SDH225: Creating Your Own Path and Pursuing Your Passion with Maureen Fan


How do you know if your dream job is a practical career? How do you stand a chance in an industry with mammoth-sized competitors? What if you started your own industry? Where do you begin?

We hear Maureen Fan’s answers to those pressing questions on today’s episode! Maureen Fan is the COO and co-founder of Baobab Studios, a virtual reality animation company that makes animated shorts and films! She founded the company with Eric Darnell, the writer, and director of all four Madagascar films, and the movie Antz. Baobab’s third co-founder is Larry Cutler, who was the technical director for Toy Story 2 and Monster’s Inc. and was also the global head of character technologies for DreamWorks Studios. They all handle differently, but equal, parts of the company with Maureen managing the business aspect, Eric steering Baobab’s creative direction, and Larry representing technical. Together they have turned Baobab into the top VR animation studio, and won the 2017 Daytime Emmy for “Outstanding Interactive” for their first animation, INVASION; which will soon become a feature film!

For Maureen, animation has been a love of hers for as long as she can remember. She even designed her own undergrad major for animation studies at Stanford called Art, Computer Science, and Psychology. Despite her passion for animation, she said her immigrant parents didn’t see it as a practical career path. So after college, she became a UI designer for eBay, and while she said she loved it, she still couldn’t shake her desire to become an animator. 
To continue to pursue her dream career, she began taking classes on nights and weekends at De Anza College, where a lot of George Lucas’ animators taught. She also started to save money so she could eventually apply for a masters program at a fine arts school. After five years, she was ready to finally apply but found that all the deadlines for the programs she wanted had passed. However, round three of business school was available at Harvard, and due to the pressures from her mother, she applied and got in. Before she completely gave up on animation, though, her boss at eBay told her to try out Hollywood and see what it would be like to work as an animator. So she quit her job and took on as many internships and jobs as she could out in L.A. 

She ended up landing positions as Zach Braff’s assistant and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s talent manager. From those positions, and during her time in Hollywood, she learned that everything is a business no matter what you do, and decided to start at Harvard. In between her time at school, she took an internship at Pixar and ended up working on Toy Story 3. She said she learned that animation was a mature industry full of mature businesses, so a lot of emphasis was on decreasing costs in order to increase margins. But Maureen wanted to create something new because she knew it would be hard to compete against Pixar or Disney without a lot of money or unfair distribution advantages. 

That’s when she decided to join forces with Zenga, because it was still entertainment, but it was also a pioneer in an entirely  new industry focused on connecting the world through games. After six years with Zenga, she became VP of Games, and overlooked the Farmville franchise. Not able to keep her hands away from animation, though, she worked with art directors from Pixar on an a film called the Dam Keepers; which was nominated for an Oscar. She continued to find new ways to innovate the industry,  which eventually led to her venture into virtual reality.

She said the first time she put on a VR headset she hated it because of it’s low resolution and bad pixilation. It was when Zenga hacked into the headset with their games, that she was convinced that VR was the future of animation, because it allowed her to be transported into a fantasy world.  She said it also made sense business-wise because it was a new industry, and no one had an advantage. Naturally an introvert, she didn’t want to be a COO, but there weren’t any companies in VR to join. But she knew she had to be a part of the VR industry, and began to pave her own way through it!

Hear more of Baobab’s story, how she found the courage to pursue her dreams, and created her own system!

In this episode you will…

  • Know how to have confidence in pursuing your dream career

  • Learn how to find the perfect co-founders

  • Be able to work your network to help you start your business

  • See how to educate men on the female experience in the work place

  • Get over what society deems as attractive in women at work

  • Figure out a way to come up with the perfect name for your company


“[Virtual reality] spoke to me creatively because the reason I love animation is it takes you to completely different worlds, and world’s that are only limited by the directors' imagination…and it makes you believe that the world is so real, you can reach out and touch it. And that’s also the definition of virtual reality.” – Maureen Fan

“Animation makes me feel like I’m 5 years old again when I believed I could do anything. And for VR, if it takes you totally to that world, it brings out that 5 year-old in me even more, and makes me feel like I’m invincible. Creatively it was like magic, and I knew I needed to do it.” -Maureen Fan

“It’s so great having co-founders, because starting a company is incredibly emotional and stressful. You have these moments [of] intense happiness, and incredible misery, and having the co-founders there, not only to share the load of work with you, but also there for you emotionally.” -Maureen Fan


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