Back to Blog

How to Start a New Studio with Mack Garrison of Dash Studios

No items found.

How do you start a dashing new studio?

Have you ever thought of starting your own studio? How do you even begin? Do you just gather a bunch of friends into a van and go around finding clients and solving mysteries? Do you need to rent office space, equipment, and a cereal bar? There are so many questions that many people don't get past step one, which is why we brought in an expert to share some much-needed wisdom.

mkt183-mack garrison-article-20210726.jpg

Mack Garrison is the co-founder and Creative Director of Dash Studios. He's not only an outstanding artist, but he has an intimate understanding of how our industry functions—and how it treats studios big and small. Whether you're just starting out and want to get a feel for the industry, or you're ready to take that next leap in your career, understanding the Motion Design Industry® is a critical part of your success.

Ryan Summers sat down (virtually) with Mack to discuss where he thinks the industry is headed, what newer artists need to know, and how to get the most out of the upcoming Dash Bash. You're definitely going to want to binge this in a single session, so grab a few snacks and a comfy seat.

How to Start a New Studio with Mack Garrison of Dash Studios

Show Notes

ARTISTS

Mack Garrison

Cory Livengood

David Brodeur

Sia

Zac Dixon

Barton Damer

Erin Sarofsky

Oliver Sin

Roger Lima

Joey Korenman

Edward Tufte

STUDIOS

Dash Studio

Imaginary Forces

Linetest

Digital Kitchen

Buck

IV Studio

Already Been Chewed

White Noise Lab

PIECES

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

RESOURCES

Dash Bash

Hopscotch Design Fest

Blend Fest

F5 Fest

AIGA - The American Institute of Graphic Arts

Clubhouse

TOOLS

Octane

Houdini

Cinema 4D

After Effects

Transcript

Ryan Summers:

I bet a lot of you out there thought about starting your own studio, but in this post-COVID motion design world, what does that even mean? Does that mean just starting a collective informally with a bunch of friends? Does it mean you just run a solo shop with a big fancy name? Or do you actually make a real deal studio with a bunch of friends? But, can those friends be remote? Should they all be in the same place? Do you rent an actual physical location or just run it out of your garage? Well, I thought the best person to ask all these questions is somebody who's actually been through all that. And that's Mack Garrison of Dash Studios.

Ryan Summers:

If you've heard of Dash, you probably also know that they're running something called the Dash Bash. That's right, it's a huge motion dining event that they're running for the very first time. And Mack was gracious enough to offer 20% off the inaugural Dash Bash tickets for the first 100 of our amazing School of Motion listeners. All you need to do is go to pick up a ticket and add in the MOTIONHOLD discount. That's right, just add in M-O-T-I-O-N-H-O-L-D, all caps, no spaces to get 20% off while supplies last. So let's dive in. But before we do, let's just hear from one of our amazing alumni here at School of Motion.

Peter:

This is Peter from Hungary. I'm a School of Motion alumni. I'm about to sign up for my third bootcamp course. School of Motion helps to guide you to the right path in motion graphics. And if you work hard during the courses, with the skills you learn, you'll be able to stand out from the crowd and support your family doing what you love.

Peter:

This is Peter, and I'm a School of Motion alumni.

Ryan Summers:

Mack, I have so many different people on this podcast that we talk to, from huge old studio owners that have been around for forever and people trying to break into the industry. But I feel like from your perspective, especially in the year 2021, where you're at right now and what you see going on in the industry, I'd love to just get a little bit of, I don't know, a state of the industry. How are we doing? Is it healthy? Is it a bubble? Where do you see the industry of motion design right now from your perspective?

Mack Garrison:

Oh man, such a great question. Such a great question. Because even on the heels of so much change, I still feel like motion design is positioned incredibly well. There was a lot of unknowns coming into COVID-19. I know for us personally, when it initially hit, there was a drop in work, just as I imagined for everyone else. But I do think that people started to recognize the value of video and the value of having good quality content. And so, like a lot of others out there, we ended up seeing a really big uptake with stuff like live action shoots getting shut down, people really started to turn towards animation and a lot of those people have never turned towards animation before.

Mack Garrison:

So we had a lot of educational calls with clients about the process, what it looks like to create animated content as opposed to live action. And really just the requests just kept piling up on top of each other. So I think currently, there's a few things that are big shifts that are happening. The first to me is that there is a big pinch that's happening in our industry, and it can be good or bad depending on where you are as this pinch is happening. No one likes smaller budgets, but the reality is, that's where we are. People want more and they want it for less.

Mack Garrison:

And so what's ended up happening is that as a studio, we've really found ourselves bidding against other agencies for work that we typically would not have an opportunity for. These in-house teams have become more competent and skilled with what they need, and rather than reaching out to one agency to handle all their work, they're like, "We actually really just need some help on web design, so we're going to go to a web design studio," or, "We really need some help on branding, so we go to a branding design studio." Or they'll come to a group like Dash for their niche motion needs.

Mack Garrison:

So as a result, Dash has all of a sudden been brought in on pitches for work that I don't know if we would've normally had the opportunity to bid for, which is really exciting. On the other side of that though, you have freelancers who are getting better and better every day. These programs are becoming more accessible, they're becoming cheaper. Online education, like School of Motion is giving folks an opportunity to get into the industry with a low barrier of entry for really what is a computer and a couple hundred bucks for a subscription, you can too be a motion designer?

Mack Garrison:

So what has happened is that we have run into freelancers that are now starting to bid against some of the studio work, where they're becoming just as competent that they can take out some of the work as well. So what's happening is you're getting this pinch in this industry where budgets are diminishing and folks are competing for what's there. So in my opinion, the folks that are going to do the best in this situation are the ones that can be the most nimble. So I think if you're a studio that can do direct-to-client work, you have a list of contractors that you can bring in and scale up to be able to handle that agency-size work, that's fantastic.

Mack Garrison:

And then conversely, if you have that core team of people that can do stuff in-house, then you can still take on that lower budget work. So I think the future is bright for freelancers. I think the future's really bright for nimble studios. The area that I'd be a little bit concerned about would probably be on the agency side just as those budgets really start to dwindle.

Ryan Summers:

I love the term you just used to describe what's going on, the big pinch is something... I wish I would've had that phrase because it's probably been like six or seven years now since I was actually deep in the trenches at Imaginary Forces. But I remember pitching him the whole idea that I kept on seeing these larger companies, we were getting squeezed from both sides. These big agencies and big companies were starting to build their own in-house teams, Apples, Facebooks, and they didn't need the full service stuff that we would offer. But at the same time, like you're saying, some of the guys that we were hiring to come in were actually eating our lunch on the low-hanging stuff. Like we used to do Reese's peanut butter commercials that we would never share on our website, we'd never show an Instagram, but we did 12 of them a year.

Ryan Summers:

And we'd put a small little, like two, three-person team on it with a junior producer, which was awesome because they could get trained up, but the money we'd make off of that would basically finance all the stuff you think of these big companies as, all the title sequences, the personal work, the cool promo stuff that people do. And from both directions, I felt like I was seeing like, maybe not that year, but in a couple of years, that stuff was just going to disappear. And I remember pitching them... The other word you used I love was nimble. At the time, we weren't using Octane, we weren't using GPU renders, we weren't using niche software that a couple people had to learn on their own. Real Time wasn't even on the horizon.

Ryan Summers:

But I kept on saying, "We should just create our own research and design team, spin it off, call it a different thing, and whatever you want to do." And for whatever reason we didn't do it. But I feel like I was pressuring at the time, because that's what it feels like now, is that you just get these collections of four or five people that maybe they're freelancing on one point together and they're sitting next to each other or now they're both on Zoom, looking at each other. And you can pretty easily get in Slack and be like, "Why are we giving all this overhead, all this like opportunity to away to the studio when we're the ones doing," at least to their perspective, most of the work.

Mack Garrison:

Oh yeah. 100%. Honestly, that is almost to the T how Dash formed in the first place. Cory and I were both animators, we're sitting there making all this incredible work and we're working for an agency that definitely was liking the amount of time that we were putting in. And we had the same conversation. You were like, "We're both good at this, maybe we should start our own ship. Maybe we should do this ourselves, just go at it." And I think there's going to be more opportunities for that. I also think collaboration is going to be something that you're seeing really take off because we're in a world where it's like, yeah, maybe as a freelancer, you can take on that one project, but maybe you bring in other freelancers to go it as a collective when you need that extra help, or even small studios pairing up with other studios.

Mack Garrison:

We just had a conversation with the group over at a Linetest the other day, and we were chatting with them about maybe we can find out a way to bring some of our MoGraph stuff to their wonderful illustrations. Or we had a project last year, I guess two years ago before the pandemic, where we actually partnered up with a miniature brand agency. They specialize in branding, but they didn't do motion, but they're like, "You all are friends. We want you to come into this together as a joint." It wasn't like Dash was hidden behind a curtain and they were taking all the credit, we on the forefront with them. And I think we're going to see a lot more of that stuff happening.

Ryan Summers:

I love hearing that because that is something that I felt like it used to be in the past. That was a dirty little secret of motion design, is that a lot of bigger shops... I did this when I was at Digital Kitchen because we didn't have the teams there, and you may not have heard this term, I'm not really sure if have you heard this, but we would white label teams. We would white label services where we would say, "Hey, you know what, David Brodeur, I would really love your look on this, but you might not ever get access to this client, at least right now in your career. Wouldn't it be awesome to work on this kind of client with this job? And you can show the work, but to the people paying us." It's still Digital Kitchen doing it.

Ryan Summers:

I like the idea of what you're saying that it's more like the music industry where the it's an open collab. The actual strength comes from your tastes and who you choose to work together and bring to the table to a client now, rather than being in secret

Mack Garrison:

100%. And I think that's something that's happening more now, and it wasn't always that case. I think people are feeling more empowered to speak up in those situations. I remember, without giving a client name, we had this one client came to us, a pretty big project, a pretty big notoriety, and they were like, "Hey, we don't want anyone to know that y'all made this." I was like, "What do you mean?" And they're like, "No, no, no. It's nothing against you guys, but we have this brand and reputation that everything is made in house and we're hiring out of house." And I told them, I was like, "Look, I totally understand that. But at the end of the day, that's a premium ask because the way we win our work is by showing our portfolio, it's a snowball effect. People see stuff, they want something like that. That's how we went to work."

Mack Garrison:

So this client, we ended up charging them a 30% fee to not show the work. And honestly, at the time, I thought it was great. I was like, "Perfect. 30% more of the project cost." It was fantastic.

Ryan Summers:

You probably undervalued it though.

Mack Garrison:

Exactly. 100%. Someone's listening to this and just be like, "Oh, Mack, but you should've charged more." But that's also another point in this community, is you can always learn, you can always do something different, it's malleable, you keep growing, keep learning. But that being said, looking back on that project, yeah, we made a little bit more money, but it was such a bummer when it went live and we couldn't share any of it. I guarantee you people out there listening to this had seen what we made, but I can't talk about it? And that sucks. And so I think people are being a little bit more critical about the projects that they take on now.

Mack Garrison:

You can't just go hire someone and pay them money and expect them to say, "Yeah, I'm going to commit to that. No, people want to take on projects that they believe in. They want this symbiotic relationship with their clients so they're not just being dictated and told what to do, but they're really working together to create a better product. And I think that's a big industry shift that's happening.

Ryan Summers:

Yeah. It goes and it just extends that metaphor again. I used to love the idea that... Do you know the musician Sia?

Mack Garrison:

Yeah.

Ryan Summers:

Before everybody knew who she was, she had written so many songs for so many other artists that it was almost mind blowing. That if you actually stacked her songs next all of her other peers or competition, if you knew that was her, she would be the most popular, most highly regarded pop musician of her time. But she was a ghost writer, she just sat there in the background. That knowledge that you were actually the person responsible for that much heat is worth 10 times more than whatever she got paid, in some ways blood money or contractual obligations. It's so amazing. That's super exciting. I got to ask you though, I want to dive, if I can, even a little bit further into that.

Ryan Summers:

And I have my own beliefs on this, that there still is a reason why a studio Imaginary Forces or Buck, those places, they still have a preferential seat in the industry. And I think when you're on the box making something and you're working on one of those shops, it's easy to say, "Look, I did everything. They basically provided a seat and they gave me the brief, but I made it."That's good to be confident, but I think there's also a blind side to a lot of us as artists that they're still the ones who handled and managed that interaction with the client. And sometimes that might be described as the difference between an art director and a creative director.

Ryan Summers:

And I think a lot of artists think the art directors drive into clear doctors don't really do much of anything, which is some cases might be true. But I love to hear from you because you were in this position before and now you're almost facing yourself as the future competition coming up. What do you think the biggest opportunities for growth in terms of stuff to learn or things to try to get better at, because it's probably not like Houdini or Octane, but what do you think are some of those kinds, of I hate these terms, but like soft skills or gray areas skills that somebody should invest in to be able to consider that?

Mack Garrison:

Wonderful question. The business side of design is so critical, no matter where you are in the process to understand, because it's ultimately going to shape your career path and how far you can make it. You can be a wonderful designer, you can be really a great illustrator, you can be a fantastic animator, but if you don't know how to properly budget your time or to schedule your time or to make sure that you're not taking on too much or to understand when an ask is too big or too small, that stuff is so important. I went to college design at NC State University and they did a fantastic job teaching me design fundamentals, but one gap I felt like I really had when I first came out was understanding how to price myself and understanding what is expected from a professional career in design.

Mack Garrison:

And it's crazy to think that that's not a focal point because the vast majority of creatives who are coming out into this space are going to freelance at some point. When I first got out of school, I remember I applied for one job, had an interview, it went really well. So I was like, "Great. Applying for jobs is easy." Well, I didn't get it and then I didn't get like 100 others that I applied for. And my hand was forced into this freelance world. And there was just so many different things that I just didn't understand. I kept looking at the client to come to me with all the answers like, "Hey, we want to hire you. We want to pay you this much money. It should take you a month to do."

Mack Garrison:

But that's not it, when you get hired as a creative freelancer, you are being looked at as the expert, just as like people come to a studio, they're looking for us to be the expert. It's the same for freelancers. So you really need to know how long it takes you to do stuff, you need to know when there are auxiliary elements that you should be charging. For any freelancer out there listening, don't just think of yourself as a designer, or an animator, you're also a producer, you're also a creative director. Thinking about all the tangibles that go into it, the brainstorming, all that stuff can be charged for. And I just didn't quite get that early on, and I also didn't have anyone really close to me to educate me on that.

Mack Garrison:

And so I think if there is anything anyone out there could do to help create a solid skillset is to really be crystal clear and staying up to date on what the industry is charging, what your hourly rate or day rate should be, and just being really fluid and being able to talk towards that. People get really weird when you start talking about business. Some people have a hard time talking about money. And if that's someone out there listening, just practice, talk with your friends, but being comfortable in talking about money, I think is really important because otherwise people will pull the rug out from under you.

Ryan Summers:

I think that the nugget you put in there is really understanding that what you think right now as your entire offering, your skillset, in my mind it's really like a fourth of what someone is actually coming into you for. They're coming to you for answers. Whether you're trying to be a staff artist or you're working for a brand or you want to freelance? In some form, they need something from you that they don't even sometimes know the question to ask, but they definitely don't know the answer. And I think that part of it is, we spend so much time on the software because that's the thing you can easily track your progress and compare it to other people.

Ryan Summers:

Let me toss this idea to you because I feel like this is one of the reasons why someone, when they're coming out of school or they're teaching themselves, they may not understand why they want to go to a studio like Dash or the other places we talk about all the time. I think that there's actually like almost like an artist operating system that sits under your head that you don't really realize, like your software skills are one of them. But I think there's three... I talk about this in my Level Up class, but I think there's three super powers that most motion designers don't realize they have, and they're really basic, i sounds stupid when you say it out loud.

Ryan Summers:

But I think most motion designers don't have the ability to draw, don't have the ability to write, and they're very fearful of the ability to talk. And I think you started mentioning that, but I feel like drawing lets you conjure magic in a room. Everybody sees software, but if you can learn to take a blank page and draw something out that gives someone the answer that they didn't know, that's an instant, "Oh, I'm going to lean in." If you can write, you can actually communicate to someone what their problem is back to them. But I think the biggest one, which you mentioned, talking as the thing that makes someone gain confidence in you, they trust you.

Ryan Summers:

And the power struggle flips, when you can talk in a room or on the phone, or even in a podcast like this with confidence and you can clearly say what you want, and I'm not going to go from, "Oh, tell me why I should hire you?" To, "Oh my God. I need to hire you." That's the flip that I think that's the hardest thing to practice, I think, like you said. Just practice talking about your opinions. I think that's one of the best bits of advice I've ever heard anybody say on this podcast?

Mack Garrison:

100%. It's being confident, but not cocky. No one wants to bring someone on who's a know it all, but they also want to bring someone on who knows how to make decisions. Particularly when we're working with a lot of tech clients, that tends to be our biggest demographic for the video work that we do. a lot of times we're working on subjects that none of us understand, and we're open about that. I go into those conversations when I'm talking to subject matter experts and I'm like, "Hey, explain to this like I'm five. I have no idea how this works." But going back to drawing and writing as being important pieces to that as well, I'll have the subject matter expert walk me through something. I'll keep asking questions when am the the talking.

Mack Garrison:

I'll draw stuff out for them while we're talking to say like, "Are you thinking about something like this? If I did an abstract representation that had this circle in the middle and these things?" And they're like, "Oh yeah, I think that would actually work." To be able to like concoct and create that like on the fly is also really beneficial and being able to ask the right questions to find the right answers. So many motion designers and designers in general, and it's not to throw shade, but we all get so caught up in the creative deliverable that sometimes we forget this fundamental early aspects that make a project successful, and that's the discovery phase.

Mack Garrison:

That's where you're asking the questions like, "Who is this for? Why are we doing this? What is the purpose of this project? Where are people going to be viewing it? Are they watching it on a phone, are they seeing at a big event?" All these things influence your design choices and why you're doing things. And so you really need to be clear and concise on the questions you're asking to make sure you fully understand the project and the requests so that when you do get to the design, now you're doing it with purpose, it's not just because something looks good or you like the style or you found this reference online, you're doing something with purpose so that when you create something, it is the perfect fit for the questions you were asking in that subject matter.

Ryan Summers:

I love that. The other thing that I think what you said. If you imagine yourself in a room and there's a whiteboard and no one ever stands up to actually draw on it while there's a client there, versus you, Mack, being able to go and be like, "Oh, I think you're saying this. What if we did this?" Not only does it show that you have some mastery that doesn't feel like a wall of computers in a backroom somewhere, it also lets everyone else in the room, the clients, lean in and participate in a very tangible way, and a way that feels familiar to them, but also lets them feel like they're part of a process that I think most of us try to actually do the opposite when we're pitching or working with clients.

Ryan Summers:

We like to be like, "Hey, okay, cool. Let us be alone. We're going to go away for a while and we're to come and give you this finished thing or this thing that you just say yes or no." And you're missing a huge opportunity to let those people... I have to say, most clients I've ever worked with, they're either people who went to school to maybe be creative or they at least fancy themselves like a taste-maker or they at least understand things better than the rest of their friends, and they just want that moment to feel like they did something to be part of the process and not just pay you to go and do it.

Ryan Summers:

But that scenario you said it explicitly, I think it's something that a lot of people, if you could just get comfortable enough scribbling and talking about it and asking questions, you can see whether it's your team that you're just pitching internally or with a client. You can see like your world change overnight if you get really good at doing that.

Mack Garrison:

100%. I totally agree.

Ryan Summers:

Well, I want to ask you something else because other than Zac Dixon of IV Studios, I feel like you're probably one of the biggest voices in motion design that, I'm trying to think of the right way to say this, thinks like an entrepreneur, but also still has the creative ties that I don't feel like you would ever want to leave either of those two paths behind. And because of that, I think you're the best person to ask this question. I feel like motion design a lot of times holds itself back because we really define ourselves from the rest of the creative arts industries as we're just artists that make ads. Do you think there's a path or a place or an opportunity because of the way the world is right now for motion design to be more than that?

Mack Garrison:

Yes, absolutely. I think as motion designers, we're problem solvers. And when you're talking about problem solvers, you're talking about strategy. So as I look to the future of motion design, video isn't going anywhere. If anything, it's getting more and more popular. I think of the recent announcement I saw the other day with Instagram coming out and saying that they're doing a way with photos, they're really leaning into user-generated content, and they're trying to build a platform that is in some ways pretty similar to TikTok. All that is ultimately going to do is press brands to connect more with their audiences and really lean into video.

Mack Garrison:

So now, as we look ahead to the future, here's a really great opportunity, how do we use video outside of traditional deliverables? We've been so used to using it in the sense of watching on TV or an event. How can we start to like activate spaces? How do we make things more interactive? How do we start to lean into the fact that our field is really made up of a diverse, eclectic group of people with these different skillsets and different backgrounds to find these collaborations to make something really unique? Motion designers, whether we realize it or not, we're on the forefront and the precipice of new technology and where things are going.

Mack Garrison:

And I think we typically think it's the computer engineers and things like that who are really making it. Well, a lot of that is going to be driven by creativity. And so I think about what we're doing at Dash. Every project we get, we always try to make it the most creative we can, but we're also in that same vein, trying to think about new ways that we can tackle new projects. I'm reminded about this festival that was going on here in Raleigh a couple years ago, it was called Hopscotch Design Festival. We were really close with the folks who were putting it on and they asked us if we would make an opening video and then they even gave us an opportunity to have like this stand over in the corner to do something.

Mack Garrison:

I remember the conversation with Cory and a business partner and being like, "What are we going to do to activate this space? We're motion designers, we can't really have a booth which is just going to give away things." But then we started thinking about it and we were like, "All right, well, what is something fun and unique we could do with animation? How do we get more people involved in this process and show them what the process of animation looks like?" And that's where we came up with this idea of a crowdsourced animation. So we reached out to a friend of ours who was more of a backend developer, told them our idea. And basically, what we came up with is we worked on what ultimately came out to be a 10-second animation, looping animation.

Mack Garrison:

We took all the individual key frames and printed them out, so 24 frames per second, we ended up having 240 frames and we treated it like a coloring book. So everything was black and white, patrons of the festival could color it in, whatever color they want to, and then they would scan it back in. And then in real time, those frames, sequentially, reordered, and then now the video that was looping on the big screen, all of a sudden to have color and you had this new a vibe to it. And to me, that was such a unique opportunity because it was like, "All right, here is a final deliverable that's totally different than what was expected."

Mack Garrison:

We got to bring in some folks we might not typically work with to bring it to life. And it was one of the most talked about things at the festival because it was so unique and so different. And so thinking about where motion designers fall in the space of what's coming and where we're heading, strategy, how do we think about new things and working things differently? How do we think about collaboration and some of the friends that we have and what might normally just be like fun experiments can now be the thing that's really pushing ahead into the future for what brands and stuff want to purchase.

Mack Garrison:

Because I think that's a real big key thing that's a takeaway, is a lot of times we think what folks are interested in and what they want to buy is stuff that's already out there. But if you have a really good idea and something that's totally unique and you have a good working relationship with your client, you can present this stuff and the next thing you know, your piece is going to be the thing that everyone else references.

Ryan Summers:

Yeah. I think that's the most exciting thing about motion design, and it's also somehow simultaneously the thing that nobody, while you're in it, really realizes that that's what we do. Because of the, like the Wild West nature of motion design, it's not like visual effects where there are very strict pipelines and tool sets and workflows that have to be made as hyper-efficient as possible to be profitable, because we're using every tool we can possibly find and using it in ways that was never meant to be, there's just naturally a certain amount of just creative thinking that we almost just normalize and accept as the price of entering the business.

Ryan Summers:

That if you apply that same level of creativity to how to approach clients, especially through doing these personal projects, like you said, I would almost bet that you had some sort of discovery through doing this project that then turned into something, you offer your clients. But if you can do that without thinking of that in the first place, that's the key, is just being able to say... If you can capture how it is that you think differently, express that. Somehow that's not motivated by fulfilling a client brief, so much of that stuff comes back as new ways of interacting with clients and new ways of offering totally different things to clients.

Ryan Summers:

Going back to Dash though, what I think is really interesting is that somehow this fits into your entire ethos as a company, because I look at a lot of studio sites, I look at a lot of demo reels and most studios talk about themselves the same way and the websites are almost exactly the same. But if you go to Dash's website, there's a lot of things that feel very different, but one of them that I thought was really great is that, like you actually have a careers page. And I noticed that there were a lot of really different things there. And I just want to ask about those because I don't see this very often in motion design studios, you offer unlimited vacation and I've never heard it told this way, mandatory time off, you have some really robust maternity and paternity leave, which is something, A, most studios don't offer, but B, they don't put it as one of their top five bullet points.

Ryan Summers:

And you have a paid personal project stipend that you're encouraging people to go off and make stuff, not just in a kind of glad hand way, but you're actually giving them money and time to do it. A, where did all these ideas come up from? And B, do people really take advantages or is this something that's like nice to post on the site?

Mack Garrison:

When we started Dash, I think to understand why we got to these offerings, you have to really look back at the very beginning and one of the things that we were really trying to focus on. We started Dash just because we believe in the power of creativity and motion design that matters, but also community. That was a really big aspect to why we wanted to start the studio. In our previous job, Cory and I got a lot of experience. It was a very production heavy agency where really the focus was, how much work can we make? How much money can we make off of it?

Mack Garrison:

And that's fine, that's their prerogative. But at the end of the day, the thing that was missing was the investment in their own people, people feeling disgruntled, unhappy, ready for a change. So there was high turnover. You get people come in for a couple years, they get burned out, and they leave to go do something else because they were tired of it. And I think that trend is common in some of the bigger shops. People come in, they learn a lot, but they're just grinded down to the bone and they get exhausted. And so they're ready to move on.

Mack Garrison:

So as we started Dash, we were like, "There's got to be a better way. Instead of this necessarily client-first mentality, what if we put the focus on our staff and our employees? What if we really try to foster something that we feel like we're really taking care of the employees the best we can? That maybe folks will decide to stick around and maybe we can really grow the longevity of the studio with the same core people that came in the early days." And so we started with that philosophy. So in the early days of Dash, it was always about, how can we try to find the most creative projects possible? And if we're not finding them from a client perspective, making sure that we're having those personal projects that we're still investing studio time in.

Mack Garrison:

And then that understanding that as a mid sized city in Raleigh, it was hard to also compete with the salaries of Chicago, LA and New York. So what are some different offerings we can do that maybe we're not paying as much, but we're really giving people their time and respecting their time? And so that's where we started coming up with things like the unlimited vacation policy, that's why we looked at paid health care and maternity leave, trying to be in the forefront of that, trying to provide networking events for our staff to making sure that we're going to things like Blend Fest, Style Frames, F5, and then introducing something like a personal project that staff could work on.

Mack Garrison:

Because ultimately, the idea is that we're trying to foster a place that everyone wants to work at. Yeah, of course we want to make good work and we're striving to make some of the best that's out there, but we also want people to feel invested in this company and feel like we take care of them. There's no joke in this next line that I'm about to say, but since we started, which has been almost six years now, really, I can't think of maybe more than like 10 times that we've had to ask some of our staff to work on the weekends. It just doesn't happen. Our staff really gets to go home at six o'clock every day.

Mack Garrison:

Of course, there's little things that trickle late into the day, there's been some seven o'clock deliverables even as an 8:00s, that happens, but we really pride ourselves in that if we feel like work is so much on everyone's plate that that would require weekend work, that we really bring in contractors to help access that so that our core staff can go home on the weekends and they can have their time off.

Ryan Summers:

That's huge. I laugh almost a little bit. I have PTSD when you say, "Oh, we had to stay late a couple of times, we had to stay till 7:00 or 8:00." That is possibly one of the big differences between like an LA or NYC studio, is that the lifestyle of a motion designer there is very different because most of the times, at least in LA, I worked in start till 10:00 and seven o'clock was like halfway through the day. That was when we'd get our food orders in. And that was not even a question, it was just almost expected silently.

Mack Garrison:

Well, that's also just an understanding too, even on the times that it has happened and we had half staff that needed to work on the weekend, we basically said, "Hey, we're so sorry we have to ask you of this. We'll give you off next Friday as a result. Can you put in this time?" So it's not like this TBD and when that comes up, but it's immediately as that happens, going ahead and reinvesting and reimbursing them in the time that we're having to take away from them.

Ryan Summers:

And that reminds me a lot of the conversations I've had with Barton Damer, with his studio, ABC, that I think when you increase the distance between the people running an operating and owning the shop and the, I hate this term, but rank and file, the studio members, I think that's when a lot of that stuff can just get out of control because there isn't really anyone questioning, "Why are we doing this? Why did we have to stay till 2:00 in the morning? Why is it that every weekend or every Friday, there's people climbing into seats and getting ready to work like crazy people just to try to hit a deadline," because it's just like the main mission or the main goal or the main tenets of the studio get a little muddled, they get a little lost.

Ryan Summers:

But with Dash, it feels like you're really close to the metal, like the distance between you and the newest employee, the newest staff member is pretty short.

Mack Garrison:

Yeah, absolutely. And I would also ask some of those bigger agencies, what is the ultimate goal? Is it just to make gobs of money for the studio that are there? Is that their goal just to make as much money as possible? For us, life's short, we're all going to die. That's super blunt. And so I want to spend my life hanging around good people that I enjoy being around, making cool stuff, but then also enjoying my personal time and some of the things in the hobbies that I like to do. And so as a result, I think when you start putting your people first instead of money first, the good things are going to naturally start rolling in.

Mack Garrison:

We initially started, and it was hard when we first started to ask, because we weren't getting a ton of big projects, but it was a slow snowball effect. We started working with people, we'd talk about our ethos and what we believe in and this idea of community and our staff and how we offer a really bespoke product that's really tailored towards your needs. Less is more, we're not just taking on everything that comes our way, but really trying to find clients that believe in quality design and not just dictating what we need to do, but working together to get there.

Mack Garrison:

And so in the early stages, we had to turn down a lot of work because it just was asking too much of us or the pay was too little, and that was hard. When you're a new studio and you need to make money, it's hard to say no to work, but we did. We said no to stuff that just didn't feel like it was the right vibe, and then slowly but surely, you start attracting the right clients because the word gets passed around on like, "Oh, Dash are really great to work with. They're a really optimistic group of people," and all that stuff starts to spread. So then you end up working with folks who you want to work with and who believe in the ethos that you have.

Ryan Summers:

Yeah. In some ways, I kind of empathize with some of those bigger older studio owners, because there is a natural lifeline of like, you go to school, you become an artist, you work at a shop, you advance, you freelance. But at some point, you decide to start your own studio. And then that's a totally different role, you're trying to get out there and get the work. Occasionally, you're on the box, you're overseeing stuff, but you're most of the time just churning the business. But at that point, there wasn't a lot of other avenues for you to express your interest, your energy. But I think, and this is one of the things I love about Dash, I think now it's a lot easier for someone like you or for someone who started shop and maybe the machine's running, but you're trying to figure out how to maintain the culture, not just internally.

Ryan Summers:

That's one thing and that's a lot of work, but you can do that if you show up and you're there, you're talking. But one of the things I love about Dash is that I think even more than the work you guys do, my impression in my head is so much more about your ethos, like you said, your mission, the culture. I feel like in my head, Dash and you as a person are much more connected to the wellbeing of the industry as a whole, similar to what I feel like School of Motion is trying to do more so than even the work. And it's really one of the things that I would love to see more people do.

Ryan Summers:

I think Erin Sarofsky is doing this really well, a couple of other people, but you've opened up yourself and your company to the entire industry through as many different avenues as I think anybody could. You run one of the best Clubhouse rooms every Friday about motion design, you're all over podcast, your Instagram's awesome. You can have, I think a studio Spotify playlist.

Mack Garrison:

Yes, we do.

Ryan Summers:

It's kind of to do the way on the Dash Bash site, but it's there. Most studios, and I felt this in every studio I worked, social media was just like this thing they toss to an intern. It felt like it was an obligation rather than what it feels... To Dash, it feels vital to me. It feels like it's almost like another arm of the studio besides your business development and your artist's side of the company. Why do you and Dash do all this extra work when you still have to make stuff all the time? You still have overhead to cover, you still have to keep the lights on, what's the purpose for doing all of this?

Mack Garrison:

It was a very conscious decision of doing that. It actually dates back to when we first started the company back in 2015. So really we looked at it and there were two avenues that we debated taking. The first avenue is more a traditional approach where we're saying like, "Okay, who are the people that hire us?" The most folks that hire us tend to be marketing directors or someone in the marketing department. So we could have gone out and really focus our efforts on connecting with them, trying to find new marketers that would hire us and really use every last bit of energy that we had, the spare energy that we had to go that route.

Mack Garrison:

Or conversely, we could look at and say, "Hey, we're in a mid-sized city like Raleigh, how do we get people to know that we exist? How do we attract the top talent?" And that means investing in the community so that they want to work with us. I kid you not, I remember one of the very first projects, we actually hired out a freelancer force. This is one that Cory and I didn't work on. It was just the two of us at a time. This was probably like late 2015, early 2016. I remember we reached out to Oliver Sin, and we hired Oliver Sin. Fantastic illustrator animator based in the UK.

Mack Garrison:

And at the time, I forget what the budget was, but Oliver's rate was the entire budget. No joke, Oliver's rate was the entire budget. And of course, it was worthwhile because of Oliver's incredibly talented. He charge what he charges and it totally makes sense, but we said, "You know what, we want this piece to be really good." It was a project that we knew we had some creative control on, so there was less risk of like changes coming back in. And so we approached Oliver and got him to work on this project. And at the end of the day, I think Dash made like $500. It was like laughable.

Mack Garrison:

But Oliver had such a good time on the project and did such a good job, he was delighted to share that work. So he's shared it on Instagram, he shared it on Twitter. Then also these people are like, "Who's Dash?" We watch her follower accounts, start to creep up. We had more people reach out to us and say, "Hey, I saw your stuff with Oliver, just wanted to say that I'm also a freelancer if you guys ever need any help." That's how it started. And then we reached out to some of these more people, so more freelancers, similar top folks and get them to work on a project.

Mack Garrison:

And then we make sure that we pay all those freelancers on time, we pay them early. We give them very succinct and clear feedback. If we gave them feedback that the client didn't like, sometimes I think we would even make the changes ourselves later on versus even giving it back to the freelancer, because at the end of the day, what we wanted to make sure that happened on every one of those projects was that freelancer had the best experience working with any other studio. Like, "Holy cow, here's this random studio in Raleigh, North Carolina that paid me on time, they paid my rate. They didn't try to negotiate it down or anything. They gave me clear feedback and it was a super easy project."

Mack Garrison:

So that the next time that I reached out to them, they would want to work with us. If they had an option of working with multiple studios and they had a phenomenal experience with us, they would choose to work with us. And so it was a slow approach early on, and it was a costly investment for the two of us when we were not making that much money, but then slowly our work got better. People started to hear that we paid well, that the projects were fun, and more people wanted to work with us. And it's been that snowball effect that keeps growing. So how do we keep the snowball rolling?

Mack Garrison:

Well, it means investing more into this community. How can we reach out to more people to connect with them? How can we help? It started with me doing local talks at AIGA, American Student Graphic Arts, or going to talk at universities and giving little conversations there for the next up and generation coming to creatives. And then doing things where we tried to be more active on social and really engaged, not just posting stuff, to try to get more people to give us likes, but actually looking at the work that's out there commenting and saying, "Oh, this is really cool. I'm really big fan of your work, I want to connect."

Mack Garrison:

For years, and I still do this now, I'll find people's who work on social media and I'll just reach out and be like, "Hey, I just want to let you know, I saw this piece. It looks really good. Well, done. I don't have a project right now, but I'd love to work with you someday, real big fan of your work." Who doesn't love getting that email in their inbox, just like a compliment? So I started doing that all the time and slowly started building this repertoire with the community. And then when I would go to events, I just made sure that I would talk to anyone and everyone that I possibly could. And I always tried to look at things in a very positive light.

Mack Garrison:

Another big thing about Dash, you mentioned culture earlier is we hire folks. We actually have six key personality traits that we hold in high regard that we really look at everyone that comes in. The first is being gregarious, not so much in that you have to be outgoing, but being outgoing about design. Because we work in this really collaborative environment, I want people to feel comfortable about talking towards their design decisions, why did they choose this? Why did they do that? Just so they can feel comfortable in talking about that and justifying those reasons.

Mack Garrison:

The second is being symbiotic. We really like to work hand in hand with our clients, but also our staff. Almost every one of our projects we work on will have multiple animators on it, multiple designers on it, so there really is true collaboration. And the same goes for our clients, it goes back to that topic I was talking about when we're working with subject matter experts, we go in, we really feel like we have a back and forth. We whiteboard stuff out. So it feels like they're involved in our process just as much as we are. The third is being optimistic. Our industry, unfortunately moves quickly.

Mack Garrison:

There's dramatic changes, people disagree with decisions that were already made, a late stakeholder comes in and says he wants to change everything. All that stuff sucks, but we still try to look at things with a very optimistic light. So yes, I may have to charge you money or there may be a different solution, but I'll always come at it with a smile on my face and I won't do it in a way that I feel like I'm really disappointed. I'll always bring that optimistic attitude that we can find a solution. But the fourth is creativity.

Mack Garrison:

I think when we talk about creativity, so many folks get caught up in that final deliverable, but for us, it's really that whole process along the way, how do we find the right process for the right project? Sometimes we massage it to make sure we're delivering these like pre-production steps for different types of videos, but whether it's storyboards, style frames, motion comp, character sheets, and animatic, we make sure that it's as creative as it possibly can be. So when you really invest in that foundation of all these elements and there's creative as they can be, that final product is going to be the best.

Mack Garrison:

And then the last two for us are honesty and efficiency. We are really transparent with everyone. I will tell our staff, "Hey, I'm so sorry, we're doing these 10 demo videos. This is not what I want to do, but it's going to pay the bills and we need the money so we're going to take this on." Or when I'm talking to clients, being open and saying, "Look, I hear your ask, I know you really want to do this. We just cannot do this in the timeframe, unless y'all have more money." Or saying like, "Hey, I know you want to do this, what if we tried this? I can actually get it done quicker if you'd be open to this." So really talking to that transparency, being open.

Mack Garrison:

And then with efficiency, this really comes from working in a production house where we were just Cory and I. This is crazy to say out loud, but there was a time in our life where like Cory and I could each make a two-minute animation in a week, it was absurd. We didn't do storyboards, we didn't do anything. We would get a script and I would open up After Effects, I would just start making stuff and animate it and moving it forward. So I got to the point where I could make like a two-minute explainer video without storyboarding anything out and just roll with it.

Mack Garrison:

And it's crazy to think about that now, but what that has taught me is that now that I know how to work fast, I can use that to advantage and make sure we work efficient. So I will identify the best players for different roles within our studio so I can constantly move people around to put them in a position to succeed. That, and then also understanding when our team members want to learn something new, try something different, then I can identify the projects where it's actually okay for them to fail. So if I have someone who is a really great animator and maybe they're not doing great on the design side, I may put them on style frames with someone else who's already designed to look for it.

Mack Garrison:

So they'll design a second look. So if it ends up looking great, we send it. We have two looks now to send. If it's not quite there yet, no worries because I already had someone who was doing that. So just being really efficient in the place. So really gregarious, symbiotic, optimistic, creative, honest, and efficient are Dash's six key personality traits.

Ryan Summers:

This is why I wanted people to listen to this because... Say those six again for me, just say them one more time.

Mack Garrison:

Gregarious, symbiotic, optimistic, creative, honest, and efficient.

Ryan Summers:

That's important to hear those because I think for the people listening, I don't think any six of those are very obvious if I watched your demo reel. So to flip the script, Mack, if there's people sitting here, because the way you're talking about managing talent and working with people and setting expectations, I'm an animation historian and I've done a pretty deep dive into a lot of the key people through the history of feature animation, and one of the best skillsets that most people don't realize someone like Walt Disney had, it wasn't that he was a great storyteller.

Ryan Summers:

It wasn't that he was a good animator because he certainly wasn't, but one of his best skills was that he could identify when someone who really wanted to do something creatively was at their limits, and he was able to find a way to flip them into the role or the responsibility or the position that they would truly be great at. And it feels like you have the capability of that. That's why you go to a studio like Dash to be a part of culture, because you can go ahead and be a freelancer and you can go and do the thing you think you're doing.

Ryan Summers:

But to get better, to cross a threshold, to break through a glass ceiling, you need someone like Mack to be able to identify what you're good at, what do you need help at, and create an environment where you can get better in a way that you would never have expected on your own. But flipping that question Mack, how does someone demonstrate those six factors if they can't do it through their demo reel when they send it to you?

Mack Garrison:

I think this goes back to some of your three key pieces. You were talking about drawing, being able to write and being able to talk. This really leans into writing and talking. You can get a good vibe from someone just in having a conversation. Pretty quickly I can identify when I'm talking to someone whether a good fit just based on their cadence and how they go about describing things and what they're interested in. So what I would tell your listeners is really think about how you're connecting with the groups that are out there.

Mack Garrison:

When you're writing something, sometimes I feel like people get so caught up in writing that they end up writing this really sterile, like non-personality filled email, because they're trying to be super formal. Don't worry about that, let your personality shine through. And I know that's hard in writing, that's why it goes back to practicing it, or conversations. When you're at an event or you have an opportunity, connect with someone or grab a coffee.

Mack Garrison:

That's why I think the pandemic was so debilitating is because there is something really important about connections and being able to meet in person and reading body language, like going out and grabbing coffees, reaching out to folks, someone who wants to really work at Dash what they can do is that they can have all these various touch points. It's always been like not being annoying, but being persistent, I think is important when you're trying to get in somewhere. From a business standpoint, when I'm doing new business, I'll reach out with emails to the clients that I want to work with.

Mack Garrison:

And it might just be every three months or so. And not every time I get an email back, but I'm always like, "Hey, hope you're doing well, just made something that I think would be a really good fit for what you and your organization are doing. Just want to share it with you. We'd love to grab a coffee some time. Cheers." Just shoot that off, or like, "Hey Sally, checking in again, wanting to share this out. This something that we've really been interested in, kind of passion project of mine. Hope you'll check it out, sends it off."

Mack Garrison:

And it's never like I'm sending that with the expectation that they have to write me back, but they're really understanding who I am and my personality, just by the way I described that video, just by the way of how I'm sharing it. And so I really try to lean into that personality in my emails. Or when I'm meeting people and going out and grabbing coffee, I really like to reach out to other business owners, even if they're not even in my industry just to catch up and grab a coffee with one entrepreneur to another, because I think just hearing different perspectives on how they perceive things is really interesting.

Mack Garrison:

So when I do that, just getting to be around a person and talk towards stuff and hearing their interests, I always try to go out with being their friend. I have this really great story from attending F5 Festival back in, gosh, I guess it was 2015. It was a first conference that I went to and I ran into a good friend of mine, Roger Lima. He runs White Noise Lab if you're familiar with that group, does music composition, so composing. And I ran into him, it was my first festival so I was super pumped to meet all those people, but also nervous because there's all these like big names.

Mack Garrison:

There's Buck, there's Giant Ant there, the Mill, it's just all these people in one place. And he gave me some of the best advice that I think I've ever heard. And it's so simple, it's crazy, but it's like, "Look, you go to these events don't try to just share your business card, let's talk about wanting to connect, just be personable and try to be people's friend." If you go into situations just to have a conversation, you go in and just to talk someone to learn about them, not trying to sell them on something that's a really good way just to get to know people, because people want to hire their friends.

Mack Garrison:

It's crazy how much like connections matter in this world and it's a shame. It shouldn't just be, if your work's really good, you can get a job, but you have to know the right people and then they validate you based on your work you do. So half the battle is just getting to know folks. So when I go to conferences it's not like I'm just saying like, "Hey, are you a freelancer? I want to hire you." Or, "Hey, you work at this bigger agency, if you ever need a hand, you should toss some stuff to the Dash." I always just get to know them, find out what their interests are, what their hobbies are, what they like to do for fun, when they're not doing motion design, what are they doing? And of course, talk shop

Mack Garrison:

But the idea is to always come at it and try to be a friend and just get to know the individual. And I think that's a really great way to set yourself up for success so that when that person does need something later on, you're top of mind. So getting back to your question on, how do folks position themselves when they can really only share the work hidden on these traits like gregarious, symbiotic, optimistic, creative? Well, you can be optimistic and how you write an email or if I say like, "Hey, sorry, I'm really swamped. I can review this route." Responding to that email, not just not saying anything back, just being like, "Yeah, no problem. Really looking forward to catching you some time for a coffee. No worries if you're busy."

Mack Garrison:

You can be polite. You can be creative on how you're reaching out to someone. I had a student one time send me a zoetrope which is wild. So they send me this paper zoetrope, but I haven't forgotten her. She sent me a zoetrope, now we haven't hired her yet, but she's still always that student that sent me that zoetrope. So you can be creative on how you reach out. Symbiotic, always coming to the table with like, what is something that you could provide to the person that you're reaching out with? We're in an economy where people are always asking for stuff, but what could you give?

Mack Garrison:

If you reach out to something, what could you give to somebody? And then the gregarious side, I think about just how you're reaching out, you're calling, you're shooting out an email. And honesty and transparency, there's so many people that don't want to look like an idiot and I get that. We don't want to admit that we don't know something, but there's something humbling about someone that says like, "Hey, I'm a junior in school. I really want to get hired at a company like yours. I don't know if I have the skillset right now, any advice or tips on how I could prepare myself to work at a company like yours."

Mack Garrison:

Or the same thing as a freelancer, "I really love your studio, I'm trying to polish up some things. If you look at my portfolio, do you think there'd be anything I could polish up to better position myself to work at Dash?" And then being efficient and not wasting time, I would say it goes back to like a drip campaign, touching base with people every like three or four months. Don't just send me the same work over and over again, say like, "Hey, here's a little personal project I was working on thought you might like." Or, "Here's a piece I just finished with a client that reminds me of the work that Dash does, just wanted to share it with you."

Mack Garrison:

So that it feels different, feels like they're invested in, it feels like someone really wants to be a part of it. So those are just a couple of key things that I would say would be good takeaways for those six personality steps, but there's always a creative way to approach those things.

Ryan Summers:

And those are great tips for reaching out to a studio or how you handle yourself at a conference, but I keep on listening to all those and thinking like, those are great guidelines for how to, as a professional on social media, just guide your day-to-day existence. The art of brevity, how to ask a question without looking for anything back, avoiding the whole transactional culture. I spent a lot of time in LA and anytime you had a networking meetup, you were always waiting for the, "And what do you do that I can use?" Question. That was coming no matter what, and you can just feel it in the room.

Ryan Summers:

But being able to do all those things, those all add up to, don't even like the word networking, I like thinking of it just as relationship building. And I think you even said it better, just trying to be a friend, just trying to be like, how can I help? You do that enough times with enough people, and you build that reputation, because it certainly goes the other way. If you're the complainer, if you're the grumpy person, if you're the person on Slack who every time something new comes out, you're the one pointing out what's wrong with it.

Ryan Summers:

You have to be very, very cognizant that 50% of what someone hires you for is your work, but the other 50% is can I sit next to you, or tolerate you on Zoom, or want to try to work with you remotely? You may subconsciously be putting up the exact opposite reputation just from the way you talk or the way you write.

Mack Garrison:

Oh, 100%. Culture is so important, even when we're looking and screening candidates to join us full time, it's not always the number one best animator that applied, so much of it is like, is this person going to be a lone wolf and try to do everything themselves and just be hyper-focused on what they can do? Are they going to be open to critiques and be open to helping out other people, and be open to being a part of something that's bigger? Even within our studio, particularly recently as we started to get busier, we've had different members start to take a little bit more of a lead on art directing projects. And we pass that torch around.

Mack Garrison:

So you may be directed by that one person and you're them another time so that it isn't... So the politics, unfortunately, in some of these bigger agencies, it just feels like there's so much competition to be this director role or super higher up. And so we've really tried to eliminate, at least thus far we've managed to do it, avoiding having like senior, junior, mid-level. It's just like, you're a motion designer at Dash, here you're a designer at Dash, or an illustrator at Dash, because we're all in this together. Everyone collectively is making the work as good as it can be, not one individual.

Ryan Summers:

Yeah. And that's so rare. We have this conversation all the time when I meet with people that have worked at big shops and in the past, you could define a shop as like the previous work they've done, the lead creative in the shop, the software, the pipeline, the hardware, because those are things that you didn't have access to unless you had a lot of money, or you had a history, but really now, what is a studio? We all are using the exact same tools from a 14-year-old kid to people who have been working for forever. We all have the same hardware, we all have access to the same inspiration. We're all riffing on the same echo chamber of stuff.

Ryan Summers:

What it really comes down to is a lot of times just like you said, it's a vague word, but it's culture. That's what separates a studio like Dash from another studio down the street. Another thing that separates Dash though, and I really want to make sure we talk about this because personally, I'm super excited to be going, the list of people is amazing, but on top of all these other things, all the social media stuff that you're doing, why in the world would you try to put on an entire conference on top of all this other stuff? So what I'm talking about is the Dash Bash.

Ryan Summers:

And I think it's genius that you find a way to work the name of the studio into the event. So kudos to whoever came up with that, but I can only imagine just the scheduling, it's almost like you would need a separate in my mind, a separate team or a separate company to help you put this on. But tell us a little bit about the Dash Bash is, where it came from, and why again, as a studio, are you doing something that really, you almost have no business doing if you really think about it.

Mack Garrison:

No, 100%. And if I give any advice out there to anyone who's thinking about throwing a festival, don't do it on the heels of a pandemic. If you just want to add some more stress to your life, you should do it. But honestly, it has been probably the single hardest thing we've taken on. It just has so many different auxiliary elements compared to a normal project, there's so many intangibles, little things that are all going on at the same time. I have so much more respect for event planners and things like that. But back to your question on why we did it.

Mack Garrison:

This really goes back to the start of Dash. I told you about we believe in the power creativity and motion design that matters and this community, because when I look at Dash's success, our success is on the shoulders of this community and their willingness to help us. Even in the early days and having these late night conversations with other studio owners, talking to them about how they handle growth, talking to them about how they handle weird precarious finance situations, everyone was willing to help us. Even the early freelancers, once people got wind that we were paying people on time, paid well, we were able to be a little bit more transparent.

Mack Garrison:

Sometimes say like, "Look, I don't have the budget for this. We can assure you're not getting feedback." And people were doing us solids, and they didn't have to do that, but they were doing it because they like Cory and I. And so over these five years, I can look back and really say that we would not have been successful had it not been for this community, how accepting and welcoming they have been. So when our five-year anniversary was coming up in 2020, we were like, "What can we do to give back?" Every year up until that point, we were like, "All right, cool Dash made another year. Great." But we didn't do anything.

Mack Garrison:

And so the Bash really came from like, "Let's throw a party." That's what it was. It was like, "Let's just get some beers, get some wine, we'll get a DJ, we'll just throw a party and we'll invite some of our friends from around the US." And then we started thinking about it more, we were like, "Speaking of US, if you look at the Southeast, who's really throwing a motion event down here?" We'd been to F5 and stuff, friends up in New York. Blend Fest, Cory and I have been now to every one of the Blend Fest, and just have had a phenomenal experience at every one of them. Really, really just the best as far as just meeting people and having a good time.

Mack Garrison:

So we were looking at it and we're like, "No one's really doing that down here in the South, maybe this is an opportunity." We started looking at the industry as a whole, particularly with the pandemic, more people are now moving to these more mid-sized cities. There's not a necessity to be in-house at a lot of these agencies anymore. People are more open to booking freelancers remotely. So we were like, "Look, let's show off Raleigh and it has become. Let's show off the Southeast. And instead of doing just a bash, let's make this a conference. Let's bring in some people that could really shed some light on our industry, talk about where the industry is going, and not only inspire people, but give our people an opportunity to hang out."

Mack Garrison:

And so that was a real reason and impetus for the Dash Bash. It's like, "Let's throw a party and let's not throw a party, let's throw a conference and bring together all these folks that we hold in such high regard." Then of course 2020 happens, we end up delaying it and pushing it to 2021. So it is coming up this September 23rd, 24th, and it still has that same mindset, all about community. I think the biggest thing for us is bringing together a place and a space where people feel comfortable and open talking about the industry, both the good and the bad.

Mack Garrison:

I think there's a lot of good, I think that the world of the gig economy and freelancers is on the rise. I think you're going to see a lot more smaller studios start to pop up around. I think you're going to see more Cory's and Mack's of the world, two freelancers who say, "You know what, let's do this together and let's start our own shop." I think that's going to happen a lot more. That's all the good stuff. But there is also a lot of bad that we want to talk about, particularly on the heels of black lives matter, and the Me Too Movement, you start to look at the creative industry as a whole, and you say, "Wow, this is pretty heavy white veil. Where are the other individual leaders?"

Mack Garrison:

And one of the things we've been working on, and you'll see this more when we announced the next group of speakers, which we have another four that we're going to announce here real soon. So I can't quite say yet, but you'll see that we're going to start to bring in some people that have a really unique and different perspective on things, because ultimately, that's where the industry is heading. If you look at the last like 20 years and what leadership has looked like in the motion design industry, you might as well throw it in the trash because if you look at the next generation of creatives, they look very different from one another.

Mack Garrison:

And I think that's for the best, that partly goes back to the variety of people that are now interested in coming into the industry as it becomes a little bit more mainstream. And so as we look ahead to the future leaders, we really want to bring some people to the table who are talking about where things are going and how things are shifting for the better.

Ryan Summers:

I saw that all the time when I was working at studios and pitching that the clients we were talking to, even though they're big behemoths and they are what they are, and they're normally slow to change, the rooms I was pitching to were starting to change. You wouldn't walk a room and see a bunch of people that look like you or I, Mack. And I think it's something that aids imperative just for the industry in general, because it won't be like the video game industry, it won't be like visual effects, it won't be like animation. And it shouldn't be.

Ryan Summers:

But also, if you're looking for a way to differentiate yourself as a Dash-sized studio or smaller, if you can walk into the room and actually reflect the audience that you're supposed to be an expert at talking to, just by the composition of the team and the ideas you're bringing up because of the diversity of experience, that's an automatic advantage as you start walking into these rooms where these companies have been challenged to change their leadership, to change how they speak to everyone, not just to people like you and me. I think that's a huge way to position the future.

Ryan Summers:

And we haven't decided what my talk is going to be yet at Dash, but I feel like I love the idea of talking about mistakes or talking about the bad things and not just another raw laugh victory laugh talks. So that's some food for thought. But I think what's more interesting right now to finish this out, we talked a lot about the state of the industry, we talked about where you guys came from the past and how you're here now. I'm really interested to hear just your viewpoint on what's the future for people like our listeners, for artists who are starting or artists who are continuing to train to get better at their skills, but are starting to hear some of these other things they should be thinking about.

Ryan Summers:

The writing, the talking, the drawing, the understanding how a client works, trying to bring people in and work together and not just be the sole leader. What do you think is the sweet spot for a young version of you now, like an artist that's interested into the entrepreneurial, more business side, is it that we should all start thinking about being YouTube content creators? Should we be on Instagram all the time? Should we be rocking Patreons? Should we start a collective? What do you think is the new way forward? Not to say that what is happening now is going to go away, but I feel like we've all been marching down one path and accepted it.

Ryan Summers:

You said it before, you go to an art school, you get a gig, maybe you start your own shop. I think Joey and School of Motion has been really good at opening up the door to freelance for a lot of people. But I feel like those are only two pathways and I feel there's going to be an opportunity for a lot more. Where do you see the industry going?

Mack Garrison:

Well, I think one thing that you got to understand for someone of back up a hair and then kind get to where I think it's going, I'm going to throw out a random name for you here. His name is Edward Tufte, he's American statistician. And why on earth would we be talking about Edward Tufte? Well, one of the things he did well, and at least in some of the books, I think it was Envisioning Information was the one that I'm thinking of. He was really good at taking complex data and organizing it, but there was a little nugget in some of his writing that always stuck with me over the years.

Mack Garrison:

And that was this idea of a capital-T Theory. So if you think about the letter T, the capital T, you have the very base and you're starting to move up the ascender towards the top where it branches off. If you think about all of us, most people who came into motion design, didn't just start at the bottom, that T and were like, "Cool, here's my single, clear linear path into motion design." Someone probably started as a graphic designer, someone started as an illustrator, maybe someone came in from the code side, but everyone is moving up this ascender to that top of that T.

Mack Garrison:

So they've come up from a graphic design position, but then they get down, they're like, "You know what, graphic design is cool, but this motion side is really interesting to me." And so then they branch off and they start a new T. And so they branch over to the left and now they're on this animation trajectory, and then maybe they get into animation for number of years and they're like, "Wow, I really like the animation, but you know what I really like, is actually the art direction of this." So then they pivot over into art direction.

Mack Garrison:

And they're doing art direction and they get a random project and do something else. But the idea is that we're all weeding these really complex networks of experiences and ideas. And most of the people who are coming into the motion design world are bringing a unique background that someone else doesn't have. And so it really is a melting pot of diversity of ideas, which I think is incredibly important. So thinking about that and this web of information that people are bringing to the table, and we start to think about like where the future of this industry is going, it really is the sky's the limit, because I think you're going to start to see preference from people who tend to error on the side of more of a generalist than a specialist.

Mack Garrison:

Because one thing that we've learned over the years is that technology changes, deliverables are going to change, and to be able to be well-versed and experimental and how you approach and try things, you mentioned R&D earlier, it's actually something that's top of mind for us, I'm just trying to explore and create stuff. But I think for the folks out there listening to this podcast, and as you're thinking about your career of the next 20 years and what it is you want to do, I suggest that the people that are going to be the most successful, are the ones who are open and willing to try and experiment with different things.

Mack Garrison:

To not necessarily get locked in with one style, one approach, one deliverable, but really lean into A, the collaboration, really to the exploration, trying new things and trying to take your style and push it in different ways. I think that's where really the success is going to be is more in the generalist type environment. Because I even look at what we're doing as a studio, yes, I tend to look when I'm looking for contractors, I look for someone who maybe has a particular style, but the people that get brought in full-time are the ones that maybe have a really good style, but they can do all these other intangibles as well.

Mack Garrison:

And I think about some of these bigger companies, if you think of like the Googles, the Apples of the world, typically they've always thought about their brand as a very static object, but now with the advent motion and all these new platforms that are really prioritizing video, there's going to be explorations into how their brand begins to move, and they're going to be asking people to really try to play and try new things. So I think getting back to your question, what can someone do to prep for the future or prep for the future of motion design?

Mack Garrison:

Is to be okay being nimble, be okay trying something new and feeling comfortable with change, because it's only going to change more and more with every year that goes by.

Ryan Summers:

I love what you're saying about that, because one of the things I've lamented about the direction the industry has gone probably over the last, like two or three years, especially with the advent of GPU rendering and everybody running to PC and 3D being the big push, is that everything feels like it's the inverse of that T that you talked about. It felt like motions design was very quickly just becoming Cinema 4D and After Effects. And everything had to fit into that echo chamber and things were just bouncing back and forth, but it didn't get very diverse, very wide in terms of styles and ideas and ways of animating and all kinds of stuff.

Ryan Summers:

And I feel like it was trailing feature animation as well, and I think with the advent of things like into the Spider Verse and all these different The Mitchells vs. The Machines, feature animations changed what it could be. We're seeing 2D animation come back. And I think when you're talking about, we're starting to finally see it reflect back to what, in my mind, when I was starting motion design, it was the Wild West. It could be anything. It could be straight topography, it could be video with just a little bit of 2D cel animation on top of it.

Ryan Summers:

And it wasn't so clearly defined as these two pieces of software and what you can do within them, is what motion design is. So I'm really excited to hear that. I think as well there's a diversity of just options for what a career actually can be now than what it was even several years ago with finally remote being possible, remote staff being something that can happen, your ability to create your own brand, as much as that's a word that makes all of us cringe, but being able to be your own brand like a studio as a brand, and create a fandom or create followers and have a voice.

Ryan Summers:

And start a Patreon, make a Kickstarter, even NFTs for all of the controversy, the value is back. And I think the word that you were essentially summing up is you can be an artist again. You can have a point of view, your value isn't just from what you can get done for someone else in a day rate, you have more to say, you have more to offer than just that.

Mack Garrison:

Yeah. 100%. I totally agree. I think the hard part with so many different things going on is what to choose or where to begin. And so like, "Oh my gosh, Mack, there's so things I could be doing, how do I choose where to put my focus?" And I think that really comes back to just defining what some key characteristics and key elements to you are. We get requests all the time, like, "Hey, can you take on this illustration project?" Or, "We have this graph design thing, could you help us out with that? We really love your style."

Mack Garrison:

And we really say no to it. We'll say, "We're a motion design studio, if it's not moving on the screen, it's not really, our forte. If there's an illustration aspect that builds off the motion or a graphic that build off, we'll take it on." But being focused. And so complicating your brand... Dash is about community, we're about taking care of our employees, we're about working well with others within our industry. And so when we decide to say, "Hey, let's do a Clubhouse," that makes sense because it's falls in line with that direction and what we're trying to do.

Mack Garrison:

And so I think really assessing where folks want to be, where your trajectory is, and as stuff comes up, you're trying to decide, "Wow, how do I really need a new platform? Or, "Do I really want to try and take this on?" Well, where are you trying to be in the next 10 years? This is really fill and follow the direction that you're trying to take, I think is a great way to start to coal down those decisions.

Ryan Summers:

Motioners, that was an amazing amount of insight packed into about an hour of a podcast. And you know what I think? There's actually a lot of lessons to be learned from Mack and the way he runs Dash Studios, even if you're not opening up your own shop, I think those things that he talked about, those tendencies, those six things that he looks for in artists, I think it's also important to almost think about what your five or six ideas are for your reputation as an animator or a designer, as a freelancer, someone looking for a remote position.

Ryan Summers:

Because like we said, your skills are obviously super important, but how you present yourself, your reputation, how much someone wants to sit next to you or look at your face on Zoom, makes such a big difference in where and what you could be doing as a motion designer. Well, I hope that was helpful. And as always, the mission here with School of Motion is to introduce you to tons of new people, get you inspired and help you along in your career, wherever it may be in motion design. So until next time, peace.