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Entrepreneur turns sideline into main act

Animation studio uses Hollywood-trained artists to help small businesses, nonprofits tell their stories.

September 7, 2018
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Michael Lynn
Michael Lynn works with 15 animators, 15 voiceover artists and three script consultants at his animation studio. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Michael Lynn has seen enough action in the film industry to give him experience in storytelling from every angle.

He graduated from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids in 2009, where he earned a degree in theater and film that included dual enrollment at Compass College of Cinematic Arts and a semester at Los Angeles Film Studies Center. He also completed the Act One summer program for business executives in the film industry at Pepperdine University in L.A.

After college, Lynn stayed in Hollywood and launched a business called Character Driven Story that produced green screen commercial content.

He also served as chief financial officer for Shene Gate Pictures and executive producer for Wintershaw Enterprises.

Lynn made a brief stop at the BetaBlox business accelerator in Kansas City, Missouri, where his bartering membership program, Roseswap, was one of 10 startups chosen out of 300 applicants to be included in the incubator.

Lynn came back to Grand Rapids in 2014 optimistic about expanding the business, but he said it failed “horribly.”

“It was a great learning process,” he said. “That business did not work out, but it taught me a lot of valuable skills, especially how to connect with both entrepreneurs and business owners.”

Before he could plot his next career move, Lynn met Noelle Sanyu Gornik on Dec. 20, 2014 — and “suddenly had a reason” to stay in Grand Rapids.

On May 20, 2017, the pair were married. The same month, Lynn transitioned from temporary business consulting, game design and working with autistic children to founding a new business — Michael Lynn Animation Studio.

“I had gotten a couple clients, one of them being Madison Square Church, and they had paid me to make animated videos,” Lynn said. “(It) turned what was a hobby of making film and videos into more of a business.”

Lynn said the studio — which makes 2D and 3D short animated videos for small businesses and nonprofits — gives clients “Hollywood-level quality” at a Midwest price point.

The studio charges between $300 and $2,500 per minute for video production, depending on the complexity of the animation and the time investment.

Local clients have included SalesPad, KBoose, The Blues Gym and Lacks Home Products/Lacks Enterprises, and the company also has worked with out-of-state clients.

Although Lynn is able to do “light animating” himself, his role is primarily as a producer and manager of operations.

He works with 15 animators, 15 voiceover artists and three script consultants, and also currently has three interns.

Michael Lynn Animation Studio is mobile but often holds meetings at Restorers Inc., 1413 Madison Ave. SE, a mentoring and networking space for entrepreneurs.

Lynn said the studio’s starting point for developing an animated video is to decide on the message and script.

Next, he presents the voice artists’ samples, and the clients choose the one they think best fits their message.

Animation production can go one of two ways: animation first or voiceover first. Lynn does voiceover first.

“Neither one is wrong,” he said. “I find it helpful to be able to line up the animation to the voiceover. In a feature film, you would not put the voiceover first. But with the voiceover on a smaller project, it’s easier to sync the animation to the voiceover. It really helps with pacing.”

After recording the voiceover, the studio works with the client to determine the style of animation — anything from basic whiteboard animation with 2D figures up to 3D “photorealistic renderings.”

Once a style is nailed down, the studio determines how long the project will take and then the parties sign a contract that includes the timeframe.

Next, the studio develops a storyboard to plot out every sentence and “every beat” of timing.

With the storyboard in hand, the animator takes it from there, and Lynn and his team tie up all the loose ends in postproduction.

Projects typically take anywhere from a week to a couple of months.

Some of the studio’s more challenging work has included the video it did for Titan Adhesive.

“Titan Adhesive was a client that we did a 3D render for. We created a product for them that did not exist before their expo,” Lynn said. “They were gathering preorders for their new object, and they hadn’t made it yet. … This video was an example that not only showed that product but showed how it would work in the scheme of building a trailer,” Lynn said. Titan’s products are used in the creation of enclosed trailers.

Lynn said in today’s “media-saturated environment,” he believes animated videos help organizations stand out and show their creativity.

“Animation is also more cost effective for smaller projects,” he said. “For a minute of (video), a live-action film crew has to have someone operating the cameras, actors, they have to have lighting, they have to have all this gear. Whereas I have to have a person with their computer.”

Michael Lynn Animation Studio currently is running a campaign in which nonprofits can receive a free minute of basic whiteboard animation.

“That’s been a really cool way to give back to our community and to give back to people who are already giving back,” Lynn said.

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