Naoko Hara: Subtly Sublime

New York-based animator and ADC Member loves the freedom of the art form

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.

Our next featured ADC Member is New York-based Animator who describes her style as “Minimal and elegant with a touch of experimental.”


NHara_HeadshotNAOKO HARA
Animator & Designer
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?

Growing up in Japan and coming from an art related family, I was fortunate to be exposed to film and animation from an early age (besides morning anime). Honestly, my childhood memory is a blur, but I recall watching Miyazaki films in theaters and enjoying them.

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 graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design from SVA and took Motion Graphics for my senior year portfolio. My earliest motion/film related lesson was in Sophomore year when my professor assigned us to record 3-second clips of just daily moments/interesting street finds. Over the course of the year, those clips became longer and eventually I was editing 1 and 2-minute short films. This didn’t involve any After Effects animation, but editing is still a significant part of motion and animation. Then the following year, I was finally introduced to the world of AE.

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

Minimal and elegant with a touch of experimental. This would be my personal style and if I was working a personal project, this is what I would subconsciously lean towards. When I’m working with clients, I want to be fluid and not have a specific style since I find that to be restricting.

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

Naturally it just became an actual job right out of school. I wasn’t ready to return home after graduating and wanted to see if I actually had the ability to make a living out of it. I went freelance almost right out of school and was definitely rough for the first six months or so until the ball started to slowly roll.

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 cringe at how disorganized my projects used to be and how I took the longer way to animate elements. It’s surprising how many tricks I’ve learned in the past two years and exciting to think how I’ll progress in the next couple years. Work wise, I get to work on various platforms now. All my projects used to be just 1080p, but I’ve done some animations for installations and VRs–you come across interesting challenges and parameters when dealing with odd pixel ratios.

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

…subtlety — that’s my middle name.

Courtesy of Fusion Network

Do you currently freelance, or are you working somewhere as part of a more permanent team? What are some of the pros and cons of this?

I have several studios and directors I work with often, but I also enjoy hopping around to try new places. I love that I get to collaborate with people with different skill set and work on various style projects. Not every job is reel worthy, but whether it’s a killer project, a new client relationship, or a new trick in After Effects, I’m satisfied if I can finish a gig with something positive. I’ve had tasks thrown at me where I had no idea how to do it, but those challenges and humps make me grow. It’s not necessary a stress-free lifestyle, but I don’t want to be just cruising. When things are rough, I tell myself to breathe and be patient because you never know what’s around the corner.


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

In camera effects. It’s rare for me to get an opportunity to do this for client work, but maybe that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much. There are many dependent factors and because you’re not dealing with a computer program, you ultimately don’t know what to expect as a result. It takes patiences and many failures, but it’s just too satisfying when you achieve the result you were after, or when you come across happy accidents.

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


Courtesy of Viacom

Dual monitor set-up is a must!! Words cannot explain how much it bothers me when people use their second monitor just to watch videos or surf the web. Depending on what I’m working on, I’d setup my cintiq instead of the monitor on the right.

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

Experiment! Yes, I do have my go-to techniques, but you won’t grow if you just stay in your comfort zone.

“I do have my go-to techniques, but you won’t grow if you just stay in your comfort zone.”

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.

Pause Fest motion response 2016. I was honored to be one of 10 artists worldwide to participate in an Australian creative and tech conference called Pause Fest. Every year they give a brief, and it’s a longterm passion project where you can go crazy with your team of choice. It’s rare to get an opportunity where you can be a kid in a sandbox, but I would say it was one of the toughest times for me. I did a highly conceptual, footage based piece with subtle motion graphics and type treatment. It was definitely made with sweat and tears.

Courtesy of Pause Fest & The Foundry

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?

When working at studios I don’t have much say when it comes to picking audio, but it’s such an essential component to animation. If it’s provided early on in the process, then I put it on loop since it helps me animate to the beat and it has sparked ideas in the past. One of my closest friends here is actually a killer sound designer, and he’s my go-to when I need any kind of audio for personal projects.

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

Outside, away from my computer. As much as I enjoy the world wide web, I stare at a screen for 8 to 10 hours a day and my body craves the outside world. I love going to museums and enjoying nature. I find it fascinating that everything in this world could be simplified to numbers. The world is made of numbers! Ahhhh!!

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

That character animation is the only type of animation out there. Yes that’s one type of animation, but there’s so much more out there!


Courtesy of Viacom

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 have a work-in-progress personal project that I started a year ago with my sound designer friend. I put a lot of hours into it and one day I hit a wall. It felt like I was producing similar outcomes and I thought it was time for me to step away from it and discover or experiment with new techniques. It’s going through an incubation period right now. Personal projects mean complete freedom and creativity, yet they’re often the toughest projects because you don’t have boundaries…but you really get to push yourself to your limit.

“Personal projects mean complete freedom and creativity, yet they’re often the toughest projects because you don’t have boundaries.”

“Chromatica” Personal Project

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

Lately I’ve really been digging works by ManvsMachine and I’ve been a fan of Breeder for a while now. Simple yet dynamic pieces, love them.

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

Doing animation/in-camera experiments and learning new expressions/techniques.


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



“Seasons” Personal Project

Courtesy of Viacom