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Michael Tanzillo – Life After SCAD

Tell us about yourself!

Born in Chicago. Spent a long time in Columbus, Ohio. I went to undergrad at Ohio State where I got a degree in Art/Photography. Went to SCAD and received my MFA in Visual Effects in 2008. I am currently a Senior Lighting Artist at Blue Sky Studios and in the process of transitioning into a new role as the Head of Training.

How long have you worked for Blue Sky? 

11.5 years.

Did you have a job or internship lined up before graduation? 

Nope. It took about 6 months of job hunting before I landed my first job after SCAD. It was a super tough time but I kept bartending (Churhill’s Pub) to make ends meet before finally getting my chance.

What made you decide to go into Lighting, and when did you realize that was going to be your focus? 

It was Finding Nemo. I saw a behind the scenes where they designed the underwater lighting and I was blown away. I was a photographer before that and always loved lighting but never knew I could do it for animated films.

If you could do anything differently when you were in school, what would it be? 

Stop focusing on learning software and tools and focus on mastering the craft of being a good artist. No one in the industry cares what software you know…they know they will need to train you on their proprietary processes and software anyway. They know they will need to train you once you are in the door. What they can’t train is your eye and your ability to make beautiful images.

What advice would you give to current students applying for jobs and internships? 

Cater your reel to the job. Don’t send a generalist reel to a company looking for you to specialize in one thing. It will make you look like a bad fit for the job.

What has been your favorite project that you’ve worked for in the industry and why? 

Epic. So much fun to work at that micro level. Such a challenging and difficult film but I learned so much.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I want to keep making pretty pictures and helping others do the same.

What’s your favorite thing about working for Blue Sky?

The people. Such a strong community and a stable job in an unstable industry. I also love living in NYC so that helps.

Have you worked for any other companies or had any other internships before Blue Sky?

A couple of freelance jobs but Blue Sky is my first major company.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Right now I am working remotely while trying to manage my 16 month old as my wife treats Covid patients as an ER doctor in NYC…it’s a weird time 🙂

How did SCAD help you prepare for the industry?

I got to work with Bridget Gaynor and other incredible professors. They steered me in the right direction and helped me get to where I am today.

You co-founded the Academy of Animated Art! Tell us a little bit about it! What made you want to start this, and where do you hope it to go in the feature?

I used to go on recruiting trips for my job. And whenever I visited schools, I realized that students were not receiving the training or resources necessary to be competitive in jobs lighting on animation films. They were also focused on all the wrong stuff. What software to work in…what renderer to use…And their reels were just not up to par. And I felt so bad because they were spending all this money on an education that would not get them a job. So I started an online school with my co-worker, Jasmine Katatikarn, to teach students about the art of lighting and how to make a reel that will get you a job. It’s now years later and we’ve trained over 300 students in 30 different countries and helped get people jobs all over the world.

What film did you work on at SCAD?

At this point…I genuinely forget the names of them. I just did lighting on some of the animation by Becki Tower and Neil Helm.

Are you working on any projects outside of work?

Nope. Just working and teaching. That’s enough for now 🙂

What do you do in your free time?

I run in Central Park almost every day. Keeps me focused and gives me balance from all the screen time.

How do you keep yourself motivated during a large project?

I’ve been through it enough times that I know how rewarding it is at the end. It’s the best.

How can students stand out when applying for jobs?

For lighting, it’s 3 things. Create strong visual shaping…Direct the viewer’s eye…and create a strong mood that tells the story. Also…make your characters eyes look great! That makes a big difference.

What films have you worked on during your career? 

3 Ice Age Films, 2 Rios, Peanuts, Epic, Ferdinand, Spies in Disguise, and currently working on Nimona.


A huge thank you to Michael for taking the time to interview with us! You can check out more about him on his Website, or learn more about The Academy of Animated Art!

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