A Career in Contexts: From Film to Augmented Reality to VP of Production
Published on Sep 10, 2019 by Stephanie Rizzo
Cordy Rierson graduated with a Film degree but ended up working for some of the biggest tech companies in the world. Now, she’s putting all of her professional experience to use as Vice President of Production at Robert Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment.
Film graduate Cordy Rierson has had the kind of career most people dream about. It’s spanned decades and industries, and she isn’t done yet — in fact, she’s just entered into a third act that serves as a culmination of all her previous experiences. As Vice President of Production at Skybound Entertainment, she’s responsible for overseeing the production process of more than 100 pieces of intellectual property that sit under the Skybound umbrella, including comics, games, television shows, and movies.
“I have worked enough in my life to understand the things that motivate me,” says Cordy. “I thrive heavily on context switching. I like that every day is inherently different.”
Looking back on her body of work, it’s easy to understand Cordy’s ongoing desire to switch things up. After she graduated with a Film degree in 1993, Cordy worked as a production manager on films like Batman Forever and The Legend of Bagger Vance. She landed at Dreamworks right around the time the studio was making the shift to digital animation.
“This was before Unity or Unreal or anything like that existed. Everybody was just building their own engines. And it was such an education. I entered the industry on the cusp of this major change in how digital evolution and technology was going to impact creative entertainment,” she says.
It turns out that impact was greater than anyone, including Cordy, could have imagined. Over the next 18 years, she would make a gradual pivot from the film industry to the tech-driven realm of immersive entertainment, eventually spending eight years at Microsoft.
“I met Kudo Tsunoda (Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President in charge of new experiences), and he was working on Kinect. He said, ‘Hey, you understand new technologies, we have this new peripheral that we’re looking to ship with Xbox, and we need to figure it out.’ And so that began the foray.”
The “foray” was a beeline from the technology behind Kinect to the Microsoft HoloLens, a mixed-reality headset designed for the business and tech industries. At $3,000, the HoloLens was too pricey for the average consumer, but perfect for companies looking to lower their overhead through advancements like simulation and augmented 3D modeling. As Director of Microsoft HoloLens Experiences, Cordy worked with organizations like NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover team and Daimler (the parent company behind Mercedes-Benz). And although she wasn’t directly utilizing her film degree, she says she still leaned heavily on the things she learned at Full Sail.
“It was about how you show up and what kind of effort you put in. How do you collaborate with others to achieve a goal? How do you break down a problem, and solve it? It was that culmination of things that I still carry with me today and have continued to build on and, hopefully, refine.”
After nearly a decade in Seattle, Cordy decided to move back to California. “Frankly, I came for the sunshine,” she says. After receiving offers from a handful of tech companies, she decided to with the one outlier — Skybound Entertainment, a multi-platform production company founded by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and his partner David Alpert. The company oversees management of all of Kirkman’s properties, including his comics, the television shows based on his comics, any resulting films, and games. And they do the same for other artists, too.
Skybound was founded on the idea that creators should retain creative control of their work. It’s a mid-sized company that’s been around for years, but it fosters a culture more akin to a start-up than a corporation. For someone like Cordy, a workhorse who never got to experience start-up culture, the appeal was instant.
“It was that entrepreneurial spirit that was really appealing to me. Because I knew I’d be able to stick my hands in all kinds of things and learn. I’ve never made a board game. I’ve never managed book publishing or merchandise publishing. But I’ve been able to learn about all these areas. Beyond that, I was able to bring my expertise to the table, because I understand film development, I understand TV, and I understand interactive,” she says.
“If I get complacent, I become a troublemaker,” she adds. “Which is why I like switching contexts. Complacency is death.”
Cordy has built her life and career on creative, tech-driven pivots — from standing at the forefront of new animation techniques to working with the team that parlayed Kinect technology into the HoloLens. Through it all, she remains a student; she’s always willing to learn in order to foster growth in her career and her industry, even if it means taking a big leap.