Confidence, communication and computer skills gained at WCSU enabled Gizmo Rivera to build an award-winning Visual Effects career
Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. As a first-generation student growing up in New Britain, Guillermo “Gizmo” Rivera was interested in a career in media or entertainment, but he had several things working against him. His family could not afford a computer and his high school guidance counselor, based on her experiences with his older brother, had suggested that “college isn’t for everybody” and did nothing to assist him with his search.
So, Rivera did the research himself, applied to several universities and “left the doors open and let it be.” He ended up being accepted to universities in Maine, Rhode Island and several in Connecticut. Rivera made his decision based upon the first acceptance packet he received — from Western Connecticut State University — and took the first steps toward fulfilling his California dream.
Initially a Theatre Arts major, Rivera switched to Communication-Media Arts. As a sophomore, he finally got his own PC and “it opened up the floodgates of what was possible,” he said. He quickly ended up as a student technician in the university’s Information Technology office — a job he juggled with his off-campus jobs as a waiter and bartender to pay for tuition. He wanted to learn more about computer architecture and got the necessary approvals to skip the prerequisites and go directly into higher-level classes because it came so easily to him.
In his Communication classes, he was equally enthralled, thanks to his professors. “Khalda Logan was amazing. She introduced me to tech, lighting, environments and positioning. Hugh McCarney showed me the theory of film; we’d watch movies and break them down like I’ve never done before. My adviser was Katie Wiss, and she taught me how to listen and write, how to be a student and ingest the information properly. She suggested classes and expanded my horizons.”
What Rivera didn’t learn in his classes, he learned from his fraternity brothers at TKE, where he was Rush chair and vice president. “Greek life is not all about partying like people think,” he said. “We always had the best GPA. In TKE I learned about budgeting, how businesses are run, and it helped me work with people.”
After graduating in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media, Rivera worked briefly for IBM in Southbury before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of working in the entertainment industry. Along the way, he leveraged his computer skills to get his foot in the door at various production companies doing dubs and tapes and fixing anything and everything until one day “the visual effects guy went AWOL and I got to fill in,” Rivera recalled.
Twenty years after graduating, Rivera still has strong feelings about his time at WCSU. “Whenever I would leave Berkshire Hall, when those doors opened, I felt a sense of I could practically do anything,” he said. “I felt like the world was my oyster. At WCSU, the environment, the culture, the professors — I never felt that way as a kid in New Britain.
“I truly love WCSU,” Rivera continued. “I think the school has given me the confidence that I needed and still have to this day. In college, I visited friends at other schools, and I believe WCSU’s professors are just as good and care just as much as at any well-known school. Here, it’s a true community and you’ll actually be noticed for your hard work.”
Speaking of hard work, in his career, Rivera has contributed to 27 major feature films including “Avatar,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “X2: X-Men United,” “Aliens vs Predator: Requiem” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons” as a Visual Effects Artist/Supervisor. He’s done commercials and music videos, and won a 2013 Emmy Award for “Sunday Night Football Open.” Rivera continues to work on films, commercials and music videos, and anything that needs to be altered digitally.
“My job sounds cool, but it’s a grind,” Rivera said. “No one sees the time and effort I put in at 4 a.m. That’s the real part of this industry: it’s a business first.”
Having said that, there’s nowhere else Rivera would rather be.
“Attending WCSU gave me the foundation to be successful in a very competitive industry, Visual Effects,” Rivera said. “The professors and staff prepared me to think critically and expand my understanding in the building and creation of a film. I was exposed to the latest cameras and editing tools of the day and given a great deal of knowledge in film studies and theory. After graduating, I had the confidence and the tools to compete, and build a career in the entertainment and film industry. WCSU and its culture instilled in me a teamwork mentality that allowed me to achieve my dreams and make a living out of it.”
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