Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: A Letter from Joey Korenman
This is the fourth time I’ve sat down to write an end-of-year letter. Each time, I reflect on what the theme of the year has been. In 2017 it was “hey, we’re kinda hitting our stride.” Last year it was something like, “well, that escalated quickly!” This year the theme is really clear: team is everything.
We began 2019 with a core crew of six full-timers; we’re ending the year with 16. In addition to the full-time staff, we also have an army of talented Teaching-Assistants (35 as of this writing), incredible instructors, content contributors, software engineers, bookkeepers and accountants. Suffice it to say, we are not a two-pizza party anymore.
Growing that fast can be difficult, and we’ve spent a lot of time this year figuring out how to scale what we’re doing — thinking through every process and making sure that nothing breaks, as the scope and complexity of our school increases.
We’ve had some big challenges this year, and plenty more to face in 2020, but I’ve never been more excited to come to work every day because our team is amazeballs. They don’t get enough credit, so I’m going to introduce them in this post…
But, first, let’s talk about what we've accomplished.
Mo’ Motion, Fewer Problems: New and Better Design Courses
We spent the first part of this year beefing up our production standards, and investing in gear, people and processes to make it easier for our instructors to create the best classes in the world.
We then spent many, many months working with instructors on three of the mosts ambitious classes we've ever created, all of which launched in 2019.
If you’ve taken one of our newer courses, you know what I mean — we don’t skimp.
Illustration for Motion
Sarah Beth Morgan’s class sold out within a few hours of its initial launch during our Fall 2019 Session, and sold out again for the Winter 2020 Session, confirming what we already knew: she’s a rockstar designer/illustrator with an amazing knack for teaching.
Illustration for Motion teaches motion designers the principles and techniques of drawing for life-like projects. It covers color theory, perspective, character design, and much more.
Let’s face it, expressions are so hot right now.
If you use After Effects, there’s a 99% chance that you desperately want to learn the voodoo they call “expressions;” unfortunately, though, it’s a tricky proposition.
There’s a ton of info out there, but it’s scattered all over the place — and you need examples to practice with.
Expression Session, led by the brilliant Zack Lovatt and Nol Honig, takes you from n00b to L33T (rookie to pro) in 12 weeks. The artwork, examples, coding best practices, and comedy routine in this course are second to none.
VFX for Motion
In our never-ending quest to build an army of 'generalist' motion designers, we knew that we needed a course on visual effects and compositing.
So, we blackmailed (recruited) Mark Christiansen, the guy who wrote the book on compositing in After Effects.
A New Brand, A New Message
Earlier this year, we realized we needed a rebrand. Today, our students number in the thousands, live in 100+ countries and work for more than 3,000 companies. We’re a bigger, more mature company now — and our branding and website should represent what we’ve become...
Who Do You Call? Do.
Then, with an instruction book for our brand in tow, we sought out a partner to help give our website a much-needed facelift.
A Focus on UI/UX
In the following months, we obsessed over every detail of our website, working with an incredible UI/UX agency to ensure our new site would most effectively present our updated messaging and provide the most seamless user experience. We redesigned every single page, including our custom-built learning platform.
School of Motion 3.0
The redesign is done, and our amazing developer friends at Axilis are now implementing the new site, set to launch in early 2020, with continuous updates throughout the year.
You won't believe the difference!
A Call to Arms
While the new site hasn't yet launched, we’ve already tipped our hand.
Released in September, our Brand Manifesto Video demonstrates our distinctiveness from other online schools, and announces loudly to the world: you don’t need to spend $250K on art school.
I’ve been pretty outspoken with my thoughts on the state of art education in the US, and I know not everyone agrees; however, School of Motion alumni are proof there's another way to learn marketable skills; and an online school can not only match but surpass the effectiveness of the brick and mortar.
They immediately 'got' what we were trying to do, and pulled together a dream team of designers, animators, writers, sound designers and scriptwriters.
The result still gives me goosebumps.
Yeah, that's what we call him... Our Voltronesque joining of forces with the mighty EJ Hassenfratz was one of the most monumental moments of our 2019.
EJ joined SOM as our 3D Creative Director, responsible for our 3D course curriculum and free 3D tutorials — and he's got some plans for 2020!
Cinema 4D Basecamp fans: stay tuned, and prepare to rejoice.
It's one thing to tout our alumni totals (now over 5,000) or our success rate (99.7% of alumni recommend us), but with social media we can really show our success. And, indeed, we have.
All About Community
We often hear from our students that the School of Motion alumni community is the biggest benefit of taking one of our courses. This year, we beefed up our Student Experience department, giving us the bandwidth to be more proactive about scheduling local meetups and events.
We threw parties, we sponsored events, and we got after it this year.
Our NAB MoGraph Meetup was completely sold out, with more than 450 people cramming into a bar in Las Vegas to get goofy with their heroes and peers.
This year's MoGraph meetup was epic!... Shoutout to the co-sponsors: Video CoPilot, Maxon, Red Giant, ActionVFX, Motion Array, Motion Hatch, Greyscalegorilla and aescripts + aeplugins.
But that's not all.
Plus, we sang our theme song multiple times, in many, many places.
Bringing the Motion Design community together is kind of our thing, and we’ll be doing lots more of it in 2020.
If you’re reading this, you’re family, so come on out next time we’re having an event near you. Beers on us!
The (Expanding) Team Behind It All
I can’t express enough how proud I am of our team. All of the achievements we’ve enjoyed this year are because of them, not me.
Truth is, my role with School of Motion has been morphing since the day I asked Amy Sundin — our first hire — to help me out with my growing blog; and, these days, I pretty-much try to stay out of the way of the brilliant people building SOM every day.
The company is much, much bigger than me — and that’s the way it should be.
And since I don’t often get the chance to shine a light on our amazing crew, here are the folks you should buy a beer or kombucha if you ever meet them IRL:
Alaena Vandermost, COO
Alaena is the octopus behind the scenes who keeps everything running. She also has an unhealthy (or healthy?) obsession with vans, Zapier, and Phish.
Amy Sundin, Executive Producer
Amy is team member #2 at School of Motion, and is a producing juggernaut. She makes sure that all of our course production runs smoothly and owns polydactyl cats.
Caleb Ward, Marketing Manager
Caleb is a marketing wizard who has amplified our reach tremendously since coming aboard. He and his wife Shelby live in LA and cook perfectly fried eggs. He’s also a “y’all” guy, which is nice.
Jeahn Laffitte, Senior Editor
Jeahn is an audio-visual guru who makes everyone look and sound great. He is also bringing back the words “spiffy” and “nifty.”
Ryan Plummer, Content Marketing Specialist
Ryan is a Texan (yes, we’re everywhere) who creates most of the content you see posted on our site. He uses his words, video skills and beard to help spread the MoGraph learnz.
Shelby Ward, Support Lead
Shelby is the nicest person you’ll ever meet in your life, which is good because it helps her make sure our students and alumni are helped in any way they need. She also y’alls.
Brittany Wardell, Student Experience Lead
Brittany wears many hats. Actually, I’ve never seen her wear a hat… but she does an incredible job making sure that our students, alumni and Teaching Assistants are all supported. And, she throws a mean party.
Kaylee Kean, Junior Producer
Kaylee is really a famous musician disguised as a producer. She helps our Course Production team manage the 10,000 tasks that are required to make a School of Motion course.
Reaghan Puleo, Producer
Reaghan is an absolutely amazing producer who manages to juggle 1,000 things at the same — without batting an eye. She does this from a wintery, dreary place called Hawaii.
Zach Conley, Technical Product Manager
Zach is one of the few people on the team with whom I can talk Tool. He’s also responsible for our web platform, managing our development team, and our product roadmap.
Hannah Guay, Editor
Hannah (who actually lives in Montana) is an insanely creative editor who has worked on many of our courses, as well as our podcast. She and her wife are currently rendering their second child.
EJ Hassenfratz, Creative Director
EJ has the best last name of anyone in our industry, along with the misfortune of being a Bill’s fan. He’s also the best 3D instructor I’ve ever met, and the bestest of dudes. He’s working on SOM's new 3D curriculum, which will be unleashed in 2020.
CJ Baird, Content Editor
CJ is a Rhode Islander who knows what a “gaggah” is. He uses his editing powers to help our Marketing and Course Production teams stay on track.
Phil Mandelbaum, Managing Content Editor
Because of Phil, our marketing machine is tremendous. His hat game is strong, and his rhymes are infectious… unlike my rhymes, which are mediocre at best.
But, Wait... There's One More
We’ve got ambitious goals, and we knew that we needed some more firepower to achieve them.
Bringing on EJ this year was a big step towards creating an all-encompassing curriculum that will allow students to learn any aspect of motion design through our courses.
Our full 3D curriculum will begin rolling out in 2020, but our 2D curriculum isn’t totally filled out, either, so we decided to find another Creative Director to head up and maintain that core component of our course catalog.
And we found one.
I am honored to announce that Ryan Summers will be joining School of Motion in 2020 as the CD in charge of 2D.
Ryan Summers, Creative Director
If you’ve ever met Ryan or interacted with him online, you know his knowledge and passion are unmatched in the industry.
Expect even greater things ahead.
Tutorials, Podcasts and Bears, Oh My!
Fine, there weren’t really any bears this year, but we did put out a metric ton of content.
Our Marketing folks work tirelessly to produce videos, podcasts and articles designed to educate, motivate and empower. Here’s a small sample...
In this video tutorial, I show how to automatically edit, render and share a motion design project, without lifting a finger, using Templater from Dataclay.
Kyle Hamrick is a wizard. In this tutorial, he shows just what kind of madness you can create using the built-in text animator system in After Effects.
We teamed up with our buddies at Puget Systems to see if we could create the ultimate After Effects computer. We had our audience run a benchmark, and then beat the highest score with a custom rig that we dubbed “Johnny Cache.”
Jacob Richardson has been putting together a Quick Tips series that has been racking up views. In this popular match cuts video, he shows us how to do the “sleight of hand” transition that gives you lots of bang for little buck.
This Quick Tip gives you a nice roundup of ways you can transition from one shot to the next. It covers everything from a simple edit to a full-on T1000-style morph.
On one of our most popular episodes ever, Handel Eugene talks about his journey from Florida to Los Angeles to Silicon Valley. His work ethic and philosophy are inspiring as hell, and demonstrate why he’s been able to work on everything from Apple videos to the Black Panther opening credits sequence.
I talk to industry legend Erin Sarofsky and one of her amazing creative leads, Duarte Elvas, about how they’ve landed major gigs like the credits for Marvel movies, and why they’ve now started doing in-person workshops at their studio.
I’m a big, big GMUNK fan. Like, big time. We have a blast talking about the life experiences that have influenced his unique point of view, his intense work ethic, and how he splits his time between client and personal work. It’s far out, man.
I think this episode with Ryan Honey is one of my all-time favorites; I really had to do my homework, so I didn’t simply ask the same questions Ryan gets all the time. I’m very proud of how this one turns out.
Jay and his business partner and wife Leah are two of the nicest people in the industry, and I think that kindness shines through in Giant Ant’s work. On this episode, Jay and I talk about the ethos behind Giant Ant — and, of course, dive into his previous career as a fart comedian.
There may not be a better video essayist in the industry than Estelle Caswell. Her Earworm series for Vox has been an enormous success, and I had to know how she manages to produce them. In this super-fun episode, Estelle offers detailed tactical advice on the art and science of visual storytelling.
JR Canest finally went and did it!... On this fascinating episode with the creative entrepreneurs behind one of the hottest studios in the industry, Jorge and his compatriots Greg and Victor shed some light on how Ordinary Folk got started. We also talk about some of the moral and philosophical underpinnings behind the studio’s work and code of ethics.
We had an all-access pass to MAX this year, and sent our marketing team to cover the enormous event. In this roundup, we cover the big tech announcements and talks from MAX 2019, plus a whole lot more!
The motion design scene has changed significantly in the last few years, so we thought it'd be helpful to conduct another survey with to better understand the day-to-day life of today's motion designer. We learned a lot about salaries, freelancing, and more.
We’ve been updating this guide to MoGraph meetups for a while, and it’s turned into an incredible resource for finding local events near you. Check it out and, if you have an event to add, let us know!
A New eBook
We asked Black Math, Buck, Digital Kitchen, Framestore, Gentleman Scholar, Giant Ant, Google Design, IV, Ordinary Folk, Possible, Ranger & Fox, Sarofsky, Slanted Studios, Spillt and Wednesday Studio for insights into their hiring processes. These 15 leading studios answer our questions and offer invaluable advice in our newest ebook, available for free download.
Our 2020 Vision
In 2019 we made a ton of progress toward our goal — and mission statement — of breaking down the barriers to learning, mastering and working in motion design.
We invested heavily, and planted seeds that will begin to sprout 'bigly' in 2020.
We’ve got a sharper focus, a new website, new courses, new events and much more planned for the coming year.
It’s a little strange to talk about a website and the people who use it as a “community,” but that’s exactly what we are.
We’re proving that it’s possible to create an online school that not only teaches valuable skills but fosters a sense of camaraderie and pride in its students.
Our alumni are legion, and they are some of the loudest and most vocal promoters of our courses. This fills me up with pride, because it confirms that we're really helping our alumni build the career and life they desire through the work we’re doing.
Not only that, we’re proving to the world that a remote team of misfits can change an industry, and seriously disrupt the arts education status quo.
The School of Motion collective will be busy in 2020, spreading the word about online learning and the amazing, growing industry we all know and love.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being a part of this community.
I hope that we’ve, at the very least, given you some new puns to try out on your friends. (If not, here’s one: What did the chemist’s colleagues do when he died? Barium!)