In this industry you never stop learning...
And Cinema 4D is definitely one of those apps that you start learning and never stop. Frankly, most of the apps we Motion Designers use fall into that category. EJ Hassenfratz has built up a reputation as an amazing C4D artist and teacher. His tutorials have been featured on Greyscalegorilla, he has presented for Maxon at various conferences, and his work shows that he can also walk the walk. Joey had the pleasure of chatting with EJ about the tutorial scene, how they both learned Cinema 4D, and the challenges of learning such a massive app (not to mention the challenges of understanding the 3D workflow in general).
EJ is gentleman, a scholar, and a beer enthusiast. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did. Make sure to check out EJ's work and more at EyeDesyn.com!
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Pluralsight (Formally Digital Tutors)
Joey Korenman: When I was in Middle School, my idol was Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I actually had a poster of him on the wall in my bedroom doing the most muscular pose. You should google that, if you don't know what that is. That's one of the reasons I was so excited to pronounce the last name of the guest that I have on the podcast today. I'm not sure podcast is the right word, but this is ... this thing that you're listening to ... EJ Hassenfratz is the person that I was very fortunate enough to chat with, and we've kinda went all over the place, but let me tell you briefly about EJ. Not that you need me to do that, because you probably already know who he is.
Badass Cinema 4D artist, and mainly the reason that he's super endeared to me, and I love the man, is because he also shares his knowledge. He's a teacher. He has a site idesygn.com, design with a y, by the way, not an ig, put a y, and he has a ton of lessons and training and tutorials on there, also few tools that he's made, and you've probably also seen him on Grayscalegorilla and he also teaches on linda.com. So, EJ and I dug into the tutorial scene and where it started and now what it's become, and lessons we've learned along the way. We also talk about our favorite 3D program, Cinema 4D. I'm sure most of you, if you're listening to this, are probably familiar with Cinema 4D, you probably use it, and we talked about the struggles of learning a piece of software that all-encompassing. There's just so many topics to consider when you're learning something like that, and EJ and I both feel that we kinda learned it backwards, probably like most of you learned it.
So we get into a lot of interesting topics and EJ is just such a gracious, awesome, amazing guy, and I think you're really going to enjoy this. So without further ado, Hassenfratz.
EJ Hassenfratz, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat, man. I can't wait to dig in.
EJ Hassenfratz: No problem, good german accent on that pronunciation there, you nailed it.
Joey Korenman: There's Eastern European blood in my lineage. Plus, I'm Jewish, so I've got the Hebrew thing so the (guttural sound).
EJ Hassenfratz: You've got the (guttural sound), yeah you got that.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, the guttural sound.[crosstalk 00:02:34]
EJ Hassenfratz: -deep, back-throat thing going on, you're doing just fine.
Joey Korenman: That's all day long. So listen man, I first of all want to clear something up, because I went to idesygn.com which, I'm sure, everyone listening is familiar with, there are many, many, many really great training and tutorial videos there, as well as some products you've developed. But from that website it really looks like your primary thing is teaching, but I'm curious. Is that your primary thing? Or are you mostly still doing client work?
EJ Hassenfratz: I do love doing the teaching thing, just because before I did any teaching whatsoever, I didn't have a good grasp of the software or stuff like that, but- as a teacher you feel the same way- to be able to teach something well requires such a deeper understanding of the subject that you're talking about, so I feel like I really did start to really learn and understand a lot of the basic concepts of Cinema 4D or how things work technically or behind the scenes until I started figuring it out. Okay, I did this, how did I do this, and how can I convey that information to someone else so they understand it as well? So you need that extra level of understanding but I feel like teaching's really helped the client side of things.
So I do do teaching, I do still do client work, and right now it's maybe 30% teaching, 70% client work. Well, actually, maybe 60% client work and 10% just screwing around and playing around. You always need that 10% screwing around time, but I really enjoy teaching and just interacting with people, because I freelance, I have a home office, so it's not like I'm surrounded by a bunch of other Myograph guys or anything like that, so it's almost like my outlet to outside of my office, to interact with other people, especially doing the live streams on Twitch now, that's really good because then you have live feedback and it's not just me still sitting alone in my office and recording something and then just seeing what people think about it. I like the interaction that teaching allows for me, but actually the story of doing tutorials ...
I kind of fell ass-backwards into it because they had a meet-up in DC that was all just animators in general, and this was around the same time, maybe 5 years ago, where I saw all of this stuff going on, like Nick and Greyscalegorilla was doing his thing I actually still had a full-time job at that point, but I wanted to go freelance, and just seeing what everyone else was doing, people who are successful in freelance, the recurring theme was you're just putting yourself out there and no one is going to find you if you don't get over that fear of putting your work out there, putting yourself out there and opening yourself up to criticism, because I definitely needed criticism, I was not very good. I still don't consider myself very good but I can tell you I'm a heck of a lot better than I was.
But making that conscious decision to be more active in the community ... I come from a local TV News station basically where you just animate text. It's not very creative, you're just dealing with news stories and stuff like that, and the opportunity is to really just do really fun, creative stuff as few and far between, just because the News cycle's so short, you have to crank things out, so many things a day. If I had a project that had a week to complete, that was like "Oh my goodness, this is so much time! What am I gonna do?" As opposed to now where a month is like, or 2 months, or 3 months, just trying to stretch that out. I made a conscious decision to put myself out there and right around that same time, like I said, they had this animators' meet up and they were specifically talking about Cinema 4D.
I didn't really know that many other designers in the DC area that used Cinema 4D at the time, so I just knew my other buddy, Dave Glands, who's also pretty active on Twitter an stuff like that, but he's a really talented motion graphics guy in the DC area as well, so I reached out to him and I was like "Hey, they're looking for people, do you want to do this with me? Let's go present our work and do a little presentation on Cinema 4D and all that stuff." Like I said I didn't know anyone else who did Cinema 4D, so both of us were like "All right, let's do this."
We reached out to the guy who ran the meet up and both of us ... I think we were the only ones who actually raised our hands and volunteered for it. That was fun, because after they were like "Yeah, you can do it." I was like "Oh, I've never..."
Joey Korenman: Oh crap!
EJ Hassenfratz: Yeah! Crap, that means I have to stand up in front of people and talk! And I just remembered back to in college, taking Public Speaking 101 and that being the most nerve-wracking class that I've ever had to do. Standing up in front of people ... there was the poll that said most Americans are afraid of public speaking than dying, dying's the 2nd most fearful thing that you're afraid of.
I was like "Okay, let's do this." Again, just the whole mantra of "Put yourself out there to be able to connect with other people." For me, try to make that leap to freelance by meeting other people in the industry and getting clients and just how other people jump to freelance as well. Dave and I, we did our presentation, I had I think a 20-minute presentation and maybe 18 minutes of it was me going "Um, um, um"
Joey Korenman: Right, just pacing.
EJ Hassenfratz: Yeah. So that actually went well and apparently, it was all MAXON sponsored, I found out after and they were like "We're gonna record you doing your presentations and we're gonna send it to MAXON." As if I wasn't nervous enough, now they're going to send this tape of me stumbling horribly, trying to convey information and all this stuff ... it actually turned out being this major thing that happened in the course of my career because of the fact that Dave and I decided to volunteer to present at this meet up that was being sponsored by MAXON and MAXON saw the tapes. I don't know what they were on at the time but they said "Hey, you look really good! You presented really well, do you want to present for us at NAB?" And I'm like "What? Are you sure it's me? Because Dave was really good but I kinda sucked. Maybe you just want him?" So that was kind of the thing at that time, and like I said, that was the first time I've ever spoke in front of an audience before, and now the next thing I'm gonna do from that is NAB in front of my peers and people that really know their stuff, and plus there's their livestream that's going to be live streamed to thousands of people, not just like 50 people in a little room that I did for the meet up
So I was like "Oh crap. I need to get my crap together and just start practicing." So that's kind of how I started doing tutorials because I was like "All right, well, I see this is what other people are doing, I need to practice this, I need to get past that fear of presenting and that's kind of how I started doing my tutorials. You can actually go to my website now and I have some of my first tutorials still up for whatever reason. I need to take them down, but you can see-
Joey Korenman: Oh, you gotta leave those up, man! Definitely don't take those down!
EJ Hassenfratz: So if you go down to my website, all the way at the bottom there's like some of my very first ones and the Ums and the Uh and the ... just so nervous, it's so funny. Even going back now ... I think I'm at the point where I can finally go back and watch them again and just laugh at myself.
Joey Korenman: Right. It's like a different human in that video.
EJ Hassenfratz: Exactly. It was just so embarrassing for the longest time, like "Oh, that's so terrible."
Joey Korenman: I can totally feel everything you just said. Because you and I, we sort of have similar paths we've taken, starting off being artists doing a lot of client work and then slowly, slowly moving, kind of splitting into teaching, and now I'm basically teaching full time, and what was interesting for me was making the transition from just being comfortable talking and sort of explaining stuff, and then starting to really focus on "Okay, how do I get better?" Not just at the talking part and the feeling comfortable in front of crowds and all that, I mean that, for me just came with doing it a lot and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach in person at Ringling, but it was also practice, breaking down really hard concepts and trying to find interesting ways to explain them.
I've seen some of your original tutorials, I've seen some of the more recent stuff you've done with sketch and tune, and you have gotten very good at breaking things down and explaining it, and coming up with just the right example to show case a certain thing you're trying to teach, and I'm curious if you've made a conscious effort to try and improve your teaching skills or if that's just come with experience over time?
EJ Hassenfratz: I feel like that was just forcing myself to do it, and then once I was comfortable doing that and that wasn't really an issue it was more "Okay. I've done this, I can do this, now how do I refine my process? How do I become a better teacher, not a better speaker." Because I had already gone past, like you said ... you do it so many times, you naturally just get used to speaking in front of people and stuff like that.
One of my buddies, Dan Dally, he's an amazing illustrator/animator, and he used to live in DC, but I remember talking to him, and this was when I first started doing tutorials, he was like "Your stuff is great," and it was good to have someone so blunt and honest, I feel like that's a really important thing to have, is someone who you can talk to who's going to not give a crap about your feelings, but just tell you ... someone you trust that is really good at what they do and you can trust their opinion. He was like "Your stuff's really good, but your end product doesn't look very good. When I see your tutorial image, it doesn't look as nice as some of the stuff that Greyscalegorilla was doing." All of his stuff looked amazing and I was like "Yeah, true. That's very true."
Because I was so focused on the concepts, that you need to, just to get people in the door, is like "Hey, look at this really cool thing that you can make." But not make it all about that, but I mean that's also an important thing ... you need to convey a concept and then show how you can make a really cool end product. Or not really cool end product, but something that's just designed very well. Because at the end of the day, you're teaching software, but you're also teaching design and composition and color, and you always want those concepts to be wrapped into your teaching that is software-based, as far as what I think training should be.
Joey Korenman: I think you just nailed it. I think we should throw Nick under the bus a little for kind of ruining it for everybody. Everything he did, you know those first few Greyscalegorilla tutorials that put him on the map ... what he was teaching was pretty simple, but it looked so good. That's what separated him. Andrew Kramer's tutorials, a lot of them also have that same thing too, where, although his are generally more complicated, but it still just looks so cool. I think that the best training out there, especially if you're doing online training, it has to hit both check boxes. It has to teach you the stuff you need to know, which may not be that much fun to learn, but it also has to entertain you or excite you enough to sit through the whole thing. There's a lot of different ways to do that, I think.
Let's jump into this. I want to hear a little bit about how you learned Cinema 4D, and I'd love to hear about ... I'm guessing you and I, we probably learned it around the same time before there were all these resources, so what was the process that you took to learn it and to get comfortable with it?
EJ Hassenfratz: I think Nick might have just started doing his stuff. He might have been on his Photoshop phase or Aftereffects phase, I don't think he really quite went to Cinema 4D yet, but most of the training that was available when I was starting out ... let me think, it was maybe version 9 or ... no, I think it was 10, or 10.5, right when the myograph module stuff came out. With that, that's when everyone started to jump on the bandwagon and, because of the integration with the after effects, that's when a lot more people started using it, and a lot more people started doing training on it. But before that, I remember just ... you had the Cinema 4D thick, giant manual.
Joey Korenman: Oh yeah!
EJ Hassenfratz: That was one of the main resources, unless you wanted to pay a butt-ton of money to buy DVD trainings. I know we had, where I was working at full-time, they had the 3D fluff, that was a thing, and then Creative Pal, actually a really good place as well-
Joey Korenman: C4D Café-
EJ Hassenfratz: Yes, C4D Café, Nigel, he's still doing his thing. He was one of the first guys, I think, was ... helped me learn Cinema 4D, and there's ... it's the one ... I forget who he is, but he now works at Cineversity, this one German guy who ... he was very active on the Creative Pal forums ... daily 2 ... Oh, Doctor Sassy!
Joey Korenman: Oh yeah! Sassy's Tool Tips! I remember those!
EJ Hassenfratz: He always started with ... and you know, he's so, so smart. But sometimes ... he's got that thick german accent and sometimes you're like "I don't know what he's doing." Because he was so advanced, for someone that didn't know what the heck ... nearly any basics of Cinema 4D, I was kind of way over my head, but now going back I was like, "Wow. This guy, he's so amazingly smart." He's still doing this thing, he's active on the Cineversity forums and all that kind of stuff.
That's kind of how I started learning, and to be quite honest, I've kind of learned the way that maybe a lot of people who are just getting into now are, where they're attracted to the "Oh, that looks really awesome. That sexy thing, let me learn how to do this one sexy thing that's abstract. I don't really know where it fits in my actual work flow, or if my client or my place where I'm at would ask me to do something like this, but that looks really hot and I want to learn how to do that." Not knowing enough about the software or how it works enough to understand "Why am I pushing some buttons to get to this point?" And just getting to one end product. I fell into the same trap that a lot of kids I feel like do now, where they're so anxious to make cool things that learning the foundations and the basics; not sexy.
Joey Korenman: Right. They see Beeple using Octane and they think "Octane is the answer." And that's how he makes his stuff look so good. Right?
EJ Hassenfratz: Go back to when Beeple was just doing his first everydays, and you'll see how far he's come, because some of his first things were like "Oh, wow. That's ... it looks okay, but ..."
Joey Korenman: Right. "I could do that!" Yeah, I think you raised the biggest point, and I'm glad you raised it. This is, to me, the central, I know it's like a quandary, about Cinema 4D. Cinema 4D is what I use for 3D software. I've tried other software, it's my favorite one times a million, but there is this issue with it ... it's not really it's fault, and it's not really even an issue, it's just what it's turned into, and that is it is so frickin' easy to just jump in and start making neat stuff. Right?
EJ Hassenfratz: Oh, for sure, yeah.
Joey Korenman: That I think there is an entire generation of Motion Designers who use Cinema 4D who don't know what a UV Map is. Who don't have the first clue about how to actually model something. I'm making sure everyone knows I'm not on a high horse here, because I actually do not know how to model very well. I do know what a UV map is but that's like one thing out of probably 10 that I should know that I'm not very good at. I think the reason that that's the case is I was able to jump in and just start using the software without really having a clue what I was doing, just kind of following tutorials and eventually getting there.
It sounds like, EJ, you had a similar experience, and I'm curious, have you seen any issues that have popped up for you because you learned it that way and maybe missed out on some of the foundational stuff?
EJ Hassenfratz: Oh, for sure. I mean, I feel like just within the last, maybe 2 years, I really, especially since I went freelance, just because I was so used to doing things in the context of sports graphics or maybe news graphics, and then I got into the sports realm, and I was just like "I really want to not just be pigeon-holed into being a sports guy or just broadcast in general, just doing shiny, 3D logos and stuff like that. I've done that for my whole entire career is animating 3D, shiny type that I really want to move on to other things." That's when I really had to take a step back and be like "Okay. Look at my reel ... it's okay, it's full of all this news stuff, but I want to get into all this other stuff."
So I started doing more infographic stuff, and I'd just be like "Man, if I had to do something that I couldn't use, like, myograph effectors to help me animate-" I was using that as a crutch, basically, because I didn't know how to really, properly key-frame things, or, in after-effects I leaned too heavily on Ease and Wiz without figuring out like, what if a little preset button thing doesn't get me exactly what I want? What do I do then?
Joey Korenman: Right.
EJ Hassenfratz: Harken it to ... I used to work retail, and sometimes the Network would go down or the power would go out and you'd have to like "Oh, I don't have the computer to do all my math for me, crap. Now I have to do it in my head." I thought it was something like that where I had to not rely on these effectors, I had to ... "Okay, how do actual key-frames work? How do the curves look to get this certain movement, and what's a believable motion, or what's some good colors to use for all this stuff?"
I also relied too much on texture packs, but what if what you want to do isn't that exact texture? How do I tweak it to what I want it to be?" And if you've just been using all of these pre-made materials and not understand how they were built, then you have no idea how to get them to do the things that you want.
That's another ... that's a big thing as well, coming from after-effects. That's where I came from, and then jumped into the Cinema 4D, so you not only have, in after-effects of course you need to have the nice color-pallet and stuff like that, but things completely change when you go into the world of 3D. You not only have the colors, but you have the shading and the speculum and the reflections and the bumps and all this other stuff that reacts with the different lighting in your scene, then the colors of the light, it's just ... it's a lot more stuff to take in.
I had to be honest with myself and be like "Even when I was just in after-effects, I sucked at composition, I sucked at colors, I sucked at color-harmony and animation." And I figured "Oh, well, I'll just go into 3D and if I make everything that I would've made, like flat text, in after-effects and just made it and just extruded it, and through 4D just throw a shiny texture on it and boom, I'm good." Like, that just covered up so much of my basic fundamentals that I was lacking for such a long time, you know, I still struggle today with that kind of stuff, just because, I didn't go to school for this, I was self-taught. I didn't animate a damn thing in college.
Joey Korenman: It's fine. Same story as me. I kind of feel like a lot of people ... and maybe it's getting better now, because there are like, good programs out there, 4 year programs you can do and now there's a lot of online stuff, but we still tend to learn things backwards. If you want to learn how to make some cool Beeple-animated robot thing, okay, cool. So you can learn how to rig some stuff in Cinema 4D. But wait, I actually don't know how to make any of my own parts, so I need to learn how to model. I actually don't know what robots look like, so I need to learn how to draw robots, and I need to ... well, I don't know what robots look like, so I need to go find some pictures of robots.
Basically, you should've started with learning to go find reference, and do sketches, and then model your own pieces, and then texture them, and then rig them, but we learn backwards, because there's these tutorials. "I'll just go watch the tutorial, then I can do it!"
I think it belies how much of a foundation is actually present in the people that you're looking at. When you look at Nick doing his first set of tutorials, lighting shiny balls, basically. He made it look very easy, and you could just follow his tutorial and get the same thing. But the reality is, he is a photographer, and he knows a lot about lighting, so it looks very easy when he does it, but it's only easy because he knows photography and he knows lighting. So that's kind of step 1, but, I fall into this category, I sort of learned it backwards from learning it from people like Nick and other people like that.
One question, EJ, would be, do you think that that's even an issue? Do you think that there's a right order to learn things in or does it matter to you how someone gets that information in there?
EJ Hassenfratz: Well, I would like to think that, even though I did it the wrong way, I realized I was doing it the wrong way, and I think that's the whole thing. If you don't have the perspective of, like you were just saying, Joey, how you understand that Nick knows how to light things because he's got this awesome background as a really good photographer and actual doing real-life lighting set ups and stuff like that, and just understanding ... what I used to do is, if I saw something cool, I'd be like "All right, well I want to emulate that."
And the more important thing is understanding where that artist got their influence from, because everyone's copying everyone else in some way, but the thing is, are you ripping it off? Or are you emulating it with an understanding of what artist did this artist be inspired by, and what kind of styles is he meshing together to make it his own kind of style, because I think that's a hard thing too, just coming up with your own style, your own original style.
That was, I think, for the longest time, just because, me coming from news and sports, it's just like everything looks the same. It's hard to have some kind of personality or style with ... it's almost like, "No, we don't want that to look different, we want this to look like everyone else's stations so we fit in." And stuff like that.
Joey Korenman: Right. And you'll see, too, if you see a real robust 3D pipeline at like a big 3D studio like Pixar or something like that, you've got these sort of 3D technical artists, modelers, and texture artists working on things that, you know, they're kind of head-down, looking at their piece of the puzzle, but 10 steps before that, someone drew a picture and figured out how big something should be in the frame, and what the composition should be and what color it should be, so now the technicians can come in and create the asset that creates that look.
That's a very film-production, high-end, SIOP-level 3D production kind of paradigm, but for Cinema 4D artists, a lot of us kinda work like you do. You have a home office, or you're working in a small little shop, and you have a week to do something.
What advice would you give anyone using Cinema 4D who's kind of, you know, maybe they know the software pretty well, but they're looking at their work and they're saying "It doesn't look as good as that guy's."
EJ Hassenfratz: Well, one thing that I had that I still have to keep reminding myself at this point, like you were just saying, like Pixar, how many people work for Pixar that ... how many people are involved in just a single frame, you know what I mean? You look at SIOP or you look at digital kitchen ... these are teams of super-talented people. I have a friend that works in New York, and he used to work at the mill, and all this stuff. He showed me a spot he had worked on, and I'd be like "Oh, what'd you do in it?" It's this whole cool, elaborate, for Spearmint Gum or something like that, this really cool thing. "What did you work on?" And he's like "I textured the wrapper of the gum."
Joey Korenman: Right!
EJ Hassenfratz: Like "That was it?" He was like "Yeah, for a month I textured that bubblegum wrapper." I was like "Oh." So you just have to understand that a collection of really talented artists came together to make something very amazing and that if, especially in such a short period of time, you can't be discouraged by seeing all that stuff and being like "Aw, I could never make something like that." Well, I'm sure one of those individual artists that worked on that probably couldn't ever make something like that, because they needed a team of people to do that as well, so that's always important; to have perspective, and not get discouraged.
But to your question about where is a good place to start, I think definitely follow the training that's out there, but always have that perspective, that ... how does this ... it's like the form and function thing. Am I making this just to make this, or does this mean anything? Where does this fit? Especially if you want to be a freelancer, how can I sell this to a client? If I make some weird, abstract thing that looks really cool, but like, how would I ever use that commercially? And stuff like that.
For me, my thing was that I fell too far down that rabbit hole of just wanting to make cool end results and not understanding how to get there, and not understanding color or how to animate things correctly, or animation-fundamentals or principals, and the whole thing of me going to this sketch and tune, flatter look is totally on purpose. It's because I decided that I need to take away the extra stuff like, especially in 3D, the lighting, texturing, and stuff like that, and just get back to form, shape, color, and just animation and movement and just go back to fill in those gaps in my foundation, and then move on.
So that's kind of how I've been kind of focusing my career and doing all these little 2D animation things is because, you know, I was really terrible at hand-key-framing something and having it look good, or even understanding big squash-and-stretch or any of that stuff. I've actually found that I really enjoy doing it. I've always liked ... 2D stuff is all I did when I first came into the industry, when I was starting interning and just doing after-effects stuff, so it's kind of fun to do that, but it's also ... I can do that now in my 3D application and still get good at camera angles and just working in 3D space like that.
It's just been really fun to be able to do this, take away all this extra stuff and hone my fundamental skills better and do it in an app that I just love using, like Cinema 4D. I'm still doing it in 3D space, like some of my stuff I just show like "Yeah, I made this in 2D and put some 2D materials on it." But then you can take that same thing and just apply actual 3D textures on it and all of a sudden you have this thing that if you render it with physical render or something like that and all of a sudden it looks like a real toy or something like that. Like, I made a little robot dude, and first he looked like a cartoon, and then I applied some realistic textures on him and he looked like a little vinyl toy kind of thing
It's this thing where I had to take a step back and be honest with myself and I feel like a lot of people who watch tutorials out there or are just getting started to ... do the cool stuff, you definitely want to do this cool stuff because you want this to be enjoyable for you, but at the end of the day, you always have to realize that to be good at this, you can't just watch tutorials and just recycle them and just keep doing the cool stuff without understanding everything that got that person who actually made that tutorial ... How did he get all that knowledge? Well, he had a basic understanding of lighting like Nick, or some of the stuff that I hope to do is do a lot more animation stuff or color stuff. What looks good?
Here's this technical thing, let's apply this, let's make this look good. With the colors and the shading and all that.
Joey Korenman: Right, right.
EJ Hassenfratz: It's always understanding the whole point. What's the point of making this thing?
Joey Korenman: So, if you were to design a curriculum or a path to become good at 3D, and 3D is this gigantic term ... knowing what you do now, what would you tell people to start with, what would the path look like? And you can get as granular as you want, you know, modeling before texturing and this and that. I'm just curious what you think the quote unquote "correct" way to do it might be.
EJ Hassenfratz: It's funny, because there's C4D Lite that comes free with Creative Cloud and all that stuff, and it's funny, because I modeled a, and as you can see me, I'm using my air quotes "modeled," this Game Boy. It was just a Game Boy, with, like, a flat, cell-shading kind of look. If you think about a Game Boy, it's really just like a big brick with a screen and some buttons and ... it's very simple shapes, you know? I posted it and was like "This was made completely in Cinema 4D Lite." And people were like "Holy crap!" Like "Really?" I was like "Yeah, it really wasn't that hard."
So it's just ... and I don't know if that's because of the after-effects crowd thinks it's way harder than it is, but I mean, really, like I was saying before, it's shape, it's color, it's form, it's all basic stuff, but now you're just in a 3D space, so I think the most important part is learning all of the really awesome tools inside of Cinema 4D that do make your job easier.
So, for example, the Game Boy, you take an extrude object, and that's the base of your model, and then just extrudes can get you so far, so especially learning 3D for the first time, it was ... and it was really hard for me to even understand this stuff. Like, "What's an extrude? What's a lathe? What's a sweep?" All that stuff, it's ... you could probably model ... especially for me, I'm not a very good modeler, but most of the stuff that I do model is all with those tools that are super easy to use and understand.
But it's all about using it and understanding where you can use it for each thing, and being creative with all the tools that are available for you, but I think another thing is definitely understanding the animation system, understanding 3D space, understanding lighting as far as UVs and stuff, it's all about what do you want to do with the app. It's just like after-effects where you can use after-effects for so many things, and we see it with, if you ever go to a meet up with just fellow after-effect folks, there's such a wide spectrum of people that use it for completely different things.
Maybe someone just does it for strictly 2D work, there's people who do it for the V-effect stuff, it's the same thing with Cinema 4D. What are you going to use it for? What do you want to do in the industry? So, for me, I'm not going to do any hard-core texturing, so I don't know UV mapping at all, it looks way over my head at this point, too, every time I try to do it.
But it doesn't matter. Whatever you want to do, you have to know that foundational stuff. Even if you're a V-effects person or just a 2D animator in after-effects, you have to learn how that timeline works, you have to know what all those effects do, how do you do those little effect-coladas kind of thing, or cocktails of effects that you can kind of jam together to make something cool. It doesn't matter really what you want to do, you have to learn all the basics.
Joey Korenman: I love the term "effect-colada."
EJ Hassenfratz: Yeah. Well, you take this, you take that, a little dash of that, you put some shine on it, and-
Joey Korenman: There you go. Always. La Vignette and you're done, right?
EJ Hassenfratz: La Vignette, yup.
Joey Korenman: I think one of the big things that kind of changed the game for me was when I started using Cinema 4D, I quickly got the technical part, I think a lot of motion designers pick that up pretty quickly, but the work still doesn't look very good. Just starting to think of Cinema 4D as really just making 2D frames, right? Yeah, you've got this 3D world, 3D lights, but in the end, your product is a 2D image.
EJ Hassenfratz: Right.
Joey Korenman: So you still have to think about composition and scale and density and things like that where all of a sudden, where you put the rim light, that might put a highlight on the upper third, which, that's kind of a nice place to have a highlight. Whereas, if you move it, it might be kind of in the middle. So, thinking in those terms, "Well, I'm moving a 3D light around a 3D thing, but the result is 2D." And that simplified it for me, and to me, that is design. I didn't go to school for design, either. It's like my Achilles' heel. I constantly bash my head against the keyboard to try to make myself better at design. Have you seen, in your own experience or with other artists, have you seen having that design background acting as like a big, helpful bonus?
EJ Hassenfratz: Oh man, yeah. I think, because design is so much harder to ... at least for me, I think there's some people that just have a really good eye for it or really good talent for it, but there's a lot of people that ... they have to take a long time, like me, to actually figure out "Okay, I know what looks good, but why? Why does that look good?" It's because of the color harmonies. That color compliments this color, because there's nice contrast in the scene as far as something big and small. There's a nice flow to it because of how the composition is arranged, stuff like that.
For me, that ... I rely so much on technical stuff, like I said, I needed to step back and be like "I don't know the fundamentals." So I need to go back and figure out the design part of it, because I think the technical part of it is super easy because there's a manual for it. It's like "This button: This is what happens when you push this button." For design, it's much more subjective. Everything looks ... there's no right or wrong answer, sometimes. But with technical stuff it's like "Does this work? No, it doesn't. So, crap."
Joey Korenman: The technical stuff, there might be 10 right answers, but with design there's like 1000 right answers.
EJ Hassenfratz: Exactly. You could take a long time trying to figure out "Okay. How will this look good?" And it's such a different thing. "How do I make a sphere into a donut?" Or something like that. It's like "Oh, well you just do this."
Joey Korenman: Right, but how big should that donut be, what color should it be, should there be other donuts. There should be a whole donut-based course, I think.
EJ Hassenfratz: I still struggle with that, because I don't know ... we both come from the same background. We didn't learn the design part, I was just ... the way I got into the industry was all about "Do you know this software? Do you know this software?"
Joey Korenman: Right.
EJ Hassenfratz: That was kind of the big thing. Even now, it's just ... what does the software do? We have to understand ... do you think Picasso worried about if he had the newest, latest paint brush? No, he was freaking amazing with a stick with paint on it, because he knew how to do it. You have to understand that software is just a tool, and even if you know the tool inside and out, I've actually seen the video that ... your animation students ...
Joey Korenman: Oh yeah, the ice sculpture and the lumberjack, yup.
EJ Hassenfratz: I think that's such a really good visual or just a good concept for ... that guy's really good with a chainsaw. That's the lumberjack. But then there's the guy who does the chisel and ice sculpture and you're like, "That guys a great artist." It's that exact thing where it doesn't matter if he's using a chainsaw or what, he's just a really good artist, and it doesn't matter what medium that he probably works on or what tool, it's just that ... that's why I think design is the hardest part. I feel like the tool is easy. You can do whatever, and if you know what the heck you're doing design-wise, you can make amazing things even if you don't even know how to do all the technical stuff, because you know what makes things beautiful.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I remember teaching Cinema 4D. I taught a whole class on it at Ringling and some of the students had never touched it, and really hadn't used any 3D software, and so the first thing that we would do is just try to get them comfortable moving around 3D, and I think the first assignment I would always make them do was ... you can use nothing but cubes, and you can just arrange the cubes ... I think it was something like "You need to go and find an image of a place, it can be a mountain range, a Mcdonalds, but you need to recreate that using only cubes, and I showed them how to put a color on the cube and that was it.
It was very easy for all of them to do it, as a technical exercise they could do it. But the one's that were really successful would also put the camera in a place where the composition was beautiful, and they'd pick colors that worked well together, and that's the toughest thing to teach. So, I'm curious, EJ, when you ... you know, you teach classes on linda.com, obviously on Greyscalegorilla where a lot of people know you from, and on idesygn.com, what do you think the trickiest thing about teaching a subject as massive and all-encompassing as 3D?
EJ Hassenfratz: Man, that's a tough question. I think it's what you just said. You don't need to get too technical. I don't know. That's a really tough question. What is my goal as a teacher? I like to teach things that I think are really interesting or could be useful for other folks, so I've been doing the sketch-and-tune stuff and the flat stuff lately just because through interacting with people it seems like not a lot of people know about that stuff, or know that that stuff's possible, and just like, you know, I just want to open their eyes to that kind of thing, because you then, just like it's helping me focus on form and composition and color, maybe that's what some other people want to do as well.
I went through that exercise that you just said with rearranging cubes and stuff like that. Yeah, that's not technical at all, but you need that design skill. So it's tough to, and with my tutorials I don't like to show just the technical thing and not show it in like a real life scenario. Something like that. I want to show you "Here's this technical thing that I figured out, and here's how you can use it for some really cool uses in your work." I always want to encourage the person who's watching the tutorial to not only just kind of digest it and copy it, but digest it and think about how they could use this creatively, because it's all about using a tool.
So if the technical thing, like just in your exercise, if the technical thing is making a sphere or a cube, okay, I made a cube, here's the technical part of adjusting the size of the cube, but then how can I use these objects creatively to make something very beautiful looking?" So it's always that thing of, is teaching something with that in mind is "Now go and make your own thing, and think about why you're doing it and what you can use it for, don't just copy me just to make the same thing."
Because you're really not getting anywhere. Because a lot of it's design, and a lot in this industry is being creative. If you've just taken things in and just watched tutorials all day and you're not making your own thing, your own creations and activating your own creative part of your brain, and a client comes to you and is like "Hey, I need to do this. What can you do? What do you think is a good, creative solution for our design problem?"
There are always design problems that you have to find a solution for, and if your solution is "Uh, I guess I'll copy this tutorial for this." And the client's like "Well that's not what we want." And then you're kind of stuck. Then you're kind of ... what do you do?
Joey Korenman: Right.
EJ Hassenfratz: Designs a big thing, that's very important. Technical stuff is a big thing, and then just being creative, that's super hard as well.
Joey Korenman: Nah, that's easy right?
EJ Hassenfratz: You push the little creative button, it comes up with an idea for you, it's like a little magic 8 ball.
Joey Korenman: I think Red Giant has a plug-in that does that.
EJ Hassenfratz: That's a good concept. Ask again.
Joey Korenman: I feel the same way because most of the stuff that I've taught up until this point, I have done some 3d, but mostly it's been 2D stuff, but I think in general, when you're talking about motion design, you've got like the creative, and then you've got the design, the art direction, and then you've got the technical, I mean not to mention the animation and all that but it's like this stool. If you don't have all of the legs working, then then thing just tips over. And that's why it's hard in a 30 minute, 60 minute tutorial, to show something that's going to be universally useful to people. It's really challenging.
I don't know how you feel about it, lately I fell like I'm trying to move away from the tutorial thing where it's like "Here's how to do one thing." Because- not that those things aren't useful, and I think that they are. If you watch enough of them and you have a little bit of a base, then those things become tools for you, but for the beginner, it's almost dangerous, because all you're doing is giving them one piece of the stool. One leg of the stool. I keep saying stool and I'm trying not to laugh.
What do you think about that? Because I think you'll find yourself teaching more and more, I'm curious what kinds of things you want to start trying or to start teaching or ways of teaching.
EJ Hassenfratz: Well I think that in your "As I discover my lack of the fundamentals and learning them myself, I feel like that's where I want to push my training in the future, just if ... when I went to school, most of the kids ... we just learned Fine Arts, so I did like, painting, and photography where you had to actually go into the dark room and develop stuff and sniff chemicals and all that stuff, so like everything with your hands which really was really fun, but you definitely ... I definitely missed out on the design fundamentals. Especially animation, because I didn't know any of that.
I think where I'd like to go is more the fundamentals because, like you said, there's just so much out there, and the legs of the stool thing, and when you're beginning, it's just so overwhelming to begin with that to kind of digest all these tutorials ... it's like, what do I do know? Like, I have all these little bits and pieces of information but I don't have all the parts of the puzzle.
Or, if we want to stay with the foundation, it's like "Okay, well, I'm building a house. I have a bathtub, a couch, and part of a roof." That's not a house.
Joey Korenman: Right.
EJ Hassenfratz: You have to understand how things fit, and it's easy for me, because I've been making these tutorials and I've learned from my mistakes. Because there'd be days where I'd have downtime at work and just waiting on the next project and I'd just sit there and be like "Oh that looks cool, I'll learn this."
Some of the things are just so specific to that end goal that, unless you use that, or you need to use that for a project, you're gonna forget it, just because there's so many things out there, so I think that that's ... at least for what I like to do is, I don't like to be too specific on an end goal, I'd like to go over general concepts. Like, one thing I love going over is the jiggle deformer, I love the jiggle deformer. So it's all "Here's some cool stuff you can do with this." It's not a specific end goal, but think about this the next time you need to do something, think about that good old jiggle deformer, maybe he can help you out. Just stuff like that.
I've found there's so many things, so many fixed-use cases for a tutorial that it's just ... unless I need to use it right then and there, then I'm going to forget it, because there's just so much stuff. I have a crappy memory to begin with.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I remember ... I say the other side of the coin is this, because I learned on Creative Cow and Myograph.net and C4D Café an places like that and it was all just a 30-minute video here, an article there, and after years of doing that, you know, 5 years later I'd be working on a project and I'd be like "Holy crap, I know how to do that because of some Creative Cow video Auron Rubineritz recorded in like 2002. I think that a good mix, those things can kind of be, ... frankly, I've talked about this to people. Tutorials have become almost a form of procrastination also. It's like candy. But I think some of that can still be good, and I don't know, at least for me personally I want to try to mix it up, but it seems like the future of online training in general is going a little more long-form, stuff like Myograph mentor trying to bring in a life component, and instead of "I need an hour of your time." It's like "I need 12 weeks of your time."
It's a really exciting time to be doing this, and I'm excited to see what else you come up with. So, I want to get into just a little bit of actual Cinema 4D stuff, because I know you're a fan, I want to know, because you teach Cinema 4D, like, what is ... this is a question I love to ask ... What is a mistake that you see a lot of beginners make when they start using Cinema 4D that, if you could just say "Hey you know what, if you just cut that bad habit out right now, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches in the future."
EJ Hassenfratz: I've been thinking about this a lot myself. My big thing is, when you watch my tutorials, I always tell my audience "Make something with this, and be sure to share it, because I'd love to see what you guys come up with." A lot of the time someone will share something with me, and, like if I'm going over a concept, it doesn't matter what concept it is ... someone will tweet at me or message me about, whether it be an animated GIF or whatever, there's always animation involved, or whatever. A lot of the things I see is that ... if it's something like using the jiggle deformer or something like that that gives jiggly motion, and someone will show me their use of it, there will always be something like "That color, that color harmony is not there, the colors are off, I don't think I would have used those colors." It definitely shows that they don't have a good understanding of color harmonies or anything like that.
Sometimes the animation's bad, like the easing looks like they just did stock easy ease, and we all know what a stock easy-ease looks like, and just ... on the subject of easy-eases, just a slight adjustment of an ease curve can just make such a huge difference.
Joey Korenman: Massive, yeah.
EJ Hassenfratz: Sometimes just the littlest things. I feel like it's just those little things that, for me, escaped me for the longest time because I just didn't know any better because I didn't study my fundamentals. I had to kind of figure it out along the way. "Why does this look good?" Well, if you really pay attention to the animation, or if you're surrounded by talented people you can actually look at their project files and be like "Wow look at all the key-frames here like Holy crap."
That's one of the biggest things that I notice when people show me things so it's like, you know how to take that concept and create your own thing but sometimes you're also missing those fundamentals as well. You took that technical thing, but what you did with it ... there's something good there, you just don't know how to take it to that next level, whether it be colors, or whether it be the animation, or composition or flow or camera angles or lighting, you know, it's always something. One of those fundamental things that might be missing from what I see at least.
Joey Korenman: No matter what you're doing in Cinema 4D, you have to ask yourself "Does the design look good? Is the animation good?" Never mind the fact that you got the X-Particles rig hooked up just the right way and you've got this insane technical simulation happening, but if you move the camera over an inch it'll look way better, because it'll be composed properly and stuff like that. To me, that is a huge thing just in general that I- to be honest- haven't found the right way I feel like to insure that students always take that stuff to heart, and I think it's just because it's so distracting with everything else you're trying to learn, but I think that that comes with just doing a lot of work and being constantly told "Nope, try again. Nope, try again. Nope, try again."
EJ Hassenfratz: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: I would also say, too, that going from 2D to 3D, right? Because I did after-effects for years before going to 3D, and one of the things that I screwed up initially was I had no concept of how much scene geometry is necessary. I would just make things super detailed because I thought that was better, because ... I didn't really understand the font-tag and the hyper-nerves and the way that worked. That's very discouraging, when people start creating this crazy stuff and they don't understand why. That's one of those vegetables that you have to eat, I think, when you start learning it, so that would be my contribution.
EJ Hassenfratz: Yeah, along those same lines, man, I would get caught up in the whole global illumination thing, because you're like "Oh crap, that looks amazing." But really, I don't know if you use GI much, I don't. Because I don't have time for a weak render.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, for a while, I would never use it. I would do all the tricks like you fake it. You copy the color channel and luminosity and mix it in, you do little tricks like that, and it wasn't until we started using a render farm a lot that we were able to get away with all the bells and whistles.
Do you use a render farm ever, EJ? That changed the game for me too, starting to do that.
EJ Hassenfratz: Not with my 2D stuff, no. Those things just crank out.
Joey Korenman: That's the beauty of-
EJ Hassenfratz: I don't need global illumination on my flat stuff.
I don't like to ... I've just had bad experiences with render farms, sometimes, and I just like to keep things manageable, just because 9 times out of 10, the client's going to be like "Uh, I need to change this one thing." And you're like "Ugh. Okay. Gotta put this back up on the farm again." Meanwhile ... and that also takes a lot of just knowledge of how to optimize your scene and still balance render quality with time constraints and stuff like that, because that's a lot of technical stuff right there.
I always like to make it manageable where if I needed to, I'd only need to do an overnight render or something. Unless it's like a massively long project, then of course you've gotta probably put it on a ... if it's a 5-minute all-3D thing, like yeah, you gotta put that on a farm.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, totally. I'll plug Rebus-farm real quick, I've used them a ton in the past couple years.
EJ Hassenfratz: Yeah, I work with them as well, yeah.
Joey Korenman: It's because, for me, when you're doing client work, especially sometimes you just want to err on the side of simplicity because you're right, like, you're gonna do a render, and even on a farm it might take like 5, 6 hours, and then "Oh you know what, actually, can you remove that one thing from the scene?" Okay. Yeah, I can, if you can wait until tomorrow.
EJ Hassenfratz: Budget's going up because I need to put it up on the farm.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, exactly.
EJ Hassenfratz: Get all those computers working over there.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, but it did help, because getting calibrated to the speed ... like, 3D projects just don't move as quickly as after-effects projects in my experience. You might be able to ... I mean really, it's just, you don't know what it's going to look like until you've rendered the thing.
EJ Hassenfratz: Right.
Joey Korenman: Like, you can do one frame here, one frame there, you can do wire-frame renders, but there's still that fear. "What's it gonna look like in the end? Are the shadows gonna flicker? Is there going to be some weird anti-aliasing thing?"
That's another terrifying thing to think about when you're learning, I guess.
What sort of Cinema 4D stuff are you working on? Learning more about, improving for 2016?
EJ Hassenfratz: You know, I'm still continuing my little 2D exploration and stuff like that. Right now ... this was my thing last year, too, which I'm still working on. Just like, character modeling and character-rigging, just simple rigging and weighting and all that kind of stuff because it's tough to limit ... especially the stuff I've been doing in 2D like making those little 2D characters, and for the longest time, I didn't know how to rig up anything, even like a simple joint-system or anything like that so I just used deformers to animate and just half-ass it.
But now I'm getting into it and kind of ... it's always taking that first step to try to demystify the whole thing, and the thing with rigging is it's just so difficult to find any kind of training about it, because you need something different for whatever specific rig you're trying to build, and a lot of stuff out there is all bipeds, typical human bipeds and stuff like that. It's not like "Why don't I just do a little simple Kirby-like character or something like that. But a lot of that stuff is just trying to figure it out on your own.
If you know how the IK system works, you know how joints work, then you'll know how to adapt it to other things.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I would throw out that our buddy Rich Nozzeworthy has said that the digital tutor stuff is pretty good for ... there's actually a Cinema 4D rigging class on there which he said is really good. Which is surprising, because I've heard other people, I've asked them this question like "How do you learn stuff like this?" Because there isn't a great video series out there for Cinema 4D, and they say "Oh, well there is for Mia. Go watch the Mia one." Then, if you know enough, like at this point, I'm sure you could watch a Mia tutorial about modeling but apply it to Cinema 4D, it's not called the "knife tool" in Mia, it's called something else.
Also, Chris Schmitz tutorials on Grayscalegorilla, he did a whole thing with a robot arm and it was awesome. The resources are getting better and better to learn that stuff. I feel like someone learning Cinema 4D will have a much easier time than you and I did.
EJ Hassenfratz: Oh it's so ... oh my goodness, yeah. If I had this much ... ugh. I think that's why it's so ... it's funny, because we talk about people falling into traps and just watching tutorials all day long, I fell in that trap before there was ... how many times more, thousands of times more tutorials out now than there was when I was just starting, so ... it's crazy.
Joey Korenman: Totally. Well, dude, I don't want to take up too much more of your time, but can anyone catch you at NAB this coming April?
EJ Hassenfratz: Well, we'll see! I'm going to NAB regardless, I don't know if I'm going to be doing the MAXON thing again or not, I think they're just starting to call people, so we'll find out soon, but I will be there regardless. I usually hang by the MAXON booth, whether they like me there or not.
Joey Korenman: Right. They tolerate you.
EJ Hassenfratz: If anyone's going to NAB, be sure to ... I'll be by the MAXON booth. I'll hopefully have some good swag, some idesygn swag like stickers and stuff ... come on and say hi, and I also do my stuff on linda.com, hoping to get that stuff up and rolling for this year as well, I've got some cool, fun stuff planned for that.
Joey Korenman: You'll still be doing Grayscalegorilla this year?
EJ Hassenfratz: Yeah, I'll be doing ... you'll be seeing me a lot more on Grayscalegorilla and the Twitch channel C4D Live, we're working out a schedule for that, I think I'm gonna try to do every Tuesday, we're still trying to figure out a good time slot, but, just stay tuned to the schedule listings on the twitch.tv/C4Dlive and yeah. I'll be doing stuff up there, love interacting with folks and not just recording stuff and then throwing it out there, but actually interacting with people and answering questions live is always really fun.
Joey Korenman: Awesome. Well dude, thank you so much for you time, I'm sure ... I mean, you've already got plenty of fans, but hopefully you made a few more and yeah, you can all check out EJ's stuff, idesygn.com.
Ah! EJ is like the nicest guy. That was such a pleasure to talk with him and I always love talking with artists who are about the same age as me, because, you know, it's really funny, motion design is not a very old industry yet, and you know, you can only look back to like, 2000 to really start to feel like "Oh, now we're talking about historical motion design." It's not that long ago!
It's always cool to kind of reminisce and talk about the old days ... it's also very exciting to talk about what's happening now, and the revolution that's happening in online training that EJ is a big part of. So, once again, check out EJ's work at idesygn.com, you can also find him on Grayscalegorilla and he has courses of linda.com, go check it out, and thank you very much. As always, I really appreciate you taking the time to listen.
If you're not a member of our V.I.P. mailing list, please go to Schoolofmotion.com, sign up. It's free, and you get a ton of free stuff on our site when you sign up. Rock on, I'll catch you on the next one.