Brett Morris: Pushing Forward

LA-based motion designer isn't afraid of a challenge

ADC’s Motion and Animation Month is back! After featuring the many illustrators, photographers, letterers and typographers within the ADC community here on the ADC blog, it’s once again time to highlight on the artists who breathe life to still images and make them move. From traditional cel animation to 3D animation, from TV interstitials to web series, July’s 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 Australian-born, LA-based motion designer who is about to embark on a journey into the wide world of freelancing

brettmorrisheadshotBRETT MORRIS

Motion Designer/Technical Director
Los Angeles, CA


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 honestly had zero clue what motion design was until I was in college at JMC Academy, I studied film back in Australia, where I’m from, with aspirations of being an editor. During film school we partnered up with the other departments at the college to expose us to other skillsets to utilize in our projects. We collaborated with the computer animation department on an assignment and up until then I had never really looked at CG animation as anything more than just entertainment. It had never really occurred to me how and who was making all these visual effects, cartoons and 3D animations before, I couldn’t stop asking questions as to how all of these things were made and the processes involved. We then had an introductory class into animation and I was blown away with the creative process inside of 3D space, then manipulation inside 2D. All of a sudden I was less interested in filmmaking and more about animation.

Outside of my studies I landed a part time job at a production company who specialized in live event screen presentations. After Effects was one of the main applications used and lucky for me I had started to scratch the surface of it. When I started using it actual real world projects it hit a nerve with me as it felt like an open canvas to create within.

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?

Even though I studied film, I consider myself a self taught motion designer. Back in the early-mid 2000’s tutorials weren’t a thing, so the only way to learn an application whether it be After Effects or Cinema 4D was simply to read the manual. Reading from front to back a software manual is a serious effort on stamina and focus, but once finished I then felt I had some sort of new found super power. Knowing hotkeys, finding the all the hidden menus all became second nature before long. While my design eye was still evolving, having a good grasp on the software helped me kind of figure things out and jump hurdles when they were presented. Then having a good workflow is something that I’m glad I learned earlier on as well, as I learnt by myself through trial and error. I found that I was spending a lot of time making the same mistakes, and worse if a change was requested, often I’d have to start from scratch again. Those early challenges made me realize that mitigating additional work but having a good workflow was good for client and my sanity.

How would you best describe your style? Do you fight against having a telltale style, or do you embrace it as your brand?

Visually, I consider my style to be either stark and bold, or colorful and friendly — rarely in between. For the past five years I have been working under the Capacity banner, while I am a huge fan of the work, I have certainly enjoyed helming a couple of projects personally and exploring my visual style a little further.

“Visually, I consider my style to be either stark and bold, or colorful and friendly — rarely in between.”

What was your first big break, where this truly went from being an interest or pursuit to being an actual job?

Around 2005 or so while I was still in film school, out of the blue the production company I worked for received an email from Rihanna‘s people asking for screen content to be made for her performance at the MTV European Music awards. While it caught us off guard and was a tremendous opportunity to land in our laps, there was literally only 12 hours to make it. All I had was her first two music film clips to work from and explicit direction from her people to not use any lip movement from any shot used. Oh, and we had to create three individual screens of content to be synced with the performance. Furiously editing and making the most of the footage available, I worked throughout the day and started to realise I couldn’t pad out the length of the song, so when I had some holes to fill in the edit, I resorted to creating some 3D animations. Magically at the end of the day, there was something to be sent back to Europe just in time for her dress rehearsal before the live recording. We woke super early the next day to watch the stream and there was my work, seen for all of the world. At that moment in the wake of the stream I truly felt like I had found my passion and knew I wanted to pursue this deeper.

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?

There is a reason why my early work is nowhere to be found online — it’s buried for the sake of everyone’s eyes! Only kidding! I am my own worst critic and I look at my first handful of years as the real on-the-job training and education of motion design, all building blocks of self development. Something I have always aspired to do in my work is to always push myself forward, trying to take on a something that makes me a little nervous and uncomfortable to produce. In my earlier work I would be trying new techniques with cameras, lights, rendering and comping and while the work may not hold up by today’s standards, I can reflect on what I was trying to achieve at the time.

“Something I have always aspired to do in my work is to always push myself forward, trying to take on a something that makes me a little nervous and uncomfortable to produce.”

Sell yourself and your style by completing the following sentence: “Clients and collaborators should come to me when they’re looking for…”

…someone who isn’t afraid of a challenge.

Are you freelancer or are you part of a regular team? What do you consider to be the biggest pros and cons of your situation?

As we speak, I am transitioning into a new life/chapter as a freelance artist. For the past five years I’ve been at the design studio Capacity as Technical director, where I’ve had an incredible experience with a great group of people working on really interesting and challenging projects. The studio life suits me well, though I sadly said goodbye as I am a soon to be father and choose the freelance path to have a little more ownership over my time. It also gives me more time to spend on personal projects, something that is really important to me. In past personal projects I’ve worked with small, tight-knit collaborators who I trust deeply, the type of people who can feed off each other’s creativity. The future is unknown right now, trying to balance more responsibilities and still maintain high quality of work is going to be a new challenge.

Secret weapon: what’s your favorite tool in your arsenal (pen and paper? Program? Plug-in?) and why do you love it so much?

Xpresso would have to be my number one draft pick. Xpresso is a node based programming toolset inside Cinema 4D, it gives you under the hood access to all of the parameters and functions to almost all of the objects in the application. To me, this is the ultimate playground for development, to be able to bridge data between all the modules and plugins within Cinema to build custom animation and effects rigs, or pipeline systems is an incredibly powerful tool to have in my arsenal.

Snapshot! Take a photo of your desk/work set-up. Why do you suppose you have things just so?


My work space is on the minimal side at the moment, single monitor and a little beefed up PC with a nice GPU card. Constantly under the watch of (IMO) the greatest television character of all time, Omar from The Wire. A buddy of mine painted that and I’ve had him close to my workspace ever since. He keeps me in check.

Do you experiment with software/tools/techniques, or do you tend to stick with what you know?

Almost every day I learn something new, sometimes by chance, other times by will. My alarm is set at 6am every day and I usually try and block out an hour when I wake to watch a tutorial or experiment a little. Starting the day like this helps me get into gear and gets my brain fired up. I go through different phases where I’ll learn something because I’m interested in it, i.e Xpresso, coding, XP, TFD etc. Or perhaps I feel like I’m not as proficient in a particular area i.e modeling, UVing, so I’ll try and skill up where I can, or possibly just to dive into something that makes me uncomfortable like Houdini. I’ve always been curious as to how other people achieve their results, always trying to understand the tools that are available to artists, and I feel like the more I learn, the more I’m aware of what is possible. It all compounds over time and opens up more options for problem solving issues in production.

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.

One of the projects I am most proud of is called ‘Confidential Awards Package’ on my site as it was never released in its intended form. Long story short, there was some ‘complications’ and the project was terminated a couple of days before delivery (which was also the day the show was going to air). Steve Panicara, who I work with regularly, and I both busted our asses off for this one, it was a super tight deadline of three weeks, we knew it would be a brutal path but we chose to walk it because we absolutely loved what we were creating. Needless to say, we finished the project even after the plug was pulled because we simply had to have some closure; we had worked 15+ hour days, worked through the weekends, basically lived and breathed the project for a good portion of the month. At the end of it we were proud of what we had achieved and all the negative stuff that happened with the project just became background noise.

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?

George Lucas said “Sound and Music make up 50% of the entertainment of the movie”. I certainly subscribe to that idea, though I think it goes a little deeper than what is presented in the final product. Whenever I’m in the zone creating concepts, I’ll always be listening to music, something that evokes a feeling and compliments the tone I am going for. On the Pause Fest project I had ‘Ivory’ by Movement on constant repeat while creating the style frames That song was my muse all throughout the process, from creating the frames to using it as a temp track to build the sequence around.

Where do you go to get a much needed creative jolt, whether online or in the real world?

These days I have a short list of websites I frequent, curated pages on tumblr, pinterest, vimeo and behance… the usuals. I find that is it so easy to find great work to be inspired by with very little effort, there is so much talent around the world all feeding off each other. With most projects, I do try and find inspiration outside of the motion design/digital art space and do try look for influence in the arts and sciences, sometimes new technologies trigger ideas which can be catalysts for the creative vision.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about what you do?

That I have an off switch.

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?

Towards the end of last year I was selected to contribute a motion response to a design and tech festival in Australia called Pause Fest. This was a really important project for me, at the beginning of the project I wanted this to be something that I wanted to be proud of. It was the first time in a while I had taken on a project outside of the studio environment, so I was a little nervous creating something under my own name. I teamed up with with some friends of mine who brought their flavor to the project and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a creative endeavor.

Personal projects are so liberating, creatively speaking, just the freedom to explore ideas that are more artistic and expressive than solving design problems for clients. With the next chapter in my career going freelance, personal projects are going to be a high priority for me, continually exploring new ideas and refining my style and processes.

Which of your peers, the people in your orbit, are making work that you are digging right now? What about them do you like?

My good friend Nejc Polovsak (Twistedpoly) is crushing it these days; every bit of work that he has been working on in the past couple of years turns out golden. He has really evolved over the past couple of years and his work is world class. Seeing someone constantly push their work to new levels in the life of a freelance designer is a great inspiration in me in making the switch. Then there are guys like Matt Frodsham, Simon Fiedler and Ash Thorp who are all uniquely different but they are always evolving their style, experimenting with new tools and techniques and always giving back to the community, definitely look up to all of them.

What’s your favorite part of the entire creative process of motion and animation?

Most definitely R&D and look development. For me that is a time to play and experiment with all the tools at my disposal. Embracing all the failed attempts and learning along the way to evolve the project’s tone and pipeline is a really satisfying part of the process for me. It’s a chance to stress test new tools or techniques, at the same time keeping focus on the bigger picture and creatively problem solve so that all the right components are in order for the project.


Motion & Animation Month takes place throughout July, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!