A PROLOGUE (IF YOU WILL)
Welcome to the first post in our Psyop Circuit series, where we’re spotlighting the wildly talented staff of Psyop. These entries will give you a peek inside Psyop, and with any luck, make you anxious for the next installment.
Animating with Stephanie Russell
From a young age, Stephanie Russell was captivated by movies like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. She filled her notebooks with characters inspired by the Golden Age of Disney and dreamt of one day becoming an illustrator. After studying animation at Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida., she graduated in 2011 and quickly moved to New York City to join Psyop as an animator.
While we chatted, the Brooklynite bubbled in her chair. We exchanged a few stories about neglectful landlords and living in the BK, and I picked her brain about the path she has taken to get to Psyop.
What got you interested in animating in the first place?
I grew up in a rural town. I went through school and art programs, and I often toyed with the idea of becoming an illustrator.
But one day in high school I saw my [future] college catalog in the back of a bookshelf and it said Major in Animation, and I thought to myself, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do!” It was something I just went into so easily, and it’s just something you want to do your whole life. I’m pretty sure my parents knew, too.
What would you say is the biggest difference for you now from when you first started working at Psyop?
I’ve been working here since graduation, so just for a little over a year now. One of the first projects I worked on here involved action I remember when I first got here, especially for a live action spot like that, you have to know what kind of camera you’re using, and what kind of space this is happening in.
My [formal] education focused on character animation, so the curriculum wasn’t focused on film or camera lenses. But through being here and learning the pipeline and the steps that you need to do in order to hand things off to the next person was major. In school, you are doing your own thing, but here you need to be able to understand what everyone else needs.
Where would you say that you draw most of your inspiration from?
The people I work with, really. Being around these amazing artists is crazy!
Some people here are veterans at this; you know, they have been doing this for years, and there’s good pressure to be at their level. You kind of sit there and (leans back in chair) peek over at their screen and say, “Hey, how’d you do that!?”
I find that I can read as much as I want about animation, but actually doing it is the best tool for learning. You realize why the veterans are so good at their craft — it’s because they have developed a great eye for acting and motion throughout their careers.
So you still ask questions?
The directors provide really good feedback, and one of the best parts about working here is being able to learn from everyone around you. Project leads are a big help because they orchestrate the whole project, basically. Even helping with the interns, you learn so much.
Do you have a favorite part of the process?
I really like some of the characters I’ve gotten to work on in projects. The way one stands, or how they wave their hand — the design teams do a really good job on nailing down the archetypes.
But your animation can only look so good when it is all grey. I did this jellyfish animation cycle and it was good, but then they put it in the water and gave it caustics and dynamics and put a fabric deformer on it. Then, I was like, “Yeah! that looks fricking good!” Next to getting to work with everyone, I like the final product part of the process the most.
And Psyop is honored to have her. Because of her love for character-centered work, Steph has been a key player on projects for clients including MinuteMaid, AT&T, Coke, MiO, and FedEx over the past 12 months alone.
Although she admits neglect on her personal blog (coincidence that her last update was from before she became staff at Psyop?), you can check out what Steph is up to at: