We’ll admit it: August is a slow month. And so, with the lazy, hazy days of summer upon us, we’ve decided to extend Motion and Animation Month past July. But just because this time of year tends to be quiet doesn’t mean that the incredibly talented motion artists within the ADC community are. From traditional cel animation to 3D animation, from TV interstitials to web series, our featured ADC Members run the creative gamut in an industry whose output is as challenging and time consuming as it is rewarding.
Next up: an Irish ADC Member based in Brooklyn with a passion for stop motion and cel animation with an “old school” aesthetic.
Animation Director, Senior Motion Designer
Of course most people were first exposed to animation from after school and Saturday morning cartoons, but what’s your earliest memory of being interested in motion and animation as something that people actually made?
I was late in the game. I’ve loved animation ever since I can remember but never thought about how it was actually made until stumbling upon the animation college course in the National Film School of Ireland during an open visiting day. I loved art but didn’t have the confidence of studying fine-art or painting and making a living out of it. When I was walking through the different art classes on the campus and came upon the animation studio, I knew straight away that I’d absolutely love to work in that field, bringing characters to life would be a dream!
Did you study formally, or were you consider yourself more self-taught? What were some of the earliest lessons you learned about the art form?
Yeah, I ended up studying animation in the National Film School in Dublin, where I got a BA honors after learning the trade for four years. The earliest of lessons in the course I remember were that we “were actors through pencils” and that we had to learn how to animate with the idea of conveying emotions through animation. The other early lessons were to get a grasp of the fundamental animation principles: to animate with the notion of timing (speed vs hang time), weight (squash and stretches), and creating a personality into whatever you animate, be it a bowling ball or a human being.
How would you best describe your style? Do you fight against having a telltale style, or do you embrace it as your brand?
I really try to embrace having a style which hopefully portrays my personality a little bit. I mainly work in cel animation and stop motion to get that old school, manual handmade feel going, and to depict a slight touch of innocence in the characters I make that are countered by naughty bits.
Wayne the Stegosaurus
“Mill+ asked Jeffery Dates and myself to co. direct this for the 5th Season of Motionpoems, a non profit bringing poets and filmmakers together to create short films. We were asked to adapt the children’s poem “Wayne the Stegosaurus” by Kenn Nesbitt into an animated short film. I was lucky enough to also lead the design and animation. It’s a mixture of 3D and cel animation.
What was your first big break, where this truly went from being an interest or pursuit to being an actual job?
I got a few lucky breaks while interning and working here and there, but the obvious lucky break for me wasn’t until I was working at The Mill, NY when we won a pitch for a mattress company called Haverty’s. I had just started as a junior designer. After we won the pitch the creative director and art director were trying to lock a booking on a freelance cel animator to animate what we designed. I raised my hand and in a broken voice said, “I can do it”. Luckily they gave me a shot at it, it worked out and they started putting me on more illustrative jobs.
Do you remember some of your early work? Comparing it to your latest work, the kind of projects you do now, what is the biggest change you’ve noticed? What about your work or your process has remained the same?
I think my “style” or “identity” as a motion designer was very uncertain in my earlier works, I was unsure which direction to go in and I think my work back then reflects that. Now I feel a lot clearer about the path I’m taking and hopefully my recent work backs that up. I think storytelling has also become a lot clearer for me now. My animation techniques have remained pretty similar, the only difference is that I’ve become quicker at character animating and my hand control is feeling more steady.
Sell yourself and your style by completing the following sentence: “Clients and collaborators should come to me when they’re looking for…”
…unique, bold motion design that’s character driven. I love to create concepts that tell a story. My animations are balanced with digital and practical techniques that project a handmade, imperfect feeling that injects proud individuality to characters, who are playful, thoughtful and above all, cheeky! If that sounds like the right fit for you, give me a shout, I’d love to hear from you!
Best of Motionographer 2015 Titles
“Mill+ invited me to create a title sequence for Motionographer’s top selected picks of 2015, which were shown at F5’s Festival held in terminal 5, NY. Justin Cone, the Co founder of F5 and founder of Motionographer was very calm and trusting and let myself and the team come up with this concept from start to finish. A few sleazy weight lifters who have past their peak prepare for the Best of Motionographer 2015’s screening.”
What do you consider to be the biggest pros and cons of being part of a team at a place like The Mill, as opposed to being a freelancer?
What’s great about working in a big company is there’s so many different skill sets and techniques to learn about from all the different talented artists and producers in here. I still feel like a sponge, trying to soak up the amazing knowledge around me; the resources here are incredible!
The cons would be working full time at a busy company, generally means little time to work on personal projects for yourself. You can make it work, but finding the balance can be tough.
“I still feel like a sponge, trying to soak up the amazing knowledge around me; the resources here are incredible!”
Secret weapon: what’s your favorite tool in your arsenal (pen and paper? Program? Plug-in?) and why do you love it so much?
Don’t know if it’s a secret to people who I’ve worked with, but it’d be Photoshop character animation on a Cintiq. I love illustrating character designs and do a lot of it, bringing the characters to life through animation into a world that I think looks nice is one of the biggest natural highs for me.
“Mill+ asked me to create animation loops that would play behind the founder of Motionographer and F5 Co-founder, Justin Cone, while he spoke at Sónar’s 2015 festival.
Snapshot! Take a photo of your desk/work set-up. Why do you suppose you have things just so?
I really don’t know haha but it works well enough. Happy with this question though…it’s reminded myself to get a few plants for the table!
Do you experiment with software/tools/techniques, or do you tend to stick with what you know?
I do. I’m not a savvy person when it comes to software tools or keeping up to date with plug-ins and the like. I don’t do tutorials unless it’s for a job that I’m on, that requires it then and there, so I mainly stick to what I know. But I try to branch out a little, bit by bit. If I see a technique that I’d love to incorporate into an animation style I have in mind, I’ll really try to make it work. It can start to get repetitive if you keep animating with the same brushes you always use, for me it’s cel animation, so I like to get out of my comfort zone and play with different mediums, but try to keep the same style of design and animation, so it’s the rendering that’s the new approach I look for eg. if I’ve done two projects in a row that were hand drawn cel animations using watercolor paints, the next project I’ll try using clean vector animation with outlines, or stop motion.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which one are you most proud of? Tell us about the project, and why it holds such a special place in your heart.
The OFFSET title sequence animation is what I’m most proud of so far. It’s special to me for a few reasons. One, because the client came directly to me because they admired my work and wanted me to create something in my exact style. Two, because it was an open brief and they had full trust in my concept and designs, allowing me lead and direct the job from start to finish. And three, I’m from Dublin but I’ve worked in New York for over five years now, so it was really nice to create something for an Irish independent organization, OFFSET. I’m blown away with what they’ve created: One of the biggest International creative conference festivals based in Europe, and I was honored to be invited to make the titles and name stings for their lovely festival, it was a huge confidence boost that reassured me to keep doing what I’m doing.
“Lisa and Bren at OFFSET, commissioned me to create the opening titles and card names for their guest speakers for their creative conference. The brief was almost completely open, bar the 3 rules of keeping it within 2 minutes, no voice over…and no cats. I came up the concept and they gave me the thumbs up to make it.”
Motion and animation is often accompanied by sound or music. How do you approach working with audio elements? Do they help form your visuals? Are you listening to them throughout? How involved are you in this part of the process?
It’s different for every project but mainly we’d start chatting with a sound designer three-quarters of the way through with a project. Sound is so crucial to the tone and overall vibes of animation and film, and brings it to the next level. I’d usually have a rough idea of what I’d think would suit the animation style and story-line best, for example, wanting natural sounds over synthesized sounds, subtle or epic, seamless or hard cut, etc etc. But I’m not a pro, so I think it’s nice to let the sound designer who is a pro, have some freedom to find the right fit.
Where do you go to get a much needed creative jolt, whether online or in the real world?
Mainly online. I’d watch a lot of Vimeo videos daily for animation inspiration, I look at a lot of illustrators on Instagram for character design inspiration, and I’d look at a lot of ceramics artists and European graphic-design studio’s work, for shapes, color palettes and patterns. Then rarely I’d try go to a gallery here and there, to brake away from the 2D screen and see some art that’s actually in front of you.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
Time and effort. It’s crazy how many friends and people think it’s a quick fun thing, “I can’t believe you draw all day for a living”. I agree, it’s awesome, and I can’t believe it either, life’s lovely! But when friends like these, aka friends who don’t work in the industry watch it, it’s a nice reality check… ”Is that it?” I think it’s great to realize, that although you haven’t slept in weeks from animating five seconds of a character turning her/his head, painting the motion frame by frame….it’s just an animation that a small amount of people like to watch. So even though I’m so in love with it and it’s a bummer people don’t know how much time and thought goes into it, it’s great to keep our nerdy egos at bay.
“I designed (The last two scenes were designed by Brian Gossett) and animated this piece for The Mill’s AICP’s 2013 Party. They were projected on a big screen that played on loop behind the DJ’s set.”
What’s the last project you did for yourself, as opposed to for a client or a job? What do personal projects mean to you and your craft?
I’ve just finished a personal short animated film and the sound design is being currently created for it. It’s the biggest learning lesson I’ve ever had, it’s taught me how important it is to have a solid schedule, how we’d all be screwed without producers and deadlines…it’s hard to be scared of yourself to make sure it gets done in time.
Although I get heavily passionate about working for clients or other jobs, I reckon it’s important to create something that you can really call your own, from start to finish, because working for yourself allows you to be totally free. Most of the time working for someone else means your original concept/design/animation will change or get mellowed down into something that ends up not being 100% you. If you’re fine with that, that’s sweet, but I think it’s nice that one can really create individuality into personal work and have the chance to convey their very own thoughts. Hopefully it’ll make others happy or give them a spark, but if not I still think it’s important to get what’s on your mind, out of your system.
I also feel personal projects are what’s leading the animation and motion-design world into the next best exciting wave. Vimeo Staff Picks are generally personal projects, personal projects usually get more press that advertising jobs. Personal projects are the most raw and pure pieces of animation out there.
“…personal projects are what’s leading the animation and motion-design world into the next best exciting wave… Personal projects are the most raw and pure pieces of animation out there.”
“This was a personal project made with love and naughty bits for my girlfriend’s moving birthday card.
I modeled and animated some little clay letter fellas help spell out “Happy B Day Taylor Franklin” !!!!! It’s a mixture of stop motion (all practical) and cel animation.”
What’s your favorite part of the entire creative process of motion and animation?
This relates to the previous question for me, because my favorite part of the entire creative process is the ability to sit quietly while revealing so much of your own personality into something you’ve made, it feels like coming out with a loud bold voice but through visual work, rather than shouting over anyone. It’s there if someone wants to watch it, no worries if you don’t want to…but it’s out there, it’s an awesome feeling.
Motion & Animation Month takes place throughout July and August, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!
“This was for The Mill’s 2012’s AICP party , Like “Dirty Stuff”, they were projected on a big screen that played on loop behind the DJ’s set.”
Toyota “The Science Behind ‘Fueled By Lemonade”