With clients ranging from Microsoft and Nike to Dr. Scholl’s, Hinge has established itself as a creative production powerhouse with broad appeal. Located in the heart of Portland, the studio has collaborated on projects across a spectrum—from powerful PSAs to high-end advertising—with brands and agencies all over the world.
When presented with a different kind of challenge, however, Hinge looked to scale up its production capacity: it was brought in as animation studio partner on fan-favorite Adult Swim TV franchise Toonami.
Hinge was originally tapped to produce the season finale of Toonami Intruder II in summer 2015, in which the show’s host TOM and co-host SARA crash-land on an unknown planet. The team was again approached for the 2016 season, Toonami Intruder III, but this time would be responsible for delivering the entire slate of episodes—including all concepts, design, and animation, along with bumpers and teaser content—all with a delivery schedule of one two-and-a-half-minute episode every two weeks.
It was a true end-to-end project for Hinge, and one that required the utmost organizational efficiency.
To keep things running smoothly, Hinge once again turned to the web-based review and approval solution Frankie. Frankie enabled the Hinge production team to easily collaborate with its production partners, including Cartoon Network’s William Street team, based in Atlanta.
“The core of Frankie—reviewing and annotating content in sync while talking it over in a conference call—sounds simple, but it’s crucial,” says Roland Gauthier, Hinge executive producer.
“This is particularly true when you’re working on something of a larger scope, like a TV show. Maintaining consistency across multiple sequences of the show is very important. Frankie helped us to do that and be pixel accurate.
“In our industry, pictures are worth a thousand words.”
Go big or go home
Hinge’s real work on Toonami Intruder III picked up where episode seven left off. Up until this point, Toonami’s storyline was focused on scenes of the ship set in space. From episode seven onwards, however, the program was set for more elaborate episodes on a much larger scale.
“Cartoon Network brought us the script, we agreed on a budget for the scope, and they said, ‘Make something awesome!’” laughs Gauthier.
It wasn’t just the production team that Hinge needed to impress, however: Hinge wanted to push the look and realism of the show to new heights, but if the animation didn’t match the series’ established Toonami aesthetic, the passionate fan base would notice.
“They’re very particular and not easily impressed,” notes Alex Tysowsky, Hinge animation director. “I think the most exciting thing for us, and the most impressive thing, was that we took this existing property of Toonami that has been around since 1997, transitioning it seamlessly into a new environment and world.
“We kept the core of what fans love about Toonami, but brought it to a new place with new adventures, outside of the typical scope of being contained within a confined ship.”
Working as one
Approaching the series with care and consideration for the fan base meant regular updates between the Hinge team and Cartoon Network. Frankie enabled this communication in a seamless, effective manner: the Hinge team could communicate visually with the producer, developing new creatures and environments that would feel familiar to the audience at home.
For instance, Toonami: Intruder III’s most complex scene occurs towards the end of the final episode. The surface of a planet cracks and shatters as the heroes’ iconic spaceship rises from the ground. It’s one of the show’s standout moments, capping off the minisodes. However, this CG sequence was also the most artistically challenging to create.
“There was a big question mark about how epic we could make that sequence given the timeline, but the clients were thrilled with the results,” recalls Michael Kuehn, Hinge VFX supervisor. “Frankie helped us identify and solidify the number of shots we needed to make it happen, delivering the scene to Cartoon Network’s required quality.
“Whether you’re using Frankie with somebody in the same town or a remote artist, nationally or internationally, it doesn’t matter,” he continues. “The software is completely web-based, there’s very little latency and it makes collaboration as easy as can be.”
Frankie didn’t just help Hinge hit a certain level of quality oh Toonami: Intruder III, but also to do within the delivery schedule of one two-and-a-half-minute episode every two weeks.
A huge amount of time was devoted to creation, animation and rendering, so review sessions needed to be as streamlined as possible. Here Frankie was indispensable, as Hinge’s supervisors didn’t have to call out time codes or specify which exact pixel needed adjustment—they could immediately show the team in Atlanta the precise elements that needed work.
“Our artists can annotate directly onto the image in Frankie and make comments like: ‘SARA’s wings should look a little bit longer’, or ‘let’s add some different shape language on TOM’s arm’ – that’s the kind of information that’s not as easily conveyed in an email,” says Kuehn.
“It’s that live interaction and collaboration that blows users away when they’ve never used Frankie before. It used to be a nightmare; the guesswork of whether people are looking at the same thing. With Frankie, the guesswork is taken out. We know we’re discussing the exact same frame at the exact same time.”
Gauthier emphasizes how quickly his colleagues have grown accustomed to Frankie due to its simple interface and set up: “Filmmakers are able to draw right on the image, erase it or undo annotations, all via a browser interface—getting into the tool that quickly and easily is a huge help in an industry where the tools are often very complex,” he says.
“It’s all really intuitive—clear, helpful tools like the laser temporarily highlight specific parts of an image, and our production managers are able to save the PDF of these annotations, both written and drawn. That visual documentation can then combine easily with more detailed notes taken on either side of the collaboration.”
Hinge has used Frankie on almost all its projects, using it on work with agencies and brands like Microsoft. And it even plays a part prior to projects even going live, as Gauthier attests: “We’ve used Frankie for pitches. If we can’t go in person, we go to the client virtually with Frankie. It keeps the flow of the presentation in sync.”
In fact, Frankie is a first port of call at Hinge whenever a new relationship arises; the studio makes sure clients both existing and new immediately see the benefits of remote review and approval.
“In general, Frankie makes collaboration at a distance much faster and smoother, which is key to the kind of quick turnarounds we work with,” concludes Gauthier. “We don’t recommend things willy nilly, but I absolutely recommend Frankie to anyone involved on a collaborative project.”
Learn more at hellohinge.com