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Do You Have What it Takes? A Brutally Honest Q&A with Ash Thorp
Ash Thorp holds nothing back in this week's podcast episode. You're gonna be thinking about this one for a while...
50 friggin' podcast episodes. It's insane to think how many artists have volunteered their time to appear on the podcast. Naturally for episode 50 we wanted to make the podcast extra special, so we asked the talented Ash Thorp on to speak his mind.
On that podcast we talk about the work ethic required to operate at the level of the best in the business. We talk about the way he organizes his work so he can be super productive. We talk about motivation and how an artist can deal with those moments when you're stuck on a project. And we also talk a lot about the double-edged sword of being a public figure in this industry or in any industry, really.
Ash isn't the type of guy to sugarcoat anything so some feathers are likely to be ruffled. Alright that's enough buildup... let's talk to Ash.
Ash Thorp Show Notes
Ash Thorp Transcript
Joey: This is the School of Motion podcast. Come for the MoGraph, stay for the puns.
Ash: It's like, "Where's the magic button?" The magic button generation. I think with social media and stuff, like, "Hey, what button did you press for that?" And it's like, there's no button for this. You sit there and you work until the thing on the screen makes you less upset. That's how it works, you know? So you just keep going at it.
Joey: Hello, friends. I'd like to start this episode by saying, "Thank you." This is episode 50 of the School of Motion podcast. And every single time I get to talk to one of the amazing people that have come on the show, I literally pinch myself. I have the best job and I really do owe it all to you. Yes, you. Yes, I actually mean you. Without your support, without your attention, this just doesn't happen, and I just want you to know how thankful I am and how lucky I feel to be doing this.
Joey: Alright, enough of the sappy stuff. We've got Ash Thorp on the podcast today. I cannot believe I get to say that. I have been a fan of Ash since I became aware of him. And it's been really cool to watch the trajectory of his career. From his early days at the legendary Prologue Studio, to working on blockbuster movies, to directing his own films, to co-founding Learn Squared, he has continuously raised the bar in terms of creativity and execution. He's been an inspirational figure and occasionally a controversial one. And in this conversation we dig into a bunch of topics. We talk about the work ethic required to operate at the level of the best in the business. We talk about the way he organizes his work so that he can be super productive. We talk about motivation and how an artist can deal with those moments when you're stuck on a project. And we also talk a lot about the double-edged sword of being a public figure in this industry, or in any industry, really.
Joey: Now, before we start, I just want to say that I have never met anyone as honest and open as Ash. What I mean is, he does not sugar coat. He doesn't worry about what others are going to think when he speaks or gives his opinion. And the way he represents himself in his work or on his podcast is a hundred percent who he is, take it or leave it. And it's pretty amazing and frankly rare to meet someone like that these days. So I hope you'll listen to this episode with an open mind, and I suspect you're going to be thinking about this one long after it's over. Alright, that's enough build up. Let's talk to Ash.
Joey: Ash Thorp, my goodness it is so awesome to have you on the podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time. I know your wife is recovering from surgery, so I will try to get right to it. But thanks, man, this is an honor.
Ash: Thank you first and foremost for reaching out, I appreciate it. It's always a humbling thing to be requested to be interviewed, so I appreciate it.
Joey: It feels good to be wanted, doesn't it?
Ash: It's affirmation, it's a common trait that we are constantly striving to have, yeah.
Joey: Yeah, everybody wants to be popular. So let's talk about that a little bit, 'cause I figured it'd be interesting to start with present day Ash Thorp, because pretty much everyone listening to this is going to be familiar with you, your podcast, your work, the talks you've done at conferences. And I'm always interested in hearing from people who have achieved a lot in their career, because just on a personal level, there was a point in my life where I achieved all the goals I'd written down and realized, "Uh-oh, I picked the wrong goals." Or had trouble figuring out what to do next.
Joey: So, I'm curious, what does your career look like now, 'cause you've done the Nike commercials, you've done the Hollywood movies, you've had a big podcast. So what are you doing right now?
Ash: Yeah, I appreciate that. For me it's just like, tomorrow's a new day. Every day I start new and I'm just a noob constantly, so it's not like ... I don't look at any of those things as bucket list items or checking off any kind of list. They're just kind of things that happen and I just keep moving forward. And for me, in my viewpoint of my career, it's like an ever-evolving thing. Maybe it's just the optimist in me or the person that really just desires new things, so it's like visually, if I swing from branch to branch, I will always see another branch in sight and I'll want to jump to that one, even though the one I just was on was the one I could see forever and that was the one I wanted to be on.
Ash: There's another one there. It's like climbing to the mountain and going above the clouds and seeing another range of mountains to climb. So it's ever-changing, ever-evolving, and the great thing about art and one of the unique things I think in comparison to a lot of other careers and just kind of aspects of life and discipline is, you'll never master it. Nobody's ever mastered it and it's ever-evolving. And so that's one thing I really love about it. So for me, my career is just ... I feel like I'm just a new child every day. I don't see what I've done as being anything of significance and I just kind of continually go.
Joey: That's a really neat way to look at it. Then what is it that kind of motivates you to keep going? 'Cause some people are very goal oriented and they'll say, "Okay, my goal is to get a Vimeo staff pick" or whatever it is.
Ash: Sure, yeah.
Joey: Yeah. But it sounds like maybe at this point anyway, that's not what keeps you pushing yourself. So is there something else?
Ash: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the goals change as you develop and mature and shift. And like you just said, a Vimeo staff pick, that was on a list of mine many years ago and thankfully I was able to obtain it. I once talked about that, though, how scary that is though. Putting your happiness in the hands of somebody else is really quite a bad thing. So I've kind of learned to just let those kind of things go, because popularity contests actually are never good, so I just kind of move forward and not really try to obtain those things.
Ash: But in regards to goals and stuff, yeah, they're constantly changing and shifting. I'm just trying to go through life with the ebbs and flows and trying to find those balance points. And try to find a point in my life where I feel I'm at balance with the potential in which I feel like I'm living to and then at the same time the balance within everything else in life. So, it's ever-changing, really. I'm sorry to answer with such an abstract answer, but for me goals are constantly changing and shifting, and I think for me now I just try to not really let my goals be dictated by other people. I just really try to search within myself and find what it is that propels me individually why I do what I do, why I've been doing it for all these times.
Ash: The older I get the more I realize how I've been repeating myself since I was a kid, so I've had these habits since I was a kid, of drawing and kind of obsessing about things. Model making or whatever it might be. I'm just repeating that process over and over until I get better and better. A new program reveals itself, that's a new goal to hit, understanding the language of the program so that I can fulfill the one thing. It's like constantly climbing from one branch to the next.
Joey: Yeah. Well, let me ask you this, then. So, I think that almost anyone listening to this, if I asked them, "Do you think Ash has been successful in his career?" they'd say, "Oh, my God, of course he has." But that's defining success by these common metrics like-
Joey: -the high profile clients and awards and things like that. I'm curious how you measure success. Do you think you're successful, and if so, what is it that you're looking at and measuring?
Ash: That's a great ... yeah, and there is different metrics and it is all quite subjective, right? In regards to me in my perspective, I would have to say I'm blessed and thankful to have a successful career, I think. And the reason what defines that for me is not just the money that I make, or the clients that I work for and that kind of stuff. But it's mainly just my ability to sustain life and provide for my family, and just have a life that I feel is enjoyable and worth living. I'm so sensitive to things. A majority of my life was spent doing jobs that I hated or working on projects that I really didn't want to, so I feel like I'm finally, at age 35, finally getting to this place where I'm like, okay, I'm really starting to get that momentum. And I feel like I guess that's success? And I don't think that success necessarily comes from the outside looking in, like, "Oh, I'm working for big clients" or anything like that. I think you could find that same feeling and enjoyment ... I find it even more just working on my personal projects. I think it's the freedom, really. That's a success for me, is having the freedom to do what I want when I want to do it. Ultimately that's the highest level of success, in my perspective.
Joey: Yeah. As you were just talking, a lot of what you just said, it kind of made me think that ... In Western society, everyone's kind of obsessed with success. And I've certainly been guilty of just chasing more and more and more for a lot of my career. But what you just said, it really felt almost like an Eastern sort of Buddhist-influenced worldview. To just like exist in the moment and not worry about what's going to happen tomorrow and not worry about what's going to happen yesterday. I'm curious, have you studied Eastern philosophy or something, or did you just kind of come to these conclusions on your own?
Ash: I take little bits and pieces of everything. I'm not a religious person, I'm not really a spiritual person, per se, either. So I just kind of take what works for me from the bits and pieces that I acquire from different things. But yeah, for the most part, you can't control the past, it's already done. You can't control the future, 'cause you don't know. You can't control it, no matter how hard you try to grip it, you can't. What you can control, though, is this fleeting microscopic slice of time, basically. And so, being aware of that and really just kind of letting it be is difficult, right? It's very difficult to do that, especially working in our business where we're constantly bending reality distortion devices, as Steve Jobs would say. We're constantly trying to shift realities of the future.
Ash: But, yeah, I mean, I'm not really religious or spiritual, and I guess if there is any kind of belief system, I guess it's somewhere in that realm. I read a lot of ... or I used to read a lot of self-help books or Deepak Chopra kind of stuff, which I found really fascinating. It gave me kind of a basis to exist on. And ultimately, you're just trying to find an equilibrium in life where you're not too hot, you're not too cold, you're right there in the center. The problem with that is really great work exists on the polar opposite spectrums, I think, so it's a frustrating balance.
Joey: Yeah, absolutely. I guess let's get back to how you arrived at this point in your career.
Joey: From the outside, I just remember one day something you did popped up on my radar and I looked at it and I said, "This is amazing." And then you launched the podcast, and then you sort of had this very fast climb, at least in terms of awareness in the industry. And so it felt like, from the outside, all of this happened very quickly for you. And I would bet money that that's not how it happened, so I'd love to hear from your perspective what was this journey like for you to get from day one of your professional life to the place you're at now?
Ash: There's no such thing as overnight success. Again, as I mentioned earlier, I've been repeating these processes since I was a kid, so it's just constantly kind of going. Since I was a kid I've been drawing, since I was a kid I've been using my imagination, flexing that muscle, basically, mental muscle. So it's definitely part of that. So I've been doing this my entire life.
Ash: In regards to career stuff, I was working at a job as a designer and it was a fine job. I could've stayed there, people were great, it was comfortable. I didn't make a lot, but I was able to do basically the nine-to-five thing. But I knew deep down inside my soul that I wasn't in the right position. Oftentimes in life, comfort isn't actually what you're after, it's actually the drive for recognition within yourself, not even from other people. So I wanted something bigger and I knew that I had potential to do that, I just had to really take a leap of faith.
Ash: And so, I took three months off of ... I was working, but I took three months, I gave myself a timeline of three months and I'd work endlessly, all night. And I would look at all the sites of places that I really wanted to work at and go, "How could they hire me?" And so I put together a portfolio and I shipped it out to all the studios at the time ... this is probably like six or seven years ago now? I don't keep track of time all that well, either, so I kind of just let it be what it is. It all kind of blends together for me.
Joey: Close enough.
Ash: Yeah. I put that all out there, I didn't hear back from any of the studios except one, and it was the one that I wanted to work for anyway, which was Prologue. And so Prologue ... Kim Cooper, I believe, who's Kyle Cooper's wife, saw something in my work, and I think what she was looking for was an illustrator or an artist, somebody that could not just do designs, but could also fulfill something that I think they might have been missing in their pipeline, which was somebody that could draw and take Kyle's ideas and manifest them.
Ash: And so they hired me, and I accepted that. And it was a big decision because at the time I was living in San Diego and Prologue is in L.A., and in our family, we have split custody with our daughter. So we couldn't move to L.A. and so I decided to take the job, but it was going to be at least three hours there, three hours back, a day commute, six hours total. And then Prologue, you just work there and you put the time in, basically. So, extremely long days and weeks were extremely long. Oftentimes I would just stay up there and I would just grind and work really hard.
Ash: It was the first time in my life where I felt like I was really where I needed to be, creatively and spiritually. It was the first time I was around that many talented people. I couldn't believe the work and the things that I'd see on a daily basis, and it was just an incredible melting pot. And I have to thank Kyle and everybody so much for taking the risk on me and bringing me up there and hiring me, and letting me be a part of that. It was incredible. It was an incredibly challenging part of my life, it was a year. It really put a wedge in my new marriage and all that kind of stuff.
Joey: I can't imagine, man.
Ash: Yeah, I was basically gone. And it was a selfish endeavor on my behalf. But I'd promised my wife, I said, "Give me a year and after a year, we can switch hit and we can try something else." But I just asked her that. And she knew that once I decided it ... that's just kind of how I work. Once I decide on something, you can't change my mind. It's pretty much done, 'cause I've already done it in my head ten times over, and I'm gone. I'm already in the next phase of it.
Joey: It's happening.
Ash: Yeah. Well, a lot of life is manifestation. So much of what we do is manifesting and so, the stronger you can manifest, the clearer you can be with it, I think the better your life can be because you just kind of design it. I'm talking about bending the future, basically.
Ash: The future is basically kind of gray, you don't know. But you kind of throw things out there and you anticipate and you hope and work for it, and just kind of manage your expectations. But I put a year in there, so that was a year. That was about six or seven years ago. And then right after that I ended up coming back home and I ended up helping my friend at his studio for a little bit while I transitioned, and then I jumped to freelance about three months in after doing that. And I always have to thank obviously Prologue, Kyle Cooper, Danny Yount, all those amazing people, Ilgi, all those just awesome people that I learned from and grew with at Prologue. And then I also have Justin Cone to thank at Motionographer, because I quit my job ... that night I made a website and sent it out to Motionographer, and they featured it. And I have Justin to thank for my career, 'cause ever since that day I haven't had to look for work, ever. I've just kind of been able to jump from one job to the next and do my best and dedicate myself to these jobs. Thankfully that helps to build a strong repertoire and a strong work ethic with people. And ever since that say I've been able to sustain that and I've been working my ass off. I probably work more than ever now.
Joey: Yeah. I want to dig into that commute a little bit. I always assumed that anyone that can do the kind of work that you can do and has the reputation you have, I think you just have to work your ass off, there's no way around it.
Joey: But a six hour commute, that's like a different level of hell you put yourself through. But I'm interested because personally, I used to have a three hour commute-
Ash: Yeah, it sucks.
Joey: -which seems like nothing now. But it was interesting because that commute, as painful as it was, gave me so much time to think-
Joey: -and to learn things on my own. And it really did directly lead, in a very strange roundabout way, to School of Motion. I'm curious, on a personal level, what were you doing for those six hours in the car or the train or however you were doing it?
Ash: Well, thankfully, two hours of that ... well two, that's two plus two, both ways ... four hours of that is train. And thankfully with the train, I could just sit there and chill out, basically. And I could either take a nap ... which was hard for me, because I was always concerned somebody was going to mess with me or something. But taking a nap or I would keep a journal, basically, and I would reflect on the day and I would just kind of put down my thoughts. And it was kind of like this weird moment in my life where I took that risk, I really wanted it. I wanted it incredibly badly, and I made it happen, and I was right there in the middle of it. I was like, "I'm not going to let this go." It's like I'm climbing a cliff or something, and I just kept going. I would just keep looking up, never look down, I would keep going. So during that commute it was moments of just like reflection, I would study, I would take time, I'd buy books and read them. There's some of that where I really do miss having that wind up and wind down time.
Ash: I think there's a really kind of an interesting psychological thing that happens and I think it kind of happens for people that would take walks and stuff, which is something I don't do enough. I have my office in my house now, my commute is now ten seconds, I just walk downstairs into my office. Which is good and bad. But the commute was definitely ... I kind of just worked it into my system, basically. The rest of it, driving, I frickin' hate driving. L.A. is the worst city for driving, period.
Ash: I don't know if you live there, but it's just a parking lot all the time, it's just crazy.
Joey: I live in Florida, so there's just a lot of blue hair people driving around.
Ash: Yes, Sunday drivers, seven days a week.
Joey: Exactly. Alright, so one thing that I think everyone listening should reflect on ... and this always comes up on this podcast, too, 'cause anyone who has this much success, unless they won the lottery or something, worked really, really hard for it. But you also said something really good earlier about, rather than looking for comfort, it's almost like you leaned into the discomfort.
Ash: Yeah, you have to.
Joey: Sometimes it seems like certain people are just sort of good at that. They're sort of built ... they come from the factory able to do that, and some people it's a lot harder. I'm curious, have you always had that quality of being able to do something really scary and just lean into it, or did that come from somewhere?
Ash: Everything comes from your childhood, I think, especially the psychological aspect of life. I have my father-in-law ... I don't know my birth father, but my father-in-law, or my god-dad, or I just call him "dad"-
Ash: Dad Brett, he has an incredible work ethic, and he really taught me at an early age, I think, just the importance of work ethic and putting yourself through those rigorous parts. And I also have my mom to thank, 'cause she put me through a lot of traveling, a lot of things I hated to do. And then I would eventually learn, "Oh, that's kind of an interesting thing." I learned an outside perspective. So I definitely have the people who created me or raised me to thank for a lot of that.
Ash: I think a lot of that just comes from realizing that ... I found these a lot when I'd read books on other people. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he would always say ... it's like real estate, basically. The deeper you go, the wider it is, the more wealthy it is. So you have to go that far in there ... you have to be willing to do that, you have to be willing to go into it. And if you don't, you just don't do it. That means you're not aligned with what it is that you should be doing.
Ash: Everything is difficult if you're doing it at a high level.
Joey: Yeah. And so, you gotta go all in. Like, if you don't go all in, then you cut your chance of success in half, at least.
Ash: Yeah, basically, don't even try it. If you're not going to do it a hundred percent, don't even do it. That's my outlook on it. I mean, I know that's hard ass about it, but I also come from that school. I think a lot of what I see now is ... I could be wrong, and I'm gonna say a lot of stuff, and I'm just gonna say, first and foremost, these are all my opinions and if I offend you or upset you, perhaps it's right, perhaps I'm true, perhaps I'm saying some truth that you need to hear. Maybe I'm not, maybe I'm completely wrong and don't listen to what I'm saying. I'm just saying, when I say some of these things I have my own opinions, and they come from where I come from.
Ash: But I see a lot of and I feel like there's a shit ton of entitled people out there that want to do minimal work and get a lot out of it. And it's always really frustrating to see that, 'cause for me it's more or less I just feel bad for that person. It's just like, "You don't get it. You need to actually work for this."
Joey: Are you talking about people that want to be able to do really high end, polished, professional work, but want it really quickly? Or are you talking about something else?
Ash: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And sorry for the rant and the departure from what we were talking about.
Joey: I love a good rant. Yeah, keep it up.
Ash: Okay, but I mean, it's like, "Where's the magic button?" The magic button generation. I think with social media and stuff, like, "Hey, what button did you press for that?" And it's like, there's no button for this. You sit there and you work until the thing on the screen makes you less upset. That's how it works, you know? So you just keep going at it. That, and just seeing people ripping off other people's work or just stuff like that. I think as a general kind of thing, there's an ethic issue in there and it's a bigger topic to discuss, but just generally just seeing it. I think a lot of it is because just kind of how we're conditioned with social media and at the same time films and movie and all this kind of media. Oftentimes, it's like the prime example is let's take the movie Rocky. Hopefully people who are listening have seen that movie. If not, you should really watch it.
Ash: It's an older film. I never realize how old I'm getting until I reference these things and people are like, "What is that?" So, Rocky, for those of you who don't know, it's a film about a fighter that develops himself into becoming a champion. And through this film, one of the most important parts of the whole film is as he's training to become a bad ass, and they turn it into a montage that they just rush through, basically. And it's kind of funny because that's where all the gold is, but it's pushed to the side, turned into music and it's rushed ahead.
Ash: And there's like this six to eight months of time where's he's just beating himself up every day to basically put himself into shape. And I think that's potentially what I'm getting at, is you gotta sit there and you gotta take your lickin's and you gotta keep going, you know?
Ash: The best things in life I think come from that challenge and getting through that challenge, putting yourself through that and then going through it. It's a difficult thing to put yourself in adversity. The deeper you go and the more you can get out of there, the better I think you get out of life. But again, that's just what works for me.
Joey: Yeah. I gotta say, I really love the metaphor, 'cause I never really thought of it that way. Rocky, the whole movie builds up to the fight scene at the end, but it just glosses over the actual work that he put in to be able to win the fight. And it's funny, just randomly yesterday I took a drum lesson. I've been playing drums for 25 years and I decided to take a drum lesson. And I felt like a beginner again. This guy's name is Dave Elitch, he's this amazing drummer and he was tuning up, like, the way I was holding the drumstick was wrong, and now I have to sit literally for hours and I have to relearn how to hold the drum ... And it's really awful and painful, and I feel impatient, but fortunately I've just had enough experiences where I know that that goes away and that that's part of it and you have to lean into that.
Joey: And there was something you said, I think, in some interview I heard awhile ago where you talked about working at Prologue and you said someone said "What did you learn working there?" And you said, "I learned how brutally hard you have to work to make good work."
Joey: Something like that. I'm wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit? 'Cause what is it like to make something that becomes a classic piece of art or a classic title sequence or something like that? 'Cause I'm assuming it's not a week and a couple of After Effects plugins, you know?
Ash: No, your assumption's correct. And from my experience, maybe it isn't ... but no. And that's really cool of you to do the drumming, too. I would comment on that before we jump in there. But yeah, no, definitely it's smart that you know that, "Okay, I'm dealing with something difficult. I'm going to keep going." That's good.
Ash: But yeah, working brutally hard is just part of the equation. That's why I say to people, if you're not willing to basically just work, work, work and go, and really ... You don't have to work stupid, you can work smart, but if you're not willing to put in that time and effort, you simply should not do it. I think that's really a piece of advice, and I think if I heard that back in the day, I would go, "Awesome, thank you for that, because now I know that I'm in the right place." You know what I'm saying? Like, I know that I'm willing to go that far and beyond.
Ash: So, yeah, making great work, seeing it being created in a factory, working at Prologue I was able to see, "Wow, these people work incredibly hard, they're incredibly dedicated." We might not have the most amazing personal lives. I know I hear people bitching about that in this career, in this industry, and it's totally valid. But it's like, you don't do this stuff to have an epic personal life. You do it because you're curious and wanting to make great art, great work. This is part of it. So it's just a sacrifice which you make. And so working brutally hard means ... by that, I think for me it was, you put in that time, you know? Great work take sacrifice.
Ash: There's this band I used to listen to every once in a while, it's called Cursive, and I think there's an album called Art is Hard. And I always remember that, it's like, "Art is hard." And he has these songs where he talks about people just trying to cheap out on making art that isn't, and just trying to get by. And oftentimes it works for them, but their work doesn't stand the test of time.
Ash: There's this weird thing I think that happens psychologically, unspoken, that when somebody sees a piece of work, they feel the craftsmanship. Like when I go to Japan, I just feel it all over the place. There's a tradition of respecting what it is that you do and really paying your life to it, whatever it is. And that's why I admire that place so much and when I go there I just feel so humbled by everybody around me. I get so inspired to just pour myself into my craft even further. I think that's an important part. And it's not even like you have to work brutally hard. I think you just have to dedicate yourself to it.
Joey: Yeah, you mentioned though that at Prologue ... and this doesn't surprise me because at most of the top studios I hear this all the time ... that the work life balance is not great if you want to have a social life or see your kids a lot. And I've never actually worked at the highest of the high end studios, and even at the mid-range it's still very, very difficult to do this as a career, full-time at a studio and be able to leave at 5:00 p.m. every night. Do you think that that's just because making beautiful stuff is so hard, or do you think that there's more like, business reasons and operational reasons that that happens?
Ash: Making great work just takes time, that's it. If you want to be a great parent, go be a great parent. If you want to be a great spouse, go be a great spouse. Making great art, it just consumes you. It is what it is. I think making great work, it's that thing I was talking about, it's that unspoken thing when a stranger comes up and sees something, that there's this thing that transcends and they can feel it. You make ... let's just step away from this and art, and let's say, "I've been making spaghetti sauce my entire life, and every morning I wake up and I dedicate myself to learning something new in crafting that sauce until it's fucking amazing."
Ash: And then a random stranger can come off the street and have my sauce, and if that stranger, if they're in tune with it, they'll be thoroughly impressed. And I know this, because I go traveling, and I go and taste these foods from people that have been doing it their whole lives, and you go like, "Wow, this is so different from the food from people that don't put the time in and don't dedicate themselves, and don't understand the gastronomy, or whatever you call it, the chemistry of the food being made." It's the same thing with art.
Ash: The thing is, it's like it's harder to pinpoint, because it's so subjective. It's not like something we can just eat and consume. Same with foods. Someone can [inaudible 00:32:34] subjective, but, yeah, it's the same thing. And I think if you want to make great work you just have to put yourself into the fire and dedicate yourself to it, and just go for it. You know?
Ash: Learn everything and dedicate everything you have. Every day you wake up you're humble. Everybody else around you pretty much knows more than you, so just be dealing with that, and then go through it, and ask questions every time you need something new, and power through it basically. But yeah, every studio does, and I don't want to ever turn this into a prologue is hard to work at. No way. It's not that. I think every studio that I've ever worked for at a high level, it's all the same. People that are there, they work all the time, and they're dedicated to the craft.
Ash: I think the real difficulty in our industry is that it's fleeting. Things happen so rapidly, and the consumption rate is the world's rate of consumption of entertainment is a crazy obese person at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It's like they just throw these things in their mouth without appreciating it. It's like crazy fast. It's so rapid. Tools are getting better. Things are getting faster. It is helping. Things are accelerating, but again, it's like we always want more. Constantly hungry.
Joey: Yeah, so the way that you described what it takes to do really good art. It's interesting, because I've worked on projects where I feel really excited about what we're doing and the design is beautiful, and I'm able to really use all my animation training and everything, but then a lot of my career was just paying the bills and doing that kind of stuff, and so I'm just curious. Have you ever worked on those projects where you can just put it down, and you don't obsess over it, and you don't feel bad about not obsessing over it, because it is what it is. It needs to get done. It needs to look good, but I'm not going to sacrifice two hours hanging out with my kids to make it a little better, you know?
Ash: Yeah, I know definitely, and there's every client job and everything has its, especially as a freelancer, they're all different. So yeah, totally. There's definitely been moments where I'm like, "I'm not emotionally connected to this at all. I'm doing it to help them out, and I'm here to fulfill a position that they need." So in regards to client works. There's definitely, especially in the beginning too, you just do it. I know posts are sharing that work, because I decide it's not what I want to get more of, so you wouldn't see it, but it's not like it's horrible stuff, it's just I'm not connected to it emotionally.
Ash: I think what you really ant is to be connected emotionally, and it doesn't mean it has to be for some big client because that's the emotion that you get. You can do incredible work for very small clients or something that isn't super popular right now, but it's something that you enjoy. That's all that matters, so no, definitely. You have to pay the bills at the end of the day. At the end of the day you have to make sure that things are taken care of in your house and that your people you take care of are supported and cared for. That's priority number one, so you have to put all your other stuff aside and get down to business and make it happen.
Joey: You've talked with and worked with some really heavy hitters in the business, and you've got friends that are amazing, world-class artists. I'm curious. Does everyone who's operating at that high level, who's able to be prolific and make beautiful stuff consistently, is this a quality that they all have? They all are willing to sacrifice sleep and comfort to make the art better?
Ash: Yeah, they have to, and if they don't I can't work with them, to be honest. If you're not willing to stay up all night with me and crush through problems and find solutions, then it won't happen, you know?
Ash: It's just how it goes. It's why I'm very particular about who I work with, because I need to know that they're going to be there. It's like a military thing, I guess. I don't know. Maybe.
Joey: I guess it's really interesting to hear you say that. I cannot imagine a studio saying that. Even though they may need that from time to time, I can't imagine them being that blunt about it.
Ash: Yeah, they can't, and that's why I never had a studio, because I don't like the idea of things holding me down. I don't like the idea of being stuck into that situation. I work with friends and people, and I just say, "Look, we have this thing that needs to get done," and if they choose, if they say, "Hey, I can't do it. I'm not going to do it." I say, "Well, that's totally fine." We'll finish the job, and then I probably won't work with him again, to be honest, because I need them to be there with me. It's like a marriage. Marriage have ups and downs, and you need to get through it.
Ash: What I also do is I also try to balance it out so we never have that, and it's very rare to have those moments. Incredibly rare, but when they happen, my team and crew, they know it's like, "Shit, pull up your sleeves. Time to get to work. It needs to get done," and it needs to get done at a level that represents us. But definitely that's a part of it, totally, and I think as a company, as a business, you can't be saying that shit to people. But as a freelancer and working and hiring other freelancers, and working on things and stuff, if you can navigate that and manage it, you can, but again as I mentioned, it's a pretty rare occurrence. The thing is, I never would ever ask anything of a friend or person that I'm working with that I wouldn't do myself, you know?
Ash: Never. That's a no-no, so I'm constantly, I'm the one that's bleeding the most.
Joey: Yeah, it's good that you do that. That's leadership, and if you're going to ask that much of the people that you're hiring, I'm sure they'd probably get pissed off if you went to bed while they were up rendering all night. Yeah, so I want to talk about how you've managed to be so productive, and you've done, in addition to your client work and personal projects, you've all these other things, like your podcast and Learn Squared, which I want to talk about. In the name of trying to pull out the little tips and hacks that the listener can start using, how do you organize your work? Do you have a system, an app? Are there books you've read that have helped you learn to be organized and productive?
Ash: Yeah no, this is great. I appreciate you asking about this, and hopefully I can give some knowledge, pass it along. So my structuring of my day and time management. That's all it is really. It's just time management. It's evolved quite a bit. I've gone to this weird Yoda stage now, so I just jam in a weird way where I don't have to really use all these habitual tricks and stuff to keep myself engaged. I get into it and work on it. It's what happens as you evolve I guess.
Ash: When I was first starting to understand, "Hey, how can I?" Because the problems I was having was like, "Shit, there's only so much time in the day." I was constantly frustrated, because I wasn't able to fulfill what I wanted in the time that I had, and I was like, "How in the heck can I get faster at this?" So I look outside, and I looked into time management, and then that leads me into different books. And then I would talk to other prolific people that I know.
Ash: Also the podcast allows me to open up windows of conversation to people that are better than I am and asking them how they do what they do, what books they read. So a couple books that come to mind. I'm going to say these top three books. If you haven't read any of them and you're listening to this, seriously, go on Amazon, buy them used if you don't have a lot of money. Get the audiobook if you don't like sitting and reading. There's no excuse. You need to buy these three books. They're going to help you out a ton. The first book is kind of a simple book, and the knowledge itself is quite simple, but it's incredibly powerful. It's called Eat That Frog.
Joey: Great book.
Ash: It's by Brian Tracy. It's an awesome book, and basically it's just set up to help you understand how to manage and prioritize your time. It's a huge one. It's a really important one, and it's a simple book, but if you can use it and engage it, it's going to really change your life. I'd say the next one's going to probably be Mastery, and there's two of them, so actually I have four books. I apologize. There's two books on mastery. Both are incredibly good. Robert Greene's got one, and I can't remember the other guy. I was just reading a little passage of it the other day, but just look it up. Mastery. Both are incredible, and what these two books are going to tell you, or going to show you, really what it takes to be a master of your craft. Holistically, completely, mentally, and what other people have done to get to that level, and you're going to really start to understand the framework. It's going to help you see it, personify it, and identify it.
Ash: And I'd probably say the last one, and there's a lot of books, and I have a link. Maybe I can give it to Joey and then you can see how my books basically on Amazon. I basically take my whole library and put it on Amazon, because I get this question asked a lot. My third one is probably going to Steven Pressfield's The Art of War, or the War of Arts. Sorry.
Joey: War of Art.
Ash: And that one's good, because it personifies one of the biggest problems I think plagues us all, which is procrastination, and he helps you personify that and identify it in your own life and how to see it and then basically just crush it. Because procrastination can sometimes be a misalignment with yourself and trying to figure out why it is that you're procrastination and how to get through those things and stuff. And we all do it. I still do it to this day. I still work through it every day as a journey. That's what makes this life so interesting. So those three books. Those are the foundation, so I highly suggest those.
Ash: Let me break down how I do it, if I'm being really rigors about my time every day, the night before I have a powerful day, or basically every day. The night before I basically write out a list of all the things I need to do. Once you read these books, you're going to understand what I'm talking about here about your priority system. You have a list of priorities, so the key is priority A, list of priority As or things that you must get done. If you don't get it done there's going to be big issues, so that's basically client work or whatever. Basically I have fulfillments that I need to take care of or family things, if I had to take somebody to the doctor or whatever it is that these things needs to be. Those are A-list priorities.
Ash: Then there's your B-list priorities, which are like A-list but not as important, and then you have your C-list, and then D-list, which is something you should never even do or you should pass it off to somebody else if you have to do it. Keeping your life within a priorities-based system of the top three is key. You'll start to realize how many things you do that you shouldn't be doing, so you just try and drop it off. But anyways, I basically only do A-list, maybe B-list stuff. That's it. I don't even deal with any kind of thing in C or D or anything else. When I started doing this system, I managed to cut out 40% of the shit that was dragging me down. I said no to so many other things, and I was able to free myself up for the things that actually mattered to me, and I was able to get more work done. So you know it's a powerful thing.
Ash: So anyways, I would write all my list of things based on my priorities, so whatever needs to get done, and I would usually try to set it out to do my most challenging task at the beginning of the day, because that's what takes the most energy. And I just smash through it. I write out all the things I need to do. I put corresponding times to what it is I think I need to do, so let's say it's client work, and I need to put a two to four hour block window in there. And let's say I wake up at nine o'clock, so from 9:00 to about 1:00, or 9, 10, 11, 12, 1. Yeah, so around that time I'll probably block out that time for client work and I'll have lunch. Often times I don't take a lunch, or if I do I just take out desk and just keep blasting through. Creating stuff changes and shifts.
Ash: And then write everything out. That's basically a forecast. So I write that all out, and then I go in my phone and I set alarms for all these, these moments, basically, these main hits, basically. And then I go in, I get in my office and shut the door and take care of it, basically and don't stop until it's done, and rinse and repeat. And that's really how I manage it. Sounds simple to have a lot of discipline to stick to it. Everything in life's going to throw you a curve ball, so you're either going to be, "Oh, there's a water leak," or "We need to go get oil change in the car." Whatever. There's just shit that happens.
Ash: And I would say that not every day is like this, so on weekends I won't necessarily write out a schedule unless I have to work through the weekends, but weekend is really where I do a rest or reset or regathering myself, work on things that I feel personally connected with or things I wasn't able to catch up on. And through the week you basically turn things in that you weren't able to get through the day. You roll them into the next day, and you keep going.
Joey: Yeah, that system. There's a lot of things that are similar to what I do. I operate off of a to-do list, and I usually set it the night before like you do and all that kind of stuff. I have to say that out of those three books, War of Art, I thought, was the most inspirational one, but Eat The Frog, or Eat That Frog, that was actually the most useful one for me. And the key point of that book is that human nature is to avoid unpleasant tasks or tasks that are boring or tedious or something like that, so get those out of the way first. And for me that's the biggest struggle I have when I'm struggling to get something done. It's because I have to write some long script or something, and I'm looking at a blank page, and I'm like, "How the hell do I even get started?? So how do you deal with that when you have a client project and you get the brief, and you open illustrator or Photoshop, and now you're looking at a white screen?
Ash: Yeah, you just have to do it, basically, I know it's the Just Do It thing, the Nike thing is what makes it so prevalent, because it's true, and people that know that if you just sit there and just do it, it makes it happen. There's a couple little mental things you can do if it's hard for you when the lines out, is say, "Just for now. Just for now I'm going to sit here and do this." Just for now, and the thing you're fighting, resisting is actually what you need to be doing, and the more you do it, the more you realize that. The more you exercise that, the deeper you go down into it, the more your realize it that that's where the gold is, and that's where you need to be, and that's where you have to constantly push yourself and put yourself into that.
Ash: Those moments of adversity is what's going to define you, and you need to constantly push through those and embrace them. It's really difficult to do though. I'm being completely candid and honest. There's many moments where I'm like, "This sucks. I'd rather be working on something else right now. I don't want to be doing this," and I'll bitch about it to myself or to my wife, and she'll go, "Yeah, yeah, you know it sucks." And then I'll go, "Okay, well, I gotta do it."
Joey: Yeah, there's that discomfort again, and that's exactly what Stephen Pressfield talked about. I think he calls it resistance.
Joey: That when you sense that, that is what you're supposed to be doing. The thing you don't want to do, that's your brain telling you to do it.
Ash: Yeah basically, because it's true what Brian was saying in his book, Eat That Frog, He was basically saying that yeah, we're designed to avoid those things, and it makes complete sense. The problem that's happening now is that we've evolved so quickly that our brain still thinks that we're somewhat caveman style, and so it doesn't know the difference between the stress of a bear attacking us or a client sending a shit email. Stress is stress, and so those kind of stressors is trying to figure out how to navigate those things.
Ash: You have to train yourself to realize that your brain isn't as advanced as it needs to be within the habits that you need to create, basically, so you have to kind of cheat it, basically, and put yourself through those adverse situations, because ultimately, that's what's going to happen. That's how you're going to get better. Jiu jitsu, for example, is a gift that I've been able to do. I'm really blessed to have that in my life, and there's often times where I'm almost so frustrated to the point of tears. I want to fucking scream and cry because I'm so upset that I'm not getting this concept or I keep getting whooped on or something, you know?
Ash: And I keep going. I keep going. I keep going, and I get through it, and the moment that you realize those things or you overcome that thing or you submit that opponent or you learn that one piece that you've overcome, it's just so great. I know this sounds like I'm just preaching, and sure, it sounds like common knowledge, and it really is. The best design, the best things in life are often the simplest things. Love at its purest sense is quite simple, you know?
Ash: Design at its purest sense is usually quite simple. Living at its purest sense is quite simple. Advice at its purest is quite simple. Usually the most incredible things in life are very simple and very clear, and everybody sees it, but it's just doing it that is a part of the problem. That's the discipline part.
Joey: That's the million-dollar question, is how do you make your self or somebody else just do the thing? That reminds me of something I heard you say in, I think it was a talk you gave at Fitz here or one of those conferences, and you had a slide that said "Fuck creative block," and it's interesting. We have a private Facebook group for all of the School of Motion alumni, and that's something that pops up a lot, students saying, "I know the apps, and I know how to design now, but I don't have any ideas. Where do I get an idea? It's like my brain won't make one." And that's creative block, but I'm curious if you could explain what you meant when you said that.
Ash: Its' an epidemic. I see it everywhere. Everybody knows how to push the buttons, but we don't why. It's a big problem we get on to that, right? A little later, but no, definitely. Creative block, when I was growing up, I was always told that if I was going to be an artist it was going to be a starving artist. That's how it goes. My mom was an incredible artist. My grandma was incredible. My great grandpa was a craftsman. My brother's incredible at art. They're all way better than me, and they didn't figure out how to really make a career out of it, and I think it's just because there wasn't a place for that at that time for them.
Ash: I think there is now. The opportunities now are insane. We're so lucky, but one of the big problems I had as a kid was "Oh, man, creative block. I'm so worried. What if I have a job and I can't produce or I can't think of it?" And that's all bullshit. That's a mental bullshit thing. It's completely in your head, and you need to basically acknowledge that it's a weakness and get through it. Creative block is something that I encounter a lot, because I get a lot of emails from the podcast, and I hear this a lot too, and I totally feel bad for people that have this problem, because I know what it's like. I've been there. I know exactly what you're going through.
Ash: The thing is that's gotten me through it is basically absorbing as much as you can. Constantly be putting yourself in adverse situations and basically live your life 110%, adding as much adversity into it as possible. If you widen your spectrum, if you don't go on just Pinterest, if you go and read a book about something, or go to the library, or go travel, or talk to somebody of a different discipline. Go talk to a doctor or something and be very curious and open minded to it, creative block will just simply vanish. It doesn't exist, because what you're doing is your not starving your mind. You're not putting yourself and your mind in this little weird box that you do, and you're exposing it to a lot of different stimulus.
Ash: And the mind loves stimulation. It really does, as much as it fights it at times. The more you can feed it, the better, and the more adversity and the things that you can give it, the better. So that's why I have a lot of weird, interesting, I try to switch things up. I'm really into cars, and then I'm really into Jiu Jitsu, and I'm also really into art and design, but I don't only just focus on deign. I think if I only focused and looked at design I would probably have those ruts, probably, because I would be so inbred in my thoughts. I wouldn't be cycling new things into it, and I think that's a problem.
Joey: Right, that's interesting.
Joey: Is that why you, because you're always learning new skills, new apps, hard-surface 3D modeling, Zebra, Shock animations, and then you're always drawing again, and you're directing live action stuff. Is that tied to that? It sounds like you like feeling like a beginner.
Ash: Yeah, you have to. You have to embrace that shit. You have to embrace the fact that you're a total noob, and that you got a lot to learn, and that everybody around you, for the most part, knows something more than you do, and somebody has something to offer that's going to help you out. And I think that's definitely a way to fight creative block. Creative block is almost like saying, "I'm bored." It's such bullshit. It's a cop out. It's a cop out, and it doesn't make any sense to me.
Ash: I know that if you're hearing this, and you're like, "Fuck you. I have creative block. It sucks," I totally get you because I've been there, but I'm telling you right now, you're basically blocking yourself from experience. And what you're doing is you're wasting your time. Stop bitching now and just get it done. Go experience something else in life. Go find another hobby. Go find an athletic outlet, or go find a way to go give something to somebody. Go do some caregiving or help somebody out, or go help your local whoever so and so. And you'll learn so much and you'll feel find out so much about people, and you'll learn so much about yourself, and even beyond it, and those things will really inspire what it is that you create and what you do.
Ash: There is a sense where you should definitely be very hyper-aware of what it is that you're doing, but I feel yes, when I see a lot oftentimes and what I experience with other creatives or younger artists and stuff, is they just instantly go to Pinterest or they go to Instagram or whatever for these, I call them water halls of influence. And these can be really great, at times. They're very instantaneous, but I think a lot of the problem is they're only giving you one part of the equation. They're only stimulating a very small part of your mind, and they're not really challenging the rest of it, which is what you need to do to have ideas.
Ash: What you need to do to have ideas is to go try things and go experience things. Learn how to draw. I think every designer, every artist should learn how to draw to some capacity, even if you suck, it should be good to be able to communicate your ideas from your brain to your hand to paper or to pixels or whatever to get it out. But yeah, creative block is bullshit, and the same with saying you're bored. If you say those two lines, I feel bad for you. You really need to change whatever it is you're doing in your life, because if you're ever bored in this time, I don't even know what to say. My daughter says it sometimes, and I'm like, "What do you mean? We have the internet. You have everything. You have this abundance of so much stuff." But your own grasp of reality is really.
Joey: Yeah, I feel like, it's funny, because I have kids too, and my oldest is seven, so they're pretty young, and she tells me she's bored sometimes, and I laugh. But it's interesting because when I was a kid, I can remember feeling bored, and now I never feel it, and I think that to me, I feel like boredom is aimlessness, right? Inevitably, if I give her three options of something, she could go do, she'll pick one, and then she's not bored anymore, and it's almost like you have this energy that you're not directing in the right place.
Ash: Of course. It's all energy.
Ash: We all have the energy.
Joey: I wanted to ask you. I think I agree with you that creative block is not a real thing. It's not like your brain all of a sudden can't come up with ideas. I think that for me, it's just I always have to change the context, you know?
Joey: But I think it is definitely a thing to get stuck. You're in the middle of a project, and there's a problem to solve and you don't have the answer, and you have to do something to get your subconscious to feed you that answer. So I'm just curious, what do you do when you feel that? When you don't have the answer right then?
Ash: Well, of course every project has that, right? That means you're doing the right project, so I'm working on some really crazy stuff I can't even talk about it, but it's with a gnarly company, the biggest company, and the things I'm doing are so cognitive, and they're so high-level mentally. And yeah, I have to basically sit there, and I have to remove all the distractions, remove phones, remove the distractions from friends and social media and all that kind of stuff, and turn all that noise off, and I have to sit there, and I just have to mentally process things and mentally think about them and really go through things, comb through things, stimulate my brain. You're basically, like you said, I think you're spot on. It's perfectly way of saying it is that you just have to change the context. You have to change the frame, basically and look at it from a different vantage point.
Ash: Oftentimes it's said geniuses are these smart people. I think geniuses are people who take things that exist and then combine them or they merge them or they cross-pollinate things, and that variety is what creates what we call the genius thing. And I think so what you do is if you're having a real hard time with something, something I talked about with Anthony Scott Burns, one of my best friends about, go take a walk. Sit down and listen to some music. Play an instrument. Go do something where it releases that pressure in that part of your brain, and then get back to it. The thing is, don't just sit there and walk all day long or something.
Ash: Maybe your problem is that big, but for me, what I do, I have a little bit of a different thing. I throw my head at it constantly until I can solve it, and often times I'll get it, but not all the time. I think my success rate is probably, from my standpoint, and what I get from my clients is that I'm usually at 60-40, 70-30. 70% success and 30% missing the mark, but at least it's [crosstalk 00:59:20].
Ash: And so for me, I'm dealing with it right now. Exactly. Even in this conversation, I'm like, "No, I'm going to do a thing." But my wife, we have this ongoing joke is I'll often be talking in my sleep, but I'm just talking about work. It's work stuff. I'm constantly processing things. It's never ending, so it's a part of a workaholic, I guess or something. But I don't know. I don't look at that as a negative thing. I love working. I think people always think, "Oh the workaholic," and all that stuff. They want to make you feel bad for working so hard, or I think that when people say that, they're upset that they don't have a thing that they love that much.
Joey: Well, it's interesting. So my father-in-law, and I don't think he listens to the podcast. I'll say this. He's definitely a workaholic, and what he does for work is he's a mechanic, and he can also fix pool tables and stuff like that, but he just works all the time. And I know that my wife and my mother-in-law, they don't look at it like, "I'm jealous that I don't have something I'm that dedicated to," they look at it like, "He's my dad, and he's in the garage, doing this at 10:00pm instead of hanging out with me." And so I wanted to ask you, because you've got a wife. You've got a daughter, and how do you balance those two worlds? Because it's something I struggle with. I'm sure every creative with a family struggles with it, but you seem particularly driven and okay with working a lot. So how do you juggle that?
Ash: Relationships are dense, and like you talk about your father-in-law, and that's awesome, and that's amazing to have somebody in your life that shows you that, "Hey, I love something just as much as I love you." What I think the other part of that relationship is is not saying, "Why are you in here?" It's more like, "How about I go to the garage and spend some time with you and learn why you're in here?" You know what I mean?
Ash: And I think that is when the conversation shifts. With my wife and daughters, I explain to them that, "Hey, it's not just one side, and what you see on TV is not what we're expected of ourselves in this house, so when I'm working, if you want my time, you just have to ask for it. I'll give it to you, but it's also good for you to know why I'm in here, why I'm doing this stuff." It's a two-way street, basically, so I think it really helps for them to know why I do what I do, and if my family every needs me, I drop everything. That's just how it works. If they really need me, they know that need to tell me, and then it happens.
Ash: Same with my very close friends, but I think it's unfair of people to expect you to be what you're not. And also just because, maybe it's just the way I was raised, but it's like, "Hey, just because I'm your kid doesn't mean that you owe me everything. You actually don't really owe me anything. You gave me life, and that's about as much as I can ask for." And take that with it, and then you have to understand that it's like, "Hey this person."
Ash: Like my mom, she loves to travel, and I moved out when I was 14. I've been on my own since that age, but I lot of it came from I didn't want to travel so much, and I learned to understand that my mom is just, that's a part of what she does. It's what she enjoys to do, and sometimes I'd be upset or "Damn, it sucks to move schools four or five times in a year," because I wasn't able to get a consistent friendship or build those things. But at the same time , it gave me other things, basically.
Ash: But what I've learned over the years is balance in life doesn't consist of me getting only what I want. It's understanding that, "Hey, there's another person in my life. If I truly love them, I need to understand what makes them move and what makes them tick," and I think that's a blessing of having someone in your life who actually has a love and a passion and a possession. I think that's really great.
Ash: Sometimes it can be very annoying. I totally agree, and if there's no limits and bounds set, then that's a problem. What we've established in our house is that from let's say, I think it's usually from 6:00 to about 9:00 every night that I'm not practicing. I do Jiu Jitsu two nights a week, and then I have on Sundays usually go, so all the other nights of the week, we'll do family time of some sort. We'll either play a game or we'll watch television or eat a meal together. That's sacred time. That means phones are away, attention's on one another. We're being social together. And that's the time that we share together, and that's a sacred thing. And then, after that, we go off and we do our own things. Our daughter is 13 now, so she's like a mini adult, basically.
Joey: Yeah. Gotta do her thing.
Ash: Yeah, she'd much rather do her own thing, rather than hang out with us, at this point. Which is crazy, 'cause it's a whole new thing.
Joey: Yeah, well thanks for sharing all that, man, 'cause it's something that a lot of people I know, I definitely struggle sometimes, feeling guilty if I stay at the office really late working on something.
Ash: It's the boundaries.
Joey: Yeah. And I'm really fortunate, too, 'cause my wife's super supportive, and understands what I'm trying to do, and why I get obsessed over things. But it's ... and I don't know, it's kinda nice to hear that you're just so open about it. It's like, "Listen, I know I obsess over stuff. That's how I know I'm [inaudible 01:05:02].
Ash: I can't be living in denial. I spend more time in my office than anywhere. It's just a part of it. And you have to have a supportive family that understands that.
Ash: And totally understandable. The thing is, what I'm saying here is that my family knows that if they need me, I stop. But if they don't, they know to let me do my thing. And that's how I'm gonna be the most happy, 'cause I'm able to do what I need to do, basically. And I think, again, I think it's ... to expect somebody not to be who you are, is a flaw, I think. And letting people be who they are, and acknowledging that. I think a lot of times, I've seen, in relationships and things, and we've had that. I've been married to my wife, we've been together for 10 years now. We've definitely our ups and downs. We've had moments where we've both tried to change one another. The moment we'd just go, "You know what? You're this person. I'm not gonna change that. And I'm learning to acknowledge it, and love it. And be accepting of it, and work with it."
Ash: The moment you do that, you release all that built up bullshit, and you get to-
Joey: [crosstalk 01:06:07].
Ash: And so, I think a lot of it is removing those expectations. I always say expectations lead to odd predicaments. You know? You should not expect that shit, and just kinda go through and be thankful and blessed that you even have this person in your life. As long as they're not hurting you or harming you, then you really have nothing to bitch about.
Joey: Yeah, that's really good advice, man. Who knew there'd be relationship advice in this conversation? That's excellent. So, let's move on. I wanna talk about ... I wanna make sure we get to your many side projects. And specifically, I wanted to ask about The Collective Podcast, which, just in case someone listening isn't familiar, amazing podcast. I think you're like 160, 170 episodes in already. And really some very heavy hitters, and really long, deep conversations. You can imagine, Ash asks very good questions, and lets the guests go where they want.
Joey: And then, on top of that, you co-founded a company called Learn Squared, that has this very cool learning model. And so, my first question is, those are both enormous undertakings, and you already, by that point, had a pretty good thing going with your client work, and your design career. So why do those things? I guess is the first question.
Ash: Sure. Well thank you so much for the kind compliments. Yeah, I think I have the podcast, basically, it's just kinda came from me, feeling alone, and wanting to connect with other creators, and designers, and share those conversations. I would often have these really, what I felt quite profound moments of conversations with people that were better I ... and I wanted to share these conversations with people. And kindfully enough, thankfully enough, these people, my friends, and other colleagues and stuff, they come on the show, they're willing to do so, and those experiences, and those conversations have changed so many people's lives. I get so many emails just ... I've gotten, just, I can't even count them, of how many people, the same story every time. It's like, "That episode changed my life," or, "That one really helped me understand what I need to do with my life," and this and that. And it's so awesome. So, not only has it helped me, significantly, but it's helped so many other people. And I've wanted to stop it a couple of times. Because I'm like, "Where am I going with this?" And there was a moment where I did take a break on it, 'cause I wasn't feeling super passionate about it, and I wasn't dedicating myself to it.
Ash: What was cool, before our episode, is you're so professional, and the pre-show warm up that you had is like, insane. I've never done that. My form of the podcast is I will look at their work, I'll observe it, I'll absorb as much as I can and study it, as much time as I can get to it. Write out just a bunch of random questions. They're usually only like, 20 questions. And then I let the conversation navigate, and I just kinda go with it. But you have a whole different method, which I think, takes a ton more time. So, I don't dedicate nearly as much time, especially now, more than ever. I think it's because I've learned as you host, the more you go, the more you let go of certain things. At least, for me. Everybody's got a different process. Sometimes, it affects the show, where it kinda becomes directionless. It all depends on the guests, though.
Ash: And then, also the host. You have a really great cadence and ability to actually fucking listen. I can't stand podcasts when people don't listen. I just simply don't listen to them. The host talks over the person and stuff. And I'm definitely guilty of that. Especially in the beginning of the podcast. But the podcast is primarily that, but it's turned into this thing that belongs to the community. And it's created some interesting dramas for me. It's also created some really great things for me as well. So the podcast has been really cool. But it's more or less like a hobby, and we used to release an episode every week, but now I do bi-weekly, which really helps as well, so I can kinda navigate those, and I get a little pocket of time. About two hours every two weeks where I go and record. And Andrew Harlick is ... he puts it all together and pushes it out there, and share with people, so that's really cool.
Ash: But it's a thing that doesn't take a lot of time, and it gives a lot to the community. And sometimes, I just simply do it for other people, to be honest. So yeah, it's an interesting one, but yeah. So, that's the podcast. I've been thinking about ... a lot of times, I get a lot of these weird rants, and I follow this comedian, Bill Burr, and I love how he just kind of rants.
Joey: He's awesome. I love Bill Burr.
Ash: He's one of the funniest people. And yeah, I was thinking about possibly doing something like that. But I'm also so bipolar with this stuff, where I wanna do these things, but I also hate being in the spotlight. I hate being social, and I don't like being out there. So, it's the only thing that holds me back every time. It's like, I don't wanna be in the public eye, and I don't wanna be remembered for these things, because whatever you put on the internet lasts forever.
Joey: That's right.
Ash: Which is fine. It is what it is. And like I said, I'm ever changing, ever evolving. What I say now will probably change tomorrow, so sometimes they change completely, one degree. Sometimes, 180 degrees.
Ash: And then Learned Squared. Learned Squared came about because I was working with my buddy, Maciej Kuciara, who's an incredible artist. One of the most talented artists I know. Just incredible. And we were working on this film, the Ghost in the Shell. And in the beginning of the process, I was looking at ... he was submitting to Rupert, our Director, and then he was looking at what I was submitting. And then, we were both really curious about what we were doing. And I was like, "Hey," ... and he was doing tutorials. And he was like, "Man, you should do tutorials. You make a lot of money. It's really cool. People support it, it's awesome." At least with these Gumroad things that people were talking about. I never ended up doing one, 'cause I was like, "I don't wanna do Gumroad."
Ash: And so, at the same time, I was like, "I don't really have anything to offer." And the reason why I feel that way is I don't ... the weird thing about me is, the way I work is, I don't know all the buttons. I don't. I know maybe like, three percent of cinema 4-D. I don't really ... it doesn't me that I know that. I mean, I wish I knew more. I only know enough to get what I need, and that's it. I don't try to learn all those things. So, for me, I was like, "I don't know how I get," ... I couldn't simply just say like, "Hey, use this program. This is how I use it." And I basically go off completely intuition, and a hodgepodge of random things that I learn from people, and friends, and works, and clients, and YouTube videos, basically.
Ash: But so, what we did is, I was like, "Hey, you show me what you do, and I'll show you what I do, and how I do it. And maybe we can make tutorials out of that." That's the birth place of the foundation of what Learned Squared was, is just two high level creatives, sharing how they do what they do, and helping shift people's perspectives, and minds, and showing people this isn't just a tutorial, this isn't like ... 'cause in those tutorials, there's a spectrum. As you know, you're in the business of it. There's a spectrum of tutorials. And educating people online is a very difficult task. It's so incredibly challenging.
Ash: And so, we went through all the ebbs and flows, and all that kinda stuff. And it was a very challenging experience. And it was a thing that I ended up leaving. Obviously, I think we know that. Now, I've left Learned Squared. And primarily, I left because I was not happy. I just simply wasn't happy. I wasn't being fulfilled personally. It was all just me, basically. I was expecting too much of myself, and of my partners. And I was not happy in a sense where most of my time was spent on calls, and meetings, and doing things, and constantly feeling like it wasn't working, basically. And not because of them. It's basically because of my expectations, again, were leading me into these odd predicaments of like, just frustration, basically.
Ash: And I just learned over time, that I'm best if I just work alone. And it's like, I've just come to terms with that. I wish I could be like a ... I don't know. Let's use a model. Let's say like, freak, I'm drawing a blank. The guy who runs Tesla. Elon Musk. He's the guy that runs teams of people, and hires people that are better than him to join teams. And you get way more work done, basically, if you can collaborate, and work with people. I know that, 100%. I just can't, necessarily. I'm very ... I work with just, only a few people, and that's about it. And I've just to the terms of, "Hey, I'm not gonna be that person." At least right now. Maybe later I will, but I don't enjoy dealing with that part of it. The emails, the constant dealing with meetings, and all this stuff. And the rigor of that is just too challenging for me, emotionally, right now again. Like I said, it can change.
Ash: But yeah, it's always been a challenge, and that's been Learned Squared. Learned Squared was an incredible learning process, and I've learned so much about art, and being creative, from that process, because I would take a lot of the classes, and I was an apprentice for a lot of the people, and you absorb these super powers, basically.
Joey: Yeah. Wow, okay, that's a crazy story. So, I wanna dig into this a little bit, but it's really interesting, because this kinda leads into a topic that I wanted to talk to you about. You're saying that at Learned Squared, which I know has helped a lot of people. I mean, you guys got some of the best-
Ash: [crosstalk 01:15:23] of you to say.
Joey: Artists in the world to teach these class, you know? You got Jorge to teach a motion design class. I mean, it's unbelievable.
Ash: Yeah, he's the best.
Joey: Yeah, he is, actually, the best. And one of the things that ... it's interesting. So, I started School of Motion to teach, and to help people. That was always kind of ... and so, I'm always looked at it as like, I'm serving my community. Right?
Joey: And my students. But you're mostly an artist. And The Collective Podcast, I know, initially started, you said, 'cause you said that you felt lonely, or you were working in a vacuum. You wanted to talk to these artists. And so, I sort of feel ... and I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I almost feel a responsibility to provide what I can to my students, to the community. Do you ... but I chose that. But it almost feels like some of that was thrust upon you.
Ash: Yeah, definitely.
Joey: You didn't necessarily choose it, it just kinda happened to you, 'cause you got really successful, frankly. I'm curious if that's how it feels.
Ash: Yeah, no, definitely. And that's great to hear that, because you're in the exact position you should be, because you care ... that's why you're doing it, because you care about your student body, and you wanna develop that, and help people. There's definitely a part of that-
Ash: But it's only a fraction of it, basically, for me. It wasn't necessarily my complete drive, was to help people, necessarily. And maybe that sounds horrible, but I'm just being very candid. Like you said, I'm an artist, first and foremost. I wanna just kinda do what I do. I'm so selfishly propelled, oftentimes, you know? And it's like, if I'm being completely candid, that's how it works.
Ash: Mind you, when I would see my students succeed, and flourish, I loved it, 'cause it was like, "This is great. They're getting it." But when people didn't, I was like, "Why don't you get it? Just work. Put the time in, and you'll understand that all the items are here." And we do mentorships and stuff, and I was very close with my students, and I would put myself as far as I could to help them out. But so much of the journey, I realized, is just like, you just have to do it yourself, and you have to put yourself through that fire. And it was a thing I had to constantly say, but totally, I think, first and foremost, I think it was probably the flaw was that I'm an artist, first and foremost. It's what propels me, and what moves me, and that's what I make my decisions as, throughout my life. And I think the school is demanding somebody that had this, kinda what you have, basically, which is like, this, I guess, empathy, in a sense of developing a community. And I wasn't really all that interested in that, to be completely honest. You know?
Ash: So, I was more or less interested in sharing what I learned, making money off of that, in exchange, by helping people as well, but mainly building up some sort of a nest egg that would allow me to have freedom from client work, so I could go and work on what it is that I wanna work on. And in exchange, I would give people everything that I knew about a particular topic or subject. And so, but at the same time, I'm saying I do love and really cherish the times that I've had with my students, and I love seeing them succeed. And often, a lot of them have taken what I've taught them, and have gone off and had incredible careers. I've seen it many times over. So, it's just been awesome. So, it's like a nice blend, and a mix, but my main thing wasn't where your heart's at. It's a different thing, you know?
Joey: Right. That's really interesting. And I have to say thank you, again, for being so honest. I mean, you're like an open book, man. Because it's not something most people admit to. And here's the thing, when I started School of Motion, I started it 50% because I loved teaching. It was my favorite part of being a Creative Director, was teaching people things.
Joey: But the other 50%, of course, was like, "Eh, I don't really like running a studio. I want out. I wanna find a more efficient way to pay my bills, and passive income is the American Dream now," and it's true. And I'm glad you were honest about that, but it sounds like it just wasn't a good fit for the way you like to work.
Ash: Yeah, basically. Yeah, it wasn't. As much as I tried to change and morph myself into wanting it, and doing that, it's just like, yeah, maybe I should've just made a disposable tutorial or something. But at the same time, one of the key things is, I was like, "I don't wanna release something unless I feel like it represents what I can release, basically," which is really difficult, you know?
Ash: It was also the first time teaching, and then building a whole platform. And by the time I had left, we were at a very high level of creating a basic template platform. Which it was really strong, and I felt very powerful. It could change a lot of things. And I think, for me, it's like I guess a lot of times, I think I'm more interested in certain parts of it, and not all of it. You know? And I've just kinda come to terms with that. And I think it's ... I don't know, it's just a part of the journey, and just coming to terms with what it is that you enjoy, and what helps propel you, basically, in life. You know?
Ash: And there are moments of adversity, but I was dealing with a year of being unhappy. I was like, "Okay, I gotta stop this." It became toxic, and I didn't wanna lose my friendship with who are my friends at the beginning, which is Andrew Harlick, and Maciej, and I didn't wanna lose my friendship with them. And what's great is, I'm able to still have my friendship with them. The company doesn't exist for me anymore. It's theirs now, but now I'm off to do my own thing.
Joey: Yeah, and I think, honestly, it sounds like you did the right thing, because if you're not happy, and you're not enjoying what you're doing, it comes back to that thing I was saying before, about like, I feel this responsibility. And I've taken it on. It was self-inflicted, right? To give our students the best experience that we possibly can. And if your heart's not in it, it's just not gonna happen, and so stepping down becomes the right thing to do.
Joey: And I wanted to talk about ... you kinda mentioned it really briefly, about how you've had to deal with drama because of some of these side projects. I know The Collective Podcast, you get tons, and tons, and tons, and tons, and tons of fan mail. But I'm sure you've also gotten criticized. I mean, there's 500 hours of you talking.
Joey: There's definitely something in there for anyone to get offended at. But I'm curious if, again, 'cause you didn't start The Collective Podcast to become famous, right?
Ash: No. That was never the goal.
Joey: But it definitely elevated your ... made you a way more public figure, because it caught on. And I'm just wondering if you can talk about what was that like for you? 'Cause I always assumed you were an extrovert, because you give speeches, and you have this podcast. But you said that you're not. You kinda like to work alone.
Ash: Yeah, I'm a quite quiet person, from the public eye. But within my friends, and my circle of fairly close people, I'm very outgoing and silly and stuff. It just depends on the mood, I guess. But no, I definitely, yeah, the podcast was never designed as a thing to ... despite my career, I never, ever was a part of my agenda. I simply just wanted to talk with my friends, and open things up. But also wanted to talk about the controversial bullshit that happens in our culture, our industry, and kinda try spread knowledge and share these things, and kinda help elevate things. You know? But yeah, I definitely am dealing with people that don't necessarily get it, or don't understand it.
Ash: And the thing that really always frustrated me is like, for people that were just, I don't know, being negative about it. It's like, it's simple guys. If you don't like it, you either go start your own, or don't listen to it. It's like, not everything is designed for you. It's stupid for you to think that. It's really annoying for people to think that, "Hey, I don't like your podcast 'cause this, and that, and whatever, and so it should be what I want." It's like, fuck off. Go find something else. The Internet's filled with other podcasts. You don't need to be an asshole. And I experienced quite a bit of that, but it actually, to be completely honest, this is like 99% positive. You know?
Ash: And those negative things, it's like, "What's your problem?" I think, my thing in life is creating art. And maybe their thing in life is being an asshole. I don't know.
Ash: Some people get off on that shit, and I had my friends, I'd consult them. Like, "What's the deal with that?" And they're like, "Maybe that's their thing. They get off on that."
Joey: It definitely, I mean, it is the internet."
Ash: Yeah, yeah.
Joey: It just comes with it. But I mean, it must've been really interesting for you, doing The Collective Podcast for the reasons you did, to connect with artists, and as a way for you to just communicate with people. And so, one of the things that I definitely saw happen with that podcast, because it just became so popular, and there wasn't really anything else like it for our industry at the time, is that it turns you, as the host, and as this great, successful artist, into a role model, like it or not. Right?
Joey: And so, I can understand ... and this is kinda how I feel. Maybe you disagree, but I do feel weirdly responsible. It's very strange for me to say this, but I know that having this podcast, having this platform of School of Motion, that we are sort of a role model for the industry. And even though, maybe that's not fair, and I have to ... it is sometimes stressful, making sure I say things the right way, 'cause I want to make everybody feel welcome and included. I think that you probably, having talked to you now for over an hour, I mean, you're very open and you're very honest. You're super authentic. I think you are the way you come across on the podcast. But did you ever feel like, "Well shoot, now I'm a role model. Now I need to sand those edges down, because I'm gonna piss somebody off,"?
Ash: Yeah, definitely, once some of those things would perk up, I'd be like, "Ah shit, maybe I should mind what I say." And for the most part, I try to be mindful. And that's very mature of you to think like that, because I think it shows a high level of empathy. It really comes down to being empathetic, you know? And realizing that the people that are saying those things, they might have a point to it. And there is a point to be aware of. And I didn't wanna do this to be a role model. I don't wanna be a role model. I don't think of myself as a role model. That's cool if I am, but that's not my goal. And I think the thing that I can give you, if you're listening, or to you, as you're hosting the show, is like, I give you me, authentically pure. That's it. If you like it, cool. If you don't, then I don't know what to say, 'cause I'm being completely authentic, which is something that's so fucking rare now, it's a problem that people aren't willing to be authentically themselves. And they're so worried about the PC police or pissing somebody off, it's like, seriously people, if you don't like it, then don't listen to it. It's really simple. I'm not your answer. I'm not your guru. I'm not your-
Ash: And for people that are, it's like, I think the people that appreciate that, and realize I'm being authentic is like a friend ... I relate it almost to school. I went to school, and we didn't have the internet and all that kinda stuff. We didn't really have cellphones, really, when I was younger. You had cliques, and you had people that you would jam with, and that you enjoyed, and then you had people you didn't. I wasn't pissed because I wasn't able to be friends with everybody. I wasn't telling people that they're wrong because I didn't agree with them. I just let them be. I was like, "Whatever, you're a jock, into football? I mean, cool, I guess. That's your thing." I'm not gonna be like, "You know, you really should be into punk rock. You really should be into this art. Why don't you like this art? What's wrong with you?" I think on the internet, people are trying to gray everything out, and it's really quite annoying.
Ash: It's like, let people be their authentic self if they're not hurting anybody. But I get ya, there's a lot of pressure. And I don't really realize it, because I don't look at numbers. I don't acknowledge any of that stuff. I never look at stats. I don't care. We put the podcast out, it is what it is. I don't know who's following, who listens to it. I get the emails. I'm very blessed for that, but I do it in an authentic format. And I just try to be authentic.
Ash: But the role model thing, it doesn't come to my mind, really. And I really hope that if anybody can take anything from it, it's just be authentically yourself, you know? Live and learn, and there's definitely things I could change, but I feel like if I'm not being authentic ... that's probably why there was a moment where I stopped the podcast. I feel like I was just going through the motions. I wasn't being authentically myself. And then, I started up again, I was like, "Okay, it's time to be authentic again." I might say things to piss people off. Oh well. That's definitely part of it. And I'm doing it for a popularity contest. I think once you do that, you free yourself from the bullshit. You kinda just, "Hey, this is me. This is what I'm doing, and you like it or you don't."
Ash: And I think that I love that, when I see that in other people. Let's say like, Anthony Bourdain. He's not here with us anymore, but he was very much like, "Hey, this is me. This is my authentic view on the world. I'm being authentic." He was incredibly authentic all the time. You could tell that he wasn't just smiling because the camera was there. He was there, in that moment. I think that authenticity is what made him special. You know?
Joey: Yeah. And I gotta say, man, listening to you talk about it, I think, I mean I've always respected you, but I respect you even more, because I know that you've definitely said things that have upset people. Maybe there was a kernel of truth to it, maybe there wasn't, but it doesn't matter because really, you didn't set out to be a role model, you are who you are. And that's something that's very, very hard to do.
Joey: And so, I wanted to ask you, we live in this age now, where a perfect example, the James Gunn thing that just happened.
Ash: What's that?
Joey: So, James Gunn is the Director of the Guardians of the Galaxy-
Ash: Oh yeah, the twitter pervert guy.
Joey: Yeah, and he had these tweets were-
Ash: Old, right? Like, 10 years old or something?
Joey: Yeah, they were a few years, at least. And he got thrown off the third movie, and the first two made a billion dollars each, or something.
Ash: Yeah, Twitter's powerful. It's killing a lot of people's careers.
Joey: Yeah. And so, here's the thing. I feel like a lot of artists in motion design, but in other industries, too, they'll look at someone like you, with your Twitter followers, and your Instagram followers, and, "Oh, it must be so great to be," ... I like the term, MoGraph famous. But there is this double edge sword, too, which is you can also be put under this microscope, and something that you said 10 years ago, when you were not the same person you are now, can totally derail your career. Do you worry about that? Or do you think that younger artists without your track record should worry about that?
Ash: Yeah. I think it's, you know, for me, you just gotta be your authentic self, and you gotta just keep pushing through it, basically. And you've gotta kind of ... if something comes back to bite me in the butt, I'll be like, "Well, I said it. It's an old version of me, but it is what it is." The whole thing with that guy, some of those tweets are just ... it's just in really bad taste, basically. There are certain lines you just don't cross. You don't talk about kids like that, and stuff like that. It's just like-
Ash: And the thing is, you don't ... for the most part, you've just gotta be mindful of what you put on the internet. Especially Twitter. Twitter is such a fucking stupid thing, to be honest. I don't really like it. I think it's a huge flaw. I think social media is actually a huge flaw. We're not gonna see it until later on. It's just a big problem, I think. Because the reason why is, it's not authentic. It really isn't. You think it is, but it isn't. And it's being used in really weird ways. And I think because the internet is so new, and social media is incredibly new, it's just being exploited. And it's really in this weird spectrum to the human's ... to our psyche, basically. And so, I mean, you put that stuff out there, and it just ... that guy is just ... I don't know. The thing is, you don't know the truth about everything. 'Cause you don't know. If you really got down to the grit of the thing, maybe he was sexually molested, and that's how he was dealing with it, as an adult, and he was making light of it.
Ash: But I mean, for generally, I think it's like, you've just gotta be your authentic self. If you're too afraid to do that, then I don't know what to say. It's a difficult thing. And the social media and the internet right now, it's just like, if you're gonna say something stupid, take a minute and maybe just tell it to somebody that you're close to, and see what they say. You might not wanna put that out on the internet. You know? So, I don't know. Because the Internet's a wild beast, and people will misconstrue it. Especially, like I said, Twitter is so limited. It's like, one sentence, basically, and it's so just takes things down to the core. It's not really ... I don't know. I don't really like it, to be completely honest.
Joey: Ash Thorp, ladies and gentleman. I hope you really enjoyed that conversation as much as I did. And I hope that it made you uncomfortable, at times. I think Ash is totally right about the need to lean into discomfort in order to grow. And I also think it's important to hear from artists like him, who are totally unapologetically, unflinchingly dedicated to their craft. It's very easy to say, "I wish I had Ash's ability." But after hearing what it takes, do you still want it? It's a good question, right? All right, I'm gonna be thinking about this one for a while, and I hope you do, too. And let us know what you think @schoolofmotion on Twitter, which I'm embarrassed to say, after that conversation, or email us, [email protected] That's a wrap for episode 50. Thank you, again, so much for listening. And here is to 50 more.