Colorado Creatives

Colorado Creatives: Gio Toninelo

Gio Toninelo at work in the studio.
Gio Toninelo at work in the studio. Courtesy of Gio Toninelo
Brazilian native Gio Toninelo thinks small as much as he thinks big. The craft-conscious professional producer, cinematographer, designer and photographer at Denver video production house Rocket House Pictures has worked on award-winning shorts and music videos, as well as helped document renovations at the Colorado State Capitol. He is also the imaginative force behind the Action Figure Stop-Motion Film Festival (formerly known as the G.I. Joe Stop-Motion Film Festival), the Internet series Pond Patrol and Little Denver, a tilt-shift photography project that makes big buildings look tiny. That’s right: He creates minute worlds on film with action dolls, curates a film festival of the same and brings cityscapes down to dollhouse size. Learn more as he digs into the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.

click to enlarge Toninelo at the Colorado State Capitol skylight renovation project. - COURTESY OF GIO TONINELO
Toninelo at the Colorado State Capitol skylight renovation project.
Courtesy of Gio Toninelo
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?

Gio Toninelo: My creative muse is reality. It seems like a very broad thing to use as inspiration, but I love to bend the line between reality and imaginary. Maybe existence is an illusion and reality isn't real. Or could it be possible to create an imaginary world or character that people feel sympathetic toward or believe is real? I want my audience to find beauty in the ordinary things in life, to experience bliss in the conventional and to think about their existence in more meaningful ways. Everything has a purpose, and a mundane task can be enjoyable even if you don't believe in it: Use your imagination.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?

Okay, so these are not real people, but I think Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man), Alex Murphy (Robocop) and Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell) would do the BEST group ROBOT DANCE EVER! I'm also infatuated with robotics and cybernetics and what the future holds for us in these fields. So, yeah, I would love to host a party for robots, A.I. or cyborgs. Wait! HAHA! I already have. Halloween 2010.

click to enlarge A Little Denver version of the Daniels and Fisher clock tower in downtown Denver. - COURTESY OF GIO TONINELO
A Little Denver version of the Daniels and Fisher clock tower in downtown Denver.
Courtesy of Gio Toninelo
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field and the worst?

The absolute feel of community is the best. Making films is not a one-man show. So naturally, we are constantly talking, borrowing and learning from each other. But in Colorado, we also cheer for each other, which is rare in other places. Of course we are competitive, but we are also proud to see other Coloradans succeed in the national market. The worst part is the new influx of creatives from out of state who don't feel the same way we do. The ones who don't have a Colorado heart yet.

How about globally?

On a global level, the biggest problem I see is that everybody is now a filmmaker. But a lot of people are not willing to put in the work, the long hours. A lot of them are just looking for shortcuts, the next trendy LUT [lookup table]…and the result is a market full of the same ideas done badly.

Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?

Some trends are here by marketing necessity, like content streaming and virtual reality. These are definitely worth following. But on a smaller level, I enjoy editing invisible cuts created by a whip pan...but I absolutely hate the new "Orange and Teal" coloring look.

click to enlarge Scene form a BTS Ramya music video shoot. - COURTESY OF GIO TONINELO
Scene form a BTS Ramya music video shoot.
Courtesy of Gio Toninelo
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?

I've been featured in the New York Times. When you are born in a small town in Brazil, that seems almost intangible. So for me, that was huge. But I'm also very proud to have produced a three-year-long documentary for the Colorado State Capitol Chamber's renovation project.

You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?

I still want to produce a feature-length sci-fi movie. And I must schedule some time to go to East Asia before I expire.

Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here or makes you want to leave?

I absolutely love Denver. It has all the metropolitan aspects and fun things to do, but it still feels like a small town, with its neighborhoods and mountains so close. I mean...if we could have a beach…(wink).

click to enlarge Toninelo working at the Colorado State Archives. - PHOTO BY TRAVIS VOLZ
Toninelo working at the Colorado State Archives.
Photo by Travis Volz
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Printmaker Ravi Zupa. In a digital world, he's still making everything by hand.

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

We are touring with the Action Figure Film Festival. But I have some new short films in the works. I also would like to keep producing music videos.

click to enlarge Toninelo on the set with Rocket House Productions partner Travis Volz. - PHOTO BY CARMELA TONINELO
Toninelo on the set with Rocket House Productions partner Travis Volz.
Photo by Carmela Toninelo
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

I think Van Wampler from Cinema Raven is making really beautiful stuff.

See Gio Toninello’s Action Figure Stop-Motion Film Festival on Thursday, September 27, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, with a new name and a slate of new films starring its original muse, G.I. Joe. Admission is $15.56 online at the AFF website.

Learn more about Gio Toninelo on his home page, at and at
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd