Get to Know Your Board: Roland Gauthier
Meet OMPA Board President Roland Gauthier! Born in France and bred in the US, he now calls Portland home. You may also know him as a partner and executive producer at the innovative CG production company, Hinge. Now you can learn a whole lot more about how Roland got where he is today, and what he hopes to accomplish in his tenure with OMPA.
Tell me about the earlier side of your career in the media industry.
I moved to the US from France at age nine. My dad had bought a Mac Plus for the house and I got a chance to use MacPaint and liked creating art on the computer. I also had a passion for cartoons and comic books, especially Looney Tunes and Disney. My earlier film inspirations were Terminator 2, Roger Rabbit, and Toy Story. I liked the blend of live-action and animation.
I have a range of hands-on artistic experience, including woodworking, music, and performance art. In high school I got into dance, drama, and architectural drafting and design. The architecture experience eventually led to my interest in creating 3D graphics. As a senior, I built a visualization of the school’s library from construction blueprints and got a chance to use some expensive technology that a family friend had access to.
In college I focused on exploring my dual nationality. I studied mass media and cultural identity, the influence of American and French culture on each other through film and art, and how they build off each other.
When I moved back to Bay Area in 2000, I enrolled in an animation and visual effects school. It was 14 months of sleeping under my machine six days a week and getting a sense of the pace I would be feeling when I graduated into the industry. But I graduated the week of 9/11, so there were no job prospects.
I sent my reel around and attended events like SIGGRAPH, eventually catching the attention of the studio that would become LAIKA. I originally came to Portland for a three-week test gig on an M&M's commercial, with the potential to work on a CG Popeye Holiday Special. I was thrilled at the opportunity to bring those iconic characters to life in CG.
Although that project fell through, we got along so well that they offered me a full-time position to work on commercials. That’s how I got into character rigging, became a supervisor running the CG department, and began to manage crew and budgets.
What made you want to start your own studio?
I met my current partners at Hinge when I moved from the commercial side of things at LAIKA House to helping build their CG film department. Portland has long been known as a hub for animation, with each studio having their own specific style. When LAIKA decided to focus primarily on stop-motion, we had to decide if we would leave Portland or create a new opportunity of our own.
We wanted to focus on creating CG-animated commercials, so we built up our roster of capabilities in high-end character visualization and special effects. We started with three hand-built computers and ourselves, then grew organically to hire crew based on new opportunities. We’d find freelancers and interns in the SourceOregon directory to build up our crew enough to make a project possible.
How did Hinge become the successful creative agency we know today?
We were lucky to be in the right place, at the right time, with good relationships. Our big break came when we created the Blue and Goldie mascots for Carrington College and gained some national attention.
We worked on the CARFAX Car Fox from 2011 to 2013. He initially started out as a hand puppet, then transitioned to an animatronic with about six Jim Henson-style puppeteers. We were brought in to evolve him into a fully CG character that would make his performance easier and more flexible across broadcast, print, and digital.
As we grew, we gained more direct-to-client work in addition to partnering with agencies and other production companies. It started as mostly animation and visual effects, but then more people started asking for live-action, motion graphics, plushies, 3D printing… We of course said ‘Sure! We can do anything!’ and then we figured it out.
What’s a campaign that you’re really proud of?
We did a PSA with the AdCouncil for AdoptUSKids. The theme was “you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” It’s an animated piece about a young teenage girl aging out of the foster care system. She meets her parents, has lots of wonderful misadventures, and finds a loving home.
Which project are you most passionate about?
My childhood passion for cartoons came full circle four years ago when a friend from LAIKA who used to work at Cartoon Network in Atlanta connected us with AdultSwim’s Toonami. We took over production of the show and started making it entirely here in Portland. We work directly with Cartoon Network and Adult Swim who develop the storyline and script because they know the characters really well. We discuss ideas and storyboard together, they provide all the music and voice talent, and Hinge produces all the animation and visual effects. It's a great partnership, and has peaked our interest in creating some of our own shows eventually.
What are some exciting things you’ve finished recently?
We did a retrospective of our work as part of NW Animation Festival; we were the featured studio and speaker. It gave us a chance to take a walk down memory lane and look at our favorite projects from the last nine years.
Project-wise, we recently finished Travel Oregon: The Game in collaboration with Wieden+Kennedy. It was an amazing experience throwing ourselves into the deep end with a very ambitious scope. The ask was to create an 8-bit web game and 14 minigames showcasing fun Oregon winter activities, and we needed to specifically mimic the art style and game-play of the 1990 version of the classic game, Oregon Trail. It was a challenge to not make it any prettier than our target, so we kind of had to hold ourselves back. We also created 10 commercials for them… and it was all done in seven weeks! It was fun to be a part of this 8-bit love letter to Oregon, and also to work with such a great team at Wieden+Kennedy. Working in 8-bit was a cool change of pace from photoreal CG, and we were thrilled to see the game win a 2018 Cannes Lion award!
What’s next for Hinge?
We’re developing and refining our VR and AR capabilities. It’s a fun challenge and natural progression for our CG world-building skills. We’re combining narrative storytelling with game development and programming, developing full VR experiences for Vive and Oculus headsets, and working on more handheld experiences.
Our AR work is mostly about product storytelling experiences, like the furniture apps where you can see exactly how something will look and fit in your space. We’ve also been doing this for the apparel and footwear industry, technology, and consumer goods, working with clients like Kohler, Converse, and Purell.
There’s lots of education on the front-end since it’s still really new. We look at how can we fit new AR or VR into existing branding and campaigns, how they can transform it or stand alone, and how we can bring the best of our experience and our craft to that arena to help people tell their stories.
WHY OREGON? WHY OMPA?
What do you love about living and working in Oregon?
For most people, when you ask why they come to Oregon from some other place like LA or New York or Texas… it’s a choice of wanting a different kind of lifestyle, wanting to be more in touch with people, leaving the daily grind of traffic and corporate atmosphere. You can be in touch with nature and have a more pleasant everyday life.
That feeds into the work side of things, of course… I wanted to do high-quality work with people I respected, who are as good or better as I was at what I was doing, who I could collaborate with, and do all that in a place that values work-life balance.
So you’ve been an OMPA board member for the past few years. What made you want to take on the role of board president?
I’ve been a member for… seven to nine years? I joined as a freelancer and then as a business-owner. I wanted to know who the other companies were in town, the production resources, and how we could collaborate. As I got to know OMPA and the membership, I wanted to do more to contribute. A peer nominated me for the board.
For me it’s partly about greater good and partly personal benefit. It’s a way to boost the interests of my company and the people I know and work with and want to support. It’s also a way for me to give back to the community that I’ve benefited so much from here in Portland and Oregon. It’s similar to why I taught at the Art Institute for a number of years. It’s a way to connect and enrich my life, and do that for other people.
What do you hope to accomplish in your tenure?
My focus is on making the resources and connections more apparent and available. I want to enable producers and clients based here to know about the available resources and make the most of them for their projects. I want to make sure the diversity of the state is reflected within the [SourceOregon] directory as well.
I also want to bring more business to Oregon by attracting a better and larger volume of work from outside the state. Not just because of the beautiful natural resources, but the talent in the area!
Why is it important or significant to have an organization like OMPA in our state?
Our industry is very community focused, and we often work very closely together on projects. That feels like an intimate and small place already, but even more so in Oregon. OMPA represents an opportunity for that community to get together and unify, both in terms of resources and our messaging out to the broader community of Oregon, and outside the state.
OMPA is a conduitt for all the super-talented membership, who are very diverse across the field. It’s a hub and serves that really well. It gives our membership a voice that might not otherwise be as strong. We can cohesively interface with other stakeholders and players, whether it’s the governmental offices supporting incentive programs, representing the membership on a state level, or working with members to get permits. It’s important for us to have a central place to serve as that communications hub and resource for the common and greater good of our industry.
Hey, thanks for reading this far! Here's a funny GIF of Roland as a reward!
FAVORITES & TRIVIA
Do you have family and/or pets?
I live in NE Portland with my 8-year-old daughter, my wife Amy Taramasso, and our two cats. Amy and I actually met at a scriptwriting and storyboarding class!
Personal hobbies: When I’m not working, I’m spending time with my family. So my greatest hobby is spending time with my daughter and soaking in all the cool things she does. We go on hikes, bike rides… I’m trying to appreciate as much of her growing up as possible.
Best comfort food: Being half-French, I’m a big fan of a nice glass of Champagne, good cheeses and bread. I enjoy a nice stewed-meat dish, too.
Favorite movies: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Incredibles, Terminator 2, Monsters Inc. I loved the relationship between Boo and Scully - it’s a real heartstring-puller! Also The Avengers, the first Back to the Future, the first Matrix. For me the core has to be a great story, then you build on that to make amazing visuals that can transport you.
Binge-worthy TV shows: Game of Thrones, Archer, Crazy Ex Girlfriend - I like musicals... Handmaid’s Tale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine… We did a nine-episode Game of Thrones parody called Snow Knows that we released simultaneously with the HBO show. It pays homage to the misadventures of Jon Snow.
Favorite/most-used apps: Email, internet, texting, LinkedIn - the basics. I got oversaturated with Instagram and Facebook… I use the camera app a lot for family pictures! I also use something called MagicPlan, which is an architectural AR app I’m using to imagine my home remodeling.
Currently reading: The Sisters Brothers in paperback and audio; I like audio books. Ready Player One - I liked the book and its cultural references, but not the movie as much.
My wife has a strong policy that our daughter has to read the book before seeing the movie. We’ve been reading Harry Potter as a family at bedtime.
Blogs: AdCritic, Portland Egotist… I’m keeping an eye on AR/VR blogs.
Album or artist you can’t stop listening to: I’ve always been a huge Paul Simon fan. I go back to “Graceland” a lot. I also listen to records at home, lots of big band. Sometimes Joan Jett and Blondie.
Best concert you’ve been to: I got to see George Michael. U2 was really good too - in the 90s.
Worst fashion trend you’ve ever rocked: A fannypack (Roland disagreed when I told him they were making a comeback.)