Today, Robbie Kujath is a successful MoGraph designer with a portfolio featuring animations for the National Football League. Two years ago, he was merely a football fan with a bachelor's degree.
If you've ever felt down on your luck, you can probably relate to the story of Robbie Kujath: a School of Motion alum and the creator of one of our favorite motion design projects of 2019, who now says enrolling in our Design Bootcamp course altered the trajectory of his professional and personal life.
In this 10-question interview, Robbie tracks his path into motion design, detailing how his career shift hinged on design and how the style of his passion-project experiments influenced the creative direction of many well-known NFL and college football animations. He also shares some key motion design insights and inspirational gems.
From Football Fan to NFL Designer
1. Hey, Robbie. Thanks for joining us. Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a motion designer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve got a beautiful, supportive wife named Mikayla and a couple of dogs: Osweiler, or Wiley for short, and Kaiya.
I’ve lived in Albuquerque for the majority of my life, but I moved away for a short stint to work with Arizona State University and the Los Angeles Rams before returning to take a full-time, remote position at STN Digital, a San Diego-based social media marketing agency focused on sports and entertainment, with clients including the NBA, NCAA, UFC, Team USA, TBS, and FX.
I just recently left this role and, as of August 2019, I'm 100% full-time freelance.
My passion for sports — and football, in particular — led me into the creative world. I’m told that my first word was “touchdown.”
I grew up going to Denver Broncos game, and I vividly remember waiting for the Broncos to run out of the tunnel and watching the pre-game intro video.
The video was heavily CG; it featured a bronco running through the city of Denver, with highlights playing on the side. It gave me chills every single time — and I can trace my love of sports media and design back to that video.
2. It seems like you were destined for this. How did you turn that fantasy into a reality, and become a professional motion designer?
I never really knew I wanted to be a motion designer until I was hired as one in 2017... and I was incredibly confused about my career until that point.
I enrolled at the University of New Mexico, or UNM, in 2011. I knew I had a passion for sports, but had no idea what to choose as a major; from August 2011 through May 2014, I tried out four: athletic training, exercise science, nutrition, and physical education. Unfortunately, none of them really clicked.
In 2012 I was hired by a local church as a part-time assistant to the associate youth pastor — kind of like Dwight Schrute’s role on The Office, but in church terms.
At the Church, my duties varied from running errands at Walmart and Sam’s Club to creating really poor-quality graphics for youth services. At the same time, I started to create highlight videos for my little brother’s football team at La Cueva High School.
In 2014, I decided to ditch my university scholarship and switch to a local community college to pursue an associate’s degree in digital media. It may not have made much practical sense, but I was starting to realize that I had a passion for creating stuff.
I finished that degree and then returned to UNM to finish my bachelor’s, since I had so many credit hours. In December 2016 I finally graduated from UNM with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts.
At this point, I'd already been hired by the church in a full-time capacity as more of a creative producer for youth services, and I was using After Effects to create interactive kids games and design video intro bumpers for the church's different series.
Editor's Note: School of Motion offers a free 30 Days of After Effects tutorial series.
This experience — and all of the football highlight videos I was making — really gave me a basic understanding of After Effects and all of the Adobe programs. So, I decided to step down from my position at the church in 2017 and pursue a career in the sports industry.
In the first three months, I must've applied for at least 200 jobs — from video producer at a university to graphic designer at a grocery store — and, out of all of those applications, I received maybe five responses.
Needless to say, I started questioning my choice of career, and if I should have left my former position; I spent all of my time applying for positions, instead of building up my portfolio... Big mistake.
But that all changed when I saw an ad for Design Bootcamp.
I took the course seriously, and really tried to absorb everything that Michael Fredrick taught.
Design Bootcamp provided me with a base understanding of solid design, and taught me how to use that in relation to motion design.
Honestly, I learned more in Design Bootcamp than I did during my five and a half years of college...
After the course, I decided to start building up my portfolio with sports design pieces, implementing what I'd learned in Design Bootcamp. And that's when I started getting contacted by sports programs and teams about employment.
I was blown away: two months prior, I couldn’t buy an interview; now, I was getting interviewed at least once a week — and job offers were coming in.
Design Bootcamp literally changed my life and shifted my career.
I ended up accepting a position with Arizona State and, shortly after, was offered a dream job as Motion Designer for the Los Angeles Rams.
3. A dream come true — incredible. Would you mind expounding upon your experience in Design Bootcamp?
When you’re a young designer, you see things you want to create but you simply don’t know how. There’s a disconnect that is so hard to push past.
Between the instructor's lessons and the TA’s feedback, I was able to see things in a new way. I no longer just threw elements onto a blank canvas and hoped that a solid design would appear — I learned actual steps to take in order to create good designs.
My biggest challenge during the course was creating storyboards that fit together seamlessly.
Each week in the course, you create at least three designed storyboards off each client prompt. Initially, I'd spend so much time and creative energy trying to come up with the first storyboard design, and then get so frustrated when I had to translate that into another two to five additional storyboards. But, by the end of the course, I was pretty confident in the work I was submitting, and the storyboards actually felt like full packages.
If this course taught me one thing it’s that you have to be a good designer to be a good motion designer.
You can be a keyframe master or a wizard with the curve editor, but if you can’t design well it won’t resonate with or appeal to the majority of people.
To this day, a lot of my motion work doesn’t have crazy, complicated motion; it’s based on solid design composition — with added motion.
Design is the foundation of good motion design, and I’m so thankful for SOM and Michael Fredrick for helping me understand that.
4. I'm glad we could make a difference. So, since good motion designers are always learning, what are you focused on currently?
Well, I took School of Motion's Cinema 4D Basecamp last year, and I found that what I learned in Design Bootcamp fit in beautifully.
I was able to use some of the design principles from Bootcamp to inform my decisions on 3D designs and projects I was working on with EJ Hassenfratz, the instructor of Basecamp...
And I learned so much.
C4D Basecamp gave me a better understanding of all of the base elements of Cinema 4D, and I have zero doubt that it's going to help my career.
Now, I'm working on figuring out texturing and lighting in C4D, as well as experimenting with different renderers.
Plus, I'm also trying to get better at hand-drawn animation — and I'm definitely planning on taking School of Motion’s new Illustration for Motion course.
Passion and Persistence in Projects
5. Great — we'd love to have you back! How about non-client work? Have you publicly released any personal projects using what you've learned at School of Motion?
Yeah, I do personal projects to grow as a motion designer — and I’ve learned a ton while doing them, including the basics of frame-by-frame hand-drawn animation; the basics of mapping something on to a 3D object; and kinetic typography tricks in C4D.
Personal projects are so important because they allow you to chase what you’re passionate about and can open up different avenues in your career.
It can be hard to grow creatively when you work for an agency, since clients are typically dictating the creative. It’s so easy to lose your creativity or doubt yourself when you are constantly being told by clients what is "good.”
Even if you can only work on personal projects for an hour a week, do it — and create something you’re passionate about, with no limitations.
Sometimes you just have to show people what you can do.
6. That's great advice. Which personal project has been your favorite thus far?
That's a tough question, since I've really enjoyed all my personal projects.
But, if I had to choose one, I'd say the NFL Cities project because I never realized how many cool effects could be generated by 3D mapping.
At the root of this project is a solid design foundation — again, thanks to Design Bootcamp — and, while there's nothing too crazy or special about it, the motion just works with the overall aesthetic.
There's a specific part I particularly love, due to the subtle detail. It looks like a lot of random shapes, but it’s really the city of the team mapped onto that same 3D object. So, even if at first they look the same for all three cities, they are technically all different and city specific.
7. Yeah, that's one of the perks of being a part of the motion graphics industry — most people have no idea how we achieve what we do. What about client work? Do you have a favorite?
Designing the in-stadium and social graphics for the Los Angeles Rams NFL team in 2017. It was my first role as a motion designer, I was incredibly nervous and I felt super unqualified, but everything came together and looked pretty good in LA Memorial Coliseum.
Plus, I was able to leverage what I learned in Design Bootcamp, as well as learn new skills and insights on the job.
I honestly went into this thinking I may get fired in the first month because I didn't realize how much I'd grown from my previous project experiences or how much of what I'd learned in Design Bootcamp I'd be able to implement — especially designing storyboards.
Our storyboards influenced and drove our creative direction.
While on this job, I learned that in-stadium graphics don’t have to be 3D. Sure, 3D can look great, but a lot of 3D stadium packages look outdated.
I was fortunate to work with a creative team that understood that. So, instead of going 3D, we focused on making our package represent the City of Los Angeles: clean, and bold. We used rolling type for the prompts and simplistic glitch for the headshots...
And, honestly, on all my projects I've learned something — whether it's a new animation method, a simple shortcut, or the fact that I really am a motion designer.
8. Working for yourself, no less! So, what's next? Any significant career aspirations?
As you know, I started freelancing full time at the beginning of August 2019. I love it so far.
I enjoyed working for the Rams, and I’d certainly be open to joining an NFL team again, under the right circumstances — but I wouldn’t mind staying freelance for the foreseeable future.
I want to continue to inject new ideas and looks into the world of sports, and I just really love the sport of football.
Each One Teach One
8. They say, never meet your heroes; but with all your success, you've remained incredibly humble. It's been a pleasure. Before we let you go, we've got to ask who or what is inspiring you, and what inspiring words you may have for others... So, are there any artists or studios currently keeping you motivated?
There are two artists/studios that have inspired me a ton lately. The first is Luis Miranda, who actually also did a School of Motion interview recently.
I am a huge Denver Broncos fan, and his in-stadium work for Mile High Stadium is amazing. I mentioned earlier that a lot of 3D stadium work just looks outdated, but his package for the 2016 Denver Broncos looked incredible.
His work has inspired me to learn 3D more and learn how to do it correctly.
The second is a studio that consistently puts out the style and quality of work that catches the eye.
Worship.studio is based in Toronto, Canada, and they are always creating well-designed animations.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but the Cardi B tour visuals are so clean, while also having elements of nuance with the diamond displacements.
9. Any other catalysts for your work?
10. Thanks! Now it's your turn to impart some (more) wisdom. Any words of advice for aspiring or growing MoGraph practitioners?
Work hard. Be consistent. And don’t give up just because you don’t understand something at first.
We’re lucky to be living in this digital age. If you want to figure out how to do something, all you have to do is take the time to do the research. You may spend an entire day researching, watching tutorials and reading random blogs, but it’s worth it if you learn something in the end.
Also, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.
I know it’s always hard to spend money on courses, because you tell yourself you could be spending that money on something else — like a new computer, or more plug-ins.
But there is nothing more valuable than knowledge that actually sticks with you, and the instructors at School of Motion are incredible.
If you want to grow your skills, but don’t know where to start, the number one thing I'd recommend is taking a School of Motion class.
It’s so important to learn the right way, so you don’t have to spend years in the future correcting things that you simply didn’t learn correctly from the get-go — and you'll be amazed at the your growth in just a few months with SOM.
Take Design Bootcamp.
Take Robbie's Advice
Want to become a Photoshop and Illustrator ninja? An accelerated graphic design program for motion graphics artists, Design Bootcamp is your answer.
This 100%-online course is designed to be practical, with each lesson covering basic design principles in the context of real-world projects.
- You'll sit over the shoulder of a master as he creates stunning designs from scratch, while providing insights into his thought process as he works.
- You'll 'hang out' with a group of other aspiring designers, and receive inspiration, encouragement and critiques through your private Facebook Group.
- You’ll be assigned a Teaching Assistant (TA), who will provide personalized, on-point and actionable feedback on every single project you submit.
- You'll receive free access to a vast pool of images to use on your Bootcamp exercises, and you'll be allowed to show off your work post-Bootcamp, expanding your portfolio to showcase work that features the same high-quality images that the pros use.
- You'll gain exclusive access to a weekly one-hour episode of The Woodshed, featuring work critiqued by your TAs, as well as deep-dives into course topics.
- You'll be able to download any student's project files via the Homework Locker. Ever hear of reverse engineering? It's an incredibly helpful trick for learning how to use new tools, techniques and processes.
- You'll be inducted into the Alumni Facebook Group, upon completion. Here, you'll be able to post your projects, meet students from other sessions, and network with fellow alums — a priceless opportunity that has led to numerous collaborations and freelance offers.
Not yet ready to commit?