October FableFriday: Bob Flynn, Director of Art & Animation


Bob Flynn is obsessed with creating. That obsession landed him at FableVision Studios, where he’s been our Director of Art & Animation for the past decade. Bob guides character and background design, storyboarding, and the look and feel for all our projects.

“I’m genuinely obsessed with this stuff—writing and creating. I start feeling weird if I idle for too long,” Bob says.  

Bob’s passion for writing and creating is translated in his signature style, which is present both in and out of FableVision. In his spare time, Bob flexes his talents on notable freelance projects such as SpongeBob Comics, Bravest Warriors, and Heeby Jeeby Comix, to name a few.

This month, Bob shares how he came to land at FableVision—it all started with a serendipitous run in with a lunch box—his character-creation process, inner science nerd, and how innovation and story make him tick.

What is your journey to FableVision story?
I was still living in St. Louis (2004), working at my first design job at a small studio called Schwartz & Associates Creative, when I noticed a red lunch box high on a shelf. I picked it up, read the name ‘FableVision’ in an orange star burst, opened it, and there were all these trading cards of various team members. My wife Loren [Lee-Flynn, FableVision UX/UI Designer) and I had already been talking about future plans beyond St. Louis. I’m originally from Maine, she’s from New York, so Boston seemed like the ideal middle-ground city to venture off to.

Within weeks of settling in to our new apartment, I called FableVision, after sending an email, to make sure they received it. I went about my morning. And then an hour later they called me back and asked if I could drop by the studio that afternoon—good sign! I showed up with my work at the then Watertown office at 44 Pleasant Street. As I opened the office door outside, I remember distinctly saying to myself—audibly—“Don’t blow this…”

I was later fortunate that the studio was looking to hire a new staff artist. So began my decade-plus career at FableVision.

What has been your favorite project here at FableVision and why?
So many! I’ll go with the brain-in-my-gut and say Lure of the Labyrinth, which we developed with Maryland Public Television and the MIT Education Arcade. That was back in my early days with the studio, and we had an incredible collaborative rhythm going on that game—development and art working seamlessly together. I got to draw a lot of monsters and comics. Labyrinth was also the reason we brought on Keith Zulawnik, FableVision’s Lead Artist (and my partner in monster-making). It was a pretty key project in establishing the Studio’s growth into gaming.

A very close collective second would have to be all the projects (including Evolution-Health Connection) we’ve worked on with Marjorie Prager at Jeff Kennedy Associates for various museums (Denver Museum of Nature & Science, New York Hall of Science), because they all perfectly combine my love of science with animation. And we got to make them all cartoony, weird, and funny.

A close third would be the animations I designed and directed for The Powder & the Glory documentary that aired on American Experience on PBS. Standout projects always come back to the team. Working with filmmakers Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie Reisman was a delight. I was still a kid, and I learned a lot about what would become my animation process on that project.

You take a particular interest in the projects related to science. Why are you drawn to these in particular?
Science has long been a deep interest, just short of what I’d call a true passion…or I’d be a scientist right now. I initially planned to double major in physics and art (at Washington University), but the math started getting pretty abstract and I quickly found myself much more at home in the art classes. People often get intimidated by equations, terminology, and complicated theories. You only need to know all that stuff if you’re in a particular field. Any idea can be explained and understood, and what better a medium to do that in than an animated cartoon?

We’re doing that right now collaborating with the Smithsonian Science Education Center on our Good Thinking! The Science of Teaching Science animated series for science educators. It’s just the right blend of humor, storytelling, and zeroes in on really specific content—addressing the kinds of misconceptions folks have.

What draws you to FableVision’s mission?
I really connect on story and people. Inspiring folks to learn, laugh, smile, create. Kids especially. Kids rule.

What is the process of creating a character at FableVision like?
It differs from project to project, but usually it starts with me drawing a mess of them on sheets of paper until I find the right character for the role. We like to send our clients a bunch of options, so it doesn’t hurt that I like coming up with tons of characters.

How do you balance your work at FableVision with the other projects you take on (such as the SpongeBob comics, other freelance projects, and of course, your website work)?
The company has always afforded us a stable studio culture that is passion-friendly and family-friendly. Because of how teams are structured and projects are scheduled, I’m able to accomplish what I need to do for FableVision during the day. I put in the bulk of the time required to complete the extra work I take on during nights and weekends. I do sleep! Sleep is the one thing I never let slide because that’s how you get into a mess. I really think this is my natural state. I mixed comics into my homework when I was a kid and in college, too.

What is your preferred software to use when working?
Manga Studio for inking/drawing. It’s great! I do all of my coloring in Photoshop. I’m long done with Flash. Toon Boom creates much better software for animation and storyboarding, so that’s what I prefer to use when I can.

You began as an illustrator and have evolved into an animator. What has been your greatest challenge with this? Any old illustration habits that are hard to break as an animator?
My background in illustration makes me a better animator, I think. Or, I come at animation with a focus on composition, color, form—considering the staging and the framing of every shot. The look of it. I have no formal training in animation besides decades of watching cartoons and learning from peers and books. But I’d say that counts toward something. Besides…Didi Hatcher (Lead Animator), Hannah O’Neal (Artist and Animator), and Sonnye Lim (Artist and Animator) deserve the real animation credit at FableVision.

Bob Flynn and Dan Moynihan show off Heeby Jeeby Comix at MICE.

You began Heeby Jeeby Comix after Nick Mag ended in 2009. What advice do you have for people wanting to begin an independent venture such as that, especially when working with collaborators as you did?
Heeby Jeeby was a very natural thing for me to take on, and infinitely more interesting because there were four of us pushing each other (myself, Chris Houghton, David DeGrand, and Dan Moynihan). It was all self-funded, self-published. We just wanted to keep making funny weird comics for kids to bring to comics festivals to sell. Like any venture, it had a passionate start which helped carry us through four books. We’ve all moved on to other things, but I think of Heeby Jeeby as an important launching off point. And we’re closer friends, connected through these books, because of it.

What inspires you?
Everything. Things when I least expect them. One time a kid on a bus tossed her pacifier on the floor and that inspired me. Liquid dish soap has inspired me. I’m partial to natural forms, rocks and flowers. I steal from nature all the time.

What’s your creative workspace at home like?
I snapped this pic the other day when I got home from work (getting ready to begin a night of work).

Which one of your creations would you want to take to lunch (you’re paying)?
He’s a co-creation, but it would have to be Impossibear. 100%.


Favorites!
Cartoon: Adventure Time (current)
Comic book: Impossible to pick a favorite, but I will say that I’ve been reading Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comics lately.
Kids story book: Charlotte’s Web
Medium to doodle in: Marker or pencil
Snack: Hard to deny the Cheez-It. French feta on pita or crackers is very good, too.
Spot to vacation: Hawaii (though, more practically based on proximity: Acadia)
Experience or memory at a comic con or animation convention: Ah, too many favorites here. Probably when a couple kids up in Toronto proudly paid together for a Heeby Jeeby with all the change they had in their pockets.
Toy of a character you’ve made: The first Catbug plush is pretty special (photo at right)
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyKanye West (though I’ve probably listened to 808s & Heartbreak more)
Album to listen to while working: Changes every week. I will say I work to a lot of hip-hop, probably because it’s often so high-energy, bold, and built on bravado. Once I was powering through to finish a mini-comic in time for a festival—after working a week straight on it…day and night. My tank was on empty, I was bleary-eyed… panicking. On the final night, Watch the Throne carried me home.

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