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Building Your Dream Studio with Already Been Chewed's Barton Damer
Creating The Studio Where You Want to Work - Already Been Chewed's Barton Damer joins us on the School of Motion Podcast
Conventional wisdom tells you that most major MoGraph studios are on the coasts, either in Los Angeles or New York City...but Barton Damer has always bucked convention. After winning Digital Artist of the Year by Computer Arts Magazine in 2009, he chose to open his own studio focused on cutting-edge tech and eyeball-blasting design. Ten years later, his company Already Been Chewed is celebrating a decade shaking up the industry.
In a little town called Wylie, TX—not too far from Dallas, if that helps—Barton set up shop in an area better known for cowboys and BBQ than MoGraph. Despite never working in a studio himself, Barton set out to design a home for like-minded creators. In his head, he just wanted to build a studio that he would want to work at. Now he's known for working with some of the biggest clients in the world: Nike and MTV and Marvel, just to name a few.
Already Been Chewed has a slick and distinct style, something that helps them stand out from any other studio in the industry. Barton's hands-on approach has kept the quality sky-high for ten years, and he couldn't be prouder of what ABC has accomplished. But being Art Director isn't the end-all-be-all of his career, and Barton says he is just getting started. If this is what he was able to pull off in a decade, just imagine where things go from here.
Grab some BBQ and an ice-cold Sweet Tea: Barton's bringing home the bacon.
Podcast Show Notes
Here’s all the important reference material, all linked up so you can enjoy the episode!
Artists/Directors (NBA Coaches)
NAB Adobe Indesign Adobe Flash Final Cut Pro Adobe Premiere Adobe After Effects iMovie Adobe Photoshop Maya 3d Max Maxon Cinema 4D Adobe Illustrator DGK LRG Supra Footwear Tik Tok Instagram Twitter Computer Arts Magazine Photoshop Magazine Computer Arts Magazine Digital Artist of The Year Award Barton Damer's 2012 NAB Presentation Camp Mograph Nike Ringling College of Art and Design Uber Toyota Street League Skateboarding ESPN MTV Fantasy Factory Ridiculousness Snack Off Not Exactly News Marvel Star Wars Nixon Watches Disney Fox Mograph.com DFWC4D Barton Speaks at DFWC4D Louis Vuittont Houdini Mark Fancher Houdini Course Xparticles UnderArmor Adidas Vans DC Shoes DC Comics NBA NHL NFL
Hello, it's Joey. Sorry, I can't do the Joey impression. It's EJ Hassenfratz in here taking over the podcast today, along with my fellow School of Motion, creative director, Ryan Summers. And in today's episode we're chatting with one of my favorite people in the industry, Barton Damer. Now I've known Barton for about nine years now. Back in the day I used to freelance for him under the studio he currently owns called Already Been Chewed. I've also presented alongside him for many a Cinema 4D presentation at NAB. So if you've been to NAB or watched any of the presentations from NAB, you probably recognize Barton's name.
EJ: Now, Barton started in the industry working in print, then web design, then flash, which really shows his age, all the way up to now where he's currently using Cinema 4D and running a very successful studio that's worked with many high end clients like Nike, MTV, Marvel Vans, and Under Armour to name a few.
EJ: Now, what if I told you that this wildly successful studio that was working with all these big name clients was not in LA or New York City, but in a little town outside of Dallas, Texas called Wiley, which I'm sure none of the people listening to this podcast have ever heard of before. Well, Barton's story is pretty incredible in that by never working in a studio environment, he was able to build his studio from the ground up without any preconceived notions about what a studio should be or how it should work, only that he wanted to build a studio that he would enjoy working for.
EJ: Barton's career has been defined by that mantra and going against standard conventions, whether it was by methods in which he landed big name clients, all the way to how he runs his studio in a place that's more known for cowboy hats than MoGraph. Now what I hope you take away from this interview is for you to start rethinking how freelancing works, how you could build a career in freelancing and to question why successful studios are only limited to the coast right now and seem to always require long work hours. And how working towards the role of an art director shouldn't have to be the end all be all for achieving success in this field, just because that's the norm.
EJ: While we're always hearing about another big studio shutting its doors, Barton's going to actually be celebrating Already Been Chewed's 10th anniversary this year, just 10 years after Barton won digital artist of the year from Computer Arts Magazine in 2009. I always love hearing Barton's fresh take on the industry and I'm so excited to have you listened to his story. All right, let's get into it. But before we do, let's go ahead and hear from one of our stupendous School of Motion alumni.
EJ: All right, so Barton and I, we met very, very long ago at an NAB in 2012, I think it was. And it's crazy how you were working in a basement at that point and as we got to know each other, I got to see how you kind of progressed and just skyrocketed in your career and what you were doing. And I guess we can just kind of start there, just how you started in this little no-name town in Texas I guess.
Barton: Sure. Yeah. Well I guess it's worth noting that for many people you might say I'm a late bloomer. So I had worked for other places for almost 15 years before I even went out on my own and started ABC. And so you and I met probably back when I had just gone out on my own, maybe a year or two into it. And so we are actually just getting ready to celebrate our 10-year anniversary in March coming up.
EJ: That's right. Congratulations.
Barton: Yeah, thank you. We're having a big party and moving into a new studio space as well, all at the same time. So it's pretty exciting times right now around here.
EJ: So you actually didn't get into motion design right away. You actually, your background is print, right?
Barton: Yeah. Over the course of my career I've been a print designer. I can actually lay out 300 page catalogs and end design. I have done web design but felt like I wasn't actually a web developer. I was more of just building online brochures for people. But going in and doing code and things like that was never something that just, I didn't enjoy it, wasn't good at it and didn't put the effort into learning code. So quickly discovered that I did not want to do web design.
Barton: I was actually enjoying doing flash animated intros for websites back in 1999 or 2000, and quickly discovered that my favorite part of a website was everyone else's least favorite part of a website. And that was the fun animations while the website loaded. And that was kind of my first taste of doing motion design was in flash.
Barton: And then I started filming and editing skateboard videos through a series of injuries. So I'll kind of skip that portion of it. But the filming and editing of videos, so I know Final Cut, I know Adobe Premiere. Quickly learned that I didn't love sifting through footage and logging footage and being super organized with footage, things like that. It's definitely not something that I was enjoying. But what I was enjoying when I was making those skateboard videos were the animated intros and the lower thirds and all of the cool little visual effects that I was adding to skateboard videos. And so I discovered Adobe After Effects. Didn't even know what motion graphics was. My first motion graphics projects were literally me using iMovie and bringing in P&Gs with transparency and using slide transitions to bring in different layers of P&Gs from Photoshop, because I was coming from a print background and literally had no idea what After Effects was.
Barton: Discovered After effects. And then quickly realized that a lot of my work just looked flat. It didn't have some of the dimension and some of the motion graphics reels that I was seeing at that time. And than began researching 3d software, looked into Maya, 3d Max, and eventually settled on Maxon Cinema 4D because a lot of my knowledge of Photoshop and Adobe illustrator translated into Cinema 4D. So whether I was layering textures or using overlay modes, if I was bringing in Illustrator Paths and extruding them, I felt very comfortable inside of Cinema 4D being able to use that previous knowledge. And so that's kind of why I chose Maxon Cinema 4D over any of the other packages. Some of the others felt like I would be actually just changing a career path altogether if I got into Maya or 3d Max.
Barton: And for me it was important that I wanted to be a designer. I didn't necessarily want to go work at Pixar and get super good at some of these end up 3d programs. 3d for me at that time was just an extension and a way to further express my design work, moving out of Photoshop and Illustrator and then putting it into motion. So that's kind of the beginnings of how I got into Cinema 4D.
EJ: I find it ... I mean, did you go to art school at all or anything like that? Because it sounds like your career in design was rooted in design and using print and then all throughout, you're kind of taking that basis and injecting all those really great design sensibilities and injecting into your 3d work and stuff like that.
Barton: Yeah, I did not necessarily, I didn't go to an art school, that's for sure. I actually went to a Christian college. And I graduated in 1998 I was using Adobe Photoshop version two. So I always tell everybody that if you're more than three or four years out of college, you are self-taught. If you're not self-taught, you're irrelevant. And so I guess to a certain degree I'm completely self-taught, especially in the area of motion graphics for sure.
Barton: When I was in college I was learning traditional painting, so I can oil paint, I can paint with acrylics, pencil drawings, things like that. I was actually really good at photo realism. And I just hated my style with a paint brush. I never felt like an artist. I just felt like a human inkjet printer.
EJ: I think it's funny because I feel like when you talk to people and they say the word Flash, you definitely show your age. It's like, man, isn't it nice to get in the industry right now and never have to even fumble around with something like flash?
EJ: So Bart, you said that you were into skateboarding and stuff like that. And it sounds like just because you wanted to record skateboard videos, would you say that skateboarding really heavily influenced your career? I mean, it seems like what you're doing now, the type of work you're doing, you're working with professional skateboard artists and stuff like that. So it seems like that background has had huge effect in your career so far.
Barton: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, my three loves are skateboarding, hip hop and basketball. And you can kind of see that reflected in the style of work we do, the music tracks that we choose for our projects and even the clients that we're going after. I've been skateboarding ever since the first Back to the Future. You want to talk about feeling old? When did that Back to the Future come out? Yeah, it's skateboarding for all these years and it's wild. A lot of the relationships from skateboarding turned into a client work. But it was literally 15 years later. It was not any time soon.
Barton: So there were people that I would skateboard with back in Washington DC and literally 10 years or so after moving to Texas, that turned into work for well known skateboard brands with relationships from people that I grew up skateboarding with. So I had guys that I knew that went on to become pro for DGK or they were pro skateboarders for LRG clothing company. And so that was kind of a foot in the door with some really cool brands. And then once I was able to work with core brands like that, I think that that helped in gaining the attention of some of the larger brands like Nike or things like that, because you kind of are proven on the quote unquote streets, so to speak.
EJ: Right. Yeah. And I think it's crazy that you're skateboarding background really didn't pay off until how many years after you got into the career. Just showing how, I know one of your things is for skateboarders, by skateboarders kind of deal. And that's opened a lot of doors for you. So let's, let's kind of talk about your transition from where you're working full time and kind of your career arc as you went from full time to freelance, because you have a very interesting story as far as that career arc, especially where you are now, and just how things in your past have influenced how you do business today, which I think for our listeners is going to be very interesting to hear. So if you want to kick it off from when you decided to go freelance, why you decided to go freelancing and from that point on.
Barton: Sure. So I got married very young, married my high school sweetheart and we got married a month after I graduated from college. So we started a family relatively young. We in the Washington DC area and I had three kids by the age of like 28 or 29 something like that.
EJ: And it's not cheap to live there.
Barton: No. And we could not afford to live there. And what was depressing is we grew up there. And so the quote unquote bad neighborhoods, we couldn't even afford to live in those by the time we had three kids at that age. So that ended up forcing me to look around. And we ended up taking a job down here in Dallas and moved to Dallas about 13 years ago or so. Prior to that, I'd never done any freelance, pretty much ever.
Barton: But I had had a sweet gig here. We were working on primarily, I mean it was all IP. So we were creating short films, we were writing our own short films. The short films were CG. Sometimes they were backdrops for concert visuals and things like that. It was a lot of doc media and motion as well as short films for church organizations. So a lot of these large churches that have big screens and big bands up on stage, we were creating backdrops for them.
Barton: So I moved to Texas for that job and almost immediately I started getting inquiries via the internet to start freelancing for people. And I was 30 years old at this time and had never freelanced in my life. Had just worked in other places, things like that. I was actually working in churches, which is pretty crazy. Part of the story is, maybe jumping ahead here, but I've never worked for a large studio before. I've never worked for a famous studio before, so I don't know what it's like to be in in New York or LA working for some of the best studios in our industry.
Barton: I was literally doing my thing working in a church and then just started freelancing nights and weekends. And I did that for a little over three years. So my schedule turned into pretty much 40 hours a week working the day job and my wife and three young kids, get home, pretty regular hours there. Hang out with them for a few hours. And when, I don't know about you guys if you have kids or not each day, EJ, I know you've got some dogs.
EJ: One very fussy dog.
Barton: Yeah. And so by the time 9:00, 9:30 rolls around, especially in the winter when the sun's been down since 5:00 PM, my wife's ready to go to bed. And for me that meant cool, I'm jumping on the computer and I'm going to try and make some extra dough for us because we need it. We're broke. And so my routine for a little over three years turned into working from 9:30 PM till 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and then get up and be at the day job by 8:00 AM.
Barton: And so initially it was just kind of exciting of like, "Wow, I can actually make extra money and provide for my family by doing this." And then it slowly turned into, "Okay, can I fill my schedule with anything I actually care about?" it's exciting enough to be able to make some extra money. But now can I make some extra money with brands that I love or projects that I love or people that are allowing me to be more creative than their brand might be known for.
Barton: And so I was able to filter and do that and get to a point where I was working with shoe brands and doing work for the church during the day. And it was pretty surreal. And I was starting to win awards for the work that I was doing on nights and weekends. And it got to a point where I was turning down what I consider dream gigs. And I was also able to start cutting back the amount of hours that I was freelancing, just to try and be even more selective, start charging more things like that. And had gotten to a point where I was making over 75% of my income freelancing 15 hours a week. And so it was starting to make sense. "Okay, what if I could do this 30 hours a week or 40 hours a week?"
Barton: And it was even to a point where my wife was like, "Would you just do this? Why are you hesitating?" and it's like, "Well, because I don't know where the next job is coming from." And she's like, "Yeah, but for three years you've been killing it and making us extra money. So there's something there."
Barton: And so I did. I put in my resignation and scariest thing I've ever done in my life. We are a one income household and so me putting in my resignation to a job that I really liked and enjoyed, it's a scary thing to do. Because it's not like I was leaving as a bad employee or just somebody that didn't want to be under authority and or anything like that. So it came time to launch out on my own. And that was almost 10 years ago as of March 1st, actually 10 years to the day.
Ryan S.: That's amazing.
EJ: So while you were freelancing, how were you getting these gigs? Because like you said, you're in the middle of Texas. You're not in New York, you're not in LA. So was a lot of this people coming to you or were you reaching out to people?
Barton: Yeah, some of that was the relationships from skateboarding that we talked about. So at that point I was freelancing with DGK, which is a well known skateboard and street wear brand. I was freelancing with LRG. I was freelancing with Supra Footwear, doing some shoe ads for them, things like that. So yeah, so some of it was that. And then to be honest, a lot of it was just internet based. I mean you still have these opportunities today on different platforms, whether it's like a new thing like Tik Tok or when Instagram kicked in. There's people that were start killing it on Instagram, that didn't have much of a Twitter presence.
Barton: But at the time that I was launching out on my own, it was it was a time when Twitter was new, social media was new. And back then people retweeted everything. So a lot of my work was going quote unquote viral back then and I was getting just random inquiries from brands, things like that. I mean, I had also been featured a lot of different times in Computer Arts Magazine as well as Adobe Photoshop Magazine. So I'm sure of that exposure was really good. I had agencies that were in the UK hitting me up to do things. So yeah it was definitely a lot of just internet calling.
Ryan S.: For the longest time Barton, I always thought you were British because so much of your stuff showed up in the British art magazines and tech magazines. I remember, I think weren't you awarded like digital artists of the year at one point?
Barton: Yes. Yeah, 2009. Gosh that was so long ago.
Ryan S.: I remember being shocked that you were like living in Texas when I saw, because I would tell the listeners, "Do a little bit of research going back into some of your work." Because some of the stuff that you did for the illustrations and cover work and I remember Malaria Kills, I think was a piece I remember seeing. And I was like, "Dude what is this dude doing?." Because there were just a handful of people. I don't know if you guys remember or know Meats Meier but there were just a couple of these people, like you Barton, Meats and a handful of the people were integrating really crazy CG stuff at the time into composites. That didn't seem to make any sense how you're making it. It looked like a black box. And I've always thought of you as on the art side way ahead of the game. I feel like the industry has just been catching up to the choices you've made, art, style, design wise. I hope people get a chance like at this 10 year anniversary to kind of look back and do a retrospective, not just of ABC, but there's work if you're coming from before the time when people are actually looking at magazines, there's some great stuff out there that it'd be cool to be able to bring back up.
Barton: Yeah. Good. That's awesome. Thanks for bringing that up. That's really cool that you're familiar with some of that work.
EJ: Yeah. Always remember when you presented at NAB, people would look at your work and be like, "Oh man, it looks go crazy. How did you do that?" And your solutions for it were the most simple like, "Oh my God. Why didn't I think of that?" So not only were you cutting edge artistically, but also technically you weren't trying to think of the most technical solution. You're just like, "Oh, it's a spline wrap for the shoelaces. It's not that hard." And it was just the beautifulness and the simplicity.
Barton: Oh, it's, it's actually a running joke in the studio that I flew all the way out to NAB and did an entire presentation on spline wrapping and got Maxon to pay for that vacation. And I showed off the spline wrap deformer.
EJ: That's awesome.
Ryan S.: Master class in spline wrap, coming to School of Motion.
Barton: It is hilarious though because it was so simple. But to this day I'll have people that are like, "Oh man, that tutorial is a game changer for me." And I'm like sick.
Ryan S.: Well it's funny to me because I think a lot of the work, especially the last couple of years come out of ABC, other people will point out, "Wow that that feels a lot like Man Versus Machine or a couple of other studios." And I think it's interesting because I would bet the way you get to that end solution visually is on the opposite end of the spectrum of the way MVM approaches it, right? Because of that, the kind of just whatever works. It's going to work. It's kind of that print designer print background, I just need to get this to look right from this camera angle for this position. It doesn't need to be in quotes, perfect, technically.
Barton: Right. Yeah. And I think thankfully over the years I've been able to hire people that are much smarter than I am. And so I'll share some of my hacking solutions with the guys and they'll just look at me like I'm an idiot.
Ryan S.: Like, "That's wrong. Don't do it that way."
EJ: There's your notes. Where's those 500 notes?
Ryan S.: Honestly, I think that's a recurring theme. I mean EJ, you were there for the fireside chat at Camp MoGraph. Right? But I feel like that was a recurring theme in your talk all the time was that there's the way you're supposed to do it. I think if somebody didn't know, looking at just your portfolio of work at ABC, it would look like the traditional artist goes to art school. They land at a shop for awhile, they stay there five or six years, they get fed up, they leave, they start their own studio. They pull a client or two from that studio that they used to know and then they build off of that one client and they keep on going. And then everything kind of just looks like the junior version of that shop.
Ryan S.: I spent time at IF and DK and I can't tell you how many studios started that were just the junior version for a while and then they eventually found their sea legs. But your background is totally the opposite. When you said that, I'm amazed that you didn't really work at a known studio, but then you look at what ABC has become in 10 years and it you wouldn't know that at all from the outside.
Barton: Yeah. I mean I think we'll get into more of this, but that's why we are doing things maybe slightly different, is because I don't know any better and I don't know that I need to know it any differently. So the decisions that we're making are not based off of any preconceived information or experiences. It's simply just me evaluating the situation, saying to myself, "What do we need here? What kind of staff person do I need here?" And just making the decisions that seem to make sense.
Barton: And then sometimes it fits within the mold that other people are doing. And other times it's like, "Gosh, why would we have done it that way? I would never do it that way. That doesn't even seem to make sense." And so these decisions that we've made throughout growing ABC I think come from just that background of also skateboarding and being slightly rebellious. If there is a no skateboarding sign, guess what that means to me. This is probably a really dope skate spot and I should probably look around a little harder and see what there is to skate here. Otherwise they wouldn't have posted a sign. So if there are some rules to how a studio supposed to be run, I'm probably going to break those and ignore those rules.
EJ: Yeah, I think that's huge as far as how you think outside of the box and do things your own way in your art. But that resonates so much in how you started a studio. So maybe we talk about I feel like there's always this path where the MoGraph career ladder doesn't have that many rungs. You work full time, you get sick of that. Or you work at a studio, you get burnt out. You go freelance, you do that for a while. And I feel like, I think Ryan, you spoke about this at Camp MoGraph as well, is no one's retired doing what we're doing yet in our career. So we're just kind of all figuring it out. But at what point Bart did you decide like, "I want to go freelance but I also, I'm going to do my own studio now. And also I'm going to do this differently. I'm not going just going to follow the same career path of a lot of people that end up building their own studios and kind of fitting into that mold."
Barton: Yeah, I mean for me it's 100% based off of creative agenda. And what I mean by that is the work that I was doing on nights and weekends was getting me super stoked. Whether it was the client or the opportunity. So creatively, I started asking myself, "Ah, am I missing out on even cooler projects or even more creative opportunity by not going out on my own?" and so that motivated going out on my own. Once I went out on my own, at that point, like I said, I had been doing everything from print to web to motion graphics, full 3d animated spots. So the moment I went on my own, I never saw myself as a freelancer. I always knew that, "Hey whatever your brand is, I can lay out your catalog if you want me to. I can also take you and put you on national TV. And what's even better is I can think through the whole process and make it consistent for you so that you don't have to juggle a bunch of vendors."
Barton: And so that was my mentality is why can't I just be a studio? Why do I have to be a freelancer? Right? So in setting out and making decisions to grow ABC to where it is, each step of the way, it's highly motivated by creative opportunities and challenges. So when I decide to hire my first person, I'm making that decision because if I could hire a person to help field some emails and phone calls for me, that will give me more time to actually be creative. And so that's where that decision came from. And now all of a sudden, I'm not a freelancer. I'm a studio. We are a studio because there's two of us. But again, it was motivated by the creative for it. So then as we continued to grow-
Barton: ... motivated by the creative for it. So then as we continued to grow we're turning down work, and we're turning down dream gigs and it's like, okay, what do I need at this next step to help me keep pushing myself creatively? I know what I need. I need somebody that can help me with this work. You know what I mean? It sounds just very dumb and logical, but that's literally why it happened the way it happened versus a master plan of, hey, in five years I plan to be at X revenue with Y clients and 10 employees. It's literally just every step of the way. So, now we've got three employees. Well, now that we have three employees, we're still overworked.
Barton: We have opportunities that we're turning down that we really love. Who's the next type of person that could really help either me and free me up or allow me to do what I really want to do? Okay, cool. I'll bring on a full time modeler because if I have a full time modeler now my ideas are going to skyrocket because I'm not that great at modeling. But once I have a full time modeler on staff, guess what? I'm not going to hold back. I'm going to have all kinds of ideas. So I bring on a full time modeler. And so, we could just go down the line of who, what, when and why different decisions were made. But ultimately it's all creatively motivated, and like I said, it's not part of this master plan of I need or want to have my own studio. That was never even on my radar. Like I mentioned upfront, I worked at a church. That's something I'm passionate about so I was doing things that meant a lot to me. Starting a studio was not even in my plans ever.
Ryan S.: I think that's super interesting because there's so many artists, some many creatives who when they do own their shop, there's two ways you can go. The majority of the artists who started are like, "I'm so busy, I just need people to be extensions of me." If I had more arms I would do it myself, and they just take the people who just continue doing what they do and they maybe do it a little bit more efficiently or they let them scale.
Ryan S.: But the smaller group, the group that you fall into, which that's what I love that you talked about at the fireside chat was that you are totally fine sitting back and letting someone else take the reins. The amount you talked about how much you've learned from the people that you work with. That really struck me as something that's really different, that seems really, really weird knowing that I've worked at a lot of shops with people's names on the header that they're driving the vision. You don't run into that often. Can you talk at all about some of the things that you might've learned by having that attitude of just being like, we're all in it together?
Barton: Absolutely. So, in order to get to that, I think I need to explain like the difference in the mentality of being on staff versus branching out and becoming a freelancer on my own because that mentality leads to answering your question directly. So, when I was on staff, admittedly I probably had a terrible attitude as a staff person. I didn't vocalize it, but I definitely internalized it. And my attitude was, okay, a long time ago we negotiated a salary. We agreed to a salary. So now I'm just owed that, right? So, I'm on staff when I do something, why on earth would you cut it? Who are you? Why are you cutting my work? And so, it can be just something that I took for granted and felt like, what are you doing? You wouldn't cut my work.
Barton: But it's different when I go out as a freelancer. Now all of a sudden I have to provide for five miles to feed on my own. So if you cut my work, I don't care, are you going to pay me? And the answer's yes, you are going to pay me. And so, I'm good. If you don't use the 12 concepts that you paid me for Nike, I'm good. Yes, I would like it to be in this front of a store and go global. That's awesome, and that's definitely more fulfilling. But ultimately you paid me for 12 concepts that you didn't use and I'm stoked. And so, the mentality changed.
Barton: So, to answer your question, bringing it back with that mentality now as I'm building a team, I don't want to hire somebody that I think is fantastic at modeling or I hired them because I need somebody to be fantastic at animating, and then out of insecurity, I just put my fingerprints all over it. I want the best to come out of ABC so that we continue to get paid. And so, if that means collectively we put our heads together and the creative brief came out of a meeting of six of us meeting together. I don't need the credit. I just need the cash. You see what I'm saying?
Ryan S.: Yeah, totally. Well, it goes back to the DNA of your company, right? We talked 20 minutes ago about how you had awards, you were noticed, you could have really easily named the company Barton Inc or Damer incorporated because you had some mind share. You had people who were knocking on your door already to start off with a totally different name. I'm sure EG has some questions about where that name came from, but just the fact that you did to me says a lot about the mentality of the studio itself, why you're still here 10 years later.
Barton: I will say this, it is a very hard transition to go from people are calling me for my work to, people are calling us for our work. And that transition I could see being a complete disaster. Going through it, you just struggle. As an artist you start feeling like, should I make sure that I'm always the best on staff? Nobody wants to work for that dude. You know what I mean?
Ryan S.: Yeah.
Barton: But there is a tendency to question and be like, "Wait, no, I need to be the best animator on staff. I need to be the best modeler on staff. People want my work." And that is just a toxic thinking that like, who wants to be invited to that party?
Ryan S.: I was witness to that a couple of times, man. Even a couple of good friends who've put themselves through that torture. It's hard on the employees. It's hard on you as the person who's going through that mind loop of like, "Oh, man." It creates a lot of really bad habits. It's shown just in the work and you guys' success, but I think just in terms of quality of life, it seems like it's a really healthy space for you to be in, but also the people that you're attracting out to Texas. It seems like a very unique place to work in.
Barton: Yeah, I really hope so. I'm not the type of creative director that's going to just tweak it because I need to feel like I tweaked it. I think I've created a stage for others to perform in a sense. And my initial foundation and vision makes sure that we stay on vibe for ABC. That we don't go, all right, this is way too sci-fi guys. Not everything can look like sci-fi film. We got to bring this back into basketball world. There's definitely some course correction, but in general when I'm hiring people.
Barton: The other thing about that is I'm a fan of the people that I'm hiring. So, when I bring them on board I'm giddy. Like, "Ooh, I get to work with this person now." This is going to be so fun. I can't wait until that person takes my scene and animates it and does something amazing with the animation or vice versa. And I hope that they feel the same way too. If I jump into one of their files and I start doing look development, the hope is that they're not sitting there saying, "Oh geez, my boss is jumping into my files. Am I going to get fired? Or what?" It's like, no. Hopefully they're saying, "Oh, sick. The boss is excited, wants to jump into the project. It'll be pretty cool to see what he comes up with."
Ryan S.: Yeah. I mean, that's whole... I think your love of basketball really comes across, right? Because that whole idea that even if you have Jordan, you still had to have the team around him, right? I want to ask you a question. I don't know if it makes sense or not, and I think it's just hearing you talk about being excited about playing with people and being able to scout your team. What NBA coach over the history of NBA have you patterned yourself after, if at all, or have you taken any lessons from a specific coach's philosophy?
Barton: I love that question. I actually used this with my kids just a couple of weeks ago. I definitely see this... Bear with me, I'm not trying to claim I'm the greatest coach ever.
Ryan S.: I'm hoping that you're going to say the [inaudible 00:39:44], but I'm thinking of it now.
Barton: The coaches that I would definitely identify with, and I hate to even identify with them because of their greatness. I'm not comparing myself to their greatness, but Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr have two things in common.
Ryan S.: I'm smiling so much right now hearing you say that.
Barton: But here's what they have in common. If you remember the Lakers before Phil Jackson came to coach the Lakers, they had almost the exact same team, if not the exact same team that Del Harris coached the year before, and they were absolutely terrible. They bring in Phil Jackson and that next year they win what, three championships in a row? And so, the other thing that Steve Kerr has in common with that is if you look at the Golden State Warriors, they won, what was it? One or two championships before K. D. And so, they had the exact same team the year before Steve Kerr became the coach with Mark Jackson and they were a terrible team, and Steve Curry was... excuse me, Steph Curry was a nobody pretty much. And then Steve Kerr came in and he let Steph Curry start shooting contested half-court shots, and he allowed them to do what they're good at, and nothing changed on the Warriors.
Barton: And so, and in that sense, I feel like I do know how to work with talented people and allow those talented people to do what they do. I would say I'm not good. I'm not good at taking say not so talented, and nourishing them to become amazing. That's not my strength. But I do feel like if there's an all star lineup, there is something to be said for a coach that can make them work together versus some coaches that just can't get them to be their best together. So, in that sense, that's how I would compare myself to them.
Ryan S.: Nice. Yeah, I was hoping you're going to say Phil Jackson as a kid who grew up in Chicago in the 90s. Seeing what happened with The Bulls pre Phil, and then after he showed up, and then seeing him go through a totally different challenge, but using the same kind of philosophy with the Lakers, it was pretty amazing. I don't know what the sales pitch, we said a ton of great things about Barton Harry J. and we said a ton of great things about ABC, but I have to imagine Barton, getting people to get to Texas, to Dallas, to Wylie. If you were trying to... I would love to hear what your sales pitch would be if you were trying to get EJ to join the team. Because all these things are great, but man, there's a little bit of sales job I'm sure you have to do to convince someone to come over.
Barton: Yeah. Well, let me ask you some questions in answering that. Is LA affordable?
Ryan S.: No. I mean, there's a reason why I was in LA, came to Chicago, and I'm probably moving to Milwaukee when I had options on the plate to move back to LA.
Barton: Sure. So, LA is not affordable. New York is not affordable. Are the studios and our industry known for burning people out?
Ryan S.: Absolutely. And I would even add to that, are the studios that we all know and love save for a handful of them stable?
Barton: Right. Yeah. And I mean and even outside of our motion graphics industry going into visual effects a little bit more it gets even worse. So, I would submit to you, it's a pretty easy sell to tell somebody, you can buy a mansion in Texas, pay no state income tax whatsoever, and you can have your pick. Within 20 minutes of here, you can live downtown Dallas in a cool industrial loft with a bar downstairs and an Acai bowl juice bar next to it. [crosstalk 00:14:02]. Or you can live within walking distance of our studio and buy a four-sided brick mansion with a yard and literally walk to the studio. Or you can go 20 minutes East of our studio and you could buy yourself three acres and have some horses if you want. So, you can really... The location that we're in allows you to choose your lifestyle. If you are a city slicker. If you want to live on waterfront, there's a lake. There's two massive lakes, three miles from our studio, and you can take your pick, which lake front house you would like to purchase.
Ryan S.: All right. EJ, so he just convinced us. School of Motion south, we buy some cowboy boots. Let's go move to Wylie. [crosstalk 00:44:52].
EJ: There's no snow there right now, right?
Barton: No, no.
EJ: You know what? I think the funny part about it is that, sure for maybe me and Ryan were in our late 30s, early 40s, whatever. That sounds amazing, but I tell you what, I've been to Ringling a couple times and spoke to their students there, and not a single one would probably think that moving to Dallas, Texas is their move out of school, which is insane to me considering that they spend so much money going to art school, and then the first thing they want to do in deep debt is go to work at The Mill or The Buck, which is the one in two studios everyone's talking about at those schools and they want to take that debt and go intern or get a entry level job paying how much you have to pay for the cost of living in LA or New York. It just seems insane to me.
Ryan S.: See, and that's where I'll correct myself because I said earlier that I think that Barton has been ahead of the curve on the art side, and this is where I'd say correction even ahead of the curve on the arts side, but I also think very much so on the industry business side because in not too long from now we have a problem, and I hope this is what School Of Motion is starting to do and it's one of the main reasons I joined. The people that are in the industry right now can't afford to say, "I'm going to carry a lot of debt and move to LA or move to New York," and through whatever support system they have, be able to do that.
Ryan S.: But the industry needs more people, more voices that don't come from that life experience, don't come from that artistic aesthetic to be able to do stuff at the level of an ABC that's not in LA or in New York. And I think it's very much, it's early stages, early days, but between the technology advantages, between all the internet capability, the tools being really low and then people doing work at the quality of ABC that someone could say, "You know what? I could go to Ringling and then go back to my home state and there's this studio doing this," and in enough other markets, not just LA and not just New York. We have ABCs. The industry changes because then it means there's other kinds of people that can get in here doing different kind of work. So, I think, I don't want to speak out a ton for you Barton, but I think you're way ahead of the curve just even on the business side of the industry right now.
Barton: Yeah, I appreciate it. We're definitely a nonstop flight to either coast. So, it makes it super easy to get to New York if I need to for a meeting or get to Los Angeles for a meeting. So it's very convenient in that way. And of course the cost of living is great, but Dallas is a big city. It's not like a young person wouldn't move here and feel like they're in the middle of nowhere. Dallas is big city, big money, big business.
EJ: Right. You got Uber just moved there. A lot of Silicon Valley companies are starting to move there now too.
Barton: Oh, yeah. Toyota just moved their headquarters here. Saatchi & Saatchi just opened their headquarters here. There's a lot of... I mean, Texas is doing a great job of recruiting California businesses to Texas and California is not helping with all of the laws they're putting in place. I mean that new... I forget the law or the number that goes with the law-
Ryan S.: The freelance [inaudible 00:48:11]-
Barton: ... but it's the law. Yeah, the freelance. That's going to shut studios down that were struggling. That's going to put a nail in the coffin right there.
Ryan S.: Yep.
EJ: So, let's talk about studios that are struggling. These are studios that are in LA, that are in New York that have all these... The client base is right down the street from them or something like that. Do you feel like studios can still thrive in this climate? It seems like the only thing you're doing is just growing, growing, growing, and being more and more successful. And you're doing it in Wylie, Texas, which not a single person listening to this podcast has even heard of before.
Barton: Right. Yeah. I can't speak for what's happening with the other studios. I'm super grateful for the success that we are experiencing, and like I said, we're just making decisions based off of what's going to make us happier, what's going to make our lives a little bit easier. What's going to allow us to be more creative. I think things go in cycles to a certain degree. So, the studios that we all love so dearly are used to running things in a completely different way. I recently got to sit down with one of the owners of one of my favorite studios, and it was almost like the business that he was in and the business that I am in are just entirely different even though we're doing the exact same thing. And it was almost like he didn't understand how are you doing this?
Barton: I got a glimpse into the glory days of motion graphics, and how they were doing it. And I was literally like, "Wait, you did what? How is that even possible?" It's incredible, and it was just the difference. I don't think this is unique to motion graphics. I think it happens in most industries. There's a generation that learns how to be successful and if they don't adapt, they just go on, continue doing that successful business model until it no longer works. And so, there's going to be, and there are young kids coming up that are killing it on Instagram doing motion graphics. They've got 500,000 followers and they are working with GaryVee, doing stuff for Dirt Cheap. But they're figuring out how to do it and they're figuring out how to do it profitable, and they're it differently than I'm doing it.
Barton: And so, I think people just find a way to do it when they're new to an industry, and it's probably because they don't have preconceived ideas of, "Well, if I go into business for myself, who's going to be my executive producer for me? How am I going to deliver this project without an art director, a creative director, an executive producer, an account executive?" In order for me to start my own studio, I have to have five people from day one. And so, maybe that mentality is what's causing studios to struggle that are in LA. But again, I don't know what the struggles are. We just from a distance here, this studio doesn't exist anymore. That studio doesn't exist anymore. So, my guess is that they were used to doing business in a way that worked 10 years ago that that's not currently working.
EJ: Very true.
Barton: And I have to watch out for the same thing. We're successful now, but that doesn't mean five years from now the way we are doing it is going to still be successful.
Ryan S.: Yeah. I mean, one of the ways it seems like you've done it is we hear people talk about direct to brand and direct to client a lot, and one of the clingiest words in our industry, networking for me. You're encouraging people to do that all the time, but I think you're a great example of someone who has built relationships, and we talked before the show you've worked with Rob Dyrdek a lot. Can you talk a little bit about how those relationships either started or how they've grown with you while the company's grown? Because you did work a while back, but if I'm right, I think you've done work with them fairly recently. It seems like that's a way to insulate yourself from some of these fears that we're talking about. You're growing with someone else.
Barton: Yeah, I mean, the relationships are important. The Rob Dyrdek story, if you're not familiar with it, I'll cut a short version of it here. But essentially it was just a cold email that Rob did respond to and that cold email ended us working with Street League Skateboarding, which is a contest series that airs on ESPN and we've supported them for going on almost nine years now just from one cold email that a celebrity like Rob Dyrdek took the time to answer. That one cold email also led to us either working on motion graphics for or actually branding a variety of shows on MTV for Rob. We've done motion graphics for Fantasy Factory, Ridiculousness. We helped brand an MTV show called Snack Off, Not Exactly News, and a couple other shows that are just slipping my mind right now.
Barton: But then those relationships that were formed through Rob then took us into working with other brands, and so as a result of that one cold email, we have now also had the opportunity to work with Marvel, and we worked directly with Star Wars on a series of Nixon Watches and got to present the concepts to LucasFilms, and go through iterations with LucasFilms and go through that process.
Barton: We also got to work with Disney and work on a 90th anniversary watch release for Disney and pitch that concept to their team. There were a lot of restrictions with that project, and it was really cool to get the feedback from Disney's team, and pitch something to them that they said they had never even heard before and nobody had ever approached it that way with all of the restrictions that they put on us. So, that was super cool. And that all came from one cold email over nine years ago.
Ryan S.: That's amazing. That has to be the best email to success ratio of all time. You see it, like a little indie horror film come out for $3 million and then it makes $1 billion a year later. That's pretty crazy. You can attribute it all back to that one. Do you remember back when you were sending that email? Was that part of a concerted campaign for you? Like, all right, I'm going to cold email 50 people and Rob was one of them? Or was it just like, "Rob's doing cool stuff. I somehow got his email, I'm going to go for it."
Barton: Yeah, Rob is a, he's an entrepreneur so a lot of people know him for his being a character on MTV shows, but he's like his own Shark Tank. He buys and sells businesses all the time. And so, Street League Skateboarding was one of the businesses that he had launched and I was a huge fan of it. It was almost like an opportunity for professional skateboarders to make NBA type money by being able to perform in front of arenas and stadiums and things like that. And so, I was just a huge fan of it, followed them. I went to the very first year of Street League Skateboarding as a fan. Looked around in the stands and thought to myself, "Man, I've got to do all of the motion graphics for broadcast and for their live events someday."
Barton: What prompted me to reach out was Street League Skateboarding had tweeted that they were looking for internships in season two, and I didn't want to be an intern, but I knew somebody would be checking emails. So, I went ahead and typed up a proposal of why Street League should be branded by skateboarders for skateboarders. But I was also doing professional TV graphics show packages for ESPN and Fox and other various TV shows at that time. And so, I was professional, but I was also a skateboarder, and give a skater a chance.
Ryan S.: That's awesome.
Barton: And so, that was basically the pitch, and Rob went for it. It was crazy. There were some massive studios. Some of our beloved and most favorite studios, so that was tripping me out that had done free pitch work to Rob and Street League Skateboarding to do their branding. And here I came in saying I was a skater and give me a shot and I pitched nothing. I got paid and keep going. And then it wasn't until about three or four years into it, they were like, "Yeah, you realize back when you hit us up we had this studio, and this studio literally pitching free stuff to us left and right." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? They're like my favorite studio ever."
EJ: So, these big studios, they have the resources to do these pitches. You're in Texas, you have a limited amount of people. You have to have some pretty awesome marketing sense and business sense to be thriving like you are right now. How did you develop your business chops? I know that big thing for that Rob Dyrdek is you lean into your identity as a skateboarder and you know how other skateboarders think, and that's a sales pitch to that kind of audience.
Barton: Yeah, I think just in going after clients, it really helps to go after the subcultures that you're interested in. So, for instance, you can look at the ever changing client list of ABC over the years. At first, it was all these skateboard brands, and then it went into sneaker brands, and we're still doing those things. I'm not saying we aren't, but I'm getting older and I'm not skateboarding as much and now our client list is turning into fitness brands because I'm doing fitness stuff. And it's literally things that either I'm super excited and passionate about or somebody on the team really loves it and it's like, "Cool. That'd be awesome." I'm not a big comic book guy, but let's go after some Marvel stuff. That would be dope to work on.
Barton: So, it's definitely tapping into the subcultures you're a part of. And of course too, nonprofit organizations are a subculture that I was coming out of and involved with as well. So, in the early days I had a lot of nonprofit clients as well. So, various subcultures to tap into so that when you are approaching them, it's like, if I literally know nothing about comic books and I'm hitting up comic book brands it might not go over as well as somebody that's super into it and could name every single character that's there.
EJ: Right. But you're still finding success. You're working with Marvel, and again you're working in Wylie, Texas. So, maybe we can talk to, it seems like every time I visit you in Dallas and you bring your team out, it's the same guys that have been there for years and years and years, which I feel like for a studio that might be in LA or New York, there's a lot of turnover. So, what's the secret for keeping and maintaining and even finding that talent that you have currently?
EJ: ... even finding that talent that you have currently at ABC.
Barton: Yeah, I mean, as I mentioned before, I'm just a fan of the people that I work with. I look around the room and I'm stoked to be working here. So yes, there needs to be a leader and yes, there needs to be somebody that is enforcing the creative reef and things like that. But ultimately, we're working together on this stuff and I think that's a huge part of trying to keep people happy, and if they know that their opinion matters and that they are not just pushing pixels, but you know what? I'm relying on you to come up with this really cool animation here. I got a loose idea for it, but please don't make me tell you what pixels to push around.
Barton: Back to the Phil Jackson thing, I can't help you. If you don't know how to shoot free throws, I can't help you shoot free throws. I'm going to draw up a play that says, we need a three pointer, but I can't teach you how to shoot a three pointer. And so, hopefully, everybody here feels like their voice is heard and seen and expressed and matters. And it's not just me saying, hey, do this. No, I meant do it this way. No, really, you need to just move it this way. Hey, no. I really want it to be this color. Okay, I know I said I wanted that color but can you try these six other colors and I know it's like 9:00 PM but this project just needs to be the best one we've ever done, so you cool to just like, let's just do it. Let's stay up. We're stoked. We're stoked. This is Marvel. Just pull an all nighter. Cool? You guys happy? Everybody happy with their work? I mean, how annoying is that? Nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to work there.
EJ: Yeah. I mean, EJ, you and I were just having this conversation about another studio with high profile artists on high profile projects where they had basically that environment. So it's great to hear that there's the opposite, that there's the flip side and more of these stories are kind of getting out. It's cool because I really think that the artists that you have at ABC are quickly going to start becoming names in the industry, or are going to become people that are sought after to speak. Even somebody like Mark Fancher working on his Houdini kind of tutorials. The energy that we hear from you at something like the fireside chat or talking like this, is starting to work its way through your team if it already hasn't, and kind of come back out into the industry, Barton. It's really cool to hear you talk about what you want out of your team, but then seeing that actually, without you telling them to do it or without it being an initiative internally, it's starting to refract back through the whole industry.
Barton: Yeah, for sure. And Fancher is super talented. All these guys are super talented and we love the MoGraph memes Instagram account.
EJ: It's not you, is it?
Ryan S.: Oh, see that's what somebody-
EJ: It's someone on your team?
Ryan S.: No, but that's somebody who is the MoGraph memes, that's a good play for them to be like, we love that guy. We love that person. I don't know, Barton.
Barton: Yeah, I wish I could. I wish I could claim it but no, we joke. We have basically the same sense of humor as MoGraph memes inside the studio. Fancher did this amazing water simulation recently and my only feedback to him was like, "Hey, there's like three bubbles in the water that are just really driving me crazy. I'm not sure which ones they are, but you'll be able to figure it out. So can you just remove those three bubbles for me? Cool, thanks." And we do stuff like that all the time that we just know is the worst if you're stuck working for that dude.
Ryan S.: Yeah.
EJ: Yeah, how did you say it, Barton? I don't want to paraphrase it, but you had a great line at the fireside about the way you built the team, the perspective you had it. Do you remember how it was that you said it? I don't want to butcher it.
Ryan S.: Basketball, yeah.
Barton: Oh yeah, as far as the basketball analogy?
EJ: Well you had that line about like, I'll just say it. You didn't want to build a company that you would have been embarrassed to be working at or would be scared [crosstalk 01:04:29].
Barton: Oh, yeah, I mean that's-
EJ: How did you put it? Because I thought that, when you opened your talk with that, and that really resonated with me, because it sounds so different than what most studios open up with.
Barton: Yeah. I mean the biggest fear I have is being the owner of a studio that I would not want to work for. And so, that's an enormous driving factor. So, take that all the way back to when I was freelancing. If I'm out freelancing on my own and the projects suck, the clients suck, I'm frustrated, I'm not creatively fulfilled, I'm not going to grow and invite people to join my misery with me. I'm just going to tap out and go get a job at Nike or Under Armor or Adidas and do something that is a little bit bigger than that. I'm not going to just build a brand around crappy clients that treat me terrible so that I can hire people to join in and be part of that miserable experience. So, everything from the types of projects to the work environment, not just the building but the actual work environment.
Barton: Is there a bunch of ego flying around and people just backstabbing each other? I don't want to be the owner of that. And I think that, I mean, I don't think, I know that type of an environment stems from the top down. So, we've worked with larger companies and everybody was like, the CEO was a great guy, but the work environment is toxic. Everybody's jumping over each other, trying to get raises and they're backstabbing each other and it's just a super toxic work environment. But everyone kept kind of defending the CEO saying, "Yeah, but he's a cool guy." And it's like no, he may be a cool guy, but at the end of the day, it goes from the top down. If the work environment is toxic, if people feel like they have to back stab and fight to get the next raise over the next dude, that stems from the top down.
Barton: And so, if I have that environment happening at my studio, it's my fault and I don't want to be the owner of that studio. So I'm going to be very conscious of that as I see things happen. You know what I mean? If I feel like the studio is going a direction that I don't want it to go or if it's turned into something I don't want it to turn into, those are all the decisions that I have to evaluate against that statement of, do I want to work here? I want to create a place that I want to work for and like I mentioned earlier, man, I'm stoked to work here. I've never worked in a studio this big before. I've never been surrounded by people this talented before. So, 100% I'm stoked on where we are currently and yeah, it'd be great if it stays like that for quite awhile.
EJ: Now you mentioned that you never worked at a studio before. I know for me personally, I never worked at a studio on site because of the fact that one of the thing was, in DC there's only a handful of studios and usually they're working on political ads or something like that and they call it Hell Week or something like that where for six months, you're working in a hundred hour weeks for six months straight. You make enough salary to last the rest of the year, but it's like that was the common theme. That is the working environment at a lot of these studios and the more I kind of researched more into it when I was deciding to go freelance, it just seemed like the reoccurring theme at all of these studios was you're working way more hours, you're working weekends, and it's just, that was just accepted.
EJ: And I know we talked at your fireside chat, you were like, you know what? I ask my employees first if they're cool with working overtime and by the way, I also pay them overtime. So I guess, what are you doing differently that other studios aren't, where you can actually, yeah, I will pay you overtime. And by the way, I'm going to be mindful enough to ask, hey, do you want to work over the weekend? I'm going to be sensitive about, hey, you got a family, you got kids.
EJ: What is it?
Barton: I think it comes down to how your business model is playing out. So, back to what we talked about when I was able to talk to some of the OG Studio shop owners and hear about their world and some of the pitching that they do on multimillion dollar budgets. And it's just a different world and it's almost a completely different business model. So with ours, so much of what we do is such a tight turnaround. I mean, everything you're seeing on our website, we're cranking it out within a three week to maybe eight week turnaround time. Almost nothing we do, we get more than eight weeks to work on.
Barton: So as a result, it's relatively easy to see and control how much work is going to be overworking the guys. So, if a new project comes in, I really only have to look at, okay, over the next eight weeks, if we take this on, it's probably going to make this person's life a little uncomfortable, this person's life a little bit stressful. All right, let's talk to them before we say no to this project and just say, "Hey, do you want to make some extra cash on the weekend? Because we've got a project that we could say yes to if you're willing to work this weekend and I'll pay you time and a half." And you know, if they say no, I may be like, "You sure about that? Don't you have three kids?" I'm just kidding.
Barton: But it's definitely like a, let's see how this is going to impact the schedule before we say yes to this new project, and then the other thing that we haven't talked about is, we have no non-artists in our layering system for production. So, we are able to expand and contract internally to help with that workload. So, at any given moment I will jump into the pipeline and do billable hours and help relieve things.
Barton: Aaron Smock, who is our head of production, senior motion graphics artist that loves spreadsheets, super organized, great generalist all around, and he will jump into the pipeline and crank on things and get things done. And then we recently hired another role, just like Aaron's, with Chad Moseley, and he does a similar role production manager, and same thing, he's a senior motion graphics artist, super seasoned. He's done everything from Houdini to after effects to Cinema 4D over his 15 to 17 year career. But he's been around, he knows how to smile at a client, hold his tongue, be pleasant and be mature, and not suggesting that the other guys don't, but I'm just saying, that's obviously a prerequisite for that type of a role. So we have basically three people that could jump into the pipeline at any given moment to help relieve some of that stress.
Ryan S.: Yeah, that's brilliant. I think that's, again, I'm repeating myself over and over, but that's ahead of the curve, man. We talk a lot about that whole late stage part of a career. No one's retired. What do you do? Crafting a role in a position like that, getting senior motion designers, generalists, with a little bit of production experience into those roles, and now you have a) people who know the game. I'm sure those guys are so much better at predicting where bottlenecks are going to be or where your overflow requirements are going to be. They get it way more than anybody who's just a producer who's been producing, who doesn't understand, what a small change from a client, how that waterfalls. I'm sure that's awesome. But then you have just that overflow bandwidth in the senior level to just be like, let's just jam. Let's all take an afternoon and just jam and see where we come out. I don't know many studios that do that, but it seems crazy that no one's figured out that those are like secret powers, secret weapons you've got at anytime, and they're really good at their primary skill, too.
Barton: Yeah, and they can be on the phone with a client and understand the ramifications of a client request. In the earlier days, we had more of a producer role in here and there was constantly a, when can Bart get on the phone? When can we talk to Bart? But now, it's not necessarily that way. Any kind of technical questions can run through Aaron or Chad, and then if they have a creative request, they're like, all right, let's get Bart on the phone. And he could talk you through creative ideas.
Ryan S.: Dude, it's awesome. I mean, so much of what you're talking about is stuff I've always wondered, you almost have the hypothetical studio. I've always wondered why it didn't exist. It sounds like internally, you've reduced a lot of friction by removing those roles of people who create those, that just like when you're a creative director, 90% of your time is phone calls and out trades and dealing with disagreements. But if you have three other people alongside you that can do that and you trust them, that's awesome. It sounds like you don't, it's not necessarily like a flat floor, but there's equality across the team, right?
Ryan S.: At one point, you can lead and then another time I'm going to lead and you're cool with that, and I'm cool with that. It seems like a simple equation, but because we've just always had this just traditional, very vertical, very stratified, here's the producer and the EP and then you can't talk to them because they have to talk to this person. You're just knocking down walls that let people just seemingly just do the work with half as many people.
Barton: Yeah, and so to that point, we have basically looked at people's strengths and designated people and just had open conversations. And so, we've designated Brian as our lead animator. And so, when it comes to, if the animation needs to be smoothed out or the [inaudible 01:14:51] suck or, hey, this camera move does not flow into the next shot, it's like, okay, cool. Let's have Brian kind of put his eyes on it and see what he suggests for you. And so, at that moment he's like the lead animator and then we have Fancher who is our lead visual effects guy. And then we have, Thomas, who is our lead modeler. And like I said, we got Aaron, Head of production. And so for instance, just to speak to your point of our layers or leveling out, Aaron's in charge when it comes to the production and the schedule. However, when Aaron jumps into the pipeline and starts animating, he kind of falls underneath Brian's leadership and Brian can tell him, "Hey dude, those camera cuts don't work together. Let's move it and change it this way." And at that moment, Brian's in charge.
Ryan S.: Even though the guy that you just said, he's the one who'd have to handle the schedule, if that messes up the schedule. Man, it's a really interesting culture. It's not clear cut, but it really says a lot to you, just in terms of leadership, to be able to smooth those situations out and to be able to set up everybody's kind of, this is the way it's going to work. You have to be able to bounce between, I have a lot of leadership and now I'm being lead that. That's interesting.
Barton: Yeah, totally. And so, at any given moment, based off of the person's expertise, because we are to a certain degree, generalists, Brian being the lead animator is also an incredible designer, so he's going to be designing. But for me, look development is kind of my really strong area that I have a very strong opinion on. It doesn't mean that I can't and don't animate, but as we've grown the company, I've kind of deferred and said, you know what, I trust Brian on the animation side, but I'm going to be the one that speaks up on the design side.
Barton: So I'm definitely going to jump in and be like, okay, "Hey Brian, this doesn't look that great. Let's try some different lighting styles. Let me jump into the file and see if I can try some different lighting styles." And then vice versa. When I jumped into the pipeline, there's times that Brian tells me, his boss, "Hey, those two cuts don't work together very well. What if we did this instead?" And then I listen to him and I'm like, "Yeah, that makes sense. Let's do it." Or I say, "Cool, I'm too busy. Why don't you do it?"
Ryan S.: That's awesome man. Can I ask you a recruiting question because it's-
Ryan S.: It's something, there's a lot of surface level answer all the time when people ask like, "Oh man, if I'm really good, what else do I? I'm really good at c40 and after effects, but what else do I need to know to be able to get hired at the dream studio? And we always tell people in quotes, soft skills and we're like, be good to work with, be friendly, know what you're talking about, all that stuff. But for you, especially in your studio, let's say we have to c40 animators, equal skillset, in terms of their creative skills, there's no difference between them, right? You look at a demo reel, another one. You're like, man, both these guys are awesome.
Ryan S.: But you interview both of them, guys or gals, two different people. You look at them, you interview them, you talk to them. What would be something that would be either a red flag or would be something like, oh man, I just want to work with that person, that you could give as advice to people because we tell people all the time like, oh, just be good to work with, but we never say what that means for someone in your position, where you're bringing somebody on to a really tight close working team. What would be a deal breaker or what would be the like, man, we have to have that person.
Barton: Yeah, ego is the deal breaker for sure. If you come across a super talented artist and every time you need to make a revision, they're going to give you a reason why that won't work. Why that's a bad idea. That won't fly. We just need to make this revision. You don't know if the revision is coming from me or if it's coming from the client and it doesn't matter. Can we just make this revision? We might be surprised and it might be actually a really good revision, but I think the deal breaker for me is somebody that is going to just constantly push back. I get it, but you know what? I'm not asking you to stay until midnight tonight and you're getting paid to do it and so let's just do it and if it sucks, then who cares? We'll try something else. Or we'll just see if the client will go for something else and if they don't go for something else, guess what? There'll be a director's cut that releases.
Ryan S.: Right, right. That's awesome. I mean, that's that hard thing to teach. Where it's like you want to be, that seesaw. You want to be confident enough to be able to speak up when the opportunity needs it. It seems like in your environment there's an artist who may not be considered a senior level person, but if they have a good idea at the right time, they can bring it up and it can make change on a project.
Ryan S.: But at the same time you don't want the squeaky wheel that's always being like, what about me? What about me? Why aren't we doing what I said?
Barton: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ryan S.: Right?
Barton: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Ryan S.: That's cool.
Barton: Yep, and then I think the other thing, too, is personality, for sure. But again, that goes back to ego as part of personality I would say. I suppose, you want somebody that feels like we're in this together. When there is a problem, when it all hits the fan, we're not going to point fingers at each other. We've got to figure out how to solve this and we've got to figure out how to get paid, back to the salary versus are we actually going to get paid thing. So right now, I understand that this change is ruining the creative of this project, however, we just need to do it and we'll get paid for it, and maybe the next project will be the one that we absolutely love.
Ryan S.: Right. That's a very mature take on it.
EJ: Now you guys, you talked about Mark Fancher and he just made his whole course for Houdini, learning Houdini for the mograph.com folks. But it seems like you guys have really placed an emphasis on bringing in the talent because I don't know how much trouble it is to get the talent to come to Wylie, Texas. So once you've got them, you make them happy, you invest in them, it seems like you're investing in hardware, the latest software. And it seems like, you guys are leading the cutting edge, not being in New York, in LA, it seems like that's a kind of a rare thing to have. So what kind of, I know actually studios locally that are still using like old Macs. So how important is that to you and your studio to always keep up on that cutting edge?
Barton: Man, I mean, it's absolutely everything in the sense that if you're not willing to invest back into your company, ultimately it's going to hurt your company. So, we're constantly buying new GPUs, new equipment, new render engines, trying out all sorts of things. I want to create a place where we've got all the best equipment and when one of my guys goes home and tries to use Houdini on their home computers, they'll flat out tell you it's kind of torture compared to being at the studio because we've got so much in our Houdini pipeline right now that going home and doing it on their personal computers is a little bit of a beating. And I like it that way. It's a little bit embarrassing if your team is wishing they could bring their home computer and because it has more power.
EJ: Right. Right. So let's talk about the fact that, okay, you're landing the talent, bringing them to Wylie, Texas. How did you start to begin to land these huge iconic clients as well? So, we've got a couple of stories that I think will be really interesting for our listeners here.
Barton: I mean, everything is word of mouth is what we hear and are told, and social media has opened up what word of mouth is. Now all of a sudden, you can get word of mouth out to thousands of people or if you're B Bull you can get it out to a million people or more. And so, I view online interaction as word of mouth. And so, everything from my personal Instagram that has family photos, it also has artwork, it also studio updates, I want people to connect with me as a person. So if they're a client, they don't just see me as a feed of JPEGs, but they actually can connect with me as an individual. They can connect with my interests and that just helps a relationship that can't happen in person, be that more cemented because let's be honest, we typically know more about the people we follow on Instagram than we do our neighbors.
Barton: And so social media plays a big factor in that, all the way back to years ago when I was talking about Twitter and during the heyday and glory days of Twitter, things could go viral relatively quick and easy and you could give a tee shirt away and you'd have thousands of people re-Tweeting something in hopes to win a $10 tee shirt. And so, actually Nike and working with Nike was landed via a Twitter relationship. I had somebody that had been following my work on Twitter and they worked at Nike and they really wanted me to come up and speak at a Portland motion graphics meetup and present my work and things like that. And they're like, and if you come up, I'll be able to get you some meetings at Nike.
Barton: Well, at the time I was just a new freelancer and in my mind I'm thinking, yeah, but what if you don't get me meetings at Nike? I just left and that's that many billable hours that I'm not going to be able to charge because I'm gone for three or four days in Portland speaking for free at a motion graphics meetup. That's kind of what's running through my head.
Barton: So, I did some things, thanks to Maxon, they helped cover that trip and flew out on behalf of Maxon, spoke at that motion graphics meetup. That person came through and got me meetings at Nike. I actually extended my flights to stay two extra days and started my first Nike project ever as a result of that trip.
EJ: That's insane.
Ryan S.: So just speaking opportunities, I mean I think one of the things that always I admired about you is the fact that you have these opportunity, does that come up in just that innate business sense? You're just like, heck yeah, I'm going to go talk to these people at Nike and then you land all these projects. Meanwhile, I'm just thinking in my head like if I had that opportunity in front of me, I think I would have just wet myself or something and [crosstalk 01:26:38] Nike pitch or something like that.
Barton: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's definitely exciting. There's no denying that was super, super fun and still is. Yeah. It's incredible. I got no complaints. It's surreal. And to this day, I don't even like public speaking. I do it as a necessary evil and people send me DMs and tell me that it was good information. So I'm like, oh cool, that's awesome. But even just getting on right before this podcast, I got sweaty palms. I'm like, gosh, am I going to make an ass out of myself with something I say live? To this day it's...
EJ: I got to ask you a question about that though, Barton, because I feel like we listen to a lot of different people. We interview a lot of different people. There is a certain amount of just calmness mixed with confidence whenever anybody talks to you that I think is really unique and it shows through again with your studio. Is there anything that you feel like you do to kind of create that environment for yourself? You just said you're nervous or you go to Nike and EJ and I would both be shaking for it, but does it come from experience? Is it something that comes from your skating background? Is there something you rely on that people could kind of take from that experience to just be like, because it comes through in almost everything you do, a big group, a small group, a pitch. There is just that general kind of attitude that comes out.
Barton: I mean, for me it's definitely coming from an area of faith-based, just knowing, trusting and realizing, okay, there's a reason why I'm going to be having this meeting today. I'm scared to death to go into it, but there's a reason why it's happening. There's a reason why Maxon wants me to speak at this event and I don't want to do it. It's a lot of work. It's honestly a beating creating these tutorials, but I know that I should not turn down this opportunity. I should maximize this opportunity for the most it can get. So, not to be too politically incorrect here, but it definitely comes down to a faith thing, a meditation thing, and just praying through an opportunity before it happens to make sure that I'm smart with it and not lazy with it and just be like, ah nah, I don't want to do that. I don't feel like doing that. And then coming down to the moment when it's live like this and just hoping and praying that what I say comes through as valuable, and not arrogant and it's helpful to somebody.
EJ: And you've had a lot of really awesome talks, not only at Camp MoGraph just this past year, but you've also had one where you spoke at DFW, c40. I believe it's probably on the MoGraph, mograph.com YouTube account about just the art of doing business, and I just think there's so many good little nuggets of advice for people that are freelancing. So I guess a lot of our listeners I'm sure are freelancing. It's a thing you see in the industry now where there's just more and more-
EJ: Freelancing, it's a thing you see in the industry now where there's just more and more freelancers jumping in the market, which I'm sure you might have some thoughts about that. But do you have any advice for people that are going freelance, what that next step is? Because for you your next step was to grow into a studio, but what kind of advice do you have of things through your process of like, "Don't do this. I've made a major mistake here. Don't do what I did"?
Barton: Yeah, I mean you have to evaluate what are the opportunities that you have before you, when it comes to freelancing. Are those opportunities other studios? There's definite advantages to working with other studios. You have access to clients you might not normally have access to, things like that. There's going to be disadvantages to basically establishing a business model that relies on other studios.
Barton: And so at some point if your goal is to not go in on a day rate to other studios, you've got to get to a point where you are working direct to client and the opportunities are there for you. Versus going into a studio and working on a day rate. So that's a decision that you may not have the luxury of making, as far as the direct client opportunities may not exist. Therefore, you do rely on studios and that's not a bad thing, that can be some really, really cool work that gets done there. As far as mistakes, are you thinking advice to an individual freelancer? Or are you thinking mistakes that I've made business wise that I would say avoid doing this or that?
EJ: I think both. I mean one of the things that when you spoke just recently at DMALA was about how you decided to treat yourself as a studio. You aren't Barton Damer, you were Already Been Chewed, and you're a studio and that's how you presented yourself and that allowed you to do things like not charge hourly. Or you just approached everything a completely different way, which is something I don't see a lot of freelancers doing, necessarily.
Barton: Yeah. I mean the goal of any entrepreneurs should be to create a business that can run with or without them. And so as a freelancer, it all depends on you. If you get sick, guess what? If you have health issues, if you get in a car accident, all of those things are going to prevent you from being able to make any kind of money, have a support system in place to be able to provide for you or your family in your absence if something morbid were to happen. And so I think there's definitely a difference between being an entrepreneur and being a freelancer. They're not necessarily completely different, but they're not the same either. I think the entrepreneur mindset understands that this needs to be a business that can service clients more so than just an individual that is desired for their individual talent, is what the freelance mentality might lean itself towards.
Barton: And it's super fun. Both are awesome. It's fantastic to be really good at something and have all these studios calling you because you're super good at it. And so I'm not suggesting one is better than another. I'm just saying that for me, my goal was to build a business that would be sustainable beyond myself. I wanted to, by the time my kids were in high school, I always just had an unspoken goal of, "If my kids get in trouble in the middle of day or my teenagers have a crisis happen in their life." You know the emotions of teenagers and things like that, "I want to know that I'm not stuck going into a studio on a day rate. I want to be able to leave in the middle of the day and go figure out why my kid is in detention. Why my daughter is crying."
Barton: You know what I mean? I'm not suggesting those things are happening and my world is falling apart with teenagers. But it was an unspoken goal of, if and when things happen to my family, there's no way I want to be stuck saying like, "Hey, I'm on a day rate, I'm sorry but I can't work for you over the next five hours, I have got to go pick my family up and put it back together."
Barton: And so it was a goal of mine to make sure that I was building something that would be bigger than myself. And so back to giving people a voice in the company. If my goal is to build something bigger than myself, I wouldn't hire them and then just constantly be making sure that they're only doing what I tell them to do. I want them to come in and be a valuable part of what we have to offer here.
EJ: So it sounds like you just never went freelance and decided like, "Okay, I guess I'm just going to do this for the rest of my career." You had that next step. Do you feel, like I said before, there just seems to be the typical career trajectory is you get out of school, you land your job at one of your dream studios, you work there a couple of years, you get burned out or you want to make more money. So you can't do that in that system, so you got to go freelance and do it that way. And it's not like everyone that goes freelance can then go and create their own Already Been Chewed. Well, maybe they can, I don't know. Maybe you need to write a book and that's the goal of everyone now. I mean, how do you speak to that? Our industry is facing an issue where, over 40, is this industry sustainable? Is there any other ladder rungs above, "I guess I'm a freelancer forever"?
Barton: Yeah, I mean there definitely is and there should be. Right now the model has shifted because I think the older generation is either burnt out or they've been chewed up and spit out. And so that's part of the reason that we don't see a lot of that anymore. And I don't think that there needs to be a pressure or a value placed on different rungs of a creative career. And so to that point, that's why in our studio, you don't have these layers. I don't have a person whose job is to just give feedback. It's like, "No, you're going to be in the pipeline too. And guess what? Somebody else might give you feedback in the area of their expertise. So just remember when you're giving them feedback in the area that we've designated your expertise to. You want to treat them the way you want to be treated because they're going to give you feedback in their area of expertise."
Barton: And so I guess a little more pointed towards your question is that I don't know that there needs to be any pressure put on anybody to get out of being behind the box. That's such a negative term that drives me crazy. As a studio owner, I can't wait to get back on the box.
Barton: There are so many weeks where I'm like, "If I have to get on one more client phone call." I cannot wait to be behind the box.
Barton: But we use it as if it's this, "I've graduated from being behind the box."
Barton: It's like, "No you haven't. That means you're irrelevant."
Ryan S.: There's some weird coupling of your financial status or success, of, "If you want to get past this certain level, you got to walk away from everything you've trained and that you'd love to do, to do this other thing that you may not be interested or have any skill for." But it's this weird coupling that the industry has not grown past at all.
Barton: And I don't think it should pay more. You know what I mean? It's not like all of a sudden, you get put in a position of management like you're going to get paid way more. It's like, no, it's just different. It's not necessarily more valuable. It's just we need somebody to be head of this area. We need this other person to be head of this area. But I just don't think there should be a level of value or desirability to force somebody out of doing what they're really amazing at. I have guys on my team that would never want to do what I do. They probably look at what I do and they're like, "Thank God I don't have to do what he does." You know?
EJ: Well, I think that's awesome for you to say, because I feel like, even at Camp Mograph talked to a lot of people where they're just like, "I guess the next step for me is to be an art director."
Ryan S.: Yeah, exactly.
EJ: And if I want to do that, I need to wait for my current art director to drop dead-"
Ryan S.: Or he becomes your [crosstalk 01:39:51] director.
EJ: "... or I need to go somewhere else." Exactly. So that's the only path. And it seems like what you're doing is very unique and it's so smart, that you empower your staff to wear that art director hat when they want to. And so everyone's got those, "Maybe I don't want to lead on this. I want to go back to doing Houdini Sims and that's where I'm super stoked about right now." And you get to do that.
Ryan S.: Yeah I mean I-
Barton: Totally. And on any given... Oh sorry, go ahead.
Ryan S.: Oh no, you go ahead.
Barton: On any given project, people have the opportunity to step up and do something that maybe they're not known for doing. So for instance, Thomas is our lead 3D modeler. And I mean, he just blows my mind every once in a while on his look development. In general, he does not think that he's good at look development and we don't necessarily go to him as our first option for look development. But there's times where it's like other people are busy that normally do the look development. And so we say, "Hey Thomas, why don't you start doing the look development?" And next thing you know, he surprised himself, he surprised us. And it's amazing looking and he's not typically known for that. And so that goes across the board. It's like everybody kind of gets the chance to shine at any given moment, nobody's pigeon holed.
Ryan S.: Yep.
EJ: Great. So let's maybe move on to a kind of close out talking about your 10 year anniversary coming up, which again, congratulations. That's crazy that you've been around for so long and you're continuing to grow. That's another thing. You're not shutting down or anything like that.
Barton: Man, I feel like we're just getting started.
EJ: Knock on wood. Yeah. And you've already worked for so many iconic clients already. You've had NFL Network, Vans, Star Wars, you did Marvel, ESPN, Nike, the list goes on and on. Are there any brands like, okay, next 10 years? Are there any brands you haven't worked with yet that you're really trying to, that you're still trying to reach out to?
Barton: We have a huge list.
EJ: Maybe they are listening, so let's let's get that pitch out.
Barton: Yeah. Yeah. I thought about this ahead of time. It's hard, I wasn't sure if I should just print out the list and bring it in. But yeah, we have an enormous list of brands that we are going after. I think Beeple definitely broke the barriers when he did Louis Vuitton and that was super inspirational. And that kind of falls in line with a lot of what I've done in the past too. So I would love, love the Louis Vuitton hookup at some point Beeple-
EJ: Beeple, bring it.
Barton: ... just saying.
EJ: Let's get that going.
Barton: Yeah. But I think in general to what's happening is like I mentioned with the subcultures as I grow in personality and age and things like that, I think our client list grows as well. So I would like to see us move into maybe more expensive brands, luxury brands, automotive brands, high fashion, things like that would be really nice to move into.
Barton: But I think we would like to move towards working with brands that are trying to change the world as well. And so what I mean by that is maybe it's Silicon Valley type brands, maybe it's like the Teslas of the world where it's electric cars. Where I think we're really good at telling stories and really simplifying things that are complex. So if we were involved with some of these energy car companies and helping to tell their stories and launch products for them, I could see us going that type of route in the future. So those are some things that I would like us to move towards. And I always want more of what we're currently doing. I mean, I can never have enough of any of the brands that we're working with.
EJ: So how much bigger do you want to grow in say the next 10 years as well? You got, how many people do you have working for you right now?
Barton: Yeah, there's 11 of us. Two part-time, nine full-time. So as we move into our new building, we have capacity to grow quite a bit if we wanted to. Again, it's going to come down to creative decisions and creative reasons for growing. I don't want to be the owner of a studio that I wouldn't want to work for. So my goal, I don't have these business goals of, "Well by the year 2025 there needs to be 30 people at ABC and our annual revenue needs to be 20 million." That's not something that I aspire to.
Barton: So our motive for growing is going to be for creative reasons and the sense that, "Oh, we have this new relationship and it requires us to hire more people because we need to be able to service and fulfill this client and the work is awesome. And it's not going to be too hard to find people that would want to do this type of work." I would like to avoid landing and creating opportunities that give me a headache. You know what I mean? So if I go out and land a couple million dollars worth of really boring work, now I have to go find some suckers to do it. That's what I would like to avoid in the future, for sure.
EJ: So that just made me think of something that about getting all this filler work just to pay the bills. Something that studios will tell you is that, as far as public facing, the amount of work that you actually see on the reel is like 10%. and that 10% of work is maybe 10% of their revenue to because they're not making a lot of money for those big brands. It seems like you're doing things differently as far as that equation goes.
Barton: Yeah, I mean we've been very fortunate to work on some really dope projects. I've got no complaints there. And ratio wise, I mean it's hard to say, but I would say definitely 80, 90% of what we do is on our Instagram feed.
EJ: That's awesome. That's how it should be, right?
EJ: You get to pick and choose what you want to do. And I think the fact that you don't have this grand vision of like, "I want to grow my studio to take on the mill." Or something like that. You're just like, "Hey, we're happy. We're doing the projects we want to do. We're not going to grow bigger than we want to." You're just kind of kind of run the success.
Barton: Yeah. And I mean creatively, if it makes sense. We're keeping our eye on AR and we're keeping our eye on VR and deciding, how deep should we go into it? Do we need to wait? Do we need to jump on it? And there may come a time where internally we decide we're missing out on opportunities by not doing AR and VR. And at that point that might be a decision for growth. It's like, "Okay, we need to get somebody in here or a couple of people in here that are really good at it. And we can create the content and they can program it for us." Or whatever the situation is. But it would it be motivated by creative opportunities and not some sort of annual revenue projection.
EJ: So I got a nerdy question for you.
EJ: For students people that are continuing their education, they're self-taught and they want to be doing the type of work that you're doing, you mentioned things like AR, VR. What are some technologies that you think that it's going to be more and more important for artists to learn? Talk about Houdini and Mark did that amazing course.
EJ: He's full time working for you. It seems like he's almost full time Houdini. What do you think is going to be a really important thing for students and artists to learn? Whether that's software or a whole nother outlet like AR?
Barton: It's wild how fast things are changing because two years ago, all the way back to 10 years ago, I totally would have given the advice that you need to learn the Adobe suite. And then once you get really good at the Adobe suite, then you should jump into Cinema 4D. And then once you're in Cinema 4D you need to learn X Particles-
EJ: And it never ends.
Barton: ... and some of the other things. But now I'm almost questioning that advice. I almost feel like the younger ones, they just need to learn Cinema 4D, Substance and Houdini and they're doing it. You know what I mean? They're doing it. You got what seems like kids there, they're 21 and 22 years old and they're creating this beautiful work in Houdini. They're combining it with Forester and Substance and they didn't have to learn all the crap that we had to learn.
Ryan S.: No flash, no flash and required.
Barton: No. No InDesign, non of that.
Ryan S.: Web design. Yeah, it was awesome. Well, Barton I wanted to ask you just one question. I think I know the answer to this because you kind of exude this, but it's a good one to ask for people at the stage you're at in your career, right? You've grown, you've been a freelancer, you've worked staff, you have your own place. But simple question and then depending on the answer, I'll give you a follow up. Simple one. Are you happy?
Barton: Oh yeah. But ask me that tomorrow morning after I get a couple of client emails.
EJ: Right. Right.
Ryan S.: And that was going to be my followup was like, if you are, which I know you are, what? What's the thing work-related when you wake up in the morning that you can't wait to get to the studio for?
Barton: As far as like a particular project or just in general?
Ryan S.: I mean anything, man. You've got a beautiful new studio in a town that you're kind of at a state that you're making the mark for. What's the thing that gets you to take a quicker step to walk into the studio?
Barton: Sure. Yeah, don't let me fool you into thinking that it's all unicorns and rainbows around here. You know, there's, there's definitely moments of like, "Why do I even do this?" Or like, "Why aren't I just a freelancer out of my house?" So I definitely don't want to paint an incorrect picture. And it is true, the highs are high and the lows are low, especially when you're a studio owner. It can be lonely at the top.
Barton: So that being said, when I wake up in the morning, I want to maximize every opportunity that comes across my plate to its fullest potential knowing that I left it all on the court, so to speak. And so it doesn't matter if it's, I need to be a better leader today, or I need to be a better husband today, or I need to be a better father today. Every morning I need that extra help to make those decisions and push through those. And some days I don't do that so well. And so the next day is an opportunity to do that better.
Barton: And even dealing with clients there's some days where that just, "I shouldn't have spoken that way to that client and I kind of feel like a turd for doing that". Or, "I shouldn't have done this as a leader. I should've expressed myself differently or in a better way or clearer." Or things like that. So those are all struggles for sure. But yeah, I mean, it is exciting and the highs are high for sure, but it's not without its share of low moments.
Ryan S.: It's a unique and unique set of pressures in that position, I bet. The job doesn't really ever walk away from you.
Barton: Right. Yeah. But at the same time, that's what keeps it interesting is because it's a challenge. If you woke up every day and could just phone it in at your job, that to me is boring. That's not fulfilling to me. If I were in some cushy job where I had six months to work on an explainer video, that would just drive me insane. I want and feed off of the fast pace and solving problems every single day and trying to hit home runs every single day.
EJ: It's the right industry to be in. That's what I always said there's always something new to learn and five years from that, like 10 years from now, who the heck knows what ABC is going to be doing. It's all going to be virtual reality and everyone's just kind of sitting at home on their desk and log in to plug into the studio or something like that.
Barton: Yeah. Who knows? But we got to be willing to change with it.
Ryan S.: I can't wait for it.
Barton: Yeah. I don't even know that if somebody tells you what they're going to be doing in 10 years from now, yeah be a little bit concerned about that.
EJ: Yeah, exactly.
Barton: Because 10 years ago, if I had told you that I was going to build a studio that is going to work with Nike, under Armour, Adidas, Vans, DC shoes, Marvel, DC comics, Disney, the NBA, the NHL, the NFL. And when I do it, I'm going to do it from Wiley, Texas, right? Like you would have told me I'm an idiot because you can't really reverse engineer that whatsoever. So I think the goal moving forward is literally to maximize our opportunities and make the best out of every situation that we're put in to set us up best for the future. We need to be willing to pivot. Just looking at my career alone, having done catalogs, having done websites haven't done video editing, 3D animation. It's like, what am I going to be doing 10 years from now? Only time will tell.
EJ: Well, Barton it's been amazing to have you on the podcast. I know I've been trying to get you on here for a while. I just think your story is so unique. The way you do business, the way you run a studio is so unique and I was really excited to get your story out there. So thanks for coming on and telling it for all of us to hear.
Barton: Hey, thanks for having me on guys.
EJ: Barton Damon is one of those people in the industry that is thinking differently about how to build and run a studio, not dependent on existing management structures or needing to be in LA or New York City. How he built his studio with an emphasis on building a studio he would want to work at. And the way he leads and empowers his team is something I hope can be less of an outlier in the industry that's filled with so much turnover and stress these days. I hope some of his insights inspire you to take a step back and see how you can also find beauty in simplicity. Whether it's how you use a spline wrap and Cinema 4D or how you approach your creative career. Hopefully we see more studios like Already Been Chewed cropping up outside of the coast. I want to thank Barton again for coming on Ryan Summers for being an excellent cohost and of course a massive thank you to you for listening. That's it for this episode and I hope to see you in the next one.