Bloomfield native's love of art leads to Disney, and then back home

05:00 AM, Jul 01, 2013

Kim Torpey now lives in Naples. (KATE MELTON)/


Written By Nancy E. McCarthy

Lilo, Stitch and 9/11

Torpey explains how 9/11 affected work at Disney:
“Lilo & Stitch felt like a unique project as we worked on it — as if we were on one of the better films out of the modern crop. We were very close to completion just when Sept. 11 happened.
“The film’s original ending included a climactic action sequence with Stitch hijacking a 747 airplane and flying it dangerously close to a hotel in Hawaii, subsequently using the plane to save the day. But after 9/11, it was decided that sequence would not be well-received by movie-goers, and so we all literally went back to the drawing board.
“The production timeline was extended, and the entire crew went into crunch time to create a new ending with completely different imagery and circumstances. By the time the film was finished, everyone was exhausted and in general there was a lingering sadness and uncertainty in the wake of 9/11 (like everywhere else).
“The directors, producer and a handful of artists attended the Academy Awards, and we all loved hearing their stories about hobnobbing with celebrities, what they acted and looked like in real life, etc. But the joviality was toned down. It was a more sober time.”
— Kim Torpey

All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney

Landing a job at Walt Disney Feature Animation in Orlando was “a dream come true,” says artist Kim Torpey.

Torpey, a Bloomfield native, was a graphic design student at Finger Lakes Community College when she met fellow undergraduate Tim Massa. In the early ’90s, when Massa took a job in London at ex-Disney animator Uli Meyer’s commercial studio, Torpey made an uncharacteristically impulsive decision to follow him. She freelanced at the studio, and Meyer trained them in the classic Disney style of hand-drawn animation.

Then came The Lion King. Its resounding success led Disney to look at expanding its feature animation division in Orlando, and Meyer — who had been producing Euro Disney commercials — recommended Torpey and Massa. After three good years in London, the expatriates were ready to return to America.

It was 1995 when they started at Disney, and the work, Massa says, was “intense.” As the assistant lead key (second in command of an animation team of 10), Torpey would draw “key” poses of a character, assigning remaining frames to other team members. Each meticulously hand-drawn frame had to be created with the Disney magic in mind: a final work that created “the illusion of life.”

More magic ensued: The two artists married in 1997. And they were working on high-profile projects. Torpey says her favorite film to draw was Lilo & Stitch, a 2002 Oscar nominee. Stitch, the aggressive and ultimately loveable alien, was “her character,” Torpey says. She drew inspiration for some of Stitch’s expressions from her own cat, Cookie.

But by the end of their decade at Disney, times were changing. Computer-generated box office successes (Toy Story, Finding Nemo) forced classic hand-drawn animation out of vogue. In 2005, the animation studio closed.

The silver lining for Tim and I was that our Disney experience enabled us to return home close to family, to a place we loved,” Torpey says. Once again, the two packed up and moved, this time to return to western New York.

It was time “to pursue our next dreams — building our own studio,” says Torpey. They had purchased land in Naples in 2001, a favorite haunt during their college days.

Torpey was now back in the region where she originally developed her love of art. Her first inspiration had been her grandmother, Harriet Torpey, who lived next door and was a lifelong artist who loved painting and nature. Later, when Torpey attended Bloomfield Central High School, art teacher Judi Cermak helped guide her toward a career in the arts.

Kim connected with the power of the arts to express herself,” says Cermak, now president of the Ontario County Arts Council. “She understood how the arts become an integral part of your life.”

Now, the Torpey and Massa run separate businesses from the barn/studio they built. On ground level, Massa’s Strong Hill Cabinetry does kitchen and bath cabinet design. Upstairs, Torpey’s Strong Hill Studio provides web design, photography and illustration services. Her clients include Open Arms Yoga in Naples and the Canandaigua LakeMusic Festival.

Torpey’s love of painting outdoors has remained. Last year, she created three small works in oil during the Finger Lakes Plein Air competition in Canandaigua, and one of them sold. The buyer was a longtime admirer — Judi Cermak, her former art teacher.