Reel Life Real Life
By Meda Kessler
Photos courtesy of Tracey Dispensa
Tracey Dispensa has an impressive Hollywood resume but also fulfills her mom role with humor, grace and style.
One day, you’re putting on your best boss lady persona as you head to Los Angeles for a week of meetings with Netflix and Warner Bros. executives. The following week, you’re making sure you have packed the kids’ gym bags for lacrosse camp at the local high school, where you try to stay cool even though it’s 100 degrees in the shade. Of course, you realize you need your best boss lady face for the boys, too, as they need to go to bed early the night before the 8 a.m. practices.
For work, you’ve also traded living in downtown San Francisco for a loft in Dallas’ Deep Ellum, eventually moving into a multistory house in Southlake when you started having children.
Oh, and at one point in your life, you planned to become an Olympic figure skater. Today, you’re working with technology that blends animation and live-action film. You have an IMDb profile, but you proudly carry your Southlake Carroll Dragons tote bag to show your school spirit.
Such is the life of Tracey Dispensa, founder of an award-winning animation studio and mom to three boys.
Born and raised in California, Tracey studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, focusing on animation and illustration. She got a production assistant job at DreamWorks, working with artists and understanding their roles in film. It was an early taste of management for Dispensa.
Among her list of films is the wildly successful Shrek series, How to Train Your Dragon and Madagascar 3. “Dragon was an incredible project to be part of, and I really thought I had found my forever career with DreamWorks,” says Tracey.
But when one of the studios shut down and started outsourcing jobs to overseas, Tracey opted to make a change. Plus, she wanted to start a family with her husband. “I wanted to be a mom but not a stay-at-home mom.”
She took a job with Intel’s internal creative agency and worked on live-action production with Paramount. “I also wanted to learn more about the industry, what it takes to make a film and how to source more talent at home.”
And the work didn’t stop. Tracey helped develop the animation and special effects for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction for Disney’s theme parks. Corporate clients included Microsoft, the Olympics and many more heavy hitters whose marketing ambitions rival those of film studios.
A full-time job with Warner Bros. brought her to Texas and the company’s Deep Ellum office. Film production, at one time, was big in the Lone Star State thanks to the many incentives the state offered to lure productions here. The downside was that living in the Dallas neighborhood known for its live music clubs and bar scene wasn’t conducive to raising a family.
“I had been thinking about forming my own company ever since I left DreamWorks,” says Tracey. “When a move to Montreal became a real possibility, the idea became reality, as we really wanted to stay in Texas. We like it here.”
She talked things over with one of her Warner Bros. colleagues who lived in Dallas. “Between the two of us, we realized that there’s a lot of talent in this area.” And in June of 2018, her new company, Cloud 10 Studios, was born.
“I was advised by a lot of people in the industry to set up an office in Dallas, as it’s a known city,” says Tracey. “But my goal is to one day move it to Southlake and to cultivate talent from this area.” Today, there’s a staff of 15, including herself. “We were built for remote work, so not everyone lives in Texas.”
Cloud 10 offers full services and original content as an animation studio and it recently won five awards, four gold and one silver, in the 43rd annual Telly Awards, which honor electronic storytellers. SOAR, a short film about a child helping a bird to fly for the first time, was among Cloud 10’s winners.
Clients range from medical professionals to government entities.
But Tracey admits seeing kids entertained by films she has worked on continues to get her jazzed. “I was at Cook Children’s Medical Center for one of my boys, and I saw how they had such an impact. It’s a thrill to know what you do can be educational, but making kids laugh and smile is pretty cool, too.”