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Meet Leigh Hallisey of FableVision Studios in Fort Point Channel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leigh Hallisey.

Leigh, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I discovered FableVision in the early 2000s when I was working at Boston University. I’d just finished graduate school with a Masters in Popular Culture, and was a smidge nervous about my long-term career prospects—I mean, what if no one fully appreciated the depth of knowledge I had to offer about the history of teen movies, or feminist critiques of Madonna? I’d landed in an engineering facility at BU in marketing, and was teaching a class on race, gender, and media in the College of Communication when my education and career path collided.

I joined a project focused on creating an animated series starring a Hispanic tween female character. We wanted that character to be a role model and inspire young girls to love science before stereotypes and cultural attitudes crushed their ambitions. But to do that, we needed an animation company who understood both our vision and how important this issue was. The minute we met with FableVision, we knew we’d found our partner, and I had a new life goal—to work at FableVision, because I knew it would never feel like work. FableVision and BU formed a joint venture to launch the property into the world. In 2006 we sold the company, and shortly after I joined FableVision in their marketing department. Over the last 10+ years, I’ve held the roles of Marketing Coordinator, Marketing Director, and Creative Strategist, until transitioning to the role of Creative Director in 2014.

As Creative Director, I work with clients and our production team to come up with innovative solutions, or “the big idea,” to help solve our client’s biggest challenges, whether it’s an animation that teaches toddlers about the letter “O” or a game that teaches young adults about the importance of saving for retirement. I do loads of writing (usually good), a lot of sketching (notably bad), and a ton of creative brainstorming and iteration. I always try to understand the specific needs and wants of the intended audience for what we are making so that we know it will resonate—this is where my background in popular culture really comes into play.

It can be a challenge to come up with something new and innovative all the time, and some ideas can be way too out of the box for a client. But then you make a game about understanding compound interest with vampires, and it redraws those boundaries and makes more room for those slightly crazy ideas. Every day is different, but what stays the same is my belief in that the work we are doing is moving the world to a better place.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
FableVision started in 1996 by three people, and now we have 30 full-time staff and a network of freelancers. That kind of expansion always comes with growing pains: outgrowing our space in Watertown and moving in 2006 to our current location on top of the Boston Children’s Museum; the concern about how ramping up our staff could affect our company culture and the extremely hands-on, personal approach we bring to every project. It’s pretty rare that the co-founders of  a company—Peter H. Reynolds, Paul Reynolds, and Gary Goldberger—stay as involved in the company as they have to ensure we stay true to our mission. In addition, key members of our leadership team, like Executive Producer Karen Bresnahan, have been part of FableVision for 20 years. This kind of stability and knowledge helps steer the ship during tumultuous times, from major shifts in technology—like the death of Adobe Flash and the birth of mobile phones—to the economic downturns that followed after 9/11 and again in 2015.

At one point or another over the years we’ve had to examine and reexamine just about everything: our production processes, the way we find new clients, the kinds of projects we take on, how we hire new people. It’s an amazing feeling to never have to question that the products that we create seek to not only educate, but elevate, every human being during their journey on this planet. We’re lucky, too, in that we get to partner with foundations, companies, and organizations who believe in the same mission we do. That’s a true gift, and one we don’t take for granted.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with FableVision Studios – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
FableVision Studios creates animation, games, websites, apps, videos, interactives, and more to help move the world to a better place. Our signature blend of positive messaging, storytelling, and interactive technologies is sought after by a host of best-in-class organizations, like PBS Kids, Smithsonian Institution, Sesame Workshop, The Jim Henson Company, and National Geographic Society.

The FableVision team has a deep understanding of the ways that people of all ages approach, comprehend, and apply knowledge, and build media to support their learning. Since 1996, we have focused on delivering content across multiple delivery platforms to meet learners where they are, whether that’s gathered around the table to play a board game, in the classroom on a computer, or exploring the world outside using an augmented reality app.

We are always looking for ways to include underrepresented groups in prominent roles in our animation, games, and books, as well as consider the unique physical and emotional abilities, as well as learning styles, of our end users. We are deeply invested in the work that we do, and will jump through hoops—budgetary, technological, philosophical, time and space—to deliver the highest quality and most effective experience possible.

When people visit our studio for the first time, they are bowled over by this magical space filled with joyous people. There are no walls dividing desks or departments; toys, books and quirky knickknacks cover every surface, lights twinkle, music plays. At any given time, people can be working intently, headphones on and eyes straight ahead, while their neighbors are engaged in a lively discussion about the line weight in an illustration, and a group of middle school students are touring the space learning about careers in media. People here love what they do, and they genuinely care about each other.

If you had to start over, what would you have done differently?
You need a pretty decent sense of self to put your ideas out to be critiqued, and the ability to accept criticism gracefully—I definitely needed more help with both of those things early on, and still do sometimes The delicate balance between realities of time and budget for a project and my creative vision is something I wish I had been better at figuring out earlier on, but I’m always learning, and that’s why I love what I do.

As a female creator and writer in a high-tech field, I wish I had sought more opportunities for mentorship and advice navigating my career. I’m a Wellesley alumnae, which can be a double-edged sword: I know the value of connecting with and learning from other women, but I also feel like I should be able to do everything on my own. It’s my responsibility to help other women in my field, and to make sure that we have new female creatives telling stories and offering their unique voices through games and animation. I want and need to make more time for that.

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FableVision Studios

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