Follow Your Heart: Alumna’s Oscar-winning passion shapes outlook on life





Many young women wouldn’t dream of turning down a job at the Dolce and Gabbana Showroom in downtown SoHo—New York’s premier contemporary-art locale. Val Cripps, however, had her heart set on a different dream when she made that decision nearly 20 years ago.
Looking back, she said it was one of the greatest decisions she’s ever made.

“All of these fashion people were coming in all week with their portfolios, desperate to work there, but they only hired temps. You had to be able to speak Italian fluently,” Cripps recalled.

A graduate of Indiana University with a double major in art history and Italian, Cripps had been working in the showroom for just a week when she was offered a full-time job as an office assistant. But she had silver-screen dreams and a degree from Mississippi State University in mind.

“I told my supervisor, ‘Thank you for the offer, but I’m going to have to decline. I’m going to Los Angeles to work in film,’” Cripps remembered saying with confidence.

After completing a master’s degree in electronic visualization from Mississippi State in 1997, that’s exactly what she did.

From falling leaves, clouds, rain and snow to breaking glass, puffs of crayon dust, champagne bubbles and spider webs, Cripps’ visual effects work has appeared in a variety of feature films over the years. She has 15 movie credits to her name, including “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Spider-Man 3.”

Most recently, Cripps worked as a visual effects technical director for Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California. There, she was one of more than 50 effects artists who lent their talents to “Big Hero 6.” In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Animated Film, the movie was also named the highest-grossing animated film in 2014.

Prior to working at Disney, Cripps was an effects animator for Los Angeles-based Rhythm and Hues Studios. One of the films on which she worked was “Life of Pi,” which received, among others, the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2013.

“I loved it, and my kids were really excited about it, too,” she said of her film work. “It’s fun when I show them movies like these, and they’re like ‘Hey, Mommy did that!’”

When asked what advice she would offer those who aspire to work in the film industry, Cripps stressed the importance of having exceptional social, interpersonal and communication skills, as well as the attitude of a team player. Being receptive to new ideas and concepts also is important in film production, she adds.

“Trying to rock out in production can be tricky due to rapid changes in technology,” Cripps admitted. “I’ve learned a lot, but I’m no computer genius by any means. The people with whom I worked were absolutely brilliant and steeped in amazing, deep skill. I learned to ask a lot of questions and in doing so, made a lot of friends.”

Since completing her visual effects work on “Big Hero 6,” Cripps has taken a break from production to spend more time with her family and develop her own business, Valtopia. She is designing a coloring book for adults and hopes to use a portion of its proceeds to benefit the California-based Unstoppable Foundation.

Cripps was inspired to become involved in the charity after hearing the organization’s founder speak about the need for education for each child around the world.

“As a mother, I can’t fathom the inability to have or provide my children with the basic necessities in life—food, water, shelter and education—which allow an opportunity for a better life,” she said.

Through this charity, she was able to fund a self-sustaining African village for a year. She said she has always intended to use her talents to help make the world a better place. Through creativity and inspiration, she is creating a positive ripple effect by sharing images, music, and messages through social media and soon through her coloring book and Valtopia.

“It doesn’t matter where you are. Anybody can find a cause that they believe in and contribute to it,” Cripps said. “When you help, the energy you generate comes back to you and makes everything go a little better.”

Story by Sasha Steinberg | Photography by Hilary Stauffer