An Interview with Animator Ricky Renna

For over a year now, Ricky Renna is the newest member of the Animation team at Blue Sky Studios, most notable for their Ice Age franchise and popular films such as The Peanuts Movie. Bringing life to characters is no easy feat in of its own, and great animators must bring something new and original to the table. A native Italian, Ricky strives to add passion, charm and especially humor to all of his work. With two student films under his belt (The Final Straw, L’Americano Returns), he’s a spirited and ambitious asset to the animation industry. We’ve brought him in for a few questions:


What influences motivate your work?

“Throughout my life I submerged myself into any cartoon-related media I could get my hands on. The cat and mouse chase was always my favorite structure, incorporating the slapstick comedy that I love so much and the amazing timing and acting beats by the hand of the animators. Tom and Jerry is both one of the most fun and simultaneously frustrating experiences I had as a child, where I’d find myself rooting for Tom who would never get his way. But what truly set me on the path to animation was Looney Tunes, particularly those episodes animated and directed by Chuck Jones. A master of his craft, he had me doubled over in laughter before I could even stand. It was then I knew that what I wanted to do for a living, was bring that feeling to others.”

Diego's surprise at an unexpected turn of events

Ice Age 5: Diego’s surprise at an unexpected turn of events

Tell us about your shorts, The Final Straw and L’Americano Returns:

“It’s extremely hard creating something truly original nowadays, particularly when one is a student climbing their way up the ladder. I was extremely fortunate to be able to make not one, but two shorts in my time as a student. For my bachelor’s at Ringling College, I directed and animated The Final Straw, the story of a stubborn scarecrow’s fruitless attempts at intimidating an equally unbending crow. Being my first film, I went with what I knew best: the cat and mouse chase. Having been influenced so long by slapstick humor and goofy characters, I took on the one man challenge over the course of my senior year. The film went on to be nominated for a 2014 Student Annie, among many other festivals. My second film, L’Americano Returns, was created at the School of Visual Arts as part of my Master’s program. This was my attempt at a more impressionistic approach to animation, being heavily influenced by my Italian heritage and the old-timey vibes of the culture. I was also very keen on creating a musical, being inspired by notable films such as Tangled and most Disney classics.”

How has your Italian heritage affected you and your career?

“Being an international brings many nuances and ideas to animation that make us invaluable to any team. There have been many times where Italian mannerisms have played into my animation (particularly gesticulating). Certain stereotype concepts of European life, such as being loud and rambunctious, are generally not so false…they are most certainly true in my case. I believe it’s my own very animated demeanor that has brought me far in the industry, as personality plays such an intense role in film making. Being multi cultural brings the best of both worlds when it comes to acting, brainstorming and executing an animated scene.”

What are your thoughts on the film making process?

“To create a film, especially a feature length, is a behemoth task. Not to mention the sheer manpower necessary to build a film from the ground up, it takes resolve and perseverance by every member of the team to make a vision come true. I’m extremely lucky to have been part of the Blue Sky team, which is comprised not only of the top artists and animators in the industry, but the top generous and genuinely heartfelt people in the world. Alone it’s easy to forget one’s goals and direction, but with others around there will always be somebody to nudge you on the right path. This happens all the time in the animation world, where one artist is assigned a specific scene for days, even weeks at a time. Working on one shot for that long makes it easy to become disconnected or to run out of steam, but having fantastic people around is a tremendous help in keeping energy and ideas alive.”

Ice Age 5: Brooke leads the way to the magical Geotopia

Ice Age 5: Brooke leads the way to the magical Geotopia

What are your plans for the future?

“My future plans are and have always been to keep making content that people enjoy. Animation is my life’s work, but the overarching theme that truly drives me is the passion to give people something they can delight in. If I can make you laugh, giggle or even just smile, I feel like I’ve succeeded. Knowing others are entertained with my work is a feeling unlike any other for me, a combination of pride and euphoria I can get only by creating entertainment for others. I hope to be fortunate enough to keep providing people with fun and enjoyment for as long as I can.”


Crafting the Epic World of Kubo: A Conversation with Laika’s Animation Supervisor Brad Schiff

HFPA_tour_0080 Animation Supervisor Brad Schiff stands on the scaffolding needed to work on the Giant Skeleton, the largest stop-motion puppet ever built for animation studio LAIKA’s epic action-adventure KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Steven Wong Jr | Laika Studios / Focus Features

Animation Supervisor Brad Schiff stands on the scaffolding needed to work on the Giant Skeleton

Brad Schiff is the Animation Supervisor on LAIKA’s latest feature film, Kubo and the Two Strings. After almost twenty years in stop motion, Brad’s worked on some of the most memorable stop motion projects of our generation. Upon graduating from film school in 1995, Brad moved to San Fransisco to be in what was then the hub of the stop motion animation scene. James and the Giant Peach was wrapping production, Disney had just bought ABC, and cancelled Bump in the Night. Those were the two biggest stop motion projects happening at the time, and it seemed like he had just missed the wave. It wasn’t until 1998 that he landed his first gig in New York on Celebrity Death Match.

Six months later, he moved to Portland to work on The PJ’s. Shortly after he moved onto Gary and Mike, for which he won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in 2001. Brad got his first opportunity to work on a feature film in 2004 with Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. “I went to London to work on that. That was a blast, a group of incredible artists who had all been dying to work on a stop motion feature. It was mayhem, and a lot of fun. That film started this incredible string of stop motion features, which was Corpse Bride, Coraline, Continue reading