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Mixing Politics & Motion Design with Erica Gorochow
Erica Gorochow shares how she influences politics through the power of motion design.
If you've listened to the School of Motion podcast for any length of time, you've heard us mention Erica Gorochow. Erica is a Motion Designer and Director who works out of Brooklyn, New York in a studio that she shares with an incredible assortment of talented folks.
Erica runs her own studio, PepRally, which has done amazing work for a big variety of brands like Red Bull, The New York Times, Walmart, and Engadget to name a few... and her work isn't restricted to 16:9 videos. She's helped create an app, Specimen which is an iOS game and she recently worked as part of a creative team that designed a graphics bible and toolkit for a show on Netflix called Patriot Act which has the most elaborate interactive set we've ever seen...
Now, the thing we really like about Erica, is that she uses her formidable talent to promote causes that she believes strongly in. For example, she's created a site called VoteGIF that tells people in all 50 states their deadline to register to vote. She's directed and produced a beautiful short film called Dear Europe, with a message aimed at young people in Europe prior to the 2016 elections there, and she speaks pretty honestly about her political beliefs on social media.
We live in strange times people... it's not always easy and frankly sometimes it's a bit dangerous to be too honest about your politics. In this conversation Erica and Joey explore this topic and we talk about what effects she's seen on her own career and other artists when it comes to mixing work and politics. We also talk about Patriot Act, the effect of tech giants on our industry and many other things so sit back and say hello to Erica.
Erica Gorochow Show Notes
Erica Gorochow Transcript
Joey: Oh my God, Erica Gorochow on the podcast. It's finally happening, I'm so excited. Thank you so much for taking time, I know you're slammed.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, pleasure is all mine, Joey. Honestly, thank you for having me.
Joey: Right on. Well, let's start with a softball. I think I really do bring you up every fourth or fifth podcast for some example of something you said, but just in case someone listening hasn't heard about Erica Gorochow, what would you say currently is the state of you?
Erica Gorochow: Yes, I am a motion designer, motion design director. I live in Brooklyn, I have a shared studio with a bunch of other people in the space. And I sort of vacillate between acting as a company and selectively then acting as an individual. And I sort of balanced the two where I try to, in an ideal world be selective about what clients I work with as everyone probably isn't should be, but also make the money necessary to live in a city like New York. I'll also say that I love illustrated stuff, that's probably more of my bread and butter, but I do quite a good amount of just like classic graphic design that moves. I sort of vacillate between those two mountains. And yeah, mostly 2D, I feel like I open cinema once a year. I just pick your bootcamp. Actually, it's like when I saw the promos for the cinema bootcamp, I was like, "Oh, I should [so]."
Joey: I'll tell you what, EJ is a great teacher, he can get you. And that way, you can open it twice a year.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, right. There you go, there you go.
Joey: Awesome. Everyone will link to PepRally, which is Erica's company in the show notes. And I wanted to ask you about your work because the work that you're sort of most well known for I think has kind of a look, it's very illustrated and the animation is kind of quirky and fluid and friendly as opposed to I guess like really stiff and geometric, but you also have some pretty graphic designing things on there. I was going to ask you because looking through the credits of those projects, you have a lot of different roles that you play even in work that PepRally does. The way I was going to phrase this was, are you a designer who animates or an animator who designs because you seem to kind of move between both?
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, that's it. I would definitely say I am a designer that animates. I would say every once in a while, either myself or myself as a company, meaning other people involved will take on jobs where we don't touch the design, but I mean those are really few and far between. There has to be a really good reason because where I get a lot of my joy is the design and illustration. And I love animation too, but animation is sort of the icing on the cake.
Joey: Got it. Let's dig into this arrangement that you've kind of referenced a couple times, you run a small shop called PepRally in Brooklyn, New York. And as far as I know, maybe it's changed, but there's not any other full time employees, correct?
Erica Gorochow: Right, that's true, it is just. It's sort of interesting, the space that I work out of, which is where Slanted is based, there's also Alex Mapar is here as well, and then there's Phil Sierzega and Charlie. And it's basically one to three people max companies who do ride this line between are you a freelancer or are you a company? Sometimes it can be sort of uncomfortable when you're trying to balance which way you think a project can go, but it's basically a way to say, look, we have a network, we can expand quickly and with high quality people so we can take on a bigger job like we can work for Taco Bell or a Walmart. But it's a way that I can still work with people who have much smaller budgets unlike documentary titles or an arts institution where I don't have to [shark] away from those opportunities because I have a beast to feed.
It's a dance, and at some point it's like, it's a little hard to explain how it works except for to say that it does and it helps to be in a space where there are other people doing that dance as well. That [crosstalk] of an answer.
Joey: Well, let me try to frame it a little bit because this is something that I think it's more and more common for freelancers especially thinking what's the next step for me? And the obvious step is, oh, I'll start a studio. And what you've done is sort of like an in between step, it seems like because in the end, the end result that the client gets is you working on the project and maybe hiring on some help. That could also happen if it was called Erica Gorochow LLC. I'm wondering is it really just about positioning the company a certain way and sort of, I don't mean this like it's probably going to come out, but like a little bit of smoke and mirrors, so it's like, oh, it's not just me, there's a company?
Erica Gorochow: Right, right. I would certainly cop to there being some smoke and mirrors. I think for me, the reason why I literally changed my LLC from Erica Gorochow LLC to PepRally-
Joey: IS that really? I didn't know that by the way.
Erica Gorochow: 100%, yeah. When I first filed the paperwork, I was like, I don't know, I know that in order to work for this client, I need to be a C corp or an LLC. But the thing that I sort of realized is that no one was particularly psyched to work for Erica Gorochow LLC. And I know putting myself on the flip side of that, if I wanted to put a site on my project, a project on my sit, and I was a freelancer, I wouldn't want to put Erica Gorochow LLC. So doing some very basic branding helped me to invite people in on the process. And also, there are times where I try to be involved in at least the design, but there have been projects where I have had too much and have strictly managed, strictly creative directed. And I think having something that's a little more, like you said, I would say branded outside of my name helps give me license to do that, to exclusively manage or direct.
Joey: Right. I think it's an important lesson for everyone listening, and this has actually come up recently. I talked with Joel Pilger who's a consultant to studios and agencies and stuff like that. And that's kind of his bread and butter is how do you position yourself. And the main message I think that I took away from talking to him and now listening to your story is that it's not just about the work because your ability hasn't changed by calling yourself PepRally, but there's a perception shift. Is that kind of accurate?
Erica Gorochow: Definitely. And even beyond that, I would say there's room to grow. If I have actively chosen right now not to say, okay, let's scale up to 5 to 10 people. But if I wanted to pull that lever and I've already sort of started to establish work under this name that is not connected to another studio, work that I sort of own, it just becomes that much easier. It creates that room to grow into that thing should I so want it or if anyone would do this should they so want it.
Joey: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, it's very smart. Let's talk about how it works with you being in this sort of collaborative space with Slanted Studios. By the way, we'll link to Slanted's website as well run by Michelle Higa Fox, and another, like very cool company doing amazing stuff. How does that work in terms of sharing projects and even maybe sharing staff and talent between these groups?
Erica Gorochow: It's really interesting, I've been in this space I think for now, like three to four years. And everything that's happened has really been super organic, but we've gotten to the place where like Jen is the producer for Slanted, but Jen will also produce projects for me. A lot of times, like in the case of Patriot Act, which I know we'll talk about, she needed a creative/art director. And I'm sitting right there, and I know I hear all about her projects, she hears all about mine. It just creates that shorthand when it's not only when things come in, but how is this project progressing? Do we need an emergency art director or can you recommend a freelancer? Like Michelle was the one who recommended Tara to me, Tara Henderson, who I know I think has been on the show as well.
Joey: Yeah, she has, she's good.
Erica Gorochow: It just creates this really tight, organic network of sharing ideas, resources ourselves as talent. There's some spare desks here with machines, so it's really easy to have people on site. Sometimes even Slanted will book a freelancer and I'll be like, "Oh, do you want to find a way to ... That job might not be that intense, so maybe we can share resources even with freelancers." Obviously, the freelancer has the right to opt in or not, but it just has become this really fluid thing where we are our own entities, but we have shorthand and rapport, and we know what each other's strengths are that we can sort of combine like a transformer and become something much bigger. And we've actually recently even started pitching together. So yeah, it's been great, it's been so a wonderful to feel supported while maintaining your own independence and your own sort of say into how you want to spend your time, which clients, which budgets, what to say yes or no to.
Joey: Yeah. I mean, there's so many obvious benefits to that, and I just wanted to dig in a little bit on sort of the logistics of it. I mean, you mentioned occasionally sharing costs, like if they need a freelancer really just for a half a day, but maybe you have something else. That's amazing. Now, what happens, you mentioned a scenario where Jen the producer needed you to be an art director or a creative director does. Is that then Slanted Studios hiring PepRally and the printer prints out an invoice and you hand it to ... How does that sort of support or are you sort of doing favors for each other, is it sort of like a kibbutz or something like that?
Erica Gorochow: It's like 5% kibbutz, but mostly we are very transparent in our budget. If I'm working with Slanted or vice versa, they're going to see my whole budget sheet. And that's how we come to an agreement about compensation. Unless like sometimes if it's something quick and dirty, I'll just be like, "Okay, I can freelance for the next week, and does this rate work for you?" And it can be more casual than that. But if it's a bigger project, we'll either try to construct the budget together or they'll be transparency. The goal is for everyone to feel like they're being compensated fairly. Sometimes if I were to bring in a job and then I hire Michelle to be my technical director, but it's my job, it's going to run through PepRally. It's going to run through like it's my liability insurance that they would knock on if something happened or my lawyer who would review those contracts.
When we're constructing those budgets and there's something like a studio fee or a mark up, how we deal with that usually, it depends on how it's being routed and what's just fair. We're able to sort of just be really candid with each other, I guess is the short version of the answer.
Joey: Yeah. And that seems like the only way it could possibly work, the setup that you have sounds amazing. And I'm trying to think of any other examples of this that I've seen work as well as what you and Slanted. And I didn't realize Alex was there too, that's really cool.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, Alex, and there's a company called Mountain Gods, which is again, Phil Sierzega and Charlie. Charlie is a creative programmer, Phil is a motion guy, but he also has a lot of interactive stuff. That's why I said it's like a transformer where we're like code 2D, 3D, technical direction-
Erica Gorochow: Exactly, exactly.
Joey: Well, it seems like this is a really great model, especially in a place like New York, Brooklyn, which is not a cheap place, renting is not cheap there. I wanted to talk a little bit about the fact that you are there, you're in one of the major motion design hubs. Is that still a big advantage for you in any way? Because obviously like now remote is just almost universally accepted as a way of working, but is there still something helpful about being right in the middle of it?
Erica Gorochow: I'm a little biased just because I really like living in New York despite the fact that it would be so much more cost effective if I lived in Austin or Detroit or anywhere in Florida. But I think I still believe that so much of my business sort of seems to sprout from these casual, like, "Oh, I met you through a friend and I was out and we were talking and then they needed someone," maybe you could say rubbing elbows. Not even like this overtly networking event way, but just a proximity thing. I should also say that I've always been in New York except for maybe the first year when I was just starting out. I feel like I don't have a lot of perspective on how my business would change if I left. But I mean being said, it's way less important now than it was 10 years ago. I mean, to your point, I hire people from other countries, certainly from other states. And some of my favorite work is not New Yorker, LA or even Chicago based. Yeah, that's my, my answer.
Joey: It's kind of reminding me, at one point I was talking to Joe Donaldson, who he's become a buddy of mine. He actually lives very close to me, he's made the move to Florida. And he is a big proponent of move to New York or move to LA if you really want to kickstart things. I've never lived in New York say for one summer in college. I feel like the thing that I missed starting my career in Boston was there was no scene. There wasn't like, I didn't know 10 or 15 other motion designers, they just didn't exist. I think now it's a little bit better. Is that kind of like the vibe? And obviously, you can get work through that. But I would also guess that it's easier to find talent because that is another big pain point in a lot of cities that aren't hubs.
Erica Gorochow: Totally, totally. And also, a lot of the work just like ... I think if you can recreate something like the space that we have here where it's like you have a few motion designers in one space so you're all sort of collectively networking in a way that benefits everyone. That's a way to on some level recreate the New York or the LA experience. Yes, finding talent I think is easier because also in the case of Tara, I worked with Tara on site for at least a year or I think a year before she went to Austin. And I think having that year of just getting to know each other face to face is the thing that gives me so much confidence to be like, "Oh, it's fine Tara is in Austin, I know that I can rely on her, I know what our communication style is like."
I can see Tara when I talked to her on the phone, it's easy. That being said, I've also worked with Chris Anderson in Arkansas, and we'd just Google Hangout, and that's been totally fine. I think what Joe says, I agree with. If you want to sort of kickstart your career, especially those first years being onsite, having face to face with the studios or the people that you want to work for is going to sort of turbocharge things. At a minimum, I recommend that.
Joey: Totally. And the pizza is way better in New York.
Erica Gorochow: The pizza is really good, the bagels, there's advantages too.
Joey: Yeah, [inaudible] pickles. I want to a little bit about some interesting things you've said in interviews, and there was one quote in an interview you did for, From up North really awesome blog. And you said that you're interested in the trend of animation becoming a fundamental skill across design in general. I think I know what you mean, but I want to hear you explain what you mean. What do you mean by that?
Erica Gorochow: Sure. It's funny I'm about to start a job where I think that point couldn't be more true. I'm going to start working for a major museum, and they just went through a rebrand, but they're like all of the stuff that people are going to see that's outward facing is going to be on a screen. The signs in the museum, our screens, the panels in the subway are no longer wheat paste or whatever, are no longer printed, they're screens. Everything is a screen, so all of our design when we make that master system, we have to consider how it will move. We have to consider how we will engage people on Instagram or YouTube or anything. And those screens are, for better or worse, taking priority over printed material. Innovation being a fundamental skill is just a way of saying everything is on screens, and we for better or worse experience a life through screens, and screens implies or means movement.
Joey: Yeah, I think that's a really succinct way of putting it. If it's on a screen and it's not moving, then why is it on a screen? You've already used your motion design skills in some pretty, I would say, nonstandard ways. Not Making 16 by 9 videos for the TV or something like that. A few examples, and we'll link to all of these in the show notes, you created a series of gifs to help people know when to register to vote in their state. You helped design an app, a game. That's a really cool idea, by the way, and we'll link to that too. And now one of the most recent projects that we'll get into in a little bit is you worked on designing an interactive set for a new show on Netflix. Through those experiences, how directly do your traditional design and animation skills actually translate into those? How much new stuff did you have to learn or figure out? Or was it like, "Oh, I know how to do this, it's just a different shaped screen"?
Erica Gorochow: It's interesting. I feel like all those examples, it varies per each example. The gif thing, pretty easy except for the reason why vote gif was a gif was thinking about the context, you are trying to make something quick, shareable and bite sized. It was almost like, how can I use my motion skills to find the answer, like X plus A equals Y, what's A? And that answer was gifs. But the skills translated pretty seamlessly/. You've got a gif gun, so no problem there. The biggest learning curve was probably the game because you're dealing with formats like sprites. I'm trying to remember, there's like TPZ. There's some crazy file formats, and it's not just what's the pacing look like in the context of the app on the size of the screen in the moment that the person has experienced that. But how small can you make this sprite or this asset or should this be programmatically animated or should this be its own file? And what are the costs of that?
I would say the app is like, there was a technical learning curve and then there was, I would say an even higher level technical learning curve, which is like cost benefit analysis and solving for all that. And then in terms of the interactive stage, that one was sort of interesting because I feel like it actually took a few weeks of failure to understand how to even begin to design for that. It's not even a file format, just design for that like cut out because it's a very, if you watch Patriot Act, it's a very distinct stage design. There's like horizontal lines and a big thing in the middle with these divots cutout and then like a superman silhouetted stage, and understanding like how much is too much on the stage, the floor rather, how much is too much on the floor? What's going to distract, but how can you make it feel alive?
That one was just like a lot of weird trial and error, but I would say that everything that I have learned from just doing, even like your standard commercial, still very much applied. It was just a matter of calibration and trial and error to understand.
Joey: Yeah, that's really awesome to hear. I want to talk about Patriot Act because I'm fascinated by what you and the team accomplished over there. But just to reiterate for everybody, it sounds like for most of these things, even working with app developers, all of those skills translate pretty much right to it. I loved how you put it, you're like, you have to calibrate yourself. I loved the term you use, cost benefit analysis for. In a different way, you have to do the same thing on a 30 second spot, you have to decide, do we have time to render it if I turn on all those settings? Some variation of that, if it's cell animated and we put stripes on the tee shirt, it's going to take twice as long to animate stuff like that.
Erica Gorochow: Right, exactly, exactly. But yeah, your fundamental basic motion design skills are the foundation for all of these formats. Without that, it's hard to figure out what you have to add on top of that stack.
Joey: Yeah. Well, that is good news for our students in the industry. Let's talk about Patriot Act. We're recording this December 2018, and I'm guessing a lot of listeners haven't seen it yet. For anyone listening who hasn't watched it, how would you describe the show? You already kind of described the stage a little bit, but maybe you could put it into the context of how the show works.
Erica Gorochow: Got it. I think Hasan Minhaj, his show, this is who's the key talent for it. He was a former person on the Daily Show. He has all these good ways to describe it. It's like, I think he said if Michael Bay made a PowerPoint, it's the wokest, most high tech Ted Talk you've ever seen. It's like, I don't know, he didn't say this, but it's like John Oliver inside of an iPad, but with a Southeast Asian person. There is something, if you watched the first episode, it's like I wanted to do a Ted Talk inside of a iPad, and that is accurate.
Joey: That is pretty accurate.
Erica Gorochow: He's sitting on top of a digital stage, he's surrounded by these screen stage and these graphics that basically underscore or are sort of his buddy to the topic de jure, sort of fly around him. There might be a date of his element or just like a way to play a clip or pull up a picture of something historical. It's super dynamic, it's all around him, just like visual orchestra, and he sort of the conductor leading it.
Joey: Yeah, that's a really good description. At its core, it's a guy doing a monologue to camera, although there is an audience there kind of laughing and reacting. And then a floor and walls, these gigantic screens literally reacting in real time to jokes he's telling, to things he's bringing up. It's pretty incredible when you watch it. And especially as a motion designer who sort of like the first thing I think is like, how the hell did they pull this off?
Erica Gorochow: I mean the graphics resolution is 8K, so I mean, how the hell did you pull it off? I still wonder. I'm just like, it's a weekly show, the resolution is 8K. And it's like super topical, so it's like if there's a big breaking news event and they could turn the ship in the other direction, they have to pull multiple rabbits out of the hat.
Joey: I know that, we were talking before we started recording and you told me that you were involved sort of in the inception of the design of all of that stuff. And then it sort of went in-house, and they're iterating for each episode. Maybe you could just talk about some of the challenges of designing for that set. The most obvious one for me is you've got a human being who has to interact with them. Even just knowing where he's going to be standing so you can read the thing behind him, how did you choreograph that with a person?
Erica Gorochow: Like I said, I can really only speak to the inception phase. To clarify what we did was we basically built a graphics Bible where we tried to think through all the different problems, or not only different problems but sort of, how do you even plan to make an episode? And then once you have made that plan, what are the certain buckets that the design team and the animation team can look to as almost like an encyclopedia and be like, okay, it's this category of information, so we should do something that ranges from here to here. Again, it was just like Bible element. But regarding technically how it was done, Michelle built, it was not just Michelle, there was one other person whose name I can't remember, built this crazy after effects file where you would animate everything. So it was super flat with a cutout of the silhouette of the stage, and then feed that pre comp through all these different camera angles. And then you could render all of those camera angles and then we would cut it together like an editor.
You would make everything flat, you would design everything flat. Then you would run that flat design through this after effects file. You would start to be like, "Okay, this looks good at all these different camera angles." Then you would animate it. And then you would render all those pre comps out and cut it together like a show. That's what we needed to do in order to figure out what would work because the way that the show works is they're running these graphics in real time. The graphics are being filmed in real time to Hasan telling them. And there's someone in the control room, there's a director saying go camera one, go camera three, go camera five. It's almost like we had to simulate that. And again, it was Michelle and someone's name who I cannot remember who built that crazy, crazy template in order to begin to try to make that happen.
Joey: That is so cool. You basically had to previz what this would look like once there were cameras cutting back and forth. What were some of the things that you learned, things maybe that you tried thinking, oh, this will look great, and then when you look at it, you're like, oh, but you can't read it because the camera is at a weird angle and maybe he's standing in front of it?
Erica Gorochow: What's interesting is that the screen designed itself. The stage design I should say is so unique. And I would say it was constraining, maybe now I would say in a good way where it kind of forced you to put your text in the center. There were things basically with the stage design that limited what you could do. But I think the biggest thing that we learned was like taking advantage of the floor and having really big movement that sort of washes over everything from the floor to the far left, to the far right so it felt like he was in this rotating world. That it felt like, how do I put this? I guess that the world was like literally shifting around him. That was what we found was both really simple, really elegant and really striking.
And then in terms of text, like I said, it really had to feel constrained mostly to that center screen. If there was something with a lot of texts, then the director would have to go towards that, towards that center screen. Maybe in some ways working through the design informed a lot of what the director would then have to do. That's at least the conclusion that we came to at the end of our phase.
Joey: Got it. So then you basically helped create the playbook for how you put together the graphics for an episode of this show, and then you hand that off. Are you involved in any way anymore? So you have insight into how they're actually executing episode to episode or did you kind of stop at that point?
Erica Gorochow: I basically stopped. I talk to Michelle all the time, and we've been to the studio and we've seen everything. It's really super impressive, but I'm just a fan now. But I would say that a lot of the making the playbook was moving this from a completely blank screen, or a blank page rather where it's like, well, no one's really done anything quite like this before, no one's made an informative Kanye West concert. A lot of the challenge was, we presented so many design directions. SO a lot of the job was guiding that exploration, and a lot of talking with Hasan and the EPs and the show runner. A lot of reassuring, trust us, this will work, then biting our nails, hoping it would work. But knowing just enough to know, yes, we have enough experience at even not in this format but just enough motion experience to know this will work.
Joey: Now, there's an internal team for the show that's actually doing. And do you know, are they still using those after effects templates and doing it that way or do they have to move into some sort of a real time system?
Erica Gorochow: It has always been this half real time system. God, I'm forgetting the name of it, it starts with a D. Some of the more basic graphics are generated on the fly, and we designed some things knowing they're like, "Okay, this would be real time, this would be able to be generated in that other system. Here's a special moment where it really has to be prebaked into assets, into after effects." I imagine that they have further codified what is what between those two things. At the time, we could only guess. When I watch the show, I still see a lot of the language that we set up.
Joey: That's super cool. Well, I recommend everyone listening, if this sounds cool, and hopefully it does, check out even just one episode of the show. It's really, really, really, really impressive when you see what's been accomplished.
Erica Gorochow: I'm glad you think so. And I should also just say a lot of that is really to the credit of the massive amount of people who worked on it, not leaving out Michelle Higa Fox, who's the current creative director and Jen Vance who was the producer. They were really super bedrock in making something that had never really been seen before seen, so credit to them.
Joey: That show in particular, that's an interesting example of a show that maybe there would have been a cable network or someone that would have put that show on, but it's kind of a very interesting niche, quirky show in its own way. And luckily we now have so many players in the game. You got Netflix, you got Amazon, Hulu, Disney's going to have their own streaming service soon. And then you've also got the big tech companies, Google, Apple, Facebook. There's this trend, and we've talked about it a lot on this podcast actually that you've got these giant companies with infinity dollar and they have this insatiable lust for content. And these are companies and mediums that even 10 years ago weren't hiring very many motion designers and now they're hiring them by the truckload. I'm curious, especially being in New York, right in the hub of motion design, what impacts have you seen or felt from that shift?
Erica Gorochow: Let me think about this year. First of all, I'll just say that I totally agree. I would say the biggest impact is maybe the breakaway from motion design being commercials, music videos to motion design being everything. Amazon doesn't just need their 30 second commercials, they need to know what's going to go on that new echo device that has a screen on it, like Facebook needs their reaction smiley faces. I don't know if this is the sort of way you're going, but it just that with all these different types of companies needing motion designers, just mean that motion design in campus has just expanded tenfold. Everything is a screen is another thing to go back to, so we need more screens.
Joey: I think that the obvious thing that most people probably recognize is just that there's so much more work and different types of work. And that kind of leads I guess into the next topic I wanted to talked to you about, which is I think there's also, I don't want to say downsides, but now it's bringing up some interesting kind of quandary that we have to deal with it, that seemed a little bit less pressing maybe in the previous generation of clients. Let's talk about, I want to reminisce a little bit. In 2017 at the Blend Conference, which is so cool. Everyone listening, if you can get tickets, which is not a guarantee, you should definitely check it out, it's amazing. You gave a presentation, I reference it all the time.
And the basic message, and I think this was actually something you said directly was that motion design is a superpower. And the way that you've kind of sub-directed your career and kind of the message of that talk was that you can choose to reserve your super power for use with companies and causes you align with. You also can use your super power to just sell to the highest bidder. But that's not what you do. And I'm curious how you arrived at that conclusion and sort of the way you balance work that fits within your worldview and things that are important to you.
Erica Gorochow: I feel like probably in my mid, late twenties, I went through, not a crisis, but I think I see this a lot with people who are like 27 who are just sort of like, "What am I doing? What have I decided to devote my life to?" Even if you're doing great, you have this moment where you've gotten out of the, if you go to college, you've gotten out of that. You're like, "Okay, I know how to function essentially as an adult, but oh my God, am I going to do this for the rest of ... Till I'm, I would say 60, but it's going to be longer than that." And thankfully, because I like what I do.
But anyway, I feel like trying to work with companies who I value and whose values I value, it just sort of came out of this despair and feeling of meaninglessness and feeling like, "Okay, I've gotten past the technical basics, what else is there? How can I feel like there is context and meaning to my life?" Because I do love design, and I do like motion and I feel really lucky that those are just things that I'm interested in that also happen to be in demand right now. But they unto themselves are not enough, they don't make me feel enough. And certainly friends and family fill that void. But again, if I'm going to be spending hundreds if not thousands of hours, maybe more than that throughout your life, I need to figure out a way to get more out of it. Yeah, it came from this maybe despair or feeling of urgency that I have to get out of this funk.
Joey: Yeah, I can definitely relate to that as I'm sure everyone listening can. Part of it is obviously you wake up one day and you're like, I'm helping sell shoes, I'm helping sell insurance.
Erica Gorochow: Which is fine, that's great too to have a balance of things where you're like, as long as this doesn't feel like it's violating me in some way. If it's making me money, that's fantastic, I can funnel that in other ways. I don't want to dog on that too much or say that every single client I have is this perfect alignment with my worldview. I just try not to violate it, and then go for the gold and find the people who I'm just like, I want people to know who these people are or know this message or this is something I would patronize.
Joey: Perfect. I think a lot of artists right now are kind of going through that same thing and trying to decide. And we're going to dig into this deeper in a little bit, but it's not always clear. It's actually usually not clear, and it's different for everybody. There are clients that are probably very easy for you to just say no to like a tobacco company wanted or something like that. I always come this example just because it's the easiest one to pick. But like if Facebook wanted to do something, it's like, well, Facebook is good and bad. One of the things I want to talk to you about is that obviously there's choosing which companies to work with.
That's a decision that every motion designer at one point or another will have to deal with. But you've actually gone a step further and you've taken on projects that are not for clients. You've actually decided to sort of use, literally like the way you said, use your powers for good to sort of be politically active. Good examples are the vote gif project, which is super awesome. And I see it pop up every couple of years. And then a big one was a short film that you directed called Dear Europe. Maybe just in case people haven't seen that, maybe you could just briefly describe what that was and why you did it.
Erica Gorochow: Sure. After the 2016 election, I wasn't feeling so hot. And I really wanted to find something that was in the near future because the midterms were two years away at that point that I could address. And the conclusion that I sort of reached after doing a little survey of potential issues or events or problems was the fact that there were several super right wing candidates running in Europe, namely the Netherlands, Germany and France who's elections were right around the corner. Feeling the sting of again, 2016, I made a collaborative video where I invited artists from Europe and America to, I think they were like 10 or 15 second pieces that would sort of combine into one video with a cohesive message that was basically don't make the same mistake we did liberal youth of Europe. It can happen to you. That was the message. And I think it knowing that it came from a variety of voices, not just me, was really a critical, the fact that it was collaborative.
Joey: Yeah. Well, I mean it was really beautiful piece, very well done. You had this all star roster of designers and animators helping out on it, and it clearly took an enormous effort to pull off. I think that kind of speaks to you taking that motivation and that feeling and doing something with it.
Erica Gorochow: Thank you, yeah. My role was director and producer, and I feel like the best thing in that ... First of all, it was work, but it was also very, very cathartic to do. So it didn't necessarily feel like work beyond the sheer time commitment. But I think that if you can show people that you've got your shit together and you have a plan and this is going to be well produced, that was the best way to bring people on board. And that was work that I was, again, it was cathartic and very happy to do.
Joey: Yeah, that's really awesome. And did you ever find out after it was released, I mean in the motion design community, everybody loved it, and it deserved all the accolades it got. But I know that that wasn't your intent with it. I'm sure that felt good, but really you were trying to get a message out. Do you have any sense, did you hear anything feedback wise that the message actually did what you wanted it to do?
Erica Gorochow: Well, I feel like the best indication of that, I feel like I'll never really know. But it did make it onto a Donald Trump, one of the bigger Donald Trump subreddits. I was like, "Okay, that's good." I mean, everyone hated it there, but that was great. I thought that was awesome. It was getting beyond design blogs, and it's getting onto like some scary subreddit. I don't know that we changed any hearts and minds in that subreddit, but that was at least an indicator that it was being seen beyond design nerds. And that's all that we ever could do, and that was the goal, period. I think there's no way to know otherwise.
Joey: Yeah. I kind of want to take a minute to preach just for a second. This is what I love about you and that film in particular. Right now, in the US, but I know not just in the US, the politics and the climate around speaking about politics, it's just so poisonous. And there's a lot of people that are frustrated, but the way that that comes out is just by ranting and complaining and calling people names. You actually made this beautiful film instead. And I think that that's a pretty powerful lesson for anyone that is in this industry because I really think that as motion designers, we're very uniquely positioned to make things like that that can very quickly reach millions of people. If you were a dentist, it would be a lot harder, you know what I'm saying?
Erica Gorochow: Definitely, yeah. I totally agree. And I think it's again, just remembering why people hire you and pay you. It's like, well, there's a reason, messaging and marketing. I guess it works, right? Just remember that and know that you can sort of short ... If you have the skills to do it, you can shortcut to advance the messages that you believe in. I've seen really beautiful pieces with political agendas I completely disagree with. And that's okay, that's fine. That's part of it that you don't have to just agree with my pretty liberal politics to do this thing.
Joey: Well, let's segue into that then. Putting that out into the world obviously tells everybody sort of what, at least what one facet of your politics is. But it's done in such like a, I don't know, just a poetic sort of artistic way. I could understand a very conservative person maybe seeing that in Europe and getting upset by it. It would be hard to argue that it wasn't well thought out and a poorly presented thing. But in addition to that, you don't hide your political views even just on social media and you're not like a troll or anything like that. But you're just honest and you're vocal about that.
Erica Gorochow: You now know my secret accounts. No, I'm just kidding. I have none, I have none.
Joey: You're secretly a troll on that Donald reddit. This is something that I'm super curious about, and this is generally something that people talk to me about only off the record. I'm very excited that you're willing to talk about it. When you post stuff like that, even if it's just something that especially being in Brooklyn is probably fairly harmless to post like disagreeing with something the president did. Do you ever worry that that could come back? Because I'm sure there are clients of yours and higher ups at those companies that probably have completely opposite views are. Do you ever worry about them seeing that or hearing through the grapevine that Erica made this very liberal peace and affecting your work?
Erica Gorochow: Not really. I have to be honest, if I was a much more conservative, I would probably have more concern. I feel like if there is a company that espouses, if Hobby Lobby came to me and was like, "Hey, can you make us a commercial?" I would say no. There may be edge cases where you have a company that's like, we don't want to be seen next to anything political. But I just feel like in the time that we live in now, that's just kind of unrealistic. I mean, everything is political now. I would say that probably prior to 2016, I would have been nervous to so publicly aligned myself with a political view. But I am also, and this really gets into how I feel about it, but it's like I'm really worried about just like seemingly, not seemingly but basic things like racism and sexism.
Those things are actually not at all basic, but the lines to me seem pretty clearly drawn what stance each political party is taking, I think. I'm not that fearful now because I would really only want to work with a company that I don't have to say they have to share my values 100% but is not scared of that or at least feels in the same ballpark.
Joey: Right. Yeah. I guess what I would be thinking about is more, there's obvious things like the Hobby Lobby example or I don't know, maybe like a Chick-fil-A or something. But there's also just that, there could be somebody at Netflix for example who's high up in their programming department or something that if there's a pitch situation and you're pitching for a title sequence and they remember, Erica Gorochow, yeah, that sounds familiar," and they google you. Are you worried about that at all or one individual in a position of power in terms of decision making?
Erica Gorochow: No, it's a great question. My answer I think still is no because for every person that may be a conservative within high up at Netflix, there may also be someone who has seen the work and has been like, "Oh, I think that gives her the edge." And maybe that's naïve, but if I'm scared of that, then I'm never going to say anything and I'm never going to do the work that ultimately satisfies me. I feel fine at least taking that chance, you know what I mean? I think if I shut up and don't follow that instinct, ultimately the sacrifice would be greater than not getting that title sequence at Netflix. ANd that is probably easy for me to say now, I'm sure there will be a moment when the rubber hits the road.
Again, I do take solace in the fact that I would probably be more afraid to espouse very, very conservative views knowing where these major companies are located. I mean, that's real. I have at least found that I have gotten jobs that I love, like a piece I did for the Times. There was a piece I did for IDEO, that came out of that political work. Maybe I'm just seeing the upside, but having seen that upside, I think is enough to assuage my fears for now.
Joey: Yeah, very well put. I was actually going to ask you if you had actually gotten client work from those spec pieces, I assumed you had. And that's just another example of if you put work out that you're into, it tends to come back in a paid form.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, totally. I did some work for, it was very brief, but I did some work for the Obama Foundation. If they see something like that. I would draw a line to say like if I think putting these messages out into the world, I think very carefully about what the writing is, what the messaging is. I try to think about, "Hey, in 10 years when some of these problems are behind us, will I feel like, will I cringe, will I feel like I [sound a] trill?" I try to think ahead and avoid that, but I can't just stop because I think, again, it will get more work and it's cathartic.
Joey: Right. You mentioned, and thank you for being really honest about this too, if you were a conservative living in Brooklyn, you'd probably be a little less vocal about your opinions. That brings up an issue, living in a place like New York or LA to a big extent, San Francisco, it's pretty safe to be left leaning and to be public about that. There's not too much danger there. And those happen to be motion design hubs, right? Now, but there's motion designers all over the country, all over the world. Do you think that people need to be careful now with ... I guess the way I want to phrase this is, in theory, it should only matter how good of a motion designer you are if someone chooses to work with you. Right now you have the choice if you disagree with them to say, I won't work with you. In Utopia, it's all about the work, but in reality, it's not. Do you think motion designers need to be cautious? And if I'm being honest, I feel like this is especially for conservative motion designers.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, yeah, of which I know there are many.
Joey: Do you think there's real danger there? I'll tell you, whenever we hire anybody, we literally scrubbed their Twitter to see like how they are not politically, but just as people. It's out there, it's very easy to find.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah. I might go back tonight and be like, "Oh, I wish I would have answered this a different way," but here's my instinct. I think two things. One, if you have created a conservative piece, but the messaging is sensitive. If you've thought through, this is a lot easier said than done, but thought through as many sides to the argument as possible. And I'm not saying that you're trying to construct a perfect argument, but if you're at least presenting your argument with sensitivity and empathy and respect, just like basic respect, then I'm not going to say that that's going to solve all problems for both liberal and conservative messages, but that should be at least the bare minimum. I know I've seen conservative pieces where I'm just like, I have rolled my eyes at false equivalencies being like, "Okay, you're trying to involve exhistorical precedent to make your argument here." And it's like, "That's your right, you totally can. It's not going to win me over."
Joey: I guess I'm talking a little bit more about this situation. Let me just throw a hypothetical at you. If you are looking to hire a freelancer, for example, you've never worked with them and you check their Twitter and they have something on there, a joke about Elizabeth Warren, obviously from Fox News or something like that. Does that impact the way you think about potentially working with them even if their work is amazing?
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Again, I think it really comes down to the tenor of what they're saying. If there's someone who is just sort of like, I would not vote for Elizabeth Warren. I don't think that would preclude me from choosing them. I do sort of wonder, I know that I have worked with at least some Trump voters, and it hasn't come up. Again, if I see someone who has made a comment that I find distasteful in tone, I don't think that I would work with that person. I don't think I would hire that person. If that person has espoused degrees that differ from mine or a different point of view, I don't think that I would personally preclude them if the work was there. I don't want to live or hire just in a bubble of people who constantly agree with me.
But if I talk about my views on a slack channel or in person, I think they need to know that I am going to potentially talk about these things. And if they want to have a discussion, I would actually kind of invite that. But again, that's why I keep coming back to what is the tenor of the thing that they've tweeted or are they consumed with saying Trump is wonderful or this person is wonderful, and this person is a liar? Does that answer the question at all?
Joey: It does actually. I agree with you 100%, I think tone is important.
Erica Gorochow: I'll also say this, I know that there is a contingent of deeply religious people who are in the motion design community. And I think about that group a lot because I think there are a lot of young people who are sort of caught in an industry that probably skews quite liberal with clients that skew quite liberal. And they think about a lot of these things. I'll just say that if someone has made a religious video or has something, I'm not going to look at that video and be like, "Oh, I'm uncomfortable, I'm not going to hire them." But again, if they've espoused something that I think is distasteful, specifically in the way that they have espoused it, then I think I would have trouble because that might ... Yeah, that's what I'll say.
Joey: Yeah. I think you kind of nailed it, it's all about the tone. If someone has different political views, frankly, that's awesome. That's kind of baked into the constitution and the whole point of the United States. But it's really about the tone. The tone is really what's been bothering me lately. Just how the two sides can't seem to even talk without sort of throwing barbs and stuff like that. If someone's done a religious piece and you could sort of, it doesn't guarantee that they're conservative but they're playing the odds, you'd probably assume. But clearly from their social media, their tone, they're nice, smart, reasonable, talented people, then that's not going to cause any issues. But if they're retweeting everything that Ann Coulter says or something like that.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, I'm probably not going to.
Joey: First of all, thank you for being honest about all this stuff because it's a tricky thing. And I know you're liberal and you live in New York. We've been sort of focusing on that. But I know that there are a lot of conservative listeners to this podcast. My gut is that right now the tone of the country is, and probably mostly just because media companies, the big ones are on the coast. You can feel kind of like in the closet a little bit. You said you worked with Trump voters, that never came up, and that was kind of the metaphor that popped into my head.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah. I have to assume that through all the people that I have touched that do not live in New York, I have to have worked with, or at least I know that I've absolutely worked with people whose whole family have voted Trump. And they live in the Midwest, and they're at a minimum torn between being like, Trump didn't actually lower my taxes, so I'm even a little bit mad about it. Or taking, I would say your blanket like, well, this is why I support Republicans point of view and who are least struggling with that. I'm thinking of one or two people in person. Yeah, just to clarify that.
Joey: Yeah, yeah, awesome. All right. Well, let's talk about this in kind of a different angle here. You had a tweet earlier this year that I thought was really, really kind of poignant. I'm going to read the whole thing, so I hope it's not so long that it becomes awkward. This is what it was. Now, more than ever, google that new company hiring you to create a friendly little video, who is invested, who runs the company? Everyone's ability to say yes or no to a job differs as do values. It's not often clear cut, but at least go clearheaded into what message you're furthering. So much of the motion aesthetic that's popular right now, and that I love and even specialize in is fun, bright, illustration driven. It's often meant to make companies feel friendly, humane, even harmless. I love it. And that's a pretty key word, particularly unestablished startups. Let's just be honest about this tactic.
And this is a conversation that I've been having more and more, I've been hearing more and more about it. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. What I sort of read into that tweet is that the company that's hiring you, they have to take responsibility for any negative side effects of their business model or just bad things that happened because of them. But does the artist helping market them also take some of that burden?
Erica Gorochow: I don't know if they take the burden, but the way that I think about it is your time is the greatest asset that you have. And how you choose to spend it, and for whom you choose to provide a service should be a part of the calculus when you say yes or no. I don't know if it's your burden, that feels maybe a little bit too much. That's how I feel personally, I don't want to ascribe that to everyone else. But I think that you have to, I would just recommend that you remember it's your time, it's your specialty, it's your talent and you should ask yourself if you think that other company is deserving of it. And that's a really privileged, super, super privileged thing to say because like I said in the tweet, you have student loans to pay, you have a mortgage or your people need money, pizza to function.
I don't know, I think it's remembering that you're part of the ecosystem and you have a choice in it, so you should calibrate that to whatever values you may or may not hold and just don't forget that.
Joey: Definitely not.
Erica Gorochow: Because you're a part of the ecosystem, I think that's the thing. It's like you're a part of the ecosystem. Burden might be too much, but you are a part of the ecosystem. You make this economy go round to some degree.
Joey: That's a good metaphor, you're part of the ecosystem. It makes it seem, because I think the trick is exactly what you were just talking about, that if someone has a family and bills to pay and all that stuff and a company that maybe it was just in the news and they were ranting about how awful this company. Now, that company is offering them a bag of money to make, and maybe it's not even to make a commercial for them that makes them look really good. Maybe it's just help us design this feature of our app or something like that. I guess the next question is then, where is the line? I'll use a different company as an example, so Google. Google is a ginormous company, and there are parts of it like attempting to cure cancer and things like that. And then there are parts that are tracking everything you do on the internet and feeding you ads.
When it comes to things like that, do you have any thoughts on how to even approach that question of like, is this a client that I want to help as part of this ecosystem?
Erica Gorochow: Right, right, right. It's really hard with your Googles and your Facebooks and your Walmarts and you're, all those just because, like you said, there's so many arguments for and against. I would say for me, I've drawn my own lines, I won't work for a tobacco company. There was one other thing that I was like, I don't know if I'll never work for pharma, but I really try to avoid. If I have a pharma opportunity, I have to look really selectively on what the drug is or what the treatment is. I think for the smaller companies especially that's where I really go on Crunchbase and look at the investors. And if they're like in a seed or A or B round, which are things that you can readily find out.
And I'm like, "Oh God, every single one of these investors has also invested in other industries that I just disagree with." Or it looks like, oh, it's the Kochs, this is the big investment for the Koch brothers who politically I don't agree with. I'm talking about 15 to 20 minutes worth of research if it's a company you've never heard of so you're not surprised on the back end when there may be backlash. Speaking of burden, it's like the burden may be that people see it and then Google the company and then you feel kind of crappy that you didn't do this basic homework. Those are sort of my criteria, but I just want to emphasize that you might love working for a tobacco company, but it's the oil company that you don't want to work for. So everyone's lines are totally different.
Joey: Yeah, that's definitely the key message is that it's an individual choice, although you may not want to put like the Alex Jones graphics package on your reel, that could come back to haunt you.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, totally.
Joey: Awesome. Well, Erica, this has been a really fascinating conversation for me, and I assume for the listeners too, I hope it was. And I have one more question for you, and then I'll let you run off. And I'm going to gush a little bit, you make me blush. Feel free. From the outside, at least from my perspective seeing how you put your money where your mouth is. You don't just say your opinion on the internet, you then actually take action to change things that you believe in. And it takes a lot of guts to do that frankly. And in our industry too where it's very small, everybody kind of knows everybody. Everyone sort of knows who the nice people are, who the mean people are. It takes guts frankly to stick to your guns the way you do. And I'm just curious, where did that come from for you?
Erica Gorochow: I think if I just constantly talked about the things that I wanted to do and didn't do them, I would feel worse. I'm glad that you perceive it as guts, but it feels necessary to avoid feeling worse in some way. I really struggle when people sort of tell me for months and years they're like, I'm going to do this, I have this idea of what I want to do or be or whatever and then take no action towards it. If those things have been perceived as successful or not is great, and it's a sort of beside the point, it's more of a, I have to do them to feel okay. It almost doesn't feel like a choice in some way, if that makes any sense?
Joey: Yeah, it's almost like you're more afraid of not doing it, you end up doing it.
Erica Gorochow: Yeah, exactly. Because I might regret it or kick myself for being like ... I'll just feel more pent up if I don't get it out.
Joey: I can't stress enough how much I respect Erica, especially after being so candid in our conversation about a touchy topic. Whether you agree with her politics or not, I think the fact that she sticks to her guns and actually tries to make a difference is very admirable. And by the way, I would say the exact same thing if her politics were conservative. School of Motion is not political, and I deeply believe everyone is entitled to their own values, opinions, and the right to express them out loud using any creative or technical skills you may have. We do, however, have to accept the reality that the world we are currently living in is pretty divided, and that there may be consequences to sharing your thoughts on things that have nothing to do with motion design.
My hope is that this episode gets you thinking about what's important to you when a client comes along with a gig about your role in this media driven ecosystem we're all sharing and about how much you're comfortable sharing publicly knowing that it can unfortunately affect your career. It's Heavy stuff, my goodness. If anyone listening would be interested in coming on and talking about how this looks from the other side, from a conservative viewpoint, I would love to talk with you. Please reach out to us, [email protected] and throw your hat in the ring. And that's it for this episode. I really hope you dug it, I hope it challenges you a bit. And I can't wait to climb inside those beautiful ears next time. Thanks for listening.