Diane Mastrull: Doylestown woman follows her dream in animation - and her own studio

To appreciate Meaghan Dunn's perspective on business, you must accept that the world of Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network has as much to do with medicine, eyewear, tsunami preparedness, and frozen yogurt as it does with Yogi Bear and the Powerpuff Girls.

Not that that was always obvious to Dunn.

Certainly not when she was an adopted young girl from South Korea growing up in Doylestown.

Back then, she was "very fascinated" by Wonder Woman, an avid collector of Archie comic books, and "very passionate" about drawing - so much so that she took private art lessons.

She was also the daughter of a teacher and a nuclear physicist, who insisted that Dunn's college major be something with a strong likelihood of a paycheck. So, biochemistry at the University of Delaware it was.

After graduation in 1996, Dunn went to work at a law firm in Wilmington, where her tasks ranged from "going through resumes and picking up files to picking up dry cleaning."

The unexpected death of her fiance would trigger a move to California, home address of Yogi's creators, and the pathway, Dunn believed, to her true calling.

"I realized I needed to follow my dreams," she recalled.

Now, that decision has her leading an animation and graphic-design company called Dunnamic, which she came home to Bucks County to form in August 2010.

Last month in Philadelphia, Dunn was selected one of 43 winners of the "Make Mine a Million $ Business" contest for female entrepreneurs. The winners' companies had to have at least $85,000 in annual revenue and the potential, as determined by the judges, to grow to at least $1 million in sales in two to three years.

Dunn told the judges that her company of six employees would have $120,000 in revenue this year.

In an interview last week, however, she and business adviser Steve Adler said Dunnamic could be a company of 50 to 100 employees within six months and well on its way to multiple millions in annual revenue. The key will be whether software under development by Dunnamic truly achieves what both contend it will.

"We think it's going to change the whole health-care experience," Dunn said, adding only that it will involve 3D animation to help doctors better explain procedures and illnesses to patients.

"It just felt like the right time, with all my past experiences and my background," she said of the motivation behind the initiative.

Yes, her background does include a job at Hanna-Barbera as a storyboard artist for Dexter's Laboratory, an animated television series about a boy genius and his sister, for which Dunn drew scenes and wrote dialogue, including jokes. (Making people laugh is a thrill to her, said the quick-witted mother of an 8-year-old daughter.)

She also worked on The Powerpuff Girls, another Hanna-Barbera production for Cartoon Network, about three superpowered kindergarten-age friends (Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup) out to save the world before bedtime.

And she created her own pilot episode that appeared on Cartoon Network and was optioned by Disney - A Kitty Bobo Show, about a cat raised by a dog family.

"It had nothing to do with my life," Dunn wisecracked.

From all that comes a leap to designing 3D software for use by the oh-so-serious medical profession? Not to mention, tsunami modeling for the Federal Emergency Management Agency?

Well, there were some steps in between.

Divorced from another animator, Dunn moved with her daughter back to the East Coast in 2005 to be creative director of a 3D pharmaceutical studio in Baltimore. The work was focused on patient education and custom animation for various health-care-related companies. In essence, helping businesses figure out how to use animation to sell their surgical tools, medicines, and contact lenses.

"It was a huge shift in gears for me - to go from goofing off and having lots of fun at Cartoon Network to all of a sudden I am wearing a suit," Dunn said. "It was a very serious, very corporate environment. It took its toll on me. But I had a great education."

It also reinforced that animation "crosses all language barriers." Even if the language is highly technical.

These days, Dunn is based in a laid-back office of beanbag chairs, video games, and a variety of Wonder Woman forms near Langhorne. There, she and her creative team design business-marketing campaigns and web pages, and bring logos to life for a variety of clients.

Their biggest challenge, Dunn said, is educating companies on how animation can help them sell, and that it's not cost-prohibitive, even for small businesses. Depending on the size of the job, costs could range from $1,000 to "a couple hundred thousand dollars," she said.

At So Fun! Frozen Yogurt in Nazareth, owner Dick Oelbaum's stick-figure mascot was transformed by Dunnamic artists into "Cup Dude," his hair a twirl of yogurt.

While insisting his stick figure "is wonderful," Oelbaum said Dunnamic's creation "is doing very well" in helping to establish his yogurt store (others are planned) as a destination for fun.

That's a state of being from which Dunn rarely seems to stray. Next year, she starts development work on a computer-oriented toy inspired by her daughter.

Any guesses on whether it will involve animation?


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or @mastrud on Twitter.