Maybe you’ve been walking around Verona Park Lake recently and seen a young man who appears to be having an animated discussion with someone even though he’s all alone. It’s OK. He’s an animator, an Emmy award-winning animator in fact, and when he gets back to his office nearby, he’ll use his computers to fill the gap in the dialog with a character that goes by the name Lil’ Cino.
An Emmy award-winning animator in Verona? Meet Randy Rossilli Jr. and his company, Nightstand Creations, self-proclaimed “The Most Creative Place On Earth”. If that sounds something like the Disney slogan, you’re well on the way to understanding Rossilli’s business philosophy. The walls at Nightstand are lined with posters of his icons: Walt Disney, Jim Henson, Mr. Rogers and Thomas Edison. Rossilli won the Emmy in 2008 for “The Adventures Of Young Thomas Edison”, a series backed by the Edison Innovation Foundation.
“When I left a secure job in public education to start Nightstand, my mother-in-law thought I was crazy,” Rossilli admits. “In three years, I went from being the crazy son-in-law to having her tell me that I should buy a tux ‘because that Emmy won’t be your last’.” He did what his mother-in-law said and was nominated for a second Emmy in 2009.
Rossilli’s path to media entrepreneurship has been as circular as the walkway around Verona Park Lake. When the Newark native graduated William Paterson University in 1991, jobs for communications majors were almost as hard to find as they are now. So Rossilli got a teaching certificate through New Jersey’s alternate route program and started as a middle school teacher in Paterson. He spent the next 13 years moving up through the ranks, teaching and training other teachers in educational technology. Ultimately, he was recruited by Dr. Robert Rosado, a former Verona superintendent of schools, to be a principal in South Plainfield. But Rossilli realized that he wanted to educate kids in a different way, and returned to his media roots.
“I left education to be the next Mr. Rogers,” he says.
The “Young Edison” series was a tribute to the innovator that Rossilli has revered since childhood–so much so, in fact, that he has a tattoo of a light bulb on one leg. That was followed by “Lil’ Grusome and the Nutshell Gang“, a series about manners, feelings and bullying. Nightstand’s ensuing creations include “The Tinosaurs“, which has just been picked up by BabyFirst TV for distribution to 120 million households in 35 countries in 14 different languages beginning in August.
All along, it has been family first for Rossilli, who lives in another Essex County suburb with his wife and two daughters. “Nighstand Creations will not release anything that is not wholesome family entertainment,” he avers. “It’s just like Disney: If Walt put his stamp on it, it was good for the whole family.”
And that includes Lil’ Cino, a one-man conglomerate of urban entrepreneurship, entertainment and financial education (his name is part homage to the street slang for a $100 bill). Rossilli is the back-up band on Lil’ Cino’s rap videos, recording the eight instruments he plays in the sound booth in his Verona office, across the hall from the two employees and bevy of interns who assist him with the animation.
Where all this is going is anybody’s guess. Even with a Emmy in hand, life as an animator is a bit of a tango between ideas and funding. As Rossilli himself noted in his stroll in Verona Park with Lil’ Cino.