3D artist Luis Miranda gives insight into meeting your motion design heroes, networking, and strong opinions about Disney rides.
At School of Motion we pride ourselves in bringing our students a top notch educational experience. One of the ways we accomplish this is by having amazing Teaching Assistants that have an active artistic career. Luis Miranda is one of those talented teaching assistants.
Luis has passionately helps School of Motion students get the most out of their courses. But, there's more to this 3D guru than just his power of critique. Luis's fascinating career has led to Super Bowl rings, 3D every-days, and now a full-time freelance career that's put him in a seat among the best studios and artists in the country.
We hope you have a notepad ready, Luis's interview is full of tips on how to meet your favorite artists, learn new tools, grow as an upcoming artist, and really cool info about theme-parks. Let's do this...
Tell us about yourself, how did you become a motion designer?
I started motion design in college at University of Colorado Denver(UCD). I originally attended for Film, so I learned to shoot and edit my own films. But I was always drawn to the VFX side.
This drew me into learning After Effects. I was introduced to the software after signing up for one of my prerequisites on digital effects. I found myself picking it up pretty quickly. And while the class was good at teaching the basics, I found myself wanting to learn more beyond the scope of the class.
So like all other motion designers in 2007, Video Copilot became my main source of After Effects knowledge. I’m pretty sure I did every single tutorial Andrew Kramer released. I would find ways to incorporate the different tricks he taught into my films, and as a result, I would make some pretty decent films, in terms of post production quality. I even won some awards for editing.
My film education was good enough to land me a job at the local Telemundo station to film and edit their commercials. This happened before even graduating; it also helped that I was bilingual.
This was around this time that I was introduced to Beeple. I had some friends who primarily worked on music videos for DJs. So, seeing those VJ loops at concerts and nightclubs, I naturally found my way to loops Beeple created.
It was completely unlike what I was doing at the time. It really expanded my understanding of what motion design COULD be. This spurred me to learn 3D, starting with Element 3D, then eventually making my way to Cinema4D.
My time at Telemundo didn't last long. It wasn't long before I was being pursued by a competitor station, Univision. They wanted someone who could handle a prized TV show, from filming, editing, to rebranding their entire graphic package. Eventually, after agreeing to help, it turned out to be a show for the Denver Broncos.
This was in 2013 where they just finished a season with Peyton Manning. And, looking back at it now, the pay was not great; it was just enough to survive. It was a huge pay cut compared to my job at Telemundo. But something told me I needed to do it.
My gut feeling turned out to be correct. Over the course of the season, I became acquainted with the creative team at the Broncos, filling their motion design needs for the playoffs since their full timer had left earlier in the season.
I didn't sleep much for about a month while balancing Univision and Broncos assignments. But at the end of it, I was formally offered a full time job at the Broncos.
I worked there for 3 years as their Lead Motion Designer, it was a pretty sweet gig. It really felt like a reward for the work I had put in the past year and a half. It came with some nice benefits like tickets to the games that I would gift to my friends and family. I was also sent on yearly trips to Cancun to film the calendar shoots for the Denver Bronco Cheerleaders.
The three years there were extremely eventful on the graphics side. I was responsible for rebranding the scoreboard animations, their web news show called “Broncos TV”, the graphic identities for the TV shows they produced, and I was also responsible for the graphics for the Major League Lacrosse team, The Outlaws.
All of this cumulated to when the Broncos went to Super Bowl 50 and won against the Panthers. Everyone in the organization was gifted a Super Bowl ring personalized with their names on it.
There’s tons of stories from my time there. Aside from the Super Bowl win, parade, and ring ceremony, one of my favorite stories was the time I coached Peyton Manning on how to say a Spanish phrase correctly. He shook my hand afterwards. It was pretty surreal.
I stuck around for another season, but it was around this time that I felt like I should look at freelancing. Coincidentally, this is also when I found Freelance U, which eventually became the Freelance Manifesto.
When 2017 rolled around, I remember getting an ad on Facebook about Design Bootcamp. I was hesitant at first because of the price of the course would be the most I had paid up to this point in my career. But I remember telling myself, “if you want to legitimately go freelance, you have to work on your skills”.
So I took the plunge.
3 weeks later, I was in my first booking at a local studio called Spillt where I immediately put the skills I learned to use. This helped me stand out. The project I was put on was not easy and had a quick turnaround time. But because I could destroy boards and keyframes at a pretty fast rate, I was in charge of a large portion of the 3 minute video.
After this, they were so impressed that I ended up perma-lancing with them for the rest of the year. Those 2 courses cost me about $2000, but I ended up making my entire Broncos salary and paying off my student loan debt in 5 months as a freelancer.
After that, I knew that I made the right decision.
Your work has a very dystopian, dark, and futuristic vibe. Why do you gravitate to this style?
Science fiction is one of my biggest influences as an artist. Even as a kid, I have always been drawn to dark fiction and art.
My mom likes to tell a story of how when we would go to the store, she would let me pick any toy and she would buy it for me. I would always come back with some weird creature or monster.
There was a time where I was a little embarrassed to make too many scary pieces of art in a row. I guess I didn't want to look like a one-trick pony, or something? So I would make stuff that was more “marketable”, but wasn't a good representation of who I was as an artist.
At some point, I learned to get over it and now I focus on that type of work as much as I can. It’s something I’m really passionate about. Something about dark futures really sets the backdrop for interesting stories to take place.
When you look at films like Blade Runner or Children of Men, you still get stories that are ultimately very human in nature, despite being shrouded in futuristic dystopias.
Vitaly Burgorov is probably my biggest influence when it comes to my futuristic renders. He has an insane super power in making the most interesting hard surface models. I’ll routinely watch his screen recordings to see what techniques he uses to model.
Your Instagram channel has a healthy amount of renders, are you a fan of dailies?
Yes. I started doing dailies back in 2016 as my new years resolution. Beeple was obviously a huge inspiration for me.
It’s funny to look back at those early renders, I was in the thick of Playoff season. Everything I was learning in my dailies started spilling over to my Broncos work. I think I ended up making some of my best work at this time which encouraged me to keep going.
By the end of my first year, I had about 250-300 renders on my profile. I originally wanted to do a year and then take it easy. But I had so much fun making them that I kept it going. I’m still doing them today.
It seems that you love experimenting with tools, What do experiments do for you as an artist?
Yeah, there’s so many cool tools out there. Some are much more complicated to learn that others (Houdini, I’m looking at you).
Experimenting really helps create a network of skills you can pull out for any given project. It’s a cumulative effect where one tool opens a set of possibilities. Then, another tool opens another set of possibilities. Then, you find ways to combine both tools, creating a more complex set of possibilities. The more tools you throw in there, the more complex workflows you can create.
I find myself jumping into Zbrush, Substance Painter, and Cinema4D in a single daily render. But in production settings, it’s nice to have little aces up your sleeve when problem solving. Need to retopologize a CAD model and UV unwrap it so you can load it into a game engine? Well, let's boot up Houdini and run it through this node network that’ll do that in about a minute. You just saved days of work.
Now, while learning new tools is fun, there’s a trick to it.
If you find yourself having to re-learn the software every time you open it, you’re not really learning it. It’s important to dive deep into each software you are learning, and not just banging your head against it for a week.
Buy a tutorial course for you to follow along with. Have an experienced mentor guide you through the various quirks each software brings. It’ll help you get past the roadblocks that might suck out your enthusiasm.
If you do that with enough tools, you will eventually have a set of distinct skills you can call up any time they are needed.
How has being a TA at SOM helped you as a creative?
Critiquing is great for developing a critical eye in your own work. It helps you practice what you preach.
All of the little tips I give to the students are highly relevant to my own work in helping them stand out in the endless scroll. I definitely want to try my hand at directing a project and using my TA skills to art direct other designers.
You've had experience working with The Mill. Care to share any insights about what people can expect when working with such high caliber studios? Any cool takeaways?
The Mill experience was really crazy.
It started when I went to Chicago for Half Rez. I wanted to stick around after the conference to celebrate my 30th birthday with my best friend who recently moved there. I saw Hamilton and ate a lot of delicious food. But while at Half Rez, I chatted with Donnie Bauer (@genghisdon), the Creative Director for The Mill Chicago. In chatting with him, we found out we had a mutual friend. At the end of the conversation, he said “feel free to email me”. So when I got back to Denver, I reached out. I didn't think anything would come from it, but the next day, I was being booked for a project.
I ended up working 10 days in a row for a pretty high profile client with Donnie and Austin Marola (@austin.marola). They were some long days on that one.
My advice for anyone who wants to work with a big studio like them, go to HelloLuxx and buy Wait Loss for Cinema4D. Working fast and efficiently is KEY. You are surrounded by absolute killers at these studios. And the reason they are keyframe assassins? They are spending 99% of their time being creative, not struggling with playback issues in the viewport.
Even if you are not exactly at their skill level, if you can keep up with the fast turnaround times, you will learn from them. For me, it was like a dump truck of knowledge being crammed into my brain.
Also, knowing Redshift is becoming much more important. It’s their go-to GPU renderer, and I imagine it’s the same at other big studios. If you are into Xparticles or Houdini, there’s a huge need for particle artists. But my advice with particles, don't take the gig unless you are capable of art directing your simulations to extremely specific notes from the client.
We also hear you're working with Beeple on a recent project! How has that been? How did you get connected with such a high-caliber artist?
Yeah! It’s a really fun project.
This is the first project Mike Winkelmann(Beeple) is taking a Creative Director role on. He’s assembled an amazing team of character riggers, illustrators, modelers and animators, including fellow SOM alumni.
It’s a change from his usual way of producing work where he does everything himself. So when he asked me to join to help, I jumped right at it.
The best part about the project is that while all other clients tell me, “don't get too crazy with it”, Mike specifically requests I be as weird as possible with it.
As for how I got connected with him, I met Mike a little over a year ago in Amsterdam for FITC. He was hosting a workshop on doing every-days. I happened to sit next to his brother, Scott.
All three of us chatted throughout the entire 6 hour workshop, even eating together for lunch. If you’ve ever been to an FITC event, you’ll know they enjoy their after parties. So, both Mike and Scott were my go to people to hang out with.
After the event, Mike sent me a really nice email with words of encouragement. He then gave me a follow on IG. For the following year, we hung out a few more times at a FITC Toronto and CTRL Z in LA (where he introduced me to Ash Thorp!) and kept in touch via email and text.
Another thing I made sure to do is to talk to him like a normal person.
I mean it.
I think a lot of people get starstruck by their favorite artists and immediately go to telling them they are the greatest thing to ever grace the planet. I think doing that immediately establishes a social hierarchy between the fan and the artist. But if you talk to them like human beings, there’s a good chance you’ll have some things in common with them.
You attend quite a few motion design events and meetups. How have in-person meetups influenced your career and life?
Meetups and Conferences have been the single best way for me to grow my network.
But it hasn't always been easy. My first conference was FITC Amsterdam the year before meeting Beeple. I fell on my face pretty hard. I was pretty shy and had a difficult time not making things awkward. I had a very painful interaction with GMUNK of all people.
That’s not to say there weren't good moments. Raoul Marks sat next to me during one of the talks and I was able to get in a nerdy conversation with him about hard surface modeling.
So, while that first conference was rough on my ego, I kept going to them. I was at the point in my career where I was getting ready to go freelance from my job at the Broncos.
I was able to ask them a few questions. Joey said something to me that really encouraged me to not stop going to these. He said, “This is the secret to getting known in this industry. All you have to do is come out to these things. Simply saying hi puts you above everyone who doesn't. We like hanging out.” Joey, the sage mentor to all SOM alumni was not wrong.
Since then, I’ve met almost every designer I have ever looked up to by attending different conferences. The great thing about the motion design industry is that even though it's getting bigger, we’re still a very tight knit community. I have absolutely no issue with going up to them and introducing myself because I know that they’re probably really cool people who want to chat.
I’ve done this enough times now that I’ve can introduce new people to them who would be otherwise a little shy. This was on full display at FITC Toronto where a ton of Denver motion designers attended. I was their go-to person for introductions to Beeple.
And while meeting your favorite artists is great, the best part about meeting them is the advice they impart on you. Chris Do and Joey gave me AMAZING business advice as I was preparing for the freelance life. Marti Romances from Territory Studios was extremely helpful in his advice on doing Futuristic UI for film.
They all have sage advice if you listen to what they have to say. But in order to ever receive that advice, you gotta introduce yourself.
Now, if I could go back in time and give myself advice, I would tell myself 2 things:
1. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It is by far the best book I have read about human interaction and how to thrive in social events.
2. Talk to people about their interests outside of motion design. It’s cool to geek-out with people about the newest plugins or how technically proficient you are with a tool. But, it’s also really important to make friends with them.
You are behind a computer communicating via social media or Slack, this is one of the few moments you’ll have to make genuine human connections. Don't spend it talking about tools. Talk to them like they are human beings.
That last point is really the ethos I live by at every meet up.
You’ll be amazed at the different hobbies people have. Donnie Bauer loves horror films and loves collecting blu rays of old horror flicks. Chris Schmidt is a really awesome Dungeon Master who uses Cinema4D to tell his stories in Dungeons and Dragons. And if you are wondering, I love board games and escape rooms.
You get to watch a lot of creatives grow in their skills as you guide them in their homework submissions. What's a recurring theme you see among those who thrive when developing their 3D skills?
You know, I was never a “designer first” like a lot of the students that come through SOM. So when they complete the course, they tend to take their 2D characters and designs and then make them 3D.
All of their color theory and design knowledge seamlessly carries over. It was really surprising at first, but then I realized that it actually makes the most amount of sense. It’s such a natural progression as a designer.
Are there any student projects that have surprised you?
She’s a badass. She produced a ton of really great renders throughout the course. She also currently holds the crown for best final project for Cinema4D Basecamp.
There was another by Giovanni Pagliei, he literally modeled an entire stadium by hand without the use of cloners. He just hand-placed everything. I had to tell him, “Hey, this is cool you had the patience for this. But, use these tools dude!”
He then animated the whole thing as part of his city assignment where it came out from some underground bunker. He really took that assignment to another level.
Who's an up-and-coming artist that everyone should know?
I’m going to give a shout out to Shea Lord (@shea_lord). She was one of my students. I recently got to spend time with her at the Keyframes Conference. She has really cool ideas on how to present political platforms in an interesting way that I think she should definitely pursue. I think she can make a difference this coming election.
I also want to shout out a couple of Denver motion designers. Harrison Vincent (@htapes) is probably one of the best in the game right now. He’s one of those hidden gems in motion design. Everyone in Denver knows he’s a straight killer on the box, but he recently went freelance. So I want people to get to know his work outside of Denver.
Last Question: You seem to have an obsession with theme parks! How did that start? Does that influence your work?
Well, you could say I have an obsessive personality. When I get into something, I dive deep and consume as much as I can about it. For the most part, most of my interests occupy me for a few months. But theme parks have been different. There’s a ton of them and there’s a lot of really cool stories behind each ride.
For example, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean were created specifically for Disneyland because they didn't have enough existing properties to base rides on. So the Imagineers came up with an extended universe of Disney characters that would be exclusive to the parks.
Nowadays, there’s a mad dash to turn popular IPs into rides, without really considering original creations. Which I think is really sad. Those are the best rides!
This all started back in November 2016. My girlfriend organized a week in Orlando where we went to Disney World and Universal. She did a really great job in planning it (she loves to plan things).
After that week, I was hooked. I fell in love with the technical aspects of the rides, the quality of the visuals and robotics. I started falling down rabbit holes researching the history of the rides and learning new ways to avoid waiting in lines at the parks, how to structure your day to get the most out of it, etc.
After that first trip right until now, I have been to WDW about 4 times, Universal Orlando 5 times, Universal Hollywood, Disneyland California and Disneyland Paris once a piece, including this last trip for the Keyframes conference where I organized a small group to go to Epcot.
Even though I go to these a lot, the only time I was directly influenced into making something was when I attended Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. I went after watching my favorite Youtuber Dead Meat James did a feature on it. The haunted houses were amazing. There were a ton of jump scares and great set dressing.
I went into the Stranger Things house first. It was probably the least scary of all of the houses. But it gave me the opportunity to really analyze how they make the jump scares. The actors have a button they press that creates a loud noise and sets off a bunch of strobe lights. I remember the first time it happened, I was mesmerized by the effect and sort of just stared at the Demogorgon that jumped out at me. Every house after that had a similar set up.
My favorites were going through the Halloween 4 house by myself and catching every jump scare. The Universal Monsters house reimagined their classic monsters like Frankenstein and Wolf Man as scary creatures. That one was super cool.
So when I got back from attending that, I wanted to recreate that strobe jump scare effect in 3D. This led me into creating a series of horror themed renders where I would rig horror movie villains in Mixamo and set up flickering lights. It got a little dark and twisted towards the end, but it was definitely one of my favorite render series.
How can people find you online? Your work/blogs/etc…
I’m on Instagram @LCMirandaDesign
My website is LCMirandaDesign.com
Feel free to reach out in the DMs if you have any questions!
Learn from Luis
Luis is currently a TA for Cinema 4D Basecamp. If you have ever wanted to take a deep-dive into the world of 3D check out Cinema 4D Basecamp here at School of Motion.
Thanks for your thoughtful answers Luis!