We’re More Animated Than You Know 

While we’re all about thoughtful planning and careful execution here at Sparkland Studios, today we’re going to talk about our whimsical side.

We can’t over-emphasize the importance we put on magical moments that fill us with childlike wonder and delight. After all, our founder, Lauren Sparkman, named the company “Sparkland” for a reason.

This playful side extends to all of our projects, but we exercise it more when we work with Lauren’s favorite art form: animation. The good news is that, over the past year, she’s been involved with a couple of enchanting animation projects, so our team has been able to engage in this world, too.

With the holiday season upon us and classics like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas playing on repeat everywhere, we think now is the perfect time for Lauren to tell you more about what she’s up to. 

Learn about Lauren’s passion for animation and how it’s shaping Sparkland’s portfolio now and into the future by reading our Q & A with her below.

Q: How did you first become interested in animation?

A: Like most kids, I was exposed to animation, particularly Disney animation, from a young age. I grew up in the 1990s, during the big renaissance of Disney animation. Then that experience was enriched even more by my parents’ work. About the same time I was seeing The Lion King for the first time, my family was working closely with Disney on the Walt Disney World Speedway. Being able to be behind-the-scenes at Disney really helped set the stage for my understanding that there were people who worked to create my favorite films and experiences and—even when I was very young—I wanted to meet the people who made the magic. 

So, over the years, I’ve studied animation and immersive entertainment voraciously. 

I have cherished memories of visiting Disney parks with my family and watching animation when I was a kid. But even back then, I considered it “study” for what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I got older, many of my school projects—even research projects in college—focused on learning more about the company, its origins, and its diversification over the decades. As my career advanced, I made it a point to continually involve myself with animation projects and animators. I still love to soak up animation podcasts and conferences, and relish opportunities to connect with working artists. 

Q: How does your study of traditional animation inspire your work?

A: I love that, on the surface, most traditional animated projects are playful and geared towards children–yet it is one of the most tedious and collaborative art forms that exists. It is lighthearted yet requires such mastery and precision. (I love professional wrestling for similar reasons, but that’s for another later post.)  I have deep admiration for artists and animators at every stage of the process. Whether I’m working with entrepreneurs, filmmakers, animators, or I’m producing my own projects, I believe in giving creative work the time, space, and respect it deserves, and animation requires all of those things in spades.   

Q: What’s happening with Sparkland’s animation projects?

A: There are two really beautiful—but very different—projects in the works. I am excited about both of them! 

As we’ve shared, I’m an investor in The Bucket List Studios. I’m excited to report that the Gees are now in the process of building the creative team for both The Bucket List Studios and a new Bucket List Family animated series. I’m, of course, supporting those efforts in any way I can. I think we’ll hear some exciting updates from the studio in the coming months. 

Meanwhile, I’m also on the front end of co-producing a traditional 2D-animated Christmas special that, we hope, will pay homage to classic holiday animation. We’re in the early-development stages now, beginning to work with concept artists. It’s been a real treat for me to get to know these artists, and also to understand more about their process and all the work that goes into the early development of bringing a story to life visually. We’re really excited to continue building out that world, and I’m particularly excited to work in the 2D space, which is an ambitious but rewarding challenge.

I’m honored to have been invited to work on the project by SJ Murray, a professor at Baylor University who is also an award-winning director, Emmy-nominated writer and producer, and her associate, Courtney Smith. 

I suspect I’ll have some exciting updates about both of these projects in 2024.

Q: You recently attended LightBox Expo in Pasadena, Calif. What were some of the highlights of that gathering of animators, illustrators, and other artists in the entertainment business? 

A: It was an inspiring and helpful experience to spend a few days being immersed in the animation world. I had a chance to meet some legendary animators, who have been heroes of mine for years, as well as incredible emerging artists. It was a wonderful avenue to continue building relationships for current and future projects. Ultimately, it was a productive few days that accelerated our animation endeavors. 

It was also beautiful being surrounded by artists and watching them deep in their craft for a few days. Since the expo kind of took over Old Town in Pasadena, there were people with easels and sketch books and iPads, creating art around every corner of the city. 

Q: What’s in the future for Sparkland in regards to animation? 

A: It’s the medium I’m most passionate about, so I hope to continue to deepen my work in that space. I’d really love for animation to take up more and more of what we do. Working directly with artists, especially artists that create with pencil and paper, is most rewarding to me.

Outside of the creation of animation projects, I would also like to find new ways to celebrate a couple of the legendary artists from my home city of Indianapolis. Bill Justice, who is best known for animating Thumper for the film Bambi and the ornery chipmunks Chip ‘n Dale, is one. Bill Peet, who worked on 101 Dalmatians and many other classics, is the other. Both of them graduated from Arsenal Tech and Herron School of Art and Design in the 1930s. 

In the short term, I’m focused on the projects we have on our slate right now. I’m finding that engaging with animators is just as delightful as I thought it would be. I’ll continue to scan the industry and look for opportunities to bring value to artists and creators with a compelling vision.

Q: Alright, let’s wrap it up with something timely! Since it’s the holiday season, what are some of your favorite Christmas cartoons? 

A: There are a few! The first thing that comes to mind is Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is a stop-motion film from the famed Rankin/Bass Productions. It was one of my mom’s favorites, so she introduced it to me early. To me, it’s quintessential Christmas viewing. 

Another favorite is Pluto’s Christmas Tree, an animated short from 1952. I love the classic Disney animation, sound design and humor. Plus, it features the animation of Indiana native, Bill Justice, who I mentioned earlier. I absolutely love his scenes of Chip ‘n Dale whirling around inside the decorated Christmas tree full of tinsel and colorful lights. It’s just so visually delightful.

I’ve enjoyed introducing both to my son, Leo, this year. He loves them, so we’re watching on repeat, as you do with a two-year-old.

Happy Holidays: we’re “wintering” until 2024

Taking time to watch our favorite holiday cartoons (in some cases, on repeat) and engage in all the things that make this season joyful are important to us at Sparkland. Anticipating a full and transformative 2024, we intentionally closed Sparkland headquarters a little early this month. We’re giving ourselves the gift of time to slow down and enjoy our families, honoring the importance we place on of rhythms of rest. As for all of you, we hope you’re giving your brains a break, too, and spending your days on whatever fills you with whimsy and wonder. Merry Christmas! 

Lauren Sparkman is the founder and head of ventures at Sparkland Studios, which partners with creative visionaries in a variety of ways to support endeavors that are artistic or entrepreneurial or both.

The mid-century holiday art pieces featured in this post are part of our Sparkives, which includes ephemera from Lauren’s family, Hulman & Company, and other early family businesses. Holiday cards and gifts were a beloved tradition of Hulman & Company. Banner art by Edouard Halouze.