Meet Rick Vertolli
While working at a steel mill in Northeast Ohio, sweat pouring down the back of my neck, listening to my colleagues complain about the 10-hour shift they were working, it became clear what Confucius meant when he said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life."
Passion for Making Art
That fall, against my father’s wishes, I enrolled in art school. My work habits remained the same: ten-hour days, sweat pouring down the back of my neck, but instead of building 12-inch slabs of steel for nuclear reactors, I was creating art. My art. I loved it all. They were intense Expressionist paintings—small, large, some on canvas, some on brown grocery bags, and some were on the walls of local bars.
It didn’t matter. It was what I wanted to do and I was living that dream.
Graduation came sooner than I had hoped. What could a boy from Canton, Ohio, do with a BFA in painting and sculpture? Move to San Francisco, of course. So by day I worked at the Legion of Honor museum and by night I created handmade paper in my studio apartment at the corner of Grove and Divisadero. Once again, I found a way to live my dream.
Melding Technology and the Arts
In 1980, before Macintosh computers, before Pixar, almost even before Star Wars, I walked on the Chico State University campus with one idea in mind: I wanted to create art with a computer. Back then the only way to gain access to image-processing computers was through the engineering department. Unlike today, there were no labs full of computers—just one lab with three, and usually this meant waiting for access during the day. But at night, between 1–9 a.m., I owned the lab. I could program on one system and print from the others.
Chico was great! Deep in the basement of the library was a hidden computer. It was behind closed doors, and you had to know the password and a secret knock to enter the room. Inside the lab stood the Dubner CBG. Pieced together with hand-soldered circuit boards, boasting 64KB of memory, costing the university over $150,000, only 100 of these computers existed in the world.
By hook or crook, I was going to create art on this computer. And so I did. For the next 25 years, through countless upgrades and endless hours, working with a handful of dedicated artists and starry-eyed interns, we created animation that inspired, captivated, and told a story.
As an educator, I feel fortunate to bring this collaborative and creative spirit to the classroom. I am adamant that our curriculum reflects the skills learned in a production environment. I believe strongly in real-world experience and see a huge benefit to students who participate in an internship program.
This is my story, my motivation. To this day, my work habits remain the same: 10-hour days filled with perspiration and inspiration, but I have yet to work a day in my life.
CCA has a rich history of innovation and community support. The environment is creative, intellectual, and open to new ideas. What I love most about CCA is the energy—the vibe. It’s a relatively small art college with big ambitions. From the encouraging administration to the optimistic first-year students to a lineup of incredible faculty members, we all have one goal in mind: be the best animation program in the world.
I am excited to share my expertise as a creative director and educator with the students at CCA. But I’m most excited about the opportunity to bring the Animation Program one step closer to its ultimate goal. As I look to the future and the task at hand, I have one wish for our students: that they never work a day in their lives.