Growing entertainment industry sparks visionary new idea in Shreveport
Shreveport native Bill Joyce has a long history of developing visually stunning stories. As an author and illustrator, he has worked with Disney/Pixar to develop characters for computer-animated classics like Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, and he has penned several children’s stories. He has long worked with studios across the country, but he always planned to bring an innovative venture to his hometown.
“I realized that I was still traveling across the country while the industry was increasingly doing work here (in Louisiana),” Joyce said.
In 2005, Joyce had been working on several film and television projects at his Shreveport office with designer and special effects artist Brandon Oldenburg of Reel FX in Dallas. Around that time, Lampton Enochs had moved his production services firm, Louisiana Production Consultants, to the InterTech Science Park in Shreveport. As Shreveport’s entertainment industry continued its upward trajectory, Joyce, Enochs and Oldenburg naturally partnered on various projects.
The momentum in the entertainment industry was encouraged by state incentives, such as the Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit. For Joyce, this momentum was favorable. Sharing his vision, Oldenburg and Enochs realized this would be an ideal moment to develop Joyce’s innovative venture — the ultimate studio for the production of quality animation, art and literature. The concept for Moonbot Studios was born.
The pieces were falling into place for the creation of a studio in Louisiana, but the partners needed a talented workforce and the support of state and local partners to ensure their vision could be realized.
Moonbot Studios becomes first major animation studio in Louisiana
When the Moonbot team first approached the state regarding their proposed studio, LED staff acknowledged the unique opportunity to support a cutting edge idea developed in Louisiana. The partners utilized LED’s Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit, which offered the studio a 30 percent tax credit on qualified expenditures, in addition to a 5 percent tax credit on payroll expenditures for Louisiana residents.
In 2009, with the financial support and high-quality talent they needed, Enochs, Joyce and Oldenburg established Moonbot Studios in the InterTech Science Park, becoming the first major animation studio in Louisiana.
The innovative leaders not only got the studio up and running, but also led Moonbot Studios in the development of a short animated film. The film is based on a story Joyce had written several years prior, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Inspired by the events of Hurricane Katrina, the style of Buster Keaton and the whimsy of The Wizard of Oz, the 14-minute film brings to life a story about the power of books.
Poised for growth, Moonbot leaps on new technology
Capitalizing on the success of its popular short film, Moonbot Studios developed a multi-platform interactive system to further share the stories of Morris Lessmore. The partners once again reached out to LED to see their visions through to fruition.
LED FastStart® — rated the No. 1 workforce program in the nation — provided the ideal training staff for the studio, identifying instructors with an expertise in app development. Through the coordination of FastStart, Moonbot Studios collaborated with another Shreveport-based company, Twin Engine Labs, to create a companion iPad app for the Morris Lessmore film.
“We’re a startup company,” said Enochs. “We didn’t necessarily have the wherewithal to go down that path and create the iPad book. But with the help from FastStart, we were able to create the (Morris Lessmore) iPad book.”
As this new venture began to take shape, Moonbot fully embraced the potential of this new platform. In 2011, the company launched an interactive division that concentrates entirely on interactive media such as apps, e-books and games.
“FastStart enabled us to move quickly (and) bring in the right talent,” Oldenburg said. “They have been hands-on where it was needed and hands-off where it’s needed.”
Developed by 100 percent Louisiana talent, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore app received praise from coast to coast after its release in May 2011.
The story continues…
The work of these innovators did not go unnoticed. Immediately after its release, downloads of the app surged. In July 2011 it hit the No. 1 spot on the iTunes paid-app chart. It also reached No. 1 on the top-grossing chart and became the No. 3 top-grossing app of all kinds. The New York Times listed the app as one of The Top 10 Apps of 2011, highlighting it as one of the best examples of the next generation of interactive children’s books. Apps Magazine named “Morris” their App of the Year, iPad Insights named “Morris” the Best App of 2011 and Wired.com called it a “game-changer.”
In February 2012, the film that inspired Moonbot’s interactive division received its recognition as well. After earning praise from members of the film industry, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won the Oscar® for Best Animated Short Film. Moonbot Studios had landed.
In the studio’s first three years of existence, it collected some of the most prominent awards in the industry. But the partners and their staff did not let the success of the Morris Lessmore franchise distract them from producing more groundbreaking materials. With a staff of more than 45 skilled storytellers, animators and designers, the studio continues to develop a growing line of films, apps, stories and augmented reality platforms.
Since the initial triumph of Morris Lessmore, Moonbot Studios released new apps and e-books, including The Numberlys. The studio also developed interactive apps for corporate uses, including an app for the Ford Fusion and the National Wildlife Federation.
“When you have everybody supporting you, you feel invincible, and you need to have that attitude when you’re doing something as entrepreneurial as starting an animation studio,” he said. “You obviously have to have a great idea to start with to create a story. But, it can just sit on a shelf. With LED, it was able to get off the page, on to a book…and multiple screens.”