What is your name and your current occupation?
Christina Capozzi-Riley Animator/Illustrator/Compositor & Small Business Owner (PetKaboodle, Inc.)
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Not sure about crazy. I only held two jobs prior to becoming an animation professional. I started working when I was 14 at a restaurant called The Wander Inn. I was a preparation chef in the kitchen. I prepared salads, desserts, appetizers and helped the waitresses get what they needed in the kitchen for their tables. I was one of the few who had a job working every weekend throughout high-school. I worked there for about 5 years and then began working at PETCO as a grooming assistant. (Bathing, brushing, grooming dogs & cats…the works). Not so much a crazy job..but some of the furry clients as well as their owners can be a bit on the crazy side sometimes. I worked there for another 5 years until I graduated SVA in 2005 and was offered a job at Asterisk Animation, LLC in Manhattan. Then in 2007 my husband and I incorporated PetKaboodle, Inc. and I now own an operate the retail business aside from any animation jobs.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
There have been too many to count! Some that stand out to me are a bunch of short segments I did in collaboration with illustrator Steve Brodner called “Naked Campaign” which was lots of fun! It was a challenge to complete each segment in a matter of days in order to air on time. I’ve worked many times with the lovely Gail Levine on a number of documentaries including one on Jeff Bridges and another on Cab Calloway. I enjoyed the many documentaries we did for PBS and National Geographic, as well as the children’s language series Little Pim. I also enjoyed working with off-site animator Doug Compton. I frequently in-betweened his work and have learned so much in doing so. One of the more recent pieces was a documentary on Carol Channing where her intricate dress sure was a tedious challenge to animate and in-between!
How did you become interested in animation?
Ever since I was two years old I would draw, draw, draw! Some of my very first drawings are of Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald…(although you really wouldn’t know it by looking at the colorful blobs on the yellow lined paper). It was something I felt I was born to do and when I discovered there where schools just for that, I wanted in!
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Long Island, New York and graduated with a bachelors degree in traditional animation at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. In our senior year, every student is required to create their thesis film; an animated short to be played at the end of the year Dusty Film Festival. I made my film, and about 2000 post cards, 500 of which I handed out, posted, and mailed to various people in the animation industry. Some were teachers, acquaintances, guest speakers from class, any person in the field in which I was able to find an address. Out of those 500 cards, I received a few responses, one of which was from Richard O’ Connor from Asterisk Animation. He was unable to attend the Dusty’s but asked if I was able to come in one day for an interview. Of course I agreed and came in the following week. I arrived around 10am, and didn’t leave until 6pm. I worked the entire day, and was pretty much hired on the spot! I was incredibly lucky I was in the right place at the right time.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Currently I work from home which can be good, and bad. I wake up, do my P90X workout, gather up the packages that were packed the night before and need to be shipped, Hubby leaves for work and I head downstairs to work on my freelance jobs with a quick check here and there to see what’s selling and answer any customer emails through PetKaboodle. Then, Hubby gets home, it’s dinner time, packing up shipments for PetKaboodle, then off to bed.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I can work in my PJ’s and there’s no commute 😀
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Freelancing and owning a separate retail business is a whole different world than a steady animation job. Plus, by working from home, it’s really hard to make that separation from work and “life”. It’s pretty much a 24/7 work mentality. There’s really no time to regroup and take some time for oneself unless it’s between freelance jobs. Even then, I’m constantly seeing what I could do to improve PetKaboodle’s website appeal, new products to offer, designing new logos and buttons, doing paperwork that has long been neglected, etc. It’s a never-ending cycle, unfortunately, and I have to force myself to stop sometimes. Although I do enjoy some of the “dirty work” that needs to get out of the way, I don’t enjoy the lack of time in the day to do my own thing.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
First and foremost, Job security. Other than that, when you have the freelance job, you’re always waiting on that paycheck to arrive (most of the time after you’ve already completed the work). Sometimes it’s written in the contract as a set date (like “net 30” or whatever), but other times, you’re given an estimated date which long passes and you have the daunting task to figure out when or even IF you’re going to see that money. It’s just one more worry/risk a freelancer needs to add to the job.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Mostly my Mac, Wacom and Tablet PC. Programs such as Photoshop, After Effects, Flash….and that’s pretty much it I guess. I would love to learn a 3D program. I took a Maya elective in college but the course was so short that there was no time to really get anywhere near animating. So really, it was kind of a waste at the time.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Hmmmm…well, a lot of my professors were in the field. Don Duga for one (The last Unicorn), and Howard Beckerman (Popeye, Mighty Mouse). I’ve worked with independent animators Bill Plympton and Patrick Smith. Other than that, I’ve never really met, person to person, any other “hot shot/big name” animators. If anything I’ve only worked on in-betweening and/or inking their drawings when they arrived in the studio.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I’d have to say I’m going through the toughest right now. Since the bad economy struck, Asterisk was facing some hard times. About a year ago, Asterisk Animation had split up and I was out a job after 5 full years of dedication, just like that. So I made the decision to put the time towards getting my own business off the ground and also took to the freelance world. I’m still trying to decide HOW I want to make my living. I’m a bit lost/stuck in the same routine. I have my freelance animation jobs and I have my retail business and its website to run. Not sure where or how to go from here. There’s just not enough time in the day so I’m sort of stuck doing these two things in order to make a living. Wake up , work, eat, sleep, repeat… My dream would be to have enough time to explore my own craft/art/animation hobby and make a living that way. It gets easier when I’m between freelance jobs and there’s only PetKaboodle to run during the slow retail seasons, but, once another animation job offer comes along or the Holiday retail season comes along, I’m stuck in the same rut. Hopefully it’s just another bump in the road to getting where I want to go…and if I ever figure out where that is, I’ll let you know 😉 During these hard times I’m thankful for my loving and supportive hubby who helps me get by.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Aside from PetKaboodle, and my freelancing jobs, I don’t really have any time to do much else. Although, when I do find down time between animation jobs, I’ve recently become obsessed with Model Horse customizing and sculpting. It is so much fun and pushes my talent to the max when working on these horses that I wish I could do them all day! Working with other hobbyists, I’ve learned many new skills in painting and sculpting that challenge me and helps my talent grow. I love transforming these old beat up horses into new realistic creations. You may think it sounds silly, but I assure you, it’s serious! Many very talented artists make their living off of this hobby. I’ve seen some of their model horses go for thousands of dollars. There are even shows dedicated to the hobby where the horses are judged and awarded in different classes, and the artist’s skills can really be put to the test. Not only do I enjoy working on these horses, this hobby has also re-awakened my creative side and I have begun dipping back into more traditional art forms again such as drawing/painting/sculpting etc. It’s nice to have a hobby where you’re not staring at the computer all day! I try to keep up to date with my works in progress on my Facebook page if you’re ever interested .
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Yea, I can tie a knot in a cherry stem with my tongue. It’s really not that difficult when you set your mind to it. It also depends on the length of the stem. Other than that gem of talent, I can make seagull noises and hawk screeches….that’s about the wackiest and most unusual talent I can think of right now…but I’m a pretty wacky person sometimes anyway!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
First, don’t get into this business thinking you’ll make lots of money. Competition is tough and based mostly on talent. So finding that animation job in the first place is going to take lots of time unless you’re lucky. Network, network, network. Advertise yourself and always keep business cards on you at all times. Make use of social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, etc as an advertising platform and keep drawing. Have good work ethic, keep an up to date demo reel and don’t be shy. It’s a lot about who you know and being in the right place at the right time to grab that job. When you have the time, don’t just lay around and watch TV. If you’re serious about wanting a career in the animation field, work on your art, work on your own films, etc. Push yourself, get out of your comfort zone on a piece or two. The only way to get better at what you do is to keep doing it! Accept compliments and don’t sell yourself short either. You may be more talented than you think. This is a very difficult thing for many artists to understand, including myself. With that said, don’t think your work is the best of the best either. There’s always room for improvement for everyone. Learn to take a critique, even a tough one. The reason for critiques is so you can grow. Don’t take every thing the critique-er says to heart, take it with a grain of salt and really try to understand where they’re coming from. You don’t have to do every little thing they say, but they may have a lot of helpful tips to make your artwork better. I’d be nowhere if it weren’t for putting my work out there for critiques (and I’m not talking about bias “mom/dad” critiques. Show it to someone in the field or others who do what you do. You don’t even have to know the person. Just show it to someone and get their opinions. You’ll learn a lot from many different people). Its a good way to step back from your work and make it better even if you thought it was amazing. Take your job seriously, work hard, and MOST importantly, HAVE FUN!