Back to Blog
MoGraph Automation w/ Fraser Davidson
Fraser Davidson’s proving that creativity and automation can live in harmony.
Let’s start with a haiku…
A Cub Studio Owner,
- SoM, 2017
It seems like just about everyone’s job is threatened by automation, but what if automation is the secret to getting more MoGraph work out into the world? What if you could edit an entire After Effects composition from a spreadsheet? Then even if you’re an accountant you could get amazing MoGraph sequences in only a matter of minutes. Sounds pretty cool right?
Our next podcast guest has done just that with a sweet company called MoShare. MoShare is the pet-project of Fraser Davidson a founder of the incredible Cub Studio. Fraser’s experience working with sports clients led him to seize an opportunity in the Motion Design market. As a result he is able to steady out his studios income between projects.
Along the way Fraser talks about the modern realities of running a studio and talks about his background in the industry. It’s going to leave you inspired and ready to start your own side projects.
Joey: Cub Studio, based out of London, is consistently on the list of MoGrapher's favorite studios. They've managed to, in a very short amount of time, create some insanely memorable pieces and develop a unique and recognizable style. Now, as successful as Cub has been, it's still a challenge to run a studio in today's market. We've all heard the stories of budgets shrinking. There's a shortage of motion design talent, and the trend of clients bringing MoGraph in house instead of partnering with studios. It's not getting any easier, so what's a studio to do?
Well, Cub has recently joined the ranks of Animade, Illo and Identity Visuals in spinning off a side business that leverages their motion design skills. It's called moShare. moShare is a platform for sports teams to easily create motion design content for their social media channels that's totally customizable, on brand, high quality, and available in a few seconds from a render farm in the Cloud. It's a subscription based revenue stream for Cub that can help them flatten out the spiky nature of revenue that studios typically have to live by. You know, feast or famine.
In this chat with Fraser, he tells all about the idea behind moShare, the tech they used to pull it off, and how he feels about the future of ventures like this in our industry. If you're a motion designer with an entrepreneurial tendency, you will definitely love this one. Let's get to it. Hey Fraser, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, man. It's good to talk to you again.
Fraser: No problem, good to speak to you.
Joey: I think a lot of our listeners are familiar with you and your work. Doing a little research, I realized Cub hasn't been around as long as I thought it had. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Cub? How long has it been around, and how has it grown from day one?
Fraser: Sure. I think it's been about four years now, we've been around. I've been in the industry for 12 years, something like that, and I've been a freelancer for two or three years before we set up Cub. I used to kind of work with a collective of independents, including, you probably know Simon Tibbs and [Dina McAngee 00:02:34]. We kind of worked together in an office for a while, and at a certain point, it's very difficult to run a collective where everybody's busy and you can't really get, have people work on your jobs if they have other commitments.
At a certain point I had a chat with one of my friends, a guy I've known since school, and we said, "Look, there's an opportunity to do much more work here." Ben comes from a marketing background, you've met Ben. We just decided to create a studio, try to take on a bit more work and slowly grow it from there. We started just the pair of us in a small office, I think now there's all, including sort of remote sound people, et cetera, I think there's about eight or nine of us.
Joey: Wow, okay. Was the motivation just to be able to take on more work and do bigger projects? Or, were you kind of chasing that goal that a lot of motion designers have when they start out of, "I want to own my own studio," and that's the top of the mountain?
Fraser: I think it's sort of a strange, organic thing, really. At a certain point, you'll find you get offered more work than you can do. That can be quite, I don't know, it sort of eats away at you. You think, "God, if I just had another pair of hands, I'd be able to do this much more, and if I had another pair of hands I'd be able to do this much more." It grows organically from that, really, it wasn't any kind of long term vision to create a particular studio I had in mind, it was just kind of fulfilling a need one step at a time.
Joey: I think it's a really smart way to do it. I've talked to studio owners who have done it both ways, where they have a dream and a vision and if you build it, they will come sort of mentality. Then, the ones like you, that get to a point where you can't do all the work yourself. You have to scale to do it, and so I'm curious, what are some of the challenges that you had to face and have had to overcome going from freelance Fraser into studio owner, and now boss? Having a staff?
Fraser: Certainly going from one person to two is the hardest stage, really. Even if you're doing well, Ben is kind of a managing role in our company, so in terms of boots on the ground, people animating, you immediately half your effective income, from a standing start at least. There's a real sort of onus on the pair of you to generate twice as much work, essentially. Then of course, you need to take on other staff and start managing them, which takes your time away from what you're doing, and necessitates other, a lot more managerial role.
We've always tried to keep that quite minimal, really, and not expand too fast, not take on people who are too junior and require too much handholding. It gets easier every little kind of incremental expansion, but those sort of early first hires are quite big jolts to the system.
Joey: Yeah, you brought up a really good point which is an issue that I think every studio faces at some point, and it's just kind of one of these things that if you get lucky, you manage to avoid doing it, is expanding too fast. One of the things that's interesting to me about Cub is that you're a principal, you're an owner of Cub, and you're leading other animators, but you're also still animating and designing a lot. I'm curious how you juggle those two roles, being the boots on the ground animator, but also having to manage three or four other animators? Even directing entire jobs?
Fraser: I think you're going to ... we sort of try it with the guys we work with, we try to teach them early how to construct a whole piece, give them as much autonomy as possible, really. If you build a system that is essentially a pipeline, it's always going to come to you, there's always going to be a bottleneck around your time. You're not really solving the issue of expansion, you really have to delegate, give people as much to do as possible and allow them to learn that way, I think. Otherwise, like I say, you're just kind of creating a factory line that all has to go through you still.
Joey: That's really interesting. You're saying you decided to build a team of self sufficient artists that can essentially take a project from start to finish, rather than build a design arm, an animation arm, and then art directors and creative directors? Does Cub not really have a pyramid set up the way a lot of bigger studios do?
Fraser: No, not really. When I started, I started a company called Main Frame. It was so long ago that no one was really hired as an animator, we were all kind of illustrators, designers, and so we kind of oversaw all our own work from concepting and staffing it through to fruition. That's kind of how we have the guys work here. They're all as well as animators, they're decent illustrators and designers. The onus is on them to see everything through from conception to fruition, really. We'll do a lot of the scripting and directing, but they'll all work on their own star frames. They'll all have, to the extent that we can manage it, we try to keep everybody on a single project and work the whole way through.
It's not always possible, and often they'll end up working on each other's stuff, they often will encounter tight deadlines so we have to kind of feed into a single project, that kind of stuff. For the most part, we like to keep it that sort of responsibility of the project itself.
Joey: That's very different than other studios, and it's interesting to think about that. Do you find that that creates any issues or difficulties staffing, because I would imagine that to find what you're looking for are people who can think conceptually and can design, and can animate and have storytelling chops, because a lot of your work is very storytelling heavy. Do you find it hard to find people when you're looking for staff or for freelancers?
Fraser: Yeah, to be honest. Yeah, it is. It's very difficult to, obviously, especially junior designers' portfolios and decide not only what's their input into anything, but what they've essentially directed. That's what we're looking for, is to create out of our designers. We try to make them into directors, so they know how to do everything from start to finish. You need some kind of indicator that that's going to be possible when you look at their work early on. The major thing that we find is if somebody's done a number of personal projects, you can derive so much more information from that than you can anything with a logo bolted on the end, because you know that that's essentially them from concept through to completion.
You'll learn a lot more about those designers from the pieces that they generate just for fun.
Joey: We've heard that from basically everyone who runs a studio and everyone who books freelancers, they'd much rather look at your personal work. In your case, it makes total sense logically because if you're looking for artists that have the potential to direct an entire motion design piece for you, that's what you need. As far as business owner goes, business owner Fraser, I would imagine that's going to put a cap on the size that Cub can grow to. I'm sure you know from looking at reels and working with people that maybe the top 2 to 3% of motion designers working out there are capable of doing all of those things at the level that Cub demands.
Do you worry about that at all, that not having a pipeline is going to keep Cub from growing to a certain size?
Fraser: I don't worry that we won't grow much more than we are. I think, sort of selfishly, I always want to be working. I like being part of the process, and I didn't set this up to put myself in a situation where I'm no longer doing the thing that in enjoy. We'd be quite happy, even if we were turning away work at a certain rate now, because we're all kind of busy all the time. I know that's not really a good answer to the question, really, but I'd be happy to stay under 10. I don't really see a great need to expand to 20 or 30, and end up essentially creative directing the whole studio.
Joey: It seems like there's not many studios that grow from your size to 20 or 30 where the principals are still in the trenches animating every day. I know that you're neighbors, I think they're right down the road, right? Animade are pretty close to you.
Fraser: Yeah, yeah.
Joey: I think they're about that size, they have at least twenty people now. The principals, it seems like they still try to get their hands dirty and animate, but I'm sure that there's probably middle management now at this point.
Fraser: Yeah, it must be very difficult just to find the time with that many people to look after and to direct.
Joey: Let's dive into the thing I really want to ask you about here. Animade's a good example of a studio, there's also Illo in Italy and Identity Visuals in Tennessee. A lot of these studios, not the really big ones, but the small to medium size ones, they're spinning off secondary businesses where they're leveraging the motion design skills they have and they're turning those almost into a product. Identity Visuals is working on a game, and Animade created Boards, which is a tool for designers and animators. Now, Cub is getting into the game with moShare, which I want to talk about. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on why this trend seems to be taking off right now?
Fraser: I think maybe as much as anything is, it's just the availability of better technology. I think in the past, this kind of stuff was the preserve of tech companies and animation is set in ... well, certainly after effects and animation sat in ... It's probably a little bit behind due to just the Adobe Software. It kind of sits on its own in this slightly strange place that isn't really web and tech. It's kind of its own thing. The digital video's quite an old medium, really, at this point. The big changes in recent times were kind of coming from where it was being placed, rather than the nature of the video itself.
Instagram, Snapchat, different kind of formats. I think yeah, just some of the thing that kind of come along, that we've been playing with, have fundamentally changed the way that we've thought about the types of work we can produce.
Joey: You basically, the barrier to entry has lowered so much that you can now try these things without needing venture capital and stuff like that?
Fraser: Yeah. The [inaudible 00:14:54] of technology is relatively cheap to mess around with. For example, something like Dataclay, which is what we've done is based off. It just means that these options are kind of open to you now, whereas they may not have been in the past.
Joey: Do you think that the part of the reason that so many companies are doing this is because it's getting, there's more competition? There's more studios and a lot of clients are bringing this kind of work in house? Is it getting harder to operate a studio? Do you think that's part of it, or no?
Fraser: It might be, I don't think that's the primary reason from our point of view. We're not really tech people, so this is kind of a bit of a venture in the dark for us, a bit more of a risk. The anime guys are much more tech savvy and have produced a lot of stuff in the past that's sort of along those lines. We've come at it from more of a sort of straight creative point of view. How can we do this very simply? How can a bunch of people who don't have a lot of training outside of standard animation software, how can we produce something? I guess there's always the idea that these things are ... it's useful to have income while you sleep. That's something that's not really the preserve of what we do.
Very often, it's project based, you get a fee for the work you've done, and that's the nature of our income. That, of course, can lead to very up and down periods. I think it's mostly due to the availability of the technology, and the mass expansion of video online and on social media. Particularly social media.
Joey: Cool. I want to dig into that phenomenon you talked about a little bit later, the revenue for a motion design studio is lumpy. You do a job, you get a check, and then nothing until you do the next thing. I can definitely see the appeal of having a recurring revenue stream. Why don't we just jump into moShare? Can you explain, and we're going to link to it in the show notes so everyone listening can go check out the website, which is really well done and does a great job of explaining moShare. Could you just do your best and explain to everyone what moShare does?
Fraser: Essentially, it's a way to help teams, leagues, and brands present high quality, engaging motion graphics in their social media feed. That's it, really.
Joey: What would an example be of a way that this could be used?
Fraser: From our point of view, we work with a lot of teams and leagues, enterprises, so we kind of looked at it as if you're a fan of sports of any sort, you probably follow your teams on Twitter and Facebook. A lot of the content that goes out is pretty basic, really, technologically speaking. Due to the throw away nature of social media, it can be relatively low quality. We kind of wanted to take the tools that we had in terms of the quality of animation and the ability to, using technology, generate that very quickly, in a very responsive way to dynamically react to real time data and inputs and scores and team lineups, things like that.
Be able to create something bespoke for teams that allowed them to present their brand in a much more slick, much more engaging high quality way.
Joey: I was about to say soccer, but I'll say football. Someone on a football team scores a goal, normally the Facebook page, they put a still image and someone on their social media team would type out, "So and so scored a goal." With moShare, they can very quickly post a really slick animated celebration with that player's name and the new score, is that essentially how it works?
Fraser: That's right, yep. We've developed a backend that can work from your phone or from a laptop, so if you're a social media manager and it's a Saturday, you don't happen to be at work and you're not sat in front of Photoshop, you have a tool set to be able to very quickly mock up something that you can post directly from our platform to your social media feed. As you say, celebrate a goal, give a half time or full time score update, sets the line up for pregame, or some of the things that we worked on show various in-game post game stats. Possession, territory, yards gained, all this kind of stuff. All of this stuff you can do very quickly and simply from your phone, and the motion graphics react dynamically to those inputs and creates a bespoke piece of content for that instance.
Joey: I think it's brilliant. In a little bit I want to dig into exactly how you're doing that. Where did the idea for this come from? Were clients asking you for stuff like this, and you were like "We're not set up to do this, let's figure out how," or did you have the idea and go pitch it to your clients?
Fraser: As you say, we'd seen bits and pieces in the past that used data feeds and things like that. I think where we're a little bit different is the request to us that was made was that that wasn't exactly what our clients were looking for. They wanted something that they had editorial control over, so they could generate it themselves. They were part of the input, it wasn't derived from a data feed that spat out content. We kind of saw it as it wasn't so much that we were asked for it, it sort of became quite obvious from playing with the tech and the simple plug ins that it was just something that would be very quite straight forward to build. It sort of seemed like an open goal, really. That's why we started to look at it more seriously.
Joey: Is moShare now a completely separate company from Cub? Do you have separate staff for it, or is it just kind of a spinoff and you're building it really slowly?
Fraser: It contains different people, but there's some overlap. For those reasons, it needs to be a separate legal entity. It's basically all of us, still, with some extra people.
Joey: Gotcha. Let's dig into the tech of this a little bit. I can remember a few years ago, Buck did something kind of similar to this for, I want to say it was the US Open Tennis Tournament. I've talked to Lloyd Alvarez from AE Scripts about "Hey, there's all these API's now, and data feeds, is there some way you can pull that into after effects?" It seems like this is the year it's starting to show up in the marketplace. What has taken so long to be able to do this?
Fraser: I'm not sure. From our point of view, I think I would always have been quite scared of it, I'm a bit of a Luddite, really, I'm not the best person to speak to the technological side of it. We've just used Dataclay, very simple, off the shelf plug-in. Very quickly became, obviously, was very powerful and had this sort of real potential to change what we were doing. I don't think, I don't really have a great understanding of how long this type of thing's been around for, it's kind of the ease of use instead of taking a look at the tech and thinking, "This is really straight forward."
Maybe if what we've done kind of inspires people who are more tech minded than me, that's probably a good thing as well.
Joey: Are these templates that you guys are building, you said that your clients wanted the ability to control them, but do they also have the ability to set automation? Every time there's a goal, there's an animation that kicks out the new score with whoever scored the goal, or is this still, the client has to trigger a render to happen?
Fraser: The client has to input the data at the moment. There are ways of having it be fully automated. At the moment, I think it's very difficult to convince a social media manager that here's this tool that does your job for you. How's that? At the moment, we're building it with a back end that allows people to, if you have a look at the site you can see how that works. It's very simple inputs, input field, and then hit render and it renders, pops up on your phone 10, 15 seconds later. I think at the moment, that's just what people would prefer to see. I don't know that there's a very good rational reason for that, other than, as I say, a want to remain in control of something. Always with new technology, I think there would be a reluctance to sit there and plow away, in case there are issues with it. At the moment, that's how it's working at the moment.
Joey: Let's talk about the tools that you're using to do this, because I know everyone listening is probably dying to know how you're doing this. Can you talk about, at least on the after effects then, why don't we start there? How are you enabling clients to kick out after effects renders that are custom, with custom text and turning layers on and off, I'm assuming, in different colors? How is that working?
Fraser: We're just using, from my end, we're just using Dataclay. In terms of the after effects files, they just use Dataclay. I know how I built it and handed it over to our developer, that's not how it works anymore. It's much more sophisticated from that end, basically run off Google Docs. It'll run off a straight spreadsheet.
Joey: Are there just a lot of expressions in these after effects projects, turning things on and off based on the data that's coming in?
Fraser: Yeah. For example, to take the rugby game analysis piece that we made, that uses possession and territory stats to adjust pie charts and graphs. Obviously, all the typographic stuff can be switched in and out as well, so you have schools and are represented just by the single inputs from the spreadsheet. Things like color and logo swapping in and out is a little bit more complicated, but not hugely, and it's quite doable with relatively standard expressions.
Joey: Dataclay, I'm actually looking at the website now, the actual tool is called Templater, which I've seen before. There's also some other piece to this, which is some sort of interface that the client can access. You said that this tool, Dataclay, can run off of a Google doc, a sheet or something like that. Is there another tool that lets the client have a slick interface? They log into their account and they pushed a button and typed in two things, and they're done?
Fraser: That's the bit that we've developed, the back end to that. I'd love to tell you more about it, I don't know about that part. That's not my area of the company.
Joey: You've actually hired developers to build a custom solution for that?
Joey: Okay. Interesting. I'm curious about how that was for you, because even though you're not the one coding it, I have some experience now working with developers and having sort of a vision for what I want, then having to translate that into words that an engineer can take and turn into code. I'm curious how that process went for you, was it pretty easy? Straight forward? Or, were there some bumps?
Fraser: It was relatively serendipitous, actually. We had kind of built the one half of the bridge, so to speak, and we were thinking about how we were going to go about working out the rest of it, the complicated part. Aaron, who's our developer guys, emailed us one day and said, "I've seen what you've done, it's a little bit like what I've made." We got him in, he showed us something he'd kind of built from development point of view that essentially was the other half of the bridge and stopped the divide between the two, this being a single piece of kit, really. From there, we just said, "Right, well we should do this and make a company out of this.
That's where we are now, but really it's finding somebody who almost, to ate what we said earlier, as a project in his spare time, had found out how to do everything that we didn't know how to do.
Joey: If I'm one of your clients, if I'm a social media manager for a sports team and I want to make, I want to have our team tweet out the half time score with some stats. How does that work from the client end?
Fraser: How would they engage us?
Joey: How do they get the render to go where they want and be able to post it?
Fraser: There are a couple of ways. Assuming we've already built this template, they've input their data, they've got their video up on their screen. You can post it directly from there through to, at the moment, Facebook, but I think we'll be able to do that to Instagram and Twitter fairly soon. Or, you can download it to your phone or your laptop and re-upload it that way. There's an ability to add copy to that.
Joey: That's super slick. I kind of want to try it. You just brought up something, we kind of skipped over an entire step here, which is that you have to first build and design a template. How is that process different than if you were just ... or is it different? Is it different than doing a standard sports package for a TV network, or is it more complex? You have no idea how the client's going to customize this thing. How do you manage that?
Fraser: The most important thing is understanding what you're working with at the beginning. If it's something as simple as we developed a piece for the NFL that just kind of shows scores, end of the game scores. Part of that, they want to show the team record after the game as well. That's something that needs to go in, and when you break it down, the things that become, that aren't immediately obvious but are extremely important are did the game go into overtime? How do we show that? Did it go to double overtime? All these little potentialities that are thrown up every now and again that mean there are these other considerations to build into any given project. It has to be able to handle all the potentials of the sport that you're dealing with.
Once you've got that together, it's then kind of akin to standard animation project, where you present storyboard, basically. See your star frames, and this is exactly what it's going to look like. From there, you build it, but with the added proviso that it is then harder than a standard animation to add additional functionality. If they're like, "We want to show red cards or yellow cards," say it's football, that becomes a lot more of an issue. Explaining that to the client is one of the things that's different to our usual method of working. You really need to decide beforehand what this tool is going to do for you.
Joey: Now it's a lot like a software development project, where you have to sort of scope out the requirements first and try as best you can to lock those down, because if you try to change them in the middle of the coding, you basically have to undo everything. I'm imagining if you did something for the NBA, where scores could be two digits or three digits, and maybe sometimes a player could score one digit's worth of points in a quarter, or they could score two digits. The design has to adapt to that as well, so are you mocking up sort of as many use cases as possible in the design phase to say, "If it's three digits it looks like this, the font's this size. If it's two digits, it could be a little bigger." Are you going through that process?
Fraser: You have to plan for the best and worst case scenario. For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the longest name in the NFL. I think Buffalo Bill might be the shortest, or San Francisco 49ers, something like that. You need to make sure that it works for both of those things. Like you say, you need to account for very high scores, maybe there'll be a game where you find yourself looking up records for things. What is the highest yardage ever recorded in a game? Add 10% just in case to how long a bar graph needs to be, something like that. How many overtime periods are there, can there be? How do we show that? Is there an extra tab for that? It's exactly those kinds of considerations. You try to figure it out before you go into it, but there's always things that occur during the process. You need to find out how to incorporate this esoteric rule, or such.
Joey: Once you've locked down the design and you've specked everything out to where worst case scenario, the template still works, what happens next? Do you have to animate 10 different versions, or can you just animate it once and have the coder do the rest?
Fraser: You create one version, you have a single kind of animation that then draws on other files. Like I said, as long as the files it draws on don't break the template, then that's what goes off to get developed. Something we worked on recently, been working with a font that we've realized doesn't cater for particular German umlauts and things like this. It's those kinds of things that you try to weed out before sending it off for development. Yes, it's a single file, generally. There are instances where clients want something that will post to both Instagram and Snapchat. It's important in that case to have one signed off before you duplicate the project file and make another. I guess in the same way, if you're doing language versions, for example, in a motion graphics project, you don't want to be working on multiple concurrent files. You want to have a sign off, and then start duplicating pieces of work.
Joey: It sounds like the design phase is a little more intricate, the animation phase is essentially the same as it would be in a typical motion design project. Then, I'm imagining that anything that's going to change, type, layers turned on and off, things like that, are going to have to have expressions on them to allow that to happen. Who's job is that? Is that a separate step, or do you need an animator who also knows code?
Fraser: I've worked on most of that kind of thing. That's relatively straight forward, using templates has been very, very simple. I'd recommend anybody go and purchase this $30 version and play around with it, it's very interesting and fun. It's pretty straight forward. Like I say, the bit that kind of comes after that, where it becomes integrated with the back end website inputs, that's out of my justifications.
Joey: Right. It's above your pay grade.
Fraser: Right. From my point of view, it's very easy. It goes off, then it comes back and it works. It's lovely.
Joey: Now I'm curious, I'm going to have to go check out this Templater tool. The tool actually creates the code that allows you to swap things in and out, you don't actually need to be a code genius and go into expressions and get really fancy.
Fraser: No. No.
Joey: That's amazing. Alright. I got to make sure I get an affiliate link for that, because I'm pretty sure a lot of people are going to want to try that after listening to this. Let's talk about the business end of this a little bit. It sounds like you guys saw an opportunity here, and now you've built the tools. Some of it's custom, some of it's off the shelf. Now, you've got to go out and you've got to sell this to clients. Do you find it at all difficult to explain to your clients what this is and why it might be useful to them, or do they just get it?
Fraser: Yeah, it's very difficult. We're lucky, we've got existing relationships with people who trust us, so we're able to trial new things with them. That's kind of, obviously, we're at the beginning of several ... the autumn winter seasons of the winter sports. Football, American football, that kind of thing. This year, we're demoing it and trialing it with a number of teams and leagues, with an eye to the future. Once we've got working demos that we can point to, that we can say, "Look, this is how this team uses it, this is what can be done here, this is how they're using it differently, this is how it fits with their branding, this is how it integrates within their campaigns."
Then at that point, it'll be easier to say, "This is how you can have it sponsored, or this is why it's worth the money."
Joey: Cool. I was going to ask about the real benefit to the client. Is it just their social media posts are cooler looking, so they get more engagement? Is that essentially why they should spend the money?
Fraser: Yeah, I think so. It also saves a lot of time. Speaking to one social media manager who, in the UK, he's responsible for the scores of a US league, so come Monday morning he has to present all of these scores. I have to get up at 5:00 a.m., get my Photoshop files out, start hacking together logos and template files and everything like this in order to have it ready for people's trip into work at 8:00 a.m. If we can help him out, give him something that will do it in two or three minutes, that's going to make his life easier as well as hopefully make the content more exciting looking, more engaging.
Same for, as I said, a lot of sports stuff happens at the weekend when you don't have a lot of office staff to work up very sophisticated graphics, or to have something that you can do that from your phone with, we hope will be a benefit to these teams and the people that work there.
Joey: That's brilliant. It sounds like you could also have after effects create really high res stills. If they wanted to use this for key art or for just still social media posts, it could work that way, too. I totally understand the benefit now. It's not just it's going to look nicer, it's going to save you a lot of time. How scalable is this? Actually, before you answer that, I'm curious. How are you rendering these things? Do you have a computer in Cub somewhere, in a closet, that's constantly doing this? Is there a better way to render these things out?
Fraser: They render in the cloud. I'd love to run it through a far cheaper machine. Out here, just checking out renders, but it's unfortunately like you need a more reliable internet connection than ours is, which needs weekly love and attention. We've got a slightly more sophisticated system that's more solid and stable. You could do it that way, certainly, if the stakes weren't as high as they can potentially be.
Joey: Are you using just a Cloud render company to do this, or did you have to set that up yourself as well using Amazon or Google or one of the Cloud services?
Fraser: I think it's Amazon. Again, I'm a real Luddite when it comes to this kind of stuff. It's just not the part of the stuff that I get involved in, I leave that to professionals. I think it's in the Amazon cloud.
Joey: Gotcha. That almost answers my next question. The question is, how scalable is this? If you had a big year and you sold this to every NFL team, every major league team, every major league baseball, hockey, football, every European league. You've got dozens of these things being kicked out every 10 seconds, when does it start to break or can it actually scale to be that size?
Fraser: You can scale it. Obviously, you can just throw more service, more machine power at it. Although, that's not always necessary. If you're dealing with sports in the UK as well as the US, the kickoff times are different. You don't want to have too many servers lying idle just to cater. You wouldn't have a server for every team, I guess, in that sense. You'd do it a bit smarter than that and you'd work out how these things could fit together in a temporal sense so you're not overlapping renders and nobody's delayed and nobody's content is having to be queued up.
Joey: Do you optimize, I'm assuming you do, optimize these after effects projects to render quickly, so that clients aren't waiting for a 45 minute render?
Fraser: Yeah, that's right. They should render in 10, 15 seconds, really. Ideally, you want something that's going to be there and pop up on your screen just after you've sent off the data. There's a lot of pre rendering elements, a lot of tri-tone recoloring of bits and pieces, anything that's sort of particular or uses Newton or something like that would most likely get pre rendered. You do what you can to make it as quick as possible.
Joey: Yeah, I assumed there'd be a lot of pre rendering, any 3D elements and things like that. How do clients pay for this? Earlier, you talked about the lumpiness of revenue from Ocean Design Studios as inherent to the business, but now you've got a situation where you are asleep but your after affects machine in the Cloud is rendering stuff that your client is paying for. What's the business model here? How do clients pay for this?
Fraser: We're not entirely settled on a unilateral idea for this. It kind of depends on the client, there are some teams that would use this many dozens of times a season, some that might not use it so frequently. Essentially, it would be a subscription model with a yearly subscription. That kind of then takes into account the initial setup of the files, as well as any addition to that. Adding players who've been signed in the off season, changing jersey colors, kit numbers, all this kind of stuff. The upkeep of the file, as well as the overheads of the server costs and things like that.
Joey: Has this already started to help smooth out the revenue stream for you? Do you sleep a little easier now because there's kind of this low level of recurring revenue?
Fraser: Not yet. I'm hoping for that. We're literally just getting started, we're just about to launch two or three first forays into it. We're hoping that further down the line that will be the case, there's always, at the moment we see this as an investment in another revenue stream. Yeah, we're hoping that'll be the case, but there's always kind of an initial hole in the ground you need to fill with money.
Joey: Then light it on fire sometimes. See, I'm really excited to hear about all this stuff because having a lumpy revenue stream is a big challenge. It's something School of Motion deals with, and something we're trying to figure out as well. As a business owner, it can be really, really scary. Anyone who owns a studio listening to this is probably thinking the same thing, like, "It sure would be nice if there was a way we could have this flat level of revenue that never goes away and that's why the subscription model is so appealing." I'm curious about this too, if you get the pricing down and you can sign people up for a year long subscription, you can actually do the design and the animation almost as a lost leader, kind of the way an ad agency does with their creative, because they make money on the ad buys.
Are you thinking that far ahead? My brain just goes right there. I don't know if that's normal, but are you thinking that far ahead? Could this actually influence Cub's business model too, because now you've got this extra revenue stream?
Fraser: Potentially. I sort of just look at it as, as I say, that sort of side of the business that's being taken out of my hands because I don't think in those terms. For me, it's a really fun new kind of tool to play with, and it's another place to put motion graphics and animation that doesn't quite exist at the moment. That's how I see it, I suppose. Another place that would be good to see more interesting animated content from our industry. I guess further down the line, but like I say, I'm not the financial guy either.
Joey: Let me ask you a devil's advocate question here. You've basically figured out how to create a robot that makes beautiful motion design. I know it's not that simple, but some people might look at it that way. Does it worry you at all that this content that is being created by moShare is so disposable? It's designed to be looked at once for two seconds and never looked at again.
Fraser: Does it worry me? Not at the moment. We're kind of finding increasingly that more and more deliverables include social deliverables, and like you say, I guess there's kind of a ... people don't want to spend a lot of money on a gif. Although, it takes all the same kind of tools and mechanics to generate a gif as it does a 1080 kind of video.
Fraser: There's already that culture of clients seeing it as any kind of motion that sits on that media as being slightly disposable. I guess we're kind of reacting to that and saying, "Here's a way that makes that more in line with what you're thinking in terms of pricing."
Joey: I totally agree with you. It actually is a really smart response to this trend of having ad agencies and clients ask for more and more more, for less and less and less. If you can find out a way to automate some of the tedious parts, which in this case is the versioning, then you can take a little less on the front end and you can make it on the back end, which is something that studios haven't been able to do for a while. I think it's really smart, Fraser, what you're doing. Right now, you're really focused on the sports niche. I know that the work that you've done in the past and your work doing logos for sports teams, obviously you're kind of entrenched in that industry. Do you have any thoughts on expanding out of the sports market?
Fraser: Definitely. We're here out of, not necessity, but this is where we swim at the moment. This is why we're dealing with the sports market. Absolutely, in terms of just booking a holiday, having a piece of social content that shows an airline could produce an airline brand that just says, "This person's flying from here to here at this time, they're going on holiday." There's sort of any number of things that you could do with it that could sit in a social setting. I'm going to have an exhaustive list of ideas for that, I guess we're hoping that somebody in an ad agency will come up with an idea that we can help product. You could really do anything.
Joey: I think that's going to happen sooner rather than later. I think once ad agencies really latch onto this, every brand is going to have one of these in the Cloud kicking out work for them. My last question for you, Fraser, listening to you explain the process of how you built this, I was expecting it to be a lot more technically complicated than it sounds. Obviously part of it's custom, but essentially with off the shelf software you can get half way there. What was the biggest challenge in putting all of this together and getting it off the ground?
Fraser: Probably not anything I was involved in.
Joey: That's the best way.
Fraser: Probably all the other stuff. Yeah, I think probably the biggest challenge is all going to be convincing people that this is something that they need. Like I say, in part that's going to be from showing by example. Here's a cool company that uses this already. I don't know, the hardest thing has been selling it to people and showing that it has value. That's going to be an ongoing thing, I think.
Joey: Cool. I think once enough people see it, it's going to be obviously. The great thing about it is that because it's being used on social media, it's really easy to measure the effectiveness of it and look at metrics and say, "When we use moShare content, it's got 20% more engagement." That turns into dollars, man, that's what drives clients to you.
Fraser: That's good. I hope so, I agree.
Joey: We'll have to follow up and find out how this goes, we're definitely going to link to moShare and Dataclay and Templater in the show notes. Thank you so much for being so open about this and walking us through how you built this. I'm really excited to see where it goes in the future.
Fraser: No worries, my pleasure.
Joey: Check out moShare.co.uk to take a look at this amazing use of motion design. All of the tools and software Fraser recommended will be available in the show notes for this episode which you can find at schoolofmotion.com. While you're there, sign up for a free account which gets you access to tons of project files, bonus downloads, and our legendary Motions Mondays newsletter, which brings you up to date on the MoGraph Industry each Monday in about two minutes. Thanks so much for listening, and thanks for Fraser and the entire team at Cub for being such amazing artists and people. That's it for this episode, peace.