“My role is all about investing in people. With my team, we are creating programs that will enrich our crew’s lives.”
Kara Oropallo joined DNEG Animation in 2021 as VP of Training, Outreach and Artistic Development, bringing decades of experience in education, people development and production. With her team, she creates programmes and launches initiatives that aim to elevate our current and future DNEG Animation crews. Keep on reading to find out more about her journey.
Hi Kara! What brought you into the world of Animation?
I’ve wanted to work in animation since I was seven years old. I was lucky enough that my family were avid movie watchers and so while I was watching a lot of animation as a child (my favourites were 101 Dalmations and Wallace and Gromit) I was also getting a solid cinema education with movies like The Apartment, Chinatown and Bringing Up Baby. When I went to school, my plan was to study animation, but after my first art class, I quickly realised I actually wanted to be a producer. So, I switched to film production while focusing on animation.
How did your journey start? Any career highlight(s) so far?
I started my first job after school and was very lucky to land a position at DreamWorks Animation as a Production Assistant. So I moved right into production and to L.A. and started working there. I worked on shows like Puss in Boots, Monsters vs. Aliens, Rise of the Guardians, and The Croods.
I worked in production for about 10 years until I decided to switch roles and became an Artist Manager. It was a pivotal moment in my career: it was the first time that I got a taste for Training and Artistic Development and I loved it! Through my work, I was able to uplift artists, make them think about their careers, and show them what they needed to move forward.
I wanted to dive deeper into training and education for animation, so I started working at the University of Texas in Dallas and I founded their production management programs. After that, I started getting requests from producers to share my knowledge and experience with their production staff. I became a Consultant and did production management and artistic leadership training with DreamWorks Animation, SkyDance Animation, Reel FX Animation, Paramount Animation and Netflix Animation. And then finally with DNEG Animation!
What is your day-to-day like as a VP of Training, Outreach, & Artistic Development?
My role is all about investing in people. We are not interested in just quick turnarounds, we’re invested in our mission for the long haul. The Training, Outreach, & Artistic Development team – or TOAD team as we call it! – is creating programs that over the course of 10 years will enrich our crew’s lives. How do we help people grow artistically as well as within their careers? What can we do to support people so we can promote from within? We work hard to make sure that what’s best for the growth of the studio is what’s best for the growth of our crew. It is super exciting.
What do you like the most about your job?
Well, I think there are two pieces of my job that are my favourites – the more external focusing piece and then the more internal training piece of it. From an internal perspective, it’s when you are able to offer some sort of programming, and then see the benefits that it brings to people later on. Sometimes you can’t see the impact right away, but weeks or months later you realize how that training has made a real impact on the way people function at work. We’re changing the way people think and then they’re taking that into their daily lives, that is a thrilling feeling for me!
For an external training piece, I think about outreach events. For example, when I was at the Ottawa International Animation Festival a couple of weeks ago at the career fair, I was talking to two adorable wide-eyed freshman girls who wanted to be animators. I gave them a list of advice and watched them write them all down and apply some of them straight away. For me, that is an immediate impact. I know that they will remember DNEG Animation, and hopefully, they will want to come work here.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
I think people are really focused on the job that they want to have and forget about the steps they might need to take to get there. If you do great at the job that you have right now that’s going to be the thing that gets you forward to the next job. When I started as a Production Assistant I was also working at Starbucks to pay my bills. It wasn’t my life goal to go get coffee but I thought “if I’m getting coffee right now I better be the best coffee-getter in the world”. Do your best, and be patient. Trust the process!
Time for some rapid-fire questions – What’s one thing that is always on your desk when you work?
Coffee! I usually end up with a collection of mugs on my desk by the end of the day.
What’s your ‘special power’ at work?
Inception. By that, I mean that I get people to think that something was their idea when really, it was secretly my idea…
What are you most looking forward to every day?
I think the thing that I’m most looking forward to right now is working with my direct team. DNEG Animation has allowed me to cultivate and grow a brilliant training and outreach team. We’re a group of people who have similar ethics and values and we’re all just working to make things better. I feel very lucky that we were able to come together and have this sense of belonging and a common mission. It’s a joy to work with them.
Finish this sentence: DNEG Animation is…
DNEG Animation is rife with possibilities!
Curious to find out more about Kara’s team? Read Dara McGarry’s FOCUS interview as our Outreach Director. And if you are interested in joining DNEG Animation’s award-winning team, stay tuned for our next ‘FOCUS’ and click here to find out more about our open positions across our studios in North America, Europe and India.