The Creative Process for the Fringe Trading Cards

By Michael Sacco

I'm a sucker for really good sci-fi TV, so for a while, I had been waiting for TV to deliver a worthy successor to The X-Files. I finally got one in 2008 when Fringe premiered. At first it seemed to follow the X-Files formula closely, but the twist in its first-season finale changed everything: parallel universes! That's the kind of huge hook a show needs to get you pumped for season 2. In the time since, the show has followed through on its promise of mind-blowing twists – and also on quality acting from its cast, like the incredible John Noble.

When I found out that Cryptozoic had acquired the license to create Fringe Trading Cards, shortly after I started at the company last year, I practically jumped out of my seat and tracked down our director of operations. “I want to write the Fringe cards,” I said, breathless. “Oh, okay,” she said. That's pretty much all there was to it.

Or so I thought. There was a lot more to making these cards than just writing the text on them. I was also tasked with sketching up the card frames so that our talented graphic designers could create them. For the 72 base cards, I went with an austere look that was inspired by the show's credits. We used the credits font for the card titles on the front, and on the back, we created a dossier-style manila folder, typed note, and black-and-white photo look, like something Olivia might find on her desk.

The chase cards were a little more wild. The first chase set, featuring the show's main characters, is inspired by the Beacon, the strange device that seems to be involved with the Observers in some way. Our designers used brushed metal and glowing blue highlights to match the Beacon's look, then we took the show's interstitial glyphs – those ghostly images that appear before commercial breaks and display coded messages – and gave each character their own glyph in the center of the beacon. It was fun to match the glyphs to the characters; I was really fond of the seahorse for Astrid, for example. We printed the cards on foil board to make the glow effects and glyphs shimmer.

The second chase set is all about the alternate universe's Fringe Division. The characters we're familiar with are a bit different in that universe, and so is the group itself. In that universe, the Fringe Division isn't a secret multi-agency task force, but a public and well-known branch of the Department of Defense. To play on that, we drew from the colors in the other universe's Fringe Division logo – black, red, and yellow – and created a very utilitarian, militaristic frame for the cards. A red deco foil shape outlines the photos of the Fringe agents.

Writing the “checklist”, or the text data for all of the cards, was an interesting experience. This was my first foray into physical products, so the process was totally new to me. Warner Bros. provided us with a huge number of high-resolution set photos, and I had to create a series of 72 cards based on the first two seasons of Fringe from those photos. Choosing the photos was a lot of fun – would this photo be best due to its connection to a specific scene, or should I use this more interesting shot because it would look a little more dynamic on a card? Sometimes there were so many great photos it was hard to pick just one or two per episode.

Even writing the text for the back of the cards was a challenge. The plots for some Fringe episodes are really out there, given the nature of the show, and trying to compress the episode into a sentence or two was tough! Being such a huge fan, I wanted to do the show justice in this form, so it took a lot of careful writing (and rewriting) to get the text where I wanted it to be.

Lastly, I had to choose which pieces of the show's wardrobe made it onto our special Wardrobe cards -- rare, thick cards with actual pieces of clothing in them. Warner Bros. sent us a great big box of wardrobe from the first two seasons of the show, and I went through and chose the pieces I thought would be the coolest for the show's fans, from Walter's lab coat to Olivia's signature suit. One item I'm sad we couldn't make work was Walter's big, thick "grandpa" sweater you see him wearing in several episodes. It was too thick to be put into the cards, unfortunately. Thankfully, we had a lot of other choices for Walter and the rest of the cast.

Looking at the physical cards in my hand right now, I'm really proud of how they came out. Our graphic designers did a great job. I'm glad I don't live in an alternate universe where I didn't get to work on these cards!