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Survival of the Nimblest: Navigating 35 Years in Business


The STUDIO NYC founder Mary Nittolo and her team reveal what it takes to sustain a business that always stays ahead of the curve

Survival of the Nimblest: Navigating 35 Years in Business

With an impressive 35 years under its belt, production and animation company the STUDIO NYC, founded by chief creative officer Mary Nittolo, has honed the craft of adaptability, battling through numerous recessions, the leap into a digital age and even a global pandemic to remain a thriving business.

So what’s been the secret to the company’s continuous success? 

Mary puts it down to a zest for learning and good critical thinking skills: “Listening and learning is so important. I have a daily practice of reading the trades, trusted news sources and business journalism to get a more global perspective of what’s coming”

“I also have a good combination of deductive reasoning (a skill picked up in my college days when I studied philosophy) and a love for change. The love for change part is lucky – I know so many people who are dispositionally opposed to it. Finally, I think a lot of people are afraid to admit what they don’t know and fail to do the research to investigate. Knowing what I don’t know has been enormously helpful.”

Being fond of change means the STUDIO NYC is well versed in being agile - a quality that has seen it challenges over the decades with relative ease. As the pace of change continues to quicken, these flexible and future-facing values have become increasingly crucial for businesses to perfect.

“We’ve navigated an enormous amount of change from rapid advances in technology, to recessions and the switch from broadcast as the main medium, to name a few,” Mary says. “We started in the analog age so everything we did was by conventional means and tools. Shifting to digital tools was a big learning curve, but it eventually made everything easier - initially, in terms of meeting client expectations to make revisions, and eventually, in allowing us to create more collaborative and efficient pipelines.” 

“Recessions are a more complex issue,” she continues, “but here, technology actually assisted. We’ve constantly refined our pipelines to accommodate shrinking budgets and timelines. Shifts to different platforms were (and remain) wildly exciting, as they opened up a vast array of projects I frankly couldn’t have conceived of 35 years ago.”

These changes in technology and the democratisation of tools have been critical factors in the company’s growth and in its artists’ tools for expression. 

Lead story artist and longest serving team member, John Holmes has been with the company for over 20 years. “I started here as a storyboard artist when I moved to NYC, so I got to see the development of the STUDIO from mainly doing design work and pre-viz for advertising agencies, to adding post-production services, CG animation, motion graphics, and live-action production. As lead artist, the variety of projects and campaigns we’ve done over the years have scratched my narrative itch in storytelling so-to-speak.”

This variety in styles was exactly what drew creative director Mike Ocasio and head of production Eric Schutzbank to the company. Starting off as an illustrator/designer, Mike soon became creative director through Mary’s mentorship. “It’s a brilliant place to work because one day you might work on funny animations for Comedy Central, and the next you’re working on a compelling video for an amfAR gala to help fund a cure for AIDS. So most days are either fun, fulfilling, or both,” he says.

For Eric, joining the STUDIO NYC allowed him to move away from his data-focused administrative role at a production company and back into more hands-on production work. “I was drawn to the versatility of the STUDIO’s work - the range of production types, which tied all my previous animation experience together under one umbrella. I started as a producer focused on pre-viz, concept art, and storyboards. Since then I’ve had a hand in pretty much every facet of the STUDIO’s production pipeline, from creative producing to client management.”

More recently, creative producer Sharon Chen joined the team: “It’s been about one year at the STUDIO NYC so far. Its diverse array of work, ethos, and the fact that it was 100% women-owned stood out to me. I could tell that a lot of love and thought was present here and that was confirmed after joining the team. Throughout the last year, I went from shadowing Eric to managing projects.”

Mary highlights that it's the strength of the team and its culture that has helped it thrive through various hurdles. “I believe in being transparent about obstacles the company is facing and have always felt supported by my team in trying to find creative solutions for working through them,” she reveals.

“The fact that we have diversity of thought and trust within the team is also crucial,” Mike stresses. “I think it’s important that a team not become an echo chamber. We challenge and debate creative and business decisions together.”

“Collaboration and communication are critical,” Sharon agrees. “Speak up, take the time to listen to other people and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

“And never assume,” Eric adds. “Ask questions - often the answers will surprise you. Listen carefully and try to be kind. It goes a long way.”

“I’ve always admired our ability to be versatile,” John concludes. “We get approached to do a wide breadth of graphical styles. For my department, having solid drawing chops gives us the flexibility to explore and master a variety of visual approaches. It’s the key to survival.”

Having been set up to embrace change from the very beginning, the STUDIO has been able to jump every hurdle and enjoy many highlights along the way. Mary recounts: “Without mentioning specific projects, I am particularly proud of our gallery and museum collaborations; working on two award-winning documentaries, ‘A Girl Named C’ and ‘The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion’; completing all the animation for ‘Doing the Most with Phoebe Robinson’ for Comedy Central during COVID; and work for non-profits that advance their educational objectives and facilitates their fundraising. The pro-bono project we did for Scarlett Contra el Cancer, not only facilitated their fundraising and picked up awards, but resonated with a global audience garnering 35 million + views with no paid media.”

On what advice she would give to other entrepreneurs looking to build a sustainable business, Mary says, “Diversify your clients, so that if one industry is being challenged you can still remain relevant. Our clients are ad agencies, consumer brands, B2B brands, entertainment and media giants like Disney and Viacom, non-profits, cultural institutions… and so on.”

“Also be ready to pivot to accommodate client needs and budgets by suggesting alternate techniques and approaches. Having an incredibly diverse and versatile staff of artists helps,” she notes.

“I’m excited for the next 35 years and I’m confident that we’ll continue to adapt well while still keeping true to the quality of work we are known for. My motto is: work hard and be nice. It can get you very far.”

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the STUDIO NYC, Wed, 29 Jun 2022 09:43:34 GMT