Back to Blog

Keeping Your Edge: Block and Tackle's Adam Gault and Ted Kotsaftis

By Adam Korenman

How to Run a Studio Without Losing Your Edge: Block and Tackle's Adam Gault and Ted Kotsaftis

Starting a studio is incredibly difficult. Starting a studio in a new industry is a nightmare. Starting a studio in the early days of a creative field, maintaining it against rising competition, and thriving for years to come...that's just insanity. Block & Tackle is one of the very few studios that have existed since the pioneer days of Motion Design, and they are still thriving. Owners Adam Gault and Ted Kotsaftis join us on this episode and talk about how they have maintained their sharp edge in the industry while producing an expansive collection of different looks and styles.
Article.jpg
Block and Tackle focuses on unique conceptual design and visual storytelling. The passionate team aims to provide original concepts for their clients from concept to delivery. As you can see from their reel, they aren't afraid to dip their fingers into just about every style...and yet everything feels specifically them. It's quite an achievement to be able to stand out after all these years, but that is a testament to the studio Adam and Ted have built.
Now we know how a fly feels when it's looking at incredible Motion Design
Grab a steaming cup of coffee and bucket of your favorite cereal, Adam and Ted are serving up a nutritious part of your complete breakfast.

Podcast Show Notes

Artists

Pieces

Resources

Episode Transcript

Joey Korenman:
Anyone who was on mograph.net in the early 2000s has seen the work of my two guests today. Adam Gault and Ted Kotsaftis have been doing amazing work for nearly two decades in the epicenter of MoGraph, New York City. They worked for legendary studios like Eyeball, Loyalkaspar and Psyop, and today, Adam and Ted run a studio of their own, Block & Tackle, which has one of the most diverse portfolios of work I have ever seen, plus some of the coolest and quirkiest work out there.
Joey Korenman:
In this chat, we go back in time and wallow a little bit in nostalgia, talking about Adam's experience working on the CMT rebrand at Eyeball, that's the project that made the grunge look cool, and Ted's experience working on insanely complex and beautiful projects at Psyop. You'll learn how the studio builds trust with clients so that they can get away with pushing the creative envelope. You'll hear about the advantage of having a house sensibility versus a house style as a studio, and you'll get to hear Adam and Ted's philosophy on building a team that can be incredibly versatile and that can take on just about any project.
Joey Korenman:
These two are legends, and it's an honor to have them on the podcast. So sit back, grab a cava, or coffee, and let's hear from Block & Tackle.
Joey Korenman:
So first of all, thank you for coming on. I'm a huge fan of Block & Tackle and of work that you've both done prior to Block & Tackle. So I wanted to start by sort of giving a lot of our listeners a little bit of a history lesson. I went through your LinkedIn profiles, I Google stalked both of you, and your resumes go back 20 years, almost, and in MoGraph ... I know, I'm sorry. I should've warned you before I said it out loud, but in MoGraph years, that's 150 years. So I'd love to hear from both of you. How did you end up where you are, basically, because 20 years ago, there was not an obvious way to get into motion designer or MoGraph, as it used to be called.
Adam Gault:
Sure. Yeah. I went to film school, I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and studied live action film and did a little bit of animation, and when I got out of school, I got involved like shooting video and recording sound for VH1 shows. At the time, it was Behind the Music and all that kind of stuff, and it was pretty boring, and then I had this guardian angel producer who said, "You seem bored, I can get you a job at a graphics studio," and it was at Sony Music.
Adam Gault:
So I learned basically the early sort of motion graphics trade there. We were making album promos and concert graphics for Columbia Records and Epic Records, Sony Music labels. So that's kind of how I found out about motion graphics in school. It was the time of, I guess like, early imaginary forces like the Kyle Cooper title sequences and stuff for Seven and Dr. Moreau, so that stuff was interesting to me because it felt experimental and just really fresh, but I didn't know how to get into doing that, so I feel like I just kind of got lucky I fell into this early industry that was just kind of just forming without really knowing exactly what was happening.
Joey Korenman:
Let me ask you about something. So you went to school and you were studying film production. The reason I ask is because I look at your work, and you specifically, Adam, your design sense is awesome, and you seem to have this gigantic repository of design reference, and I'm curious where that came from, if it wasn't school.
Adam Gault:
No, it was school a bit, I think. Things have probably changed in 20 years, but it's a fine art school, essentially, and design. So you get a really good foundation and they encourage you to explore and try stuff. At the time, anyway, they had no concern at all about, "How do you get a job? Is this thing you're making going to look good to potential employers?" It was just like, make stuff. So I think the curiosity factor that they sort of instill in you helps a lot. So I guess I'm curious and I like stuff and I'm interested in art and art history a little bit. I'm not a scholar by any means, but yeah, it's just kind of curiosity, and then from there, honestly, I think the thing, really, for me is I worked hard that. That's really it.
Joey Korenman:
That's awesome. What about you, Ted?
Ted Kotsaftis:
Well, I was in high school, I think I decided wanted to make video games, and I had no idea how to do that, and no one around me had any idea how to do that, so I sort of assumed that I needed to go to school for computer science, because I enjoyed coding. I wanted to ultimately make video games, but I used to code video games on my TI-82 graphing calculator.
Joey Korenman:
Hell yeah. Drug Wars, man.
Ted Kotsaftis:
So yes, I don't know how I got into this school, but I got in for computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and just got my ass kicked for two years. It was so hard, really hard. I enjoyed the first two years, but then the third year, it got to a point where it's like, "This is just not for me. I'm not a computer programmer. I cannot do it, certainly at this level," and at that school, I just couldn't do it. So I transferred to the electronic arts department there, which was kind of a new department. I got super lucky, because at my class, there's four other guys that were really into 3D animation, and they had these two professors that were from a company in New York City called Factory, and they were awesome. We just had a good little group going, and that's kind of how I fell into ... I was doing 3D animation and learning After Effects.
Joey Korenman:
Gotcha. So you came at it, it sounds like, from the technical side, but again, even the work that you've done has a very developed sense of aesthetics. So where did that come from for you? How did you develop your eye for what looks good?
Ted Kotsaftis:
I don't know. I guess when I was in school, toward the end of my schooling, it was '99 or 2000, Psyop was just making the coolest stuff, and they were using the same 3D program that I knew, it was called Soft Image at the time. So that was sort of a real inspiration to be like, "Wow, this looks awesome," and it's technically cool, and it's a fun problem to solve. How do you make this awesome stuff with this program that's a little bit hard to use, but super open-ended? I think that sort of inspired me to get into the more motion graphics type animation rather than a more traditional character or visual effects type work.
Joey Korenman:
Gotcha. So was this sort of like the happiness factory UPS campaign era of Psyop, or was it a little before that?
Ted Kotsaftis:
Before that. They had that ... Was it a Starburst commercial, Adam? Do you remember that? I don't know. It was so cool, and then I remember seeing some of the scene files from it at some point and being like, "Ah, this is just so smart."
Adam Gault:
For me, there was an AT&T spot that was super graphic that seemed like it moved like nothing you'd seen before, and then also that MHD thing with the birch trees and the crows just seemed so artsy and cool.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, the birds thing, and I think that might've been around the time they did a Sheryl Crow commercial or a music video, I think, and after that, everybody had to make clouds that looked like the ones in that. So yeah, so this might be a little segue, because I wanted to ask you both, and I even put a little joke in this when I sent you the questions, because I'm sure you get asked about these projects all the time by people my age, and you're probably sick of talking about them, but I'd love to hear about some of those projects that now, in hindsight, they really did create trends that, to this day, still kind of stand out in motion design, and you've both worked at some pretty legendary studios. So what are some of the projects that you worked on in those days that you felt like sort of helped make your career or influenced the direction your career went?
Adam Gault:
Oh, that's really easy for me. Well, so I worked at Sony Music for awhile, and when I left there and started freelancing ... Oh actually, just as a little aside, Ted and I worked together at Sony. We hired EV Factory to help us with 3D projects that we were doing, so that's how we initially met 20 years ago. Anyway, at Eyeball, I felt really out of place at first, because it seemed like everyone there knew a lot of stuff that I didn't know, because I was just kind of coming in out of nowhere, and so in order to try to keep up, I just worked really hard, and we got an opportunity to pitch the rebrand for CMT. At the time, the brief was basically, look at this. I think it's called American songbook or something. It's a book of Annie Liebowitz photos, or, "Let's look at these Annie Liebowitz photos and just be inspired by that and see like what we can come up with."
Adam Gault:
I know we were pitching against some other people who I really respected a lot at the time. I'm pretty sure Nando Costa was pitching on that project. So it was like all of a sudden, here we are, I'm pitching on work with lots of people who I felt like were superstars already, or that early on. Anyway, so we ended up winning the pitch, and the thing that was just amazing for me is that Lee Moore at Eyeball trusted me too, and the team that we were working on it just to do it. We went on to shoot in Texas, and we went on our own being a producer and a photographer, and we got back, and my girlfriend at the time helped make some paintings, and we were just kind of exploring and trying stuff, and the client was really super open to just letting try things, and they were like, every time we showed something, they'd be like, "How would we really like it?" So we just felt like we were making this little independent art piece. So to their credit, they trusted us with that.
Adam Gault:
People liked it, which is always a surprise. Ultimately, it's kind of a cliche, but it's like we were just making stuff that we'd like to make. It wasn't like we had a big vision or anything. We're just like, "We think this feels cool, so let's try it," and we did it. I guess the clients that we were working with on that project, we ended up having a really great relationship longterm, and so a lot of those same people from CMT ended up moving on to other networks, and they sort of planted seeds for me along the way. So we ended up making connections at the networks that they moved to, Discovery and Nat Geo and FX down the road and stuff. So that made a huge difference for me and for my career.
Joey Korenman:
I have a couple of questions about that campaign, and I looked, and you can still find it online, and it holds up. So we'll link to it in the show notes, everyone listening, you have to go check it out. What I wanted to ask you, Adam, was I actually remember when the campaign came out, because I was freelancing at a studio in Boston, and probably several months after you worked on it, we got the After Effects files from it, because I had to do a hundred versions based on what Eyeball did.
Adam Gault:
I'm sorry.
Joey Korenman:
But I remember looking at the After Effects projects, and I had never seen After Effects used that way before.
Adam Gault:
You're like, "They don't know what they're doing."
Joey Korenman:
Well, it was just like ... I don't know, I think up until that point, I had always tried to just be super clever and efficient, and that wasn't. There's no way it could have been efficient, because it was almost like stop motion animation done in After Effects, and it was beautiful and kind of blew my mind that someone would even think to do that. So I don't know what your role was if it was more design or more animation, but can you talk about ... Looking at that now, I think everyone listening can go find a YouTube tutorial or take a class where you can understand how it was done, but in those days, that didn't really exist. There was no how to make a stop motion looking thing in After Effects. How did you and the other people who worked on it approach it and figure this stuff out?
Adam Gault:
I have no idea. It was a long time ago. I remember ... I guess there's probably pieces that I'd seen, art, films and stop motion stuff I'd seen in school. We had kind of a sense of the feeling or the vibe that we were going for. We wanted it to feel very organic and handmade, and we did shoot a lot of stop motion things drawing on and painting on, and then tried to approximate that kind of look in After Effects as well, lowering the frame rate of things and tons of early 2000s vignette and everything. So there was a feeling we were going for, and I can remember specifically ...
Adam Gault:
We were doing some stop motion painting of roses growing or something, and it felt super detailed and smooth, and I couldn't really figure out what was it that wasn't really quite right about it, and it turned out we just had to pull out a lot of frames so it felt was on a hand cranked kind of a camera or something. It was really just experimenting until it felt good, I guess.
Joey Korenman:
That's so cool.
Adam Gault:
You were talking earlier about ... Ted's very technical, and I'm sort of the opposite of technical, I think. I can get around After Effects pretty well, but part of the thing that I think has helped, for me, have a more distinct voice is I'm constantly trying to figure out how to do what I can with the limited knowledge I have. So yeah, I don't know. How do I sort of force After Effects to do something that feels kind of 3D?", because I don't know how to use 3D software, and I'm past that point now. I never quite got my head around shape layers, though. I just forced solids to do what I need them to do or whatever, but as a result, I think you maybe sometimes come up with techniques that maybe are more unexpected or something different.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Well, I remember when that campaign came out and everyone on mograph.net was kind of raving over it, and it was very influential for a lot of people, including me. So Ted, what were you doing around that time? You ended up at a pretty major studio for a while. Do you remember when that CMT campaign came out, or were you working with Adam at that time?
Ted Kotsaftis:
When was that? When was that?
Adam Gault:
I don't remember when it was, but I remember seeing it.
Ted Kotsaftis:
2005, maybe? Four? I think it was four, five or four. Yeah, I remember. I think I was at UV Factory, or Loyalkaspar, maybe. Anyway, yeah, I remember. It was awesome. I remember everyone was talking about it.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. Yeah. So what are some of the projects that you worked on in that era that you felt were sort of like, "All right, now I'm in my club."
Ted Kotsaftis:
I'm sure I can pinpoint a project, but when I was at Psyop, that felt like, "Oh, I'm in," because I remember I started there, and I'm generally a confident fellow, but I remember going there and being like, "Okay ..." I think I said on my first project, I was like, "I haven't really used Soft Image," that was the program that we using, and I hadn't used it in a few months. I was like, "I haven't used it in a few months, so I might take some time to sort of ramp up," and they're like, "Okay, don't worry about it." A few weeks into the project, I was like, "Oh, I'm fine here. I get it." I thought maybe I didn't use the program in a way that was the proper way to use it, but then I realized that that's really not a thing at all.
Ted Kotsaftis:
You guys are saying I'm technical, which, I have a technical background, but I'm not a super buttoned up, do things the right way ... When we were at Psyop, I learned this experimentation with the software, and you pushing it to do different things is expected, and that was sort of reassuring to me to be like, "Oh okay. Goofing off and messing around and trying to make cool stuff is what everybody's doing here." So my time there was really great, because I met so many smart people and learned so much.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. So I wanted to call out one specific piece, because this was another one of these, these pieces that came out, sort of blew everyone's mind. This is something else I wanted to get into, but back in those days, probably just because there wasn't YouTube and all these resources, even people in the industry had no clue how you were doing some of this stuff, and the T Rowe price campaign, there was a spot called "Ink", and it's actually interesting, because this is not ... You and Adam have done a spot for a Krakken Rum, so you obviously had some practice working with cephalopods. At the time, this was probably around then, 2005, 2006 maybe, and this is one of those, it feels like one continuous shot, there's no obvious transition points. It's sort of like maximum MoGraph. Every cool thing you could throw at it.
Joey Korenman:
How does that happen without seeing it first? This is one of the things that I feel like people who are getting into the industry now, you have a huge advantage, because you have 20 years of work, you can go back and see what works well, what doesn't work well, what trends hold up and which trends really, really date themselves. So how do you come up and work on something like this ink spot without having seen it first?
Ted Kotsaftis:
Well, the short answer is I didn't actually work on that project. There were two spots. One was a rice job, which was everything was made out of rice particles, and the other one was the ink one.
Joey Korenman:
Ah, okay. Got you. I remember the rice one, too. Yeah.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah. I was the lead on the rice, and my friend Jacob Slutsky was the lead on the ink, and he's just super, super talented, and just one of the nicest people I know. So those spots were just experimentation. We had a few of those in a row, like the ink one, the rice one, and then we did a job for Fernet-Branca, which is an Italian spirit, and these were jobs that, we didn't know how to do them at all, but we had to get them done, and we were just pushing the software to sort of new places. We were using a 1.0 version of Soft Image XSI, which was unbelievably promising, but just ridiculously buggy. It was a nightmare working on those jobs, but we got it done. That really sort of sums up my general career, is just, you've got to get it done.
Joey Korenman:
I don't know how, but I have to. Looking at the rice spot today, I'm sure someone would look at it and they'd say, "Okay, you'd use Houdini for that," and the thing that always blew me away about Psyop's work, especially back then, was that it was insanely technical. It felt like everything, the JBL tornado spot, it's like, I don't even know how the hell you approach that, but at the same time, there was always this really strong sense of composition and design. In my mind, there's always really technical people that can understand how to make rice turn into particles and build animals that are moving as they're building, and then on the other hand, you have artists that know when it looks pretty, or is it a mix of both? Are people at a studio like that doing both of those things?
Ted Kotsaftis:
They're doing both of those things. Yeah, the people who sort of survive ... Survive is not the right word, but do well there.
PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:22:04]
Ted Kotsaftis:
... sort of survive, no, survive is not the right word, but do well there. Just the people who have like the technical ability, but then also the eye for knowing what's right, at what looks right, what feels right.
Joey Korenman:
Got it. So true, generalists. [crosstalk 00:22:13]
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah, yeah, true generalists. But I mean even, yeah, even the Psyop people at that time who were there, who were just like generally like scripting or coding also just had like an amazing sense of design and it's just a good mix of people.
Joey Korenman:
I've listened to your awesome interview that Zach did on Animalators and it sounds like a lot of that ethos and that way of thinking about putting a studio together has followed you to Block & Tackle. I just wanted to ask you both real quick, I mean, what are some of the things that you took from those studios, from Eyball, from Psyop to other places you've worked, that you brought over and was there anything that you didn't bring over? You said, you know what, "I don't want to do it that way. I want to do it a different way."
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah, I mean I think there's probably a lot of instances. One thing we tried not to take over is just being ... Adam and I are obviously the creative leads at our studio, but we want input from people, we want people to be empowered to do the work and have a sense of ownership of it. And that's better for them. It's better for us. So that's, that's one thing that we like to have.
Joey Korenman:
Have you worked places where it was a little bit more top down? You know, the creative director would just sort of dictate this is how it has to be.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah. Not, not to an extreme, but probab ... Yeah, a little bit.
Joey Korenman:
Okay.
Adam Gault:
I mean, I mentioned this already working at CMT project, but I do feel like at Eyball it was like sort of surprising to me that, we more at the time ... he was in the office all the time, but he really gave us the latitude to make decisions on our own and gave us a lot of responsibility and let us talk to the clients on the phone when we probably weren't really qualified to. And so, I mean I think people feel sort of more engaged when they feel like they're being heard and that their opinion matters and that they can kind of fight for their own concepts and stuff like that. So I think that is important to us now.
Adam Gault:
And I think also like what Ted was saying about working at Psyop and similar experience for me, it's like you just, maybe it's because it was early in the industry and like you said, there wasn't tutorials everywhere or lots of reference you could look at and to see how people did things. You just kind of had this bootstrap feel of like figure out how to get it done and get it done, and I think we kind of still operate in that regard. Like we will pitch ideas that we don't necessarily know exactly how we'll execute them or that are maybe like a little bit more ambitious the time period that we have to work on it.
Adam Gault:
And because you have to figure out how to make it work, you maybe have to cut corners in a way that ultimately might give you a more interesting way of executing it. Then if you are constantly sort of doing the things that you know how to do and you just kind of get better and better at it. I don't know. It keeps things for store feeling fresh for us I think, which is nice.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. That's my favorite part of motion design is that feeling you get when you just said yes to something. You have no idea how to do it.
Adam Gault:
[crosstalk 00:25:32].
Joey Korenman:
I love that. All right, well let's get to the current iteration of you two working together, which is Block & Tackle and we're going to link to Block & Tackle's portfolio in the show notes and you really just have to go look at everything on there. It's really striking how different each project looks, the execution, the art direction, everything. It's really amazing. So I'd love to hear maybe like the origin story. You two obviously met a long time ago and, and were both working in New York, but then why did you make the decision to like, "Let's start a studio, let's call it Block & Tackle and I'll be Block and you'll be Tackle and we'll tag team this?
Adam Gault:
Which one of us is Block?
Joey Korenman:
That's a good question.
Adam Gault:
Yeah, I mean, a quick history. You know, Ted, and I had worked together at a bunch of places a little bit at Sony, at Loyalkasar, we were both there in early days and had kept in loose touch and ran into each other at strange places.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah, an airport in Berlin.
Adam Gault:
Right, and then in our random out of the way neighborhood in Queens where I had moved there and then I saw Ted on the sidewalk, bringing his daughter to a preschool. And so that's kind of how we ended up reconnecting and right around that time I was working independently direct for clients, like as Adam Gault studio, which was just like a default, obviously, default name, that I gave myself to get work in.
Adam Gault:
It was right around then when I was asked to make those spots for the Krakken Rum and I had no idea how I could possibly do it, and I thought Ted probably did. So I asked him to help put a team together, which he was able to do and we got those spots done and it went really well and it felt like a really natural, easy working relationship. And so from there we just kind of like started slowly to kind of do more projects together on just like an unofficial basis until at one point, we just decided like, "Let's make this official." Then it took us a few years I've working together before we came up with a name for the company, which in some respects feels like the most important thing and then also is like the least important thing. So yeah, that's it.
Joey Korenman:
That's really cool. Ted, I'd love to ask you, because I'm assuming it was you figured this out. That those spots, I remember when they came out, that was one of those projects where I said, "How the hell did they do that?" We'll link to it. Everyone go watch it. And the reason I ... I could probably figure it out now. Back then there's no way, but the style of the spot matches the style of the artwork on the bottle, which is sort of this old school etched illustration and it's very, very detailed. And you managed to somehow capture that and have water that's waving and 3D tentacles, but it all looks ... Like this style. I mean I'm assuming that must've been a technical challenge. I'm just curious like how did you actually execute spots?
Ted Kotsaftis:
A lot of RND, I mean it was lots of trial and error. I mean I'm watching it right now actually ... and the tentacles, I mean we had like a base drawing for ... I don't know if it's on the website, if we have the ... Yeah, there's a flat squid with the drawing. So we had a base texture and then we just came up with this sort of cross hatch shader that really just revealed different levels of detail, based on lighting and the curvature of the tentacles.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Ted Kotsaftis:
It's not that complicated. We just spent a bunch of time trying to get it to work. So, yeah, I mean I think if you looked at the scene file, which is in a program that is dead at this point, it's not super remarkable, but it just like, I think we did it. We're clever about how we approached it.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. That's the secret that I find to almost anything, though. It's once you know the secret, it's not that complicated, but you have to have that idea, you know? It's like a weird form of creativity.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah. I mean, it's a balance of like not overthinking it, not making it overly complicated and just trying a bunch of different, trying things out, yeah. I mean sometimes the simplest idea is really the way to go, just figuring out how to implement it in a smart way.
Adam Gault:
I think in that case, too, for that project, like the client was very concerned about making sure that the animation reflected the artwork on the bottle, like you mentioned. So we were like, we were very hypersensitive to making sure that it worked as well and if they hadn't been so adamant about it, like we maybe would have approached it in a different way, but we were trying to be very careful there. And I think also part of the thing, the success for me with that case is like there's like really, beautiful, smart 3D happening and then it's worked together with some 2D animation and compositing that like kind of, it's like a magic wave of your hand or something where like you can't tell exactly what's happening in each case.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Adam Gault:
And I think that sort of complexity of like multiple executions, all kind of working together helps it feel more successful.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah. We also had a couple of people that I worked at Psyop with who helped set the rig up for the animating the squid. Then Jacob, the guy I mentioned earlier also worked on the project. So we had a really great team figuring this one out and executing it.
Joey Korenman:
So the first sort of project that we can call a Block & Tackle project is the Krakken Rum, and at that time, I'm assuming it wasn't official yet. So then what was it like to get from, you know, there's two of you and you're doing projects as Block & Tackle and now, right before we started recording, Ted, you mentioned you have about 10 people full time right now. What did the scaling look like? You know, was it like, "Well, we need a producer," or did you just need more designers, more animators? How did it grow?
Ted Kotsaftis:
It's fairly organically, I guess, is the right answer. It was never like a big like investment and push to get computers and people in here all at the same time. We just kind of work was sort of coming our way and we were slowly growing and people who were a good fit just stuck around and yeah, that's kind of how it happened.
Joey Korenman:
And how were you getting work at that time? Because if you were coming from the world of freelancing and now all of a sudden you're competing with the people that were your clients. Did you have a strategy at that point or were people just finding you?
Ted Kotsaftis:
People were just finding mostly Adam had their contacts [inaudible 00:32:36] from the CMT job. Is that like ...
Adam Gault:
Yeah, I mean in some ways I think we're just very lucky. Like, we started on very early on, I think in the very beginning, we've mentioned this in the past, but you know, when Motionographer was Tween and then the early days of Motionographer and they had that cream of the crop list and you know, I was working independently as Adam Gault Studio so, and it was alphabetical order. So my name was at the very top. So I'd assumed that people would go down the list and like, you know, start at the top. And so I feel like people found that, found me from that. Thank you very much, Justin Cone.
Ted Kotsaftis:
We should have named ourselves AAA Block & Tackle.
Joey Korenman:
ACME.
Adam Gault:
Right, but then also it is a relationship business, ultimately. So we, you know, some of the people that I worked with on the CMT projects, well, right when I left Eyball, I started working directly with the team at CMT and then as they left and they sort of planted seeds for us in other places. And you know, if you sort of consistently do good work and people are happy with the quality that you're delivering, then they're more likely to keep calling you, right? And so around the same time when Ted and I started working together more officially, we started getting work for more sort of bigger projects for like NBC news. And those are projects where like we needed to have a little bit of bigger team.
Adam Gault:
So once the project kind of got solidified that gave us a sort of like a buffer from a business standpoint to say like, "Okay, let's hire this person or get them to stay for a year or to help us with this or whatever." So, you know, the projects were sort of coming in and then we were able to sort of like organically grow as things solidified. So there was never a point where like we never really had like a super solid business plan or like took out a loan to help pay for like the initial office space. It just, we were very lucky in the sense of like the work that we were getting was supporting the sort of growth of the studio.
Joey Korenman:
And how did you know at that time how much to charge? Because you know, as a freelancer you have your rate and then I think a lot of freelancers can imagine sort of like one or two levels up in terms of a budget, but then you get a graphics package from ABC or ESPN or something like that. How do you even know how to bid that? Did you have a producer at that point?
Adam Gault:
No.
Ted Kotsaftis:
No.
Adam Gault:
That's probably why they keep coming back to us, we're probably really cheap.
Joey Korenman:
Got it.
Adam Gault:
Yeah.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah, "The work looks fine, but gosh, these guys are cheap."
Adam Gault:
Maybe, yeah, I don't know. We just kind of just like the projects, we just kind of figured it out. I don't have a specific ... I think, we did just kind of figure it out but generally, you know, a lot of our projects, like the clients basically know what they want to spend and so they ask you for a number and then it's a dance every time, but essentially like you're going to end up where they want to be. So you sort of like dance around and then eventually you end up with that number. So I think over time, like the more that you do that, the more you kind of know what the expectations are going to be from the client side of what the numbers should be.
Adam Gault:
I did, I mean one anecdote, like early on when I was working by myself, I had a call from a network to do a show package. It was like basic motion graphics show package. And I actually asked producer friend of mine who was from Eyball like to help me put a bid together, which she did. And so I presented the pit and it, you know, it was like Eyball level budget and the response was like, "We would never pay half that much." And I was like, "Oh, it's okay. Like let's figure it out. I'll do it." And then they were like, "No, we don't want half of your effort." So like, you know, of course like I had no idea. I was just guessing but then that was sort of like informative of like, "Okay, next time I get a project, I got to like, tone it down a little bit." Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
That's interesting and I wonder why ... I mean I think people worry about that. That even if you have the capability as a freelancer and maybe you've got like a great Rolodex of people you can bring in to subcontract, you can do the same quality of work as a studio, but they're worried that if you try to charge as much as a studio, that will happen. So it's really interesting. Sorry, I don't know how common that is. So, so how did you think about it in terms of like ... Because obviously as a studio you cannot charge freelancer rates, you'd go out of business pretty quickly. So just talk a little bit more about sort of the learning curve in terms of how to charge, how to manage clients that now look at you as Block & Tackle. Not as Adam and Ted.
Adam Gault:
Early on, we had friends that you could ask for advice and stuff, but we did have an executive producer for a while who had worked ... Ted had worked with this guy up and stuff. So he was very experienced and was able to put budgets together and help us with that. So we've, we had some expert help for sure.
Ted Kotsaftis:
I'd say like the sort of relationships with the client and how to, what to charge them and how they view you. It's different, just different per client. I mean, clients that we've had since the beginning, our relationship is kind of very similar to the way it was, whereas a new clients see us differently. Just you're kind of redefining your story for new clients and your relationships evolve differently with different clients.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Ted Kotsaftis:
I mean the people that ... Yeah, we have certain clients that we have worked with for so long and it's sort of a different relationship we have with them than we have with some newer clients. But it's, yeah, so does that make any sense? That probably doesn't make any sense.
Adam Gault:
I mean, I think to follow up on that, it's like I actually feel like I can see it really clearly from both sides, right? It's like in every case, when you're trying to sort out the logistics of the project, there's like a risk on both sides.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Adam Gault:
It's like there's a risk for the clients, like they need to deliver to whatever thing that they're trying to make and whoever they're trying to satisfy and they're scared that it may or may not work out and so ...
Joey Korenman:
[crosstalk 00:39:07], yeah.
Adam Gault:
Yeah, and so like with a freelancer I think it's a little bit more of a risk and so they feel like it should probably be cheaper, where like a studio that has like a longer resume, more experience, more examples that they could show like how they completed something, it feels safer. And so it's like you feel like you're sort of paying for that comfort, right? And then from the studio's perspective it's the same thing. It's like it's with a well established client you've worked with a lot, there's a rapport, you understand what the feedback's going to be like, that process.
Adam Gault:
And so you can make a better judgment of how much you're going to put into, whereas with a newer client, it seems like the project simple but you don't know how many levels of approvals there's going to be. Are they going to make you start over? So there's no magic formula. It's like every time, I mean, we still do this now, it's like you start by putting a number together based on like the the actual days and time that you think it's going to be. And then you kind of have to make like a magic judgment call.
Joey Korenman:
Right, you sacrifice a chicken and then ...
Adam Gault:
Yeah, exactly. There's a lot of unknowns and you just try to do the best you can. And then I think once you've established something with a client, those sort of like ground rules of what the project's going to be the structure of it, then you got to just got to go all in and you have to make it the best you can possibly make it, so ...
Joey Korenman:
Yeah, I think you just brought up a really good point and this has come up once or twice before, is that, you know, some smaller studios and even freelancers may get frustrated when they find out that a client's willing to pay twice as much to have the studio do it or a bigger studio. But that there's a premium that you can, you can pay assurance or safety, basically. Right? Because the producer that's hiring you is also kind of sticking their neck out, too. So that's really cool, and so I think that's like a good segue into the next thing I want to talk to you guys about.
Joey Korenman:
When you go to Block & Tackle's website and you scroll down through the work, I mean it's hard to imagine that less than 300 people have worked on this stuff because it all looks so different. You've got a project you did for The Simpsons that looks like someone who animates for The Simpsons did it. And I don't know, maybe they did. Maybe you grabbed a freelancer that worked in there. You've got things that are almost completely footage based. You've got really tricky 3D execution, stop motiony looking things. And so, at this point it's pretty easy to show your work to a client and say, "Look, we can do all these things," but at some point you had to convince someone to trust you to do a thing you'd never done and you couldn't point to a thing on your reel and say, "Look, we've done stuff that looks like The Simpsons. We've done goofy cell animated stuff." How do you convince a client to take that chance on you and to do something that they can't see evidence of that you've done?
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah.
Adam Gault:
[inaudible 00:20:12].
Ted Kotsaftis:
I mean sometimes some might be more ...
Joey Korenman:
Blackmail.
Adam Gault:
Yes.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Blackmail. I think so we have a lot of repeat clients and since they know us and they have afforded us opportunities to sort of take a risk and try something that we might not, you know, have on our reel so to speak, so that has helped. We don't really have to do too much convincing for some reason, maybe at this point now, because you can look at our site and it is like technically all over the place that maybe that is a comfort to clients.
Adam Gault:
Yeah, I mean I think a lot of studios are operating in a similar way now, but we sort of, I think the way that we work is a little bit more like an agency type of model where we are getting asked to concept ideas and then we execute them. So there's, it's very rare that we're responding to like a brief where the concept or the visual direction is already established. And so we are presenting concepts where we think this is the best way to do it and if the client ... or the best concept, right? And if the client also thinks it's a great concept, then like we are sort of like by default have to figure out how to get it done.
Adam Gault:
And so we've definitely put ourselves in situations before where we're like, "I'm not exactly sure how we're going to make The Simpson's character look like The Simpsons," but we've been around long enough and we know enough people who we can sort of like tap into to help us make that happen. So, yeah, I mean, I think the convincing part just comes in us like really thinking hard about what's the best solution for this
PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:44:04]
Adam Gault:
Really thinking hard about what's the best solution for this brief, and convincing them that it's a really great idea. Once the idea is kind of sold, the execution part is less difficult. We just basically say, it's going to work. We're going do it.
Joey Korenman:
We'll figure it out.
Adam Gault:
Right.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
We've ever presented a job, then it was like, well, I don't know how the hell we're going to do this, but you should pay us. So I feel like we present ideas and present them with the confidence that it's going to look like what these frames look like.
Adam Gault:
Right. And, and I feel, sounds a little bit like gloating maybe, but I feel that we've always delivered. I'm sure there's been a project here or there where I could have been a better than we were able to achieve, but I think in general our reputation is doing a good job delivering what we've, what we've promised.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. So I think some studios and maybe this is changing, I've talked to Joe Pilger who's sort of a consultant/coach to studio owners and he talks a lot about positioning and how do you differentiate your studio from another studio if you're kind of making the same thing. And I think studios used to differentiate a little bit more on the style, their sort of house style. And now, I mean looking at your work, there is no house style, but there does seem to be a lot of quirkiness and this sort of a sensibility that goes through everything. Even sort of more straight forward pieces, you can kind of feel that there's something slightly off kilter. And I'm assuming that that comes from the two of you. Is that a conscious thing that you're trying? Because I mean that is essentially your differentiator. You could go probably a block away and there's a studio that can make something as pretty, but it won't have that weirdness that you guys bring to it. So I'm curious if, I'm curious if that's a conscious thing and is that sort of a selling point that you focus on?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
It's certainly a conscious thing. Honestly. The weirder the better for us.
Joey Korenman:
That's great, I love it.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
But you know that it sounds like we just want to make like stuff for Adult Swim, but like hopefully it can be seen through all of our even more serious projects that there is, I don't know what the word we use is mischievous aspects to it. I mean I sometimes say to Adam that like, I think that our work is best, like for working on our projects that are best for us are the ones that air after midnight probably just because they're super fun to work on because a little bit more freedom. But you know, we tried to bring in some sort of something that's off-kilter or mischievous about the project just because it, yeah, it's just us. It just feels right for us.
Adam Gault:
Yeah, it's more fun. It's more fun for us too to, you know, everybody says they want to see something that they'd never seen before and that's probably unachievable. But it is fun to sort of say like, I haven't quite seen a promo cut that way or even just for us to try and make something that is, that we've never made before. It just makes them more interesting.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
Yeah. I mean what we say like quirkiness is not necessarily trying to be funny, but there's a way to try to have like an element of the project that is, you know, interesting.
Adam Gault:
Or unexpected in some way.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
Unexpected. Yeah.
Joey Korenman:
So I want to talk a little bit more about sort of the trajectory of your business. So now has Block & Tackle been officially Block & Tackle since 2014 or was it earlier than that?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
I think it was 2014, or we did that crack and round job in 2012 right.
Joey Korenman:
Got it. So you're a couple of years away, but you're closing in on a decade. And I'm curious if you have any idea of what's helped you and the team sort of stay successful and solvent while you know, a lot of studios go out of business. It's kind of a risky business to get into, but it seems like you guys have just sort of trucked along like at a nice steady pace. Do you have any insights into why that might be?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
Hopefully the work speaks for itself. I mean that ultimately is, you know, I think why we get calls back. I think we're generally pleasant to work with and think that also helps.
Adam Gault:
I think from a business standpoint too, we haven't done anything too crazy extravagant and like our office is in Queens, which I think is great and it's comfortable and everyone's happy. But yeah, we haven't, I mean, I don't want to say we haven't taken risks, but I feel like we've been lucky that there's never been a point where we're like, if this thing doesn't work out, we're in trouble.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. So it's interesting. I mean, cause I was going to ask you about this on the Animalators interview, which was in 2017 so about three years ago, Zach asked you how big your staff was and the answer was 10 people full time. And that's what Ted said this morning when we started recording. And so the head count at least hasn't grown or I'm sure it's grown a little bit fluctuated. But you know, so to me that sounds like you guys aren't trying to actively grow. Like, you know, some people have this mindset of, well we were 10 people last year. If we're not more than that the following year, then we're not winning. And that can be dangerous as a studio. So, you know, so it sounds like that's a conscious thing, but maybe you could just talk a little bit about your mentality about growing the studio. How big would you like it to grow or is this kind of the ideal size?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
I think this is a pretty good size.
Adam Gault:
It feels manageable. I mean, Ted and I like to be involved in things, I think we are both makers, less like entrepreneurs in the sense of like just want growth. So for me it's like we want to make sure the quality of the works is up to our expectations and that the projects are interesting. And so as long as we're producing stuff that we're happy with, unless there's like a logistical need for growing because you know, we need more people to help get the work done. It doesn't really feel like there's any other real reason to do it.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
Adam Gault:
So yeah, I mean ultimately if the growth that we would be seeking is to sort of make sure that we're helping to ensure that everybody, the staff and ourselves was not overworking ourselves of what we're able to kind of keep the quality of the workup. If we needed to grow to make that happen, then we would, but you know, so far I think we're sort of happy with where we're at.
Joey Korenman:
Gotcha. And as far as capacity goes, are you at the point of turning away work because you know, everyone's booked on the team and so you have to actively make a choice. We turned the job down or we grow like, is that happening?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
A little bit? I mean, we turned stuff down just because we're at capacity, but yeah, now that happens.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. It's interesting too. I mean, I know that it sounds, and I'm sure everyone can tell, it's definitely important to both of you to still be involved in the actual creation of the thing. And you know, from what I've learned from talking to studio owners on this podcast is it just gets harder and harder the closer you get to, I don't know, maybe 20 employees or something like that. There's a threshold where it's not possible anymore unless you hire a CEO or something like that. That's interesting. And I'm really curious to watch Block & Tackle over the next three to five years and see if you sort of maintain the size, cause it, you know, your work's really good and I'm sure there eventually will be pressure to grow that you'll have to respond to, you know?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
I mean Adam and I liked to be involved in everything, but we have a very talented and capable staff. I mean these people here are just amazing. So it's like, we don't have to hold hands, but we'd like to help. We like to be involved.
Joey Korenman:
Get your hands dirty?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
But you're right. I think the bigger that you would get would sort of diminish our ability to be involved.
Adam Gault:
Yeah. Actually I wanted to add earlier when we were talking about, you know, looking at our website, we're seeing the variety of types of work. I think it's testament to the fact that like Ted and I are, we're not like control freaks in the sense of like we want it to be our vision. Cause it's definitely not.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
We are sort of enablers, right?
Adam Gault:
We don't have certain agendas in terms of style or execution. So we are not only willing, but really encouraging everyone to sort of put their own ideas forward and take ownership when they can.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
I think a really great example of this is when we worked on the Always Sunny package for FX for the past eight years. Basically their brief is, you know, make it weirder than last year.
Joey Korenman:
Right.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
Which is amazing. And that's like an amazing project that got to be working on every year.
Adam Gault:
And so usually what we do is everyone just kind of throws in ideas. And the concept of that ended up being chosen by the clients this year was presented by our intern from last summer, Kate. Who was incredible. And she had this really great idea. And so it was really exciting for her and for us to see this concept that we ourselves never would've come up with. And that was also one of those projects where it was clear in her mind and in our minds kind of like how we would execute it, but we did have to tell the clients like, trust us, it's going to work. We haven't seen anything quite like it, we can't really point you to a specific example of like what's going to happen, but you know, they are going to morph and get more weird as the spot goes on. Yeah. And that makes it fun for us as well.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. So I want to talk a little bit about some of the technique and style that's present in your work. And I found an ask me anything that you both did on Mixed Parts a little while ago and just take a moment to pour out a little coffee for Mixed Parts. Just announced that they're shutting down, but there's some great conversations on there everyone can go look at, and we'll link to this one. And Ted, somebody asked you sort of about the animation style that's present in a lot of Block & Tackle work. And you had this very interesting answer. I'd love to just hear a little bit more about, you said all animation is character animation. Good animators should be able to evoke a feeling whether what you're animating has legs or not. And I'd love to hear what you mean by that cause I've never heard it put that way.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
Oh, I don't remember what that was a response to, but I guess sometimes I hear animators who say like, Oh, I really want to work on a character job or I want to animate a character. And like, I guess my thought is that all of your animation should have a character to it. You know what I mean? Even if you're animating a box, you know, how do you want that box to feel? You want it to move?
Joey Korenman:
Is it happy? Is it content?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
Absolutely. Yeah, use adjectives like that even to common shapes because I think that it's important to have intention behind how you're making things move even if it's not a character. Yeah, no, I'm a strong believer in that you can animate boxes and lines and evoke feelings out of it and that should, for me is as interesting as actually animating a biped or a cartoon character. More interesting in a way for me I think.
Adam Gault:
Yeah, I think it's important we encourage everyone to ask why they're doing something in a certain way. Because you can make really tight key frames with beautiful eases. But if the intention is not clear then I think it kind of rings hollow even though it moves in a nice way. Right?
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. I mean it's like a really good exercise that everyone listening, like next time you're animating in after effects and it's a piece of type you know, even just thinking that one extra level, it's kind of like a little, I don't know, it's like a secret trap door opens in your brain. It gives you more ideas. Yeah. So Adam you had an interesting answer in that same ask me anything and I think you were talking about, you know, sort of how do you balance the dual role of designer and animator. And this is something I always struggled with too, where, you know, if I'm designing something that I'm going to animate, there's a part of me that's like, well don't design it too hard. You know, cause you're going to have to figure out how the hell to do it.
Joey Korenman:
And so I think the question was, are you already thinking about animation when you're designing? And what you said was design is so hard that I can't possibly consider the animation at the same time. On the other hand, I'd usually only design things I know I can animate myself. So animation must be in the back of my mind. I'd love to just hear a little bit more about that. Maybe starting with, why do you think design is so hard? I mean, I think I agree with you and I think animation is hard too, but design is hard in like a different way. I'm curious if you could talk about that.
Adam Gault:
Yeah, I don't know if I'd say it exactly that way now, but I think design is hard because you're sitting in front of like a blank sheet of paper. You have like a brief and you start to pull references, but you have to conjure something out of nothing. And with animation, if you're jumping into the animation from a design frame, then there's already some inherent personality or emotion that's built into the designs that you could work from. So it feels a little bit easier just in terms of like the initial start. I mean, animation is very hard in terms of just the labor required to make it happen, but I don't think it's conceptually as difficult to conceive. But that's it.
Adam Gault:
I mean, for me personally, I think I mentioned this at the beginning, but I went to art school, but I didn't have like a strong foundation like design education. So it feels a little bit like a struggle every time. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of times, you know, you can picture in your mind things that you've seen before but don't know exactly how to achieve it. Or I think everyone knows when they look at design work, there's some sort of undefinable magic too, like a beautiful design that is hard to kind of put your finger on. And sometimes it just requires like nudging something a little pixel one way or the other up and you know, flip the composition in then it feels right. And so there's a lot of trial and error until you kind of land on something.
Joey Korenman:
And it still feels that way. That's one thing that I was always wondering about when I see really great designers cause I consider myself a solid B minus designer. And so usually what it feels like if I'm designing something is I have like a vague idea of what I'm going after and then I'm just throwing darts for an hour until finally I hit something. Does it still feel that way for you? I'm sure you have a much clearer vision than you used to maybe, but it's still, you don't get it on the first try?
Adam Gault:
Oh yeah. Totally, I mean I throw darts probably for four hours then. I mean there are a couple of little, these are dumb things, but a couple of little tricks maybe for me is like, I keep everything up on the screen that I - like multiple concepts or you know, different frames from a sequence, everything's on the screen at once because you can bounce back and forth really easily and see like the purple on that frame works nice. Let's try to get over there and see how that feels like. I think that makes a big difference. And then this is, you know, workaholic and nerdy of me, but I'll often put frames on my phone or put them on the TV at home just to look at it in a different context. So I'm riding home on the train and bring it up on my phone and then I can see it in a different way and then, you know, make tweaks the next time I'm at my desk. But yeah, I don't think there's any secrets, that's for sure. Not that I know of.
Joey Korenman:
It's discouraging to hear, but not surprising. Ted, I'm curious to hear your perspective too because you know, when I was doing client work, I was primarily animating and I really enjoyed working with designers who were way better than me because they would come up with stuff I just wouldn't, but also they would come up with stuff that I didn't know how to animate yet. And whenever I tried to design my own stuff, I found it was like difficult to do that because the animator part of me was sort of yelling in the background like stop, you don't know how to do that. And I'm curious, how do you feel about that tension between designing something amazing but also knowing we're going to have to also animate it in the future?
TedTed Kotsaftis:
I certainly don't consider myself a designer. I do some designing, but it's not my strong suit. But I don't know. I kind of like leaving business out of it and I get excited about things that are being presented that are maybe hard to do or we don't know how to do them. And generally, I don't really shy away from them unless then I look at the budget and be like, Oh well actually we're going to lose money if we do this this way. In that case I'm like, that's the only time I'm like, I don't want to, let's not do that. But no, I feel like the general attitude of the studio is we'll figure it out. I mean, there's X-hundred websites. There's two examples and they're right next to each other.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
It's this FX American's job with the paper shredder that we pitched that idea and we literally had no idea what we were going to do with it. They picked it and they were like, Oh, you can come out to LA and shoot for a day in our studio with the Phantom camera and we'll get it all done. And Adam and I were like, we're going to pass because what we're going to do instead is we're going to rent a camera for half and we're going to shoot it over and over again until we figure out what the hell we're doing. And that's what we did. And that length of job above it is this ESPN NBA Countdown job, which is this 3D lights on the houses, Christmas lights animated. And that job was like, Oh, thank God. Like I know exactly how to do that job. [inaudible 01:03:31] to them, but we try not to limit ourselves.
Joey Korenman:
Yeah. So actually, I was just out in Stockholm recently at Hyper Island and I was talking to a bunch of students there and one of them asked me a question and this is something that I used to worry about a lot when I was newer. I'm curious what you two think about this. You know that thing that I love saying yes to things you don't know how to do. I think a lot of people fear that that can really bite you in the ass if you, I mean, what if it just turns out you couldn't figure out how to make the shredding paper concept work, what would you have done? Oh my gosh. And it can be a little bit of like an anxiety spiral. Yeah, I'm just, I'm curious how you two would answer that.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
I don't think we have anxiety issues here, so maybe that helps and we're a little anxious about, you know-
Adam Gault:
It's good to be scared a little bit. I think it makes, it's more satisfying when it works out. Right? The paper shredder is a good example because I actually wasn't, I felt like the spot looked pretty good when it was done, but I don't know if I would've been like this is the greatest. But I feel like that's one of the projects where people bring it up often. Oh that paper shredder thing you guys do is so cool. And it's like, that's a surprise to me because I felt a little anxious about it as we were making it. It's more exciting. I mean going back to the Crack and spot too, for the client to come to us and be like, the illustration style is very important. You have to maintain the integrity of the style and then to be able to execute it in a way that works is exciting. And if you had backed off on your ambition at the very beginning, that end result wouldn't feel as good.
TedTed Kotsaftis:
Yeah. I guess the 20 years of experience also does help alleviate anxiety about getting stuff done. Cause I think Adam and I are pretty confident that we can finish or help lead projects across the finish line.
Adam Gault:
I actually feel slightly bad about that now because, and in most instances we can point back to something that Ted and I have done in the past and be like, let's make it kind of like that thing
PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:06:04]
Adam Gault:
Something that Ted and I have done in the past and be like, "Let's make it kind of like that thing we did 15 years ago." There's almost always an example of something that we can reference.
Speaker 1:
Yeah, that's interesting. I guess that in some way, it's the downside, is that you'd probably lose a little bit of that pit in your stomach feeling because you've seen just about anything that can be thrown at you. So I want to talk about how you two sort of vet talent. I mean, I'm imagining you do have an amazing team of staff, but also a rolodex of freelancers and people that you've worked with for years and years. And so I'm curious, are there any things you specifically look for in say, a designer? Sometimes there are things that can give away that someone just knows the software really well, but they don't really know the craft part. And I'm curious, how do you sort of vet people and, and I'd be curious to hear both on the design and animation side, what tells you that they are good?
Ted Kotsaftis:
Generally not use of software. Because I suppose, I mean, unless we're hiring a freelancer to do something very specific, you're going to need another software [inaudible 01:07:11] but if you're hiring a staff person, I'm less concerned if you're like a maestro in After Effects or, but if the animation on your reel, however you made it, looks great and has excellent timing, and pacing, then that's it better sell for me. I mean, I don't know, I'm pretty good judge of animation and we can sort of tell even if there's only a few things on somebody's real if they like really get it or not. You know what I mean?
Speaker 1:
Yeah. Are there any sort of... What I always used to look for because I've seen a million reels, and you can always tell when someone's just using the default easy ease on everything. Is there anything like that, that you look for or things you like? I always loved when I'd see hold key frames, because they used to be less popular. Stuff like that. I used to be like, "Ah, okay this person kind of thinks a little differently."
Adam Gault:
I think that goes back to what we were saying before about making sure that however you're making something move, it's intentional and appropriate for whatever the project is. That kind of thing stands out for me. I think, if it's got some sort of crazy bouncy kind of execution, but it should be something serious. You can see there are nice key frames but they're not appropriate for whatever the thing that they're trying to say is, that stuff definitely stands out. I've personally, I find that reels are really important. And I know there was a big debate in our industry in general about reels, but I often will look at someone's real and make a judgment call right away without even really looking at the design or the key frames.
Adam Gault:
Like how has the thing cut together? What choices did they make? What is the title? What is their name look like the beginning? Because I think though, if somebody has really thought through those things and made an effort to think it through, then it tells me that they have a certain way of thinking that resonates well with me.
Speaker 1:
That's really good to hear. One of the things I tell students all the time is to pay attention to those little details. And I mean, I even go as far as saying like, "It's better if you email [email protected] versus, [email protected] And having a reel that's 30 seconds long and full of good work versus, a minute long and has a couple of stinkers on it. That's really interesting.
Speaker 1:
And speaking of reels, you guys have a real. And it's seven minutes long~ and very unorthodox. So we'll definitely link to this in the show notes. And it's really actually, it's surprisingly fun to watch for a seven minute long real. I mean, the work is obviously amazing, but it's, I mean it's hard to make anything seven minutes long that that is watchable. So I'd love to hear the story of that and maybe you can just tell everybody listening a little bit about it.
Adam Gault:
Sure. Well, I like reels in general. I like editing in general. So I think it's a fun challenge to give yourself. The way that one came about, if you're looking for your reel to be kind of a statement and executing it in a way that feels a little bit different is something that's exciting. And we had this concept of are you using like three boxes, basically it to have projects play off of each other on screen. And we had cut this little, like a test, to a piece of music. Where the three boxes would come up, and also I was thinking that it would be interesting if there are no cuts, everything just faded up, fade up and down. It was really just a challenge to see if it could work.
Adam Gault:
And I thought it looked pretty good. And there's a music studio Fall On Your Sword, that we've worked with a bunch and they're really incredible. And we asked them to send us, if we could use piece of their music for our reel, and they sends us a bunch of examples and the one track that we really liked was a great track but it didn't really work with this three up kind of idea that we had been working towards.
Adam Gault:
So then on a whim I just was like, "What happens if we, if we sort of make a grid with like more boxes that could be interesting." And without really even thinking about it they were here at our studio and I kind of showed them the test and I was like, "I think this could be kind of cool, but it takes a really long time for all the boxes to kind of get up on the screen. And I'm afraid that if we make the track longer, it's going to have to be like seven or eight minutes for it to really work." And they were like, "We'll do that for you." And before we had a chance to kind of totally sorted out they made this like seven minute track. And so I felt like we had to follow through because they had already done the work.
Adam Gault:
And so from there it was just like, "Okay, we're in this, we're going to do it." And then it sort of became this thing where it's, I find it very satisfying to look at where like, working out on the studio. Other people were kind of liking it. And there was definitely a bit of anxiety about, "Oh shit. We're making a seven minute reel at a time when everyone's like less than a minute. 45 seconds is best." But this sort of mischievous side of us was like, "Well, this is kind of interesting. No one else has done this before. It's satisfying to watch and let's just go for it." So in terms of the way it's executed, there's like a formula basically. And what's happening, we sort of cut the track to, or cut the imagery traditionally to the tractors in Premiere. A straight timeline, one cut after another, and then dropped it in after effects to create the cascading grid thing. And then after that I kind of went in and tweaked some of the sections in After Effects to add some visual interests along the way.
Speaker 1:
Yeah. So for everyone listening, I mean, it'd be hard to imagine you'll have to go watch it. But essentially it's like a six by six grid, and each square is the real, but it's offset in timing, and sometimes you'll take four of those cells and combine them into one to show something bigger. And I mean, I can't imagine how much work this took to do. So as far as the main purpose of a reel is to generally get work or at least get attention, get more eyeballs on your work. Was it a success? Did you get a good response from this?
Adam Gault:
It was interesting. Yeah, we have. In the beginning there were some general high fives, which it's all good. But then kind of fell off and then interestingly, that was a year ago, just in January this year we've had a bunch of phone calls where people were turned onto our website. And then there were like, "Oh and we saw your reel and Oh my God, this is great. It's crazy. I've never seen anything like it." So that was really nice to hear a year down the road, for sure.
Speaker 1:
That's awesome. So I have a few more questions for you guys. Your studio has been around for a while now, and you're kind of keeping it this size, but the industry changes constantly and you've both been around long enough to see cycles come and go, and trends come and go. And so, doing something like this experimental form of a show reel, it seems really, really smart. And it also seems like block and tackle is a little bit more visible now in terms of the PR that you guys are doing, and maybe some of the marketing and things like that, press releases and articles. Are you finding that you need to do a little bit more these days besides make awesome work to continue pulling in enough jobs?
Ted Kotsaftis:
I don't know if it's a, if we have to. But my wife who's an architect, she had a meeting at her company and they were talking about marketing, and I had a really great little quote that someone said there and they said that which really resonates with me, is that "The great work is necessary but not sufficient." It's like, the great work is a given, you have to do it. But you also need to reach out and look for new clients, and look for new work. And I think I mean, we're doing that not as out of necessity, but just out of, we'd like to just expand our options and keep avenues open for new possibilities of relationships.
Speaker 1:
And what's the primary way you do that? I mean, are you going to agencies doing real showings? Are you doing like sort of traditional sales trips? So you go into Promax and buying people drinks, what's your process?
Ted Kotsaftis:
I guess it would be best described as grassroots. I guess in a way we have gone to a couple clients that we already work with and started did like a capabilities presentations. Which are really just kind of catching up with people we already know and sort of we were introducing ourselves to them. And let them know I yes, we do this type of work for you, but we also do this type work for other clients that you might not have seen. To just sort of redefine our relationships with them and hope that leads-
Speaker 1:
Yeah. It's very smart.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Projects. But yeah we haven't done any agency lunches. We don't... Well, I went to Promax once and I felt sort of out of place, and that was not the right spot for us to do sales. But yes, we don't do any sales at all.
Adam Gault:
Yeah.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Maybe we should, I don't know.
Adam Gault:
Yeah. I think what the thing about trying to get your existing clients or even new clients to understand what you can offer is important, and I think part of our the effort that we've been trying to make is... And I'm not sure our website does a very good job of this, but really everything on our website, not only did we execute, but we concept it as well. And so how do you get clients to understand that? Part of the reason why there's this crazy variety of stuff is because we are coming up with the concepts ourselves. And getting clients comfortable with the idea that they can ask us to get involved early on in the process. Then it's more exciting for us that way to be as deeply involved as possible.
Adam Gault:
So I guess the effort that's sort of the change is just is trying to be more conscious of that. Because we've had projects in the past that were big projects, that required lots of thinking and lots of logistics that we cut a little montage of, and put it on Vimeo and then never mentioned to anyone. We did our rebrand for CNBC, which is a worldwide thing. This was like five or six years ago. We did it. We executed it. And then never told anybody we did it. Not for any reason other than we were busy, we were just busy. And it didn't... But we probably should made more of an effort both for us and for the staff, staff people working on things. It's exciting when people see things and can respond to it, so.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Yeah, I mean, I think... I mean, I know personally I have sort of a general aversion to praise. I just don't want to hear it. So I don't feel like we need it. But I think we're realizing as a company, it's okay for us to toot our horn a little bit and say we're happy with this, you should be too.
Speaker 1:
Yeah. I think that your attitude towards this stuff is probably very similar to a lot of creative people. It's sort of like, "Ah, it's a necessary evil. I know I've got to do it." Was there ever a time, I assume that you're past this point, but there are pieces that are still up on your website, The Gettysburg Address one for example, which I would say just on a personal note is probably like in the top five things clients used to send me as a style reference. I was like definitely way up there. And that's, that's a project that wasn't done for a client, I believe. So, and that's the way that a lot of studios kind of make their mark, plant their flag, get to the next levels by doing these big ambitious studio projects like that. Was there ever a time where you felt like that was necessary and you were doing that? Are you still doing that kind of stuff, or was it just never really on your mind?
Adam Gault:
From the studio perspective, not so much. Although we've started in the past few years, we've been making holiday gift for our clients. Which tends to be like an interesting kind of side project.
Ted Kotsaftis:
And we did also this year, we did a national book, what's it called? Book Lovers Day or something?
Adam Gault:
Yeah.
Ted Kotsaftis:
Which is like everyone here did a five second animation of a book that they really like, and that was really, really fun.
Speaker 1:
Oh cool.
Ted Kotsaftis:
[inaudible 01:20:23] Yeah. It was a fun studio project, everyone did something.
Adam Gault:
I mean, I think now we don't feel the need so much to have like a big sort of splashy studio project, so much. But there are certain things. I mean, I think the real is a good example too where it's like you make an effort to make something that's not for a client that can that, health to establish, you have the personality of the studio. In a way it is valuable. I mean in the past, every side project that we or that I got involved in led to client work in the long run.
Adam Gault:
So the cracking through an example like, I had made this animation, that lantern fish animation and that was that actually in combination with the Gettysburg Address piece, was the reason why we got those cracking jobs. Another project that I did with my wife that was a sort of collage based thing, that led to a project we did for Sundance channel and Anthropology. So, in every case the effort is totally worth it. And if you need to get your potential clients to understand that you can do something like they need to see it. This is a cliche but it's like, "If you don't have vines growing on your reel and they want vines growing, they're not going to trust you to do it." So you really got to make the stuff to be able to show it. Show what you can do.
Speaker 1:
Yeah. And vines growing is literally a thing that I had to do motion test for because it wasn't real.
Adam Gault:
Right. Yeah.
Speaker 1:
That was very accurate. That's funny. So, I think we can sort of wrap up with this and thank you both for your time. This has been really awesome and I think really informative to, for anyone that's thinking of starting a studio. The way that you two have gone about it, it sounds really like an awesome place to work, and a great environment. And you look at the quality of the work, it speaks for itself. And it's interesting how different you to do it than other studios. And this is something that I'm, it's been really fun for me to learn about, just how many different ways there are to exist as a studio. And so anyway, you both have been around since sort of the dawn of the age of MoGraph, and I'm curious what you think about the state of the state. I mean lots of things change and there's different players in the game now, there's more people doing this. But overall how do you feel about the place we sit in MoGraph right now.
Adam Gault:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Easy.
Speaker 1:
It's awful.
Adam Gault:
Actually for me in some ways I feel like absolutely nothing has changed. And I guess in other ways everything's changed. But we are doing similar kinds of work that we were doing 15 years ago. Every project is different in terms of the specifics of the ask. But, it hasn't really changed all that much. I think ultimately we are just... How do I put it? We're doing the same kind of work. So we're just kind of work on keeping on in a way.
Adam Gault:
I don't know. It's interesting because I think every time that seems like there's going to be huge change. Like something different happens, right? So now, this is kind of a mundane example, but it's like, everything's SD, and then it's HD, and then now you're making everything for Instagram. So it's you got to do it vertical and square and it's, "I can't believe you're making things square again."
Speaker 1:
Right.
Adam Gault:
And then different platforms are coming up and the deliverables are different. So it's they change, but the technical stuff changes. But I think fundamentally like what we're making is very similar. We're still just trying to execute a project in the most conceptually relevant way we can. And do the best work we can. Over time, and you kind of mentioned this [inaudible 01:24:36] beginning, in your early days anything new was good enough.
Adam Gault:
It was like, Oh, you had never seen it that way before and never... As society in generals, familiarity with design has gotten more sophisticated. The expectation of quality is inherent. So you have to make sure that you're starting at this baseline that's already much higher than it was 15 or 20 years ago, right? But everyone's skill level is better, and the software is better too. So, things kind of leapfrog over each other. And ultimately the challenge is the conceptual part of it, I think is the sort of the biggest challenge. And that's stayed consistent all the way through.
Speaker 1:
I am such a fan and you will be too, as soon as you head to blockandtackle.tv and GAWK at all of the brilliant work. I'm constantly amazed at just how much talent there is in this industry and how many ways there are to run a business. Adam and Ted are proof that you can own a studio, while remaining engaged in the creative process and building an amazing team that you enjoy working with. It's inspiring stuff and I really hope you learned a lot from this episode. Show notes as always are at schoolofmotion.com, and that is it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and we will be back in your ears again very soon.