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A Dazzling Director: Colin Hesterly

By Adam Korenman

What happens when you combine an eye for detail, a sense of scope, and the ability to take risks in one person?

Colin Hesterly has always taken the less-traveled road. His style is eclectic, his education was rapid, and his favorite Disney attraction is the Enchanted Tiki Bar? Yet stepping out into the unknown has been something of a superpower. Colin might not have taken the "traditional" route into Motion Design, but he's made this path all his own.
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Colin grew up in the music world, playing in bands and generally being a bit of a rockstar. He thought he was going to combine his love of art and music into a career designing band posters. Then he cut the MoGraph bug and decided to pursue an accelerated program at Full Sail University.
While at school, Colin made and released an incredible student film, sending it into the universe to see what would happen. A few weeks before graduation, calls started coming in, including one from a small studio on the West Coast: Buck. Colin packed his bags and moved on out to Los Angeles.
Though Buck was an absolute dream location, Colin wanted to take his career into his own hands. He had huge goals, and a drive to see them achieved. That passion enabled him to take risks...including stepping out of his internship at Buck. Only a few months into his new career, he was already freelancing.
It's an older reel, but it checks out
Colin's path is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Along his journey, he's worked at huge studios and on even bigger projects. Now he's setting his sights on the next chapter...and we can't wait to see what he does.
Throw a couple of Pop Tarts© in the toaster, because this one is part of a completely balanced breakfast. It's time to chat with Colin Hesterly.

A Dazzling Director: Colin Hesterly

Show Notes

Artists

Studios

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Transcript

Joey Korenman:
Colin Hesterly, it is awesome to finally have you on the podcast. Your name's been floating around as okay, we got to have Colin on at some point. The stars aligned, your rep reached out and here we are. So thank you for coming on, man, this is awesome.
Colin Hesterly:
Thank you. Yeah, like you said, it felt like a while. I've been waiting for the phone call. No, I'm joking. I'm joking.
Joey Korenman:
I bet you were. With bated breath. Awesome. Well, the first thing I wanted to ask you about, which I'm just going to cut to the chase here and talk about the important stuff. I got on your website, I go to your about page and I think one of the first adjectives that you use when you describe yourself is a Tiki-Drinkie lovey, Jungle Cruise vibing California native. And then I went to your Instagram and sure enough, there were some pictures of tropical, fruity cocktails.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And I'm assuming this is one of those half kidding things, you probably really do like those drinks, and I am kind of a closeted Tiki drink lover myself and so I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly let everybody know that I like a good watermelon daiquiri every once in a while. So is there a backstory there or is this just an inside joke or something, or?
Colin Hesterly:
No, no.
Joey Korenman:
Really? You're an enthusiast?
Colin Hesterly:
I truly am an enthusiast and it goes a bit deeper. For me, I've been doing to Disneyland since ... I think my parents took me there at eight months old and I've been going ever since. And some of my favorite things were the Tiki Room, the Jungle Cruise, I just love that old-school adventure type mentality, movies like The African Queen and stuff like that. And at a certain point, I was turned on to mid-century modern design and from that came this realization of the Tiki culture. From there, just my curiosity reeled me into the whole culture and it truly is a love and it goes far beyond daiquiris or piña coladas, for me, it's about the rum, it's about the escapism that you find with going into a Tiki bar.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
I mean, that's what I love. I mean, even in my work, it's all about escapism, I just want to get away.
Joey Korenman:
Oh, man, I love the answer, it's way deeper than I was expecting. And so is it really about the ... Because there is something really cool, I've never really thought about it, to be honest, but the aesthetic of those totems, the totem poles and things like that, that you see associated. So we live in Florida and we've been to Disneyworld a million times and my kids love the Tiki Room, and their favorite part is that Hawaiian, Polynesian chant where the totem poles start talking and stuff and there is something weirdly cult-like.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
There is this element of danger to it, but then when you get into the cocktails, it's almost like ... I don't know. It really is the Disney version of drinking.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. No, no, it is. I mean, you come to our house on a weekend, at least one week in a month, and it's like we've got old exotica music playing, I've got a full Tiki bar set up where I've got 30 to 40 collector Tiki mugs, I've got all kinds of rums and it's like you tell me the drink you want and I'll make it. Mai Tai, Zombie. I mean, we can go through all the crazy drinks, but for me, it's part of my escape from animation and from illustration, yet I can still be creative.
Joey Korenman:
Dude, this is awesome. All right, well, next time Blend happens, they should have you bartend and make animation-themed Tiki drinks. I'm all for it.
Colin Hesterly:
That's my vote.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Jorge, hope you're listening. All right, so let's talk about motion design, I guess we should. So one thing I thought was interesting, doing my research about you, is that ... So you're from California, so you're already born in the right place to do this kind of work, you're right in the epicenter of it. But then you went to Full Sail for school, which is on the other side of the country in Orlando, which is, I mean, aside from the climate, it's basically the opposite of LA.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
So I was just curious, how did you end up there and why'd you pick Full Sail?
Colin Hesterly:
Man, that's difficult to say. It was quite a while ago. I think really a couple people that I was introduced to had gone to the school, to Full Sail out in Florida, and I looked into it. And I was one of those kids that was like, "Oh, screw college, I'm just going to be in a band and whatever. School is for fools." And then after a couple years of just putzing around doing nothing, I realized well, man, I've got to figure something out.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Colin Hesterly:
And I really like the accelerated program, it was like two years of just non-stop work. And none of this online schooling stuff existed then, so-
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Colin Hesterly:
It was like all right, I can just get in, get out, learn what I need to and just be on my way. And on top of that, it was only 30 minutes from Disneyworld.
Joey Korenman:
Wow, okay. There's a pattern here. I've seen it. Yes.
Colin Hesterly:
There's a pattern. So it was like-
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
I mean, I might as well do this. I didn't have the portfolio for a school like CalArts, so it was just like all right, let's just go for it.
Joey Korenman:
Had you already decided I want to be a professional artist? Were you already in that world or this just seemed interesting?
Colin Hesterly:
Well, I mean, I still don't really consider myself an artist. I don't even know what I am.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, you're definitely not.
Colin Hesterly:
I mean, really I went into school with this mentality of I'm just going to make band posters and I feel like that's, nine times out of 10, every other graphic designer's mentality. And I actually went to school for graphic design, but I quickly learned oh, wait, there's this thing called after effects and motion graphics, you can draw this stuff and bring it to life and you can charge more money for it. Okay, I'm sold.
Joey Korenman:
There's definitely more money in this than in band posters.
Colin Hesterly:
Oh, for sure.
Joey Korenman:
That's for sure.
Colin Hesterly:
For sure.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. And so wait, so were you ... You were in the music scene doing band posters already or you just liked band posters?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah, I grew up and I was in bands and I did all that and I was doing music until I went to school.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
And now that I look back, I didn't necessarily pick that much easier of a career.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. I don't know, that's an interesting debate. All right, so you went to Full Sail because it's two years instead of four and maybe you didn't have the portfolio for a more, I guess, more prestigious, maybe, school.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
But Full Sail, I mean, some killers have come out of Full Sail, so they're doing something right over there. And right after Full Sail, I don't know if I have my chronology right, but you ended up at Buck pretty quickly afterwards. So, can you talk about what happened after you graduated Full Sail? How did you end up going back to the west coast?
Colin Hesterly:
At the end of school, I had released a film called World of Motion and this is at the same time that Vimeo Staff Picks were kind of in the height of their popularity and they actually meant something. And I think it was a week or two out from graduation and released it, got a Staff Pick and I just got a bunch of emails and one of them happened to be from Buck and I was trying to figure out am I going to LA, am I going to New York? I wasn't quite sure where I wanted to go or who I wanted to work with, but the minute Buck reached out, I was like, "Yep. Let's do this." And so-
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, you won. There you go.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. So I graduated and I think the next morning, packed up our car and drove out to LA in, like, a day and a half. We just went non-stop.
Joey Korenman:
That's a long drive.
Colin Hesterly:
It's a really long drive, I would never do it again.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Well, it's interesting, I want to call out too, because a lot of people listening to this, if you've only been in the industry a year or two, maybe even three years, Vimeo Staff Pick, it's like a footnote. It doesn't carry the weight. It used to be such a big deal in this industry. I mean, it literally could make your career. And World of Motion, I'm looking at it right now, it's nine years old, has 260,000 views on it. And to get that many eyeballs on a piece of motion design now is really hard, but a decade ago, if you got the Staff Pick, you're going to get that many views. So just for context for people who are newer, I wanted to point that out.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah, for sure. It's definitely changed.
Joey Korenman:
Okay, so you drive, you bomb down to LA, you get there. What happens?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. I showed up to Buck and I was rearing and ready to go. I had a six month internship and ... I'm trying to think of what one of my first project was, I can't remember. But that's where I met Jorge. I met a handful of people that are quite, I don't want to say prolific, but names that you'd recognize and it just felt amazing being surrounded by all these crazy artists who were infinitely more talented than I was. But yeah, I think after three or four months, I ended up leaving my internship for various reasons, but it was ... Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
I'm going to dig a little bit and you answer whatever you're comfortable with. But one of the things that I always like to ask people about Buck, because I have never worked at Buck and I hold them up on the pedestal like everybody does because the work speaks for itself, you just can't deny that they are the best.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
But I don't know what it's like to work there. And 10 years ago, it was a much smaller company too, I'm sure it's very different today. But I also am aware now, especially running School of Motion too, that the way a company looks from the outside, it definitely ... There's some reflection of that on the inside, but at the end of the day, it's a business, right?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And sometimes, people can come into a situation with unrealistic expectations. I'm not saying that's what happened here, but I'm curious if that sort of vibe is what you're talking about. Because the way you said for various reasons, I left my internship, I'm sure that it was a combination of things about the situation you didn't like, things that maybe you wish you'd done differently, but I'm wondering if you could talk about a little bit. What was the reality of being at Buck in the center of ... I mean, Buck is still the top of the top, but 10 years ago, they were just untouchable and there was just no-one else.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. Well, I'll preface it. I agree, Buck is the pinnacle and they have been for the past 10 to 15 years in terms of commercial animation. And every spot that comes out from them, I'm just in awe over. I think really it was me, it wasn't Buck. I mean, to back up a little bit, I had been in school for two years, sleeping four hours a night, seven days a week. So, you could kind of remove Buck from the situation and put any studio in place, to be honest. I was already coming into the situation in an unhealthy way. I was already burnt out, I had bit off more than I could chew, maybe, in terms of what I could physically pull off after school.
I didn't take any breaks, I didn't rest, I didn't try to bring some sense of healthiness back into my life and that coupled with that experience that you have in school of comradery, of hanging out with your buds in an animation lab for 24 hours at a time. And at the same time, I'm watching these documentaries on Pixar where you see them running through the hallways, having chair races and a cereal bar and all this stuff and I think in my mind, it was just like this is animation, this is going to be nothing but fun and goofing off. And so I think my vision was misaligned with the reality of what the industry's like.
Joey Korenman:
Right. And what it's like to run a business that has to make profit and pay bills and stuff.
Colin Hesterly:
Oh, totally. And with maturity, I look back and it's like okay, yeah, that was not anyone else's fault, it was me. It was me not having realistic expectations, it was me maybe expecting too much too soon, if that makes sense.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Yeah, that does make sense. I wanted to ask you, because you've won a lot of awards and to get a Vimeo Staff Pick on a student piece that you did after two years of school, do you think that it went to your head a little bit?
Colin Hesterly:
Yes and no. I didn't have this mentality of look at me, I'm so amazing, I think it changed my mindset in terms of what to expect from others, if that makes any sense. I really don't know how to explain it any better than that, it just ...
Joey Korenman:
Interesting. Yeah. I mean, so I never won an award for work or anything like that, but I did chase that.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And looking back, it's clear, with the lens of experience, to note that chasing an award is just silly.
Colin Hesterly:
It is.
Joey Korenman:
And it's actually not really the right way to win awards. You win awards when you don't try. Everybody I've talked to who wins awards, that's what they say. And so it's all about having the right motivation to be doing the work. And so early in my career, I really was chasing awards and bigger clients and ambitious things like that. So when you ... Because going from school to Buck, I mean, you're very early in your career at that point, what was pushing you? What were you after? Were you after that Pixar life of I just get to be creative all day and have Lucky Charms for lunch from the cereal bar, or?
Colin Hesterly:
That would be awesome.
Joey Korenman:
It would be.
Colin Hesterly:
It would. I mean-
Joey Korenman:
Let's be honest, that's the dream.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
Or was there something else? I mean, everyone gets into it for different reasons.
Colin Hesterly:
There's always something else for me. My career and every decision I've made has been a giant game of chess. What might seem maybe sporadic or on the outside looking in, it's like everything that I've done and that I'm doing is hopefully working towards something. And earlier on in my career, there was that sense of I can't fail, I don't want people to see me screw up, and I think that kind of stems a lot from my childhood. I was diagnosed with several learning disabilities and really just was ridiculed a lot when I was younger, so I think that had an effect on the first half of my career thus far of just I can't let people see me vulnerable and screw up. So, there's this constant pressure of I have to do something better than this last project, or I have to work at the next best place, or I have to make more money than I did last year.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Can I ask you what learning disabilities you were diagnosed with?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. So ADD and then ... So there's the right brain learner, so visual learner. And luckily, my parents did a bunch of testing when I was, like, sophomore year of high school and they pulled me from school and put me in an experiential learning school, where basically ... For a great example, every Wednesday, you had the day off to work on your own project. So-
Joey Korenman:
Wow.
Colin Hesterly:
I didn't have to go to school. So for one semester, I interned with a recording studio and that was-
Joey Korenman:
That's amazing.
Colin Hesterly:
That was school every Wednesday.
Joey Korenman:
That's amazing. The reason I asked, Colin, was because ... So my wife is diagnosed as dyslexic.
Colin Hesterly:
Okay.
Joey Korenman:
And I'm pretty sure that one, probably two, of my kids would be diagnosed also. And to me, none of that matters, other than I've noticed that some of the most talented visual artists I've met, worked with are almost certainly dyslexic or would be diagnosed as having ADD. I have kind of mixed feelings about even diagnosing things in that way. But to me, I've just noticed, anecdotally, this correlation between people who are labeled as having a learning disability, which really just means your brain works differently than the way school intends most brains to work.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
But you're able to create these visuals and these stories and these connections that a more left brain, analytical person cannot as easily. And so, I don't know, I just wanted to ... Just to name that because it's really interesting to me how every ... Richard Branson, I mean, all of these really creative thinkers and artists, it's almost always a story of I failed every class in school.
Colin Hesterly:
Oh, totally.
Joey Korenman:
It's interesting to me.
Colin Hesterly:
Totally. It's like I failed everything, but then I get into art class or photography class and it's like I would just sail.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. I mean, maybe learning disability, I mean, that's what they called it way back when, but it's really not a disability. It's just once you understand it, you can capitalize on it, right? Because I don't think in words, I think in pictures.
Joey Korenman:
That's a good way to put it. That's interesting. Very cool, man. Awesome. Thank you for sharing all that. I think a lot of people listening probably are going to identify with that. And to see someone with your portfolio, your skills and your awards, good lord, your trophy case, I think it's pretty awesome. Okay, so Buck didn't work out and you learned a lot about what to do, what not to do. And so then where did you end up next?
Colin Hesterly:
Well, so this is also one of the factors in me leaving Buck. One of my buddies from Full Sail reached out to me and he had been in LA for about a year prior to me moving out here, and he had an opportunity for me to work with Imaginary Forces on the graphic package for that year for the Oscars. And-
Joey Korenman:
Awesome.
Colin Hesterly:
Once they told me what the day rate was and I realized that, basically, in two weeks, I was going to make triple the amount I was making my entire internship, it was like all right, what have I got to lose?
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Colin Hesterly:
I mean, I'm already hungry and need some cash, so it's like I might as well try this. And that, I think four months into my career, I was freelancing and that's what I did for the next three years.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, that's not the way it goes for most people, but that's awesome.
Colin Hesterly:
No, and it's a two-edged sword. I wouldn't necessarily recommend anyone just jumping into freelance, but at the same time, I believe in taking risk and you have to weigh the consequences both good and bad. But for me, it felt like all right, I had a wife, she had a job, if push comes to shove, at least we have some income, so I took the plunge.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, it was a calculated risk. So I saw on your LinkedIn that you worked for a while freelancing at Imaginary Forces, and then you were at Royale for a while. And at both of those places, you worked on, I'm sure among other things, but you worked on these big graphics packages.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And I've done those before, I know how those are. And more recently, you've done more narrative things and sort of bespoke, one-off projects. And I'm curious if you can just talk a little bit about what are the differences in terms of the way that you approach something that has 250 deliverables, like a graphics package for Disney Junior or something like that, versus all right, this is one video for one client, they're going to need it one time? You're doing the same thing, you're designing and you're animating, but it's kind of a different beast.
Colin Hesterly:
Oh, totally. I think, though, to be fair, I put the same pressures on myself.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
It is. Last year, I did a illustration campaign for a medical company, it was, like, 500 illustrations. And-
Joey Korenman:
Oh, god.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. Dude, I was beating my head against the computer so many times. But I mean, it's just a game of sheer numbers. Those big projects, once you set a style, once you set the art direction, you figure out logistics of things, it really just turns into a puzzle. You just got to plug in new things and version things out, which does become difficult as a creative, trying to maintain any sense of order and trying to keep track of all that stuff. But it really just, for me, it was a game of numbers. For the one-off stuff, I don't know, it's ... Trying to think here. I mean, story, for me, is important and so I pour an insane amount of time over the story, things like camera moves, everything needs to feel motivating. So, I don't know where I'm going with all of this, but it's going somewhere and we'll see.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Well, here, let me ask you one specific thing. So working at a place like Buck, even back then, I'm guessing there was probably, like, 50 people in the LA office or something like that.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And then even at Imaginary Forces back then, it was probably still a pretty big company and Royale was growing. And then now, sometimes you do things all by yourself or you work with smaller teams. Working on those big graphics packages where there might be 50 artists working on it or something like that, what do you like to do? Do you like working smaller where you have a little more, I guess, creative control, you can touch every little piece, or do you like working on these gigantic things that really, like you said, it becomes how many bodies can we throw at this to get this enormous deliverables list done?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. Honestly, it fluctuates. It depends on the project. I think, overall, I prefer a smaller, more nimble team. People where it's like I know their names, I know everyone on the project, I can have a conversation with them about something other than the project, we can goof off and joke around. I don't know, for me, when I was on the bigger projects, it ... And I don't say this in a negative way, but you're one of many artists, you're a cog in the machine and that's cool, right? You might get to own 15 frames that's just totally you and it's a part of this amazing project, but, overall, there's no real sense of ownership. And for me, that's what I like about the smaller, more nimble projects. It's like everyone can bring their style to the table, everyone can bring what they're good at and we all make a film that we all can own. It's not like oh, hey, I did those five frames right there, I did that one little thing in the background that you barely see.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. There's an interesting correlation there. So we're still in lockdown and I decided I needed to learn how to do some woodworking, and so I built a table for our backyard. And I did it all by myself, I bought the wood, I had figured out how to cut it and screw it together and it's like there's a physical thing that I made.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And that satisfaction of having this thing that wouldn't exist but for me visualizing it, that, I think, is the gateway drug in motion design and in any kind of animation and creative thing. And when you get into these giant pipelines where you have a conveyor belt, essentially, that pumps out super high quality, amazing stuff, I think for a certain type of artist, that's really satisfying-
Colin Hesterly:
Totally.
Joey Korenman:
To be a special ... But for a different type of artist, it's not satisfying. It's more satisfying to build a table by yourself that is not even close to as good as if you had a team of professionals each doing their job, but who cares? Because it feels better.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. I mean, I won't lie, I envy the person that can animate or can do all this and just show up to the gig, do their thing, just own it and then go and hang out and live life. I can't do that. I want to pour everything I have into everything I work on and sometimes that means me working by myself.
Joey Korenman:
Right. Yeah. It's a conundrum, honestly, because I think ... And it's one of the things ... This is getting kind of meta now, Colin, this is great.
Colin Hesterly:
It's okay.
Joey Korenman:
One of the things I think about sometimes is the creatives like you that have that kind of bent where you like to sometimes just probably go into a cave and not come out for a month and come out with this cool thing you made.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
That tends to lead to things like awards and recognition and stuff like that versus the consummate, amazing professional that shows up, does their job brilliantly every day and then goes home and doesn't talk about it and doesn't tweet about it and doesn't promote themselves, and that's the kind of person that this industry really recognizes and celebrates and all that stuff and that's mostly who we interview on this podcast. That's not actually the majority of the industry.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And I just want to call that out for everyone listening who thinks that success means you have to be driven in the way someone like Colin is driven and, frankly, I'm driven the same way, you don't have to be. And there is a cost to that also.
Colin Hesterly:
Oh, totally. I would back you up 100%. If you don't have to live like this, don't. Because, I mean, every day of my life, I'm trying to figure out what's this thing called balance? How can I bring balance to my life and not constantly be thinking about my work or dreaming up a new idea? I mean, yeah, it's fun, but at the same time, I want to enjoy my life.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. And you've got a wife, you've got children, it's like how do you ... They have to fit in somewhere and ... Yeah. So I'm with you, man. I wouldn't say I envy, but it's just like I would love to know what it's like to, at 5:30, have my brain just turn off.
Colin Hesterly:
Totally. Totally. Yeah. I would just love to understand what does that feel like? Can we do like a Freaky Friday and I just hang out in your shoes for a day?
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. I don't know. Maybe what I really need is a Zombie with some Bacardi 151 floater on top or something and then-
Colin Hesterly:
There you go.
Joey Korenman:
Then my brain will turn off.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah, that works.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. All right, so let's talk about being a director. So at some point, you got to call yourself a director. You're not just a designer, animator anymore, you're a director. And I've had quite a few people who are directors on the podcast and every time I say what does a director do in motion design? I get a slightly different answer. So, I'm beginning to suspect that there really isn't a right answer to this, a director is sort of whatever it needs to be on that project. So first of all, how did you become a director? Did someone come out with a sword and you kneel down and they tap you on both shoulders and now you are, is that how it works?
Colin Hesterly:
I wish, that would be awesome. A ceremony-
Joey Korenman:
It's much cooler.
Colin Hesterly:
And ... No. I mean, well-
Joey Korenman:
Jorge comes out.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. Well, actually what happened was I released a short film a couple years into my career and a studio up in Seattle offered me a job as a creative director. And so I went and I did that for a couple years and that was kind of like the next evolutionary step from all right, I'm animating, I'm doing all this freelance stuff. So, I got my taste of talking to the client, coming up with ideas, doing all of that stuff. And then when we had our daughter, we decided move back to Denver to be with my family and there's not really a huge motion scene out there, so I didn't really know what I was going to do. But on a random trip to New York, I was actually staying with Joe Donaldson, of all people. I was crashing-
Joey Korenman:
Nice.
Colin Hesterly:
On his couch. And I went into the city one day to meet with him for lunch and he was freelancing, he was doing some work with this rep called Not To Scale. So I'm sitting in the waiting room waiting for him to come out so we could go have lunch and the EP comes out and says, "Hey, man. Are you Colin?" I was like, "Yeah." "Well, hey, come into my office." And so I walked in and he had all of my work up on his desk and he's just like, "I love what you're doing. Can I rep you?" And I was like, "What's rep? Can I get some more info? I don't know what we're talking about here. I'm supposed to be going to lunch." So, really it was just being in the right place at the right time and someone seeing all of the work I had been doing, seeing something in it. And what's funny is a couple years earlier, I told my wife I'm never going to be a director, but then I found myself, in quotes, directing.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Okay. So it really was like someone came out with a sword and tapped you on the shoulder two times, but it was in a walk up in Manhattan somewhere. Okay. So then you're repped and so you're officially a director, and how does that work? So I've been a creative director and, at a small studio especially, a creative director is a director.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
I mean, you're directing it. There's really no difference. But as a freelance director that's repped, how does that work?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. So for one year, you're not on staff, you're on your own, you're your own business. But for me, let's just say any given project, right? I'll pitch on a project just like a creative director would or any other studio, I'll put together a treatment, some artwork, maybe an animation test and if I have some budget, I'll bring in friends to help with that stuff. And then if I win the project, I get to direct. And under that directing title, it's similar to the creative director role, maybe a little bit more hands-on, where I'm sitting there with the artist. It's kind of like a mix between creative director and art director really. And so I'll work with the storyboard artist, I'll work with designers and illustrators and animators and it's giving a lot of notes, it's talking with the client.
But what's cool about the freelance repping model is that basically you get a director's fee, so you'll make a percentage of the project, that's just your fee for winning the job basically. And then you can choose whatever you want to do on the project after that. So, say one project, I want to do the storyboards, all right, I can charge a day rate for that. Maybe I want to do some compositing, I could charge a day rate for that. It's going to go to an artist no matter what. So, you can pick and choose what you want to do. So, sometimes I'll have three or four projects at the same time and all I can do is direct. Sometimes I'll have nothing and so I'll do everything on the project myself.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Colin Hesterly:
I don't know. That's kind of how I see my role is it's ... It's almost like being John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in a western, you just roll into town, get shit taken care of and then ride off into the sunset until they call you again.
Joey Korenman:
Let's say you have nothing going on and then you win a pitch, do you have to spin up, through a pool of freelancers, a studio, a virtual studio every time, or-
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
Are you sometimes directing for studios where they have the artists, they got designers, they got animators and you just come in as the director?
Colin Hesterly:
Well, as of right now, in the last couple years, I've been in exclusive directing contracts, so I'm not necessarily directing for a studio, like Giant Ant or, I don't know, whoever you want to name.
Joey Korenman:
Like Tendril or something like that.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. But yeah, we're basically building a team for me to work with. I mean, it's difficult because you've got to start from the ground up every time, but what's nice is that you can get the exact type of people that you need for that project, so.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. I mean, to be honest, that seems like a very modern model.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And especially ... I mean, look, like right now, every studio, every company in the world is figuring out how to do things remotely and finding that it's not as hard as they thought and holy crap, this is way cheaper, in some cases, maybe we'll just do this forever. So, what you're doing by spinning up a new, quote, studio every time is just that, you're leveraging the fact that the designer you want to work with might be in Tokyo, but it doesn't matter, as long as they're available, you can book them and have them on this project, right?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And the thing with ... With the creative director and with you being in a studio space, there's a constant flow of work and with me, that's not the case. It's very much like you go from zero to 100 miles an hour in, like, 24 hours and then you're back to zero at the end of the project. So there's a lot of start, stop, start, stop and it just doesn't make sense to have all these people sitting around.
Joey Korenman:
Do you have a producer you always work with or someone that helps you ramp up really quickly on the business side when a job lands?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. So my reps, basically, they'll act as the production company and so they typically have producers on staff or they'll bring in a freelance producer and together, we'll build up the team. And basically what ends up happening is they take care of all the business side, they make sure that everyone's book, everyone gets paid and I just focus on the creative.
Joey Korenman:
That's awesome. And we should, by the way, name drop your rep, which is Partisan.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah, yeah. So I've got Partisan for commercial animation, I have Closer and Closer for illustration, and then I've got a manager through Mosaic. They're like a talent agency out here in LA, so.
Joey Korenman:
That's awesome. And so is all of your work now coming through reps or are you still doing any direct to client stuff?
Colin Hesterly:
I mean, honestly, if the budget's big enough, I'll just send it to the rep.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
Because then I get to charge a finder's fee.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Colin Hesterly:
But yeah, I mean, I'll occasionally do a couple of smaller projects under a certain amount, but it's very rare.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
So ...
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. That's awesome. So one of the questions I know everybody's wondering about is as you go up in responsibility and in title, generally, you go up in comp too.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And you mentioned, it's really interesting, this is not something that most artists are familiar with in this industry, the director's fee or the creative fee as it sometimes is called, and it's ... I mean, when I was starting out, even if you were a really well-known editor, you could get a creative fee just to edit a commercial or something like that. So, obviously, that's going to be, I'm assuming, generally, a nice five figure amount or something, but as a director, are you generally making more than if you're just a freelance badass designer, animator in LA? Do directors do better financially?
Colin Hesterly:
I think it depends on how you look at it. Because, I mean, if I'm completely honest, I'm really only on projects maybe six months out of the year. So I'm not working 24/7, yet I'm still working, I'm still pitching on jobs trying to get stuff, working on my own projects. But, I mean, yeah, the income has definitely come up in ... I mean, once I signed as an illustration rep, my salary basically doubled. So there's potential to make money, it's not like an absurd amount, it's just you have to be willing and mentally okay with you could have six months where you don't have a job and you don't get paid. And then you could have a month where you make three quarters of your salary, so it's emotionally taxing and it's not for everyone.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. I was going to say, dude, thank you for saying that because I don't think that's that well known. I remember one of my first internships I had was ... It was actually in New York and I worked for a production company and the guy who ran it was a big name director, he did commercials and stuff. I asked him, because I always was curious, how much do you make doing this? I don't know, I've always been interested in money. And he told me, he's like, "Well, if I get a job, if I get booked to do this commercial, most of what I'm getting is a creative fee and it might be 30 grand for one commercial." And that commercial, he might spend two weeks in pre-production and then it's a two day shoot and then once it's being edited, he's almost not involved anymore. And I was like, "That's an insane amount of money, man. Oh, my god." And he's like, "Yeah, but what if I only get three of those a year, four of those a year?" And he lived in Manhattan, so 100 grand a year there is not very much money. And that's when I was like, "Oh, I get it. Okay, yeah." However, in a good year, maybe he would have 10 commercials and make a killing.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. Yeah. So you definitely have to be smart and plan out your finances. For me, basically the way I look at it is I pile all of my money together and I look at it as a whole of all right, this job, I might get five grand on this job, I might get 50 grand on, but it all goes in the same pot and what's my runway? How long do I have until I absolutely have to get a job?
Joey Korenman:
Right. So this was something that I learned early when School of Motion started to grow was as a freelancer, I think most people tend to operate their finances that way, where you basically just ... Whatever you get, you just throw that in your checking account. Maybe you're slightly more sophisticated and you take it out for taxes and put it in a different account, but typically, whatever you build is your salary. And then when that number gets higher and you start building more legitimate business, then that becomes your operating capital and you pay yourself a salary. So, how far have you gone with the finance side of things?
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. I mean, I haven't gone terribly far, but I break it down more than that. I set aside money for operating costs, equipment, all that stuff, taxes and all of that. It's not so cut and dry as like ah, I just dump it in a pile.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Colin Hesterly:
But for me, it's basically like all right, once I remove all of the other expenses that I have that I need to take care of, what is left and how much can I pay myself from that? And-
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
So you get paid 50,000 dollars on a project, you're not making 50,000 dollars. By the time you start pulling everything out, it's, like, half of that, if not a quarter of that. And so that's kind of how I do things, but I know I could definitely be better, it's just ...
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. But, I mean, it really is like a ... It's a mini studio and you have to think of things like a studio at that stage, so.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
I just think it's cool to just point that out for everybody that the higher up you get in the, I guess, the food chain of this industry, it doesn't get easier.
Colin Hesterly:
No, not at all.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. It only gets harder.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. All right, so that's awesome. I feel like this has been really good, just sort of overview of what it's like to be a working director. I feel like I learned a lot just now, Colin, that I didn't know before, so thank you for all that. I want to talk about the awards because you've won a lot of awards. So you've won six Vimeo Staff Picks, which, again, if you're listening and you're only in the industry for a year or two, that may not seem like a big deal. Back in the day, that was unheard of. And you also won a Young Gun Award.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
Which, also, I don't know if that's still a big deal, but that used to be a huge deal. And a lot of artists that you know their names, like Jorge won it, Joe Donaldson's won it, I think Jay Quercia won it, a lot of amazing people in this field have done it. And then lately, the last year or two at least, almost every artist I talk to, studio owners, they're like, "Yeah, words don't really do anything. Words don't really matter." So, where do you land on this?
Colin Hesterly:
Man. I don't even understand how anything works anymore, to be completely honest. I'm at a loss for ... I don't get how any of this works and I don't know if I really care to know, but I will say that yeah, awards ... The Staff Pick, for one, it just doesn't mean that much anymore. At a certain point, it would get you 500,000 views. I mean, and now you go onto YouTube and it's like that's nothing.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Colin Hesterly:
But I don't think they hold as much weight anymore. I think they're nice, they're a fun little thing to be able to talk about, but really I think what the most important things in terms of clients and other artists, what people care about is seeing what you can do on your own. I think someone going off and just making a project by themselves or a small team or doing a illustration series or just these little passion projects, they seem like a better way for exposure than those awards.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. And there's almost a correlation between what's happening with awards and what's happening, in my biased opinion, with degrees is that there used to be this scenario where the average, I don't know, ad agency art director doesn't have an easy way of knowing who the top motion design studio is that year, right? And so the award is a really convenient stamp of approval from some authority saying ah, this is good, you can trust me that this is good. And now you don't really need that as much because ... And, frankly, it's just diluted because there's so many venues and I think, in general, everyone is more savvy. Everyone looks at Instagram. If you're hiring designers, you're getting on Behance or Dribbble or Instagram and people are looking at this stuff all day, and they can look at how many followers you have and that's sort of like a vanity metric, but it tells them that people like your work, so you must be good.
And so the award is less valuable, the same way that Google doesn't require college degrees anymore because they can just look at your code and tell if you're good or not. So, I don't know, I kind of go back and forth on it because I think if you're a new artist, Sophie Lee wins a motion award and, I don't know, maybe that helps her get hired at Odd Fellows, it definitely gets her attention. Which does she need the award to get attention? No, her work's amazing.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah. Awards are still fun, they still hold some weight, they just don't hold the same weight. For me, when I'm looking at an artist, I don't care if they have an award. I mean, it might perk my ears up a little bit, but if I can just look at their work and see at least one spot or one illustration that connects with me, then I'm good.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah, so ...
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. So in terms of your career, that first Staff Pick, it sounds like, nine years ago, 10 years ago, that really did help. Did any of the other awards help? Did the Young Guns Award help in any significant way or by that point, was your momentum enough and it just was sort of a nice to have?
Colin Hesterly:
I think by the time the Young Guns came up, it was just momentum. I don't think the Young Guns, Art Director's Club really does much for people in MoGraph and animation. I don't know why, but everyone that I've talked to that is in our industry and had the award, they're like, "Yeah, it did absolutely nothing for me." The Staff Picks, they opened up a lot of doors, but that being said, it's changed. I mean, Staff Picks, it got me meetings with Disney, with Paramount. I spent nine months developing a series with Nickelodeon because of Staff Picks. But like you said, everything's oversaturated now and I just don't think that ... You'd be lucky if you got 20, 50,000 views from a Staff Pick as opposed to 10 years ago, 500,000 was awesome.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Yeah. It was just an instant boost.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
So I want to talk a little bit more about representation. And the way that this podcast got kicked off was because Closer and Closer actually reached out and asked us if we wanted to interview some of their artists, and I didn't realize that you were repped by them and I was like, "Oh, shoot, Colin's there." And that's really interesting because I always viewed you as a MoGraph guy, right? I don't know how you position yourself, but I lumped you in with the Jorge's and the Sander's and the [inaudible 00:52:17]. And then you're also now repped as an illustrator, just doing illustration and I don't really know much about that world. So, how did you get repped as an illustrator? As someone with a portfolio filled with motion, how did that happen?
Colin Hesterly:
Well, I mean, the truth is is that being a commercial rep, and like I said earlier, you might have three months that go by where you don't have any work, I needed to fill it up. Not necessarily fill my time up for financial sake, but for keeping myself sane. It is deflating feeling like everyone wants your work on this project and then no-one's talking to you for three months. And so this idea just popped in my mind of well ... I mean, illustration is way more simple, right? I'm already illustrating and drawing style frames for my projects, could I not just take this and apply it to illustration, and have the option or the opportunities to do small, little projects in between these big ones I'm doing with animation? So, basically, I reached out to Closer and Closer with a portfolio full of style frames from commercials and pitches that I've done in the past decade, and they were fully onboard. So, the idea basically just came out of I'm bored, I need something to do and it's turned out to be a really, really good decision.
Joey Korenman:
That's really awesome. And so what is a typical illustration commission project like compared to a motion design project?
Colin Hesterly:
All right. So you've got to do how many thousands of frames or ... I mean, depending on if you're hand-drawing animation like I do in my projects, but, I mean, it's like one and done, right? I mean, I did have the illustration project last year where it was 500 illustrations, it was more like badges. But, honestly, it's a breath of fresh air because you can just draw and not worry about what is this going to look like in motion? How am I going to animate this? You don't have to worry about building out every asset, you only have to draw what you see. And then on top of that, you get things like [inaudible 00:54:50], so you can make quite a bit of money off of it if you align yourself with someone who knows what they're doing, and I don't, so that's why-
Joey Korenman:
That's awesome.
Colin Hesterly:
That's why I got Closer and Closer.
Joey Korenman:
Right. And so they manage that, so if the client wants to use an asset you drew on their website and then later on, they want to use it in their mobile app, you get an additional licensing fee?
Colin Hesterly:
Yep.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. That's great. That's really awesome. And I know that there's a lot of chatter about trying to find a way of doing that with motion design, I'm sure, at some point, someone will crack the code.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
But that's awesome, man. And I think it's also just really good to call out as an option for a lot of people in this industry. Right now, being an illustrator, animator is the thing and so if you can do both and you're freelance, there's almost no downsides to also just doing commission illustration it sounds like.
Colin Hesterly:
Totally. Totally. And it's a nice way to pump the brakes, right? Because animation is super, super heavy. It takes a lot of time. I mean, everyone that I talk to, I just tell animation is a heartbreaking career, right? You're going to put in all this hard work, it's going to get cut. It's an amazing career, but it's also full of heartbreak. And what's nice with the illustration is there's not as much pressure, I can relax a little bit and just focus on this one frame and not think about everything else I've got to do.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. It's like that piece that came out last year, I think it was called Motion Makes a Masochist.
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
It was a very accurate piece. Yeah. Oh, man. All right, so the last thing I wanted to ask you about, Colin, was ... And I can probably predict what your answer's going to be, but anyone who's gotten to this stage where you're repped, not even by one rep, but by two reps and you have a manager and you're directing stuff and you're living the dream, man, you made it, you've got awards, right? So what now? What's the next thing, Colin? And this is where a lot of people listening are going to hear your story and they're going to look at your work and they're going to say, "I really want to get there one day."
Colin Hesterly:
Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
And then a bunch of them will, I hope, they'll get there, they'll be where you are. And then they'll feel whatever you're feeling right now, which is ... Question mark.
Colin Hesterly:
Oh, man. Which is how do I get out of this? No. How do I retire early?
Joey Korenman:
Right, exactly.
Colin Hesterly:
If that's your question, talk to Dan Savage, he'll tell you how to retire early. No. I mean, honestly, for me, where my head has always been at is original content. I went into school for graphic design, came out a motion designer. And in my heart and in my head, I always wanted to work at Disney or Pixar, some place like that, but I never saw my skills as on par with that. And a lot of the choices I've made over the past decade has been me gearing towards that type of world. So, part of the reason why I have a manager now is because he helps me in film and television, and so right now I'm working on a short for Comedy Central.
And the idea is is I just want to be telling stories, I just want to tell stories with people that want to have fun and that's, I mean, really my ultimate goal. And to be on a project for longer than two or three months. It'd be nice to have something that it's like all right, for the next year or two, I know this is what I'm doing every day. But yeah, I love telling stories and that was part of the reason why the rep thing made sense to me because it's like if I want to get into directing a animated series or whatever it may be, I've got to have something to prove that I can do this. And so, for me, directing commercials, it's just been all about me just cutting my teeth and trying to get as much behind me as possible.