With no risk, there’s no reward. Many people are nervous about making big changes in their lives – but Anthony Merola, FableVision’s production assistant, is not one of them. He’s followed his passion for storytelling to three cities: San Francisco, New York, and now Boston, and lived to tell the tale.
“When I started college, I was studying political communication and disliked it,” says Anthony. “My parents pushed me to go after my passions: I was always inspired by good storytelling. To this day I love to write, and animation really is a phenomenal medium for great storytelling. You start with this completely empty canvas and are only limited to your imagination. It’s an absolutely amazing way to express yourself.”
It was his passion for animation and good storytelling that led Anthony to work in the production departments on some well-known films and through the doors of the FableVision studio. Of course, like many creative types, Anthony has other side projects brewing as well, from music to app development. We sat down recently to chat with Anthony about his past gigs, his side gigs, and a lot more. We’re thrilled to have him aboard as the newest member of the FableVision family!
What drew you to working with animation originally?
Toy Story was a huge catalyst for me. I remember going to see it when it first came out. I was seven years old. I didn’t know what I was seeing as this was a whole new medium. But even at a young age I could understand that 3D animation was going to be a big deal, and I wanted to be a part of that in some way. When I was a teenager, I started learning 3D animation software like Cinema 4D and Maya, and so it was always in the back of my mind.
Who are some of your animation heroes and why?
First and foremost, Walt Disney. He was not afraid to push the boundaries and force you to move beyond your limits.
As far as artists go, Disney’s Nine Old Men really set the standard. Specifically, I always found inspiration in looking at the work of Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Milt Kahl. The principles of animation they defined are still utilized to this day. I also am a huge fan of the Warner Brother cartoons, and Chuck Jones was a huge influence in terms of understanding comedic timing.
We ask everyone this, and you’re no exception. What’s your journey to FableVision story?
I’ve had quite the journey! For the past three years I worked at 20th Century Fox’s animation studio Blue Sky Studios. I started there as an intern and was kept on as a production assistant on Epic, Rio 2, The Peanuts Movie, Ice Age 5, and Ferdinand The Bull. I worked in the story and design departments.
Prior to this I lived and studied in San Francisco, California. After being away from home, I decided I wanted to settle back down closer to family in Boston. While researching animation companies in the city, FableVision Studios kept popping up. After looking at their work and mission, I knew I wanted to be a part of this team. I reached out and was able to meet with Sarah Ditkoff to learn more about the studio, its mission, and what it was currently working on. About a week later I was contacted about an opening for a production assistant position and immediately applied. I was offered the position and have been with FableVision since the end of January.
Since you’re relatively new to the team, what are you most looking forward to about working here at FableVision?
From animation to museum interactives to mobile games, there is so much going on at the studio. I feel like I am getting a second education and learning about technology I have never explored before. I am a lifelong learner, so to expand my understanding of tools and skills by exploring new technologies and creating such incredible content in a variety of ways is awesome! I also love the passion that team members bring to their portion of the project.
You’ve worked on a long list of big-name animated films. Do you have a favorite? Or is there one that sticks out in your mind (and why)?
Each one really has a special moment connected to it for me. But The Peanuts Movie will always hold a special place in my heart. I was one of the first team members brought on to the project; I stayed on that film for three years and got to see it through every phase of production. I grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and so to be able to work with the Schulz family on such an iconic piece of American culture was an incredible honor.
Beyond that, the team I worked with gave me the best filmmaking education an individual could ask for. Every day was like a master-class, and I did my best to absorb as much of this information as I possibly could. I have to especially thank two of my mentors, Art Director Nash Dunnigan and Story Supervisor Jim Kammerud. I served as their assistants over the course of the production. I am forever indebted to them for the opportunities they provided for me, and the knowledge they were willing to pass on to me.
You’ve worked in film in San Francisco, New York, and Boston. How are all these cities different or similar?
I am a city-boy at heart – I thrive on the energy that you find in a big city.
New York was amazing for this, the whole city has an incredible rush of energy and positivity. Plus, you can’t get bored in New York. There’s always a new adventure.
San Francisco is very similar to Boston, in that it is smaller than New York. Everyone is friendly and inviting, and there is a warmth to the whole city. It’s also a food lover’s paradise. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at more amazing restaurants than in Downtown San Francisco.
But at the end of the day, Boston is home. I lived away from this city for over six years. I had amazing experiences in seeing other parts of the country, but it’s so good to be back. I love being able to look out the window of our office and see the skyline and the harbor. It just gives you such a great feeling!
What do you like to do in your spare time to unwind?
I’m usually playing music. I’ve been playing guitar for 15 years and piano for 11. I built a small recording studio in my house, so I am usually tinkering around trying to create new sounds.
I’m also teaching myself UI design and app development. I’ve always been fascinated by technology, and so I decided that it would be a fun challenge to try to teach myself how to build my own apps.
Other than that, I love reading new stories and writing my own!
You’re going to school for Producing for Animation and Visual Effects at the Academy of Art University. What’s that program been like?
The program is really fantastic. The whole faculty is made up of professionals from companies like Pixar, DreamWorks, and Industrial Light and Magic. They really push their students to understand professional practices, and this industry experience is what drew me to the university in the first place.
Beyond the student projects we were working on, the industry connections allowed us to work on major feature films like Beasts of the Southern Wild. By the time you leave the program, you have had the opportunity to develop a resume/portfolio that includes professional work and incredible networking.
Is there a particular childhood experience or show or movie that made you want to work in children’s media?
As a young child, I was huge on the work of individuals like Mister Rogers and Jim Henson. They radiated such positivity and always encouraged a child’s imagination. I am a firm believer in the idea that you should leave the world a better place than you came into it. We live in an age where the technology to create rich content is beyond believable. I hope to, in some small part, have a part in ensuring that children have access to the same types of opportunities to pursue their dreams that I did.
Since you’ve worked on so many fantastical movies, you must’ve given this some serious thought: if you had a superpower, what would it be?
The ability to move things with my mind! I enjoy a good prank, so I’d find a way to have some fun with that one.
Place to eat in Boston: Del Frisco’s Steakhouse
Thing about San Francisco that you miss the most: Seeing the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Animated movie character: Wall-E. For 90 minutes he never speaks, yet he is so full of emotion!
Way to take your coffee: I am a tea drinker. So I like Earl Grey or Oolong with two sugars.
Season: Late spring into early summer.
Book: A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 by Stephen Puleo
Movie: Jurassic Park, The Princess Bride, 12 Angry Men
Vacation spot: Cape Cod or Aruba
Favorite thing to cook: Soups and sauces or baking bread. There is such a science to each of them that I find fascinating. Too much or too little of an ingredient can drastically affect the final dish.
Favorite food that you hate to cook: Not a dish, but I hate chopping onions. I still haven’t found a way not to tear up when chopping them up!