Back to Blog
Crossing the Creative Gap with Carey Smith of Division05
We sit down with Motion Design tutorial legend Carey Smith to discuss his view on creativity and design.
If you're reading this sentence there's a good chance that you've had a few Motion Design dud projects over the years. The gap between having good taste and having the skills to get there is a challenge that every professional artist must overcome and it's a topic that is very near to Carey Smith's heart.
We are stoked to have him on the podcast. You're going to love this guy.
Note: You can also get 20% off Carey's '006 Snapdragon' and '007 Style & Strategy' with discount code: schoolofmotion. (for a limited time)
Carey Smith Interview Transcript
Joey: This is the school of motion podcast. Come for the mograph, stay for the puns.
Carey: I know what it feels like to be sitting at home and you have that urge you want to make stuff and you're trying to make stuff. And maybe you do make stuff, and it's just not there. There's something not clicking for you, you're looking at other people's work and you're like, "Why isn't my stuff as cool as that guy's stuff? I want to make that stuff." I can see where you're coming from and I know that that's a really frustrating place. I'm trying to help people essentially kind of rewire themselves at least to get to the point where they have that foundation that will allow them to start growing in the right direction.
Joey: Quick note, in this episode, we discuss a site called mograph.net and lament the fact that it doesn't exist anymore. Well, shortly after recording this episode, the site actually came back to life thanks to some heroics from Zach Lovett episode 18's guests. I just wanted to get that out of the way. Now, let's talk about something that is pretty difficult to discuss, design. First off, design is a gargantuan topic. It can also be a little vague and undefined, feels subjective. And there's just so many angles to consider when talking about it. Well, my guest on this episode is a master at talking about and critiquing design.
Carey Smith has made a name for himself in the industry as a truly gifted teacher and even had Motionographer dub one of his lessons 'the best tutorial ever'. And frankly, I'm inclined to agree. Carey's videos are not at all like other tutorials. And I have learned boatloads from them. In this episode, Carey and I reminisce about the heyday of mograph.net recently resurrected, which was both of our old stomping grounds on the internet. We dig into design theory and how to really level up your skills in that arena and we talked about Carey's ability to teach design in a one-of-a-kind format that nobody else seems to have figured out. He's incredibly well spoken about this stuff. And I think you're going to get a ton of practical tips out of this episode.
Before we dig in, real quick, let's hear from one of our amazing alumni.
Shaun Robinson: Hello, my name is Shaun Robinson. I live in Gainesville, Florida and I've taken the animation bootcamp from the School of Motion. What I've gotten for this course is a plethora of knowledge. Joey takes you through the ins and outs of animation and shows you the fundamentals. And that's something I didn't have, I didn't know much if not anything about animation before I started the course. The training helped my career tenfold. I went from thinking about animation and want to be animation to after taking the course, doing freelance work and having a lot better understanding of animation and the principles.
I would recommend this course to anybody and everybody who wants to learn animation. My name is John Robinson, and I am a proud School of Motion graduate.
Joey: Carey, old buddy, it is very, very nice to have you on the School of Motion podcast. Thank you for doing this, taking time out of your busy schedule with your new puppy.
Carey: Oh, my God, yeah, it's all day puppy scratches, just scratching butts all day long. And I'm watching dogs poop.
Joey: Someone's got to do it, it's a living.
Carey: what Joey, surprisingly, it's not. It doesn't pay that well.
Joey: Oh, shoot. Listen, if you started off on the wrong foot. Why don't we start here, I think a lot of people listening right now are familiar with you because of the incredible video courses that you've produced. And if not, we're going to be linking to those in the show notes so hopefully everyone by the end of this will be really excited to go check those out. But I'd love to hear, and I don't even know if I actually know this story, how long have you been doing mograph or motion design? And how did you get into this field?
Carey: Should I start with when I was born or?
Joey: If you were doing motion design that far back, I would say yes.
Carey: I kind of started out in illustration not professionally, but it's like when you're a teenager the stuff you're interested in is comic books, well, for me anyway. I thought I was going to be a comic book illustrator. And then I realized that I wasn't very good. I kind of decided that for me. And somewhere in maybe when I was, I want to say I didn't find it until I was 20. I found out about graphic design, it was just like, "Wait a minute, you mean like all those billboards and print ads and stuff, they don't just like appear out of nowhere, people actually make those?" And found all the tools, Photoshop, just got really obsessed with that and decided ... I was actually at University of Oregon getting a biology degree at the time, which is completely pointless. I'm studying neuroscience and genetics and that's about as far from anything that I do now as possible.
I spent all my time just trying to get done with my homework so that I could draw or make stuff on computer and finally just realized after I graduated, I'm like, "I want to get good at this, but I'm not getting good fast enough." I went to CalArts and I was there for three years, and I graduated in 03. and after that, it was kind of strange because I had fallen in love with motion, animation stuff while I was there. I'm still scratching this puppy's butt by the way. It's going to need to happen or there's going to be some whining. And really when I fell in love with it, it was like I'd love to be able to do this but I don't know how and I just kind of lucked into the fact that a couple of my first jobs were doing motion graphics related stuff.
And from there, I just kind of somehow hung in and all the jobs that I got from then on pretty much were in the mograph realm although I don't think anybody was really using that term then. But it was sort of the Wild West and somebody like me who had zero experience could actually get a job and do okay. That's basically how I got into it. And then I got a puppy, what do .
Joey: Yeah, yada, yada, yada, yada, got a puppy. Let me ask you this, looking at your work, if anyone listening goes to division05.com, you can see Carey's work. It seems like mostly what you do is boards, and you have a super strong sense of design. And that's kind of the focus of most of the video lessons that you've done. Did that come from CalArts or did you sort of develop that once you started working?
Carey: Yeah. My interest originally was in design, I think of animation as kind of just another form of design. It's got its principles, but you're also trying to solve problems to communicate things with it. It felt kind of part and parcel of the same thing for me. And now I forgot the question that you just asked because I was so intent on making sure that I scratch that puppy's butt perfectly.
Joey: This is going to be a Hall of Fame interview. I wish I had a puppy [crosstalk 00:07:58] I don't have one here. I'll scratch my own butt.
Carey: Oh, that's sweet.
Joey: Where did you pick up your design skills, did school kind of give that to you or did you have to develop that professionally?
Carey: The program that I was in was graphic design. It was a print oriented curriculum. And basically that kind of gives you the foundation of thinking about and making things that communicate visually, that are beautiful, aesthetically pleasing so they're attractive enough for somebody to actually look at long enough to get something out of it. And I can't necessarily say that CalArts focus was on making beautiful stuff, but they did a really good job of helping us understand how to make messages for people because that's really the meat of what you end up doing, you want to make something compelling. And I think that because of that intense focus, I ended up basically having an interest in the kind of concepting creative and making side of motion graphics when I got into it as opposed to the production side, which I'm not very good at.
I love animating, but my core skill set is really in design, which is kind of obviously why the videos that I make are really design oriented. And I try to make sure that my focus is on that so that people can come to my stuff looking for specifically that. If they want to author something, then my stuff is going to be better suited to that kind of interest than, I don't know, I can't come up with any examples. Maybe you guys' stuff. I actually have never seen any of your boot camps. I don't know, do you guys focus more on ... I know you have an animation boot camp and you have a design boot camp, right?
Carey: Do you have technical education as part of that or is it all theory? What's the structure of that stuff?
Joey: Sure. Currently, the only design specific class that we have is design boot camp. And that's taught by my buddy Mike Fredrick who's actually, he was my art director when I was running a studio in Boston. He's one of the best designers I've ever worked with. And it's interesting to bring him up because his work and his style of design is a lot like yours. It doesn't look like simple flat shapes and illustrations and stuff like that, he's a Photoshop ninja kind of like you that is a very good designer that can also mock-up absolutely anything in Photoshop and create these really cinematic cool frames with depth and then communicate well.
Anyway, to answer your question, that class focuses on kind of all of the above. It's mostly design principles, we do a lesson on composition and we go over some of the rules and then you're given a challenge. And along the way, you're learning a lot of Photoshop tricks and things like that too. But to me, it's interesting because you were talking about at CalArts you learned, it sounds like you learned a little bit more of the functional part of design than the form part and getting back to the idea of you need to think conceptually and have something to say before you open up Photoshop and start making stuff.
Carey: Yeah. I guess what became really apparent is back when I was there, we talked a lot about that idea of form versus function. And people were having that argument of form versus function, which gets old after a while. But what I think I really came out of it with is the idea that the form and the function they're inextricable, they're exactly the same thing. You can't have any function without the form and you can't have any form that doesn't have some kind of function even if it's on a super subtle level. Our training was really in thinking about those two things as one thing. At the end of the day, if you spent all day making something and it's, let's just say it's like a drawing or maybe it's an animation or something, it has a form.
And in the end if somebody watches it, if they're engaged enough, then clearly they're going to try to make some kind of meaning out of it. Hopefully it has some meaning, but in the end you can't extract the function from the form. You can't pull them apart and have them exist separately. That was kind of the crux at least for me. I'm sure everybody came out of it was something different, but at least for me that was kind of the message is there is no form versus function, which is again, like I said like, something we always talk about. I've had that discussion with other students from other schools and they're like, "The function is more important, the form is more important." I'm on the sidelines because I'm like, "Can't we all just get along?" It's the same thing.
Joey: Right. See, I agree with you that you can't have one without the other really. But I could just you personally that the few times that I've tried to play designer, I remember, for example, when I was freelancing a bunch of years ago and I was at a studio where I was 99% of the time just animating someone else's designs because that's kind of what I was good at. But then, they were in a bind one day and they needed another designer. I was like, "Oh, let me take a crack at it." And I approached design because I didn't know any better from form first. I had this cool looking thing in my head that I just put down in Photoshop and bashed it together and made this cool looking thing and then showed it to the art director. And he looked at me and he's like, "That doesn't work at all for what we need this to do."
The best designers I've worked with always approached it from function first, form second. I don't know, maybe there's different ways to do it. But in my experience, that seems to work a little better for me for sure, but seems like for most people. And I'm curious what you think about that Carey because to me when I taught at Ringling, that was probably the most common issue that I saw with designs from students that were new to it was that they wanted to use octane or something. And that's why they did that design not because they thought about it and had a reason.
Carey: Yeah, absolutely. It's such an interesting industry I think or a medium because so many people get into it by way of having access to the tools. You've got your computer at home and maybe you decide to get a copy of Photoshop or you get a subscription to After Effects or something and you find it and you play with it and it's empowering. That feels good and you enjoy the outcome of it, it's like something you've never been able to do before. And I find that a lot of people's reaction to that, and it's certainly was mine was so that's what this is is you play with the tool and it empowers you. Design, it kind of becomes about the tool.
Then when a lot of people go into the design process, they turn on Photoshop or they turn on After Effects and they go, "What can I do in After Effects? Should I make a square? Yeah, I'm going to make a square. What should I do with that square? I'll twist it." It's like, I'll put a glow on it. But yeah, if you really want to design something, clearly you have to start with a reason basically. You have to start with a goal of some kind. And that goal is going to get refined over the course of however long you're working on it, but that has to be the driver for what you're making. And it's the cliché, before you even turn on After Effects, you kind of have to sit down and go, "Well, what is it that I'm trying to do?"
There's that moment that you just have to take the time before you get too excited about working with your favorite octane material or whatever where you go, "Okay. Well, what is it that I need to do?" And figure that out. And then you can sort of start thinking about what it is that you can make that's going to accomplish that goal. It sounds really stupid and it's like everybody says this stuff. But even me like, I still have a tendency to be like, "Oh, man, there's something I really just ... I've been learning Fusion 360 lately. And I just started a project with a good friend of mine. And it has specific needs, and I haven't fully explored the needs of that project yet.
Of course, in my head I'm like, "How can I figure out a way to do this where I can use Fusion 360 to make some [dog 00:17:26] part surface model. It's like, I know that that's just going to lead utterly to disappoint because I'm going to be halfway through that process and just go, "What the fuck am I doing?"
Joey: It's funny, I was just listening to Ash Thorp's podcast and I think he was talking to Albert Omoss. He does really crazy, cool animations and stuff like that. He was talking about this, and I thought it was an [itching 00:18:01] way of looking at it that when you're doing client work, it's usually a bad idea to do what you just said, to try and shoehorn the technique you want to use into the idea or actually it's vice-versa, shoehorn an idea into the technique you're going to use. But when you're doing your own personal stuff, that works really well. Yeah, you can kind of have both, but I think if you're doing client work where it needs to be super art directable and creative directable, I don't know. Maybe doing the idea first before the technique is the way to go.
Carey: Yeah. I don't remember, did you watch, you watched the Snapdragon video that I did, that 3-hour monstrous ... Was it four hours, no it was three hours. That video was basically exploration of that kind of process. It was a project that started out as a client driven project and then I decided to take it off into another direction for myself just because I was interested in the imagery. And it kind of had both elements of letting it be a goal driven project versus trying to find ways to shoehorn stuff in that I just wanted to make. It's like, "I want to make this thing, how can I make it relevant to the project?" Sometimes that works, and it certainly is enjoyable because then you get to satisfy that itch in the back of your head. It's like, "I want to make that."
That sounded creepy the way that I did that. And then style and strategy, the video that I did just this past year, it was really the client driven process where you have to sit down and go, "Okay. What is it that they need? What needs to come out of this?" And then discover how to achieve that goal. It's interesting watching it come from both directions in Snapdragon, which is the sort of more organic like, "I'm going to try to shoehorn my stuff in there," you reach a point where you go, I don't know why I just made this, I'm not sure that I didn't just waste five hours of my own time. It's like that discussion, it was interesting for me in that video because the discussion, it's very real. Everybody gets themselves into that knot.
And it's like, "What am I going to do? Am I going to throw this work away or do I just plow ahead and cross my fingers and hope it works?" Because it almost never does. But if you have a certain set of strategies, you can fall back on, you kind of fix those sorts of problems because again, even me, I've been doing this for a long time and I will still stumble over my own feet trying to get to the point where I can just make the cool thing that I wanted to make as opposed to the thing that I actually needed to make for the audience to get something out of it.
Joey: That's what I love about your videos Carey is that you show sort of the very honest I guess situation that designers are in, which is create something from nothing on demand, here you go. And having a framework to do that is super helpful. And one of the things that I remember from, I think it was in Snapdragon. And by the way, everybody should definitely go check out these courses, they're amazing. In Snapdragon, you talked about this concept of, shoot, I can't remember what you called it. You used the example of a Polaroid I think. And you said, "Let's pretend you have a design that needs a Polaroid in it or it needs to feel like a Polaroid?"
Well, you can show a picture of a Polaroid, that's one way to do it. But there's also sort of these visual identifiers that you relate to a Polaroid. And when you said it, this light bulb went off in my head. And I was like, "Ah, that opens up this whole new universe of design." Where did those kind of insights come from?
Carey: Well, some of that stuff came from my schooling where they were really trying to get across the idea that ... That idea that you're talking about, I called it visual signifiers. Little bits of information that can come in any kind of form, maybe it's a texture that a person can look at and go, that feels a certain way or it reminds me of something or it reminds me of something or I know that that's concrete or I know that that's plaster on a wall. And it means something to them even on just the most basic level, they know it's plaster on a wall. And visual signifiers are really interesting because yeah, you can take that example of the Polaroid photo, which was just a completely random example. You can pull anything and have this discussion about it.
The Polaroid, it's like, yeah, it's got all these specific things about it to tell you that it's a Polaroid, the aspect ratio of it, that white border, the fading. Little dirt marks tell you that it's been sitting in a sleeve of an old photo album. All this stuff is really important in terms of how people gather meaning, the way that they actually decode. This sounds really pretentious for some reason. It sounds like a science professor giving a lecture.
Joey: Yeah, but you're scratching a dog's butt while doing that so it's fine.
Carey: [crosstalk 00:23:45] right now. I talk a lot about how people's brains work because it's actually really important in terms of perception and how people decode messages and read the stuff that you're making. When somebody looks at a Polaroid, it's faster than you can even realize. They figure out that it's a Polaroid picture before you can even say Polaroid, before you can even say, it's so fast. And to be able to understand that all those various qualities are being read by a given person's brain in like fractions of a second is really important because otherwise, you wouldn't even realize that it's all those little elements, all those little qualities that are important to conveying that idea of it's a Polaroid.
It's like you're in octane right and you're fiddling with some material. All that little fiddling actually goes into conveying certain things to your audience. That's why you do that fiddling, that's why you change something from highly specular to really rough because it changes the quality of it in a way that people are going to read and they're going to understand something slightly different. It's going to look different, they're going to feel something different. That stuff is really important. And I think that I started to pick that idea up at school. And it's not an idea that you can really drill into your head until you've just worked with it a ton, looked at a lot of stuff and tried to make a lot of stuff, see what the effect is of changing this little subtle nuance versus that.
It's kind of taken me my whole career to really figure out how to talk about it then because it's not a concept that I think people who are used to again, like [Galena 00:25:43] starting off in After Effects and going like, "Should I make a square?" Those two approaches of thinking about it are so far apart from each other that it's hard to introduce those ideas. But it's really, really important and really powerful. I don't know if you guys in your boot camps if you talk about those kind of issues, but when people find out about it like you said, a little light switch goes off in your head, you're like, "Wait a minute, that's right, I knew this all along now. Now, I just have to work with it."
Joey: Yeah. We don't talk about it the same way you do. I think the way that it sort of shows up in design boot camp is when we talk about mood boards because you kind of pick, there's always a message. If you're doing client work, there is some sort of message. Red Bull is cool, could be the message or our couches are 50% off this weekend, could be [crosstalk 00:26:46].
Carey: That's deep, that's deep.
Joey: But then there's also kind of the tone and the vibe that you're trying to evoke, and that's what I kind of got out of that little message in snapdragon because a lot of times when I would start out trying to design things before I knew better, it was always like, "Well, this looks cooler if it's [great 00:27:07]." And I had no idea why, it just was cool. But then if it was grungy and the brand was Target or something [crosstalk 00:27:18] it's not appropriate. But if it's for the UFC or something, then maybe there's a reason, if that makes sense.
Carey: And what is that reason? What's grungy about ... Are the fighters covered in dirt when they're fighting? They're not. Why would that reference make sense? What is it about it? The nuances of those signifiers, what do they mean? Now, you're getting into psychology and stuff, why do people associate these two things together? What is it that makes something cool? And there's a million different kinds of cool, why do you want this cool versus that cool? And I think that once you really start to dive into what's cool about something and really you can decode and get critical about what makes it cool, then, oh, my god, you're a super-powered designer at that point where you can start inventing your own cool. And then you become somebody who has a personal artistic voice that people will identify with you, it becomes super valuable.
You basically become a rock star and you live in a huge mansion up in the hills. I don't know what happens, I haven't gotten there yet.
Joey: Puppies [crosstalk 00:28:46] scratch their butts.
Carey: Puppies make you scratch their butts and take them out to go poop, and that's the life.
Joey: Yeah. I think you're totally right that there is this element of psychology. I didn't go to design school, I don't know if they teach psychology in schools like that. But it actually seems like it can be a pretty important thing thinking about it. Let's say if you were doing boards for something that is supposed to make the viewer feel uneasy, it's a promo for a horror film or something like that. You can reach for tropes that you've seen before. But if you understand psychology, maybe you can be a little more clever.
Carey: Yeah. When you talk to or you talk about, say writers, you sort of imagine, okay, well, you need to know ... If you're going to write say a book or a screenplay or something, you need to know how to put words together. All right, well, great, but being able to construct a sentence doesn't make you a good writer. What is it about that that makes for good writing? How do you actually study the process of storytelling and why is storytelling so powerful? Why is it so powerful for people specifically, humans. It's not like dogs are telling each [inaudible 00:30:11] because I'm looking at a dog. It's not like dogs are telling each other stories, it's a uniquely human thing. And there's something about our psychology that makes that incredibly powerful.
Yeah, there is a huge element of psychology if you really want to get into it, and it really helps. It's a really deep subject because you're communicating to people. There's a lot of stuff that you'd have to figure out and learn if you really wanted make that powerful. But even just starting somewhere and starting to understand that the whole point isn't just to dial in the coolest octane render, it's again, why is it cool? Do you want it shiny or rough? It's an arbitrary decision unless why you're doing it and why rough would be more interesting in this case. It's like figuring out just basically just having that introduction to the idea of visual signifiers in and of itself is really powerful.
And I think for a lot of people who haven't gone through design school, which I think is most people since a lot of people are again, introduced to this just by having the tools and kind of like getting interested in being able to make the stuff, that might be a kind of revolutionary concept. Although I think on some level, we all kind of already know that it's the case, it makes sense. But it's so powerful ... You know what, I'm rambling, I don't even know what I was talking about at the beginning of this. But it's so powerful.
Joey: See, you're really good at kind of talking about these things in a way that's understandable. It's interesting, when your, I don't remember what it was, one of your videos. It might have been the one on composition. Everyone listening, Carey got a bunch of free videos on his YouTube channel [willing 00:32:14] to those. They're also amazing and they're free. The paid ones are even better, so you should pay for them. But you did one on, I don't know, it was composition or something like that and I watched it. And I realized, "Oh, my gosh, this is Binky from Mograph.net. And I remember reading because you would basically do the written version of what we're doing now on that forum all the time for people who were basically asking for critique on their work.
Let's talk about Mograph.net a little bit actually, let's go there.
Carey: The fortune end of motion graphics.
Joey: It's a very appropriate metaphor. For anyone listening who did not come into this industry, I came into it in 2003 so the same as you. But for someone coming into it right now, there is no more Mograph.net. Can you talk a little bit about what that forum was for the industry?
Carey: Can we have a moment of silence? Not kidding. This guy Mark, I guess, I think that he set it up before I graduated. And I think that he had set it up just as like a repository for a bunch of cool stuff that he found. He set it up on a web forum foundation, eventually there were people who were signing up and could talk about the stuff. For whatever reason, it just became the hub for everybody who was in motion graphics at that point. This isn't really that long ago, 15 years on the scale of things isn't that long. That's just a clue as to how young this industry really is. There weren't that many people in motion graphics. It was basically like the Wild West essentially. It was like, "Hey, let's look and talk about work and take a crap on each other's animations or whatever."
I think that through being somebody who was kind of on the sidelines for a while, just reading other people's reactions to stuff, I just started to realize that the perspective that I had on the work was a little bit different. And I just had this compulsion to try to explain why things were to myself. I would literally like look at someone's work and I would sit there for a while with it replaying it and try to almost vocalize why something was or wasn't working because I was desperate to learn. And there's just something about my brain in particular where the way that I learn the best is to try to ... I'll end that I'm explaining it to someone else, really I'm just explaining it to myself.
And I just will continue to refine that explanation until I go, "Okay, that feels right, I think I get it now." Mograph is really this place where I wasn't invited to critique on people's work, people would just put their work up. I was doing it for myself anyway, and I'm like, "I just figured out for myself this comment might help this person." For some reason, I guess that propensity towards explaining stuff to myself and wanting to help other people, I kind of made myself a name on this very small site of being the guy who would actually give really thoughtful critiques of people's work. I don't know, it's funny to me to hear you say Binky because there was such a random web name you pick out just because some other name that you wanted was taken at the time.
I couldn't have Carey or whatever. That hung out with me for quite a while, I was known as Binky.
Joey: It really is sad to me that the site is down now and I don't know if it will ever come back up because it really is for anyone getting into the industry now and you see some amazing thing G Munk just did where you used to be able to go search for G Munk on mograph.net and find his posts from 2005 or something. David Lewandowski and a lot of people whose names you've heard of were on there. And at the time, everyone was just figuring out how the hell the whole thing worked. I remember the reason that I ended up there was because there was no YouTube and there was no Greyscalegorilla or Vimeo. If I saw some cool thing that Shiloh did or MK12, I didn't know technically how they did it.
And that was really the only way is to go on there and ask how someone do that. But the danger was that by posting anything on that message board, you might get bitch-slapped really hard. You might get crapped on by multiple people. I'm curious, I'd love to hear your opinion on this because your critiques never had that tone. You were always like super positive and respectful and honest and blunt. But it was done with sort a sort of a firm hand but a soft hand.
Carey: It was mindful of people's feelings.
Joey: Yeah. But that site for whatever reason mostly had this other kind of undertone to it, the kind of keep the newbies kind of quiet and afraid. I remember posting stuff on there that rightfully so deserved to be knocked around. But I would be terrified, I was shivering waiting for comments. And I'm curious, that attitude doesn't really exist in the motion design world much anymore. On Twitter, a little bit. But that sort of really harsh blunt criticism seems to have gone away. And I'm curious if you think that that was helpful, that that was the tone because I can imagine positives to that too and not just negatives?
Carey: Yeah. It's almost like just different styles in learning. Some people want to have their ass handed to them, they want to get flipped over. And some people are like, please give it to me gently or I don't even want to know. There's something to be said for either side of that. The I don't even want to know is maybe you just shouldn't show your work to other people because you're going to their reaction to it at some point. There's gonna be some level of disappointment or elation or whatever because you're going to see how they react to it. I think that some people who come for a critique are, the way that they learn is to have someone shouting at them.
It's like going to the army or something and you need to have somebody screaming at you just to get it into your head. I'm not like that, I don't want to get punched in the mouth because I said the wrong thing. My reaction to people in their honest request for help was to give them help the way that I would have wanted, which is to be mindful of their feelings and to also explain. I'm not going to just say, "Yo, dawg, your shit sucks." What are they going to do with that? That's just basically a big no without an explanation as to why. If I'm going to identify something that's a problem with whatever they've made, maybe it's the pacing of their real or whatever which was always an issue for people. I'm going to try to explain why something else will work better or why thinking about X or Y is going to help them.
I find that in general, I think most people respond fairly well to it. Again, there are some people who just need, maybe they need to be screamed at and so that doesn't work so well for them. But that just wasn't my style. I think there were other people there on the site who could kind of fill that void where I wasn't really able to.
Joey: Yeah. It's interesting looking at what exists now Twitter and Reddit and social media, sites like that where there's definitely this phenomenon I think of people sort of fishing for likes and for a positive reinforcement. And it's so easy to get that now because saying you like something is one mouse click, it's really cheap. But giving someone critique is kind of a pain in the ass still.
Carey: I actually tried to give some people critique on Reddit, this is a while ago before I realized it was a bad idea. That's not what they were looking for, they were just looking for positive affirmation, they were looking for praise. They weren't there to learn, and I didn't get that. I was coming from the Mograph mindset or the school mindset or the let's all help each other get better mindset. And they're coming from the, I don't know, Instagram likes mindset like you're saying. I got down voted into oblivion, it's like, "Why would you say that? It's like, well, it's true. I don't think I said anything untrue and I didn't say it in an unkind way. I thought we were here to learn. They're like, no.
Joey: Yeah. I wonder if a if a mograph.net could exist today in the environment that is the modern internet. People have so many places that they can go for quick and easy dopamine hits and positive feedback that to actually get to go on this message board essentially and get some pretty harsh even if it's true, so many harsh words. And it's interesting too because I don't spend a ton of time on mixed parts, but it's sort of become a little bit of a successor I think to mograph.net, but a very different tone, I think it's a lot friendlier in general I'll say.
Carey: Yeah, very respectful.
Joey: I think you've done some critiques on there, haven't you?
Carey: I think I joined Mixed Parts in the middle of last year and they were right at the middle of trying to figure out whether they were going to survive or not. That was basically the bulk of the discussion was how are we going to keep this alive? Are we going to keep this alive? I was like, before I get super invested in ... It's like, I don't want to get a cat and then it immediately dies.
Joey: [crosstalk 00:43:30] I get it.
Carey: Fall in love with this and then watch it crash. Thanks for reminding, I haven't been back. I need to check that out if there's discussion going on there, that's great because I think that there is a certain set of people out there who they really are looking to learn. And I think that the only way that you can learn is to be able to accept, when people give you suggestion that you don't take it like a personal rejection. It might feel like that, but you can't operate on that level constantly. You have to be able to go, "Interesting, all right. Let me take a shot at that and I'll get back to you," as opposed to just moving on to the next praiseworthy comment, which doesn't really get you anywhere.
Yeah, you're right. I think that there's absolutely a place for that discussion and that there really needs to be. But there has to be a culture shift, just like there has been a culture shift towards the getting likes and doing dailies in a public setting so that you can get exposure. That's sort of become more of the focus for I think a lot of people. You can still make progress that way, but I think it's going to be a lot slower because you're not allowing other people to help your learning process. You're right, I think that we really do need those places for people who want that kind of feedback. And it absolutely doesn't have to hurt.
The dentist doesn't need to drill through your entire mouth to get you healthy and bright and clean, you know what I mean? You don't have to come out of there bleeding from every hole in your body, there's an easier way.
Joey: It's such a terrible mental image. In all of our classes, we give critique to students. Every single one of our classes that has teaching assistants and stuff, there's critique. And our tone has always been really friendly and inclusive. I don't think anyone on our team would give sort of mean-spirited critique. But I think it is really important to get honest feedback because when you get into the client world especially if you start working with ad agencies and people like that, you're going to get crapped on sometimes. And you're going to have an art director tell you that you just wasted your time and I need this redone tomorrow, and stuff like that. And you have to kind of get inoculated to that, it's your work.
Carey: Yeah. You're telling me. I've had those, everybody has those moments. You're not going to have a sparkling, clear, crystal, perfect career. It's going to be fraught with bumps and mistakes and you're going to take your licks. I don't even know if it's about taking your licks, in the end who is this stuff for, the stuff that you're making, who's it for? Is it just for you? Because if it's just for you, why are you showing other people? Clearly, it's for other people. You have to take them into account when you're making this stuff. And if they're telling you, "Yeah, but I don't know man, this part kind of sucks," that's really important.
And, of course, it helps if they know what they're talking about and they can explain why they don't think it works. And that's where your colleagues are really, really important to how you educate yourself. But, man, holy cow, if you are just a child of doing daily renders and putting them up on Instagram and checking how many likes you got, oh, man, is it going to hurt when you try to do a paid job and actually make a career out of it. Your butt cheeks are going to be red, let me tell you.
Joey: Rude awakening, yeah. One of the things I wanted to ask you because you've been in this industry as long as I have. And it's interesting to sort of start to feel a little bit old know. I've been in the industry 15 years. And a lot has changed, but that's probably to me I think the most obvious change is just the way we get I guess positive reinforcement has totally changed. It used to be you would slave over your reel and you'd put it on mograph.net and you would just cross your fingers. And it was great because there was even that rating system where it was a one or two or a three.
Carey: It was like the Oscars for people who did [inaudible 00:48:15], I got a star.
Joey: And then Ted Gore would put his new reel up and you'd just like, "I quit."
Carey: Yeah, that son of a bitch.
Joey: It's interesting, there's conversations now that I see online of people saying are reels even relevant anymore because everyone's posting 30-second clips to Instagram or they're doing things that are just going to run on Facebook or something or there's just in an app. I'm curious because the kind of design that you have in your portfolio still feels like the kind of design that was happening in the early 2000s up till probably 2008, 2009 was the heyday of that stuff. Has that stuff changed your career at all in terms of the way you get clients and the kind of work you're doing?
Carey: I'm still doing lots of, well, I would say lots, but I'm still doing jobs. I still am investing in the design side of my career. At the same time, obviously, these videos take a shitload of time to make. I'm kind of trying to figure out if I can make enough money to actually support that endeavor and keep doing these. Again, I forgot your question.
Joey: Let's dig into that a little bit actually. I want to talk to you about the videos. I looked on YouTube, and I think your first video was a series on how to make a good reel or something like that. I actually used to recommend it to students when I was teaching at Ringling because it was so good. I think you did that about four years ago, you put it on YouTube. And those videos, I think they don't look as quite as labor-intensive as the newer ones you've been doing but still look like they took a ton of time.
Carey: Yeah, they did. I was really figuring out, I mean, I'm still figuring how to make them because you evolve as you continue to work on something. But that one about reel, that was the first thing that I had ever made in that sense. I had never done voiceover, that's terrifying to put your voice, record it and put it on the internet. I hadn't written a script for it, I just basically made an outline. I put the whole thing together, I worked really hard on making the actual reel and trying to come up with topics that I thought were important to discuss. I look at it now, I'm just, okay, there is good information in here, but all I can focus on is the fact that I sound really nasally or I sound like a mumbling, it's hard to watch.
Joey: For people listening who have not seen any of these videos, the way Carey makes these videos, it's not at all like a traditional tutorial. It's not, "Hey, Joey here from School of Motion, " and then just me screen sharing for 40 minutes. It's not that. I think I described it once as if Werner Hertzog made a mograph documentary about something. You've made a film, and especially the last two. Clearly, you've scripted them out, there's voiceovers, cuts. It's crazy how produced they are. I'm curious why you chose that format, how did you arrive at that?
Carey: Well, when I did that first one about making a real, I was like okay. I basically have been again, on mograph pretty much for like the last 10 years or something trying to impart this information to people. And I was like what I should do is instead of repeating myself over and over, and over because a lot of people tend to have the same issues when they first tried to start making their reel. And I was like, "Why don't I just codify this information. I could either write it down or it would be, imagine this, really appropriate, I should make a video because it's about making videos."
I put it together over the course of, I think it took me four weeks or something. I look at it now and it's a shit show. The whole endeavor was to try to convey to people that hadn't really worked on this kind of thing before that essentially you're making a short film. You're making something for people to watch. It's not a slideshow, people hate slideshows. And it's not just a document of your work, people don't want a resume, it's not that interesting and especially in the context of motion graphics, you're trying to show that you're good at this stuff. Maybe the way that you do it should be good.
It's like you're trying to convince people, "Hey, I make videos for a living, here's a video to show you how I do that." Well, that video should probably be pretty good as opposed to a slideshow of other stuff that might be good. Okay, this is getting meta, but in my own effort to make a video about people making videos about their videos, I was like, "This should probably be pretty good, and I should think about this as a kind of film." That first effort, not the best, but I did more and I got better. I guess I'll let you be the judge of that. But yeah, by the second one, I think that I kind of started to realize like, "If these are going to be 25 minutes long, I better make it have an arc. I better start it out, I better pepper it with some interesting side bits, maybe there are some dumb jokes," because that's my disposition. And at the end, there better be a sense of completion.
It's like you better go on a journey from start to finish. And it's like, "Hey what did you just do?" You just made a film, Carey. It's 25 minutes, the production value is really low because it's all me. I'm sitting in my underwear at home making this thing. But in the end, somebody who's going to watch the whole thing is going to be, they're going to need to get pulled through. Again, it's like that psychology of storytelling is what's really powerful for people. I set it up not like a, the duck went to the store and then this happened. That'd be a really cool story, by the way. Just that somebody needs to be able to get invested in it. There has to be a kind of a, in a certain abstract sense, there's got to be a plot. There's got to be some charisma to it.
When you say that it's not the same thing as your normal tutorial, which I think of essentially as a step by step recipe that somebody with a droning voice goes through for you, while their mouse cursor flies around the screen. That is absolutely not what I'm interested in making. and I wouldn't be good at that anyway, I'm not a technical person. When you said Werner Herzog, I was like, "I don't know if that's good or not, that doesn't sound good. That dude is morose." But yeah, I get it. If I'm understanding you right, then thanks, that's really sweet of you to say.
Joey: I meant it as a compliment, but maybe I shouldn't have [inaudible 00:55:52]. I remember at one point Motionographer ran an article about one of your videos. The title of it was the best tutorial ever. It's interesting because as soon as I saw it, I can't remember which one, it was probably the composition one. I think it was the first one I really watched.
Carey: It was the storyboarding one that they did the article about. And then I went into the composition one, which is probably the one you-
Joey: Maybe it was the storyboarding one. But I remember watching it and thinking, and at that time, I had started making tutorials. And I thought, "What I'm doing is the kindergarten version of what Carey is doing." For a while-
Carey: You're just a baby.
Joey: I did this whole series where I tried to kind of do what you were doing and I scripted things out and edited it and made it a lot more fast-paced. I'm sure they're more entertaining for the people watching them. But, dear God, they're so labor-intensive. And not just labor intensive, mentally taxing like, "What am I going to show when I'm saying this line? What am I going to show?" It's like editing a video, you're editing a full-on TV show. Hod do you balance the workload of doing those things with I assume puppies gotta eat pay, paying the bills.
Carey: Well, these puppies have only been around for, when did I get them? Last Sunday, it's about a week and a half. It wasn't really a concern for me when I was making the last one. But essentially, the only reason that I'm able to do these videos at all because I don't charge a lot for them so they're not a huge moneymaker. But I've had a few jobs in the past where I was able to sock away a little bit of money. I'm basically just living off of savings. And I decided to do that, I negotiated with myself. I was like, "Okay. Look, this isn't going to be a money-making venture for maybe ever." And hopefully at some point, I can develop a stable business around it where I can actually support myself off of it.
But I'm basically just going to have to invest the time upfront, just like you did. You couldn't possibly have been supporting yourself for, I don't even know how long it took. But you got there and I'm again without like marketing and stuff, I'm not anywhere near where I would have to be to be able to do this absolutely full-time. But I live a really spare life, it's not super expensive. I don't have three kids. What I hear this having a dog, it's like being a single parent but not on the level of three kids in a house. I live in an apartment, I live now with a puppy. I'm able to kind of live without working for stretches at a time as long as I don't get too extravagant. And that's really the only way that I've been able to keep making these videos.
I assume that that's how Werner Herzog does it, I'm just following his model.
Joey: Oh, absolutely. And you do this in Los Angeles, which that's another amazing thing because there's probably only two or three more expensive places.
Carey: Oh, my God. Yeah, it's getting nasty here, holy cow.
Joey: Are you still freelance and doing design for studios and stuff like that?
Carey: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Right now, I'm supposed to be working on a project. I think I mentioned earlier with a good friend of mine. And we're doing just some branding stuff for a show that, I guess I can't technically say what it is. But, oh, NDAs, aren't you so sweet.
Joey: So much fun.
Carey: I'll take jobs. They come at me and I'll sort of turn down a lot of them because I want to keep investing my time in making these videos. I'm writing a series of shorter episodes right now. We'll see how long it takes me to get through to the point where I could start releasing them. Effectively, I'm just taking jobs that sort of fit my schedule when I can just to kind of keep myself afloat. And hopefully at some point I've got enough content that's good, that people really want that I can maybe just break even and keep it going. Maybe then it becomes self-sustaining.
People keep asking me that question of are you going to make another video, are you going to make another video? And I'm like, "I'd love to, I've got ideas for them and I know that there's a lot of content to talk about. I don't know how long I can afford to sit in this [crosstalk 01:00:52].
Joey: Dog food ain't free, I know, I know. I want to ask you this, I got a couple more questions for you. As someone in the industry about as long as you've been and as someone who transitioned from client work to teaching online, I'm just curious what's sort of motivating to make this transition?
Carey: I don't know if this will sound cheesy or not. But honestly, I know what it feels like to be sitting at home or wherever and you have that urge you want to make stuff and you're trying to make stuff. And maybe you do make stuff and it's just not there. There's something not clicking for you, you're looking at other people's work and you're like, "Why isn't my stuff as cool as that guy's stuff? I want to make that stuff." And in the current climate of people entering into the industry because they got a hold of the tools and that's sort of the basis of their understanding of design or animation. It's like everybody is kind of coming in from this whole thing a little backwards. And I just have this feeling, it's the same thing that I kind of had when I was critiquing people's work on say mograph or something.
I can see where you're coming from and I know that that's a really frustrating place. And even when it's fun, there's a moment where you just go, "Damn it, why isn't my stuff as cool?" And you think that you have ideas in your head and you want them to come out and you want to make that stuff, it's so unsatisfying. I'm trying to help people essentially kind of rewire themselves at least in part to get to the point where they have that foundation that will allow them to start growing in the right direction. It's like a lot of people basically just started out on a path that's really fraught with a lot of problems and doesn't lead anywhere satisfying. And I just kind of want to help them, I just want to nudge them over to this path where they're going to be like, "Oh, wait, I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel here." You know what I mean?
Joey: It's a good feeling, yeah, yeah. If someone's pretty new to this industry, and I think a lot of people listening probably feel that way, I still feel that way most of the times. It's like that idea of the gap, I think the Ira Glass quote. You've got taste, which is why you're attracted to motion design. A taste far exceeds your ability and you don't know why. What advice would you give someone in that situation at the beginning of their mograph journey?
Carey: Oh, my god, Joey. That's such a big question.
Joey: You have one minute, go.
Carey: It really is again, like I was saying, it's about that foundation that you lay for yourself right and that very, very common misstep of coming into it, just starting off on the wrong path. It's not necessarily the wrong path, it's just a path that's going to cause you a lot of problems down the road and it's going to lead to a lot of dissatisfaction. That's what you're looking for is the satisfaction of making something really cool. You know what that feels when you've just whipped out something that is just dope. It just feels good. And I think the content that I've been making it's really aiming to help people do exactly that.
Say you're, I don't know 23 or something 20 and you've kind of been playing around with this stuff and you're emulating other artists and you don't really have your own personal voice, that's something that I talked a lot about in style and strategy, kind of how to develop or start developing your personal voice. As dry as that is considering how easy it is to go watch a 10-minute tutorial on how to make a shiny chrome whatever thing. It's really attractive to be able to do that, to have that immediate feedback of I watched a 10-minute video, that was easy. Now, I just follow the steps and I've got that same cool thing.
And you feel a certain sense of accomplishment, but it's really waning, it's that same dopamine hit of getting the likes or whatever because as soon as you realize it didn't really come from you, it came from the fact that you had the same tool that the other guy had and that guy showed you how to literally make the exact same thing that he did. I guess it's the, I don't want to say it's the higher path I guess. It's a little harder. It's harder to walk, it takes longer. But the end result of that journey, I'm really talking in metaphors here but the end result of that journey is like you're standing on top of the mountain and you can see the other mountains.
Oh, man, I really feel like I'm standing at the pulpit now. But yeah, that's where the real satisfaction comes. And I know that that's what everyone who wants to do this stuff is really looking for. They have stuff inside of them that they want to express or they like the craft, they just like making things. And in the end, you want to have something that other people appreciate. And what other people appreciate is something compelling. They appreciate things like storytelling, they appreciate having things communicated to them. Things that are compelling or not just look at that glow. Your audience is not into the lens flare that you chose to put on there. That's the sad fact, they don't care.
And the other side of that is everyone else who does this can put that exact same lens flare on that. The only way that you're really going to make something satisfying, that people connect with is to go on that somewhat longer journey of developing your own voice. I don't know if people think that this is an elitist term or something, but really becoming an artist. When I was a kid, when I was a teenager, I thought that calling myself an artist, it felt kind of disgusting. I liked drawing comic book characters, I'm not an artist. That idea of artists had the fine artist thing, snobbery of all that stuff. For anybody who's listening to this podcast right now, clearly you're interested in this stuff enough. You're an artist, that's what you are.
And it took me a long time to realize that, but that's the case. And if you want to be in the arts, then it probably means that you want to make satisfying stuff. And if you want to make satisfying stuff, at some point you have to start going down or going up the higher path, I guess. The harder path of developing things like personal voice, understanding things like storytelling, trying to make things that are actually compelling to other people because that's really the value of art is in conveying stuff to other people not just beauty but maybe beauty in all of its various forms. Again, maybe it's something horrific, maybe you are trying to compel someone to action, maybe you're trying to make them laugh, who knows. There's all kinds of art out there obviously.
But to get there, you have to at some point step outside of that routine of I'm going to learn how to make the, I don't know X particles whizzy thing. You know what a whizzy thing is? That's totally [crosstalk 01:09:12]. You have to step outside of that at some point and start investing in the basics, the foundational stuff. Maybe get some design history in you, maybe get some foundational work with composition, maybe start to understand storytelling because what we do is ... I feel like I've been talking for 20 minutes. What we do effectively in the end is we are storytellers. Regardless of whether you're making a three-second animation that's just a lower third, you're conveying something to people.
And for the most part, people pick up information. They learn things and they're compelled by stuff that's in a story format. You have a start, middle and end even in a lower third. I used to have to make that stuff, I've worked at TV networks and whatnot. And it's like, yeah, you have an intro to it, you have a middle section where it conveys information and you have an outro to. In abstract, that's a little story. It's the foundation of communicating stuff to people. It's all that kind of stuff, the basics of storytelling, of composition just make something beautiful so somebody is not disinterested in what you've made. All that stuff is really important and it does take more effort, it takes more learning. But I think that anybody who's listening to this clearly is invested enough to want to go down that path.
Joey: Mind blown. Head over to division05.com to check out Carey's work and to find all of his incredible video lessons. They'll be linked in the show notes. And seriously, go check them out. Also, check out the newly relaunched mograph.net. If you see Zack Lovatt, buy him a beer because he is the reason the site is back up. But check it out, it's like a time capsule for motion design.
I want to thank Carey for hanging out and I want to thank you for listening to two grown men giggle about phlegm and dog butts for over an hour. And that's it, until next time.