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Animating for a Good Cause with Nicolaj Larsson

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Personal Projects with a Global Purpose

Doing personal projects is a great way to experiment and flex your creative muscles. Personal projects can also be part of a strategy of beefing up your portfolio or reel, especially if you're just starting out in the industry. While many artists may look for inspiration by creating fake ads for major brands, our guest today will hopefully inspire you to create self-motivated work that is for a good cause. 

Today we'll be chatting with Nicolaj Larsson, the founder and creative director of the Copenhagen based studio ccccccc.tv. In 2019, he helped lead the community-led project called Frames for Future, which sought to use the talents of motion designers to spread awareness to some of the biggest global challenges humanity faces today. No small feat, right? In this podcast—recorded for our intermediate 3D course Cinema 4D Ascent—we talk with Nicolaj about how the project came about and discover how we all have the power to do a little bit of good in our world. 

Grab yourself a macaroni and cheese milkshake, because you’re about to be overwhelmed with inspiration. Let’s get personal with Nicolaj Larsson. 

Animating for a Good Cause with Nicolaj Larsson

Show Notes

Topics

CCCCCCC
Frames for Future

Artists/Studios

Barton Dammer
Toast

John Poon

Jonathan Lindgren

Henrique Barone

Fe Ribeiro

Daniel Simmons

The Mill

Gunner

Buck

The Soundery

Resources

SCAD
Ringling

Blend Fest

Node Fest

See No Evil
 
Pictoplasma

NAB

The Nature Conservancy

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Motionographer

Beeple

COVID19
 

Transcript

EJ Hassenfratz:

Today. I'm really excited to welcome Nicolaj Larsson to the podcast. Nicolaj is the founder and creative director of the Copenhagen Bay studio Seven Cs. And aside from creating beautifully designed animations for clients in Denmark and places all over the world, Nicolaj helped spearhead the community led effort called Frames For Future. The Frames For Future was a collaboration project that sought to use the talents of the motion design and animation community to help spread awareness to the biggest global challenges humanity faces today.

EJ Hassenfratz:

All right. Awesome. I'm so excited to have on today's podcast, Nicolaj Larsson all the way from Copenhagen, Denmark. And he's the founder and creative director at Seven Cs, a little studio over in Copenhagen. Welcome, Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us Nicolaj.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Thank you so much for hearing me.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. So I've been watching your work and your studio for a while, and I feel like I first learned about it through the Frames For Future stuff, which we'll get to. But doing a little snooping, doing a little stocking of you I think you have a very interesting story as far as how you got into the industry and then ended up becoming founder and creative director of Seven Cs. So could you just give the students a little bit of background story of how did you get into mograph and how did you become a founder of a studio?

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, it's of course a long story, but-

EJ Hassenfratz:

We have time.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, that's good. And actually started a little bit in a weird way because I was dropping out for high school, it's called Gymnasium here in Denmark. I didn't really know what to do. I applied for cooking school. I was there for a week, and then I dropped out again. So it's just in this weird period of time where I didn't know what to do. And I talked with one of my schools friends from my childhood. And he said, "Well, Nicolaj you've been drawing your whole life. That's all you've been doing at school basically. So why not do something in that direction? It could be anything." And then I started thinking about it and they feel a little bit in love with the thought of being a graphic designer. And then when you have to apply for school as a graphic designer here in Denmark, you need to have also a apprenticeship.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Oh, interesting.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. Before you start out the school. So you are-

EJ Hassenfratz:

So you can't just apply to a graphic design major. You have to-

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. You can be there for a half a year and then for the next three years, you have to have an apprenticeship somewhere. Otherwise you can continue with the study.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Oh, interesting.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. So I applied for just various companies. It was an unknown world for me back then. And then I actually got called in from one of the companies and when I got there, they asked me if... the talking that they did, motion graphics design, and asked me if I knew anything about that. And I was just completely blank. I didn't know anything about it.

EJ Hassenfratz:

What year was this by the way?

Nicolaj Larsson:

I think it was 2008, maybe.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Okay. Sounds about right, yeah.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. They did these in-store commercials. Like, you see a screen in a supermarket and then there's a little commercial in there. It was a small company but they actually told me that they would like to offer me a job there. And at first I didn't know what was going on because I'd never worked with it. I just had these few examples of graphic design that I did for bank covers for my home bank when I was young. I didn't know what I was doing and I thought they also didn't since they asked me to come there. So I got that job, when I was-

EJ Hassenfratz:

You got offered a job when all you really wanted was an apprenticeship.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, exactly.

EJ Hassenfratz:

So you just like, "Okay, I'll join you and just bye school."

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yes. I just skipped school. I just had a few experiences with me in school where it really didn't work. And so I thought it was a good idea back then and it turned out to be also. I worked there for, I think that year or so. And then one of my colleagues there, he got another job at a big commercial film and production company, in Denmark called [inaudible 00:05:33] film. And they also had a department with motion graphics. And one day he wrote me and asked if I knew anybody who could be interested in a motion graphics job. I was just like, "Well, me. I would like to." And then I got a, what's it called, an interview done there and I got the job. I was there for four years or so, and just worked my way up and became a motion art director back there. And then one day my... I was living in Aarhus back then, and others [inaudible 00:06:14] is a city in Denmark. And my girlfriend, she got into the university in Copenhagen.

Nicolaj Larsson:

So we had to move. From Aarhus we moved to Copenhagen. And luckily the company, [inaudible 00:06:31] film it just bought a studio in Copenhagen called Duckling. So they were willing to transfer me to that department over there. And I think when I have been there for half a year or something, I had this dream about starting something up myself and together with one of my childhood friends, my best friend who didn't know anything about motion graphics by the way or animation. But I think it was a good mix of dreamers and a good load of ignorance made us start the company Seven Cs. We were just sitting in our kitchen at home, working from there, getting these very low paid jobs where we had to make four minutes of animation, but it was fun. We worked our way up slowly, just getting more and more work. Yeah. So I think that's my short or written story.

EJ Hassenfratz:

So you went into it... because that's interesting because when I went into college, I just knew that I like to draw, right? So I just did a fine arts major, but didn't know a dang thing about motion graphics or what it was. And that was, when was I in school, I'm showing my age now. I went to college in 2000. So they didn't even have... they barely had a graphic design program with Photoshop and all that stuff. So when you got your first internship or apprenticeship slash job, what were you using? Did they have after effects? What was that like going from graphic design to making things move? Because I know that was like a huge learning curve for me.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, they had after fix there and I didn't know that program before. So I had worked a little bit, really amateur photoshop. So I had a little feeling of Adobe programs and just putting in a precision key frame was all new to me. And it was evolution when I found out you could make [inaudible 00:08:49] key frames and it's just... It started from the very basics and just moved its up slowly. And it was nice, I had good colleagues who could... I had a million questions all the time and they were willing to answer all of them.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Just like sit down. That's what I did. I just sat down next to the smartest person, most talented person in the room and just tried to absorb all that idea. I love, for any students out there will put work to Seven Cs Studio and stuff like that. But basically, I mean, you guys do very illustrative type of stuff. Some even almost looks like cell animation, stuff like that. And I see like just recently, you're starting to do a little bit of 3D. So as far as the jump from self-teaching yourself to running a studio, what do you think it was as far as... because I did the same stuff, I was self-taught and stuff like that, and it took me a while to get to where I'm at school of motion. But I'm sure our students would really like to know is what did you do differently because I'm sure I know a lot of our students are also self-taught taking this class. But what are your secrets? What worked for to get you to this point? You crack the code.

Nicolaj Larsson:

I don't know if I have the correct answer to that question, but I think I just fell in love with motion graphics and animation in general when I made it the first time. So I think that just kept me going just to eager to learn more. And I had very good colleagues and I had some people who believed in me at the right time. For example, my former colleague who chose to tell his boss that they should invite me in. And I was still young and untrained at that point. So yeah, I think a few people who believed in me at the right time and then eager to learn and just being in love with what I did back then, still also.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Not anymore. I gave it up just a few months ago. Don't have much to share [inaudible 00:11:12] the podcast. I mean, so it sounds like you had really good connections with people, of course. And would you say that was it like the mentorship aspect of everything? That you landed at these jobs and you knew people more talented than you were and you were just open to learning and paying attention to everything. Was that really what helped fuel your career at that point? Because it's not like you went to art school or went to online school for animation or anything like that.

Nicolaj Larsson:

No. Yeah. I think it was a good mentorship I had, both places that I worked. Yeah, I did a lot of repetitive work actually at the first job which I would hate doing today. But back then it was really a good way of just learning how to work around these softwares and just getting to know them because I did the same thing over and over again, just with minor tweaks. We had these commercials that were basically the same every week. You just had to change up the products and stuff like that. And I just got to know the software better and better, and my techniques and my way around it. And I think I enjoyed that, just feeling that I got better and better, slowly every day. And at that point I didn't know the industry that well, so I didn't really dream big or had the feeling of me not being good enough at what I did. So I was just developing slowly all the time and it's just... Yeah, and then... Yeah.

EJ Hassenfratz:

That's interesting because I feel like if there's a student in our class or there's students that go to SCAD, or Ringling, or some big arts school, I feel like everyone's got their idea that they're going to go work at back when they're [crosstalk 00:13:16] and have these big plans and stuff like that, which is great. But at the same time, like you were saying, you had this job where you did this really repetitive work, but you didn't get complacent. You kept working hard, you kept learning and eventually it's like luck has to find you working. I love that phrase because you lucked out and you knew the right people and you were in. And it's also important that you didn't just stay where you're at. You're not just animating the same thing over and over and over again. You push yourself to like, "Hey, you're going to drop out of college and take this job." And then, "Hey, there's a person leaving, let me move along with this person and get to this next level."

EJ Hassenfratz:

I think that's really important for people to hear, because I mean, I went through that myself and I know a lot of people that... My background is news graphics. And I know a lot of people that are still doing the same thing 10 years later. And it's just that comfort... I mean, sometimes it's totally fine you get in your little comfy place but-

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, it definitely is. And it's totally okay if it's just a job for you that you're good at.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. It's very it's very important to hear about stuff like that, that you can do what you want. You just have to keep working. And I think one of the things I did, I don't know what the story was for you, but like these news graphics very repetitive, very much like what you're talking about. But I always tried to see how I could push it further. Is that something that you did because you're learning animation where you just... you're learning about [inaudible 00:15:12] key frames and [inaudible 00:15:14]. Were you just really trying to... every single thing, even though you're animating the same stuff, was your goal just to like, 'Can I just make this animation look even better? Can I get some follow through, overlapping, squash and stretch or something in there?"

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yes, definitely. But I think at that time, I didn't really know all the animation principles. So I was just working my way around it with my gut feeling-

EJ Hassenfratz:

Oh, interesting.

Nicolaj Larsson:

... which was okay at that time. But of course you don't get that far not knowing the theory behind what you're doing. But I worked a lot on like doing things faster at that point. So I kind of got my process really shaped well. So I think all the noise that you can meet during the beginning of a project, if you have that just shaped up really sharp, you can start not thinking about it anymore.

EJ Hassenfratz:

And when you do something that many times that gives you confidence

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, and it gives you some head space too, to think about the creative stuff instead. And I think it was just a coincidence that I didn't know it before I didn't have an end destination in mind when it started. I don't know if that's a good thing necessarily, but that's my story. And it might have helped me a bit.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah, I feel like there's a lot of... I know a few studio owners that are in Denver here and I feel like they all have a similar story where it's not like they got into this thinking that they'd be running a studio someday, it's just that it happened. They teamed up with a few of their friends and while we're getting a lot of work, we should probably do something to take on all this work coming in. How was that process for you as far as going from, "I'm in an individual doing work," and then at what point where you're like, "Let's start a studio." What was that breaking point?

Nicolaj Larsson:

We actually started a studio from day one. [crosstalk 00:17:22] So it was me and my friend [inaudible 00:17:28] who started Seven Cs back then. And I said before, he didn't really know the industry or anything about it, but he just had it. That fire burning for starting something and he was really good at helping Seven Cs get over the ramp at the beginning. And it was basically just me animating something and him sitting next to me in theory. [inaudible 00:17:55] he was really good at that point. It was just like I told you before, sitting in our underwears smoking cigarettes, and just animating the whole night.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Rock and roll.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. It was a bit of rock and roll, but...

EJ Hassenfratz:

So was your partner that was there... was he more like a producer role or was he doing any animation or...

Nicolaj Larsson:

He was more a producer role.

EJ Hassenfratz:

[inaudible 00:18:18].

Nicolaj Larsson:

Back then he didn't have any experience with that, but he's actually a producer today. A very, very good producer in the filmmaking. Yeah, he had the business part of our studio back then. And it was just the two of us, with me, one animator. And I think it helped us a little bit that we were just calling ourselves a studio. We insisted calling ourselves a studio. Even though it was just me animating. Yeah.

EJ Hassenfratz:

I mean, just the perception of you're approaching a client and it's like, "We're a studio load. Little do you we're two dudes in our underwear smoking cigarettes."

Nicolaj Larsson:

And I know a lot of... I know [inaudible 00:19:03] had already been chewed. I don't know if you know of their studio, but he was just a solo artist for the longest time working in his basement. But he would be taking on these client like Nike, and skateboarder clients. And the clients had no idea that he's just a dude, 20 year old dude in his basement because he's marketing himself like a studio. So there's something there's something smart about that. Having that facade of we're a studio, we're professionals, we're... And because you don't even have to say how many people work for you, right?

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah.

Nicolaj Larsson:

It's just like, "Yeah, we can do this, our teams on it."

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah totally.

Nicolaj Larsson:

[crosstalk 00:19:43].

EJ Hassenfratz:

We're working on it.

Nicolaj Larsson:

[inaudible 00:19:47].

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah, very cool. Now we said you're in Denmark, you're in Copenhagen. I said I've never been there, but I'm always interested to hear about what's the motion graphics scene like there? I feel like as Americans, we know that London's a big spot. London's basically I feel... Maybe Cinema 4D we know [inaudible 00:20:10] places. But yeah, what's the motion scene like there in Denmark.

Nicolaj Larsson:

I think it's really good. It's getting stronger and stronger. I think it's a mix between... when we started Seven Cs, I feel like enough new studios have popped up since then. And they're really talented and a lot of freelancers are... and talents are starting to grow. And Denmark it's getting bigger and bigger. I think it's a mix of me not being aware of it back then there probably were more than I knew of back then, but it also seems like it's getting more and more attention also from agencies and brands that are using motion design more and more. So the scene is growing and we have some pretty nice studios, I think. And we have a guy called [inaudible 00:21:04] who made this whole community thing at the Danish motion design scene where we gather up, I think twice or three times a year or something like that, just meet up a few people, have a talk and we're just about something that they would like to talk about in their professional life, to share experience. I think that's really nice to make this community feeling instead of just this competitive feeling.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. In Denver, it's the same thing. I moved here five years ago and yeah, all the studio owners are super cool with each other. They could be bidding the same projects or whatever, but it's almost like, I don't know if you find it nicer than maybe working in... Because I'm thinking New York city or like LA, I don't know if you get that kind of comradery because it's just such a huge, space or like even London.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. Maybe not. I don't know. I feel like it's pretty much a thing in our industry. Also when I talk globally with other people. Feels like we're good at sharing our stuff and seeing each other as colleagues.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. I mean, we used to only have, maybe Blendfest once every year and a half or something like that. And then maybe in NAB or whatever, but now I'm starting to learn about European conferences and... You got NODE Fest in Australia and See No Evil I think that is the one in London. Then you got Pictoplasma which... I want to go to Pictoplasma so bad. But yeah, it's really cool how open everything is getting and we'll have meetups here of conferences here and you'll just get people from all over the world coming in. So it's really cool. That's why I wanted to ask. What's the motion design scene in Denmark and it's just really cool to know that things are... If you didn't know anything about Denmark or Copenhagen, it's got a really cool community of motion designers there as well.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, definitely. It really has.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Now let's talk about a big project that you worked on and collaborate with a bunch of artists. Again, from all over the world. Talk about meetups and coming together, framefuture.tv, and I got to tell you for this course that I worked on specifically, then thing you did with, and organized with all these people, you organized, you basically worked on these sustainable development goals from the United nations. So you had 17 animations to do and you collaborated with 17 different groups of people or individual artists and sound designers, just seeing all that work, the subject matter that was being talked about the awareness being spread about these certain things really spoke to me in how I wanted to do this course. The very first lesson and orientation week for this class, is basically like you're doing an ad that is for a aluminum water bottle and it's sustainable. And you have to build all these little elements that might be plastic. So it just stands out from all these little plastic polluted elements.

EJ Hassenfratz:

And that's why I wanted to bring you on here because I really want students to think of ways to... if they're doing personal work, everyone's posting Instagram, everyone's doing their every days, how can we think of ways that we can use our talents to spread awareness for big issues? And I feel like especially recently, we have protests happening, we have spreading social awareness on these big causes and stuff like that. Get out to vote, you see that all the time in the States at least. But I just wanted to say that because I geeked out about it. And I'm really, again, thankful that you're you're on here because I think it's an important thing to shed light on like, "Hey, you can, you can do something for a cause. Even if you're not attached to that course you can still use your motion graphics talents for good, versus an everyday that... I don't even know what the hell I'm doing. I'm just going to make this because it looks cool."

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. It's so nice to hear you say this. I'm so glad to hear that it has inspired you to do more of this and also influence others to do that. So it's such a big part of the purpose of the project. So thank you for that. It's nice.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Oh no, thank you. And just to let you know, this podcast is going to air right around when we do something about the coral reefs and just how the coral reefs are dying. And I just went to Australia a couple years ago and man, when you see it firsthand and learn about it, they're losing like 50% consistently every... 70% has died just in a few years. And it's pretty sad just when you about how big a part these reefs are to just our global ecosystem. Again, if it wasn't for you in this project and all the talented artists, students wouldn't be working on this because I thought it was a good fun cause. And we got little fun coral characters, and you also learn not only about the plights, but also actionable things you can do to help save them. So all that being said in me thiNking about you being on here and everything, let's kind of talk about Frames For Future, amazing projects, so many people. How did this project kind of come to be? And what was it that inspired you to kind of go this route?

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. And so it all started actually at the... We have this political festival in Denmark called [inaudible 00:27:35], which I think they translate it to be the people's meeting. And it's four days with, I think, 3000 events where politician, people from the public debate, journalists, all kinds of decision makers in our country meets the citizens. They have all of these debates where the audience is taking part in the debate and it's a fantastic event. And so my girlfriend and I was sitting one evening after a whole day of attending all of these events and that year, of course, the climate crisis and the problems with the environment was the primary attention at that event. And I think we were just sitting there having a glass of wine at the harbor and just getting a little bit of, I think, climate depressed at that point.

Nicolaj Larsson:

It's just like, "How on earth are we going to do anything about this as individuals?" Because I think a lot of us want to do a lot for this cause, but it's just so hard to figure out where to start. And it feels so ineffectual, everything you do. And I think my girlfriend actually, at some point, she said that, "Well, every day you earn your living by communicating stuff for other people, maybe you could use that skill to communicate something." And I was just... I didn't know... I had never thought about that before, because it's seems like now that I've been doing this for so many years, I'm not thinking about it as a personal skill anymore. It's just a profession that I have and people are paying me to do this. So I'm helping communicate the things that people pay me for.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Of course, I also filter something out if I don't believe in it. And then it started out being a thing to take back to the studio when I got back. Talked to some of my colleagues about this project. And I thought, "Okay, we're doing these personal projects in between our real projects all the time. And maybe we could use the 17 sustainable development goals as a brief for something we could do." Because every time I'm doing stuff like this, I really have... I'm really much aware of my own lack of knowledge about this.

Nicolaj Larsson:

So as we also talked about with the whole pandemic, maybe believe in the sciences because they know what they're talking about. So I'm always very hesitant to start just rambling about stuff that I really don't know much about. And so the idea was to take something that was already written down by some of the most knowledgeable people in the different areas. And then one of my colleagues, Phillip, he suggested at some point that, "Well why don't we invite people on to this project? Just try and write a few people from the industry and see if anyone is willing to go along with us on this journey." So we started writing a description for the whole project like, "Why are we doing this and how are we going to do it? And what do we want to do with it?" And we wanted these 17 films to come just like 17 days before... On each day up and until the climate summit.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Just to mark that somehow, like you just talked about also with your project. And then we made a spreadsheet, very simple spreadsheet, just saying that they could pick their own topic from these different goals, and the only three rules-

EJ Hassenfratz:

17.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, this 17 goals. And the only rules were that one, they should stay on topic. Two, they should use the color of the goal in their color palette. And three, that the story may not discriminate against any groups or individuals. And from there they had pre free room. We told them that there are no clients on this job and we are not your clients. You can do whatever you want. The only limits are that it should be below 60 seconds. And I think a few days went by. We had invited 17 different studios or artists, and slowly people started coming back to us and a few names started popping up on the list and then it just took speed suddenly. I think, of course it also validates the project a bit, as soon as you see bigger names on the sheet.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Like, "Oh, they're doing that. I better do this too."

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah.

EJ Hassenfratz:

If they can do it and they can take time out of their day as a busy studio.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, exactly. So I think it was actually just a big collaboration between us. Of course, we facilitated it, we made the website, we made sure that everyone was delivering on the dates that they were supposed to. But other than that, they had their own production going on. We didn't take part in that or had any opinion on what they sent over to us.

EJ Hassenfratz:

No client feedback like, "Could you just move that?"

Nicolaj Larsson:

None at all.

EJ Hassenfratz:

"If you pick those to the left, please."

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah and make it a little bigger.

EJ Hassenfratz:

And make it pop.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yes. So it was all their films, all of them. So that of course made it way easier for us to facilitate the project, but also more likely to have someone come on board for it, I think.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. I mean, I'm seeing a lot of... there's such awesome variety from all these studios and individual artists. And really, I mean, we'll have the link to the framesforfuture.tv. That was interesting. I didn't know... I saw all the color coded numbered issues here, but I didn't realize like, "Oh yeah, the green one has some green in it. And the animation..." And yeah, there's just such a wide variety of styles here that... I've talked to artists all the time where they work on personal projects and they want to try out a style they've never done before. And I feel like there was a little bit of that here. One of the goal number 10 for reduced inequalities, was done by Henrique Barone, Fe Ribeiro, and Daniel Simmons. It looks like it was done in felt marker [crosstalk 00:34:41] kind of stuff, which is super, super cool. I've never seen a piece like that from a studio.

Nicolaj Larsson:

And it was so nice. Actually, fun story is that Henrique Barone started out... He was one of the first ones to come on board for the project. And he said that he really liked this project a lot. So he would like to try maybe just making 10 seconds of animation just to show in his own day storytelling and design skills. And then the next maiL I got from him was that okay, he got carried away. Does it have to be below 60 seconds and told me that he just booked in the next three weeks to work on this project. It was insane to hear that it... just nice to see how much effort people put into this.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. I think this might be one of the longest ones that just gets... it's a minute, two seconds. So just around a minute mark there. And you have the end tag. So technically the animation itself is less than a minute, right?

Nicolaj Larsson:

Exactly.

EJ Hassenfratz:

But I love the tone of some of the different pieces as well. Some are very serious and thoughtful. Some are just really funny. You got the number 11.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, the one from Brikk.

EJ Hassenfratz:

... make sustainable cities and communities by Brikk and Joel Andersson. And there's just this character on the toilet.

Nicolaj Larsson:

It's amazing.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Doing some composting you could say. And just all the hilarity ensues.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. I think that's amazing.

EJ Hassenfratz:

And another one I really love, there's a couple. So there's 2D animation, there's... And I'm not... Did Henrique and that team, did they actually use like, felt marker scans or was this digital in some way?

Nicolaj Larsson:

I actually don't know. I have the feeling it was digital but I don't know if I... I don't know-

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah, actually it just looks like a 10-year-old was just drawing on-

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, a really good 10-year-old.

EJ Hassenfratz:

A really, really talented 10-year-old who knows the whole theory and everything. But it's got that like, "I'm just scribbling on felt marker on a paper in school." But then you have [inaudible 00:37:04] animation and then you have some 3D artists on here. The Toast Studio and John Poon, they're number 13 which is just sad but hilarious. Everyone [inaudible 00:37:16].

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. The style makes it a little hilarious.

EJ Hassenfratz:

But I love the style. Yeah, it's just a little bird pecking on a tree, very cute. And then oh my God, the concrete falls from the sky and a garbage truck rolls past dumping all this garbage everywhere.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, real world thing.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Exactly, yeah. So anyway I love some... In some of these, they have the taglines here like, "Without action the world's average surface temperature's likely to surpass three degrees centigrade this century." So you watch this really fun animation by Toast. It sits with you like it's very striking. And then it's like, "Oh, that was fun. Oh that made a turn for the worst." And then there's like, you learn actual facts of like, "Wow, I didn't know that. And even though that was really goofy animation, that's going to sit with me now,"

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. So the purpose of the production was just to create some awareness about these 17 goals through arts and storytelling, the art of animation. So it was totally up to the individual studio artists if they wanted to inform people also. But we also said upfront, "We're not out to inform about it, but you can do that if you want to, you can put in some of the information about your goal, but you can also make it totally abstract." It's just a matter of creating some awareness.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. And another one of my favorites is... Yeah, like you said, so not every animation has a little blurb like the Toast one did where it gives you a certain statistic or fact about what's going on in the world and who it's affecting more and all that kind of stuff. But then there's the Jonathan Lindgren and The Soundery which is another one of my favorite. Because it's like a little cutesy-

Nicolaj Larsson:

Super cute.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Super cute little crab. And plastic water bottle underwater, this little plastic water bottle comes down and the little cute crab just starts playing with it. And it's so happy to play with this piece of plastic, but once you sit with it for awhile, it's like, "This is super cute. And look at that, it's playing with the plastic bottle," but then it hits you like, "That's actually kind of sad."

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yes. It's such a nice contrast, I think.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. So I mean, there's 17 animations that just so many talented artists, so many different styles. Definitely if any student listening to this right now haven't gone through it yet, take some time out of your day, go through that. But man, it's just... So pulling together, not just 17 artists becoming 17 animations, but there was a lot more artists than 17 involved. So I mean, was it that hard? You said that, once you got a big name like Henrique, just like, "Oh, okay. Yeah, he's on that. All right I'll do this too." Was that hard convincing people to do? It just seems like people found out what this was about, and what it's for, and time was no object. It was just like, "Ah, I'm going to make something that I think speaks to me and I'll try out these new things. And this is for spreading awareness where I'm just going to put as much time as I need to in this. So did you have a hard time getting people together or...

Nicolaj Larsson:

Both. Yes and no. In the beginning the name started just popping up on the list slowly and it felt quite easy at first. And I think, of course it helps a lot that this project is something that all the people involved in this, they are involved because they believed in the message that we were spreading. And I think it would be way harder if you just wanted to make something that looked good. So of course that helped a lot because we already had that share opinion on how important these goals are. But as soon as we got up and we were missing like four names or so, and I think also two of them had to drop out again because of personal reasons and the deadline was close and closest, so it really became hard to find somebody who actually had the time.

Nicolaj Larsson:

A lot of the ones we reached out to said that this is an amazing project, I would love to be part of it, but I'm really busy with other stuff right now. And so at that point, when a few of the artists had to back off again, I was very afraid that it was going to fall apart because I made all of these really nice people commit to this. And if suddenly one of the goals was not being produced. The project would fall apart somehow. So luckily we found some new studios and artists to participate just really close to the deadline. I think Animaskin from Oslo in Norway, they were one of the last ones to jump on board. And I think they had like six days or something like that to produce their animation. And it's so insanely good. And it's just amazing what they did within six days. From nothing, no idea to final film in that amount of time.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Because I mean, you have that hard deadline and you're missing just one.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. It would be so weird just to post...

EJ Hassenfratz:

Here are seven of the... Now as far as you reached out to all these studios, individual artists, did you know most of these people ahead of time? Or were you, "No, okay."

Nicolaj Larsson:

No, no. I didn't actually know any of them personally.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Oh wow. Okay. Because I think that's the... If I was coming, if I was a student like, "Well yeah you own a studio in Denmark but you already know these people, so it was easy for you." I think important to note that, no you didn't know any of these people?

Nicolaj Larsson:

No. None of them. None at all. No I just got to know a few of them digest over email so far. But really nice... Actually it's a lie. I knew Jonathan Lindgren before we started. Yeah, we worked with him a few times.

EJ Hassenfratz:

No I mean, you have to have that pitch pretty good, right?

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. We spend enough time, yes.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Because you get to do whatever you want. I think that's... Because for our intro animations, for all our school motion classes, we reach out to The Mill, and Gunner, and buck. And it's pretty surprising when you go to a studio and you're like, you can do whatever you want, here's some money. It's really cool to see just people jump at that. That finally they get an opportunity to not do something client related. There's no feedback, no move a few pixels a little to the left. So I'm assuming you had a lot of that where studios are like, "What, this is a great opportunity. We get to do whatever we want."

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yes. And you should just remember that you are talking to people who also love what they're doing just like yourself.

EJ Hassenfratz:

One of the things that I find really interesting and I want to point it out yet again, because I think it's a very important point is, I think maybe we're just so kind of blind to what we do or don't give ourselves enough credit, but it wasn't you that made this discovery. You said you were sitting there after this big conference or event and you're just like, "I feel so helpless. How can I communicate things to people?" And and your girlfriend's like, "Actually, you do that for a living."

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. I do that eight hours a day.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. And I think that's so important for us to realize. I think we get too caught up with the fact that like, "Oh, well, no, I just do client work. I sell stuff for brands." No, no, no, no. What you do at a fundamental level is you use visuals to communicate ideas and concepts to people.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Exactly, yeah. And we have this amazing tool to reach out and engage a lot of hearts and minds out there. And we do that every day and people pay us to do it because we're good at it. So we just forget that we can do it for what we want to communicate ourselves. And it's funny sometimes I think it's... you need to see from the outside to come up with those ideas.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Right. Now I think always my hypothesis for a lot of things is, we as motion designers, we're not the most self-confident group of people. We are like the starving artists, we have the imposter syndrome. No one's ever good enough. No one has any value. And I don't know if sometimes that's just because we're beat down so much by clients that we just have that deep... it's like a reflex or something where it's like, "I don't know if have any good ideas, because my clients always say like, yeah that's..." But I don't know if that's working for us. What are your thoughts as a whole, about our industry right now? And do you think we have... because there's just... I don't know if it's just... year 2020. 2016 was the worst year and then 2017 was worse and 2018 didn't get better.

EJ Hassenfratz:

And there we're 2020. 2021, is anything going to get good? I think more than ever, there are even more causes and even more plights that people are going through. Like our world, our earth is just... Do you think now is the best time as ever to get more people involved? We have more people going freelance, doing their own things. We have a lot of... there's crypto art becoming a thing right about now where artists are self motivated to make art for money. And I know that you mentioned that you're not so hip to the crypto art thing, but-

Nicolaj Larsson:

Not yet.

EJ Hassenfratz:

So whether you know much about it or not, I think this actually plays into a lot of what we're talking about here today of just awareness. And this should hopefully change in the future. But the blockchain as a whole, which is where all this calculation stuff is happening and the crypto art is piggybacking on the blockchain and the blockchain is just like the emissions and the energy consumption is just insane. So that means when you make a crypto art and you piggyback, and you use part of that blockchain, the calculate, all this stuff, you're actually using a lot of emissions as well. Yeah so maybe that's a new Frames For Future. [crosstalk 00:48:49] crypto art for future. Yeah. And that's like... I don't know how much messaging people are using with crypto art as like a artistic outlet, but what are you seeing as far as roles that individual artists can play outside of client work to kind of bring about change? Are you seeing specific artists or anything happening? Are you seeing it more since Frames For Future or not much, or...

Nicolaj Larsson:

That's a good question. I don't know if I'm seeing it more. I see it here and there. And I think I also did that before. But I don't know if it's personal projects or if it's most paid by clients or...

EJ Hassenfratz:

Well, what are some... You've done this, you did this massive Frames For Future project, what roles do you think artists can play from here on out? Like if a student right now wasn't even aware of this, they're taking the cause, they're just starting to think of like, "Oh, this is a possibility." Do you think it's as simple as just, instead of doing it every day, that really doesn't have any meaning or messaging or anything like that. As it as simple as like maybe the next Instagram animation I post maybe I'll think about a course and do something like that. Do you think that's where it could start?

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, I think so. I think maybe go to... pick a course that you believe in yourself of course that's and there's million of course, courses out there that you can choose from because there's there's problems everywhere. And the lesson that's probably never going to stop, but I think the UN did a great job by summing up the sustainable development goals because they come across like most of the global problems that we're seeing today, it's not only about environmental issues. It's also social and economical challenges that we have on our hands. So poverty, health problems, gender inequality, hunger, and people living without access to education, stuff like that.

Nicolaj Larsson:

And so I think what I would personally think is the hardest part is to make sure that I'm delivering the right information. So you can either do it like we did. Find something where people already wrote a lot of stuff about it. So you can use that as a brief or you can go more artistic about it as we also did. So make something more abstract. I think the best starting point would just be to find something that you believe in, read about it, and then start doing something.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. I feel like with most personal projects it's you have the infinite amount of ideas and infinite amount of things you could do, right. But I'm sure the UN brief that really helped narrow the focus for each individual artist on these 17 goals. That was the guiding light. You already had like a color palette.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. You need to have a starting point otherwise, I think if we had asked 16 different artists studios to participate in this, and we didn't have a brief or any starting point they wouldn't have jumped into it because it takes so much work just to get us started if you don't know where to start. So I think it's important to just pick something and then start from there. Because you can use... spend more time on finding the topic that you want to do than you do on the extra production. So it is the hardest point, is to work without a brief.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah no, for the reef brief that students have to do, I went to this site, nature.org and they had this whole campaign that I think ended in 2016 or 20... a few years ago, but they still had the hashtag that they were using. And it's like, even though that was years ago, even if the UN goals was a few years ago, it's still information out there that you can use and do a piece off of, because there's a saying that someone told me about just tutorials and giving information to people and like, "Oh, well, you did a tutorial about something that... or something that was already covered." And it's like, "Yeah, sometimes it happens." But the phrase that I'll always remember is everything that could be said has already been said, but the problem is that not every single person was listening. So I feel like that's such a perfect saying for this, even the goal is you did this project, it was in 2019?

Nicolaj Larsson:

2019 yeah.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. And I mean, you don't have to have fresh information. You don't have to have something that's going on right now. There's the coral information I found that that's still accurate, still dying, still not great.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Exactly.

EJ Hassenfratz:

You have social issues, economic issues, still not great.

Nicolaj Larsson:

[crosstalk 00:54:30] unfortunately.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Exactly.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Not quite there yet.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Exactly.

Nicolaj Larsson:

But also if you're saying something that someone else has already talked about, you're saying it in a different way somehow. So it's just okay to spread the word about something that might already have been said. And I think within these 17 goals, there are infinite possibilities to use that we didn't cover at all in the 17 films we made. So there is... Maybe just pick one of them and find a fact that you find interesting and then build your story around that or something like that. Because of course in clean water and sanitation, it has a big document covering up this whole topic where you can... Yeah, there's maybe 100 films in there.

EJ Hassenfratz:

I mean, yeah. You could literally just go to framesforfuture.tv, pick the thing that speaks most to you and take your own interpretation on the information.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. And the way that we tried to also share some more information, was actually just to link to the sustainable development goals on our side. So if you've got more curious about this topic, go to this page and read more.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah there's a whole... the Vimeo page for this, which I think even those videos there, they have links and stuff like that.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. Actually I think the United Nations also within each goal they have made a list of things that you as an individual can do to [inaudible 00:56:17] this in the right direction. [crosstalk 00:56:21] really nice brief. There you have something that you can actually build a story around and show what you can do to share that message to people.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. And one interesting thing as well, which I just realized right now is those links that you have linked to say, zero hunger, the second sustainable development goal, if you click on the link, that's on the Frames For Future site, the un.org that link has all that information there. It's got facts and figures. It's got gold targets by 2030, by 2020, blah, blah, blah in extra links. But also to this day, they still have related news that's under there that you can see what the UN is doing right now. And youth movement leads the charge worldwide for food systems, transformation ahead of the UN summit, which that just posted yesterday. So there's news that you can come to this at any time and always get fresh new ideas, fresh new perspectives.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yes.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Really cool.

Nicolaj Larsson:

I'm pretty sure that the sustainable development goals is something that they are working to have achieved by the year of 2030. I don't know if you achieve zero hunger by 2030, but at least that's the name. So it's ongoing this project.

EJ Hassenfratz:

You got to have a due date, right?

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Clients have due dates. Nothing gets done unless you at least have something in there.

Nicolaj Larsson:

But it's going to be nice in nine years nothing is wrong in the world anymore.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. It's only a few... So, I mean, everyone that wants to do these animations for good courses, get them in while you can, because everything's going to be fine in a few years. And there's nothing to be aware of anymore other than what's the coolest TikTok meme.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. That'd be nice to be able to follow through that.

EJ Hassenfratz:

There you go. One of the other questions just to kind of wrap up here is because it's one thing to make something, right? But it's another thing you can't spread awareness through an animation if you can't make an animation and then have people watch it. So was there any was there anything special you did about promoting Frames For Future? Because I'm sure just the fact of working with all these studios that have their own social media reach definitely helped. But what about if you're an individual or something like that, is there any advice you can give to... something that worked about promoting Frames For Future for you?

Nicolaj Larsson:

When the project started, it being published, we did everything we could to just write out to whoever could be interested in this. It's both schools, politicians, newspapers, all that kind of stuff. But it didn't really feel like it got that much of awareness outside of the industry, as far as I know, hopefully it did. But it was mainly the industry that really picked up on this. And I think it mainly came from the big awareness from all of the followers that the studios and we had our cell phones. So it spread insanely quick on social media to the motion design industry of course. And then of course, people started picking it up and we got also invited to write an article on motion art perform, which also helped a lot of course really nice. And so I think the awareness mainly was centered around our industry unfortunately. But hopefully it's being used out there to kind of not inform about this, but it creating some awareness about it and you're using it right now, for example. So it's really nice that it worked.

EJ Hassenfratz:

It helped influence the course, yeah. Hopefully hundreds of thousands... not hundreds of thousands I wish. But thousands of students will hopefully... who knows maybe this takes off now. We'll listen too, and because all it takes is one piece to move someone to action and things are so weird on social media that the weirdest things can catch fire and start going viral which...

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. And I think also... I remember when we did the project, one of the participators wrote me that actually after reading a lot of stuff about his topic, he decided to go vegan. I was just like, "Whoa, that's almost enough for me." Just one person changed their behavior so much for this course. And you should remember that if he changes like only one person then it spreads from him also. It doesn't have to be Frame For Future that he spreads out but also just his behavior or he will start talking about it with his friends and family and stuff like that. So I think it spreads beyond just watching movies. So if you create awareness with just one person, people slowly start moving out from there.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. I mean, that's important to know. Even though if everything just starts in our community, it's things happening on a local level, whether that's in terms of local being the motion design community, that's fairly tightened it, but I mean all you have... Look at people and how much outward saying is... so maybe we should just have people do every day is bell, UN goals and instead of weird Michael Jackson renders or something like that. But yeah, I mean everything... that's an idea, everything happens locally and that's how it gets bigger. It's not like you introduce an idea at the top and it happens, all those ideas always come from grassroots.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. And then spreading slowly. But I think also maybe a last thing to also say is to please also remember just to have fun with your animations. You don't have to make it for greater course always or feel that that's the only way to go. It should also just be dancing Michael Jackson's.

EJ Hassenfratz:

I think that one of my favorite pieces was the cute little crab, that spoke to me. If you have all these different artists with all their different styles and unique ways to view things, and unique ways to tell stories, their own creative persona, some of that speaks to different artists. Maybe [inaudible 01:03:40] doesn't speak to everyone, but that little cute animation spoke to me and it's something like that where it's just so goofy. I like the guy who's sitting on the toilet. [crosstalk 01:03:51] the weirdest things are the thing that gets picked up and maybe that does go viral and it's weird, but then you see the message attached to it and it's like, "Oh, all right." It's interesting to see a guy on a toilet. There's something to be learned here.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. I think one of the pieces that has gotten most attention on Vimeo, as far as I can see on just the stats in there is number five, the gender equality. And that's really rough. I guess it's really a dark and emotional that I also... I love that piece, but it seems like it also speaks toward both the fun parts and the more rough way of telling the stories is really good.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah, I think it's just good to see how you can visualize something and how you can tell a story about a course and how to raise awareness.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. Personally, I really like to do these abstract storytelling's like they also did in the gender equality. So it's also you can do whatever you like the most, [inaudible 01:05:08].

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah. Every piece is amazingly beautiful in their own unique ways. Just like every issue has its own unique set of challenges of how you can attack it and deal with it. So yeah. One last question for you. So you did Frames For Future, I mean, as far as the motion designs sphere, I think it was a pretty massive success. I mean, I saw it all over social media for a while there. I'm sharing it with people anytime anyone is talking about ideas for doing something for a course or just holding it up as an example of what you could do as a personal project.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah it means a lot to me.

EJ Hassenfratz:

So is this the end of Seven Cs and yourself as far as organizing these type of projects, did you do it once and you're like, "I'm never going to do that again. That was pretty rough." Or do you see this Frames For Future evolving, maybe there's something else, or do you have any plans for Frames For Future?

Nicolaj Larsson:

I really hope it didn't end here. We actually named it fresh... We started out talking about the name being something with the sustainable development goals thing, but we decided to name it Frames For Future because it could be anything. So our dream is to do it again, maybe in a total different way. It could be again, to make different movies with different artists around the world, but it could also maybe be collaborating on one piece. We could invite some illustrators and some animators to be on the same film and pick a topic. Maybe COVID-19 would've been nice to actually pick up on when it started. But then we talked about making it to a thing we did every year. But after 2019 came 2020, which was a super weird year. So I think everything was just sitting back a bit last year and still is. So hopefully it will come again.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yes. And actually you just mentioning the COVID thing reminded me about the effort that was down there. There was a big group of artists that did a COVID-19-

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, true.

EJ Hassenfratz:

... and I just remembered it now, but you had [inaudible 01:07:55] and ordinary folk and just Steve [inaudible 01:08:01] so many talented artists doing... and I'll add a link to this, but it was actually raising awareness for just all the things people are going through with COVID and very abstract.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah, super good.

EJ Hassenfratz:

And I think it's great to see so many people, the same amount of... just as many artists that contributed to Frames For Future all came together to do this and raising awareness for COVID-19 solidary response fond or CDC. So it's just another example of ways artists are coming together. At that time, everyone was just home by themselves, probably going through their own personal stressors and to have an outlet like in a pandemic, definitely unique situation there.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Exactly. I think as long as you can find something that other peoples believe in, there's a good chance that they will participate if they have the time of course.

EJ Hassenfratz:

Yeah I hope that we can see more of these type of massive collaboration projects, not once every couple years or once every pandemic, but more-

Nicolaj Larsson:

Out of ideas.

EJ Hassenfratz:

... often. Yeah. Because I mean, it's a good way as a community come together for a good course and also whatever that means for you, advancing your skills or trying something new or having some kind of creative outlet, or like you said, you doing this was an outlet for you to try to do something, anything. Because you just feel like as an individual, so powerless that if you band together with 20 or more other artists, that's what really can light that spark and make you feel that sense of comradery and do something amazing like you did with Frames For Future.

Nicolaj Larsson:

Yeah. And then just remember that you're not going to save the world with one project. So oftentimes when I think about it myself like, "What can I do?" And it's so easy to think, "Well, it doesn't matter in the end," but then again you can decide to be either part of the problem or part of the solution. So even though you're doing just one thing as an individual that is just tiny compared to the whole world, it's still a part of the solution. And it's helping just a little bit.

EJ Hassenfratz:

That's beautifully said and definitely very important to take note of and mention. Nicolaj, thank you so much for joining us here today, sharing your insights with our students. And I really hope that people get inspired to get out there and yeah you're not saving the world [crosstalk 01:11:12] either. So yeah, I love that you can decide to be a part of the problem, part of the solution, whatever small part that may be. It's the little tiny choices you make every day that build up to big results. Even if you want to learn a new skill, you're not going to learn that new thing overnight. It's going to take tiny, tiny steps, right?

Nicolaj Larsson:

Well and thank you so much. It was a huge pleasure to talk with you tonight.

EJ Hassenfratz:

I'm really so grateful that Nicolaj was able to come on the podcast and that you were able to hear from him and not only learn about his background of being completely self-taught and dropping out of school, but the story of the Frames For Future project. And I really hope his story opened your eyes to the innate ability we all have and often overlook as motion designers. The ability to communicate concepts, stories, and ideas visually to the masses is something we do on an everyday basis, typically to sell a product. But what we can do with our talents can go way beyond client work as Frames For Future can attest. I really hope this inspires you to go out and find what course you're passionate about and do what you do best, create. And sure, we're not going to save the world, but we do make things move, right? Why not start a movement? Thanks for listening.