John Vassallo

He’s raised Dracula from the dead, created a civilization of anthropomorphic apes and taken us to a land somewhere over the rainbow. John Vassallo is capable of just about anything—or at least making it appear that he is.

“As animators, our job is to bring characters to life,” said Vassallo. “We use these character performances to tell entertaining stories of all kinds for audiences around the world. It's the most fun and satisfying job I can imagine!”

The character animator works at Sony Pictures Imagesworks, one of the world’s leading producers of visual effects and animation for movies and commercials. His recent work includes “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” and “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

“At the beginning of 2012, I was fortunate to join the animation team at Sony Imageworks in Vancouver for their animated feature ‘Hotel Transylvania,’ which proved to be my most fun and challenging project yet,” said Vassallo. “I stayed on at Sony, working on ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ (March 2013) and most recently on ‘Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 2,’ my current project... Over the past few years, my wife, Melissa, and I have traveled to some exciting cities and met some truly inspiring and creative people along the way. It's been quite a journey.”

Vassallo got his start in the entertainment industry by working as a visual effects artist at Luma Pictures in Los Angeles shortly after graduation. Working on the vampire film “Underworld,” he was responsible for matching camera angles, basic compositing, rotoscoping (drawing/painting in characters/action) and tracking work. 

Still hungry for more experience, Vassallo sent a reel of his work to Stargate Digital in South Pasadena. He soon found himself working on visual effects artist for a variety of broadcast and film projects, including CSI (CBS), Threat Matrix (ABC), Clubhouse (CBS), Las Vegas (ABC), the Spartacus (USA) mini-series and a helicopter crash among other projects for ER (NBC).

“I found working in television visual effects to be very different from film visual effects,” said Vassallo. “Television effects don’t have to look perfect but they often have a tight deadline. Through this experience I realized that I had a much stronger affinity for film. I liked having the time to perfect my work.”

Vassallo eventually left Stargate and went to work at Digital Domain, an Academy Award-winning feature film and commercial visual effects studio in Venice, California. He worked as a character animator for high-end advertising, including a commercial for Nintendo’s new Tetris game and a trailer for the Gears of War game.

After building up a network of contacts in the industry, developing a Web site and creating an updated reel, Vassallo decided to return to the film industry as a freelancer. He sent his new reel to his former colleagues at Luma Pictures. Impressed with his work, they hired him to make the beheading scenes look convincing in Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” and to animate the hunted crocodile in the adventure/thriller “Primeval.” He also worked on “Pirates of the Caribbean 3.”

In 2007, Vassallo was hired at Rhythm and Hues Studios in LA. He was lead animator on Night at the Museum and an animator for Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Incredible Hulk. He married his wife two years later and soon had the opportunity to join Animal Logic in Sydney, Australia, to help finish their animated film "Legend of the Guardians.” From Sydney, the couple moved to Wellington, New Zealand, to work at Weta Digital, where he worked on “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

Vassallo credits CCS for establishing in him a solid foundation in art and animation.

“Prior to college, I didn’t have much experience with computers,” said Vassallo. “As I advanced through the program, I became much more comfortable with technology and even became a lab proctor in the imaging center at CCS. Now, I work with computers everyday. I also found courses in the other disciplines to be very helpful. By mixing and matching classes, I was able to learn what I needed to help me advance in my career.”

To view Vassallo’s work, check out www.johnvassallo.com.

  • Graduation Year: 2003
  • Major: Entertainment Arts
  • Employer: Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • Title: Senior Character Animator

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