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A Skyrocketing Career: A Chat with Alumni Leigh Williamson
Dig deep, don't make excuses, and really work hard at something. We chat with Leigh Williamson about his skyrocketing career in the past few months.
"Leigh Williamson is the real deal" - Joey Korenman
We are so unbelievably proud of our alumni. They work hard and are doing absolutely amazing work and constantly surprise us with stories that sound like something ripped out of an inspirational movie.
Leigh Williamson is one of those alumni. We've watched him put in so much work, make sacrifices, and he has really showed the industry what he's made of.
We were super thrilled that Leigh agreed to sit down and answer some questions about his motion design journey. In this Q&A we talk about his 80's upbringing, how he unintentionally attended a college founded by the infamous Ogilvy and Mather, moving to a new country, rock-bottom career moments, artists that inspire him, and so much more.
We learned a lot in this simple chat and we think you're going to love it. Let's take a look at the life and career of Leigh Williamson....
Background & Education
Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?
I’m an eighties child. Brought up on movies, cartoons, adverts & pixelated video games.
I had a hard time learning at school and had even been told by my own primary school teacher that I was as thick as two bricks! Sadly, I had endless nights crying over exams and homework.
A defining moment for me was art class in high school. My art teacher would proudly call me “the speed painter”. Who would have thought that that insightful encouragement would have stuck with me to this day?
Since animation seemed like a pipe dream back then, I had my sites set on becoming an architect or a graphic designer. But, after failing to be accepted into the renowned Stellenbosch University for graphic design, I quickly tried another direction. Last minute, I enrolled into an oddly named school, Red and Yellow School of Logic and Magic.
I absolutely loved college! I had truly found my people! I felt like everything I touched turned to gold and art just felt natural. It was a grueling course and students dropped out like flies towards my 3rd year.
For once in my life my marks were in with the top students in my class. As I look back at my school years, I just don’t think school accommodated for artistically wired children.
In 2001, my 3rd year of college, we had a guest speaker from Volkswagen showcase a CD-ROM Multimedia presentation. If memory serves me right, it was a digital walkthrough of the VW product range. CD-ROM Multimedia wasn’t exactly anything new at the time, but that day I swear I heard a prophet speak. Whispers foretelling a future of a new digital age pioneered by animation.
And so for my college final year portfolio I created two portfolios. One being a graphic design & art direction portfolio, to pass my classes. And second, my CD-rom Multimedia portfolio to start my career in animation.
Why did you move from South Africa to London, and was the art scene a lot different?
In 2004, after 3 years working in Flash at my first job, Third Eye Design, I quit. Leaving Cape Town South Africa, I made an impulsive decision to jump ship and move to London. At the age of 23 I wasn’t earning enough to move out of my folks house. My best friend had left to London and both my brothers were already living there! So it seemed like a natural move...
I struggled to find a job and ended up working at bars and construction sites until a recruiter gave me the idea to try freelancing until I found a job. I successfully freelanced for 15 years until I recently accepted a full time role I had not even applied for!
Most of my roles during freelancing involved working at large advertising agencies animating flash banners, emailers, website ui designs, and then eventually explainer videos on multiple client accounts.
Why did you transition from Flash to After Effects? How did you learn?
Back then flash banner animation was very lucrative for a freelancer. That’s until Steve Jobs put a nail in that coffin. Next thing I know flash support dropped for Apple products and shortly after, android too. No flash, no online advertising.
In 2010 while I was riding the final glory days of flash, I spent my nights watching Video Copilot tutorials. During a contract I convinced the Head of Creative Production that I could also use After Effects; I learned it deep in the fire.
I actually find it interesting that this was how I found School Of Motion. Twice.
First encounter - I had reached out to Joey Korenman before about a UV Mapping question based off his UV Mapping in Cinema 4D Tutorial six years ago. So I had known of him before School Of Motion had exploded into what it is today. Joey not only responded with a message, but he also recorded me a private tutorial explaining UV Mapping!
Who does that!?
In all my years of contracting I never face-planted as badly as this gig. Thankfully the resource manager was very understanding and put me on another account till the end of the week.
So I decided to invest in Greyscalegorilla’s C4D Animation Fundamentals with David Brodeur to supplement my failings. Greyscalegorilla actually pulled the plug on the course momentarily, before bringing the course back online a while later, and I was refunded my payment.
Fate led me to SOM.
Remember my freelancer friend, Leon? He said I should try out the School Of Motion courses. Back then they didn’t have a C4D Basecamp. But boy, did there other courses look cool!
All seats were taken with Animation Bootcamp, so I started with Character Animation Bootcamp, then the next course up was Animation Bootcamp. By this point I was a walking billboard for School of Motion. Ever seen that episode of Dexter's Laboratory where he falls asleep studying french and all he can say is “Omelette du fromage”?!
That was me! Except I was shouting “anticipation” and “follow through”!
Do you feel like your unique journey leading into motion design offers you a perspective other motion designers don't have?
I’m almost 40 and I feel like I’ve been given a new lease of life.
I’ve realized being comfortable with what you know and fearing failure are some of the biggest obstacles standing in front of growth. If I could go to my old self and tell them that failure is the first step to growth I would have welcomed failure into my life earlier.
I’d also had grown largely content with flash animation. Had not Flash ended, I may of not been where I am today. The phrase “when one door closes, another always opens” is so true.
Back then I would have hissed at anybody who mocked flash and welcomed its death.
What encouragement would you give to those looking for a career change?
Do what Michael Müller did and plough through School of Motion courses back to back in 14 months.
I see no reason why with a bit of dedication you can’t achieve a change in career.
People blame time, money, liabilities and family as reason you can’t achieve your goals. I think that’s only partly true. The only person who stands in front of change is yourself.
Learn about time management and sacrifice, but choose what you sacrifice wisely. I have not always chosen the right option.
When I started answering these questions I sacrificed bath-time with my kids, and my heart is heavy. My kids had taken multiple attempts in bombarding my efforts with pushing drawings for me with my name in the form of post-its under my office door and pushing my door open to fight over who gets to sit on my lap.
I know there is glory in sacrifice. But choose wisely.
Sacrifice television, Netflix, and things that don’t add value to your life.
Sacrifice money, with my wife’s permission I spent our whole safety net to take time off to study two courses with School of Motion; thankfully it paid off in dividends.
Speaking of time! I remember School of Motion had a podcast where Ash Thorp mentioned a great book - “Eat That Frog" by Brian Tracey.
Well I took it to heart and bought it. Very helpful!
Kicking off 3D
You recently finished up Cinema 4D Basecamp, how was that course?
Thanks to my thriving new School of Motion animation skills, I landed a job with Elemental Concept and as part of my negotiation I had 8 weeks signed off to do C4D Basecamp before I had even completed my probation.
Even working on C4D Basecamp full time, I found the course absolutely grueling! I worked full days and nights on each project and I learned a ton! I was petrified of long animations in C4D. But after I had completed the course I was able to tackle a 2 and half minute company video fully in C4D.
Want to see what the storyboard looked like for this piece? Check out the download below!
Elemental Concept Storyboard DownloadDownload Now
What do you think makes School of Motion courses unique, what stood out to you or helped you keep going?
I had had loads of bought tutorials on my hard drive long before I heard of School of Motion and I was totally guilty of binge watching tutorials. The course structure and formula of giving you homework and deadlines force you solidify what you are learning.
At first I felt isolated, yearning to have a tangible teacher sitting next to me and holding my hand. I had learned to become more concise with questions to my TA’s. But as I embraced their new method of teaching, I fell in love with School of Motion.
I enjoyed my new online friendships with the School of Motion Alumni Group. It then become the basis of how I began to interact with the motion community on all social platforms. In all my years I had never interacted with the online community!
Are you finding that School of Motion courses pair well together?
Where do you get the drive to keep learning and experimenting? How do you manage your time?
I blame School of Motion for this! Being plugged into the School of Motion Alumni Facebook group & following all of the top animator’s social posts keeps you in this constant flux of “Oh crap! Everybody is doing amazing work. Time to pull roll up my sleeves before I’m left behind!”
The feeling of inadequacy propels me forward. Not sure if that’s good or bad?
With regards to time management. You only become a manager of time when you become accountable to more than just yourself.
I have a very understanding wife and two fully energetic kids. I look back at my life and go - "What the hell were you doing with your time! You’ve wasted so much!”
Ok you don’t want to hear this, but I eat and study at lunchtime. When my wife and kids sleep, I study. When I’m on the train I watch tutorials. Who the heck knows how I’m going to manage when our 3rd child arrives this year!
What's your favorite experiment you've done so far? Do you have any notable moments?
I've YouTube tutorials and started writing articles for School Of Motion, which has hugely built up my confidence!
It may look easy to people on the opposite side of the camera; as your motion tutors make it look so easy. I actually hyperventilate the moment the camera pilot light turns on! Damn you red dot! Thank goodness for editing!
I also am starting to write articles, I have a difficult time writing and tend to jumble words. I have to take countless hours proofreading! I don’t create content to gain favor, but instead I do it because it causes me to become purposeful with my learning. It also further connects me with the motion community that I love.
So, you're making tutorials, that's some tough stuff! Any insight you'd like to share?
Dive into the deep end.
Realize that you, no matter how little you know, have value to give. You don’t start off knowing how to create tutorials. You are only going to learn something new by actually doing it, so don’t worry about the naysayers.
Obstacles only arrive when you are on the right path. Most importantly, don’t be scared of reaching out to your mentors! They poop too! The worst they can do is ignore you. Move onto the next mentor.
Oh and fyi - Only reach out if you have exhausted all efforts in trying to actually do what you're attempting. Nobody responds to the lazy; I’ve made that mistake!
You've been networking and researching our industry a lot, what are some takeaways from doing so?
I don’t use social media to be social. I use it to learn & connect. My social feed then becomes my food and my friends are only motion designers and they are all my teachers.
Recently I was so impressed with Jacob Richardson’s impressive Advanced Motion Methods Homework that I attempted re-create it with my C4D Basecamp skills. I hit some road blocks and put the project on hold. Until heard of Handel Eugene for the first time on NAB 2019 livestream. Check it out at 25:16
I reached out to Handel Eugene and asked where he learned uv mapping in c4d. He responded with links to Sophie Jameson’s CINEMA 4D UV Mapping Fundamentals on Pluralsight.
Next thing you know I had learned UV Mapping and was able to finally pull of this new style!
What I love about the motion community is nobody hides their cards, they are super friendly and love to share what they know.
How has your career benefited from all of this?
After writing my first School of Motion article I wanted to follow it up with learning how to record my own DIY motion capture. I didn’t know how yet, so I just jumped into the deep end and told School of Motion that I’d like to write an article about recording motion capture.
The motion capture article was a success!
Afterwards, Ipi reached out to me and wanted my article on their website! In addition they asked if I would create more content and gave me a pro license!
I’ve learned to embrace failure, as failure is the first attempt in learning. Honestly this way of thinking all began with School of Motion.
Recently, in a bid to draw a spotlight on Elemental Concept (My Current Employer), I devised a plan to use social media & video sharing sites to drum up work and create visibility.
I did it through three waves. Create looped animations, create tutorials based off those animations and then write an article about animations.
Goals & Inspiration
What are you looking to learn next?
Woooo.... Hard question! I learn as I lack.
Looking at Jacob Richardson’s recent impressive homework in Advanced Motion Methods had got me thinking I could do with improving my transitions between scenes. I’d like to also improve my character design and rigging skills in C4D. I actually love character animation more than anything!
Where do you want your career to take you? Are you trying to grow your skills in a specific direction?
I’d like to be standing behind a Maxon booth and becoming friends with my mentors. Ironically I’m terrified of public speaking! But in the last 3 years of my life I have slain more dragons than I ever thought possible. So anything is achievable right?
Honestly, right now my direction is still in flux. I have fallen in love with creating my own content and teaching.
My specific direction is self exploration. I'm searching for hidden talents I’m unaware of while taking this journey outside my comfort zone.
On top of all that, I want to work from home more often so I can be with my family.
I can only close with this statement by David Bowie that really touched a cord in me recently.
David Bowie's Advice to Artists, 1997 - “Never work for other people. Always remember that the reason you unusually started working is that there was something inside yourself that you felt if you could manifest it in someway you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that. Also the other thing I would say is if you feel safe in the area you are working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the waters than you feel you are capable of being in. Go a little out of your depth. And when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting."
Who should people be following or learning from that you've benefited greatly from?
Ok I’m not being paid to say this. But to start off, School of Motion.
Follow people who will get you closer to your goal.
Animation Bootcamp was a game changer for me (Looking at you Joey!). I’m still waiting to personally thank you and chat over a beer!
Ever get to meet any of your heros?
In the middle of the Cinema4D basecamp course, EJ came out on holiday to the UK. Meeting him felt like a fate moment.
Honestly I had no geeky questions. I just wanted to know how he manages to juggle a successful career and maintain what looks like a very happy family life with several kids. Both Andrew and his wife were super chill and friendly.
I also got to meet Tom and Henry Purrington from Golden Wolf, who I might add are hilarious! They were like comic embodiment of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I met them early in the morning when they were still checking in. When I heard them announce themselves when they were picking up their lanyards. I almost fell over the table. I was like - “Ooohh mmyy, you’re you’re Golden Wolf! I love your work!”
If things couldn’t get more exciting I spotted Adobe had a stall at the conference. Motion Designers Community and Adobe had a competition where you had to create a five second animation transitioning between their two logos. Sunday night I put in 2hrs animating the logo and boom I won!
What are some of your favorite inspiration sources that most artists don't know about?
I now try to make sure than when I do my job, that I’m doing it for Him. Quote from the The War of Art - “Give the act to me, Purged of hope and ego, Fix your attention on the soul. Act and do it for me.”
Outside of motion design, what are some things that get you excited in life?
The unsung hero in my life is my wife. It’s true the words “...But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
My wife speaks against the lies in my life. She agrees to financial strain when I need to study for all my courses. She overlooks all my artist tantrums and knows how to bring balance.
As for hobbies - I love to garden. I really beat myself when I can’t finish a daily work task. Gardening fills as a mini task completer as I percolate over my unsolved problems.
How can people find your work online?
Website - http://leighwilliamson.com/ Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/user12742941 Dribbble - https://dribbble.com/leighrw Twitter - https://twitter.com/l3ighrw Personal YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLdgQYrX_rb7QuhhYab84Yw?view_as=subscriber My work YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaDfj1auTUGCzuJ4d3uOFPg
Are you inspired to dig deep and learn like Leigh?
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