“Who do you think you are?”
This was the question Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales with Mike Nawrocki, posed to open his WELL Core event. Nawrocki visited campus the week prior. Having found themselves on career paths vastly different from the ones they anticipated, both shared their insights on navigating personal identity and trusting God’s plan.
From the beginning, Vischer was passionate about making films. As a child, he loved to watch MTV, but noticed the videos didn’t usually reinforce the values he learned in Sunday school. This gave him the inspiration to create videos and films to share the Gospel. Nawrocki on the other hand, was not always passionate about films and animation, although he had always loved to make people laugh. At 13, he gave his life to Christ and dedicated his future occupation to serving Him. Being from a STEM-centered family and not wanting to become a pastor, he decided he wanted to become a missionary doctor.
Reminiscing, Nawrocki laughed, “I had no idea I’d grow up to be an animated cucumber!”
Nawrocki and Vischer met on the puppet team while attending college in Minneapolis. They both enjoyed making people laugh while sharing the Gospel in a creative way. After three semesters there, they were both asked to leave on account of not fulfilling their chapel attendance requirement. They planned to take a semester off to re-group before transferring to another school in California as roommates. In the first of many twists and turns to their story, Vischer landed an internship in Chicago and decided to stay. Faced with a tough decision, Nawrocki decided to scrap his original plans and spontaneously move to Chicago.
Vischer noted, “For me, joy is a huge indicator of whether I’m walking with God or chasing my own dream.”
The production company that had hired Vischer also hired Nawrocki to cover some evening shifts after his biology classes. Loving to be creative and make people laugh, they borrowed the production equipment from the studio on weekends to create short films and music videos. Utilizing blossoming technology, the duo sought a way to re-create what they had done with puppets in animation. The characters needed to be simple because creating animation for hair, arms and clothes was incredibly difficult. Vischer originally made the characters as candy bars, but his wife cautioned him that mothers would not want their children learning biblical lessons from candy, so they became vegetables instead. With these characters they created “Take 38,” which served as their trial project for investors. Hoping to develop the characters into a regular series, they sought after companies, organizations and families who believed in their mission.
Nawrocki finished his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and applied for the Peace Corps to continue pursuing his plans to become a missionary doctor. His acceptance to the Peace Corps and reaching the investment goal for VeggieTales happened in the same month. He had reached another fork in the road of his life and understood that this decision would change the trajectory of his future. After a lot of prayer, Nawrocki felt called to continue working with Vischer on VeggieTales and turned down his plans for medical school.
“I had a real passion for storytelling and performing,” Nawrocki recalled regarding his decision.
The future of VeggieTales would have many ups and downs, from reaching peak sales to enduring devastating lawsuits. The rollercoaster of near overnight success created potential for incredible potential as well as fast failures. During his WELL Core event Vischer shared, “If you find success at a very early age, it can do things to your identity.”
Through it all, they were able to impact the lives of many children and families through their creative work and dedication. Even though they are no longer making VeggieTales episodes, their journey to creatively sharing the love of God has not ended. Nawrocki has continued animating and will be releasing new projects soon, while Vischer has gone on to start a podcast, “The Holy Post.” Their journeys serve as a reminder to everyone that dreams can be reinvented and often reaching them requires an unexpected path.
Nawrocki closed with, “Make your plans, work hard and study hard, but always be open to God using you in ways you never imagined.”