Sarina Simon: Influences and Influencers | TOM MOTT—A GROWNUP WHO REALLY GETS KIDS
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TOM MOTT—A GROWNUP WHO REALLY GETS KIDS

15 May 2014, Posted by Sarina Simon in electronic books, Expert Interviews, Game Design, kids' media, Mobile App Development

TOM MOTT

Tom Mott

Meet, Tom Mott, the Chief Creative Officer at Mott Studios, a full service production studio that designs, writes and produces top-shelf kids’ interactive entertainment. He has been creating amazing products since 1990—mostly for kids—working with properties such as Disney Fairies, Scooby Doo, The Cat in the Hat, Ben 10, Jonny Quest, Dora the Explorer, LEGO, Barbie, Sesame Street, and more.  I have known Tom since his early days at Philips Media and have always admired his sense of humor, his artistic touch and his genuine concern for kids.  In this interview, Tom explains how he got into interactive media and shares some of the decisions he made along the way.

  • 1. When and how did you decide to go into interactive media? (Did you always intend to move in this direction?)

In college I studied fine art and had vague plans being a filmmaker or artist.

In 1987, I got a summer job as artist-in-residence at the Brown University Computer Graphics Lab. Its director, Andy Van Damme, would tell us that eventually encyclopedias would have “hyper text” and include videos, 3D animations, and interactive elements the reader could manipulate. Mind blown.

  • 2. Tell us a bit about your career progression. Was it hard to get started? 

After I graduated college, I was racing back and forth between two jobs. During the day, I was teaching at a preschool. At night, I was a tester at Philips Interactive Media. Both places offered me a job and gave me a week to think it over. After agonizing over it … I decided to be a preschool teacher. Unfortunately, the preschool figured I was going to take the other job, so they had already given the job away! I suppose they knew me better than I knew myself. Twenty-five years later, I’m still in interactive media.

  • 3. What are you most proud of in terms of career accomplishment?

One day I was in Target and passed through the LeapFrog section. Looking at the array of interactive books on the wall, it dawned on me that I had worked on nearly all of them. That was neat to see my stuff out in the world.

A smaller moment that I treasure: Several years ago, I wrote a bunch of one-liners for an ALF DVD box set. I was on the set when they were being filmed, and the crew cracked up over a couple of the jokes I had written. Heavenly!

  • 4. What do you like the most about the kind of work you do? 

Working with smart, professional, creative people the best part of my job.

And making kids laugh!

  • 5. We call this blog, Influences and Influencers, who are the people who have influenced you? 

I am inspired by all sorts of things: Jack Kirby, Walt Disney, Yves Klein, Kraftwerk, Werner Herzog, Raymond Chandler—all innovators. I don’t fancy myself as an innovator, but they’re inspiring!

At UCLA, I was hugely influenced by one of my profesors, the artist Paul McCarthy. You won’t see it visually in my work, but he deeply changed how I see the world and think through problems.

  • 6. Have you ever had a mentor? Can you tell us about him or her?  Whose work or input has impacted you the most in your career and how? 

I’ve never really a mentor. I did get a crash course in content design for kids from Jim Marrgraff when I first starting working on LeapFrog products, but that was more through observation and absorption than from working directly under him.

Always look for opportunities that advance you towards your dreams. If you want to be making video games, don’t spend your time designing websites for local businesses. Go get a job at a video game company!

  • 7. What is the most surprising result you experienced in your career?

I realized pretty quickly after college that I wouldn’t be a studio artist because I didn’t like the solitude. Fast forward 25 years, and I spend most of my days in solitude, happily writing. Who knew?

Oh, and when the Internet first started becoming a “thing” in the mid-90s, I said it would never last.

  • 8. What product or service have you seen lately that really excites you?

I really dig what TOCA BOCA is doing on the iPad: intuitive, engaging digital toys that don’t require instructions or tutorials. Fun!

  • 9. What advice would you give an aspiring interactive producer?  If someone wanted to get into this field, how would you advise them to start?

When I got out of college, I didn’t have skills that immediately applied to a job: I wasn’t a graphic designer, artist, writer, or software engineer. I didn’t know how to get my start, so I started out in QA (testing). It is a great place to start: you learn about products inside and out, you get a sense of how they’re put together, but most importantly, you experience them from the user’s point of view, and you’ll carry that with you for the rest of your career.

  • 10. What do you know now about working in this field that you wished you had known sooner?

Always look for opportunities that advance you towards your dreams. If you want to be making video games, don’t spend your time designing websites for local businesses. Go get a job at a video game company!

And know your strengths. If you have great ideas but aren’t a great writer, find someone who is. If you’re hopeless with money, don’t be the money person! You don’t need to be everything.

  • 11. What are you working on now? What would you like to be doing ten years from now?

Right now I’m working on an interactive creativity workbook for LeapFrog that features Disney●Pixar characters and teaches drawing and art skills. I’m working with a great team, and it’s turning out to be a really neat, fun product.

In ten years: continuing to work in small teams, making fun products!

Tom’s energy and enthusiasm  practically oozes off the page.  Just listening to him, you know that he can connect with kids and that he has found the right niche for himself.  How about you?  Are you choosing the right career? Do you love your work?  Is it time to take a chance or make a change?

 

 

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  • Susan

    It is always refreshing to read the paths successful–and happy–people have taken. I loved reading about the diversity of those that influenced Tom Mott…from Raymond Chandler to a college professor! It was also inspiring to read how things you cannot control or predict (i.e., preschool assuming he had another job) end up pointing us in the right direction. Good work, Tom. Millions of children are now being influenced by YOUR work.

    Reply
  • Bill Newell

    Great interview, Tom is one of the most talented people I have ever worked with. And he is also a super nice guy

    Reply