Craig Staggs is a Lake Houston native, an Humble High grad and a huge nerd who took his love for acting, writing, the theater, art and working for himself to create an Emmy-award winning animation studio.
He lives in Austin now with his long-time girlfriend, Amalia, but Staggs still has strong ties to Lake Houston. He grew up in Humble, the youngest of four boys and a proud graduate of Humble High School (Go Wildcats!).
“When I visit my folks and brother, I get to relive my youth and haunt Deerbrook Mall again,” he said.
Staggs’ parents still live in Humble. He has aunts, uncles and cousins all around Houston.
He was running a small animation studio called Aphid Animation creating what is called “short-format commercial content,” but he really wanted to try something more ambitious.
Growing up in Humble, Staggs had always acted, written and worked in theater and the arts, but it took a friend with a good business sense and better perspective to suggest he put it all together in animation.
“It was obvious what I should be doing. I totally missed it for years,” he confessed.
“I partnered with my friend and producer Steph Swope in 2012 with the aim of booking featuring films or television, so we created Minnow Mountain,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed working for myself. I think, for artists, this is a pretty common way to work. There’s a natural entrepreneurial spirit for those of us who work in the arts and that transfers well to business.”
Staggs is a fan of self-education and short-term concentrated courses.
“Education can take many forms,” he said. “My self-education never stops. I love online video courses and am constantly enrolled in one or two. I love reference and textbooks. My bedroom is decorated with maps and history timelines.”
When it was time to start a start-up, Staggs chose Austin.
“I dream of starting a business in Humble one day but, right now, Austin has a good film and television production scene. There are a few schools and animation studios within a small area that makes production here easier,” he said.
Minnow Mountain is an animation studio. Swope and Staggs use a technique called “performance-captured animation” for feature films and animation, “mocap” for those in the know.
Briefly and simply, in mocap, Staggs and his animation crew record the movement of human actors, using that information to create animated characters of the same actors. The famous movie “Avatar” used a similar technique to create its unique characters.
Craig deftly explained exactly how his team creates “hand-drawn performance capture animation” in a creative 80-second video on the Minnow Mountain website, minnowmountain.com/about.
As for the name Minnow Mountain, Staggs explained, “We like to think of it as a small thing and a big thing. A minnow and a mountain that represent the pieces of a creative project and the project.”
Staggs’ – and Minnow Mountain’s – big break was getting to animate “Tower,” the 1966 story of America’s first mass school shooting when a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire.
“We had a good team and an honorable gig. ‘Tower’ established our reputation for excelling at difficult, long and complicated subjects,” he said. “I am so proud of ‘Tower’ because it outperformed expectations. We went from a low-budget experimental PBS documentary to being picked up for theatrical distribution and ended up winning an Emmy for best historical documentary.”
Minnow Mountain’s website skillfully showcases his “Tower” documentary in a two-minute video at minnowmountain.com/tower.
Staggs’ role models are his Humble-based mom and dad who contribute in positive ways to everyone around them. He also credits Amalia, his life partner, who understands that he has a weird job.
“My friends and family don’t see much of me right now,” he confessed. “I hope that gets better after the business takes off, but there is a cost to pay with the long hours and high stress.”
He credits his venture into entrepreneurship in part to “Crushing It,” a how-to book by Gary Vaynerchuk who documents how successful entrepreneurs got that way, and he has some helpful advice for anyone who wants to follow their own dream.
“There’s a misconception that there is some secret knowledge you need to discover before committing. Passion is important. If your business plan is simple and you’re putting in the hours, you’ll learn quickly,” Staggs said.
What little free time he has, Craig spends watching movies, taking video courses about film-making, and supporting a few charities.
“I’m taking a video course from film-maker Ken Burns on making documentaries and I’m watching a ton of 1990-2000-era thrillers,” he said. “As for charities, I think it’s important to support individuals raising money directly for medical and other expenses. One is Caritas Austin, an advocacy group for the homeless. Giving, frankly, is the world’s greatest mood enhancer.”
The Emmy-award winning animator has a few more goals to reach. He’d like to be financially secure on his own terms and he wants to direct five feature films before he dies. In the meantime, he’s excited about his latest major project, “Undone,” a half-hour series developed for Amazon Prime. Minnow Mountain produces the animation for the series.
“Hopefully, you’ll hear from us and ‘Undone’ during award season,” he said.
“Undone” is available on Amazon Prime Video. “Tower” is available on both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. View the creativity of Staggs and his team at Minnow Mountain by visiting minnowmountain.com.