“I like to get my hands dirty. Sometimes I know just enough to be dangerous,” Gary Goldberger, FableVision’s president said as he laughed. “Don’t put that in. Okay, fine, you can leave it in.”
As a sculpture and physics student at Clark University, Gary wanted to be an animatronics artist and make robots for movies. He’s a self-proclaimed Star Wars geek and even wrote George Lucas a note when he was younger trying to get an internship. Years later he did the same cold-call reach out to Paul Reynolds at CF Video (Paul is now FableVision’s CEO) – but unlike Lucas, Paul took his call.
A college-aged Gary showed up for his interview at CF Video in what is always described in FableVision lore as “the world’s most wrinkled green suit.”
“As a college student, I wasn’t wearing a lot of suits—that was my only one. And I had purple hair…I’m pretty sure everyone thought I was a ‘little bit off’—luckily, Paul saw past the suit and the hair.” Gary’s video chronicling the adventures of a group of oranges captured Paul’s imagination, and Gary started a six-month internship at CF Video that turned into a year and a half.
Paul introduced Gary to his twin brother, Peter H. Reynolds, who at the time was working at Tom Snyder Productions. “My collaboration with the Reynolds brothers really solidified when I met Pete – he would dream something up and I would make it happen. And we’ve been doing that for the past 18 years.”
One of Gary’s all-time favorite collaborations with Pete was on the award-winning animated film The Blue Shoe, a sweet and emotionally-stirring love story between an unlikely pair: a Blue Shoe and a Green Boot. “We worked nights and weekends for months in between our regular client work to make this film because we loved the story – it was a true labor of love. I am just as proud of it today as I was almost 20 years ago.”
Gary was a founding member of FableVision when it was created in 1996. For over 18 years, FableVision has been a media development studio on a 200-year mission to move the world to a better place through story, media, and technology.
“We haven’t outgrown that mission but we have grown in our capabilities and reach, and have found other people to join that mission,” he said. “Everyone here wants to be here and believes in the mission. That’s part of what makes us so special.”
From animation to websites to online games and apps, Gary has a unique perspective into all things FableVision. He serves as executive creative director on many of our projects, oversees the day-to-day running of the Studio, and isn’t afraid to get down-and-dirty on projects. As June’s FableFriday, Gary gives a look at his passions – at the Studio and in the great outdoors.
What is the secret to FableVision’s success, and what do you see for the future?
I truly believe it’s the people that come to FableVision – the talents that they bring, the passions that they have, and the joy they bring to everything they’re working on…that’s why we’ve been successful.
In the beginning we were a bunch of artists running around with a lot of great ideas and intentions but without a ton of organization. We started to see real success once Karen Bresnahan [FableVision’s executive producer] came on and helped us implement production processes. Our project management skills and processes to this day are really tight and well-oiled, and we always strive to find that perfect balance of artistry and efficiency. We are very proud of that.
Our next chapter is to continue to do the important projects that we’re doing, but to have more reach. We’ve put a strong focus in the past year on building our Original Properties division in television, long-form animation, gaming, and other media. We recently “put out our shingle” to let the world know we are growing with this new direction. We’re building out more capabilities so we can handle larger projects and have even more services for new and existing clients.
You’ve held just about every position at FableVision: artist, animator, developer, creative, even number-cruncher! What kind of insight does that give you into the products we create and the leadership you provide?
We’re a small company and everyone here has to wear multiple hats in one form or another. The upside of my having worked in so many roles over the years is that when people are having challenges, they can come and tap me on the shoulder. Most likely, I’ve faced a similar problem myself and found a solution, even if it might seem a little out of left field. I love sitting with folks and tackling a challenge together, it’s always great to see what different perspectives can bring to the table.
The one downside to having tried my hand at so many different things is that it could be easy to fall into a micro-managing role. But you have to step back and let people do their own thing. I work with amazing people that I trust absolutely. They get things done and they get them done well.
How do you stay on top of new technology?
I am fascinated by new technology, and I love playing with whatever the newest thing is as soon as it comes out – sometimes even before if I can be a Beta tester. My learning time is from the time my family goes to sleep to right until I go to bed. So instead of watching TV, I’ll just be up playing – learning a new programming language, making an app, Beta testing a new database. It sounds geeky saying it out loud, but it’s really fun for me.
If you want to learn something you find the time. I sneak reading tech books, watching video tutorials, or listening to podcasts into little pockets of free time. There are so many different resources out there that there’s nothing you can’t teach yourself.
Let’s talk about talent. Any advice for people looking to work in this industry?
Don’t wait. Just begin. Start with a small project you can finish. If people have something to show what their passion is, something that shows they took initiative and had the drive to follow it through – not even perfectly – that speaks volumes to me.
What makes a good game? What makes a good learning game?
I know a game is good when I can’t stop thinking about it and I have to go back and keep playing it. It doesn’t have to have a multi-million dollar budget or insanely realistic graphics. If I become emotionally invested in a game, that’s a good game. It doesn’t have to be story-based, but if it hits that emotional need, it’s a winner.
I was playing Destiny for a long time with my son, Gordon, and my brother-in-law. So that was an emotional connection outside of the actual game that made us want to play it. When I was at PAX East earlier this year I played Divide by Sheep with my daughter, Tatum, for hours. It is one of the most delightful learning games that I have ever seen. It has a great balance between humor and story and a completely seamless way of integrating learning and action. Honestly, I wish we made that game.
Zoombinis is another game that has everything going for it. Zoombinis has story and then the puzzles are addictive and suck you in. As you go through the game, you realize you are learning the underlying logic concepts. I can’t wait for us to finish developing that game so we can show it off to the world.
You’re a big hobbyist. What’s on your plate for this summer?
Beekeeping is my new obsession. I count the days until I get to open the hives and see what they've been building. I’ve wanted to keep bees ever since we got our house. My mom got me a beekeeping suit six years ago and I figured, what better reason to wear it? My kids help me too. It’s been great because they’re so fascinated, they’re as excited about it as I am. It’s a whole ecosystem that’s fun to explore together.
I’ve also been into woodworking for a long time. I took some classes at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I just made a pine dining room table. My friend had these huge pieces of wood that were so raw you could see the chain saw marks. We each made a table from them. Nick Offerman has this article in Fine Woodworking Magazine—doesn’t everybody read that?—where he made a jig with a router, so we created Nick Offerman’s jig to mill our boards down. We made everything from scratch. It was a fun project. Also, I should mention that I love Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman’s character on Parks and Recreation) SO much.
Games to play with your kids: Settlers of Catan, Agricola, 7 Wonders
Motorcycle: My favorite bike that I’ve had was the Seca 650 – we went cross-country together. I’ve always wanted a Triumph or a Ducati (I have an affinity to the Monster).
Way to take your coffee: Black
Book: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Musician: Bob Dylan
Snack: Beef jerky
Vacation spots: The birth-place of the donut: Camden, Maine. We went there last year, and it was great to spend time unplugged and relaxing with my family. The Poconos are awesome. Newport, RI is an old favorite. Fly-fishing in Montana is really beautiful and peaceful.