Entertainment Arts


Kari Kilpela

Disney ABC Television Group

Character Designer

When asked what it’s like working as a character designer at Disney ABC Television Group, Kari Kilpela described the creative fulfillment it provides to work among such talented professionals—much like the creative community she experienced during her days at CCS.

“This is a place for likeminded people to all come together and share their ideas and styles,” said Kilpela. “It’s similar to college where your peers are your greatest competition. It can sometimes make you feel inadequate, but the majority of the time it’s incredibly inspiring.  It’s amazing to me that some of the greatest artists in the world are here in the same building.”

Currently, Kilpela is working on “Pickle and Peanut,” a new show for Disney XD. She has also worked on China Illinois for Titmouse (LA) , SciGirls and WordGirl for Soup2Nuts (Boston), The Awesomes at Bento Box (Atlanta), and freelance projects for Cartoon Network.

In her role as a character designer, Kilpela spends time learning about the character she is working on, then roughs out some different versions of the characters in Flash through scripts and storyboards. Once a character is approved, she creates final versions of the characters, along with any extreme facial expressions or body positions that may be difficult for the animators to replicate from the storyboards alone.

“I think the biggest struggle is being able to adapt to a lot of different styles based on the show you are working on,” said Kilpela. “It’s important to have your own style with the art you create, but with animation, a lot of your time is spent replicating someone else’s vision. Character design allows you certain freedoms, but there are guidelines you have to follow to make the show cohesive.”  

As a long-term career goal, Kilpela would someday like to write and design her own show. The diverse skills she has learned through her professional experience and education at CCS have prepared her to take on the challenge.

“What I learned at CCS has given me several options to pursue as an animator.”

“I had my hand in 3D, Illustration, Flash, experimental animation, live action and so forth. Not many places teach you the basics of all of those formats."

“My experience there also taught me that it is okay to start over or give up on certain projects, then start new. So much time is wasted on going back and fixing things that aren’t working anyways.  It is okay to toss stacks of paper into the recycling bin, delete hundreds of frames of animation or redesign characters. In the end, you’ll be much happier with what you have, and it will take less time to do in the future since you had the extra practice. Don’t think of it as time wasted; it’s time you were learning.”

One of the biggest lessons Kilpela learned at CCS was the importance of networking and forming relationships with other artists.  

“I made some lasting friendships at CCS, and those people continue to influence everything I do,” said Kilpela. “Being in Detroit, it can be hard to find a studio to hire you.  You have to go to conventions, festivals, and other networking events to connect with other artists and designers. This will help you through college and after. Network at every opportunity.”

To see more of Kilpela’s work, visit http://karisauce.tumblr.com.