School of Motion

Mixing Motion Design and Humor with Dylan Mercer

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We dig in with Kiwi motion designer Dylan Mercer to discuss his refreshing approach to the animation process.

Today we have the pleasure of talking Animation Bootcamp alumni Dylan Mercer. Dylan produced some hilarious projects a few sessions back and now we finally get to pick his brain about animation, comedy, and the motion design scene in Australia and New Zealand.

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Home, Sweet Home
School of Motion: Heya Dylan! First off, we’ve gotta say that we loved the humorous angle you took with of your Animation Bootcamp projects, particularly Nudl and Brainhole: Part Deux. Who are some of your comedic influences?
Dylan Mercer: The 'Nudl' project came out of my revision method of reading the course material out loud in funny voices, which I've done since high school. I was working at home all day doing these regional New Zealand accents and suddenly they had spilled into my actual project! I embraced it and it gave me a second wind to add more to the piece while still applying the weeks' teachings.
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That follow-through...👌
For my 'Brainhole Part Deux'; I had just seen the making of Gunner's animation; 'Mesh'. I loved how they acted out the motion and then used that as their animatic, and I wanted to try doing the same! It leads to a way more free and fluid animation, because you are starting with your hands, not digital keyframes.
As far as comedy influences go; I think you can hear the influence of Rhys Derby & Flight of the Conchords. Us Kiwis love to poke a bit of fun at ourselves and I love that about our national identity.
Dylan's live-action storyboard.
SOM: Cool! Are there any other animation or design influences you’d like to share?
DM: Right now I can't get enough of Golden Wolf! I love the cartoon bumpers they do for TV! In my day, those would just be an edit of the shows with voice-overs to play between shows, but Golden Wolf makes these beautiful weird little independent animations for them. The Venture Brothers [Adult Swim] ones are great, but their work on Ducktails is probably the second best thing on the internet (the best thing on the internet is obviously Fishing show bloopers by Bill Dance.)
SOM: All great stuff. What can you tell us about the motion design communities in Australia and New Zealand?
It's really strong and very friendly. We have some amazing communities on Slack (Node, Pro Video) and a good meetup culture, especially in Melbourne and Auckland, so lots of chats and beers! There's a couple of great events every year, the best of which for motion designers is Node Fest. There's a nice camaraderie among freelancers too, and most of my work comes from other freelancers passing my name on to clients.
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The creativity here is... so... "Mercer"
SOM: Glad to hear you've got such awesome community! Are most of your clients based locally or internationally?
DM: Most of my clients are local, though I'm noticing a change from being predominantly in-house to remote in the last year. I have been working more and more for Hypercube Studios who are a Dutch-based shop with satellite freelancers around the globe. They work primarily in the blockchain explainer space which is really taking off right now. I've also taken on creative director duties with Hypercube.
SOM: Cool, cool. What can you tell us a bit about your time in course? What would you say was was the most important thing you learned in Animation Bootcamp?
DM: It was a challenge to find the hours in the week for Animation Bootcamp, but it REALLY supercharged my approach to motion. I think my key takeaway is that software will come and go, but there will always be employment for someone who knows the fundamentals of good animation.
SOM: Were any aspects of the course particularly challenging?
DM: There's one exercise where you have to animate a bunch of paper planes, and it seems simple, but it's so hard to get right! Even after 4 revisions, I'm not 100% I've got the weights right on those planes. I think the hardest thing is knowing when to draw the line and stop tweaking curves till 4am.
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4am Curve Tweaks = Sweet Results
SOM: Ah, Dogfighter - that can be a tough one. So, it’s been almost a year since you took the course. What kinds of projects have you been working on since then? Have you been putting what you learned in Animation Bootcamp to good use?
DM: Yeah, I think my work has really benefited from being able to self-criticize through the Animation Bootcamp lens. I'm better equipped to step back and ask myself if the motion of a piece FEELS right.
I've worked on a variety of tech-explainers, more artistic pieces for non-profits, and a promo for an urban compost company, which I really gave the 'passion project' treatment.
All of my projects have benefited from my new skills as a value-curve ninja. I embrace the chance to make things bounce, bend, oscillate, snap, crackle and pop!
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Stills from the We Compost project. Way to go Dylan, animation for good.
SOM: Glad to hear it! Finally, do you have any advice for new School of Motion students?
DM: Animation Bootcamp is built really well so that whatever experience level you come into it with, the skills and theories are instantly applicable to your work and will stay relevant forever. The zero-skilled newbies, right through to the seasoned motion designers can apply the lessons to any animation they find themselves working on.
Just know that you WILL have to apply yourself and TRY not to play Two Dots while Joey is giving his lectures!
SOM: Awesome! Thanks for taking the time to talk!
Get a good look at Dylan's work with this groovin' animation reel.
You can find more of Dylan’s work, including his Animation Bootcamp projects, in his portfolio and on Vimeo.