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Linda Mah
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K-Central Grad Feels the ’Call of Duty’

David Gulisano Is a Lead Animator for Popular Video Game

When David Gulisano graduated from Kalamazoo Central in 1990, Mario and Luigi were still throwing highly pixilated fireballs.

He never imagined the gaming world that exists today or that his career would lead him to have a role in one of the biggest games in existence: “Call of Duty,” the first-person shooting game universe that includes spheres such as “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” and “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.”

Gulisano moved to Kalamazoo as a sophomore, after having spent his early childhood moving around the West Coast, where his father was a construction manager.

Although he lived in Kalamazoo only a few years, it remains one of the most influential places in his life, said Gulisano, who now lives in Madison, Wis.

“I made lifelong friends there,” he said. “I married one of my friends from high school. My best friend is from high school.”

Kalamazoo is such a key part of his life, he and his wife Rebecca Minsley’s love story is part of the movie “Kalamazoo?,” which was shot in Kalamazoo and was written by his high school friend Joanna Clare Scott.

Gulisano is a senior animator for Raven Software, which has generally been called upon to help finish games such as “Call of Duty” and get them to market toward the end of development. He estimates that for the most recent games, Raven has provided a quarter to half of the animation.
Gulisano is one of those lucky people who knew what he wanted to do from an early age.

There were two key moments that helped define his interest. Both involved film.

First moment: when he saw the movie “Snow White.”

“That was super cool to me at the time, and at one point I realized you could do animation for a living,” he said. That became his goal — except for that period when he briefly considered becoming a dentist, because it seemed like they made a lot of money.

“I was the sort of kid who was doodling on every surface you could get your hands on. I remember my mom had a green couch and I took red marker and drew all over it.”
He was also fascinated by comic books, and they became his own drawing school.

“Through comic books, I figured out anatomy,” Gulisano said. “I didn’t know that I was figuring out anatomy, I’d just draw something and think, ‘That doesn’t look right. His arm shouldn’t be that lumpy.”

He said his Kalamazoo Central art teacher Diana Monovich helped introduce him to the masters such as Michelangelo and how they drew.

After he graduated from Kalamazoo Central, he enrolled at Montana State University. It wasn’t the right fit for him, but it was a valuable lesson. He shored up his grades there and built an extensive portfolio, and then his mom suggested he transfer to the University of Michigan, which had been his dream school all along.

He graduated from U of M with a bachelor’s of fine arts with a concentration in drawing and figurative sculpture and graphic design.

He worked at Perrigo in Allegan for a year as a package designer, but he knew that wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. By that point he’d had that second inspirational moment: He’d seen the movie “Toy Story.”

“Once I’d seen computer animation, I was hooked,” he said. “The original ‘Toy Story,’ for sure, was a big influence. And some of the early Pixar shorts were amazing. ‘Snow White’ was the catalyst for doing animation period. ‘Toy Story’ was for doing animation with computers.”

His job now has little to do with “animation” in terms of drawing and sculpting. As a senior animator, he works with programmers to make sure the software can do what the animators need. He keeps projects on schedule and ensures the animation meets the company’s quality expectations.

And, he’s constantly working with engineers and coders to build systems that can “make our animation play better in the game and to be more interactive. Sometimes it means just finding new ways to use their existing systems, but often it means finding ways to innovate.

“We’re at the very edge of the technology,” Gulisano said. “We’re creating a lot of it. We look at industry trends and see what’s working in other people’s games and make the technology for what we need.”

“Call of Duty” has been the best-selling game for the past five years and staying on top of what is rated a “AAA” brand name game is challenging. The fans expect the games to continue to grow and evolve, and the company works hard to ensure it meets gamers demands.

Working on the most popular game can be demanding but it also carries a certain cachet with people like his 11-year-old son Jonah Gulisano.

“I’m very popular, typically, with the 10-to-40-year-old, male crowd, honestly,” he said. “Once guys find out I’m part of ‘Call of Duty’ and produced things they’ve played, I have an instant conversation starter.

“It’s more interesting than telling people I’m a dentist.”
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