Chicago team wins “Next Great Animated Series”

Senataur in “Senataur”

Odd Machine executive producer Alec Pinkston, director Gregory Hinchman and director Peter Stepnoski’s animated short, Senataur, took top honors in “The Next Great Animated Series” contest sponsored by Tongal and Project Greenlight.

The three-and-a-half-minute comedy trailer about a space alien centaur who forces his way into the American legislative branch is a no-holds-barred, graphic commentary on the nation’s sociopolitical landscape.

In addition to claiming a $70,000 prize for their winning proof-of-concept, the collaborators will partner with Tongal and Adaptive to create a 22-minute pilot episode.

Pinkston says that the show started as a personal “passion project” last fall.

“At the beginning of this election cycle, I was seeing so many candidates onstage during the debates,” he explains. “During the commercials, it kind of dawned on me that this would be the perfect format for Senataur, a character that I created years ago.”

Behind the scenes of "Senataur"

Utilizing a supermarionation technique, Pinkston and his collaborators began creating a series of thirty- to ninety-second political spoof commercials about a month before they learned of the contest.

Each one of the spots pushed some sort of ridiculous political initiative.

But as the election digressed, Pinkston recalls, “it became a challenge to prevent the Senataur from being overshadowed by Trump.”

“The similarities between some of the crazy ideas that we were marching out there and the crazy ideas that he was marching out there were occasionally hitting too close to reality.”

The contest inspired them to revise their personal project with “proper sets and side characters and back story.” The effort helped them earn a spot among the top five proof-of-concepts submitted to the contest.

Cow herding metaphors, equine references to Ann Coulter and an explicit description of Senataur’s half-horse/half-politician’s parentage spice up the dialogue.

Senataur’s meticulously detailed sets are populated by stringed puppets from the Rare Fruit Company that are arranged and shot at 12 frames per second. The results are reminiscent of an old British animated show called The Thunderbirds, which Pinkston cites as the trio’s main influence.

Senataur in the SenateThe most memorable lines are uttered by the main character, Senataur himself, who spends the entire show campaigning for President of the United States. His slogan — “Don’t Think, React” — is unveiled during a PSA that closes with the words, “This message was paid for by billionaire assholes trying to buy my influence.”

Together, the visual and narrative resemble a cross between A Town Called Panic and Team America.

Pinkston, Hinchman and Stepnoski completed the project with a small team that worked a “lot of all-nighters” in Odd Machine’s facility on the west side of Chicago.

Although it is technically an independent production, Pinkston says that Senataur would not have been possible without the support Odd Machine and its founder, Seth Henriksen, who will release his first feature film later this year.

Pinkston and the team intend to spend the rest of the summer working on the script for the pilot. When it’s ready to go, they’ll pitch it with help from Adaptive Studios and Tongal, a crowdsourcing site that lists Matt Damon and Ben Affleck among its founders.