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Finding Success from East to Kanye West - Emonee LaRussa
How do you build a career designing animation for the world's biggest musical artists?
Defining your style is one of the most challenging aspects of any creative career. Finding an audience for that style is equally difficult...but you can always cast a wider net by learning new skills. Once you've built up a resume of impressive techniques and videos, you might just start attracting your dream clients...say, the world's leading musical artists?
Emonee LaRussa is a freelance Motion Graphics artist. You might recognize her from her YouTube channel, her Emmy Award-winning animation, or the awesome tutorial she did for some online MoGraph school. Emonee is the founder and CEO of Pamanama Studios LLC., a studio filled with a diverse set of talented artists from all over the world, collaborating with musicians to produce top of the line lyric videos.
Emonee has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, from Ty Dolla $ign, FKA Twigs, Lil Nas X, Dababy, Jhene Aiko, and John Legend, all the way to Kanye West. Along the way, she's developed a unique style that has helped her stand out and shine. Check out her work on the music video for "Ego Death."
[Warning: Explicit Lyrics and Drug Use]
We often say there is no one path to success, just a lot of small steps that can lead toward your career. Emonee faced a number of setbacks on her journey, but she never allowed any one thing—or any negative person—to dictate her future. She took charge, and we're excited to share her story.
It's time to find some success, so grab a tomahawk ribeye (or vegetarian equivalent), season that bad boy just right, and fire up the grill. We're cooking with fire now...and also listening to an awesome artist. This metaphor got away from us.
Finding Success from East to Kanye West - Emonee LaRussa
Speaker 1: We were about 455 yards away. He's going to hit about [inaudible 00:00:04].
Joey Korenman: This is the School of Motion podcast. Come for the MoGraph, stay for the puns.
Emonee LaRussa: And so it had never dawned on me that maybe one day I can own my own studio. It was always maybe one day I could work for one of these guys. And it was just because I'd never seen anybody in the position of owning their own studio. I never seen a Black curly headed woman owning their own animation studio. And it's so rare.
Joey Korenman: Motioneers, I am so excited today to introduce you to Emonee LaRussa, an artist who, as soon as I was introduced to her work, knew that she needed to be on this podcast because you don't run into that many people in motion design that have this much of a command of such a wide variety of styles this early in their career.
Joey Korenman: And what I found out about Emonee was that not only is she an amazing artist, but she really wants to push the industry forward and help change it for the better, because we still have a lot of work to do in our industry. Now, before we dive into find out more about what makes Emonee tick, let's take a listen to one of our amazing alumni.
Natalie Wood: My name's Natalie Wood, and I live in Manchester, England. I have taken the Character Animation Bootcamp and the Cinema 4D Basecamp. My job requires me to do a lot of character animation. So the course I took was ideal for my career. When I did the Cinema 4D Basecamp, I literally went from only being able to open Cinema 4D to being able to model, light, and automate within a couple of months. And even after just the first lesson, I was able to model a room and put a mini version of myself in it.
Natalie Wood: The whole course was so enjoyable. I didn't mind spending my evenings after work locked away in my home office working on the course. I'd recommend Character Animation Bootcamp in Cinema 4D Basecamp to anyone who wants to learn how to animate a character and bring them to life or to anyone who just wants to get started working in the third dimension. My name is Natalie Wood, and I am a School of Motion graduate.
Joey Korenman: Emonee, I have been wanting to have this conversation for a while because at School of Motion, your work got sent over to me a while ago, and I honestly haven't seen anybody who has the range of styles that you cover. But before we go any further, I have to ask you one question, are you a fellow AI graduate?
Emonee LaRussa: Ah, sadly, yes.
Joey Korenman: I did the same thing and I don't know about you, but I had a very interesting time there and I wonder if you have any good stories about your time at AI.
Emonee LaRussa: I went there ready to conquer the world. I was so excited. I had taken some film classes in high school and I really always wanted to make music videos. And so I was like, yo, I want to be a cinematographer. I want to go to film school. And AI seemed the place that I wanted to go because it was close to my hometown, Fresno, where my parents were living at the time. And so I was two hours away. It's not LA. Let's do it.
Emonee LaRussa: And so they were like, "If you get straight As, you basically pay half of the tuition by the time you leave." And I'm like, sick, that's all I had to do. And a quarter in, they were, yo. So the Pell Grant is completely taken away from the school because they basically were reaching out to lower income kids, and were trying to get as much federal aid as possible, and weren't really acting a school.
Emonee LaRussa: And so the government caught wind of that and took all of the grants away. And so I was like, ah, no worries. It's still a good school, right? And over time, I was just like, I am learning a lot more from YouTube than I am in school. And so it was interesting. I definitely had times there that really shaped who I am today.
Emonee LaRussa: Obviously, I got to meet some really cool people, but I also learned very quickly how being a very feminine woman of color in a male dominant industry was not ever seen and wasn't really respected. And at first, I was kind of oblivious of that. I thought maybe people just didn't like me because I was weird. But then I started confronting people and just trying to figure out why don't you want me on your set?
Emonee LaRussa: I am getting 120% in my classes and my cinematography classes. I'm trying to be a cinematographer. And being a cinematographer, you need to have a crew. And so when you don't have people who want to be on your set, it was just why is this going on? I'm so nice to so many people and I've never... I go out of my way to try to make people feel like they're being heard and I'm definitely not getting that back.
Emonee LaRussa: And so I confronted somebody and I was like, why do you hate me so much? I just tried my best to be a hard worker. And he was like, "I just think because you're a girl, you get favoritism. And the reason why you're getting good grades is because the teachers feel bad for you." And it wasn't that I was the only person... It couldn't possibly be that I work hard.
Emonee LaRussa: It couldn't possibly be that I was spending all of my time to study cinematography or that I was the only person who had an actual cinematography job in any of our classes. It couldn't be that. It had to be that I was too girly. I got told that the dress that I wore on set, which had shorts on, I was covered, it wasn't inappropriate, was that it was too inappropriate and that I don't deserve the respect on set. But meanwhile, there's dudes over here wearing shorts that are shorter than my dress.
Emonee LaRussa: And it was a really eye-opening thing. There was one teacher there that told me that my graphics were mediocre and that I should just focus on something else. And so what's actually interesting about that is years later, I ended up getting hired at CBS News in Sacramento and he ended up getting hired there because AI shut down. And he worked at a job that was below me. And so I'm over here being a cinematographer and I'm like, sir, can you go get those lights for me please? It's just mean.
Joey Korenman: The temptation must've been strong to return the favor.
Emonee LaRussa: Oh man, the amount of pettiness that I wanted, but I didn't because those moments that I had, those really low moments that I had of just knowing that I was being discriminated just simply for the way that I looked and not a reflection of my art and my work ethic, it really just made me be like, yo, I'm just going to work 10 times harder.
Emonee LaRussa: I'm going to show that you all want to judge me, but you guys don't have a good reason to, and I'm going to continue being a nice person because kill them with kindness. And so it's just really interesting how my AI experiences turned out to really build my character as a person and just really help me become the person that I am today. So AI was definitely an interesting-
Joey Korenman: Interesting, right?
Emonee LaRussa: ... four years.
Joey Korenman: Interesting of course. I have to give you a thousand prompts just for confronting that.
Emonee LaRussa: Thank you.
Joey Korenman: It's seemed very innocently and honestly, just trying to find out what the problem is. I don't know if you feel this way, but I do feel like there are a lot of people like me, a lot of people that are White guys, middle-aged, bald, been in industry for a while that like to call the industry a meritocracy. And they like to just say like, "You know what, it's animation. It's creative. No one is judged. Everything is equal. It's just how good the work is."
Joey Korenman: And I think your example is a perfect kind of point that from the start, the disadvantages and the systemic kind of examples of people trying to push people like you down from the beginning, not once you're in the industry and you've tried to work for a while and politics all comes to play, but from the beginning.
Joey Korenman: There's this scary number out there, I can't quote the exact number, but the amount of women that are in the industry in terms of in school, in programs versus within the first two years, how many drop out. You get out of school, you have a degree, you have a demo reel, you have your first job, and within the first six months to two years, the amount of women that leave because of these kinds of issues you're talking about, it's not a meritocracy.
Joey Korenman: Even your best example, if people listen to this go to Emonee, if you go to her Twitter and you just look at your pin tweet, the fact that you have all this beautiful, very different artwork that's really it's just an example of how far reaching your work is. But in it, you say, I am a part of the 2.8% of Black women in animation.
Joey Korenman: The fact that even there, you're still confronting, you're pushing that out to let people know like, look, this is a problem. This is an issue, like you said, but with kindness just to open people's eyes. I don't know the answers to this, but having that in front of people is at least the first step to let people know that it is not a meritocracy. It is not. There are other forces at play.
Emonee LaRussa: No, 100%. It's definitely one thing that I could kind of relate it to, and a big reason why I feel like women, people of color are kind of scared to get into fields that are dominated by one type of person. I remember for the majority of my life, I always skateboarded everywhere. And that was my main source of transportation for five years of my life.
Emonee LaRussa: And being a girl on a skateboard, there's just so much more pressure, like a heat ball. Everyone falls on a skateboard. It's inevitable. And I had so much pressure on me that if I fell, then they would look at me like, "Oh, she's a girl trying to skateboard." And it was I didn't realize it till later, how many moments I had just like that in my career where it's like I am the only person that looks like this in this field.
Emonee LaRussa: And it's there's so much pressure on me to succeed and to not up. But there's definitely more pressure because it's just am I going to be held to this standard now? "Oh I know this one Black girl that I worked with. She messed up and she did this." And there's just so many eyes. There's definitely that pressure of trying to be your best and not messing up. And it's impossible.
Emonee LaRussa: You're going to mess up and you're going to do things that aren't right because you're learning. That's the whole point. And so growing up and kind of learning that motion graphics was my heart and soul, it was because no one wanted me on their set as the cinematographer. So push me towards that. And I realized that the amount of people who are in motion graphics are predominantly White males.
Emonee LaRussa: And so it had never dawned on me that maybe one day I can own my own studio. Maybe one day, I could do this. It was always maybe one day I could work for one of these guys. And it was just because I never seen anybody in the position of owning their own studio. I'd never seen a Black curly headed woman owning their own animation studio. And it's so rare.
Emonee LaRussa: The amount of studios that I do know are predominantly owned by White males. And so knowing that that existed, I was like, yo, I want to change this. I just to put it out there in the world and the universe that I want this to happen. And so I think one thing is, I always say go out of your way to help somebody. Go out of your way to support somebody.
Emonee LaRussa: But it's how do we know that we're supposed to help and support people when we don't know that they exists. I don't think people are aware that this is a very rare thing for women of color to be in animation. I didn't even know at a point. I was asked to work on a project for Black women anime, and they were like, "Hey, can you bring on... We want to make sure that this project is just Black female animators." And I was like, "No worries."
Emonee LaRussa: Whenever I'm working on a project, I instantly go on Instagram and I start just searching for artists. That's usually how I'm able to find people for these gigs. And so I'm looking and I'm looking, and it's days and it's days, and it's weeks at this point. And I literally can only find one Black female animator and she was booked. So I can't even use her, but it was insane. We ended up trying to figure out another way to do it. And I'm just like, that is absolutely insane to me.
Joey Korenman: It's mind blowing.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. And it's just because how could I ever see myself work at a job that I don't ever see anybody who look me work there? It just seems impossible. So it's pretty interesting.
Joey Korenman: See, I think that's why there's always a question well, how do we solve this? And it's well, just help people get their first shot. And I think it goes back a lot earlier than that. If you're saying in school you're getting these kinds of pressures that a lot of people don't even think happen in the real world, how do we go and get people who are creatively curious, right?
Joey Korenman: People who are like, "Oh man, I don't even know what motion design is." But you show them and you explain to them that this is not as demanding of our industry as TV animation or working in video games. There are spots here with people waiting for you, not just waiting for your, actively looking for you.
Joey Korenman: I think it's almost like there's a higher level of advocacy that has to happen to even get the process started. Then all those barriers have to get knocked down and there needs to be leaders. There need to be examples of people, like you said, at the top. Because it's so disheartening to me to hear what you're saying about feeling like you can't ever make a mistake because that really, whether it's skateboarding, or motion design, or whatever, anything creative, that's literally the definition of how you get better.
Joey Korenman: You're working your ass off to be perfect while everyone else is just making mistakes and that's fine, and that's how you learn, and you get better, and you grow, but you're literally sitting there afraid to make the first mistake, not just for yourself, but for everyone else behind you coming up. That's insane. That amount of pressure just day-to-day, that's something beyond everybody who just says, "Oh man, I have imposter syndrome. I don't know if I can do it." That's a whole other world.
Emonee LaRussa: No, 100%. I have kind of acknowledged that this is a thing in my industry. And so I haven't been working for the past two months, I think coming on three months on my non-profit called Jumpstart Designers and we're going to be launching next week, but we are working to get Adobe Creative Cloud and computers to lower income kids. Exactly what you're saying. It starts before the opportunity.
Emonee LaRussa: The amount of Black and Brown kids who don't have the accessibility to get into digital art because digital art is expensive. It is not something... Back in the day, I remember I was in high school and my friend pirated Adobe After Effects for me on the school computer. And my mom, I was like, mom, I really into After Effects. I want a computer.
Emonee LaRussa: And we went to go to Best Buy and she went to go buy me a laptop, a $300 little laptop, and her credit card declined. And she we couldn't get it. We walked out of the store and I felt so defeated. And my mom trying her best, it was just I need to figure this out. And so a few months later, she ended up saving her coins and she ended up getting me that little shitty $300 computer.
Emonee LaRussa: And it was just insane because that same computer that I have, I'm in the school newspaper for most likely to win an artistic award. And I had that little laptop with me in that photo. And it's just so crazy to think that I would not be here if I had not started at that age. Or at least the amount of experience that I had, the amount of knowledge that I have really came from me having that access to that computer.
Emonee LaRussa: Me being able to work in After Effects, and watch Video Copilot, and study everything, and work in the actual programs. If I had not done that then, I would not be here now. And it just makes me think how many other kids could be in this position where they don't have the accessibility and they don't have the access to a computer.
Emonee LaRussa: And they had these dreams and these goals, but they could never see themselves in those positions. And so Adobe reached back out and they are like, "We'll get you those subscriptions. So I'm so stoked and it's going to be next week that we're doing the launch. So we're just kind of waiting and the pressure is on.
Joey Korenman: It's exciting. I mean that's a mission that needs to happen for so many different reasons, because it is. It's one of the hardest parts is just letting people know that there's a door that can open for them. But then as soon as they know that door, if they have an example like you to see like, "Oh, this is what's possible. This is why the work is worth it."
Joey Korenman: But then also everybody likes to talk about how it's so accessible to get into motion design, but I feel like it just speaks to how elevated most of us are in terms of not even understanding, however. I don't even remember how much Creative Cloud is at this point. But a computer that you can actually do the work, an Internet connection, and the software.
Joey Korenman: That adds up to so much when you're just trying to figure out if it's something... When you just want to play. You just want to be able to play and see somebody else doing it. That's a huge barrier that needs to come down. I'm stoked to hear that you reached out to Adobe, and I really think too that there's a place where...
Joey Korenman: I look at all these studios that are constantly upgrading their equipment or switching to stuff in the cloud, and they're just offloading boatloads of old machines, that there's almost a call to action somewhere where like, you know what, if you say you want to see people of different educations, people have different experiences, people of different colors, different genders, put your money where your mouth is. Let's get machines in people's hands, right?
Emonee LaRussa: Yes.
Joey Korenman: Let's get the machines. That's the only way it's going to happen.
Emonee LaRussa: Yes. No, I love that.
Joey Korenman: I will say, I really, really want to talk about your styles and the different kind of jobs you work on because I really think... One of my big issues that I always talk about is that motion design, for some reason, I think especially in the last five or six years has really kind of turned into an echo chamber. All this stuff really looks, and feels, and sounds, and talks the same.
Joey Korenman: And whenever I run into somebody who's work doesn't feel that way, I want to know everything about... What are your inspirations? What are your interests? How can you do something like... If you go to your Instagram, your Instagram 7k Animation, and then your Weeknd Heartless, the visual, those look like they're from completely different artists. How did you get there? And then how do you pursue all these wildly different styles?
Emonee LaRussa: It's so interesting because I have always beat myself up for so long for not having a specific style. And I've always just been like, well, I can't really replicate the same thing for a different song because that's not how I feel for that song. And I think it's just, I've always been so passionate, emotionally attached to music. And so whenever I listened to a song, I think about it completely differently.
Emonee LaRussa: I have a different setup in my mind in how I want it to feel. And so it wasn't until a year ago, I was talking to an ad agency and they wanted to bring me on. And they were like, "So how would you describe your style?" And I was like, "I'm not sure." I really don't know. It's all just how I feel at the time. And so my inspirations are literally everything, every single artist, every single cinematographer.
Emonee LaRussa: When I like someone's art, I just ingest it, and I'm just like, oh my God, this is amazing. Just little aspects of it. And I try to break it down on a technical level. How did they do this? Oh, they added a radio blur, and oh, they added the noise here. And that makes so much sense. I want to do that for a different project.
Emonee LaRussa: And so it was definitely this whole thing of imposter syndrome because I have so many forms of inspiration, and that's why I feel like I don't have a particular style and it's just because I am intrigued by everything. And the Heartless piece by The Weeknd, I totally was like, oh, I want to do this realistic thing.
Emonee LaRussa: And then two weeks later, I'm doing something completely different and it's all cartoon. And I really don't know. I think I just got a fucked up mind, to be honest. There's some weird wiring going on in there because I definitely am not dedicated to a specific style, but when I hear it, I see it. It's pretty weird.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I think it speaks to one of the issues I always have is that because a lot of the motion design industry as a service industry, we're making stuff to sell stuff to other people, that's always the first question. It's like, "Oh, what's your style?" Because I need your style to fit into this thing that I need to fit into this bigger campaign for someone else.
Joey Korenman: But I love what you're talking about because really in my mind, when I hear you talking about that, saying that you have a fucked up mind, or that you love everything, that to me is when I hear people who are concept artists for film or vis dev artists for animation, they're not hired for a style, they're hired for their curiosity. They're hired for their imagination. They're hired for the stuff that just keeps them up at night.
Joey Korenman: And that is what inspires everyone else. It's not, "Oh, I got to fit into this box." It's like, "Oh, you need to help me figure out what the box is." Which I think is probably one of the reasons why I resonated so much with your work. Another thing that really resonated with me because I really think one thing that we're all really bad at in motion design as an industry, I'm trying to think of the right word to use.
Joey Korenman: I hate this word, but it's kind of branding or just showing that you're confident in yourself. And one thing that I love across everything that I search for you, whether it's your website, your Twitter, your Instagram, you lead off with this thing that I think is great, and I wish more people would do this. Your name is here and everywhere I looked for you, it let me knew right away you are a two time Emmy Award winning motion artist.
Joey Korenman: I wanted to stand up and applaud you for having the... I don't know what the right word is, if it's confidence or swagger or whatever it might be. But when you put things on there like that, did that freak you out? Was that something where you're like, "Oh man, I don't know if I'm being a little too out there with this?" Or were you like, "I need more of this. I want to have more things."
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. I'm always had this thing of I want to love myself like Kanye without being Kanye. I want to be this super nice person that's... I'm confident in my work but not to the point that people are going to think that I'm super egotistical or that. I'm an asshole. I think that there is a way to be confident in yourself and not be this pretentious asshole.
Emonee LaRussa: That's one thing that I've always tried to project in my presence online, is just I want you to know that you don't have to be mean in order to be successful. And so that's something that whenever they see my work and then they see that, and they're like, "What? This is crazy. This is an academy award. Why is this low curly headed brown girl? What's going on with this?" And it's definitely something that it's just something to say.
Emonee LaRussa: But I think when I think of the things that I'm most proud of, the projects that I'm most proud of, it's definitely not my Emmys. The Emmys, they're great awards. So last year, Ben Marriott, he is a YouTuber. Not YouTuber, but he makes tutorials on YouTube on After Effects and stuff, and he's just such a great guy. But when I was deciding to leave my job at CBS to pursue motion graphics full time, I just messaged him and I was like, hey, how are you doing it?
Emonee LaRussa: And he was like, "You know what, you should get this book called The Freelance Manifesto. It's by School of Motion and it changed my life." And so I read the book and I was just so happy to check back in with him and be like, "Look I quit my job and I'm doing good. And I'm super proud." And he's like, "That's so awesome."
Emonee LaRussa: He does this things every year where it's a little awards that he gives to best animation, best music video. And I'm watching these and I'm just thinking, wow, all of these artists are getting these awards are just so phenomenal. They're just so amazing. And I'm definitely not near that level of excellence. And I was just thinking in my head it would be amazing to just be a part of this.
Emonee LaRussa: And as I'm watching the video, it was this breakdown on the video, Emonee LaRussa. I literally started crying. I didn't even cry for the Emmys. It just felt like this moment of being so proud of the fact that I could potentially be in the same room with all of these talented artists.
Emonee LaRussa: It just never occurred to me. And so it's just so interesting because I definitely use the two time Emmy award-winning as a reel in, but the things that I feel I'm most proud of are just little things like that where it's I've had the ability to be in the same room with all these amazing talented artists. So it's pretty interesting.
Joey Korenman: I mean, I think it's great. It shows that you can be confident enough to sell what you offer, right? You can be confident enough to celebrate your successes. There's nothing wrong with that. But understanding that humility or humbleness is also part of excellence.
Joey Korenman: I'm going to apologize right now to anyone listening to this, because you brought up Kanye West and I feel like you can talk about him for hours, just as an artist and as a person who is a collaborator and someone who rides that kind of seesaw of confidence on one side and humility on the other at different points in his career. Those are complete different positions.
Joey Korenman: But I think for me, I think the learning thing about that for someone listening, if you project confidence, that means that someone can trust you, right? If you have enough confidence to speak well about yourself, there's something there that you want to be a part of. There's heat that you're generating that someone wants to attach their product, or their explainer video, or their music, or whatever.
Joey Korenman: But the humility leaves enough room in the relationship for someone else to still contribute, to be a partner. And I feel like let them be a collaborative. I feel that you're using both of those, I think in a really great way, because you do give back, right? I think on your Instagram, I saw it recently. It was awesome.
Joey Korenman: I watched through the whole thing of how a piece of your started and then you showed the reference photo and you took people through the process of actually working on that. And I think that takes a certain amount of ability or willingness to let people see where you start. That's humility, right? There's a humbleness to that. That's not showing off.
Joey Korenman: It's saying like, oh, look, I start from this, but I can get to here. I think that's awesome. And I feel like you mentioned, Ben Marriott and he does a really great job of that. One thing that I think you do as well, I think that's great, it's you don't just show your work and just tout it. I think that whole idea of I'll use all of these outlets that are available to us, social media, Instagram, YouTube, making tutorials, doing things like these.
Joey Korenman: I think that can overwhelm a lot of people. And I think particularly... And I only know this because I've interviewed a lot of people and request a lot of people for podcasts. I think women in general have a harder time in our industry being confident, touting that for a lot of different reasons.
Joey Korenman: But can you just talk a little bit about how you approach all those other aspects of being in motions and besides just making the work. Doing interviews, doing stuff for Instagram, being able to promote yourself. What is that like in your day to day life? How do you approach all that?
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. It's pretty interesting. It definitely goes back to the whole branding thing and how I want to be perceived online. And I think being that, I have chosen, but also not chosen to be a voice for women of color animators, artists, creators. It's definitely this thing of I don't ever want to come off as unapproachable.
Emonee LaRussa: And I don't know if that's just with being a female as well, because there's always this thing of, "Oh, are you a bitch or are you a boss?" And usually dudes are like, "He's so bossy." And then when it's a girl, it's like, "Oh, she's so bitchy." And there's definitely that difference.
Emonee LaRussa: And so there's a moments that I've definitely noticed in my career where I will self-deprecate myself. I'll be like, oh, I'm so stupid. I'm so this. And I'm realizing I'm in a room full of men that think so highly of themselves, and would never say that. They would never say that they were stupid and they would never do that.
Joey Korenman: Also, can I ask you a question about that? Because I've always-
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: I think people need to hear you say this because I... Do you feel like you were doing that purposefully out loud, and do you feel like there's a pressure to do that, to make it easier for the people in the room to work with you? Or is that just an instinctual thing that happened?
Emonee LaRussa: I think outside of my career, I tend to do that. And I think it's just being, I don't know. It definitely feels like there's pressure on me to be a cool person because if I'm not, then no one is going to want to work with me. It was kind of the same thing with I ended up calling out this rapper, Rich the Kid, who didn't want to pay me. And I got a message from a lawyer, and she was like, "Hey, maybe don't do this because you may come off as not easy to work with."
Emonee LaRussa: And it just hit me that why is it that me using my voice, me standing up for myself, and me knowing my worth and my value is going to be perceived as hard to work with. Judge me on my art. Judge me on my work ethic. Don't judge me because of my voice. And so when I'm talking to people, I definitely notice that I do that, but I think it's a combination of just trying to be perceived in a certain way so that people don't think that I'm this bitch.
Emonee LaRussa: Maybe I saw on TikTok of I'm going to add 10 more exclamation marks so that they know that I'm nice. And it's just so real because it's I do that all the time and it's now just become a part of who I am, but it doesn't mean that you are any less of a person. I think it's definitely a people pleaser type trait, but I don't know. I've just always been like, if I could just kill them with kindness, if I could just do this and they want to feel better from it, then that's fine.
Emonee LaRussa: I know that I work as hard as I possibly can, and if they want to judge me based on this small conversation that I'm having, or me confronting them about an issue, then I don't want to be around them. Then I don't want to work with them. It's just kind of this thing of I know my worth and definitely sticking to it.
Joey Korenman: Well, I mean, I appreciate you sharing that because I think that that's something more people need to hear in the industry that probably never have considered that, right? Like you said, in the room, if you're collaborating, or you're brainstorming, or you're pitching ideas, there's a lot of people in the room that don't even think twice. They have no filter. They don't think about, "Well, if I interrupt this person, what's the consideration. What's going to be thought of me." It's just, "Well, I'm interrupting this person because I have the right idea.
Joey Korenman: I have the best idea and it needs to be said now." But I don't think people understand until they hear someone like you saying like, "Oh, you know what, if I have four processors in my brain going all the time, three of them are dedicated to just making sure I don't upset people and I teach people how it's okay to work with me. And only one is actually being able to... 25% of my time is able to be focused on just coming up with a cool idea or working. There's all these other considerations that happen in your day-to-day process.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, I feel like that's a good thing to be able to manage, but also, I don't know. I feel like that's a strong thing to be cautious of everyone in the room, but knowing that your intention is there. Your intention is good. Your intention is not to hurt anybody. And as long as that's the case, I think you'll be good.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I think a big part of it is just trying to find a way to shift the demographics, shift those rooms so that it's not 90% me and 10% everyone else. Because I don't know if you had this experience in school or not, but I know I certainly did was that when I was going to AI in Chicago, which also doesn't exist now, one of my happiest days in my life was paying off my student loan before my school actually closed. That was cool.
Emonee LaRussa: Oh my Gosh.
Joey Korenman: I only beat it by two weeks, but I still did it. So that was great. But I only now in hindsight... I had conversations with lots of people, why is there this super-fast burnout for so many women who come out of animation and film schools when they first encounter the industry? Because sometimes maybe school is great, it's supportive maybe, but then you get out in the world is very different and you haven't been prepared for the challenges.
Joey Korenman: But I also wonder too, for men who go through this whole process, they have not seen women in positions of power or positions of being shown as an expert. I don't know about you, but I didn't really have many female instructors going through my entire school. And until I made it to imaginary forces, which is 12 years into my career, I never saw a female creative director run a room, like you said, like a boss.
Joey Korenman: Someone who, "This is what we're going to do. This is why you want this solution. And if you don't like this solution, that's fine. The next company down the line is going to love this idea. So it's up to you." It was so enlightening to see that. But I also think about how many men in our industry just have never encountered that.
Joey Korenman: Not that that justifies the behavior, but it's a big perspective shift to be able to say, "Oh no, look. Look at what you're doing. You're a two time Emmy Award winning director and you're not afraid to say it." That's a huge shift from what most people are used to encountering.
Emonee LaRussa: I just here that. It's just so real just knowing that these... There's a lot of people that just haven't experienced just people of color, women in the industry. And I think now it's becoming more apparent just being with last year happening, with COVID and George Floyd. I just hope every single year, it's just becoming more and more apparent of these systematic issues that are happening. And it's up to us. It's up to all of us to just be a part of the movement and just go out of your way to support somebody. They're out there.
Joey Korenman: Even for anyone listening to this, that's like, "Oh, I hear this all the time." And those are societal issues, or those are moral issues. So what about just the industry? The best work should win. I would argue all the time that as in motion design, we're making stuff most of the time for other people, right?
Joey Korenman: As the rooms start looking more and more like one demographic, one group of people, but the people we're trying to help sell to are changing dramatically as more and more people have more purchasing power. For the work to actually resonate, for studios to be able to go out and win work, you have to become more diverse. You have to have more experiences. You have to know other ways of talking to people.
Joey Korenman: Your sum total of your references just can't be UFC, Vultron, and Star Wars. Those are cool. Those are great. But there are people out there dying hungry, and will notice something that speaks differently. And even just on the granular money-making level, if you want to be selfish and you want to have a company that's doing well, it's in your best interest to also go this direction.
Emonee LaRussa: When I think about characters being drawn, a lot of times I've hired animators, White male animators, and I'll ask them to draw a Black female character. And they'll throw afro on a White character and make their skin dark. And it's the lack of representation that they've seen, it's not there. And so how do accurately represent these characters?
Emonee LaRussa: It's in your best interest to just have people who have that experience of knowing what the facial features of certain ethnicities are and being able to create things that are out of the box. Who wants the same character every single time? There's so many different people that look so many different ways and it's bringing the people who are actually involved in those cultures. It just opens a door of new possibilities.
Joey Korenman: And I can't say how much I agree with that. It's so true. I just saw recently, it's an older article, but somebody had this article that said you can't just draw purple people and call it diversity. It goes the opposite direction. It's almost like you're saying maybe 10 years ago, you could do that. And you see it all the time, right?
Joey Korenman: You see it in all the large social media brands that are investing in character design and character animation. So they feel warmer instead of saying "Well, let's actually invest and see what does a caricature of this demographic, or this personality, or this age group, what does it look like?"
Joey Korenman: There's just, "You know what, just make everybody green and purple." There is no color. That's almost even in a world where everybody says authenticity and all those other buzz words, that's the biggest joke in the world. How hard is it? There's two things you can do, you can either go out and actually do what most artists outside of motion design do, you draw from life, you research, you reference, you talk to people.
Joey Korenman: Or you know what, just hire people of the same kind of experience and background that you want to speak to. It seems simpler than it seems to be for companies, but I don't know. Hopefully, things are changing. We talked Kanye West. Is it okay if we talk a little bit more about this one project, Ego Death, that you did?
Emonee LaRussa: Oh yes.
Joey Korenman: Obviously, we've talked a lot about the different types of work you did, but this piece just alone. I've seen a lot of lyric videos, which I don't know if this technically qualifies as a lyric video just because there's so much work in it, but technically the lyrics are there. How did you find this project? Or did someone find you? Because I can't imagine the amount of work that went into this piece.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. That project is so crazy how it happens. And it kind of goes back to when people always ask me, "How do you get jobs this? This is crazy." The power of the Internet is so underestimated. So basically I knew this girl in Sacramento. She ended up moving to New York and she got close with some producers out there and one day producers posted on Twitter like, "Hey, looking for an animator for this project for Bree-land." And she tagged me in it.
Emonee LaRussa: And I was like, "Oh, I would love to be a part of it." And so I got to work. It was a song called Hot Sauce and it was a lyric video. And I had this idea of making it super crazy, all these different Hot Sauce characters. At one point, it was a hot sauce bottle with a big butt. And it was just ridiculous because in the world of animation you could do anything.
Emonee LaRussa: And so I'm halfway through that project and I'm sending them like, this is what we have so far. Let me know if this is the right direction. And the producer called me and she was like, "This is so amazing that I've showed SAL..." So the record label that that artist was under is called SAL&CO. That same record label has Ty Dolla Sign. And she was like, "We showed SAL and he absolutely loves it. And he wants to bring you on for this Kanye project."
Emonee LaRussa: And I was like, "What? This is crazy, but okay. Yes." And she was like, "Well, we're working on it now. We have this idea, but we kind of just want to see your treatments for it." And so I was like, "Okay. I'll start working on it right now." And so the project, it got delayed to where the concept wasn't getting approved. And so it wasn't until two weeks before the deadline that they had approved it.
Emonee LaRussa: And so I was like, so this two month-project is now two weeks. But I mean, I've done shorter. The Panini project that I worked on was four days, and that was absolutely insane. So the project, it got basically cut to two weeks and I'm working on the project and it ended up being to where I think there was just a miscommunication to where they didn't know that the video was going to be in black and white with a touch of color.
Emonee LaRussa: But two days before the project was due, they were like, "So where's the color at?" And I was like, "In the treatment it says it's black and white." And they were like, "Oh no. We need it in color." And I was like, "But the project is due-"
Joey Korenman: I need four more weeks.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. I know. And I'm like, we have to do color in two days. And so a project that ended up starting, I think with eight people ended up being a 17-person project. And I'm just trying to scramble, just hitting so many animators up on Instagram like, do you want to work on a Kanye project? And it was just so insane. Tomorrow. We need it yesterday.
Emonee LaRussa: And it was such a crazy project and it really taught me to make sure that when I'm working with a client, to overly communicate. I don't care if I feel stupid for asking questions or overly communicating. I need you to know what my thought process is because it's so much better to do that than to not have enough information and do something else.
Emonee LaRussa: It just was such a crazy project in such a tight deadline that all of my energy and focus was just we need to make sure that this hits this deadline. I've never not met a deadline before. And so it was a really fun project in the end, being able to look at everything and be like, wow, this was made in two weeks. This is insane.
Joey Korenman: I mean, it's mind boggling. If you're listening to this, you have to just hit pause and watch it because just the amount of... I mean, there's a ton of characters for one, but the amount of just pencil mileage, and unique frames, the smear frames, the transitions, that stuff, I would have guessed you actually had double the amount of animators and not even knowing the amount of time, just because there's so much stuff. This is one of the most visually dense videos I've seen for animation. I can't believe that you did it that quickly.
Emonee LaRussa: Thank you. I was like imagine if we had four months, what this would look like. It's crazy. But it's honestly, it's the music industry. I don't think I've ever had a project in working in the music industry where I was like, wait, the deadline is where we could actually breathe and the budget is good. And it's just that's just how it is. It's so quick and they constantly need new content.
Emonee LaRussa: And so that's one thing that I wish I would have known when I started, that this stuff is they need it by tomorrow, or they need it in two days. And so I actually met with Mike Diva, who is an amazing artist, creator, visual effects artists, and he did the Lil NAS X Panini video. He did the actual video portion of it, and I did a remix version that was all animation.
Emonee LaRussa: And we got to grab some lunch and we talked about the project and stuff. And he was just like, "So how was the project? What did you do? How many days did it take you?" And I was like, "So it took three days. We only have three days to make it." He was like, "That is insane." And I like, "What?" And he was like, "That's not normal." And I was like, "It's not?"
Joey Korenman: It's totally the opposite. It's normally inverted. The live action gets three days. A couple of days of post animation gets the time.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. It was pretty crazy just to hear from another... He's so successful and he's so amazing and just such a nice dude. But hearing his perspective of you shouldn't be getting treated like this, and you be asking for more money then. And I was like, ah. After I left that, I was like, I'm raising my pay rate.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Raising your rate and getting really specific on contracts and deal memos for time and requirements because it... I mean, the thing that I do like about this, the Ego Death video is that with that limited amount of time and having to add on animators, there is a really cool energy to it.
Joey Korenman: It's a cool energy that actually, I feel matches the song and the lyrics because of it. And whether you back doored into it, or it was meant to be that way, the final product doesn't look like it was done in two weeks, but it still matches the vibe of the song.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. I got to meet with FKA twigs over the phone. Oh my gosh. She's an angel. I am convinced that she is a real life angel. She's just super nice. She had some minor notes on the project and it was the perfect time to have notes. It wasn't a day before the deadline. She was very considerate of us artists and she was just so nice and explained why she wanted these revisions and stuff. And that was one thing that I grasped from that project was I love her. She's amazing.
Joey Korenman: I feel like it's a rare opportunity when two artists get to collaborate, just the dialogue. So many times we have so many middlemen between us and the people we're making things for. And then it's not for another artist, it's that rare time where you're actually like, oh. The few times I've gotten to work and make something for an artist, them just even asking like, "Can I have permission to ask for this change?" Only another artist would talk that way to another artist. No one else would ever do that.
Emonee LaRussa: Exactly. The management had emailed me and they were like, "Hey, so we could either give you the revisions over email, or we could give your number to FKA twigs." And I was like, "Yes, here's my number. Don't hesitate day." And it's pretty interesting though.
Joey Korenman: Call anytime.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. Call anytime. My phone is available for you. But this weekend, when I made Thee Stallion a visual, she came in and was such a sweetheart. I don't know. I feel like every female musician that I've met in the industry, they're just super nice. I haven't met a mean one yet. But it was just so refreshing to just have her input and just really care about the project and want to meet with the artists and just kind of explain what she wanted and stuff. So that was really cool.
Joey Korenman: That's great. Well, I think we've learned so much about your style, your history, you kind of where you came from, what you're pushing forward, and the projects you have going forward. I'd love... Because we have a lot of people in the audience that are designers or they're illustrators, that they kind of want to do more of the work that you're doing, whether it's self-motivated or it's music for different...
Joey Korenman: I'd say video for different kinds of clients, working for an artist. For somebody who's kind of maybe has a little bit of background in this, they're two, three years into it, they've worked for a couple of people, maybe they're freelancing, maybe they're in staff. What kind of advice would you give them to start moving more in the kind of direction of the work you're doing?
Joey Korenman: Because I feel like you have this really... You said you don't have a style, but I really do think I picked that Ego Death one to talk about, because I think it captures a lot of the things that I see through your work, like the style of characters I'm mixed with this kind of almost trippy kind of visual style mixed on top of it. I love those two things. You never see those two things mixed together.
Joey Korenman: I think they're really great. But for someone who's like, "Oh man, I love that. But I feel I'm way behind from where you're at." What kind of advice would you give to someone who's like, "How do I push myself into that direction?" Maybe not get there all at once, but just break free from some of the kind of day-to-day grind of client work.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. So when I was working at CBS, I was working there 40 hours a week and then I would get home and I would work on fan art pieces. So I've always been obsessed with Tyler Creator. He came out with a new song and I would make a little graphic for it. And specifically the music industry, there's so many things that kind of come with building that success from this very specific type of content and just making sure that you're on it.
Emonee LaRussa: When an artist comes out with new music, if you know that like, "Oh my gosh, I love Megan Thee Stallion. She's so amazing. I just want to work with her one day." Then every time she comes out with a song, be on the trends. Just try to do something. And you don't have to make this five-week long project for her music. You don't have to make content that is so long.
Emonee LaRussa: Just getting in that daily practice, I always say one hour a day, whether you're researching a new artist, whether you're researching new songs, or getting new inspiration, or watching tutorials. That is just so important to make sure that you are dedicating an hour. And it's really not a lot when you think about how much time you just spend on your phone in general.
Emonee LaRussa: If you get into the habit of just making your social media time looking up artists that you really like and their type of art style and breaking it down on a technical level, it just makes you better. It makes you understand that like, "Oh, on my next project, I'm going to do this." It gives you inspiration. It gives you that drive. And it's not easy.
Emonee LaRussa: It's not this thing where it's like, "Oh, I'm going to tag my favorite artists and they're going to see my work and I'm going to get famous." It is something that takes a lot of time. I can't tell you how many fan art pieces I made before I actually got one like from the actual artist. And so I think just patience and knowing that your goal is to just be better. Be a better artist.
Emonee LaRussa: As long as that's always there and you're always striving to be a part of this, then you're just going to get better. Whether it's motion graphics or sewing. If you're spending an hour a day watching YouTube videos of different sewing techniques or different patterns and stuff, you just will get better. And I know this is super side, but making sure that you take care of yourself, meanwhile.
Emonee LaRussa: Work is just a part of you and not all of you. You need to make sure that you are drinking enough water, and you are healthy, and you are in the right state of mind because that's going to completely show in your work. So don't feel sad if you take a self-care day. It's good to do that every now and then.
Emonee LaRussa: You don't have to work 70-hour weeks in order to just be this success. That's not what success is. It's that hard work that you put into it and that passion. And so I wish someone told me that early on. I'm barely learning that now, but it is something that is so important.
Joey Korenman: So you got to constantly remind yourself of it all the time too. I mean, the industry has kind of, at times, I think all creative ones do, but motion design has this a lot, kind of a grind, hustle, death march kind of jocular. If you're not killing yourself, you're not getting better kind of mentality. But I think a lot of times that's because, again, how we define ourselves. How fast can you make something for someone else versus being like, what do you like?
Joey Korenman: What are you obsessed about? What gets you excited in the morning to get up and sit at a computer for eight hours a day, or however long it is? You got to take the time away to figure that stuff out. That actually pays off in ways that you don't really understand when you're still thinking like, "Oh, I only worked 12 hours today. Can I do two more?" That mentality just doesn't... It has diminishing returns, I guess.
Emonee LaRussa: 100%. And that's something that I have learned later on. I thought it was a total flex to work 75-hour weeks. And I'm like, yes, I'm doing it. And then I have a panic attack and I'm like, wait, what's going on? Why did no one tell me that this was going to happen? So it's definitely something that I have learned and something that I super undervalued, especially being in the music industry specifically, it is very fast pace.
Emonee LaRussa: And having that work life balance is super important. But I would just say spending that time to just do the next big thing and staying up with the trends and using hashtags, adding them, at them. It's all there. It's all important.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome. I hope after that two-week kind of a crush on that Kanye West project, you got to take a self-care week, not a self-care day.
Emonee LaRussa: Honestly, I think I took two days and I was like, onto the next project. I'm crawling my way now, but eventually I think I took a week or two off and I was like, ah, I need to do this more often.
Joey Korenman: Well, thank you for all advice. Thank you for the tips. There's so much good work here to kind of look at. I could talk to you for another hour about how you did certain things, and who are the animators you hired? And I think if anything, this is a good tip and you might get a bunch of emails after this, but you might want to be on Emonee's roster, because it sounds like she's busy as it sounds like she's working on really cool projects. So with that, I just want to say thank you very much. I really appreciate the time.
Emonee LaRussa: Yeah. No, absolutely. Thanks for having me. This is such goals for mine. I literally have a School of Motion bookmark on my web browser. I'm always on the site. So this is huge. This is so cool.
Joey Korenman: Motioneers, I don't know how you feel, but I am inspired after that talk with Emonee. What I really love about it is, yes, Emonee is an amazing artist with great clients, but also she's not forgetting to reach back and lift others up as she works through her career.
Joey Korenman: And that's something we love to do at School of Motion. This podcast is all about bringing you new artists, helping you elevate yourself, and trying to find new inspiration no matter where you may be in your career. So until next time, peace.