Why America Remains a Magnet for Animators: An Interview with Ricky Renna

Animation on a global scale is growing like never before. Unlike times gone past, there are now a multitude of local employment choices for animators in many countries. That said, America continues to be a draw for many foreign artists. I talked to Blue Sky animator Ricky Renna to find out why.

Ricky Renna

In thinking about the animation industry, I often try to think of the bigger picture that encompasses more than one country. However, now and again, I have to remind myself why, if animation is such a globally successful industry, did I not remain in Ireland instead of coming to the US. As I was pondering how to discuss this question, I realised it would make for a better post to tell the story of someone else who did the same instead. Ricky Renna is an animator currently working at Blue Sky studios and who exemplifies how the opportunities within the industry here in the US remain a magnetic force to artists living elsewhere.

Where are you originally from?

My current nationality it Italian, but I was born in Santiago, Chile. Due to my father’s job I moved around a lot, and as such I tend to consider myself more of a “child of the world”. But for the most part I grew up in the United States, in Maryland primarily.

Where did you study animation?

My education spanned a total of 6 years in two different schools. My first educational experience in animation was at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. I enrolled in the Department of Computer Animation in 2009 and graduated in 2013 with my BFA. Subsequently I attended the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, where I obtained my MFA in Computer Arts in 2015.

What did you study/receive your degree in?

Both of the universities I attended are highly focused on the arts, spanning various disciplines and overall career paths. At Ringling College, the Department of Computer Animation was a phenomenal way to get started as an animator. Through four years of intense lessons, ranging from animation pre-production to creating an entire thesis film, I was able to learn the basics and refine my skills to be prepared in the industry. Here, I completed my first short film, “The Final Straw”. In my Master’s at the Computer Art Department at SVA, I had the chance to focus my entire time to animating and creating a second film for my thesis, entitles “L’Americano Returns”.

What made you decide to move to the US?

My dad’s work involved a lot of moving around, but once we touched base here in the US, I spent most of my formative years becoming accustomed to the culture and lifestyle. Though I’m Italian by nationality, I also consider myself American, having spent so much time and having grown up in the States. Besides the fact that I made many great friends here, the industry I love is also most prominent in the US. This country is one of the world’s most developed hubs for film making and animation, and for an animator like me is a top choice for pursuing a career.

How do opportunities in the US compare to where you came from?

Animation in Italy exists, but compared to the US, is virtually non-existent. Throughout Europe however, animation is widespread, particularly in France. I doubt there would be much room to grow as an animator in Italy, particularly when one’s interests lie in feature film. The US’s great animation studios are too good an opportunity to pass up.

Has working in the US lived up to your initial expectations?

Definitely, although I must admit the industry is different than what I expected. There was a time when I believed that hard work is all it takes to make it, and although I still believe that, I realize now that plain old luck plays a huge factor in the life and career of an artist, particularly an animator. But having said that, working at an amazing place like Blue Sky Studios is really a dream come true. The work is top notch, the personal challenge is motivating but most of all, the fantastic people there are always around to help. It’s a wonderful place and I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of the team!

How have your talents developed since coming to the US?

Before coming to the US I hadn’t done much animating at all, only the occasional flipbook. Generally, my talents were more focused on sketching and doodling. But coming to the US I was overwhelmed with the amount of animation available on a daily basis, whereas back in Italy I’d be forced to wait until late afternoon to watch cartoons. I think this is what motivated me to become an animator, seeing how much was actually out there and wanting to be a part of it. I’ve since learned much about animation and film making, but mostly I’ve realized that with the enormous amount of talent out in the world, there is still so much to learn.

In what ways have you been able to contribute aspects of your home culture into your work here?

I think that mainly, what a foreign animator brings to the table is a different perspective on characters and acting. There’s certain nuances and mannerisms very characteristic of European culture that I feel I subconsciously incorporate in my work. An example would probably be gesticulating, as Italians are known to do. I find that when I shoot reference for animation shots with a more eccentric character, I’ll be flailing my arms around much more so than normal. Aside from that, brainstorming is usually very fun among foreign animators, as we’ll come up with ideas that here in America might be seen as lewd or inappropriate, but to us are completely normal and humorous aspects of life.

Thanks to Ricky for taking the time to answer some of my questions. You can check out his latest demo reel on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/176672328


2 thoughts on “Why America Remains a Magnet for Animators: An Interview with Ricky Renna”

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