Set the gears in reverse and take a trip back down the digital driveway to 1996. Before broadband and the video sensation YouTube, two Chattanoogans found themselves bored with their jobs, itching to try something new.
Aaron Hoffman and Alex Ogle were working in design in Kansas when they decided to create a comic book that included an interactive CD. As they began to experiment with Flash and video-to-vector processing to create black and white video, they opted to take the comic in a different direction. Broadband didn’t exist, and the only videos you could watch online were the size of a stamp because the bandwidth could not handle it, Ogle explained.
But soon enough, “Jonni Nitro” was born in a collaborative effort by the two designers. In its early production, they would invite friends over for pizza and beer, ask them to bring costumes and they would shoot scenes for the comic, Hoffman explained. “The result was very stark and contrasting.”
The video premiered online in 1997, and before they knew it, “Jonni Nitro” was getting upwards of 100,000 views per month. Being the first entertainment film to hit the Internet got the attention of then-limited but high-profile users. Within months, an entertainment company in Los Angeles contacted Hoffman and Ogle. The company bought the rights to “Jonni Nitro,” but Hoffman and Ogle stayed on as executive producers for a live-action version.
Their small production grew immediately. The production budget skyrocketed from $70 to $40,000 per episode as publications such as Spin, Playboy and TV Guide featured the series. The cast included Tom Jane, currently on HBO’s “Hung,” and Olivia d’Abo of the “Wonder Years.”
“It was entertaining in a very geeky way, but it still appealed to the general public,” Hoffman said.
“Jonni Nitro” was birthed under Tubatomic, the company founded by Hoffman and Ogle. In later years, just before the dot-com bomb that folded the show in 2001, the duo had relocated to Chattanooga. Hoffman and Ogle stayed in the city, and Ogle still works for Tubatomic. Hoffman has moved on, but took with him all the skills he gained while working with Ogle.
“It was exciting times, one of those leading edge things that brought us where we are today,” Ogle said.