Locally animated: OpenPixel Studios has roots at Hampshire College, UMass

  • Katie Taccone and Will Colon work in the office of OpenPixel Studios in Springfield on Wednesday. The two, along with Karen Webb (not pictured), are co-founders of the animated video production service. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Katie Taccone and Will Colon work in the office of Open Pixel Studios in Springfield on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. The two, along with Karen Webb (not pictured), are co-founders of the animated video production service. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Katie Taccone and Will Colon, along with Karen Webb (not pictured), are the co-founders of Open Pixel Studios, an animated video production service. Photographed in their space at Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Will Colon works in the office of OpenPixel Studios in Springfield on Wednesday STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Katie Taccone and Will Colon, along with Karen Webb (not pictured), are the co-founders of Open Pixel Studios, an animated video production service. Photographed in a meeting room at Valley Venture Mentors in Springfield on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Courtesy OPENPIXEL

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  • —SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • —SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Courtesy OpenPixel Studios

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Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2019 10:48:04 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Will Colon realized he wanted to be an animator during his first year at Hampshire College. For Kathryn Taccone, it was on a trip to Pixar Studios in high school.

Now the two Valley-educated animators are working alongside colleague Karen Webb, making animation in western Massachusetts at OpenPixel Studios, the animation production studio the three founded in 2016, although its official birthday is in 2017. All three are equal co-owners.

“We’re an animation production house,” Colon said. “We create animation for businesses.”

Some of the clients OpenPixel has done work for include IBM, Cigna and the American Canoe Association.

The company recently opened its first office in the Valley Venture Mentors building at 276 Bridge St. in Springfield, where it rents a space and does marketing. Before this, OpenPixel was an entirely digital studio.

OpenPixel itself went through the Valley Venture mentorship program, which seeks to accelerate the growth of startup companies in western Massachusetts. Taccone says that they were constantly asked the question “Who is your customer?” She said that the Valley Ventures program taught them how to sell themselves as artists.

Hampshire program

Colon, 31, from the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, learned about Hampshire College from a high school teacher, who put him in contact with the person who ran the college’s James Baldwin Scholars Program at the time.

The program helps students from underserved communities prepare for a Hampshire education while they attend the school for a year by providing support, resources and scholarships. Upon successfully completing the year, Baldwin scholars may continue at Hampshire, with all of their work going toward their graduation requirements.

“That’s been a really good support system for people of color on campus,” Colon said.

Colon went to a college prep high school, and while he said that he was academically prepared for Hampshire, he noted that his high school had no extracurriculars.

“It was amazing,” said Colon. “As soon as I got there I tried to take every single course that didn’t have to do with academics.”

It was during this first year that he tried to get into a Computer Animation III class, but was rejected by the instructor, Chris Perry, because he had no experience.

He then took a Computer Animation I class, and discovered his passion for the discipline.

“I just fell in love with it,” he said. “You have ultimate control.”

To top it off, Perry, whom Colon now counts as a friend, invited Colon to take the Animation III class after he saw his final.

A visit to Pixar

For Taccone, 29, of Trumbull, Connecticut, the dream of becoming an animator was sparked earlier in life, when she visited Pixar Studios on a trip to California while in high school.

While she was there, the studio was working on a “Cars” movie, and she was asked if she wanted to animate one of the cars blinking. She did so, and it changed her life.

“It solidified that’s what I wanted to do,” Taccone said.

Taccone attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst as part of its bachelor’s degree with individual concentration program. The program allowed her to design her own major, in which she studied animation, but also took courses in other disciplines that contributed to her animation studies, such as theater.

“I kind of took a little bit everything,” said Taccone.

Taccone met Colon when she took an animation class at Hampshire, where he was the teaching assistant. And in a further Hampshire connection, they would also work on projects at Bit Films, Perry’s animation film studio.

After college, the two found themselves working at Anzovin Studio, an animation studio based out of Florence.

Prior to working at Anzovin, Colon returned to the Boston area and worked at the special effects company, Zero VFX, but he said that he became bored with the work and wanted to do more storytelling.

Taccone and Colon worked alongside Webb at Anzovin. Colon said that Anzovin went in more of an animation tools direction, while the production team, where he and Webb worked, was spun off into a separate entity within the company.

Colon said that he and Webb then decided to go in a different direction, and started what would become OpenPixel Studio together, with their former employer’s blessing.

Women in animation

Colon said that having women own a majority of the company was important to him, given the history of women in animation. He noted that in the early days, women were limited to coloring on many animation projects, and not allowed to do animation themselves.

“That really bothers me,” said Colon.

He also noted that sexism has persisted in both animation and in other industries.

Taccone also mentioned the early history of animation and expressed a desire to empower other women and inspire them to get into the industry.

She also said that she wanted to raise awareness about toxic workplace cultures.

One notable feature of OpenPixel’s culture is that it brings a facilitator in monthly.

Taccone said that this has been going on for about a year, and the facilitator helps to resolve conflicts and facilitate communication, which she said has “totally transformed our business.”

Colon also said that he’s not aware of any women-owned and certified animation production studios in Massachusetts, and he said that this status has helped OpenPixel “go after bigger fish.”

For a time, Taccone left Anzovin to work in the video game industry. She eventually returned to join Webb and Colon after realizing she wasn’t happy with the system of competing with peers for the next contract in the industry.

“I could already see myself being drained out,” Taccone said.

Colon said that Taccone had been an “essential part of our production team” at Anzovin. He also said that he thought her “bubbly personality” would help with the marketing side of the business.

“I was like, sure, let’s do it,” said Taccone, on accepting the offer.

Taccone also said that she sees the company as a great opportunity for young people to live and work in a place that they want to work.

Both Colon and Taccone said that they were interested in OpenPixel moving into narrative storytelling in the future.

“We do want to move towards telling our own original content,” said Colon. “That’s the major goal.”

Taccone said that she’s interested in telling stories that are hard to tell in other mediums, or haven’t been talked about in animation. Colon expressed the desire to make content that would be distributed on streaming services, and to do animation aimed at adults.

Colon also shared his passion for education, and his belief in animation’s promise in that area.

“Animation can do a lot for folks there,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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