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Meet Los Feliz Animator, BG Painter, Designer, and Illustrator: Kassandra Heller

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kassandra Heller.

Kassandra, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
7 years ago I moved here like most people… for work! Haha which actually the animation industry was pretty dried up at the time..but most places were better than Detroit. (for the record I love Detroit!)

I went to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI majoring in Illustration. My goals were set low..I just wanted ANY job that was creative cause working the non-creative jobs I had been working bored me to tears and I didn’t want to live my whole life watching the clock. Art school isn’t for everyone but for me I wouldn’t have known where to begin if not for my teachers and peers. I met my now husband Chris Houghton freshmen year.

While in school I started getting work in toy design for a bit. Got a really great internship from Fisher Price in Buffalo and later worked at Lake Shore Learning. I felt happy to be working but unfulfilled. Working in toy design was a lot like the movie “Big.” except no Tom Hanks to liven things up.

I decided to dream bigger so after graduation Chris and I packed a few things and flew to Los Angeles. I always loved animation and comics so I looked into what jobs I can do with the skills I already have. Comics doesn’t pay well so Animation was my choice by default haha. It was really hard to get in animation knowing hardly anyone while loads of talented kids from nearby colleges graduating were quickly hired. I had to redo my entire portfolio to focus it towards the job I wanted in animation. I did eventually get my foot in the door at smaller animation studios. I lived by the whole “fake it till you make it” thing. I learn the software Flash during my first job while pretending I was already a master at Flash. Phew! That was hard! When you work at smaller studios you wear many hats. Now I work at Cartoon Network where I have one job. I am a background painter.

Background painting is a job I feel very comfortable in. I’ve always loved color and I think that is reflexed in my personal work. My personal work is very painterly and colorful..while I was searching for a job in animation I also did gallery shows, book illustrations, and Comics. More and more I’m hired to do development work in my personal style so it’s really great that my professional and personal art are crossing paths.

(Side note: Chris also went into animation as a Storyboard artist. He worked on tons of shows and now him and his brother have their own show at Disney TV.)

Has it been a smooth road?
Going to college was hard. I didn’t have any money and art college is as expensive as going to Yale. Thank goodness my parents were crazy enough to co-sign my loans. Getting into animation being from an unknown school in Detroit while nearby colleges were able to give a more focused education about the animation industry. And not having a car for over a year in LA was sometimes pretty awful (before Uber)

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I left Cartoon Network just a couple of weeks ago! I’ll be starting a new job soon but contracts are still being passed around so I can’t talk about it yet!

Let’s explore some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way. What was the most difficult part of your career so far?
I was bullied relentlessly throughout school. I think this is why I related so much with cartoons…because typically the main character of a cartoon is awkward or different than the characters around them. Now the things I was bullied for are the things that inspire me today.

Choosing a career in art is just really crazy. It’s not as safe as most other careers it has no set path…you can try to follow someone’s footsteps but that won’t necessarily work for you.

What about “Wow-moments” – any moments that stick out? Any moments when you felt like you had made it?
I was really nervous going in and now I feel very confident. I definitely don’t feel like I’ve made it yet. As soon as I stop learning from my current job I’m going to set my goals higher.

When I meet someone who recognizes me from my artwork and goes “Oh yeah! I have a print of a piece you did in my living room!” That feels really rewarding.

Also anytime a kid is excited about the show you work pretty awesome!

Contact Info:

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