A Dream and the Thing with Feathers
It was as if a little bird told her to strike out on her own and follow her dream. A year and a half ago Charlotte Rinderknecht quit her job managing a media lab at a university in the Washington, DC, area to start Studio Kinate, the first woman-owned animation studio.
Rinderknecht and her husband, Bill, tapped into their 401(k) savings to produce the studio’s first short animation, Pete’s Odyssey. The brainchild of director and former Disney Institute executive Larry Lauria, this story about a young, pink songbird who conquers her fears of the unknown has since garnered multiple awards, including “Best Animation” at the 2010 Beaufort Film Festival.
I met Rinderknecht last Spring in Virginia at a small, private book signing for my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®. What was Rinderknecht, the president and executive producer of an animation studio, doing there?
“I used to think being an introvert meant I had to be a follower—one of the worker bees,” she says. “However, as I gained confidence in managing people, I realized that I had a unique ability with creative people,” she adds. Rinderknecht says that many on her creative team are introverts, and some are shy on top of that too.
One of them, her latest hire, Erin Thweatt, landed her job at Studio Kinate as a special type of animator called a character designer by googling animation in Virginia, introducing herself by e-mail, and wowing Rinderknecht with her portfolio. “The director will say to Erin, ‘I want the character to look like this,’ and Erin draws it,” says Rinderknecht. “Once we get the character the way we want it, Erin colors it in and brings it to life.”
Rinderknecht shares that all of her team members work from home, which is heaven for the introverts; however, it’s tough on the extroverts* who need more interaction. “The hard thing about being the president of the company is that I need to make sure the extroverts get sufficient face time with me. One of my new hires affectionately says he needs his Mama Bear fix!” she muses. Rinderknecht adds that she has to pace herself when scheduling lots of meetings and workshops. “I’ve taught technology classes and am so wiped out after an hour or two,” says Rinderknecht. “If I sit down with someone to teach them exactly the same subject, I can go all day and that is so rewarding.”
What is it like for an introvert to get a hand-drawn animation studio off the ground? After all, a big part of Rinderknecht’s job is pitching her ideas. “Without those quiet times away from the crowd, I would be a wreck,” she says. “I have to make sure I don’t schedule things too closely. Otherwise, I get overwhelmed with too much face time and not enough downtime which I need as an introvert.”
Rinderknecht shares that she recently had to get a profit-and-loss report together for her company. “With no one around but my dogs, I was able to reconcile an entire year in one-and-a-half days. I actually lose track of time because I can just dig down into the details and go nonstop until it’s complete.”
Studio Kinate, which creates hand-drawn animation for commercials, public service announcements, and training videos, uses interns to create many of its drawings. “While most animation studios have internships, interns are the lifeblood of Studio Kinate. It isn’t a typical US business practice to use them on the scale that we do at Studio Kinate. It is more of a European principal that I researched. Specifically, my example was the old world art masters who would take on an apprentice,” says Rinderknecht.
It took 20 high school and college students from the Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts and Bloomfield College in New Jersey to create nearly 7,000 drawings for Pete’s Odyssey. Check out this video to learn more about what goes into creating a short animation.
Studio Kinate also offers apprenticeships to individuals at risk and from other disadvantaged groups. “If I learn about a young man or woman who is really talented, no matter what their current status, I want to give them a chance. Even if she’s a single mother in a shelter, I’m going to give her a chance and a paycheck. She will have to show some talent, but I want to give her the opportunity where society has failed,” says Rinderknecht, who hit hard times herself as a single mother on Welfare when she was in her 20s.
Rinderknecht helps many of her team members learn to believe in their abilities and work well with clients. She says she has helped her creative team articulate what they were creating by practicing on her. “I give them ‘safe’ ways to build their confidence, and in turn, they give me the confidence to build Studio Kinate.”
“Pete’s Odyssey was our experiment to prove our business model works,” says Rinderknecht. “The Office of Naval Research recently awarded Studio Kinate a contract to create animated training aids to assist in its research and development efforts,” she adds. “Eventually we would like to create some online games, apps, stories, and a film with our main character, Pete.” One can only wonder where that little bird might take her next!
*Also spelled “extraverts” by Carl Jung and the communities of the MBTI® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.