Hinge’s own Amy Hassler Jacobson was interviewed in anticipation of our 2017 Portland Design Week Open House in collaboration with 3DV, Wacom & Autodesk. Here’s a link to the Design Week tumblr post and an excerpt below:
DWP: It’s so cool to know there’s a studio in Portland making custom VR content! What type of client projects utilize VR technology? Has there been a particularly exciting VR project this year?
Amy: Everything we do in VR—from creating a realistic deep woods forest, to a more cartoony ride on a boat surrounded by dancing bears, we do to enhance story. This is something we feel sets us apart—that we can bring our deep roots in character animation and storytelling to bear on this new medium to create more compelling experiences without feeling gimmicky. At the end of the day, VR is a tool in our technical toolkit like any other, in support of story.
We’ve really enjoyed our partnership with Cartoon Network and the work we’ve done for Toonami with Adult Swim. Cartoon Network had begun to dip their toe into VR for Rick & Morty, and with Toonami, we recognized an opportunity to extend the story in a more personal and interactive way. Toonami is one end of the spectrum in that it is pure entertainment and it allowed us to really tap our imaginations, creating a world of sci-fi fantasy. On the other end of the spectrum is the VR world we created to educate viewers about Rheumatoid Arthritis. With that piece, we were able to demonstrate to our clients how we could take existing content and assets from a previous project and create a fully immersive experience of what it is like to suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis by seeing applied to your own hands in VR. This deeper level of interactivity gives the viewer more empathy regarding the disease. The Rheumatoid Arthritis piece was fun for us in a different sort of way in that it presented the challenge of how to take a serious subject and make it engaging, not clinical. Unlike Toonami, it is a purely educational experience, and the fun for us was in making it approachable and relatable using VR’s immersive qualities.
I should mention, too, that we take what we believe is an awesome and immense amount of power contained in VR very seriously. Because of the way that VR affects synapses in the brain and all of the psychological components (quite literally, it creates new “memories”) we have begun to dedicate a research team to considering the scientific and psychological aspects of any VR approach we undertake. It’s kind of the “wild west” out there right now with respect to this emerging technology. It’s moving fast and furious. For our part, we strive to be thoughtful about and responsible with that power. It may sound corny but we want to see it harnessed for the greater good.
DWP: Hinge’s 2D projects all seem to have very unique voices and illustration styles. Are most 2D projects done by an in-house team of illustrators, or do you work with outside illustrators?
Amy: We have a model that allows us to expand upon our core group of staff artists with outside freelancers who can bring unique styles, vision and voice to any given project. Our studio is nimble and intimate—the founders are involved in every project that comes through our pipeline—so there is always only the “A” team on jobs. We augment our core with freelance artists in a very custom and curated way. By doing this, we are able to ensure the Hinge level of creative quality standards and continuity are maintained by our core team; yet can be augmented with an increasingly diverse mix of styles. That’s one of the many great things about being in a virtual industry; we truly do have a global pool to swim in, and access to a variety of artists that can complement any particular project.
DWP: Of all the services Hinge offers, what type of projects are your favorites?
Amy: Again, it comes back to story. Anything with good story and character is popular with our team. Animated characters, like the Carfax Car Fox & Carrington birds are always fun, and game work, for Skylanders and Madden, is certainly a hit as many of us are gamers. But it gets even better when we feel that the work we are doing is making a difference in the world. For example, a project we recently worked on for AdoptUSkids had personal meaning for our team and I feel that the spot we delivered showed that it was heartfelt, that emotional connection made its way to the screen. We were really proud of that project and of being able to give back.
Any project that allows us to test something new, a technical challenge or innovation are popular as well. Collaboration is key—with our artists as well as with our clients. We look for rewarding creative partnerships and look to have fun along the way. That’s always been our approach and why we chose to start our own shop after being on staff at some of the bigger name studios. By design, we want to maintain an optimal team size—with enough bandwidth to handle turnaround and complexity needs; but still nimble to foster collaboration and a more personal touch.
DWP: Is there a story behind the brand name?
Amy: We get asked that a lot! Eight years ago, we decided on “Hinge” because it conjured a clear visual image. We wanted something active and with a sense of movement—a hinge on a door or window to us was something that conveyed opening and opportunity.
DWP: Anything Design Week attendees should keep an eye out for during their tour of the studio?
Amy: When you get here, take a moment for pictures on the red carpet (step and repeat!) with our crew & our VR statuettes. Check out our new branding throughout the studio, and in particular on display in our living plant and salvaged wood walls. Most excitingly, we will be unveiling our newly constructed Virtual Reality Theatre, with a large projection area and theatre style seating. Inside, we will be screening some of our favorite TV & commercial projects from the past couple years and inviting participants into our immersive VR experiences. We’ll be debuting our VR snowball fight—a piece that takes our character animation, storytelling and interactive chops to a new level, letting you play in a winter wonderland!