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Rob Thomas ('96)
2013 Distinguished Alumni Citation
You may not have heard of ACU alumnus Rob Thomas (’96), but if you’ve spent much time online in the past five years, the chances are good you’ve seen his work.
Thomas, the founder and president of Igniter Media, is the creative force behind such viral videos as “That’s My King!,” an excerpt of a sermon by the late preacher S.M. Lockridge set to a beat, and “A Social Network Christmas,” in which the biblical story is retold via Facebook wall posts. Each has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube.
“It’s really amazing and humbling,” said Thomas, a recipient this fall of a Distinguished Alumni Citation from ACU. “I get to do a lot of the things that I think are what God created me to do.”
It took a while to get there, however.
Thomas was raised in the church, and began delving deeply into the Bible by eighth grade, supplementing it with Max Lucado books. He also loved film, borrowing his dad’s VHS camera to make movies around the house with his friends.
He came to ACU in 1992 as a communication major, using his love of music and theater to become a Sing Song director and eventually a host. Meanwhile, the communication faculty played a powerful role in his life.
“That major, those professors, they really affirmed my confidence in myself,” he said. “I felt like I grew a lot spiritually in college. I made some great friendships and deep, deep relationships.”
Likewise, his introduction to computer-based video-editing software kindled his interest in that field.
However, several discouraging experiences after graduation left Thomas second-guessing himself. He moved back in with his parents, who helped him attend a weeklong seminar in Maine to train on the newest in video-editing equipment. That led to a job making video Bible studies for churches.
Thomas married his wife, Haley, in 2001; three months later, he told her he wanted to quit his job and form his own video company. He started what would become Igniter Media, producing short videos intended for use as Sunday-morning sermon illustrations.
“Videos can be very powerful,” Thomas said. “You can make a big impact on a person in 3-5 minutes.”
The first video, “Are You Amazed?” played a Phillips, Craig and Dean song over scenes from the film Jesus of Nazareth. After watching a church play the five-minute video, Thomas said the reaction convinced him he had a potentially successful idea.
Thomas produced five videos at a time, releasing them on DVDs and describing them as “my beautiful burdens.”
“When God puts something on your heart, it can feel like a burden,” he said, “but it’s a beautiful thing, something he wants to burden you with.”
He began calling the projects mini-movies and, with his team, has since produced 125 mini-movies.
The most-viewed mini-movie Thomas’ company has produced is “99 Balloons,” the touching story of a family’s journey with Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder, that nearly always leads to an infant’s death within days or weeks.
“Everything I do, I want it to be salty,” Thomas said, referencing Matt. 5:13. “I want it to make an impact.”
Since 2003 Igniter Media has grown from producing mini-movies to producing the looping animation and still screens for use during worship services. Thomas estimates more than 100,000 churches around the world have used the animation.
In 2008, Thomas and his team organized the first of what is now an annual conference for church members and leaders who provide creative services for their congregations.
Igniter Media; the Echo Hub, which organizes the conference; and the newly acquired Graceway Media, which produces title graphics for congregations, now sit beneath the umbrella of the RT Creative Group. Thomas leads the company, which employs about two dozen people.
He credits ACU with helping him truly discover his passion for filmmaking, as well as helping determine who God was calling him to be.
“ACU provided so much for me to do,” he said. “The big takeaways were figuring out who I was, what I was going to do and what I was passionate about. Those were the things I wasn’t sure about.”