“When I was a kid I could draw. I was a great artist, but when I hit puberty I lost the ability to draw. To this day, I don’t understand what happened. It’s unexplainable. My next creative outlet became music. I always wanted to score a film. While I was still playing in the NFL, I wrote a film script mainly because I wanted to score it, but the problem became apparent that I didn’t know how to write sheet music for other musicians to play. That was a bit of a ‘Debbie Downer.’
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to be on a film set in Hollywood and I was blown away. From that moment I switched my focus towards writing books, movies and shows. My kids control the TV in our house. Young people see, hear, and watch so much content. They are inundated with it all the time. A 12-year-old can tell you what's going to happen before it even occurs. They’re great at predicting storylines. I realized early on that if I wanted to create content for youth, I had to be smarter than a seventh-grader. It’s something I’m constantly fighting. I enjoy the challenge of breaking their hearts and then mending them back together through storytelling.
One year after I retired from the NFL, my first “Kulipari” book was released. Eventually, the book series got picked up by Netflix. My plan was to move to Hollywood since I was already a produced-creator. There were a lot of possibilities and connections to be made out west. My son had already been accepted to a school in Studio City and our Baltimore house had already sold. Shortly before my family made the move, I had the opportunity to meet with some investors in Baltimore about starting an animation studio here. I figured if I couldn’t raise the money for the studio, no big deal, because I already had a plan in place out west. It turns out that the investors said ‘yes’ so I decided to stay in Baltimore and build The Outlook Company, my animation studio here.
I looked everywhere in Baltimore for the perfect studio space. I ended up checking out an old vacant building in East Baltimore. What’s cool about East Baltimore is that it’s changing and being revitalized. The first time I saw the building there were no windows, scaffolding was being used as stairs, and there were birds everywhere. I didn’t care. I had a vision for the space the second I saw it. The potential was very clear. We were the first people in the building so we were able to get creative with the design. I think our 3D animation layout is one of the nicest work spaces in Baltimore.
In the beginning, I had concerns about attracting the right talent so I spoke to the president of Maryland Institute College of Art, MICA. He assured me that it would not be a problem. As it turns out, he was right; the skill level right out of college is much higher here than I understood. We also employ a lot of people who are self-taught.
I’m all about giving people a chance. The majority of people working at The Outlook Company have never worked at the professional level. There is just such a ‘want to’ mindset here in Baltimore that I believe growth comes with the right leadership. What we do is provide a map for our employees so they can use their skills and connect the dots to grow together as a team.
Everything has become very real, very fast. We are the only company that offers what we do in animation between Baltimore and New York. We are in a part of the country that has never done this before so we have a whole lot of talent that is very under-represented. The only way we are going to get there is by giving our workers a chance. Baltimore isn’t a place that historically produces Hollywood-style movies, but the people who come out of the woodwork and want to help is staggering. You know you have a good problem when some of your employees start getting poached by companies in LA. We are living in a creator economy, and we are definitely not on our own here. I used to hear this all of the time, ‘Hey, are you coming to LA next?’ My answer is, ‘Planes fly east. You can come here.’ You’ve got to plant the flag, and we’ve planted a flag. You’d be surprised how people rally around this company. I think the big attraction in Baltimore is that it’s a field of dreams. If you’re thinking about coming here, you will find more support than anywhere else because the ‘want to’ is so high. This city is always looking for the next great thing.”