School of Motion

Backcountry Expedition Guide to MoGraph Artist: A Chat with Alumni Kelly Kurtz

  • By Anne Saint-Louis
  • Share

I sat down with the incredibly talented Kelly Kurtz to discuss how she transitioned from backcountry expedition guide to MoGraph artist.

For most of us, the path to MoGraph has been anything but linear. This was the case for Alumni Kelly Kurtz. I had the chance to have a lovely chat with Kelly who is a freelancer in Squamish B.C. Canada, about her experience with School of Motion and how it helped her new career flourish.
Kelly-headshot3-940.jpg
Kelly in the wild!
You had a 12 year career in guiding and ski resort management. What happened that made you want to change your career path and dive into motion design?
I loved my time as a guide and have so many beautiful memories of guiding (canoeing, backpacking & rafting) as well as working in the ski industry (Snow School) for more than a decade. Guiding multi-day expeditions means you are away from home for months at a time, and your time in between trips is spent cleaning up and prepping for the next trip - which was exciting and worked for me in my 20’s but once I had done it for a decade I started to desire a shift. I had done a lot of photography during my guiding years and found myself up until 3am the night after trip editing photos because it was satisfying, I wondered if photography could be where my next path led.
I was always curious about design, especially graphic design. One day I met a woman who used to be a kayak guide for 6 years who went back to school to become a freelance graphic designer specializing in brand identity, had two young daughters whom she could spend more time with since leaving the guiding world and I saw a seed of possibility.
It took three years of thinking about making this shift, and jumping from one career to the next is not a decision to take lightly - but the catalyst that ultimately pushed me over the edge was a fourteen month head & neck injury.
As horrible and dark as head injuries are, there was a real silver lining in that experience as it became a catalyst for change for me. I applied to a few different art schools with some doodles that I did from when I had my concussion, (as well as some photography I took up during my guiding years), and to my surprise I was accepted into Vancouver Film School’s Digital Design program in the fall of 2015.
I was initially interested in web and app design, but in the first few weeks we worked on a small stop motion project and opened up After Effects and thought WOW - this stuff is amazing. Once we started learning Cinema 4D, and worked on a title sequence project my life really started to change, and that is how I quickly got hooked on Motion.
Kelly's demo reel
How did you first hear about School of Motion and what motivated you to try it out?
I can’t remember how I heard about School of Motion, but I remember getting booked on a freelance project shortly after graduating school and failed miserably at the simplest animations (or at least making them look and feel good). I could animate, but not very well.... VFS was amazing at the design aspect of things, but barely touched on the animation side, I felt like my work was missing something and I didn’t know anything about the graph editor or how to use it. When I found School of Motion’s Animation Bootcamp it looked like the gap I needed to push my work to a more professional level.
You have taken a few courses with School of Motion. What did you find the most challenging? What have you learned that impacted your professional life the most?
I have taken Animation Bootcamp and Design Bootcamp and they were like apples and oranges to me, each were super challenging in different ways. The Design Bootcamp caught me by surprise because I perceived my strength as more design oriented due to my education at Vancouver Film School, but when it came time to do the actual exercises I found it super challenging, stayed up late at night a lot to try to finish them, and often had to go back at it early in the morning because I still wasn’t happy with where I got to.
I feel like I am constantly learning small nuggets with every project, every encounter with a new studio or client that are continually shaping my professional life. The Freelance Manifesto was a game changer for me, I had no idea how to find clients or how to reach out to them until I read Joey’s book. It gave me the confidence to quit my job at an ad agency and go out on my own, and get booked.
What advice would you have for a student interested in taking a course with School of Motion?
Oh man - so much. They are intense, and you will get out of it what you put in. Block out your social calendar and let your friends/family know your plate is full so you won’t be as available as they are used to, especially if you are working full time at the same time. Stay on top of your homework, I felt the most benefit from the course when I could post my homework in the Facebook private group and get people’s feedback if it was posted within the time frame that the exercise was going on. If you fall behind you can still post it in the group but people have moved on from that exercise and aren’t as motivated to provide feedback. You’ll of course get feedback from the teacher assistants regardless of if you are behind or not, but use that catch up week to get back on top of things. Keep working at things until it doesn’t look or feel shitty - that usually takes way more time than you want it to!
This is a Canada 150 animation Kelly was asked to do for the staff at Best Buy Canada
You have recently decided to try freelancing from the small town of Squamish BC: how do you keep connected with clients and the MoGraph community?
Squamish is only 45 - 60 minutes outside of Vancouver, and about 45 minutes from Whistler so it is a commutable distance. It is definitely do-able if I need to work in-house or to attend various meetups. There are also a bunch of collaborative spaces that I can bounce between (Whistler, Squamish & Vancouver) to keep my productivity high and to get some human interaction as my cat at home only mews at me, ha ha!
I have found value in the online MoGraph community through a bunch of Facebook groups like SOM Alumni, Motion Hatch, Punanimation, and some Slack Channels like Greyscalegorilla, Eyedesyn, Motion Graphics, etc. I also have recently sat in on a few conversations from Motion Monday’s which makes me feel super connected to the community and such awesome topics being chatted about and I can take part in those conversations live.
Animation for The World Ski & Snowboard Festival, hosted by Whistler Blackcomb
The latest posted pieces in your portfolio and Instagram feed showcases 3D projects. Is that something you want to do more of?
I’ve been hired to do mainly 2D work and as a result my 3D skills have felt neglected/rusty so I’ve made a conscious effort to get those C4D skills back up and running. I’ve been using Instagram to showcase more 3D content and Dribble to showcase 2D content. I’d like to have a more well rounded portfolio that showcases a diverse range of 2D & 3D skillsets. I wish I could specialize, but there are so many interesting things about 2D that I adore, and totally different things about 3D that I love, so perhaps I am destined to be a generalist.
What has been your most visually or technically challenging project? Why?
Hmmm... another tough question. They all feel so difficult in the beginning until the concept, story or style is fleshed out, and then my memory of any struggle seems to magically fade once I have success with moving the project into delivery... anyone else ever have this?!
Maybe because it was the most recent project, the animation I did for the Bend Design Conference was super challenging. The brief was super open, but almost too open, and I struggled for a while to narrow down my concept. I probably spent more time honing in on a concept than I did designing, lighting, texturing and animating the project. I ended up adding the audio in at the last minute and found a rather dramatic track but it works well. Be sure to turn the sound up when you watch it!
But those are the projects that you are super satisfied with in the end, and it was amazing to see it playing up on the back wall at the conference!
Animation projected at the Bend Design Conference 2018
Any specific goals for the future?
So many goals... so little time.
Angie Feret and I have become accountability buddies to each other, we meet every two to three weeks and chat about our goals so we keep on track. My goals for this year were lofty, maybe a little too lofty, but hey - if you aim low you’ll surely hit it as the saying goes.
I’d like to hop into the Advanced Motion Methods course starting in April (because January sold out in five minutes?!). I am currently working on a new demo reel as this one is now over two years old and rather outdated. I’ve also dived head first into X-Particles, Cycles 4D, & Redshift so that will keep me busy for a while I think :)

Learn more about Kelly

You can learn more about Kelly Kurtz by visiting her website. Her work can also be found on Instagram, Vimeo, and Dribbble. If you like her work like we do, make sure to let her know!
*UPDATE - I am excited to report that Kelly just got her dream job working as a motion designer with Arc’teryx, an outdoor clothing company. A perfect example about someone merging two distinct passions into a new career. Congratulations!