VENICE, CALIFORNIA–Award-winning Hollywood producer Mick Ebeling is the embodiment of Walt Disney’s famous quote: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” With his aptly named nonprofit organization, Not Impossible, founded in 2000 and based in Venice, California, Mick has used his abundant ingenuity and passion to create products that are life-changers for those who desperately need them.
It all began in 1995 when Mick was inspired by the computer software, Adobe After-Effects, and the amazing possibilities it opened up in motion, design, and graphics. The combination of Mick’s creative instincts and natural business acumen led him to start his own motion-design studio, FUEL. Four years later, Razorfish–one of the world’s largest interactive advertising and design agencies, acquired FUEL. Mick next founded the Ebeling Group in 2001, a creative think tank that has won some of the most coveted awards and nominations in the world of motion graphics and design. Some of their work includes the main title sequence for the James Bond 007 movie, Quantum of Solace; main titles for the film The Kite Runner; and graphics for Stranger than Fiction, starring Will Ferrell. Despite the success of such high profile creative projects, though, Mick wanted to do more.
Born in 1940 into a Long Beach, California-based family of philanthropists, Mick was raised in Phoenix, Arizona. He played basketball for the Air Force Academy in Colorado before transferring to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he graduated in 1992 with a degree in political science. Fortunately, his creative talents led him away from a potential career in politics, and he found a calling vastly different from many of his peers in the motion-industry business. He wanted to improve lives using design and technology. “I always believed in destiny. It takes you where you need to be,” he says.
In 2009, Mick heard the story of the paralyzed graffiti artist from Los Angeles, Tony “Tempt One” Quan, who was suffering from the progressive and invariably fatal disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which robs its sufferers of their ability to control all voluntary muscle movement. Tony could only move his eyes. Mick visited him, planning to donate some much-needed funds, but once he met the family he quickly changed his mind. “All they wanted was to get Tony to communicate,” he says of his determination to help Tony express himself. “I had no idea how I would do it. On my way out, I asked myself what on earth did I just do?”
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Without any background in technology or the science of ocular recognition, Mick created the EyeWriter–the first project of Not Impossible Labs. A low-cost device that enables people to create art using only their eye movements, the EyeWriter was named “one of the top 50 innovations of 2010” by Time magazine. Gizmodo named it “the health invention of the year.” With it, Tony was able to make art again for the first time in eight years, and communicate with others.
To spread the word, Mick produced the documentary, Getting Up: The Tempt One Story. The film won the 2012 Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival; the best director award at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles; and was an official selection at film festivals around America.
Another project came about when a friend told Mick about Dr. Tom Catena. Originally from upstate New York, Dr. Catena had been living in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan since 2008, treating over 800 wounded victims of war, many of whom required amputations. The story of a young boy named Daniel Omar, whose arms had been blown off by bombs, caught Mick’s attention. “I just could not stop thinking about it. I got back home that night and committed myself to do something about it,” he recalls about his reaching-out to Dr. Catena. “As a producer, my job is to connect the dots, and that’s exactly what I did. Putting all the pieces together and including the people I needed to help make my ideas a reality.”
Mick flew to Nuba and found Daniel Omar, who was then 16, in a 70,000-person refugee camp. In one of the most underdeveloped and destitute regions of the world, where a majority of the people have never seen a computer, Mick set up a 3D printer and literally created an arm for Daniel.
In November 2013, when the first version of the 3D arm was fitted onto Daniel, he could eat food with his own hands again, and for the first time in his life tasted some chocolate. “It was an incredible feeling,” says Mick. With the help of Dr. Catena, Mick trained others to design and build 3D prostheses. These trainees have successfully printed and fitted another two arms, proving that the project will sustain itself with the right kind of local support.
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Mick never misses a chance to mention the role played by his colleagues, employees, and all those who believe in and support his vision. “I never really chose to do anything. I always believed that by working hard and living well, good things will happen,” he says with typical humility. “I didn’t think that my education had any direct correlation to my work, but looking back, I think that studying about the world, and how people, governments, and regimes interact, helped me develop a holistic world-view. I learned to look at impossible things and find out ways of making them possible.”
While the business component of his work continues to do cutting-edge work for top brands, Mick will be tackling the next seemingly impossible problem, whatever it may be and wherever it leads him, even though he confesses to living with self-doubt every day. “You fail in life more often than not,” this extraordinary man says. “It’s all about how quickly you can get up, dust yourself off, and move on.”
Visit the Not Impossible Foundation for more information, to join or donate.
Video produced by Not Impossible Labs