Home Animation Q&A with OpenPixel Studios Co-Founder Kathryn Taccone

Q&A with OpenPixel Studios Co-Founder Kathryn Taccone

Animation Mentor alum and OpenPixel Studios Co-Founder Kathryn Taccone shares her student experience and animation advice, and reaffirms the importance of having diverse voices in film.

AM Alumna Kathryn Taccone in her office at OpenPixel Studios

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your animation journey; why did you decide to pursue animation?

Kathryn Taccone: I grew up in a family of creatives, so my passion for the arts came from seeing my family draw, act, direct, and work a production from start to finish. I knew that whatever I was going to pursue my family would support it, which I am so grateful for. My love for animation stemmed from playing video games, to the extent that for our career day in middle school I stated that I was going to be a video game designer (even if at the time I didn’t really know what that meant!). Through a few pivotal moments in my life, such as visiting Pixar in high school and taking my first animation class in college, I had solidified my dream of becoming an animator. Seeing a cube move from one side of a screen to another was basically the most exciting and magical thing I had ever seen in my life, and I love seeing that same excitement now in kids who are already interested in pursuing animation.

AM: What is your favorite memory from Animation Mentor?

KT: There’s SO many to choose from! Looking back on the program, I was able to connect with so many fellow students who have really become my family. So my favorite memories are the late-night animation hangouts where we would all get together, work on our assignments, and talk about life when we needed a short break. Those were the times when I was so grateful that AM was a community of people who supported one another, no matter where they were in their animation journey. While we’ve all gone off to work and grow in different places, we still do hangouts to this day. 🙂

Some of Kathryn's Student Work at AM
Some of Kathryn’s Student Work at AM

AM: Did you have any “ah-ha” moments while studying at AM?

KT: Totally! I was always afraid of deleting keys and ‘losing’ some of the animation or poses that I had put a lot of time and effort into. My mentors totally shifted my way of thinking. They showed me that even in the polishing phase, deleting a whole section of animation is only scary if you don’t believe in the opportunity ahead of you. It gives you the space to create stronger poses the second time around, or even create a new idea that can really take a shot to another level of awesome! Working through that fear took some practice, but now I feel more confident in myself to make decisions on when to cut and start over because I know I am always improving with every shot.

AM: What advice would you give a brand new animator?

KT: Be your best critic. I say this because I believe a lot of animators, artists, and creatives (myself included) are so hard on themselves. We think “That other animator is so talented, why can’t I do that? I’ll never get there.” or “How did I not know about this tool that everyone else uses that could help solve my problem? I’m such a failure.” I truly believe that the ONLY thing stopping us all from being super kick-ass animators is that annoying voice in our heads that sometimes tells us we can’t do it. You are NEVER too old to pursue this career, and you WILL get to where you want to be. Believe that, and own it!

Be your best critic. I say this because I believe a lot of animators, artists, and creatives (myself included) are so hard on themselves.

Being your best critic to me means that you take the time every now and then to check in with yourself. Ask yourself questions about your current and future goals, so you can make sure that you enjoy the journey along the way. Your success will come from you, pursuing what makes you happy as an animator as opposed to getting to one studio over another. So take a look at the past year and see how you feel about your growth. If you were your own mentor, what feedback would you give to improve both your animations and yourself?

The feedback I gave myself in 2018 was to be more open minded about enjoying the challenges ahead. Now that I own a studio, I focus more on day-to-day business operations, so it felt like I was falling behind on improving my animation skills. I had to forgive myself for thinking this way, and realized that just like when I worked full-time while going through AM, I can always make the time to work on the things I love.

Animation Demo Reel from Kathryn Taccone including some of her student work from AM!

AM: Can you tell us the story of OpenPixel Studios? How did you come to co-found your own animation company?

KT: For a few years both myself, Karen Webb, and Will Colón all worked together in a variety of places. We had known each other through college, all contributing to different short films at BitFilms, and eventually we all ended up working at Anzovin Studio in Massachusetts. I eventually made a move out to San Francisco and worked at Toys For Bob and EA. Shortly after, Anzovin decided to focus their efforts solely on developing rigging systems and animation tools. As a result, they handed over the reins of the production to Karen and Will, who asked me to start this crazy journey with them. The timing was perfect, and I didn’t hesitate for a second!

Flash forward to 2 years later, and now we have an office space right in downtown Springfield! We are working on multiple projects for agencies, businesses, and non-profits who are looking to create their visual voice. I couldn’t be more proud of how far we’ve come, especially knowing where we want to go in the future! We are still a tiny studio and have a long way to go, but we will take things one key frame at a time. 🙂

The OpenPixel Co-Founders
The OpenPixel Co-Founders

AM: Organizations like WIA are working hard to create an equal gender balance in the animation industry. As part of a women-lead studio, why do you think it’s important to have diverse voices in animation?

KT: I believe there is room for everyone’s voice to be heard in this industry. It’s heartbreaking to know that discrimination and sexual harassment are still occurring in our work environments, so we know there is still a lot of work to be done. Having women at the forefront of studios who are eager to make better work environments will help to combat the ongoing struggle we’ve been facing for far too long.

There are too many stories told on screen which only relate to a specific audience, as if created through the same exact lens. Having diverse perspectives opens the door to new audiences, who might not have otherwise connected with animation before.

With more women sharing their stories and experiences, their voices, even when animated, will continue to spark a movement for women and young girls everywhere. As an owner, I am so excited to have the opportunity to help women’s stories shine.

With more women sharing their stories and experiences, their voices, even when animated, will continue to spark a movement for women and young girls everywhere. As an owner, I am so excited to have the opportunity to help women’s stories shine.

AM: What makes animation so special?

KT: I’ve always believed that animation provides a powerful emotional connection to reality.
When animating a character, I have to put myself into their shoes and understand their background which provides an opportunity to connect to someone else’s emotions and behaviors. We then translate those complex emotions to screen, which creates limitless styles and choices we can make to tell stories. Characters and stories could be anything, so anyone can be simultaneously caught up in a new world while being grounded by the character’s journey!

Animation also has a unique way of bringing conversations to a dinner table. The medium provides an opportunity to make situations that would otherwise be difficult to see in real life seem somewhat easier to grasp and understand. This allows us to talk about real and human issues that we all face and handle in different ways. That, to me, is a powerful feeling that I want to help create.


Want to be mentored by professional animators?

Start your animation journey today by learning from animators at studios like Blue Sky, Pixar, and Sony Imageworks! Get more information about Animation Mentor’s Character Animation Program.

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