshing it out from the character. Then the basis for the show as it is now was created by morning. I emailed it of to Morgan, just as she was heading up to this meeting and I was like, screw what we have, pitch this instead – it’s way better!

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Morgan: So I’m reading this email in the elevator as I’m heading into this meeting, luckily they were delayed so I at least got to finish reading. It was the worst pitch I had ever given in my life, it was one of those moments when you look at the people you’re pitching to and they’re looking at you like you’re crazy! As soon as the pitch was over I called Brett and said “I think this is an unsellable series”. That’s what it became, this unsellable show that we kept playing with. When you talk to people about it they get really excited and tell you about other scientists and characters and back-stories, you couldn’t write that kind of drama, it’s been a really interesting communal development.

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Brett: That what’s attracted me about the characters, that they’re real life people and when you here about Tesla and Edison and all the drama, how Tesla is responsible for a lot of the things we use today but isn’t given any credit. Like Morgan said, you couldn’t write it yourself. I think I found out about Tesla from that film The Prestige were he’s played by David Bowie. I though he was an interesting character, I then researched him and found out all this other information. We even found out that Tesla never agreed with Einstein’s theory of relativity, he thought it was a load of rubbish! I thought that would be nice, as they’re in the same group together in the show they would have something to argue about. They’re all very eccentric characters.

The first thing that hit me about this project was the style, Brett where did this style develop?

Brett: There are a bunch of influences. I don’t work in one style, mostly because when I was working as a designer in other studios I would normally go to work and people would ask me to work in the style of someone else. So over the years I got quick at learning other people’s styles and building them into my own. I think there were things I picked up from reading Hellboy comics and just the way Mike Mignola uses line and shadow, things like that. Also retro shows like Scooby-Doo and the limited style of animating that they used. One of the rules we had decided early on was that it should be able to be printed, you should be able to take a shot from the show and be able to print it with a screen in a book, like a graphic novel. I wanted to limit us, so we can’t use gradients, a lot of cross dissolves or opacity functions. So if an animator is working on some smoke for instance and has it fade out, I’ll have to say “Nope you cant do that, you have to have it breaking out and turning in to little particles bit by bit” – which is a lot harder than just changing an opacity scale but its just one of those things, it defines the look of the show. I also animate on the show, I think on the intro that we posted earlier this week I keyed almost everything so I have to keep to those rules to, even when I’d rather not!

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Why scientists, is that a career you’ve ever been interested in or is it more out of curiosity?

Brett: I was a rubbish student, I’d pay attention in class but then think Well, I’m done with that now, so lets go play in the mud and mess around – even when I was a teenager. I was lucky enough to have some good teachers along the way that made classes interesting but I never did any extra work. It was after College that I started getting interested in all of these other things, I would see these characters in films and that’s when it became fascinating. I think it has a lot to do with being mature; I was more into Power Rangers back then, rather than history or science.

Morgan: I think what has evolved since we started the project is the original stories of these people, how you take these tales and connect them to make a story. But they write themselves, we get these very natural rivals to each other within different areas and some of the folklore and mythology around these characters has been great! Making them a super power team, it’s kind of loving homage, playing on superhero shows, those guys in suits that are a little dated. There’s something kind of fun about the juxtaposition of this action adventure and these guys that wouldn’t have been in there real life.

Brett: I like this idea of Einstein throwing a punch; In a given episode of maybe 15-20 minutes I think a good third of that is just going to be a fight scene!

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Can you tell us a little about some of the characters, how did you choose them and who is your favourite (I personally love Freud already)?

Brett: We thought a big hang up for people would be the Nazi thing, as it was the thing brought up most at network pitches. There were discussions about how we could just change them, did they relay have to be Nazis? I was pretty militant about keeping them in, because so much of these scientist work was done in and around that time. If it was directly related to World War II it was caused by it or leading up to it and there was real tension especially in Europe that was leading up to it. To just remove them out of the equation I think would have been a bit of a disservice because the people we wanted to attract to the show are history and science buffs. If we just took out that part of history it would bother a lot of people. It may be a very small audience we’re going for but I’d like to keep them happy. Also, strangely, at least a quarter of our backers are Germans!

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Morgan: We also had a query about the characters we brought in and the lack of female figures, due to the nature of the show we can only have a finite amount of leading roles and really it’s based on when they passed away, which is why we don’t have anyone really current.

Brett: We got a lot of messages asking why we didn’t have more female characters, which is fair point, but we didn’t set out to not have any female characters. Originally Marie Curie wasn’t a member, we added her. It’s not that we set out to make a male-only show, it’s just we can only use scientists that lived fifty years ago. Prior to that there weren’t a lot of female scientists whose work could be easily boiled down to a superpower; like Tesla is electricity, that’s easy!

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So we decided to put Marie Curie into the show, and we knew she discovered radiation and she died of radiation poisoning as she carried around radioactive rocks in her pocket for study. Someone said “Why don’t we give he a ring with one of the radioactive rocks on it?”, I was like “Yes, like Green Lantern!”. Then we had her, but she was tough to figure out.

Morgan: As the series unfolds there are more characters and a few more female characters. It’s been fun researching, the back-story gets so trippy so it’s been interesting to find characters that we can bring into this team, the feedback has been great from everyone, and it’s been challenging to add new characters and maintain the overall integrity of the piece. Marie Curie now fits so well so its pretty fun.

Brett: One of my favourite characters we’ve come out with is Z3, which is based on the first electronic computer created by the Germans in World War II. It was destroyed when allies bombed Berlin but in our universe we’ve decided to take that character and say when he is turned on he becomes self aware like Skynet, but then he defects and decides to go work with the British for Churchill. His story gets convoluted and awesome because of the time travel. Basically in every eventuality no matter what they do in time, Z3 ends up taking over and deciding, like every AI, that humanity is insufficient and ends up taking over the world. However in the present he’s a good guy, but has a bit of Dr. Strangelove about him, as he would obviously have a German accent so nobody knows were he stands. Ada Loveless, who came up with these computer algorithms and was a maths wiz, becomes Z3’s kind of love interest as she the only one that can get to him so. She’s part of the resistance to overthrow him in the future, so there a scene in the graphic novel which we have as a reward, where Z3 has a computer virus and she comes back to save him. It’s a very convoluted storyline but no matter what happens in history the Super Science Friends manage to get things back to almost normal.

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What type of equipment and software are you using on the project?

Brett: We animate on Flash, but its all frame-by-frame so we use it more as a timeline, using the Adobe Creative Suite so After Effects and Premiere. Animating on Cintiqs and Mac computers, we have the little Mac minis, which are great for running Flash as it’s quite low impact, so they’re perfect.

Why did you choose to do this project now?

Megan: We wanted to get the first episode out by 2015

Brett: We’ve been tinkering with this for about six months, we’ve had corporate work on and have been working on this in the couple of weeks of downtime between jobs. Instead of sending everybody home, we’d work on this, so it’s kind of been our background project for a while. The first episode is storyboarded out, I gave the idea over to our storyboard artists and let them chew it over for a couple of months or so.

Megan: We’re basically writing as we go, we substitute scripts for storyboards as we’re all such visual people, our background is far more visual so we do a bit of a hybrid between the two.

Brett: There’s a thing on the Kickstarter that no one has caught onto, in that all the reward prices are all prime numbers. It’s the people who would pick up on things like that who we want to impress, it’s not a history lesson; The show is about a team of superheroes, it’s not about the life and times of Sigmund Freud, though we are pulling from that.

Morgan: As for timing of the Kickstarter project, I don’t know if there is ever a good or better time to start a campaign. We thought that coming up to Christmas, maybe people would want to use the rewards as presents and we wanted to make sure people had something delivered before Christmas so people will get their member’s packs first, there is something coming!

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Why did you feel Kickstarter was the best fit over other fundraising options or even other crowd-funding platforms?

Morgan: We researched a few of them, like Indigogo has it own sort of niche, more broad, more international reach. Patreon just didn’t seem right as we are a studio, instead of an individual artist, so it seemed a little inappropriate. Kickstarter seems like the better one to go with.

Brett: If I was making this by myself in my basement then I would’ve felt better about using that, as you’re helping to support an individual to do their thing, whereas we’re a studio doing commercial work. I would feel bad if I had been supporting someone on Patreon and they turned around and said here’s my latest Coca-Cola advert.

Morgan: In planning the Kickstarter, there are so many blogs out there, and I’ve come to the conclusion that you can plan and organise this to the nth degree but it’s really up to the fates if it’s ever going to happen or if it isn’t. Someone will find it and pick it up or not. It has also just come over to Canada and we had been talking about it, so once it became available over here it helped us decide.

The project is to try and raise the funds to make the pilot, what are your plans afterwards if you succeed in raising your goal?

Morgan: We have six episodes planned!

Brett: Depending on how this one goes, I’d like to run a Kickstarter to raise the funds for each episode. So if you pledged to get the sculptures, and you wanted to have all of them you could collect them at each stage. Also as one of the episodes is getting ready to air or go up on YouTube, we would be building the next Kickstarter.

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Morgan: We know we have this six episode story arc and we have it all worked out, we know the first episode going to be launched next year, we’re not exactly sure when. Were probably going to go up on YouTube, to find that network broadcasters aren’t our main focus right now. Meeting all these people and making all the connections, it feels like we’re doing it for a completely different group of people than a TV broadcaster and I think that’s become a very happy, accidental outcome. That there are people who are genuinely excited to see this, I think we’re doing it more for them now then anything ells, it will probably have a home on YouTube and hopefully the people who backed it will watch it.

Can you tell us a little more about some of the rewards, like the graphic novel and the art-of book?

Brett: We may have gone a bit overboard, but we really wanted to create great rewards, even if people aren’t keen on the project idea, they might want the rewards, like a Freud sculpture. We’ve even ordered a wax stamp, we’re being proper archaic! Maybe we’ll include a top-secret letter from Churchill…

Morgan: We’re pushing the Canadian postal service to their limit! I think they were all things we wanted for ourselves (laughs). Also the idea that people will have copies of our thing out there that aren’t family members or friends is a big thing and kind of cool. We felt with this type of project and with some of the rewards being a graphic novel and sculpts, we would take advantage of the fact we’ve been doing some stop-motion work in the studio so we could use some of the materials for that, so everything were giving away were actually making here. Like the graphic novel is going to be screen-printed.

Concepts for the Graphic Novel reward!

Concepts for the Graphic Novel reward!

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If you want to help make Super Science Friends! a reality, check out the Kickstarter here today! 

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