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Crafting a Creative Lifestyle with Monica Kim
We sit down with the incredibly talented Monica Kim to discuss MoGraph, meditation, medicine, and birds... Yes, birds.
As a Motion Designer you have probably had to work extra-had had to make a living for yourself. From landing clients to growing your skills, there's a good chance that the hard-work will never stop. But no matter your background, we can bet that you've never had to hustle as much as today's guest.
Monica Kim left her home at age 14 to pursue her dreams without a clear career objective. Over time her hard-work and determination has led her to work in amazing places like Google in New York City.
Her incredible career has spanned two continents and her lifestyle crazy fascinating. In the podcast we'll talk about everything from meditation to her love of birds. We're stoked for this one. Enjoy!
Monica Kim Podcast Transcript
Joey: This is the School of Motion podcast. Come for the MoGraph, stay for the puns.
Monica Kim: We also have a pattern as a human, probably. The things that we appreciate, things that we find beautiful, I mean, a lot of people would say a lot of beauties that humans find, they're like, they resemble the nature, so there is some sort of, maybe a formula. And if there is, and if AI can master it, then they might be able to create something that we see it and we always feel like, "Oh my gosh, that is the best art. I love that." I don't know.
Joey: Whoa. That's what you're going to say after this interview. If you're not already a huge Monica Kim fan, then you will be shortly. Monica was born in South Korea, moved out on her own at age 14, made her way to New York, went to art school, got hired to be one of the Google Five at their creative lab, more on that later, worked on the original Google Glass concept and now she does tattoos and spreads the word about plant medicine, meditation, and birds. She is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting motion designers I have ever talked to. In this interview, we get deep into some heady topics. What will the effect of AI be on our industry? How should one approach working for a huge tech company? What can thinking in a different language do for your designs? And the effects of certain plants on your life outlook and creative output. I really cannot do this conversation justice by just describing it, so let's just listen to it.
Monica, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I have so many questions for you.
Monica Kim: Thank you so much. I'm super excited and also slightly nervous.
Joey: Well, don't be ... Look, you've worked at Google, you've kind of made a name for yourself. You have no reason to be nervous. I'm actually a little bit nervous, you know? When I talk to someone whose work is as cool and unique as you, I get impostor syndrome almost instantly, so-
Monica Kim: Oh no, no.
Joey: Yeah, so I'm going to puff my chest out a little bit here, so I can sort of be professional. Why don't we start with this? On your portfolio, which we're going to link to in the show notes and everyone has to go check out Monica's work, it's awesome, you basically have two links, Work and About, and on the About section, you tell this pretty unique story. Your life story's very, very different than most people I've ever met. So I'm wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that, give us some background and tell us how you ended up living by yourself at a very young age.
Monica Kim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, so this is very personal. I grew up in the city next to Seoul, it's called Incheon, and it was a bit rough. There were a lot of violence, gangs, prostitutions, so kids getting rebellious and leaving home, that wasn't particularly a crazy thing, and I also started going to school in Seoul, so when I declared to my parents that I'm leaving home, they were more like, "All right, go ahead. Let's see how long you'll last out there." They were helping me initially, but then I really also hustled, started working at hair salons, karaoke, or selling clothes at the night market from 1 to 4 a.m., and it gave me sort of a strength to I guess survive anywhere, and that if I want to do anything, I just go ahead and do it, even if it feels scary. But-
Joey: So Monica, how old were you when you moved out?
Monica Kim: I was 14, 15. Yeah, I was around that age.
Joey: That's ... I mean, that's, 14, I'm trying to think back to when I was 14, and I was probably still watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or something. How in the world did you have a clue? Where did you live? How did you get a place to live, and did you have-
Monica Kim: It was a tiny [crosstalk 00:04:07]-
Joey: How did you do it?
Monica Kim: Right, I mean, it was a tiny, tiny, tiny little room that I started. It wasn't, I can't call it a house, because it was just a shared ... It was more like a shared space that had a tiny little room, and that's where I started. It had a tiny little desk and a bed. That was it. And then I collected some money and then I got this kind of, I guess, more dodgy basement kind of a house somewhere in the middle of the alleyway. It was amazing, because of all the people that I started meeting, and I spent a lot of time hanging out with people who were, again, they were in gangs or involved in sex work or LGBT community that was really oppressed from ... Back then, Korea was very conservative. Quite oddly, I was also going to this school, my high school was one of the most prestigious school in the country, so my little home quickly became a gathering spot for a lot of people, different people I guess were sort of considered as social outcasts, to all hang and have fun. That diversity to me was the most valuable thing ever.
Joey: I've never been to South Korea, but when I think of it now, and the imagery that I've seen on the news and stuff, it seems like this super modern-
Monica Kim: Oh, yeah.
Joey: ... high tech country. When you were growing up, was it like that? Because sort of the picture that you're painting of what, at least the town you grew up in was like, doesn't feel like that in my head.
Monica Kim: Right. Korea has changed so rapidly within like 30 to 50 year timeframe. Like 50 years ago, it was still agricultural society. It was a very poor country, basically, and then within 30 to 40 years, we just became one of the most high-tech country in probably the whole universe, and now things are really, technology in Korea is really advanced. But me growing up there, it was very different. My town, there were US military guys with a truck, and they used to throw candies at us, and I used to run chase them, trying to get some American candies. It was really [crosstalk 00:06:26].
Monica Kim: Yeah.
Joey: Okay, so you moved out on your own at 14. Now, you mentioned that there was a lot of violence around you and gangs and things like that, and it was kind of normal for kids to rebel. Was that the reason you moved out, just because you were sort of like a rebellious teenager, like, "I don't want to be told what to do anymore. I'm going to move out"? Was there anything happening in your home life that made you want to move out? I'm trying to figure out how common this really was for a 14-year-old to move out and live on their own.
Monica Kim: I think that it was a combination of me being rebellious and I wanted my own freedom. I was telling my parents, "I want to be free. I want to be alone." I didn't even know what freedom really meant, but I just wanted to be free, and I also had a great excuse, because, "Oh, now my school's really far away, so hey guys, I need to do that on my own." And I guess my parents were also very, in a weird way, they were very open, so instead of saying no, they were just like, "All right, but we're only going to give you a certain amount of money, so if you are out of your money, then you know, we're not going to help." So it was sort of like, take it or leave it situation. They're like, "Okay, do it if you can. If not, that's it."
Joey: Honestly, it's pretty amazing to me. I can't fathom living on my own, at least in terms of the emotional maturity that I had as a 14-year-old. I'm curious, you said that you wanted to be free, but you didn't really know what freedom was. I mean, what 14-year-old actually really knows what that is, and I'm sure by that point in your life, you hadn't traveled extensively the way you have now-
Monica Kim: Nope.
Joey: ... so you probably hadn't seen a lot of other things up close. I'm curious if you remember what you thought freedom was. What was it you were chasing?
Monica Kim: Oh, that's an interesting question. I guess I was chasing ... I wanted to know what I want. I guess that was as simple as that, like "Okay, my parents tell me this, school tells me this, all the media's telling the same thing, but why? What do I want, and who am I?" And I guess it was a ... I was young to have, I guess, existential crisis, but I was also very curious, and I guess the freedom meant I want to talk to people who are different from myself. I want to actually be exposed to the environment that I'm not used to and see how that feels like.
Joey: Were you living in a conservative environment? Because the reason I'm asking is because looking from the outside at sort of the ... It's interesting, another thing I love about you is that you don't have this massive social media presence the way a lot of people do. It was actually a little more difficult to find out about you, but from things that you post on your Instagram, and we'll talk about some of those things, you're pretty confident and outspoken about things that other people wouldn't be, and I'm curious if any of that was with you as a kid. Were you raised in kind of a conservative environment where you felt like you couldn't say the things you wanted, try the things you wanted, and was this some sort of rebellious thing kind of going against that?
Monica Kim: That was the ... Right, that was definitely the '90s South Korea as a whole society. It wasn't just my parents or my community, it was ... Back in '90s in South Korea, we just got out of war, we were still in poverty, everyone was hungry, and a lot of things were super conservative. Like talking about being gay, that didn't exist. People would say things like, "Oh, there's no gay people in Korea. That doesn't exist."
Monica Kim: And you know, that's shocking, right? But it was very conservative, and a lot of school curriculum almost felt like ... I guess felt like a military training, almost. Because growing up in schools, I was never able to raise my hand and ask questions, because that's considered as being rude to your teacher. So instead of having a discussion and ask questions, which that's how a lot of kids learn, it was one way thing where you are told what to do instead, and we don't have a chance to ask things or question things. So that was the whole, yeah, environment that I grew up, and I guess that's what made me a little more ... felt more suffocating and wanted to leave so bad.
Joey: Okay, that makes sense. See, it's interesting, because I think I always was kind of the way you are, where someone would tell me something, like a teacher who was twice my age and had this title, Teacher, right?
Monica Kim: Right.
Joey: And I would always question, just it was an automatic thing, and so as an adult, I've sort of realized, "Okay, I'm just, I'm contrarian." I don't believe anything unless it's like, you know, a scientist can tell me something, I still have to go prove it. That's just the way my brain works. But I grew up in an environment where that was cool and you were rewarded for that, and I can imagine if you are kind of built the same way, that growing up in an environment where it's a lot more structured, and post-war Japan's kind of like built the same way, and you can see sort of the way that their educational system has developed, so it's really interesting to me as someone who teaches now, to see the results of that, and that can actually take someone like you, who's clearly extremely intelligent, and drive them into behavior that at the time, people probably told you you're crazy. "Why would you want to move out when you're 14? What are you doing?" Right? I mean, did you have people telling you, "Oh, you're doing the wrong thing. You're going to regret this"?
Monica Kim: Oh, yeah, 100% ... that's what ... My teachers, right, my teachers from elementary school, middle school, high school, they would tell me that, "Hey, you're a failure." You can't take that even personally, because I'm like, "Okay, I guess I am." I told my teacher that, "Hey, I want to do art. I want to learn design," and they were like, "Yeah, it's because you're stupid," and I'm like, "Okay, sure." You know?
Joey: Yeah, I think the good thing is that it feels like that notion is kind of changing now, and frankly, it's probably thanks a lot to companies like Google and Apple that have put design and creativity up on a really big pedestal. That didn't exist ... I mean, it did a little bit, but in the '80s when I grew up, in the '90s when you grew up, and I don't know how South Korea was in the '90s, but it sounds like the US in the '80s to some extent, it was not nearly as cool to be a creative person as it is now.
All right, so how did you end up moving to New York? What made you decide to make the move?
Monica Kim: Right, so ... Well, I got into one of the best art school in Korea with full four-year scholarship and I was really excited, dreaming of this art school life, and again, I spent half a year in a college and my experience there was very suffocating, because back then I was studying industrial design, which I'm so glad I didn't end up doing, because I'm really bad at 3D, but the school was focusing so much on students getting a job at Samsung or any big corporates, so again, it felt more like a military training rather than being in art school, and there were so much of seniority and hierarchy and for the first time, I thought, "Wait a minute. I want to go see the bigger world. I want to meet people who are completely different and feel free," and then I thought, "All right, I want to go to New York." I didn't know anything about New York except that it's one of most diverse city, so I quit school, I prepped for a year and then got accepted in SVA, and packed my bag and left.
Joey: Wow. And when you did that, did you ... I'm assuming you were learning English as you were growing up. How was your English when you moved to New York?
Monica Kim: It was terrible. I got so ... I've been living here for, it's my 10th year now, so I guess I am confident enough to be on a podcast, but oh my god, when I first came, I was able to read and write, but for me to go to deli and order salad, that was like my nightmare, because they talk super fast, I don't ... It's always nervous experience to choose what lettuce I want and ... Oh, yeah, my first few years was a hard learning process.
Joey: I mean, it's funny, but at School of Motion, we recently all decided that we want to learn Spanish together, and so-
Monica Kim: Awesome.
Joey: Yeah, I grew up in Texas, so I've been around Spanish my whole life, and so when I hear it, I almost understand it just from hearing it so much, but I had the same experience. I took French in high school and I think for six years I took French. The first time I went to France and I was like, "Hey, I know French," and I realized, I don't know French, because I know French when a Texan speaks French. Right?
Monica Kim: Yes, absolutely.
Joey: And it's kind of like, I'm sure that you understood English perfectly in South Korea when your teacher would say it, but then you go to New York, and they're speaking really fast with a New York accent.
Monica Kim: Oh, yeah, and I'm like, "Wait a minute."
Joey: [inaudible 00:16:17] "Monica, come on."
Monica Kim: Yeah, exactly.
Joey: Yeah, and never mind if you had moved to Massachusetts, it would've been even tricker with the accent, that's even tougher.
Monica Kim: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Joey: Yeah, well I mean, it's always amazing to me when I meet people from other countries who moved to the US, and now I'm talking to you and for the first few minutes we were talking before we started recording, I almost thought like, "She has no accent. I can't even tell that English isn't her first language." How hard was it for you, how hard did you have to work on just the language, to be able to plug into New York and feel confident even just speaking?
Monica Kim: I think I spent more time trying to learn language even more so than the time that I was trying to learn art, because the language is the primary tool to connect with anyone, anywhere I go. Right? And also especially after I ... So in SVA, there are so many international students, and a lot of teachers are used to having international students who necessarily do not speak English so well, so I was able to work around it, but then once I started working and being in the meeting and they're expecting me to do a presentation, that was a nightmare. That was a huge nightmare, and I made so many mistakes. I made embarrassing, embarrassing mistakes. I go home and I'm like, "Maybe I should just go back home. Why am I doing this?" I was trying to think in English. I was trying to think in English, also I started dreaming in English, and I think that helped me a lot. Like okay, instead of trying to translate everything in Korean to English, why don't I just try to think in English to start with? So yeah.
Joey: That's a fascinating thought. One of the ... I've read articles about this phenomenon before and how different languages, even just because of the way they're structured, if you think in one language versus thinking in another, your ideas are actually different. Here's one example just for everyone listening, if you have no idea what I'm talking about. In English, when you describe things, if you have a bowl, right, and it's big and it's red and it's shiny, you'd say, "The big, red, shiny bowl." You sort of put all these labels on the thing and then you say what the thing is, and so that forces you to have to remember this list of adjectives and then apply those to a thing. But in a lot of other languages, you say, "The bowl, big, red, and shiny," and just that one little twist of the way the language works, it lets you think in a kind of clearer way, depending on certain context. So I'm curious, I have no idea what the Korean language is like. I'm assuming it's very different than English. Did you notice any weird things about your creativity or your artwork when you would think in one language versus another?
Monica Kim: Huh. I think so. I think it has changed a lot, because I was simply, I guess working with things like ... Let me think. Like UI, UI design. UI should be universal, of course, whether you're Korean or American or wherever you are, but I think it did help me, I guess, because it almost feels like I know the local users, like when I'm in America, I know the people here and how they think and how they would use certain apps, or I know how people navigate certain things, and that had a lot to do with language, because simple thing with UI, like, "Oh, I know a lot of my Korean friends would definitely use it this way, but most of the Americans would use it the other way." So things like that, I think did subconsciously influence a lot of my work, as well.
Joey: Does Korean go left to right when you read it, or right to left?
Monica Kim: It used to be right to left, but now it's left to right.
Joey: Okay, that's interesting. My family splits their time between Texas, where I grew up, and Israel, where they have a house, and so I know a little bit of Hebrew, and Hebrew is right to left, and it's interesting, someone who's raised learning Hebrew, right to left is a more natural direction, and so that applies when you look at design in Israel, and it's a subtle thing, when you design, it's sort of like you just naturally want things to kind of move to the right in the US, to signify forward, but it's the opposite in Israel. There's subtle little differences like that that are based on language and I'm really kind of fascinated by.
Monica Kim: I just made a huge mistake. I didn't mean to say right to left. I meant like up to down, from above to below.
Joey: Oh, okay.
Monica Kim: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's what I was trying to say, but yes, that's totally true, because I am also used to writing from top to bottom, except I actually, in one of my typography class, I think I did that, not really knowing that, no, you shouldn't do that with alphabets, but yeah, I was doing it, and I'm like, "Well, isn't it totally fine to read?" And my teacher was like, "No, it doesn't work that way."
Joey: See, that's really interesting. We have a design class at School of Motion, and one of the assignments is to do a logo lockup, and when you're kind of new, you just think, "Oh, I'm going to be creative and I'm going to try writing the words sideways so you read it up and down," and it looks cool, but it's not very readable, but it's interesting, because if you grew up using a language where writing top down is natural, then maybe that is. This kind of stuff fascinates me, because a lot of the things we take for granted in design are actually pretty culturally dependent. Like you just said, ideally UI and UX should be kind of universal, right?
Monica Kim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joey: But in reality, I'm not sure that it ever really can be, because someone who's used to reading Arabic, which goes right to left, and knows no English and has never really seen that design aesthetic of things moving left to right, you have to design it differently. It's really kind of fascinating.
All right, let's get out of this rabbit hole. I feel like we could spend a lot of time here. Tell me a little bit more about the SVA experience. Aside from you moving to the US and having to acclimate to that, what were you doing there? What were you studying and what did you learn there?
Monica Kim: Right, because my SVA experience was really amazing, also because everything was so new to me, and I didn't know what motion graphic was until my junior year, and then I started learning After Effects and I fell in love with it. I was okay spending all night in front of a computer. A lot of teachers in SVA are mostly from the industry, so I've learned from people who are actually working currently in a motion industry or the design industry, and it was very different experience. It felt much more free and I was able to learn a lot about what's actually happening out there right now instead of, oh, these are old texts from like hundred years ago. So that was very interesting for me.
Joey: So were you studying sort of traditional graphic design and then discovered motion graphics?
Monica Kim: Yeah, so motion graphics program in SVA is part of graphic design major, so you pick your, I guess your sub-major when you're a senior, and after spending a year learning After Effects, I found like, "Oh, I really want to do this, it's so much fun," so I just decided to do that, have that as a major.
Joey: So is that where you learned all the tools that you're using now? In school, you were taught Photoshop, After Effects, Illustrator, whatever else you use, or did you just sort of get the basics there and then have to teach yourself the rest? Or how did you learn all those tools?
Monica Kim: Right, so Photoshop, I grew up being super nerdy about computers, so I started playing around with Photoshop 2.0. I don't know if you remember, but it used to have a palette image on the left side of the loading screen?
Monica Kim: But yeah, I didn't know Illustrator or After Effects before school, but I was just never that scared of learning a new software, or at least when it comes to Adobe stuff, but the classes in SVA were more about design rather than learning softwares, which I think that's how it should be.
Joey: Correct, yup.
Monica Kim: But yeah, so I spent a lot of time on YouTube tutorials and Creative COW, and I really wish you guys were there when I was a student. I would've learned a lot. That would've-
Joey: Me too, I wish we were there when I was a student, to be honest.
Monica Kim: Right?
Joey: Let's talk about the style that you have a little bit, and I think this is probably a long answer, but let's see where this takes us. So you're from South Korea, you went to school in New York, but looking at your work and looking at the projects that you're involved in, this Jinn and Juice thing, which I want to talk about later, too, it's very hard to pin down where your look comes from. It's like sometimes you can look at a designer from Brazil, and it's obvious that they're from South America and it's infused into everything they do, but your work is sometimes very Middle Eastern feeling and sometimes sort of vaguely Asian feeling and sometimes, the things you were doing for Google just looked like sort of standard universal design, sort of what we all agree normal corporate design looks like now. How did you get to that fusion of all these looks that you like to play with and are capable of?
Monica Kim: So okay, the Middle Eastern part of this definitely came from my fiance/partner, Waleed, who was born in Lebanon. I was always amazed by Middle Eastern culture, but I was really able to learn more and more in depth in my shallow depth from him, and Islamic art is so fascinating, and I definitely want to learn more, especially in this climate with, I guess, Islamophobia, and I do want to, of course, both of us want to celebrate the history and the beauty of it. But I would say a lot of those elements, they're coming from my meditation practices.
Monica Kim: Yeah, I grew up going to mountains and doing meditation and going to temple or be around shamans, so a lot of my personal inspirations, which comes from inside yourself, right, and it ends up having, I guess Indian or Tibetan or Japanese influence, just like how the Korean culture or the history of our Buddhism was influenced by all of those.
Joey: So were you raised in a Buddhist culture? Is that why ... Because meditation was, for me growing up, it was something I swore I'd never do because only weirdos on infomercials at two in the morning with the pan flute playing in the background, I had no idea what meditation was. So I'm just curious, how was it normalized for you? Was it part of the religion or the culture you grew up in?
Monica Kim: Korea definitely has ... for the longest time, it was a Buddhist society, so it's still engraved there, it's still part of a lot of people's lives. I mean, not that a lot of people now still practice meditation in a modern society anymore, but at least, a lot of people don't get weirded out about it because they've been hearing it for such a long time, so I just naturally, I had a lot of people who were meditating around me, which was great, because it influenced me to actually go deep in it and feel fine with always having the practice.
Joey: That's super cool. So your husband is Waleed, so I saw his name on your site and I know you guys have collaborated a lot, and he's from Lebanon, so that kind of explains that Middle Eastern influence, but then you were saying that it comes from meditation. Before you were with Waleed, when you meditated, did you still sort of see these sorts of same shapes and images that then later on you can sort of say, "Oh, if you look at Lebanese artwork, it kind of looks like what I was seeing in my head"?
Monica Kim: Yup, yup. With meditation practice, you see the same world, it's so crazy, and then later on, I'm learning about a culture that's completely, I mean it feels really far away from myself, but I'm like, "Wait a minute. I've seen that. I felt that and I've seen that," and I guess that's because we're all the same people. We're all children of the earth. That's probably why, but yeah.
Joey: You know, meditation, it's a topic I've gotten really, really interested in, and one of the coolest things is that the people who sort of got the best at it lived thousands of years ago, and they discovered things that we forgot and are now sort of rediscovering, and it's funny when you ... There's a lot of podcasts now and people like Tim Ferriss kind of making meditation popular again, and they're saying, "Go read this book that's 1400 years old because that's the best one there is," and it's just really fascinating. I think you're right, I haven't gotten good enough at meditation to have any sort of experience like the one you're describing, but I know there are also shortcuts to get there-
Monica Kim: Yeah, absolutely.
Joey: ... which we'll get to a little bit. That's the tease, because I know everyone wants to hear about that.
Before we get into the shortcut approach, I want to hear about what happened after school. So you go to SVA and you're learning design and you learn some animation, some After Effects, and then your English has gotten better, and now what? What happens next?
Monica Kim: So I graduated, and then I started freelancing immediately but then shortly after that, I got an email from Google asking for an interview. I think they had seen my work at the end of the year screening at the SVA, and okay, so this was back in 2011, and I know it doesn't feel like it was that long ago, but I'll explain that Google logo used to have bevels and drop shadows.
Monica Kim: When I told people about my interview, everyone was like, "I didn't know Google's hiring motion designers. What are you going to do there? They're a tech company," and it was much before tech companies were sweeping away a lot of designers, like right now. So I had an interview with this young team called Google Creative Lab, where this program called Google Five, which they hire five different graduates with different skills. So I started as a fiver, and after a year, I became a full-time staff.
Joey: So it's interesting, I had heard of Google Creative Lab. I'd never heard of the Google Five, I actually wasn't aware that they picked five people, but my friend Bee Grandinetti is actually one of the Google Five right now, so if she's listening, hi Bee! Okay, and it's funny because I didn't realize until you just said it that you're right, in 2011, Google was just Google. It was starting to get pretty big, but it wasn't Google, you know?
Monica Kim: It wasn't this Google yet.
Joey: It wasn't Google. So okay, they ask you for an interview, and what was it about ... because obviously you're very talented and I'm assuming you had other opportunities you could've pursued. What was it about this opportunity that made you want to take it?
Monica Kim: It really was ... I just didn't know what to expect from Google, because I think my dream when I was in school, I was like, "Oh, I want to go work at places like Buck or Prologue that I used to love, and I was only thinking about motion studios in more like a traditional sense, and when I got an email from Google, I was like, "Wait, I don't know what I'll be doing there," and that really excited me.
Joey: So what did you end up doing there? At that time, what was Google doing with a motion designer?
Monica Kim: They did not have a motion designer. So when they were interviewing me and they were looking at my work, and they're like, "Oh, cool. I think we can use you. I think we can, maybe we'll have some projects for you," and my first, I think two months, I was making posters or doing print design. They just didn't know how to utilize motion design as a skill, but it was actually my first project, my very first project as a motion designer was a concept video for Google Glass. It's RIP, because it's not dead, but now it's being used in the medical or manufacturing industry, but now everyone's, we all have seen those same tech startup videos with inspirational background music, but those didn't exist back then, back in 2011, so back then, our team, after talking with this team called Google X, which is a semi-secret, R&D engineering team that worked on all the super cool stuff, they heard about this new glass technology and decided to help on design thinking. So instead of sending a long presentation back, they decided to make a video.
So that's when they were like, "Oh, I think Monica can do some animation in here," and that's how I got involved, and it was an exercise to, of course, think about a UI design in a conceptual sense, but also to envision what we want from this technology, not as an engineer, but as a user, like a normal person, how we'll be using this glass day to day. So this was super fun, because the technology was still in a such a baby step development, and the hardware was still in development. The hardware wasn't there yet. And I'm sorry I keep saying back then, but really, back then, the designers in tech companies, we were more used to solving specific tasks from engineers, but this time, it was designers making a conceptual prototype from their own imagination and trying to inspire engineers with the design.
Joey: So this is something that I recently kind of find out about motion design, what you're talking about back in 2011, that was the absolute cutting edge thing for a motion designer to be doing, to literally be helping to figure out the product itself, you know?
Monica Kim: Right.
Joey: Sort of pre-vising the product, and now there's a lot of companies doing that. We actually took a field trip recently to Detroit and we visited this company there called Vectorform, and they do that exactly, companies like Microsoft hire them to do that for when the Kinect came out, they were like, "Okay, we have this technology that can do this. What can we do with it that's cool?" It's interesting because you need to be able to think creatively about what those possibilities are, and then you need to be able to somehow design a cool representation of that and then produce some sort of visual, and motion designers just happen to be uniquely qualified to do that, and so now motion designers are getting pulled into the product side of things.
Monica Kim: Absolutely.
Joey: Yeah, that's really cool. I didn't know Google was doing that in 2011. You're right, it doesn't sound like that long ago, but in motion design years, that's 150 years ago.
Monica Kim: Yeah, right.
Joey: You know, good lord. What version of After Effects were we on back then?
Monica Kim: Right.
Joey: That's crazy. Okay, so what was it like working at Google back then? I mean now there's stories of free breakfast and everyone gets a Segway to go around the campus. I know that that's the West Coast campus, but what was it like? What sort of work life balance and perks and stuff like that did you have while you were there?
Monica Kim: I mean, yeah, they do have all of those annoying perks like free food, free massage. They have nap pods where you can take naps. Work life balance I think was pretty ... I mean, tech companies do a great job trying to make it pretty healthy, although a lot of people end up not leaving the building, because you can do everything in the building and after a couple years, I was like, "Wait a minute. I need fresh air. I think I want to actually spend maybe $2, I don't know, on something and go outside," and I'm not being, I guess this might be a first world problem, but also the fact that you're not leaving the same area can drive you crazy.
But to be relevant to the subject and to be super nerdy, the best part/perk about working at Google, for me personally, was I got to meet and work with so many, in one of the best motion studios in the world. I've seen a lot of celebrities coming into the office, but I was actually more excited when the guys from Framestore came over and they showed us how they made visual effects for Gravity, the movie Gravity, and the guys at Ustwo, they came to show how they made Monumental Valley, and I met folks from Animade and Strange Beast from London, and I got to work with places like Buck, Imaginary Forces, Prologue, [inaudible 00:38:23], so yeah, Google has lots of money and they can hire whoever the fuck they want, so that was actually the biggest perk for me.
Joey: That's super cool. I taught for one year at a college down here, Ringling, and that was one of the coolest perks that I got was there was a lot of cool speakers coming and giving presentations and so the founders of We Are Royale came down and David Lewandowski came, and I was kind of a big fan of his weird rubber guy video, so yeah, that was really funny, and that's a funny thing about motion design, too, is that you can sort of have this weird celebrity in this tiny little room of dorky designers.
Monica Kim: Yes, totally.
Joey: Yeah, and Adam Plouff, who makes, he created Overlord and RubberHose for After Effects, he worked at Google for a while and he wrote an article about it on Motionographer, and he said that one of the coolest things was he was around these geniuses all day long. I mean, Google can hire the smartest people in the world and pay them whatever they want. Hopefully they paid you whatever you asked, but ... Were you interested also at that point in talking to developers and people doing things that weren't motion design but that were just crazy smart?
Monica Kim: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was actually working ... The sad thing about my team, honestly, was that there weren't many motion designers, so I think towards the end of my career there, they started hiring a bunch of freelancers and they had a lot of motion designers, but for a good chunk of time, there were only one or two other motion designers, and there were no seniors above me that I can ask, "Hey, how do I do this?" So I was, my teacher was basically a YouTube tutorial, but on the other hand, I got to work with amazing engineers or creative coders who, the way they use After Effects, I've never seen anything like that, because I open their project file and it's all expression. There's no keyframe and things are moving in a massive whatever scale, and I'm like, "How do I?" And they're like, "Oh, Monica, can you fix this?" And I'm like, "No, I ... no." [inaudible 00:40:43].
Joey: It's funny you say that. I think there's kind of, there's this gradient of After Effects users, and it sounds like maybe you're on the other side, where you make it look the way you want however you can, and then there's on the other side, you've got people who, "God damn it, I will not set a single keyframe. I am going to type in code. I don't care how long it takes me to figure this out." It's really funny, when I was trying to find out about you, I found a post, I can't remember, it might've been a Facebook post or something, and you mentioned Joe Donaldson as one of your inspirations, and he's probably a lot like you, he just kind of figures out how to make it look the way he wants. He doesn't write expressions and do all that stuff, you know, and the truth is, it doesn't matter, but it's cool that you were exposed to that.
Okay, so it sounds like Google was a lot of fun. You probably learned a ton. At what point did you decide, "All right, it's time to spread my wings and fly somewhere else"?
Monica Kim: Can I be honest?
Monica Kim: All right, I'm not trying to be negative, I'm just trying to be really honest here. So I had an amazing time at Google. I really appreciate all my time there. I genuinely had a lot of positive experience in the tech world, but there was a reason that I left. I was young when I started, I was 23, and I was also a tech nerd myself, so there was a genuine excitement about working in the biggest tech company in the whole world, and they also do a great job making employees believe that they're the ones changing the world, and I was also naïve enough to believe that. But tech companies, or really anyone who thinks that they have the solution for other people, especially when you have a significant amount of power over who you're influencing, so you know, okay, white bros with seven-figure salary, to believe that they have all the answers for, you know, they always love picking places like India or the entire continent of Africa, that can be dangerous, and so by the time I left, I had a lot of honestly mixed feeling about tech industry. I had a trunk of sadness about it, too.
You know, I still take them as a client, and I probably should not say anything negative about my clients, but last year with Google, I worked on a documentary called AlphaGo, and this was shortly after I left. It's the AI that beats the human world master, Lee Sedol, who also happened to be Korean, and Go is one of the oldest board game, and it's like our chess, but we consider it as a form of art and creativity.
So seeing AI winning over the grand master, it's not just about having this crazy tech. Now we're questioning like our purpose and meaning as a human being. Like what's art? What are we if AI can start making art and music, and it's ... A lot of those questions actually, my answer to that was that I actually want to do something that's closer to humans, closer to ... rather than tech, I actually want to go back to where I'm rooted from and I guess now that I'm on this podcast, I actually did wanted to say now that designers along with engineers and scientists, now we also have to start thinking about those problems, like who are you designing for? Who are you making this for, and are you actually aware or thinking about possible side effects that might be just much larger than what you can simply fix with design?
Joey: Oh, you've just opened a huge can of worms.
Monica Kim: I'm sorry.
Joey: Oh, okay, no, no, no. This is amazing. This is, okay. So let's dig into this a little bit. There's two humongous points you just made, and I want to talk about both of them. The first one, I'm trying to think how to put it. So you were working for, even at the time, Google was a huge tech company, and now they're, I think maybe aside from Amazon, they maybe are number two, but they're huge, right, they're massive. And with that, and their size, by the way, I'm referring to not just the amount of money that they're worth and the amount of cash that they have to spend, which is almost infinite, but also just in terms of their resources. They have the best developers in the world on staff. They have PhDs in AI sitting in a room thinking all day and stuff like that, and there's this weird thing that happens, I've definitely come around to this idea that at least the way our American culture and sort of economic system is set up, it's very easy to start with these lofty, very benevolent goals, and Google's motto, I think it still is, is "Don't be evil," right? Or that's one of their mottoes?
Monica Kim: Yes.
Joey: And it's very easy to do that when you're small and I mean it's interesting, School of Motion's very small, and there's things that we have been doing since the beginning because it's just so easy for us, like someone writes in from a country where their currency is just totally devalued compared to ours and they cannot afford one of our classes. Sure, just give them a free class. Right? It's like, it feels good. It feels like the right thing to do, but as we grow, all of the sudden, there's these other pressures, like is it legal to do that? What if they're from a country that has an embargo against that? And okay, now what happens if an investor gets involved, if we ever do that, and what are they going to say? And at the level of Google, a publicly traded company, I can't imagine the weird pressures that push them to do things that make money right now, that aren't really ... and I think Facebook's probably the best example of a company struggling with that right now. They just, for the first quarter in their history, had a net user loss, because people are starting to see those side effects.
So obviously, and what I want to say before we go any deeper into this, is that Google is a company and companies are weird. Companies can act in strange ways that are counterintuitive, but the reason for that is because it's just made up of people, and I'm sure that on an individual basis, most of the people that you worked with at Google were amazing people with their hearts in the right place. So I'm curious if you could just talk a little bit about, without saying anything bad or nasty, I'm just curious if you could elaborate a little bit more on some of the things that made you question like, "You know, am I really doing good? Am I making the world better by the work I'm doing here?"
Monica Kim: Every single individual, almost every single person that I met at Google, were very brilliant. I have a lot of close friends who I met at work, and I don't just consider people as a colleague or just work mates. They are my good friends, and those are ... I met so many brilliant people. It's funny how, I guess the collective mind works. All of a sudden ... Well, not all of a sudden, it's as a collective group mind, and I guess ... This is also dangerous working for corporate, especially when you're a young designer, because you think what you do for a living is what you are. Of course, it can influence the other way, who you are can influence the corporate, but when you're young, it works a lot in the opposite way, where all of a sudden now you belong to this huge group, and you know, one of the most privileged group with bunch of different smart people, so now you are actually being confused about, I guess, your own identity or your own thought process, mixed with the corporate goal, which, you know, it's corporate. They're meant to make money, and they have a clear, specific goal that might not be your personal goal.
Joey: Yeah, I tell our students that exact thing a lot. Even at small companies where there's only 10 people and you know your boss really, really well and they're like a mentor to you, you might think, "Well, our interests are aligned. I want to become a better motion designer and do better work and cooler work and get on Motionographer and this and that, and they probably want the same thing, right, because it's their company and it'll make their company look good, and it's good for everybody and everybody wins," but in the end, the incentives are not aligned, but the boss' primary stressor and concern a lot of the times is, "I need to bring in clients. I need to keep the doors open. I have a lot of overhead. I need to make sure I can pay the bills and keep everybody employed," and sometimes that leads you to take on work that you don't really want to do, but it's got a big number attached to it.
Now I don't think Google has that problem, but I'm guessing that there's probably products that Google does design for and they build and they make videos for, and maybe they never even get released, but they're probably things that you saw, and you probably can't talk about everything, but where you were like, "Wait a minute, that's going to ... That's not going to be good."
Monica Kim: Oh yeah, I had tons of ... Well, okay, the one that went semi-public was the one, so I was working on this, it was a nano robot that detects a single cancer cell. So it's a tiny little robot that goes inside your body and it's meant to help you. It's meant to help [crosstalk 00:50:47]-
Monica Kim: That's the initial purpose of it. And then your question is, "Wait a minute. Where does all the data go, then? What about all the extra data that we don't know where it's being used or being stored?" And Google already has an information almost the whole earth. They have Google Earth, Google Maps. I love Google Maps, but it's also very ... What about privacy? What if I don't want to be in the photo of ... What if I don't want to be shown by satellites? Do I get an option?
Joey: Yeah, I once had to do, this was before School of Motion, when I was freelancing, I had to do a video for a client. They were an ad agency and they were talking about this new capability that they'd built and it was basically an internal video they were going to use to sell to clients to get new accounts, and the video was talking about how they'd figured out how to take and aggregate data and this is crazy, people listening, I bet a lot of you don't even know that this data's out there, but there are companies you've never heard of that sell data, that know ... They sell the GPS data from your smartphone. They know where you've been. They know what magazines, what websites, they know everything about you, but there's like 10 of them. They know what cable package you have. They know what Netflix videos you watch.
This agency had figured out how to aggregate all of that into this one thing where they could essentially target people in New York City who work for tech companies who lived in Asia for some of their life and are females between the ages of 20 and 35, and they can target you. And I did this video, and I was really at the beginning like, "Oh, the design's cool, and look at this animation I'm doing," and then it wasn't until probably a year or two later when I went back and watched it and I'm like, "Oh, my god. This is Big Brother. This is really kind of creepy." And this is now a service that you can buy from an ad agency.
Monica Kim: Right.
Joey: Yeah, okay. Well, let's talk about the other big can of worms you opened, which I think is a little bit, frankly more interesting. You were talking about how there are now these computer programs that are loosely called AI that can beat humans at certain tasks, and one of the most famous examples is they've beaten the best humans in the world at Go. I've never played Go, I don't know the rules, but I've read about this, and I know that it's one of these games where it's very simple rules, but it's almost an infinite number of possibilities. It is a lot like chess. And just as a human, it's kind of neat to think, "Oh, there's a computer that can drive a car better than I will ever be able to drive a car, so why not just let the computer do it? I'm cool with that."
As a creative person, though, that is kind of weird, because what happens when, and do you even think it's possible, that there could be a computer program that Google maybe is working on right now that can design something in one second that is as good as something that you could do that would take you two weeks? You know? And is that the sort of thing that kind of worried you, or was it sort of a different spin on it?
Monica Kim: Absolutely. I think it's almost inevitable that it will be possible, because again, going back to Go, it's a board game, but I guess in a lot of East Asian culture, it's viewed as a form of art, because playing Go, it reveals a lot about your strategy, your personality, who you are. These people, the masters of Go, they started getting trained from like age three or four, throughout their entire lives, and there's a whole poetic mastery, an art form behind it, and to watch Go ... And the shocking thing about AlphaGo, I mean I would love for people to watch the documentary because it raises a lot of question and emotions, but it wasn't just brute force, like, "Oh, I know the answer because I'm a computer." It was, the computer was actually learning on its own, learning by its own feedback and learning by itself, but it was also making some moves that all the Go masters were like, "Oh my god. That was the most creative," humans would not think about it because there's also all rules and histories in Go, but without that, AI was just creating something that wasn't, that didn't exist before.
And now when I'm on YouTube, now it makes automatic playlist, whatever, and sometimes I'm like, "Wait a minute, you know my musical taste exactly. You know me now," and for them to create and compose a music that in my ears I'll love, I think that's possible. I don't think that's too far out. And I guess that does raise a question of again, okay, then as a creative person ... Because it's easy for us to think, "Oh, we're different from, say, like animals, because we have this creativity," and that's not something, we just regard that as our unique skill or unique talent, except what if it's not? What if what we consider as a creativity can be so easily ... not just replicated, but created by something that's not human, and something that we actually created?
Joey: There's a lot of talk right now on the impact of AI on things that are kind of obvious, like what happens when all giant trucks are driven autonomously by AI, and all of the sudden, every person who's a truck driver for a living is out of a job and stuff like that, and that's kind of obvious, and what you're bringing up is, I mean, I hadn't really thought about that. This was sort of something that I guess I just thought, "Well, it can never really happen to a motion designer, because what we do is too esoteric and there's no way a machine could ever do it," and I think that I probably just have a simplistic view of what AI actually is.
I mean, the way you described it where you said it's not just brute force, let me calculate every one of the one million possible moves and pick the best one, that's not what it's actually doing. It's actually learning and coming up with its own strategies using some software technique, that is kind of interesting, and now I'm thinking, "Well, what happens ..." One of the most challenging things for me when I design things is picking colors. It's a very common thing people struggle with, even really good designers. I'm sure you probably sometimes have trouble picking colors, but what if Google pointed the machine learning supercomputer at a million images from the MoMA or something-
Monica Kim: Absolutely.
Joey: ... and then said, "Okay, pick a cool color combination for this grayscale image," and it will pick a good one every time. What does that do to our industry? It's interesting, Monica, yeah.
Monica Kim: Because I guess we also have a pattern as a human probably, the things that we appreciate, things that we find beautiful. I mean, a lot of people would say a lot of beauties that humans find, they resemble the nature, so there is some sort of, maybe a formula, and if there is, and if AI can master it, then they might be able to create something that always triggers ... We see it and we always feel like, "Oh my gosh, that is the best art. I love that," and I don't know.
Joey: I know, it's kind of gross to think about it, because I've met lots and lots and lots of artists, and the ones that are really, really ... I think the ones that really identify themselves with their art the most closely, those are the ones that probably would feel the grossest about this, the idea that when you pour your soul into something and you've mastered your craft and you can create this, let's just say, a painting, that you can show it to someone and it makes them feel something, it makes them feel, I don't know, anxious or it makes them feel a little ... I don't know, depressed or happy or whatever, hopeful, it's nice to think that there's this unnamed quality to the thing that we just made, this thing I can't put my finger on that makes that art successful, and the truth is, maybe we just haven't figured out what the formula is yet. I mean, I hope that's not true, but-
Monica Kim: Me too.
Joey: ... but I mean, there's kind of some signs that maybe that's it, and I don't know, maybe there's going to be Google Art or Google Painter or something like that one of these days and it'll have cracked the code and it'll use the golden ratio plus some machine learning and we'll have googlebuck.com.
Monica Kim: Right.
Joey: Oh, my gosh. All right, we have to change topics before this gets too depressing. That's really, anyone listening to this that's fascinated by this, check out the documentary. We'll link to it in the show notes, the AlphaGo one, and I'm definitely going to have to check that out, too.
So let's talk about the shortcut that we kind of hinted at earlier. If you go to Monica's Instagram, your Instagram bio was really fascinating, and it says something to the effect of, "I'm working for all the medicinal plants and birds." I thought those were just two very interesting choices. So let's start with the medicinal plants. What did you mean by that?
Monica Kim: Okay, they are ... I always consider that they are my ultimate teacher and bosses, like yes, I'm talking about psychedelic plants that are medicinal, not just psychedelic, but cannabis or mushroom or ayahuasca or you know, everything. I guess my dream is to share the teaching and love from Mother Nature and through whatever medium I have, and for now, it's the visual art as a medium, whether it's video or illustration or tattoo. But yeah, by birds, I really love birds, and I know cats are the internet, but there are a few of us who are just obsessed with [inaudible 01:01:31], and yeah, one-third of my Instagram feed, I think it's all bird videos. I used to have a few parrots and the very last one that I had was named Taco, who used to come wake me up kicking my face with his feet, and he comes into shower and wash himself and he throws a ball at me when he's mad. He says, "I love you," so yeah, I have ... Well, I mean, when I talk about birds, though, I usually do mean all the living beings on this planet Earth. I just happen to love the bird tribe the most.
Joey: So when I went to your website, I went to your website and I looked at your work before I found your Instagram, and I noticed this recurring motif of mushrooms, and I was like, "Huh, that's really interesting. I wonder if Monica's a psychonaut and into that sort of thing?" So I want to ask you about that, because this is something I've been interested in a good portion of my life. I don't have tons of experience with it. There's another podcast episode with Caspian Kai for anyone listening where we dove into this pretty deeply, and his experience with psychedelics, but I'd love to hear sort of your story with them, Monica, and how did you discover that these plants, and I love that they're called medicines kind of in this world, that they could be a tool to open up new ideas and to show you things?
Monica Kim: Yeah, so I think whether I intended or not, all of my psychedelic experiences and also meditation, of course, they do heavily influence all my works. So whether it's a literal drawing of a mushroom or a metaphoric room of DMT, and sometimes I don't even see it myself until I finish the work, and then I'm like, "Oh shit, there was a very subtle bit of my vision there," and you know, sometimes it can be a corporate work and I'm like, "Oh, wait. I somehow planted that." You know, I would love to do more personal work that's focused on that world, but yeah, I use the term medicine because plants literally, like literally saved me, because going back to my story of Google, I guess at some point in my fancy career with a big salary, I was very depressed. I used to drink a lot, and I'm very small, I'm like five feet tall and like 99 pounds. I used to drink like half a bottle of whiskey every night.
Monica Kim: Yeah. I was, I guess I was really lonely, because I was feeling so disconnected from my people, my land nature and everything.
Monica Kim: And it was a few intense psychedelic trips followed by more psychedelic trips, including mushroom, LSD, DMT and ayahuasca, also cannabis, and again, meditation, that really saved me. Like saved me that now I'm so happy and healthy. Even before, I guess I talk about inspiration, like when I was depressed, I hated animation. I thought, "Oh, I thought I loved this, and now I'm just generating ads for money, and there's no sense of fulfillment or joy or sense of creativity when I'm looking at a screen," and it obviously wasn't the animation, it was me that I was angry at. But now I'm back and I really love the animation as a tool, like as a message tool for psychedelics, because for me, the psychedelic and meditation are the learning tools, and the animation is the expressing tool.
I guess the best example is I know everyone says this, but again, Hayao Miyazaki and all the Ghibli films. Right? So that bathhouse from the Spirited Away, I go to that exact place in my ayahuasca trip. I go there every time. And without using psychedelics, I guess, they were able to express that exact spirituality and animism and so beautiful, but in a form that's so easy to digest, because I guess with or without psychedelic tools, we all know that place, because we're all from the earth, and animation, I guess because of its flexibility and it allows this feeling of magic, and I think it is one of the best way to show you that exact world. So yeah, that's why I always say I want to make animations for plants and birds.
Joey: Well, first of all, Monica, thank you so much for sharing that story. I know that it's very, maybe it's not difficult for you, but it probably is. It's difficult to be that honest about your past demons, and I think that, to be honest, I'm not surprised to hear that you went through something like that, because you're obviously a very driven, ambitious person in a way, and I think that that type of person, especially when you achieve a lot of success early in your career, it can kind of trigger this existential questioning, like, "Wait a minute. I have achieved on paper what I thought I wanted to-"
Monica Kim: Right, I thought, yes.
Joey: I went through something very similar, and it's interesting, because man, there was never a point in my life where I could've drank a half a liter of whiskey. That would've ... That's actually impressive in a weird way, but I definitely, when I was sort of in the darkest part of my career, right before I moved to Florida and started School of Motion and sort of found what I really like doing, I was drinking a lot more than I was comfortable and a lot more than most people around me knew, and it was interesting, and I always, I remember looking ... At some point, you have this realization, like, "I'm not happy. The work I'm doing isn't fulfilling. I'm self destructing." You know? Not literally, but there's self destructive behavior, and I remember searching for that way out, and now I'm almost like, "I wonder if I had just like ..." I didn't have any friends or any sort of network that was into this sort of stuff, and now I do, and now I meditate a lot. I do a lot of other weird things, Wim Hof breathing and holotropic breathing, I'm way into it. And I'll say, just for anyone listening, that I can get woo-woo on this podcast pretty easily.
There's something that happens to a lot of creatives, and I'd love to hear what you think, Monica, where you do associate the work you're doing with you, and the whole point of meditation is to kind of break that link where you realize that you are not really a thing, and that what you're doing is completely separate from the thing that is you, and that psychedelics, I know a lot of people really have no interest in ever trying ayahuasca or DMT or ... Well, DMT is probably the ... that's the one you probably wouldn't want to try if you're not really into it, but even psilocybin or THC. It's just kind of briefly shows you, it just kind of shoves that in your face. It's kind of like, "You know what? You are not the thing you think you are," and sometimes that's enough to kind of break that chain. And for me, the thing that really got me out of it was running, because I do long distance running and you can kind of achieve a similar state doing that, but yeah, I think it's important to talk about this stuff, Monica.
So can you talk a little bit about some of the ... you talked about sort of the visuals and the interesting things that you see in your mind's eye when you do these things and when you meditate sometimes, but what are some of the lessons that you've taken away?
Monica Kim: That nothing's permanent.
Joey: Yeah, there you go.
Monica Kim: Yeah, that nothing's permanent. You know what, in a very, I guess, in a very basic way, it influenced me in things like, I used to not share my work or my personal work because I guess I thought it was too precious, or not too precious, I just wasn't confident or I always wanted to make it better. I guess I was attaching myself a lot onto it, but then with all these experiences, I'm like, "Wait a minute. Nothing's permanent. This work, myself, tattoo, even. Nothing's permanent." So I actually, that helped me a lot in every way where I'm like, actually, I'm still learning, then. I'm not presenting my work as some sort of a master. I'm still learning. I'm showing my work as a student, and as a student, it's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to look a little dumb. It's okay to look back and feel like, "That wasn't ... I kind of want to take it off of Vimeo," but you know, it's fine, because you're a student. And I guess that attitude was something that I really got from a lot of trips and meditations. Yeah.
Joey: I love that sentiment, too, and it's easy to forget, especially when you're young and you're early in your career and you're trying to get noticed, so you get those opportunities, you sometimes feel like if I take this shot by putting this work out there and people criticize it, then I've blown it, and I'm done forever, and it comes back to this idea that criticism of your work is not criticism of you, and it's really ... It's kind of fascinating to me, trying to build a business like School of Motion, basically any entrepreneur at some point is going to start reading self-help books and trying to figure it out, and it's funny how a lot of these ideas come up over and over again, this idea of not feeling a connection to your actions, as though ...
For example, right now we are launching a jobs board in a few weeks, probably by the time this episode comes out, it'll already be live, and so I'm reaching out to companies and I'm saying, "Hey, would you like to buy a posting on our jobs board?" And I'm probably going to get like 8 out of 10 of them are going to say no, and 10 years ago, that would've devastated me. Every time someone said, "No, I don't want the thing you just offered me," it would break me. And it's just been sort of a combination of frankly meditation and growing up and exposing myself to uncomfortable nos and people saying, "No, I don't like the thing that you made," that kind of helps you do the thing you actually want to do, and I don't know. I don't know where I'm going with this, but I really hesitate to suggest that people take psychedelics on this podcast, so I won't go that far, but I definitely would recommend that people explore this part of yourself that most people don't.
So Monica, can we talk a little bit just about meditation? Like when you meditate, do you use an app? Do you do a certain type of meditation? How does your practice work?
Monica Kim: Oh, for me, I do Vipassana meditation. There's a center in Massachusetts where I go for 10-day courses. I'm actually going next week ... yeah, next week, for another 10-day courses, and so I use specifically Vipassana tradition right now, but I guess growing up, it was a combination of Zen Buddhism and my own, I guess, meditation experiences. I tried with apps, I guess me personally, I wasn't ... as soon as there's phone around me, I start getting distracted, so for me, it was best to be away from it, and I was also getting tired of tech everywhere in my life, so I was like, "Oh, maybe I'll completely take off," but I think it's a great way for a lot of people to start, because it can be a good reminder and it's less of a burden or it feels maybe less weird. But yeah, I use Vipassana and I know 10 days is a long time for a lot of people, but I also don't, I can't tell people to, "Oh, go use psychedelics," but if you have 10 days and if you're interested in meditation, I can confidently say Vipassana is, it's amazing.
Joey: Are you doing a 10-day silent retreat where you don't talk?
Monica Kim: Yeah. Yup.
Joey: Oh, that's super cool. I've always wanted to do one of those. I have three kids now, so the thought of explaining to my wife, "Hey, I'm going to go away for 10 days and leave you with three kids," that's kind of tricky, but yeah, at some point, I definitely want to try that. Man, I could talk about this stuff forever.
All right, I want to get into some of the stuff that you're doing now, because you're doing some pretty interesting things now. So your Instagram also has a ton of tattoo artwork on it, and I was trying to figure out, are those your tattoos, are you covered in tattoos? Or are you designing tattoos for other people? So what are you doing in the world of tattoos?
Monica Kim: I do tattoo, so yeah, I spent a few month last year in Korea going through the tattoo apprenticeship, and this was me trying to learn something completely new and that was really hard. My teacher was so harsh, and he's very Korean and you know, back in, I guess, my slight arrogant mind, I thought, "Well, you know, I'm a designer. I can do this." No. There were so many moments of utter humiliation. He would say things like, you know, "Whoever the fuck gives you a design job don't know shit." And in my mind, I'm like, "Google?"
Monica Kim: You know, tattooing itself is really hard, but designing for a human body ... I was so used to motion design and stuff that moves, and I'm also not a pixel perfectionist and tattoo is, in a way, completely opposite. It's one frame and it's there forever, except it's not forever because the beauty and the meditation of the tattoo is that no, you won't be here forever, so no, you and your tattoo are not going to be here permanent. Nothing's permanent. So yeah, now I do both design and tattoo.
Joey: I've never, it's funny, I have one tattoo, so I don't have a lot of experience with tattoos, but I'm fascinated by them. What is it like using a tattoo gun? I'm imagining, as a motion designer, the undo button is just drilled into my brain, but you've got this thing that if you mess up, maybe you can fix it a little bit, but how do you actually ... How do you do that? How do you, the first time you put a tattoo on somebody's skin, how scared were you? How did you do that?
Monica Kim: Okay, I'm sure you guys won't judge me for this, but when I first started working with a tattoo machine, I actually had my left hand trying to do Command-Z. There were a couple moments there I was like "Oh,[inaudible 01:16:30] .I'm trying to press Command-Z," because I'm so used to using Cintiq, so in a way, it's similar. I'm like, I'm still drawing with my right hand, but on my left hand, I'm like, "Where's the go back button? Oh, shit."
Joey: That's hilarious.
Monica Kim: So nerve wracking in a certain ... Of course, it becomes ... again, I think it becomes a meditation, because you have to really be in there. You can't ... You know, when I'm animating, I love doing cel animation, but when I'm animating, I sometimes get high or it's like it do it loose and I go back, I start all over again. With tattoo, it's just, you only get one chance and you have to do it right, and that pressure and stress and ... That weirdly gives you a cathartic ... You also get high from it because you're so, so, so focusing.
Monica Kim: But it was [inaudible 01:17:25], it was such a different experience, because again, doing a moving image where honestly one frame might not affect the whole storyline, where this is like you only get one frame, one shot. Hell yeah.
Joey: Yeah, it almost sounds like performing. You know? You get up there and you get one shot and that's it, and if you mess up, oh well, and there is a high that comes along with that, anyone who's performed music or in a play or something like that definitely knows that. That's really interesting. Okay. And then the other thing I wanted to ask you about was Jinn and Juice, which I had a hard time trying to figure out what it was, but the design is just gorgeous. So could you tell us about that?
Monica Kim: Yes, so it's actually, we haven't, we're actually not, we're not talking about it public too much because of very obvious reason, but it's a collaborative project with me and my fiance, who he's also an animator and he's also a long traveler of the psychedelic world. Okay, first of all, deep inside, we're hoping this to be a spiritual carnival with both of our cultural background as a metaphor, like psychedelic 1,001 Nights. But on the surface, it's a brand. It's a weed edibles brand that we're developing right now, and of course, we're preparing this for the legal market in Massachusetts. Yay. I love cannabis, and I'm a very extreme micro user, because I am so sensitive, maybe 2 to 3 milligrams of weed, I'm flying out there, and I also learned that with these micro consumptions, it helps a lot of people. I've seen a lot of people getting, they're getting sleeping better or reduce anxiety and in a way, it helps people to connect with others or to themselves.
So going back to the brand, so it's still in a prototyping phase, but because of the skills that we have, we're trying to make visual storytelling a huge part of this brand, and I was in a marketing team for six years, so yeah, prototyping a brand is what I've been doing with all those years in Google, but I want the visual to be, I guess, part of a larger, sensory experience, and maybe we'll make it so that you get high with our edibles and then watch our trippy nature animation in VR, you know, who knows? But yeah, everyone in the cannabis industry says this, but of course, we also want to break this stoner stigma and make the product for the wider audience, but part of me definitely wants to celebrate this weirdness and slight darkness and the lightness from being high. And again, animation's such a perfect medium for this world, or the video in general, I mean.
Joey: Yeah, I'm just thinking, I suspect that the motion design community is going to be a big fan of what you're doing.
Monica Kim: Yay!
Joey: That's really awesome. Man, what a cool project. You have your hands in so many things. All right, so let's leave with this. You've been so generous with your time. So you've got this crazy resume, you've got Google on your resume, which opens lots of doors, and you've got a great portfolio, and it seems like you're sort of in this position now to do kind of whatever you want. You could freelance, you could go get another job with some huge paycheck, so I'm just curious, someone in your position, what is it that you're aiming at now? Do you have a goal, or are you just kind of going to go where the wind blows you?
Monica Kim: I think now we finally, we as I guess both of us as a team, now we have a better goal, and we're actually working as a small studio/vendor for mainly tech companies because that's where my connections are, but now I work for still mostly Google or Facebook or Spotify, and it's been much healthier because I can detach easier and I don't, I guess ... Sometimes I have to work on some things that I don't necessarily believe in, but I don't have a luxury to turn it down because I have to pay rent, and quite honestly, almost all the studios and agencies now work for the same clients. Right? So then I try to focus on why I'm doing this, and my goal in life, I've said this multiple times now, but I do want to work for medicinal plants and birds and for Mother Earth, and I am talking about taking care of nature, of course, but also about helping people healing themselves and reconnecting with their spirits. Happy humans means happy Earth, and so happy birds probably ...
Joey: And it's really all comes down to helping the birds. Everything, I get it.
Monica Kim: This can be in any forms. Maybe it's this weed brand that I'm working on, or maybe it's through organizing a space for a growing community that celebrates psychedelics and spirituality, or tattooing like mini medicines on people's skin, or maybe one day I'll attempt to make something that is as beautiful as Miyazaki's, and oh, actually speaking of which, if you haven't watched Pom Poko, it's not really, it's from Ghibli. It's not that famous piece from 1994. You have to watch it, it's really beautiful.
Joey: Ooh, yeah. I haven't seen that one, so I'll definitely have to check that one out, too.
Monica Kim: Yeah.
Joey: Awesome. Well, Monica, thank you so much. This was super fascinating for me. I hope it was for everybody else listening, too, if you made it this far. Yeah, and I have a feeling we're definitely going to have you back on in the future.
Monica Kim: Yay, thank you. Thank you, it was so much fun.
Joey: Whoa. Am I right? Make sure you check out Monica's work at monicak.im, and we'll have links to everything we talked about in the show notes at schoolofmotion.com. I want to thank Monica for being so open about her experiences, good and bad, and for being brutally honest about things that are pretty hard to talk about sometimes.
If you dug this episode, make sure you subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or Spotify, so you can get notified when we have new episodes. Thank you so much for listening. Rock on.