2020 was a totally normal year… said no one, ever.
This marks the 5th time I’ve sat down to type out an end-o’-the-year wrap up article, and to be honest I’m not really sure where to start. I know I speak for the entire human race when I say that this year did not go as planned.
While it would be easy to spend 3000 words lamenting all of the madness that’s happened this year, that’s not really my style. I’m an eternal optimist and, in spite of everything, I’m feeling confident about the future. Tough times have a way of stripping back all of the “extra” in your life and showing you what really matters. I learned a lot about myself this year, as I’m sure you did too. So I say, let’s proudly carry what we learned into 2021 and beyond… because this too shall pass.
Last year, the theme for us was, “Team is Everything.” This year proved that point in a very concrete way. Not only did our team grow substantially, but we had to pull together very quickly to adapt to new realities and new challenges. Fortunately, our crew is filled with some of the best people I’ve ever met, and a scary amount of talent.
I think that the theme of this year was simply “Team is still Everything.” It may sound like I’m punting on picking a theme here, but the truth is that the secret to all of our growth lies in our team of awesome people scattered around the country (and abroad). All of the lessons we learned about working together last year came in really, really handy in 2020.
We started the year with 16 people working at School of Motion full-time, and now we’re at 27. At that size, there’s just no way to know about every single thing that’s happening on any given day. It’s a different way of operating, and it only works if you have a great team and smart team leads.
Fortunately, we’ve got both. Suffice to say, School of Motion’s talent stack expanded in a massive way this year, and it’s creating some cool opportunities I’ll share in a bit. But first… what did we do this year?
New Teachers, New Classes!
When it comes to building out interactive cohort-based classes, I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet that does it better than us. Cocky, I know, but I stand by it. The curriculum, the production value, and the sheer effectiveness of our newest classes is a testament to the brilliant team that puts them together.
Award-winning designer Mike Frederick returns with a new course that teaches you the fundamentals of Design! This class is packed with knowledge and techniques for those who are new to the design game. Created as prequel for our popular Design Bootcamp, this interactive course will teach you how to see and think like a designer. Check out Design Kickstart!
Creative Director Ryan Summers leads you on a journey of personal growth in this free class. Level Up! is designed for the intermediate Motion Designer who wants to improve, but isn’t sure where to start.
You’ll learn about some of the new opportunities that are popping up for Motion Designers, and you’ll find out what skills you’ll need to be able to get better work and better gigs. Check it out… the price can’t be beat :)
Cinema 4D Ascent
EJ Hassenfratz dropped the sequel to Cinema 4D Basecamp this year… and it’s incredible. Cinema 4D Ascent is the first chapter in the epic quest to master Cinema 4D. Seriously, the class has everything… amazing lessons, challenging exercises, badass teaching-assistants to help you through the tougher concepts. It’s a beast… in a good way.
Lights, Camera, Render
Our 3D curriculum gained a killer instructor in David Ariew, a master of cinematic 3D work. In this advanced Cinema 4D / Octane course, David teaches you how to think like a cinematographer inside of a 3D app. We partnered with dozens of artists to be able to provide over 1,000 models and other assets for use in the class. Kitbashing, lighting, camera work, and more are covered in this amazing, interactive class.
A Revamped Learning Experience
At the beginning of this year we relaunched our site with a fresh new design courtesy of our friends at The Futur and Unfold. We then spent the next several months finishing work on the Student Portal part of the site, which has been rolled out and used by thousands of students from all over the world.
The technology running School of Motion is built from scratch to enable us to run our classes in a way that no other online school can. It’s been insane to watch our scary talented dev team build an iterate on the platform (technically, an LMS) and we’re adding more features and improvements constantly.
Milestone after milestone…
This year our YouTube channel passed 200,000 subscribers. Our Instagram account passed 100,000 followers. We have more than 10,000 alumni worldwide. Our podcast hit episode 100. Holy smokes!!!
Most of those numbers I just listed are what we call “vanity metrics.” Sure, it looks cool to have big numbers like that (or even bigger numbers, like our friend Ben), but in truth they aren’t as important as the results that our students are getting. When I see the list of studios and companies hiring School of Motion alumni every day, it boggles my mind.
Live from our home offices!
This year we got serious about live-streaming, and brought on our good friend Kyle Hamrick to run the board. We’ve been doing bi-weekly livestreams (sometimes more frequently) to feature artists and studios, project breakdowns, alumni interviews, new tool demos and more.
We’re still playing with formats and working out the inevitable technical gremlins that are still inevitable with live streams, but these shows have allowed our team to be incredibly responsive to new developments in the industry. Look for lots more of these in 2021.
Bringing the learnz all day and all night
In 2020 the content train was in 5th gear. We released tons of videos, podcasts, and articles for the community to learn from. It’s hard to pick favorites, but here are some of the highlights.
Taking it to the MAX
Oof.. the pun in the title of this section was not subtle… and neither were our Adobe MAX presentations! Heyooooo!
This year, the 2020 Adobe MAX conference was completely virtually and completely free. This meant that there was a massive worldwide audience for the various presentations, and School of Motion was well represented at the conference. I had the honor of presenting a 30 minute video on “Adding Motion to Your Toolkit” as part of a block that included luminaries like Paula Scher and Zach Braff (the dude from Scrubs).
The presentation was a blast to put together, and it was a cool opportunity to try and show more designers that adding motion to your bag o’ tricks is a really good idea right now. The amount of work out there is nuts, and the existing talent pool just ain’t big enough.
Helping spread the learnz, our own Kyle Hamrick led a few sessions as well, and so did our instructors Nol Honig & Sarah Beth Morgan! They all got rave reviews and are sure to be asked to present again so stay tuned for MAX 2021!
Team is Everything, now with feeling!
Our team grew a lot this year. Our internal capabilities are pretty insane, to be honest. It’s not even fair. I feel bad for our competitors. (no I don’t)
I’d like to take a moment to (re)introduce the team to you, because they’re the ones responsible for all of the growth of School of Motion. My job these days is mostly to stay out of their way, which I’m still learning how to do :)
Alaena Vandermost - President
One of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, Alaena is a creative and organizational powerhouse. At this point, she’s basically my boss.
Amy Sundin - Executive Producer
Still here after more than 5 years! Amy makes sure all of our various productions actually happen, and makes a mean quilt.
Ryan Plummer - Creative Strategist
This Texan helps us come up with all of the ideas for videos, podcast guests, and other content we produce. Speaking of producing, he and his wife just produced their 2nd kiddo! Mazel Tov!
Jeahn Laffitte - Senior Editor
A brilliant photographer, editor, and human, Jeahn heads up the post-production side of things over here. Check out his YouTube channel where he talks about all things photography!
Shelby Ward - Operations Assistant
Shelby has some serious skills at taking food shots for Instagram. She’s also a swiss army knife of talents, helping keep the S.S. Motion running.
Brittany Wardell - Student Experience Manager
If you’ve ever taken one of our classes, chances are you’ve encountered the ball of energy that is Brittany. She’s a force of nature, and fearless at the karaoke bar.
Kaylee Kean - Producer
Kaylee is one of the many people at School of Motion with serious musical talent. She’s also completely hilarious and an incredible producer!
Reaghan Puleo - Senior Producer
“Ray Ray” is a seriously badass producer. Nary a ball gets dropped. She also lives in Hawaii which means we have an excuse to expense travel to Hawaii!
Zach Conley - Technical Product Manager
From his Providence, RI perch, Zach makes sure that development of our platform stays the course. A steady supply of coffee makes this possible.
CJ Baird - Editor
CJ’s real name is Ciaran, which is only slightly harder to pronounce than Korenman. He edits a lot of the content we put out, and must endure me sending him metal covers I record in my house.
EJ Hassenfratz - Creative Director
The man, the hats, the pants… EJ is a friggin’ Cinema 4D legend and it’s an honor to be able to jam on stuff with him! 2020 stole all of our in-person beer opportunities, so we’ll have to get after it in 2021.
Hannah Guay - Editor
Hannah is a rockstar editor and mama of 2 boys who she raises in the great state of Montana! She’s also a School of Motion legend for printing CJ’s face on a mousepad.
Ryan Summers - Creative Director
Ryan has the most creative energy of anyone I’ve ever met… hands down. It’s not even close. His enthusiasm and compassion are unmatched, and he brings both to the table for our community.
Holly Fong - Marketing Director
For reasons we will never know, Holly and EJ are mortal enemies. However, she’s such a talented marketer we overlook that fact and let her torment EJ at will. Holly rocks.
Adam Korenman - Editorial Producer
We put out so much written content that we needed a professional writer who could help keep the content train on schedule. Fortunately, I knew one… with my last name… weird!
Kyle Hamrick - Senior Motion Designer
Kyle has been in the SOM family for years, and we finally got the opportunity to “make him,” like in Goodfellas… but without the murdering part. Kyle brings that big motion design energy!
Frank Suarez - Head Teaching Assistant
Hailing from Cuba, Frank is a fellow Floridian with a passion for helping people that’s hard to overstate. He’s a super talented motion designer, and a brilliant teacher.
Jeff Johnson - Software Developer
This man loves lamp. Jeff is part of the incredible engineering team over here, and he also knows how to build DIY lamps from black iron pipe and vintage bulbs. I have lamp-envy.
Ella Matutis-Digal - Support Lead
When we inevitably pivot School of Motion into a touring musical act, Ella might be the lead singer. She heads up our support team, and between her, Kaylee and Frank I think we could win a Grammy.
Will Farrell - Software Developer
“Frank the Tank” jokes aside, Will is an incredible developer. He also told me once that he’d like to hear a band that sounds like a “less accessible Mr. Bungle.” I can get behind this idea.
Sara Mills - Software Developer
Our newest addition to the development team, Sara actually has a Master’s Degree in Geology! That mean’s she’s a… (put’s on sunglasses)... rock star. I’ll see myself out now.
Amanda Wilson - Video Editor
Amanda recently joined our production team, and has some serious editing skills which she deploys from Providence, RI. Fun fact: Throwing pickle juice on a trolley is an offense in Rhode Island.
Sarah Gill - Producer / Project Manager
Another Rhode Islander, Sarah has been helping coordinate some of our newer, “secret” projects. She also has a BFA from UMass Dartmouth which is pronounced “Daht-mith”
Lori Lynn - Director of Finance & People Operations
I wish I could bottle the feeling of calm that Lori inspires. She’s got it handled, don’t sweat. I mean it, seriously… She’s a zen finance wizard with an MBA.
Karla Melgarejo - Senior Social Media Strategist
Our newest team member, Karla brings world-class social media game to the table! Originally from Bolivia, she’s an incredibly talented photographer, writer, and creator.
One more thing…
There are 25 names above… add me in and that makes 26. But earlier, I said that we now had 27 people on the team. Who’s number 27? WHO IS IT? It’s this guy:
That guy, right there, is Joe Donaldson. Joe has, among other things, been an Art Director at BUCK, acted as Managing Editor for Motionographer, and founded Holdframe, a marketplace for high-end motion design projects. He currently teaches at the Ringling College of Design while continuing to work with BUCK and running 50 miles a week.
He’s also now on team School of Motion. Over the summer, School of Motion acquired Holdframe and we’ve been working on something ridiculously, hilariously, painfully awesome for the past few months.
That’s all I can say at the moment, but in January I promise you we are going to make your head explode.
What’s on deck for 2021?
This year, we grew our team and our capabilities to help us fully realize our mission: Break down the barriers to learning, mastering, and working in Motion Design. We’ve spent a lot of time and resources helping people learn the skills they need to do Motion. We’ve started incorporating more advanced classes to help people master it. And now, we’ll be putting an emphasis on new training formats designed to fit better into the schedules of working artists.
If you want to develop your skills really quickly, our interactive course format is unmatched. However, there are lots of artists who would benefit from more tactical training with a smaller scope. We’ve been developing some new training formats that will allow for more high-level deep dives into advanced topics from some of the best in the biz.
We’ve also been busy working on a tool that should make it much easier for our community to connect with potential gigs. Our experiment in making a Jobs Board taught us the challenge of two-sided marketplaces, but fortunately we’ve learned a ton and will be rolling out something brand new in early 2021.
In addition, we’re going to be (finally) moving off of Facebook for all of our class and alumni communities. There are 472 reasons why we’re excited to do this, but the main reason is that this will give us the opportunity to build a community that’s built for artists and our students… not for advertisers :)
And finally, I’m really hoping we’re able to get back out into the world to see all of our friends in the industry. The School of Motion community is active 24/7 virtually, but when we get the opportunity to hang out at NAB, Blend, or other events, it can be magical. I’m an optimist, and I think we’ll see live events begin to return in 2021.
Happy New Year!
If you’ve made it this far, I owe you a fist-bump. Whether you’ve taken 8 courses or whether this is the first thing you’ve ever read from us, I thank you! Our industry is tight-knit, and in spite of everything 2020 was a year that drew us even closer.
Enjoy the egg nog, latkes, spiral ham, or anything else that this time of year finds in your fridge. I wish you the best in 2021.
Smell ya later, 2020!