Kelli Miller: Visual Songs

By spearheading her own studio, ADC Member makes motion magical.

We’ll admit it: August is a slow month. And so, with the lazy, hazy, dwindling days of summer upon us, we’ve decided to extend  Motion and Animation Month past July, all the way to Labor Day. 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.

Our next featured ADC Member is a Brooklyn-based creative director who wants people to know that animators and motion artists have great ideas too.


Creative Director & Co-Founder, And/Or
New York, NY



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 became interested in animation and motion design when studying graphic design in undergrad at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. I had a really fun class called time-based media where we learned about how graphic design and time intersected, and it blew my mind. The process tapped into three things I loved: design, film and music. It really clicked that this could be a way to bring together these diverse interests into a career.

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?

I have an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. The interesting thing about that program is that even though it’s a school the grad students create their own curriculum, so essentially you are responsible for guiding your own education. So I guess it’s kind of a combination of self-taught with a very solid graphic design base. Early on I learned that my creative process is design-driven, it’s all about ideas and discovering the most exciting way to visualize and communicate those ideas. I also learned that I really enjoy making things quickly rather than spending a ton of time perfecting, polishing and figuring out complex technical solutions so my work has tended to have a bit of a scrappy / handmade / 2D quality.

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

I try not to get too locked into a specific style but there are definitely aesthetics that I am drawn to. I grew up listening to punk and underground music so I love work that’s bold, in your face and transgressive like Barbara Kruger’s work, old punk flyers, John Waters films. I also love to incorporate humor into my work, and there is cleverness to most of the things our studio works on… it might not be laugh-out-loud funny but it definitely lets you in on a joke or a shared experience. So in one sentence: My work tends to be bold, clever and a bit punk.

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

I don’t think I ever had a big break… I am really determined and hard-working so once I set my mind to something it usually materializes. When I moved to New York after grad school I had nothing, no money, no job, no clue that this was a horrible way to start out in this city. I just put my nose to the grindstone and contacted every single studio or person that seemed interesting and met with a handful of supportive (and not so supportive) people. I found the right people to work with pretty quickly.

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?

Oh do I! I think my early work was a bit more experimental and definitely less polished. This is going back to grad school when anything goes. Going to Cranbrook set me up for a very distinct way of approaching work and I have tried to stay true to that vision throughout my career. It can be difficult when working commercially but I think trying to stay true to your intentions as a designer and artist is really important, it’s something we talk about constantly at And/Or. My process has probably just gotten much more streamlined and efficient, I can make decisions much faster. I have more confidence in my choices now than I did when I was younger.

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

Clients and collaborators should come to And/Or when they’re looking to develop clever stories and bold brands on screens of all sizes.

What are some of the pros and cons of running your own studio?

I run And/Or with my wife, Kendra Eash. We have a great team of freelancers who work with us regularly. The pros of the situation are: we the masters of our own destiny, we can decide the type of projects we want to work on, who to work with and how to make the work. The cons are: the business part of running a business. Administrative work takes up a lot of time and can be distracting from the creative process but it’s a necessary distraction.

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

My favorite tool is my brain! Seriously though, Google Docs. Everything in one place. We really enjoy dumping every ridiculous idea into one Google doc and just riffing that way until we are empty.

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


If you mean a mess, it’s because I am too busy to clean it! I like to keep at least one book or something of interest to look at so I am not completely consumed by work every time I blink. Right now I have the catalogue from the Nicole Eisenman show that was up at the New Museum and a book of Takeshi Murata’s work.

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

I actually love tutorials; the simplicity of just following directions really eases my mind. I really enjoy learning new things but as a creative director those opportunities to get into the nitty gritty are usually left to the animators and designers. That said, I’m currently learning more about directing live action. I think in order to stay interested and relevant you have to constantly be learning, you’re never done. I happen to love that process; that’s why I went to school until I couldn’t anymore!

“I think in order to stay interested and relevant you have to constantly be learning, you’re never done.”

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.

This is easy, I am SO proud of our work with MTV on the Gender Bent series. Not only does the topic resonate with me as a feminist but creatively it was dream project. We were able to work with the team at MTV from start to finish. We pitched a bunch of ideas around their gender initiative for their Look Different campaign. We then produced, wrote, designed, directed and animated the videos. We worked with an amazing team of very talented, primarily female designers and animators to create the spots, which is a rarity in this industry. Our clients at MTV trusted us completely throughout the process and were very hands off with the creative which is a testament to how great work can be created when clients just let you do your job. A moment of heartwarming pride came when we presented the work to a class of first graders and they kept demanding that we play each spot again because they loved them so much.

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?

Audio is hugely important to the work we do. It’s part of the discussion from the very beginning of the process. Our approach really varies from project to project, but our ideal situation is partnering with a talented audio house to collaborate on audio. The audio comes from the same place as the visuals conceptually, so ideally they are in lock step. Once we decide on an audio direction we usually work to accent the visuals vs letting the audio lead. We are very involved in the process, as a musician and music-obsessed individual it’s something I really enjoy so we are always sitting in on mix sessions and giving our thoughts on that front. Fun fact: the music video we did for Deidre and the Dark came about as a result of our commercial collaboration with You Too Can Woo, one of our favorite audio houses to work with, Deidre is a creative director there.

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

Band practice and yoga. I usually need a little break in order to feel reinvigorated. I also love going to see art and films, I find looking at that kind of work really kicks me in the ass to try to make amazing work versus looking at design. Not to say I don’t look at design but I see that as more of due diligence research than inspiring most of the time.

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

Well a lot of people just don’t understand it. Another big misconception is that motion design is not a conceptual process, or that we are more of production house than a creative studio. I think because animation and motion design often crossover with post production there can be some confusion about a studio that is not only really good at making stuff but also can come up with very solid ideas and strategies about how and why to make stuff.

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?

We made a newspaper celebrating our one-year anniversary as a studio. It was a really fun way to work on defining our studio brand. I come from a print design background so any chance I have to make something printed I jump on it, usually those projects are self-initiated. Kendra and I also worked on zine called Post Comment Below that culled comments, statuses and other conversations from the internet. We have a million ideas, and we plan on making more studio projects in the very near future. It’s beyond important to us, it’s essential. Client work is rarely, if ever, a personal expression. It’s a rewarding creative collaboration at it’s best. In order to define our aesthetic and voice as a studio in a way that feels truly authentic we feel the need to make self initiated and self-funded projects that really push where we are heading in our work. The hope of course is that this personal work and practice will begin to be sought after and can actually become work done with clients in the future.


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

I have to give a shout out to my friends and former co-workers at Trollbäck + Company. They have been doing some really stellar work lately, very cool in-camera effects. I always love the work Gretel produces. Block and Tackle did some weird amazing IDs for FXX that I can’t get enough of. Our friend Michelle Higa Fox at Slanted Studios has been so helpful to us as our studio grows and she’s doing some very cool stuff with motion and interaction.

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

I love seeing my work move. I love that motion and animation can bring ideas to life, literally. It’s so rewarding to just see your design LIVE. The musical component is something I will always feel drawn to as well, these pieces are usually so short they are like little visual songs. I think working with Kendra (she is a writer) has really brought this work to life in an even richer way by adding succinct storytelling into the mix.


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