Melissa Schoeller is a woman of many talents. As an Associate Producer at FableVision Studios, Melissa helps to manage the studio’s technical and creative teams in the development of small and large scale educational media. Although her journey to FableVision was slightly roundabout, she always had an inkling that this was the career she was meant to pursue.
“In graduate school, the curriculum was project-based and teams were small, so I had to learn to do a little bit of everything,” shares Melissa. “However, every time I made a 3D model, designed an animated character, or created other content, I also kept jumping in to monitor the schedule, budget, and scope. At one point, I promised myself I would be on a project just as an artist, but by the end of the first meeting, I single-handedly created our entire communication infrastructure without meaning to. I can’t turn it off!”
Along with being a talented producer, Melissa also makes sure to maintain her creativity and passion in her life outside the studio as well. Outside of her work at FableVision, Melissa freelances as an artist and module writer for an upcoming tabletop role-playing game, she designs games, and she bakes delicious treats that she shares with family and friends.
A project manager, game designer, linguist (she learned four languages!), book collector, musician, and baker—Melissa embodies the importance of cultivating your interests both inside and outside of work. Join us as we learn more about how she came to FableVision, what a day in the life of an Associate Producer looks like, and what her favorite holiday recipes are!
What is your “journey to FableVision” story?
FableVision and I had a bit of an accidental encounter. After receiving my masters in Entertainment Technology from Carnegie Mellon, I spent the summer interning in California and figuring out what I wanted to do next. Because I was exhausted from all of the moving around, I told myself that I needed a couple of weeks off in my home state of Massachusetts before I could start seriously looking into what city was going to be my new home. I was telling this to my friend at MIT when she asked me if I’d heard of FableVision. I replied yes—they’re pretty well known in the educational games community—and then she asked if I’d like to work there.
It turns out that she and Peter Stidwill, FableVision’s Executive Producer, had met a few weeks prior, and he mentioned that he was hiring new FableVisionaries for the production team. “I know you said you were going to take a break,” my friend said. “So if you think I should ask someone else…” I cut her off. How could I ever pass up the chance to combine my two great loves: entertainment and developmental/educational work? Interviewing and meeting the FableVision team only solidified my decision.
My last day at my California internship was on a Friday, and my first day at FableVision was the following Tuesday!
You have a background studying psychology. What brought you into working in entertainment media?
When I was getting my undergraduate degree, I actually wanted to be a creative writing major, but Bryn Mawr College only had a minor and a concentration. I felt that the minor was more rigorous, so I picked psychology as my major in order to gain a better understanding of how people think and process the world around them. Even though I wanted to be a writer, I’m someone who puts all of their energy into whatever path they’ve chosen. So, once I became a psychology major, I became a true blue researcher, thesis and all.
Once I graduated, I applied 50/50 to writing and psychology jobs. Ultimately, I found myself at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Child Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Program as a research coordinator. It was an awesome place to be, and they were doing important work in autism and anxiety treatment. However, more often than not, the best part of my day was when I would entertain children in the waiting room by teaching them how to draw, or by helping them come up with fantastical stories. Psychology requires one hundred percent dedication, and my heart was really in storytelling.
What are your favorite parts of working as a member of the production team?
I love being at the intersection of different specialties. I get to see an idea transform as it travels from person to person, from artist to animator to developer, into a game or animation. The best moments are when the entire team is hunkered down together, brainstorming across the studio, making creative chaos. It’s invigorating to see it all come together and to be a part of it.
What does a day in your shoes look like at the studio?
I’m sure everyone says this, but every day is so different! It’s consistently true that when I come into the studio, I review the list of tasks on the docket for the day and make sure everyone on my projects knows what they need to get done. From there, I could be recording scratch voiceover, reviewing design specs, updating budgets, brainstorming with a client, or checking a game for bugs. All of the producers are on multiple projects—I’m on four at the moment—and they’re all in different stages of development, so meeting each project’s needs requires vastly different work.
You also design games! What are some of your side projects and how are they similar to or different from the work you do at the studio?
I know, I can’t stop working! Every once in a while I get an idea for something fun, new, or just ridiculous! My brain just gets stuck on them, like you would a song, and I can’t stop thinking about the idea until I’ve brainstormed the entire thing out.
I think my favorite side project is a continuation of research I worked on at Carnegie Mellon called the Presence Project. My team made this exploratory game for virtual reality (VR) that was trying to prove that you can tell a story in VR without assigning the player a character role—“3rd-person VR.” Not only did it work, but a couple of universities were interested in continuing the research. So, in my off hours (usually early in the morning because of the time difference), I’m on the phone with labs in Norway, turning a tiny four-person lab into an international design consortium. It’s nuts!
We heard that you come from a musical family. How was that experience growing up and what instruments do you all play?
My mother plays piano and my father plays the guitar (as did his parents). When I was a kid, my brother and I took after our dad and learned guitar as well. I have a lot of really wonderful memories of getting ready for bed while Dad played music in the living room, and my brother and I would sit on the floor and sing along. And as we all got better, my brother and I soon played guitar alongside him. My real love, though, is singing.
My parents are big supporters of pursuing your passion, so long as you put in the effort. In middle school, I wanted to get into my school’s audition-only choir. I knew the only way to do it was to practice, so my parents signed me up for lessons and I pushed myself every day. Once I got into that choir, I needed to practice to get a solo, and so on, all the way up to college a cappella. I only sing for fun now—with my friends, mostly—but the lessons that I learned about pushing myself apply to everything I do.
We also heard that you love testing out new recipes. Care to share one of your favorites with us?
I’m famous for my pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, but my favorite thing I have ever made is a pumpkin Yule log with cinnamon vanilla frosting. Swiss rolls are challenging, because you have to get the right consistency and make sure to roll it perfectly before the cake cools. My biggest problem, however, is that I’m terrible at presentation. I tend to get really messy with piping frosting. So, even though the cake was super tasty, the yule log looked incredibly unappetizing.
I tried my hand at a new one this past Christmas. It looked better, but it didn’t taste quite as good.
More About Melissa:
Favorite animated movie: Up! I cry every time.
Hardest language for you to learn: Spanish. I’m still awful at it. I can’t roll my “r”s!
Favorite board game: That’s like choosing a child! I can’t! Not to mention I tend to rotate. But, the current game of the hour is Photosynthesis. It’s a turn-based strategy game where you try to grow more of your own trees than other players’ trees. Environmentally conscious AND competitive!
Favorite book genre: I love realistic fantasy—books that weave magic into the everyday.
Best thing about winter: I should probably say skiing (my whole family skis), but I think the best thing is when you’re drinking hot chocolate on a walk through Boston Commons with the trees all lit up and big, and fluffy snowflakes start falling.
One thing you couldn’t go a day without: My bullet journal! It’s my schedule, my sketchbook, my to-do list—I’d fall apart if I didn’t have it.