He was just a kid, much like any other kid growing up in Memphis – except for a couple of things. Chris O'Conner was being raised by a single father, Donald O'Conner. Yes, that Don O'Conner. The director of Memphis' own Watoto De Afrika Performing Arts Academy.
Watoto De Afrika (Swahili for "Children of Africa") created the perfect backdrop for Chris O'Conner growing up to even think that the Memphis was due its first animation studio.
"I always knew I could never be a 9-to-5 guy," he said. "If I was on someone else's job, I would always want to do things my way. Prodigi Arts is what I've wanted to do my whole life. When I was a kid, I loved comic books and cartoons. I loved the art of storytelling."
Almost no one would be surprised that the son of Donald O'Conner envisioned himself growing up to be a creative animator. In Chris' mind, his destiny had been set long before his animation studio opened.
The Prodigi Arts website touts: "...Prodigi Arts exists to create visual content that connects brands with their audiences and helps them accomplish their marketing and entertainment objectives through unbridled creativity and imagination. We accomplish these aims through the techniques of animation, image design, live action and motion design wherever they are needed, in whatever form they take."
Besides video production and image design, Prodigi Arts makes logos, branding characters and company insignias move about, dance, or come to life. It's a novel concept in Memphis, even in the Mid-South. Prodigi Arts is an eclectic mix of artistry, technology and aesthetic innovation.
What it produces
"Large companies, like FedEx, outsource their animation projects to places like California because there are hundreds of animation studios in California," said Chris.
"My mentors begged me not to open an animation studio here in Memphis. 'There is no market here,' they said. But I felt that 'no market' meant limitless possibilities. To me, I felt that Memphis offered tremendous opportunity. There was a void to fill, and I was determined to fill it."
Now, the team of six boasts an impressive client list, which includes Regional One Health (formerly The MED), Leadership Memphis, Autozone, the Memphis Business Journal, and the City of Memphis.
O'Conner and his team want to put Memphis on the creativity map, what Walt Disney did with Orlando, Fla. In less than five years, Prodigi Arts seems well on its way.
What's his motivation...
"I actually started work in my dorm room at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University)," said O'Conner. "I took small animation jobs while I was working on my degree in animation. I graduated in 2006, and all graduates were applying for jobs with Disney and Pixar. I knew that wasn't for me.
"I wanted to tell stories as an animator," he said. "I wanted to produce and direct films. Disney employs thousands of animators. After 30 years, I might have moved up enough to head up a project. That was just not an option for me. Ever..."
O'Conner, a little kid with big dreams, was educated in the Memphis City Schools system. He attended Springdale Elementary, Snowden Middle, and Central High School, graduating in the class of 2002.
"It's been great doing business here in Memphis. Some fantastic people have given us a chance to work on their projects. Robert Lipscomb with the city, and two ladies with Regional One Health helped us get that job: Tammie Ritchie and Laticia Towns," he said.
"We're excited about what's next. Looking for bigger and better in our future. We're going to go out and get it."