Not many Staples High School graduates join the Marines.
Not a lot make tables for a living.
It’s pretty rare for a Staples athlete — a skier and state champion volleyball player — to earn two degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Todd Austin has done all of those things.
His post-Staples path is anything but typical. He would have it no other way.
In August 1999 — 2 months after his Staples graduation — Todd was in boot camp. “I wasn’t ready for college,” he says. “I wanted to get out of Westport. I needed a different experience.”
Putting his artistic side “on hold” — he was voted Most Artistic at Bedford Middle School — Todd rose through the ranks, to corporal. He spent 6 months in Southeast Asia, where the sights, smells and sounds of the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand made a profound influence.
The last 6 months of his 4-year military contract were in Iraq. He was part of the 1st US invasion. His only art was tattooing fellow Marines.
But once an artist, always an artist. Back in Connecticut, Todd met David Boyajian. The Danbury sculptor took him under his wing. “I had a lot of artistic energy stored up,” Todd says. “David re-sparked my interest.”
David helped Todd create a portfolio. RISD — one of the top art schools in the country — accepted him. Soon, Todd was immersed in a community of “creative, like-minded, passionate people.”
A Todd Austin sculpture.
He spent a year doing sculptures, then transferred to the architecture program. At the same time he worked with a carpenter, learning to build houses.
Graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees — in fine arts and architecture — Todd moved to Newport. He pursued both carpentry and fine art.
After a stint with a furniture builder near “stunningly beautiful” Telluride, Colorado, Todd returned to Connecticut. He had a good job with an architectural firm, but realized he was not made to sit at a desk.
These days, Todd is focused on fine art, and table-making. In his wood shop and studio on Partrick Lane he also creates coffee tables, chairs and shelving. His style is “contemporary rustic,” incorporating traditional building techniques and materials. He’s built up a loyal clientele, largely through word-of-mouth, gallery leads and Facebook.
A Todd Austin table.
His website — filled with photos of his work — contains an interesting quote. It’s one part Marine, one part artist, and 100% Todd Austin:
“I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, and work for beauty.”
In 2007 Connor Murphy graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. He’d focused on studio-scale animation, and enjoyed internships working on productions like “Corpse Bride,” “Brotherhood” and “Underdog.”
Now the 2003 Staples grad needed a Real Job. He wrote 1,300 personalized emails. Finally, he landed work as a “glorified production assistant” at Giant Studios. The company — specializing in “motion capture technology” for film and video games– was just gearing up for a new project: “Avatar.”
“It was pure Irish luck,” Connor recalls. “To be honest, at that point I would have taken any job.”
Giant Studios is actually rather small — 30 people — allowing Connor to learn quickly and move up. He served as director James Cameron’s camera assistant on stage, and ran the motion capture system.
With his animation training, Connor worked as a motion editor on 3 simultaneous projects: “Mummy 3,” The Incredible Hulk” and “Prince Caspian.” He applied the captured human motion to the movie characters, then changed, blended or enhanced that motion as needed.
When the motion-editing phase of “Avatar” began, he moved easily into that. He had, he says, “the unique and very advantageous position of working on both the on-set capture and post-production effects portions” of the mega-blockbuster.
Six-day weeks were typical — and on those days Connor would work from 7:30 a.m. to midnight. “We all got a little crazy, and a little fatter,” he notes.
“‘Avatar’ was my first credit. Having touched nearly every scene in the movie in 1 way or another, I’m just proud that we finished and that people like it,” he says.
At Staples Connor was involved in tech for Players. He took several advanced drawing courses, and spent his free time drawing in the art rooms. He credits teacher Camille Eskell and the rest of the art department with helping him take art seriously — and get into RISD — but realizes now that “the rest of my Staples education was invaluable to successfully merging art with the real world.
“Being able to speak to the physics and the ‘reasons why’ behind the animation is just as valuable as being able to do it in the 1st place.”
This week, Connor began his next project: “Real Steel.” Directed by Shawn Levy, it’s “a ‘Rocky’-style story about robot boxing in the future.”
Connor looks forward to working on fight scenes — and “more extreme characters.”
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