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Beyond MoGraph Mentor: Q&A with Michael Jones

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What does Michael Jones think about brick-and-mortar schools? Find out in this insightful podcast featuring the founder of MoGraph Mentor.

It’s pretty common knowledge at this point that the world of Motion Design education is changing. From online bootcamps to tutorials, the need for brick-and-mortar schools is slowly fading. You can thank this trend, in some part, to today’s guest Michael Jones.  

Michael is the founder and CEO of MoGraph Mentor an online education platform that is designed to help Motion Designer’s grow their skills and become hirable in the modern era of freelance. The work Michael does at MoGraph Mentor has always been a huge source of inspiration for the team here at School of Motion so we thought it’d be fun to sit down and chat about what it took to create MoGraph mentor.  

The podcast is full of fantastic insights. If you’ve ever wanted to hear two online education advocates talk about brick-and-mortar schools this is the a very fun podcast to listen to.





Joey: Have you heard about MoGraph Mentor? Many of our alumni go on to do this intense interactive program after taking our courses and then they rave about it. In this interview, Michael and I talked about the future of motion design education, the origin of the MoGraph Mentor program and we even get into the weeds a bit about education in general. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did and that's it. Let's meet Michael. Michael Jones, my fellow [inaudible 00:01:15], it is so nice to have you on the podcast, man. Thanks for coming on.

Michael Jones: Yes. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2: For anyone listening who is unaware of MoGraph Mentor, I suspect a lot of people have at least heard of it, but could you just start by telling us a little bit about the thing you're mostly known for in the industry which is MoGraph Mentor?

Michael Jones: Yeah. MoGraph Mentor is a mentorship program where you sign up for a 12-week session and it's all project-based and you have one, two to four, it can really depend, hour long sessions once a week for each of those 12 weeks, in which you kind of present your progress for the week, get various demos depending on who your mentor is and then getting critique and then kind of peer discussion time. It's just that idea of making work having kind of a small group. We limit the group sizes to six people per group plus the mentor, so you could have seven people in these web conferences.

The goal is just to match the right students with the right artist and hopefully, they can learn about the technical side of it, the professional side of it and then of course, the artistic side of it. We want them to grow there too. Just kind of a holistic approach and then spending a lot of live hours together in those web conferences is essentially the whole idea.

Speaker 2: That's amazing. I really want to dig into, because the way you do your classes is very different than the way we do ours. You're trying much harder than we are to emulate the live class environment. I want to get into that a little bit, but let's start with where all these came from. I feel like now in 2017, you describing that setup, that business model, it's like, okay, yeah, that makes total sense. There's other people doing that.

When you started this, I had never heard of anything like this, so where did this come from?

Michael Jones: Yeah. There were already some groups doing it. I had seen some really great examples. The closest being Animation Mentor, so our names are pretty similar.

Speaker 2: Interesting.

Michael Jones: Yeah, I know. It's not totally noble, I think, it just started to become obvious to people that there was this incredible efficiency in this new teleconferencing technologies. Then, the fact that you can pair people with working professionals like a Lucas Brooking let's say who spends his day at Buck, right one the frontlines of trying to understand how to provide value as a visual artist and animator and filmmaker for clients. Then, Sunday morning, he spends three hours with six students. I just love the thought of those six students being able to interact and get wisdom and information and all those various things from someone who's kind of in the position that they directly would like to have theoretically.

The efficiencies are so obvious that it just kind of felt like an evitable thing. I think I've told the story 100 times before, so we don't have to go through it all, but just, I felt like it was a good idea for a couple of years and just kind of thought, well, but really qualified people should really do that. Who am I to really do that, some of that self-limiting expectations type of thing …

Speaker 2: Right.

Michael Jones: Then, eventually, it just was like, you know what, let's just put this together, let's start reaching out to these artists, see who would be interested and just kind of start the journey. Who cares if we fail? Who cares if, in my mind I thought like, maybe if we have 10 to 12 people, just 10 to 12 people we work with, I would consider that a worthy use of my time because that would be really interesting. I would get to know these people.

It's grown so much more than we expected. It nice to kind of keep your expectations low and then just see what happens. No, I'm incredibly grateful that I just happened to be the one to kind of go forward with it and, really, so much of the credit goes to the Lucas' and the Ryan's and Tony and [Hondall 00:05:09] and [Seconya 00:05:10] and all the rest of these incredible artists who really do have a lot of work on their plate and still find it in their heart to want to spend time with students.

I'm just incredibly grateful I got to be a part of it.

Speaker 2: At the beginning of MoGraph Mentor, what were you doing to pay your bills? Were you on staff somewhere? Were you freelance?

Michael Jones: Yeah, I was freelancing in Portland. I had three or four different studios that would have me come in and kind of work a few months at a time. I just was bouncing around a few different places in Portland. During that period, I started to really feel inspired of looking at the art directors and creative directors who were my bosses, thinking like, wow, these people are really talented. This person is ridiculous visual artist and this person is incredible with client's who really understands the business side of it.

It just would always kind of come into my mind like, man, it would be great if students could just interact with these people directly. Just kind of even being in that environment inspired to like, man, it does make sense to just setup a bit of a system and a brand and try to bring it to people and put a price on it so that it could be sustainable and find a way to reward these instructors for their time and their intellectual property that they provide.

It just always seemed like a good idea to the point where I just felt like, well, I have to do this. We should set it up and see what happens.

Speaker 2: Yeah, like someone is going to do it …

Michael Jones: Yeah, somebody has got to do it, it's obvious. It's an obviously good idea so, yeah, let's just, yeah, see what happens.

Speaker 2: The way you describe that, I think, it'd be pretty fair to call you an entrepreneur. The way your brain works seems to be that you recognize an opportunity and you're able to talk yourself into going after it. I wanted to ask you like I've seen your work, your pre MoGraph Mentor work. I mean, you're pretty badass motion designer like your design is great, you're a great animator too. If you had this entrepreneurial side of you and I'm sure there is probably like a lot of reasons that drive you to start MoGraph Mentor, why not just do the thing that you're already good at. You're already a good motion designer and you could get better and start a studio and skill that way. Did that ever cross your mind? Why did you not go that direction?

Michael Jones: Yeah. I mean, it did cross my mind. I always saw myself as pretty average on the spectrum of really great designers and animators because I've done it for a couple of years. I did feel like I learned a lot from these other incredible people and I'm grateful for every internship and job opportunity to learn from these incredible people and that really grows you so quickly when you get to be in those environments. I also saw the flipside of it which is that you could see some studio owners maybe not say it directly but almost describe their life as a kind of prison or like a cage, like once they built that business, they had to work so much.

Even the people above me were often working harder than their actual staff. There can be a cynicism about spending all your time creating work for companies that maybe you don't believe in or maybe there's like some ethical side of it. I don't know, I just was never that excited about … after getting to witness it firsthand, I was never that excited about I should spend all my time and money trying to become an agency. Yeah, I mean, I think that I also just really wanted a lot of autonomy over my time as do many people now. We see a lot of people going to freelance. I think once you become a freelancer, you're kind of this independent consultant. You're valuable to different people in different ways and you're just trying to get hired and that just teaches you a lot about value and exchange of money and kind of the basics of entrepreneurship.

I think even freelancing and getting to experience that side of it just teaches you a lot, actually, that kind of then gives you a path to maybe recognize things that would be valuable as more traditional business models versus just being a freelancer and saying like, hey, it wasn't rocket science to create an LLC for my freelance. It's not rocket science to keep my books and pay my taxes. It's almost rocket science to pay your taxes …

Speaker 2: Right.

Michael Jones: … but it's not exactly rocket science. It just gives you a bit of a confidence of like, yeah, I could probably solve some of these other problems and get something setup.

Speaker 2: You mentioned something, what you're talking about when you say the studio owners feel like they're trapped or something like that, when I was running my studio, I felt like I was on treadmill that was never going to turn off.

Michael Jones: Yeah.

Speaker 2: You stop walking and you're going to fall in your face and it does feel like that. That was certainly a motivator to get me out of the day-to-day studio life and to start something else. A lot, I would say, probably 85% of the people that I talk to these days on this podcast or just out in the industry, they all say the words, passive income. They don't say it publicly, but I think that's kind of the … that's like a little dream that a lot of people in this industry have because traditionally, there is no such thing as passive income in motion design, it doesn't exist, right?

You're doing work for client, you're trading hours for dollars. Was that part of the calculus too like were you thinking, I might be able to build something that's bigger than me but doesn't require me to be on a treadmill? Did that plan to it at all?

Michael Jones: Yeah. I think the treadmill analogy is good. I think some of the studio owners I was around, I think, also felt like they weren't … like they had done all this incredible work and risked everything, risked every dollar they had and their reputations to create these studios and then, a lot of times don't get to make the work that they feel like they would want to make. It's like they did all this work to get to this end goal and then it is a bit of a treadmill. Depending on the dynamics of the economy, you might be doing years' worth of things that you really don't want to be doing. I think that was kind of part it too. I'm sorry, what was your last question?

Speaker 2: Oh, I was just curious like when I started School of Motion, I had no idea what it was going to be.

Michael Jones: Oh, yes, passive income.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Michael Jones: No, I wasn't super keen on that concept. I hadn't heard that term much either. My dad was pretty entrepreneurial, and he always love to talk about the economy and he was like a government U.S. history policy type and we love talking about business and entrepreneurship. The excitement of starting a business definitely I romanticize but no, that specific idea of passive income, I wasn't keenly aware of at that time.

Speaker 2: It's interesting to me to see how some studios are, even studios, are starting to get into that. We talked with Fraser from Cub Studio and they've developed kind of this side brand called, MoShare where it's essentially like a piece of software that they give their clients and the clients make variations and versions and stuff like that. It's a form of recurring income for them. Zack over at Ivy in Nashville, they're working on a game because a game is a product and once you have a product, the product can be sold while you're sleeping.

It's just kind of an interesting trend for me to notice. Let's talk about the first session of MoGraph Mentor. First of all, how old is MoGraph Mentor? How many students have gone through your program?

Michael Jones: How many students? Probably, on the order of about 100 students have gone through it. Let's say, we've had several 100 students enroll and then there are some dropout kind of flake out rate from that larger number of people going to class one.

Speaker 2: Sure.

Michael Jones: The first sessions were in 2014, the beginning of 2014.

Speaker 2: Okay. It's about three years ago. How did that first session go when you really had no idea what was going to happen?

Michael Jones: Yeah. The first time we ever did live stream, it was a disaster, because we were using Adobe Connect and we just kind of put it out and I think like 50 people showed up and it just crashed and froze the whole interphase. The first night was like a disaster, it was like, my wife was like, how did it go? I was like, very poorly. It did not go well. We basically didn't get to do it because it just kept crashing and I have to kind of solve that side of it. Then once the semester began, we were running class sizes of 12, I was the … we had about 20ish people in that first cohort, that first semester. It was like a beta test at that point. I was the mentor for both classes and it was about 10 to 12 people in each group. That turned out to be a disaster because that's way too many people to do a deep dive meaningful critique and discussion, it turns out. We had already formatted it and solved it as such.

We went through that whole first three months of doing these class sizes that were way, way too big so then we immediately cut that in half and said, no more than six people. That was good to figure that out and solve that problem. Ever since, that's been a lot better but yeah, definitely, lots of stories about a rocky start and trying to figure out what was going to work.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I think that's pretty standard for any startup especially one that's on the cutting edge. I mean, I know that live streaming software and these kind of teleconferencing solutions, they've gotten so much better even just in three years. Back then, it was like the wild west. I mean, we try them all too, Go To Webinar and Fuse and all of them and they all had their works. You mentioned earlier that you only have six students in each group so obviously, that's something that you learned from that first session. Okay, this is too big, we need to cut this down. I'm wondering what other things have you improved as this has gone on because it seems from the outside, you've kept the core curriculum relatively stable. I'm assuming your procedures, your operations and processes have all improved. What are the things that you've been learning and improving?

Michael Jones: Yeah. I mean, we have switched around the structure of projects, the first year taught us about how quickly people could complete the various tasks. We did restructure class I, originally have three projects and then it was kind of grinding people way too much. We kind of consolidate it and went down to two and kind of split it down the middle. I'd say everything we've ever changed has been in the direction of simplification like I probably tried to make things too complicated initially in some way, so just kind of like pairing things down to the essentials.

Then the other big one was just incorporating more useful technology, like you said, Slack has been a huge kind of change for us that we can have. Since we have students all over the world, 24/7 kind of stream of people having discussions within their private groups, or then within the larger group so just yeah, just always try to find ways to help connect people. Slack has been pretty huge for them.

Speaker 2: That's awesome. You mentioned also that you try to match students to mentors. I'm just curious, how do you do that? What are you looking for in a student that lets you say, oh, this student would be great if I pair them with Steve Savalle versus someone else like Lucas?

Michael Jones: Yeah. Sometimes, they'll just tell us and just make it clear and say, I'm really interested in this person but now …

Speaker 2: Okay. I will try to pick Lucas by the way, I love Lucas.

Michael Jones: Yeah. He is really something special and his work is incredible. I love that guy. Now we're also trying to breakout individual mentors, that's a bit experimental and we tried it with Colin Hesterly, who's one of our instructors to start actually building live courses around like even more niche expertise not just the broad general kind of learn design, learn animation, learn software now getting all the way down to like directing 2D animated short films with Colin Hesterly in a six-week, eight-week course.

You may see us trend even more in that direction, in the spirit of trying to help connect people. Some people may prefer to work with Tony Zagoraios kind of broadcast design context more than just even the general program. We're going to offer the general program because for some people, that's perfect, they're like brand new or they're somewhat new and they really do need kind of end-to-end holistic approach but then just that continuing education space, which I think people like Ash Thorp have proved with more kind of high level even more niche specific courses built around the name of the instructors themselves. I think there's a lot of logic to that. You'll probably see us offering more of that type of stuff.

Speaker 2: I think honestly, that's the beautiful thing about the state of online learning right now is that there's a million options. You've got fully passive classes at lower price points. You've got stuff in the middle and then you've got MoGraph Mentor like one-on-one with Lucas freaking Brooking and you can take it on your own time. It's not in this rigid, you have to be here for four years kind of thing. All right, so let's move into this. The last time we talked with microphones, Michael, was on your podcast and we'll link to it in the show notes. Everyone listening, if you haven't heard that one, you should.

I got in quite a bit of trouble with some of my friends for some of the things I said on that one. Anyway, so on that podcast, we had a pretty good discussion about the state of the standard kind of university system and especially the way it teaches art in motion design specifically. We said some incendiary things and we both seemed to think that this $200,000 …

Michael Jones: You said some incendiary things, you said, blow it up.

Speaker 2: I did say, I said, burn it down. Yeah, I have a bunch of e-mails quoting me so I'll never forget that. Anyway, I'm just curious, that was three years ago. My opinions are generally where they were then, they've shifted a little bit but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that model. Do you think it's still valid? Do you think it's going away? Where you at?

Michael Jones: Yeah. I mean, if you're describing a model that says, you should pay, you should invest, let's say, $140,000 into learning digital photography then no, I don't believe that's a very valid model. Of course, it's your right, if you have that money, go spend that money. I'm not telling people they shouldn't do that. I wouldn't do it, I wouldn't have my children do it. I wouldn't suggest to anyone asking me for an earnest opinion about it to do it.

Should you spend $140,000 to learn motion design? Probably not either. Should you spend $140,000 to do your undergraduate to become a lawyer so that you can get in to Harvard law? Probably. You'll probably make all your money back. I think it is kind of contextual on how well are those people going to do with those skills. I think it'd be a really tough sell to say, well, digital photography is such a unique skill set that you really could invest the cost of a median home to learn that when CreativeLive could teach you basically all the same information and then prompt you to start building your portfolio and an understanding how the business side works for $59, it's like, no, of course, it's not tenable to ask people to pay that sum of money.

We definitely have a problem on our hands and yeah, I mean, I don't see anybody defending that people should do that, Washington Post wrote an article about how art schools are now consistently the most expensive in the United States, private art schools, even more so than Ivy League Schools. I think our friends in Pasadena got the top slot at art center coming in that close to about 40K a year.

I mean, I'm torn on that because it's like I talked about with Chris on his podcast, the top 15% of those kids will go on to kind of director level employment probably within like five to seven years and maybe it is worth it for those individuals. A whole larger swath of people probably should be seeking a way, way, way more realistic and affordable way to get those skills. I think it's no more complicated than saying like, that these institutions that have to charge this sum of money because the overhead is already so high. They're paying all the pensions and all the salaries and all the huge gorgeous campuses. That system was necessary when that system was the information transfer mechanism, right?

We had fax machines and phones in the 1990's but it's not like we could fax around to everybody and tell them how to do digital photography. It's like, you still had to go to a building and find somebody who knew what they were talking about. The internet just obviously fundamentally blew that up and information has effectively gone to zero. Marginal cost information is effectively free now even if you paid, let's say, $59 a month or whatever it is for It's like, well, there's 100,000 hours of real usable actionable information so it's like, what is the cost per hour that you're paying 0.0001 cents. Information is effectively free.

Information isn't the whole part of it, right? Information is one part of it but then … and this can kind of go into the next part of the conversation of, I think now we need to bridge the gap and create new models that allow people to come to the buildings but without paying that $140,000.

Speaker 2: Brilliant, yeah. I've had conversations with Chris too about this exact thing and he's having a lot of the same thoughts. Most of the criticism that I got, for what I said about the university system and for anyone who doesn't want to take the time to listen. I essentially said, I don't think it's worth it at all for specifically for motion design. Frankly, it's silly to go there.

Michael Jones: Yeah.

Speaker 2: Here's the response I got from people who disagreed. For the record, most people agreed but there were some people that disagreed strongly. You're exactly right, the information is not the only thing you're getting, right? In this country especially, when we talk about going to college, it's often positioned as, you're going to learn to be an adult and to kind of get a little bit seasoned. Okay, cool. You're going to be, probably, if you go to a big school, you're going to be around a much wider diverse group of people than you probably were growing up in your hometown. Okay, that's valid.

Then there's kind of the idea that like if you're around other people really doing high level art, it's going to calibrate your eye. I think those were all valid critiques.

Michael Jones: Yes, absolutely.

Speaker 2: I also have this feeling, like you're hinting at, there's a much more efficient way of doing that. Do you think that the top 15% that come out of art center that end up opening imaginary forces and places like that, do you think that they wouldn't have been able to do that without going to those schools? Or do you think that it's more the person than the place they go to school?

Michael Jones: Yeah. That's a hard question, I mean, I witnessed my brother-in-law go to Ringling and do the character animation program and they really did put him in a position to be ready to apply at the big studios that he wanted to work at. Then, they facilitated the connections. There's also this kind of, is there kind of an insider's track to the best spots in the economy? I don't know the answer to that.

Could people be really, really, really successful without doing art school? Of course, they could. I don't really know the answer to that. I sometimes wonder how much the best agencies and studios and like the top firms in the world, it's almost a prestige thing for them, they want to go to the best university and pick the students.

Sometimes, I think, maybe there is kind of this insider's track but maybe that's even getting kind of defused and blown up now as it's easier to find the talent and the talent can rise to the top because it's like, Lucas with his portfolio, it's like the best firms are going to find him because he's just that good, they're not going to care where he went to school.

Speaker 2: Right.

Michael Jones: Yeah, I think that's a tough question, but I think the points about education, the value of a brick and mortar education is more about a formative experience, right? We're not just robots who just need information and then the problem is solved. It's like, actually, we're highly emotional and everyone is borderline a mess and college is often a time to kind of like sort yourself out and align yourself for the rest of your life, which I actually believe many people can do and it really is a formative experience.

I've actually really come to believe in the value of leaving your house or your bedroom and having to press your shirt and smell good and go look another human being in the eye. I've actually really come to believe that kind of is the missing part going forward. That's the thing I'm really excited about pursuing but, yeah, it can't cost $140,000. It should be like $4,000 a year or like maybe you spent 15 grand over the course of four years, to me, I think that would be more realistic.

Speaker 2: Awesome. I want to get into that in a little bit because I want to see what kind of thoughts are going through your head where $4,000 is enough to facilitate that.

Michael Jones: Yeah.

Speaker 2: Let's stick with online for a little bit. You've been running MoGraph Mentor since 2013. In that time, we've kind of popped up, learned, squared the future all with slightly different models doing it in different ways. Clearly, the market for online training has grown tremendously since then. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on where this online thing is going? Do you think that it's just going to continue to grow and there's going to be more and more of content? Or do you think people are going to come to the realization that it seems like you have where it's not … you can't just have that.

Michael Jones: Yeah. I think it's all of the above. I think we're at the beginning of a very long runway. I think the explosion in the last three or four years of companies is kind of canary in the coal mine of things to come. I think it's going to multiply really, really quickly, potentially exponentially. I think more people will be kind of like niching down all the way to their most specific expertise and like offering up that information on YouTube or via courses.

I do think the larger trend is that it's going to be harder to charge too much for information, right? You can charge money for information when it's scarce but once it's not scarce, it should be almost effectively free. I think this is something Chris has kind of figured out and he's a little bit ahead of the curve on. I think it's a good thing. I find Chris and Ash and you incredibly inspiring. I'm so grateful for what each of you were doing because it's helping me on my journey too. Like we were saying before we start recording like, we're all growing together. It doesn't even necessarily feel like competition.

I think there's also the demand side to consider in the sense of probably in our lifetimes another one to two billion people could get internet access. It just feels like we're at the very beginning of a very long runway of growth for … especially working with students in international countries who can't come to a brick and mortar but will get a Google Pixel book for 300 bucks or something and then can take a School of Motion course.

The demand side I see, we're at the very beginning like I think there's a long way to go. Yeah, it's kind of a sorting out period. We're like, okay, well, now, we have the internet. Now we have social media so it's really easy to target people and tell them, hey, if you're interested in this piece of information, I've got it right here for basically nothing.

It's an exciting time but I feel like each of us having these conversations and seeing what is valuable to people and then people on Twitter and Facebook can give immediate feedback that's public for everyone, so it's like we're all in this giant incubator just like everything is pretty transparent now and just kind of like figuring it out. I think it's a positive. Where do I think it's headed? I think way more online education than if there is like another big recession or something, I think it will probably unfortunately crush a lot of traditional institutions, not the best ones, but kind of the middle of the road ones, that are already struggling even when the economy is good.

There's going to be a restructuring. I think we're going to have to address putting people in buildings at a low cost. I think that's going to happen too. Then, the way that you get to that lower cost is a lot of the intellectual property isn't in the form of salary and staff, it's a very small amount of salary and staff and then a lot of very affordable information and remote instructors because I think there is a demand for people that want to go directly to the people who have the jobs that they want. That's, yeah, generally where I think it's headed.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I agree with you. That's kind of been our model. The information is produced at the highest level we possibly can but then, really, what you're getting when you sign up for class is this support system of …

Michael Jones: Yeah.

Speaker 2: … or teaching assistants and our community manager and our platform that it's like the machine that we've built to allow us to critique and things like that. I see more and more companies doing that. I'm all in with this high breed kind of model. You also mentioned something else really important which is that this … we're both Americans and we so probably think whether consciously or not from like a U.S. centric view point …

Michael Jones: Sure.

Speaker 2: … but I mean, for students in say, the Middle East, there are not just 10 great art schools they can go to and have a motion design program. I know you, MoGraph Mentor, has had students from probably dozens and dozens of countries, we've had students from Syria, from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, countries I know very little about and they write in and they're like, this is great. I have nothing like this in my country. I think that you're right, it's going to be all of the above because for students like that, they may not be able to get to the building that you are actually constructing right now that I want to talk about.

First, I'm curious, do you think … I've been told this before, I'm not sure how you feel about it. I've been told that some people just can't learn online, it doesn't work for them. They need to be in the room with the human. Do you think that's true or do you think that's just kind of an artifact from a previous time?

Michael Jones: Yeah. I don't doubt that that's true for some people. I mean, it's tough to say they can't do online learning, like what does that mean? Does that mean they can't do passive consumption and like sit through pre-recorded lecture or they can't be in a Skype session with other people. It's like, I don't know anybody who doesn't enjoy being in the web conferencing sessions. I think it's a bit of a moving target on what to say online education is and then you even fast forward that a little bit of like, are we going to jump this thing into VR at some point and get super immersive and it will really feel like you're in this place.

Yeah, I mean, what online education is continually evolving. I do think that it favors self-starters, obviously, it favors people a lot of times who kind of already know where they want to go so then they're like exploiting the things they know will be valuable to them. I think that's part of why I was attracted to like a general program idea is for those people. We get it in a lot of our reviews of the program of like, I just was looking for something that was like I don't want to have to design my own curriculum because I'm so new I don't know to do that yet so I wanted something that kind of laid it out for me in a general way.

Going back to your point about the Middle East, yeah, we've also had a lot of students from the Middle East. I think there's something going on there in the sense of just enormous potential. I think it's like really heartbreaking because Syria, I mean, we don't need to go into it but it's like absolutely heartbreaking what's happening in that country. Even when people apply and they talk about everything that's going on in their country and we do discounts and try to do scholarships as much as we can because it's like the value of their currency falls out, it's not their fault and it's like the USD is just this ridiculously expensive instrument compared to some people's currency. We're seeing that a lot in South America too, which is really sad.

The thing that gives me a lot of hope is, and it speaks to my ignorance of like, oh my gosh, there's people in Syria working on becoming motion designers. There's people in Somalia who are working on motion design. It was surprising to me at first, now, it isn't surprising to me of course when people apply from many corner of the world. It just proves, I've come to see how similar people are and how much potential exists in these countries, where some of these other problems can get solved. It would be just as dynamic and just as expressive and produce world class art as well.

I think we have kind of a flourishing in front of us, of a lot of these other countries that were third world and are developing more and developing more of a middle class and then, it's like the old John Adam's quote of like, I have to study politics and war and my sons have to study engineering and ship building and agriculture and so that their sons could you know. Of course, you're just saying sons but now we mean all people have that privilege to study poetry and art and visual art and music and all of those wonderful things.

I'm pretty optimistic actually about the future of these other countries and people within them kind of having this flourishing because now they can have access to Lucas Brooking. They can have access to Ryan Sommer. The best instructors in the world can work with people in Syria, that is just an interesting potential for the future, I think.

Speaker 2: Yeah. You're almost helping build this worldwide network of apprenticeships and internships and the only missing is you're not in the same room but you can … there's analogs, digital tools that they can get you maybe 70% all the way there. My theory is that by the time my kids, so my oldest is seven now so in 11 years should be college aged. I really think by the time she's that age, there's going to be some other options than just go to college or don't. I believe that and I hope so.

Just on a personal note, I'm curious, have you thought about that for your two kids? Do you have a college savings account for them? Or are you kind of thinking, you know what, college may be hit or miss.

Michael Jones: Yeah. What is it? The 527 college savings plan? Do you guys do that? Are you guys saving?

Speaker 2: We're saving a little bit for college so we're not doing that plan and for people who are not … who don't have kids or who are not in the U.S., it's essentially like a tax …

Michael Jones: Yeah, it's a tax deduction to save for specifically.

Speaker 2: However, that money once you save it is earmarked for college. Obviously, I'm biased but I really think that college is going to be an option and like you mentioned, if you want to be … my oldest right now says she wants to be a veterinarian, cool. If she wants to be a veterinarian, she's probably going to have to go to college. She's certainly going to have to go to veterinary school. There's no way around that. There's no online course that can teach you to fix a cat's hernia or something like that.

However, I don't know that that's what she's going to end up doing. Frankly, I don't know that there's not going to be some better model to do that, to do all of the undergrads stuff, the Chris Doe or the Michael Jones way where there's like a building you go to. Then you go to veterinary school and hopefully, the student loan bubble has burst and the price has dropped. We're saving using things that we can convert into cash if our kids don't go to college which we're not … at this point, I'm not really like, it's so far away, I'm not really focused on it. I'm not just banking on it the way my parents did, where every single person that I went to high school with and was friends with was almost forced to go to college just by society. I think that's starting to change.

Michael Jones: No. We're very similar to you. We're not doing any of the like 527 savings plans. We intend to homeschool and my wife and I are very, very skeptical that they'll end up at a university. I mean, we have a vision of them being able to attend some of the academies that maybe we're about to start here as early as 13, 14, 15. I've just been really encourage by so many stories and examples of kids who were homeschooled who are doing kind of genuinely brilliant work by the time they're 17 or 18, because this funny thing in homeschooling about you can kind of get through all your work really quickly and then there's time to work on the things that you're really interested and passionate about.

If my daughter wants to be a motion designer at 14, it's like, okay, well, let's start working on visual art. Okay, we got to get your history and your algebra and all other things done. Or maybe it's electrical engineering, maybe it's robotics, maybe it's coding so I don't know. I just have this vision of like college is probably not going to be in their future again. If you want to do something that requires a government mandated accreditation that's still a big problem.

I just finished this book called "College Unbound" which is a lot about this of kind of the accredited side of things that you're saying, which I am also very optimistic that there's going to be brand new cheaper ways to meet the accreditation standards and figure out how you become that veterinarian without having huge, huge sums of money, because it should stand the reason that you can employ a different model to teach someone to be a veterinarian if it can be done for other things as well.

I'm highly skeptical we're going to be throwing down 20, 30K a year for education. I think that's a privilege of our position and I get to have this education companies. It's like we're in a great position to do that. I'm not saying that's necessarily right for everyone, but I have a hard time imaging them doing that.

Speaker 2: I'm really glad to hear you say that, man. By the way, we actually homeschool our kids too, we'll have to …

Michael Jones: Nice. There you go.

Speaker 2: Yeah. We'll have to get into that. This kind of speaks to a larger thing which … it's really hard for me to say because when you homeschool your kids and you hang out with other families that homeschool and tomorrow we're going on a camping trip with a bunch of homeschool families. You get to be a little bit insulated from the true state of what education is, at least in the United States, you know where I live.

It sounds like you and I are both sort of skeptical, in general, of just kind of the state of education. I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about your thoughts on never mind learning motion design and online training and stuff. Just in general, I feel like the whole idea of what it means to teach and to learn is changing, give me thoughts on that?

Michael Jones: Certainly, I mean yeah it's been pretty well documented by people, the other book I just finished was called "The End of College" which I would encourage people to check out by Kevin Carey, if you're really interested in going deep on this of just ... I mean, it's been well talked about that are kind of model of education. K2 through 12 came from kind of the post-World War II more consolidated era when it's like just teaching people to read and write was like a really good path. Just people had highly similar jobs. It's like the age of mass manufacturing and this idea of huge employment of people having really similar jobs.

I just think this bomb of like highly specialization, everything is fracturing down and niching down to the smallest possible level, just the general kind of one size fits all, there's a lot of pressure on it right now I mean. In terms of homeschooling, we just feel like it's like a quality of education thing and it just came through examples. We've just have this weird unfortunate luck of like everywhere we live seemly connecting with families that were in homeschool networks and also knowing other people whose kids are in public school. Of course this is anecdotal, but I see a noticeable difference in maturity in a lot of different areas on kids who are homeschooled. Even speaking to parents, they will kind of talk about the psychological aspect too of just like the pressures of 8th ,9th ,10th ,11th grade where everything is social. Does the boy like me? Does the girl like me? There's like bullying.

There's just a lot of nonsense and time wasting in public education is like what I get a sense. Even in my own experience of like nonsense and time wasting is a pretty good description of my time in high school. I would have done a lot better probably in a different environment where I did have because I was so technically minded where I could just be like taking a part a toaster, watching an online thing and learning the basics of electrical engineering like things I could really seek my teeth into versus the oh, school sucks. Let me just get through this test. This is lame. When is the weekend?

I think it's anecdotal and it's part of our own experience between my wife and I of just feeling like, man, want something better for our kids.

Speaker 2: You brought up a really good point which is one of the big reasons that we decided to homeschool. It seems like traditional education has really become very focused on getting a consistent result kind of at all costs. I know you've seen this through MoGraph Mentor, we see it all the time through School of Motion. Anyone who's ever taught knows this, that people learn in such wildly different ways and at different speeds and just because two people are eight years old it doesn't mean that they both have the same capabilities at eight.

Learning curves vary widely. I really feel like motion design is a great example. To be a successful motion designer today, I think, it's more valuable to be a problem solver and know how to have a process to figure things out and make things versus knowing all the buttons and aftereffects. I guess I would use that as an analogy for like the way public education, especially in Florida, around us, really big on test scores and memorization and numbers, reading a certain number of pages per day and your parent signs to say that you did that, versus just ...

Michael Jones: Versus wanting to read for the sake of knowledge.

Speaker 2: Exactly, yes.

Michael Jones: Yes, wouldn't that be strange. Yeah.

Speaker 2: Putting kids in situations where they are probably going to fail and embracing that and saying that, that's a valuable thing. That's one of the things we really try to do. One of the first things we do in most of our classes when students are in orientation is we give them a problem that we think they'll fail at. We want them to try and fail and feel that pressure and then at the end, after 8 or 12 weeks we give something similar to do and they can do. There's that sense of accomplishment that seems to be beaten out of a lot of the kids that I see going through it.

I don't want to bash public schools too much because it's a landmine. I know they're not all like that.

Michael Jones: Yeah. I mean I'm grateful that the alternative could be worst certainly, 75, 90 years ago just living on the farm you got no education, it's like certainly superior that yes to have that. That's, yeah, I think a proper context.

Speaker 2: Let's talk about what you've been up to. Michael and I are buddies on Facebook and you recently posted some pretty intriguing photos and some kind of CG mock ups of something you're building over there. I was wondering if you could tell us about that?

Michael Jones: Yeah. Kind of prior our conversation, I've been pretty obsessed with the idea of kind of taking the efficiency of all this free information but like we said, how do we create a more formative experience where people have to show up and be in the room? I also have a bit of theory as to getting all those people to show up and be in the room creates more dynamism for the people online so I feel like there's this virtuous possibly kind of feedback loop that we could build.

It's pretty simple. I want to start a series of campuses, the first one is going to be in the Raleigh-Durham metro hopefully launching now, actually, we've moved the timeline up a bit potentially kind of the end of spring 2018 to basically create an environment that is like part university, part internship, part online education lab, part business incubator.

These spaces will be available to students. We're going to have to limit the number of slots, but we'll see how that goes. They'll pay $499 a month so it's $500 a month. If you were to do an eight-month school year, it's about $4000. This comes to the kind of 10X solution. If its $40,000 a year, we'll reverse engineer what you do for $4000 a year. What you can do for $4000 a year probably is have a kind of artist or instructor in residence who gets paid pretty well to have a personal on the ground. Let's say, someone like you if we're going to start one in Sarasota.

Speaker 2: Let's do it.

Michael Jones: Enough to have a TA, a very legitimate TA also on the ground and then some other kind of smaller assistant type things to have access to computer labs and then have simply an internet connection to then leverage all of the intellectual property that exist online and to just basically be kind a problem solvers academy. Whether that's in the visual art program, the entrepreneurs program or the developers program. We're going to have kind of three tracks. We're hoping to also add a journalism, a digital media in journalism track in there as well.

We want this academy to number one, serve as a tool for what people call a gap year. If there's someone who isn't exactly sure what they'd like to do at university. They probably shouldn't go spend that 40 grand to find out what they'd like to do. Maybe what they should do is come to the academy, spend four grand, do a bit of visual art perhaps, do a bit of development, do a bit of entrepreneurship maybe something in the journalism realm. Test things out. Have that gap year where we want that kind of internship environment where they're making things, they're building a portfolio, they're understanding really what these jobs might look like to kind of get a sense of, if they feel they'd like to pursue it.

I could see a scenario in which someone comes in, does within the visual art track, does that for a year and says, you know what, this is it, now I'm going to go to Ringling, now I'm going to go beyond that top 15%. I would feel pretty pleased if I could create something that helps people make better decisions at that point in their life.

The other side of it of course is then just continuing education. We're not just going to limit it to people within that 18, 19. Anybody who is working on a business or wants to improve as a motion designer, illustrator, 3D artist or someone who maybe wants to launch something within journalism or wants to learn HTML and CSS and Python and learn to become a developer. That we're going to put together a schedule and it's going to be project base and there's going to be presentations every Friday. That's kind of my favorite part of this little scheme. It's like you're going to have to be in the hot seat. There's your motivation right there to get off your butt and do everything you need to do Monday through Thursday or else it's going to be embarrassing on Friday.

I think kind of that component of … that's the thing I love about potentially the live environment, right? It's like having to present yourself to your peers appears to be a really, really good motivator for human being. The idea is to create some guidelines and some leadership and some schedules and then charge people really for what they use, which is being in the buildings, using the electricity, paying for the staff that you really need on site, paying for remote stuff which is a much lower marginal cost where most of the savings come from and then access to resources.

They should be able to go right over into the computer lab, get on Cinema 4D, they don't have to buy it. That's about as complicated as the idea is. Then the goal would be to have multiple campuses that can link up through this same kind of things we're talking about. Five years from now, I have four or five different spaces and we're all kind of collaborating and connecting and it's working for the students then I'll count it as success.

Speaker 2: That sounds like Utopia man. I love the idea of it.

Michael Jones: We'll go broke so there's that.

Speaker 2: Yes. Right, right. Yeah. I have a bunch of questions about this, but just as an overall vision, it's exactly the type of thing that I hope exists. I'm so glad that you're going after this because doing the online thing is, I think, really, it's an effective way to learn. It's democratizing. I've said this publicly before that it's never going to compete with the experience of being in the room with people. Maybe that will change, where everyone gets VR home. It actually does feel like you're in the room with them, but currently, it's maybe 80% of the equation in terms of effectiveness.

It sounds like you're going to leverage some of that too. I mean is this a completely in person thing? You got to be there five days a week or you just go at certain times?

Michael Jones: Yeah, five days a week, 10 hours a day is when the academy will be open. You could log 50 hours a week if you wanted to. I imagine, it will probably breakout in certain ways for people who have part time jobs and they'll leverage it for certain amount of hours or some people who really do come every single day of the week. I'm always thinking of it more, I really don't want this to go around and be associated with the brandings. I don't love the way it sounds, but almost like an educational club in the way you would pay to be the member of a CrossFit gym have a personal trainer kind of just in terms of the economic relationship.

Yes, people use their clubs in different ways. Some people are at the country club all day, some people are at CrossFit every single day, some people are three days a week. That's going to be the kind of model. I want it to actually be very flexible like it basically works on 30-day modules, there's no contracts. If at the end of one month you're done, okay great. If that helps something aligned or be clarified, then that's great. It's all about the students, money back guarantee.

If you went through that 30 days and you're like, this sucks. Fine. I'll give you your $500 back no questions asked. I just want to reverse engineer all my pet peeves about my educational experience. I think it's like this next how MoGraph Mentor felt like an obvious idea, this one is kind of in that same thing. This just feels obvious. I'm pretty sure it will work. It's breakeven on the site cost probably at around 26 or 27 individuals at the campus at 50 to 60 people per campus, it's a homerun.

If I can find 50 to 60 people who are a good fit for this within the 1.1, I think it's 1.1 million people in the RDU metro, then I'd think we've got something. If it's like 12 people show up, then yeah, I've got a big problem. We'll see.

Speaker 1: I don't know. The way you describe it, it's a pretty good sales pitch. What's like a day in the life of one of these students? how does it work? They'd just go there and they look … they get on YouTube? How does it work?

Michael Jones: You got to show up at eight a.m., get your cup of coffee, hangout, get settled in, nine a.m. to 11, it's going to be lab. I'll be up and away or we're going to Skype somebody in and be up and away. We'll be doing demos, we'll be having guest speakers, we'll be having panels. Then in the afternoon, it's just kind of open time, now it's time to go work on your projects. Then Friday will be the hot seat. Friday will be presentations. Give us your status, where are you at? Let's get some feedback. Let's have the discussion.

Then, within that 30 days, there's going to be a 30-day goal that they have to hit, there'll be a weekly goal. If you're a visual artist and you're saying, I want to learn motion design and I'm totally new. Then, okay, we're going to layout your next 30-days as where you're going to … week one, you're going to do some after effects test then you're going to do some Photoshop illustrator stuff and then integrate it into after effects.

I don't see it as terribly different than a regular university in the sense of part of the time you're just leading your own development and getting into it and working in the software or kind of developing your ideas. Then part of the time, you're getting some kind of intellectual property or kind of critique and feedback via lectures and group sessions.

It's pretty informal. It's still kind of taking shape a bit. I assume once it's really up and running, then like you said, we'll continue to learn and figure out how it works. The goal is just to redefine the relationship between being in a building and pursuing your education. The big thing still is accreditation and I know when I go to college fairs this spring in RDU to start pitching this, the question will be, well, do I have credits? Will there be credits that transfer?

The answer to that is going to be no. This is in no way involving accreditation. That's still a weakness, that's still a problem certainly but I think we're kind of getting to a point where people understand that the accreditation isn't everything. Especially those gap year type kids or people more on the informal side of the economy like you're an artist and the credits really don't matter. Yeah. I guess we'll see how it goes.

Speaker 2: I'm assuming that the $4000 a year price tag, that's not going to include the top of the line gym and a cafeteria with every kind of … with a Sushi bar.

Michael Jones: Absolutely not.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Got you. It really does sound incredible, man. I can't wait to see what happens in 2018 with this because this is exactly the type of thing I think guys like you should be trying and on paper, it sounds awesome, man. I might sign up for it.

You're going to start this venture and what's going to happen with MoGraph Mentor?

Michael Jones: Yeah. I mean MoGraph Mentor will continue to grow. I actually I think this will help, this will benefit MoGraph Mentor and that right now my operation is just me essentially at the physical location. I'm out here in Ben, on our property working out of this home studio. It's really great, it's really comfortable and I can already kind of see into the future and see once I have this more of a nine to five, I'm going to be giving myself more of a nine to five with this.

I have larger central administrative and marketing team as well as content production team, I think, will actually help us meet a lot of our 2018 goals on MoGraph Mentor, which is a lot of new coarse creation and kind of like we talked about, continuing to create paths directly to the artist. Trying to spin off classes with Tony and [Mattis 00:58:59] and Lucas and Hondall and the rest.

No, MoGraph Mentor is still a huge, huge priority. We're going to spend more money to try to do better administratively and in marketing. I actually see this as potentially a multiplier to make that better hopefully.

Speaker 2: That so great, man. Let's end it with this, it's been really fascinating to watch MoGraph Mentor grow and read your blog post and listen to your podcast and stuff like that. I mean, I almost want to call you a futurist at this point. You really like thinking pretty forward. You have two children. I'm curious what … if you sort of project forward and they grow up and they decide they want to learn motion design, how do you imagine them being able to do that in 10, 15 years?

Michael Jones: Yeah. I think it will be something like an academy like this. Again, there are other people already doing this. There is a place called the New Digital School in Portugal that it basically, this is what they're doing. There's the Lambda School out in Silicon Valley that is actually free until you get a job, which is really interesting model. There is the Iron Yard which is like focused on development I think they might have like 20 or 30 locations. I haven't looked into them in a while, but they've been doing really good.

If they want to go into what I always refer to as a more informal part of the economy, like the creative side of the economy, then they're going to have a hell of a lot of options like create academy, which we're creating. I feel like everything is going to go this direction, in the way that like MoGraph Mentor was kind of new for a minute within its niche and then in a couple years, it's like well, it's so obvious now there's just tons of stuff. I actually see a similar trajectory especially as buildings become cheaper, right? There's like whole swaths in the country in which infrastructure is just sitting around rotting and it's super cheap.

If the big institution can't like figure their thing out, I think, a lot of new startups are going to try to offer stuff like this that's somewhere between a co-work and a university that like really strips things down, but people can still get a really great education and pursue what they want to pursue. I think she would have a ton of options or he would have a ton of options if they wanted to go into that side of the economy.

Speaker 2: I hope it happens man, because I want to send my kids to your great academy that sounds like so much fun dude.

Michael Jones: We looked at Sarasota for the first location, you guys are running a little high on prices though, down there. I got to say, you get those prices down and we'll come on down and put a campus down there.

Speaker 2: Yeah. You got all these retirees down here and they just have too money, that's the problem.

Michael Jones: Yeah. I'm just glad you guys in the whole area dodged a bullet there this last end of summer here with all the hurricanes.

Speaker 2: Awesome. Yeah. Thanks for saying that, man. We definitely did. I definitely want to have you back on the podcast next year once this thing gets off the ground and talk about a little bit more.

Michael Jones: Yeah, man. I always appreciate you. Yeah, thanks for having me on.

Speaker 2: Check out to learn more about their classes. I suggest following Michael on social media. He's a brilliant guy, he's doing some really interesting things in the education space and you can learn a lot from him. All the show notes for this episode are available at While you're there, why not sign up for a free account and start getting our weekly Motion Mondays newsletter. It's a very short email you get each Monday with a few bullet points to catch you up on the previous week's doings in the world of motion design.

Tens of thousands of artists all over the world get the email and you should too. That's it for this episode. Adios.


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