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How to Be a Hand-Drawn Hero: An Interview with Animator Rachel Reid
What's it take to be a master of hand-drawn animation? In this interview, we sit down with Rachel Reid, one of the best animators in the Motion Design world.
To most of us, the thought of meticulously drawing a Motion Design project by hand falls somewhere between climbing Mount Everest and developing the ability to turn coconuts into money. But for Rachel Reid hand-drawn animation isn’t just a challenge, it’s her full-time gig.
Rachel works at Gunner, one of the hottest Motion Design studios in the world. Her work has been staff picked by Vimeo, showcased on Motionographer, and we frequently talk about her work here on School of Motion.
Rachel was kind enough to sit down and chat with Joey about her experience in the industry. In the podcast, Rachel gets into all of the details about her equipment and process. It’s a fantastic insight into one of the most challenging disciplines in art. Enjoy!
Rachel Reid: Selected Works
Here are some projects Rachel has worked on over the last few years.
Notice the unique usage of shadow in the animation. Can you imagine figuring that out? Wowzers.
Game of the Day
It’s amazing to think that this project was hand-drawn. Notice how complex the camera movements are. Animating movement like that would be a huge challenge for any artist.
Rachel Reid’s Reel
Here’s Rachel’s reel from a few years ago. You’ll probably recognize a few of the projects right away.
Rachel Reid Transcript
Joey: Recently, School of Motion took a field trip to Detroit, Michigan to film at four studios in an attempt to find out what it's like to be a modern day motion designer. Now, you'll be seeing the results of that trip soon enough, but in the meantime, I want to tell you one thing that happened while we were there. We were visiting a studio called, Gunner, an incredible shop that's been getting a ton of attention lately for their killer work. And while we were there, we noticed one artist doing things a little differently than everyone else. Instead of using After Effects or Cinema 4D to make things move, she was doing it the old fashioned way, frame by frame, trying to get the hair on this one character to sway just right. Her name is Rachel Reid, and in today's episode you're gonna find out what it takes to do traditional cel animation at the level required to work at a place like Gunner.
Rachel's work has an incredible amount of variety for someone who literally has to draw every single frame, and she's got some really amazing insights about developing the ability to have different styles, getting the hang of traditional animation, and even some great tips for drawing in general. She's a rising star in the world of mo-graph, and we are honored to have her. So, let's hear from Rachel right after this quick message from one of our alumni.
Paul Pascal: Hello, my name is Paul Pascal, I'm from Portland, Oregon, and I've taken the After Effects Kickstart from School of Motion. What I've gotten from this course is learning properly how to use the tools, learning the practices, common techniques and effects to enhance my video projects. The training has helped my career by saving me time in post production and understanding along the way of what exactly I need to do to make the effects and tools work for the story and subject for my videos. This is also assisted me with quicker turnaround times and informing clients that I can get them their final product sooner than usual. I would recommend the After Effects Kickstart to anyone who wants to learn how After Effects operates and works by learning from n professional industry level instructor. My name is Paul, and I am a School of Motion graduate.
Joey: Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I am super excited to chat with you.
Rachel Reid: Thank you Joey for having me. I'm also super excited.
Joey: Awesome. I was really excited actually the first time I met you because Caleb from School of Motion and I had been sort of admiring all of the work on Gunner's website and we kept seeing this name pop up, Rachel Reid. And we were like, "We gotta meet ... I hope she's there when we go visit the studio." So, let's start way at the beginning. How did you get into drawing and animation? When did you know that this was something you wanted to pursue?
Rachel Reid: Well, it's just something that I've been into ever since I could remember. I remember my mom telling me that when I was 2 years old I was getting angry, scribbling on a piece of paper, balling it up, throwing it from the high chair. I've always been interested in Disney, and Pixar, and a lot of influence from Miyazaki. I just wanted to know how they did it because animated characters were just so real to me. It was like another dimension of something you created, but it's real, but not here on this Earth or something. It's something weird like that, that goes on in my mind about animation, but that's what it makes it really exciting.
Joey: I get it, and I don't know how old you are, but what are the Disney movies that growing up really sort of hooked you?
Rachel Reid: Well, I'm a '90s kid, so just turned 24, but Tarzan, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, all those. The Lion King was my favorite, those are the movies that kind of was like, "Yeah, I love to draw." I didn't know what an animator was at the time, but it just kind of naturally happened.
Joey: It seems like pretty much everybody I know who draws well, when I ask them, "How did you get good at drawing?" They say the exact same thing. They say, "I've been drawing since as long as I can remember. Since I was a kid, I was always drawing." And you just said the exact same thing. So, do you think ... The way my brain works is when I see someone who's really good at something, and you're very, very good at this.
Rachel Reid: Oh thanks.
Joey: I always want to know like, what's the secret? And I'm sure that you've been told many times in your life, "Wow. You draw so well, Rachel." Do you remember at what point you really started to feel like, "Okay, I'm good enough at this where maybe I should go to school for this."?
Rachel Reid: I guess it was ... my drawing always came naturally for me, but I honestly wanted to be a veterinarian because I always drew animals. I didn't really draw humans, or anything. And I was like, "I love to draw, but I love puppies. I want to be a veterinarian." But then after a while, I started to learn, or at least attempt learning animation because it's so hard even before college. So I was like, "I really love animation." I still kept up with all the Pixar movies that were coming out and just discovering some 2D animation as well. I said to myself, "Well, I should go to school for this." Because I went to Lawrence Tech University before art school, and I did Computer Science for a year. And I realized that school is a long time, four years, so I might as well just stop Computer Science and do what I love.
Joey: So, you ended up at the College for Creative Studies, and that's in Detroit, right?
Rachel Reid: Yes.
Joey: Okay, cool. Are you from Detroit? Is that why you went to that school?
Rachel Reid: Yeah, I'm from Detroit, born and raise here, never left.
Joey: I gotta say, I had never been to Detroit before the trip where I met you, and I didn't know what to expect because my only experience with Detroit was watching Eight Mile and hearing about Flint and stuff like that. And I get there and I'm like, "This city is amazing." And the scenes there is really cool. So, what was it like going to the College of Creative Studies? What was that program like? What were sort of things that you learned there?
Rachel Reid: The College for Creative Studies is primarily known for transportation design, being in Detroit. So I went there for the Entertainment Arts program, which includes traditional animation, games, and film. So what was great about the College for Creative Studies is really were the foundation classes. I think those really helped me as an animator more so than the Animation one class where you learn the principles of animation and then you move on to understanding timing and spacing in your animation. But the foundation courses, for me, helped me become a better artist in general, learning 2D design to just rendering drawings and gesture drawing and figure drawing and some perspective. All those classes combined really help me be more confident in my drawing as well as when I'm posing characters whether it's in 3D, or in 2D.
Joey: What were some of the things in those foundation classes that stuck with you?
Rachel Reid: Let me think ... I think getting a good gesture. When you're looking at a model, like a live model, you really want to make sure everything looks rounded, that everything flows from one part to the other. Pretty much, stuff like that because I used to ... before that class my characters would look really stiff, and there wasn't much movement in the strokes. I think gesture drawing really helped me loosely put some action into the pose. You know what I mean?
Joey: Yeah. One of the things that I've been told a lot because I taught for one year at the Ringling College of Art and Design, and we did this cool thing while I was there called Drawing Week where all of the students and all of the motion design classes spent the entire week drawing. And it was literally the first time in my life I'd ever sat with a big pad and a pencil and actually tried to just stare at something and draw it. We did some figure drawing, but it was like people had their clothes on, so it wasn't like the ... what everyone thinks of when you say figure drawing. And what kept coming up over and over with the speakers we had was you need to learn to see before you can draw. And I never really understood that. I'm curious if that idea of learning to see before you can actually learn to draw is something that resonates with you that maybe you picked up in those foundation classes.
Rachel Reid: Yeah, that's absolutely true because in gesture drawing and in the foundation classes most of the time you are just sitting there for a long time drawing the person. But beforehand, I remember doing these exercises where we couldn't put our eyes on the pad that we were drawing on. We had to keep our eyes locked on the model and then just try to see all of the little bumps, and the crevices, and all the stuff, and the skin, and just the way the muscles are rounded, and how the shoulder goes into the arm into the elbow into the forearm. And then just trying to look at all that stuff, so we can capture it. So we weren't able to look at the paper, which is so scary. And the drawing ends up looking like a mess, but you're really just training your eye to see all those things.
Joey: That's fascinating. You're the second person on this podcast to bring that up. The first was Lillian Darmono, and I asked her what drawing exercises she would recommend. And I think she called in blind contour drawing.
Rachel Reid: Yeah, that's it.
Joey: That's exactly what you just said, so it's really interesting. Yeah, I remember at some point learning some very, very basic rules, which are really more like anatomy rules for humans. And one of the things that came as shock to me is that your eyes are pretty much right in the center of your head vertically, but when you look at a person ... Well, it's different if you look at me because I don't have any hair, it's pretty obvious. But if you look at someone with hair, you sort of ... it's like your brain plays this trick on you, and you think the eyes are higher than they are. And so, that's sort of how I try to interpret the idea. You got to learn to see and let your brain not trick you and actually draw what you're seeing and not what you think you're seeing. Are there any other exercises you remember from that time that helped you develop any aspect of drawing? Muscle memory? Fine motor control? Stuff like that.
Rachel Reid: Yes, other than the blind contouring, I remember that our teacher had a stopwatch and the model would pose for 10 seconds and we had to quickly sketch the pose with charcoal. And then, boom, another pose, and then we had to quickly sketch that one. So, that instead of being so precious with our drawings we were able to experiment with the strokes. And how many strokes does it take to come across this pose? How does that read on the paper? Instead of sketching little tiny lines, so that it could look perfect. So the timed gesture drawing, for me, was really great because now I don't have to think too much about the pose, I can just do it.
Joey: What a cool exercise. I've seen I think ... I'm trying to remember the company. There's an online school, it's called the Gnomon School. G-N-O-M-O-N. And they have drawing classes where there's videos of models doing that and you only have a few seconds, or 30 seconds, or whatever to draw it. And it's interesting because it's making me think about the stuff you're doing now, where ... In the motion design when you're doing character animation, it's more common to have super stylized, simplified, abstracted characters than it is to have very realistic ones, where you really need to draw something that looks like a real human. Do you think that, that type of gesture drawing and ... I don't know what you'd call it, almost like just impressions, as opposed to concrete things. Did that help you develop your character design skills? That's something else I want to talk to you about is your character design skills, but did that help you get better at abstracting the human form?
Rachel Reid: I think so, yes. I think a combination of that as well as the time spent in class. Spending the whole three hours drawing a person has helped me because I feel like you have to understand the human body and actually draw all those forms and understand what a real human looks like and draw that before you can really abstract. You know?
Rachel Reid: But, yeah, that has definitely helped me rendering, like a real rendered drawing of a person. All the shading, and all the little divots and curves that you see in a person's face, drawing all that actually helps more so for abstracting a character because you know it's there. And then you know you can strip it all away and come up with something unique and different.
Joey: One of the things I noticed when I looked your portfolio site, and we'll link to this in the show notes, so everyone should go check it out. There's a lot of cool stuff in there. You have a lot of characters that you've drawn, and there are so many different styles of character on there. I've worked other character designers before and sometimes people sort of have one or two styles they're known for and that's kind of their thing. And it's hard for them to mimic a different style, or to just make up something totally different, but you don't seem to have that problem. So I'm curious if that's something that came naturally, or if you sort of have a method that you use when you're developing characters.
Rachel Reid: Well, I mean, for the longest time, I kind of struggled to find a style for myself. After taking the foundation courses, my style would always be very sketchy, very loose looking. However, it wasn't until I came to Gunner and worked with these talented people that I found out that, "Wow. I can actually change things up." Because from project to project, the characters change, the looks change. I have to be able to adapt to that, so when I move on to my personal work, when I go home from work, it automatically changes. My drawings end up looking different. It's a weird phenomena, it really is.
Joey: So, it's almost like ... and I'm gonna come back to this because I want to really dig into that, but it's almost like just being exposed and being forced to draw characters that someone else designed, but you're animating, for example. It's kind of seeped in and just kind of giving your brain different [inaudible 00:16:58].
Rachel Reid: Yeah, for example, in Space Explorers, I worked with this amazing illustrator, James Nullert. And he did all the style frames, and he did all the designs for the characters and the whole world of the short. And I worked on that project for a year and all of a sudden my drawings turned into James' drawings. You did it every day and you work on it and then it's like you forget your own style, at least I do. So, it's kinda like martial arts, where you just do something repetitively and then it's there until you work on the next project. You can shake it off.
Joey: I'm trying to think ... someone listening to this who maybe they have every character they draw looks exactly the same, which that would be me actually. I always forget to draw butts on my characters. But if I wanted to attempt to incorporate style I could sort of look, for example, some of your characters and sort of try to sketch them. And doing that for a while, I might sort of incorporate a little bit of that style. I really like this idea of you sort of having luckily ended up at Gunner, been exposed to so many different style and been forced to adapt to them. I think that's really, really cool. I wanted to ask you about ... when we met at Gunner you were drawing ... I think everybody had a big Cintiq or a small next to them. And you were drawing on a Cintiq. Do you find it comparable to drawing on paper? Is there anything you feel that's missing even with as good as Cintiq have gotten?
Rachel Reid: I feel like with animation there's no way I would animate on the computer without a Cintiq because it does feel like I'm drawing on paper because I used to animate with a tablet on the side, and I wasn't really ... I was like, "I don't know how to ... " My brain wasn't really connecting with my hand and the software. And it was like, "I wish I could just draw on the screen." And so, in that way Cintiq are super useful for doing anything with art on the computer. However, I use the Cintiq only when I'm ready to animate because, for me, paper allows me to get all my initial ideas and concepts out of the way. And the really bad ugly drawings out of the way of the way first. So I can't just go into Photoshop and start jotting out ideas and sketches on the Cintiq. You know what I mean?
Rachel Reid: Because it's like paper is just ... I don't know, it allows me to do all the rough stuff. I'm less intimated by it, and only then after I did all my work on paper I can move to the Cintiq.
Joey: That's kind of fascinating to me because I'm kind of the same way, and when I draw on paper if I'm doing thumbnail sketches, or something for an animatic, there's something about once I'm on the computer and I'm setting up Photoshop layers, it feels like I have to be more careful, which is weird even though you can hit undo in Photoshop. I don't know. It's like I kind of care more because of their pixels, but on paper it's like, I don't know, I have a stack of paper next to me, I should grab another one. It's really fascinating psychology. I don't really understand why it works that way, but I see a lot of people doing that.
Rachel Reid: Yeah, the Cintiq, when you're drawing in Photoshop on the Cintiq you just kind of ... I feel like every drawing as precious. It's like, "Oh, this gotta look because it's in Photoshop." I don't know where that mentality comes from. Yeah, it's like, I actually kind of almost animate everything on paper as thumbnails before I even move on to the computer because then it's almost like I've animated on paper beforehand. You know?
Joey: Let's talk about animation. First of all, I had a conversation with my buddy, Joe Donaldson, from Motionographer the other day, and I said the words, cel animation. Talking about what you do, like on a Cintiq drawing, animating in Photoshop. And he was like, "Well, it's not really cel animation because we're not drawing on celluloid anymore like we did in the '40s." I'm curious what you call it, the animation that you do?
Rachel Reid: I just call it 2D animation. I've never really heard it called cel animation until I came to Gunner, and then they're like, "Oh, you're a cel animator, right?" And I'm like, "Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, I draw on frames." And they're like, "Yeah, it's a cel animation." And I'm like, "Oh, okay. That's what I do." I always just follow that as just like traditional ... not traditional, but like 2D animation because it's on the computer. I've never called it cel animation until now.
Joey: There has historically, in motion design been a little bit of a separation between the type of animation that you do, drawing frame by frame, that sort of thing, and the type of animation that I used to do a lot of, which was you design something in Photoshop, and maybe you use Illustrator to create some elements. And then you bring it all into After Effects, and you animate it. And you're using the same principles, there's timing and spacing and follow through, and squash and stretch, and all that, but you're not actually drawing anything. And I think that to ... I kind of struggle to know what to call it either, and it seems, now, especially in places like Gunner, there's not much of a line anymore. And I'm curious how much exposure you had to sort of doing more traditional mo graphy-y stuff in After Effects where you have a shape layer, and then you put two key frames. Do you do any of that, or do you do everything the kind of old fashioned way?
Rachel Reid: I do everything the old fashioned way. I still don't understand how they do it in After Effects. After Effects, for me, when using it school was always like a compositing software. Just putting my animatics in there, putting sound in there, and not necessarily to animate in at all. So, yeah, that's something that I'm always curious about. Like, how do you animate After Effects, and how do you make it look so good and smooth? I still don't understand it.
Joey: That's really funny to me. So there's things that animators like me do in After Effects because we haven't practiced enough, aren't doing what you do. And it must look kind of silly like if need a character's arm to move a certain way, but the rig won't do it, we have to jump through 12 hoops and do all kinds of hacks to make it work, whereas you could just kind of draw the thing. But it's still feels sort of like a dark art I think to a lot of After Effects who haven't learned to do what you do. I've done a little bit of cel animation, I've dabbled in it a little bit. I think it's really fun. It's very, very difficult. I'm curious when you started dabbling in this, did it kind of come naturally to you, or was it just as painful for you to get the hang of as it was for me?
Rachel Reid: I feel like I can say that I have an eye for it, but there's never anything that I do that comes easy. I wish I was one of those people who could just do something, and it's automatically amazing. It takes a lot of patience, and a lot of work to do cel animation because first of all, you have to kind of know how to draw. And then you have to understand, at least when you're doing character animation, you have to understand body mechanics, you have to understand lead and follow. Like, "Should I make the head move first, and then the chest, or is the hips leading the character? It takes a lot of practice. I often feel like animators, we often ... people who are interested in the medium, they have an eye for it because they've seen it, they watched Miyazaki movies, and they developed their eye, but then it's like their hand has to catch up. And it's something that everybody has to get over the growing pains of animation. It's always painful. You know?
Rachel Reid: It's always painful, but it's worth going through that process to see end result for me.
Joey: Something you just said reminded of ... I don't know if you've seen it, but there's this great video, it's on Vimeo somewhere, of a short film based on this quote that Ira Glass of This American Life, he had this quote about what he calls the gap, which is the gap between your tastes that you've developed from watching things that you love and knowing what's good and what's bad, and you're actual ability to recreate those things. And with cel animation, that gap is pretty huge.
Rachel Reid: It's huge.
Joey: Yeah, so you mentioned ... you clearly have a grasp on the mechanics of it. You talked about lead and follow, which I'm guessing is basically follow through, another word. Like, things that lag, or that lead. So, you've also, in addition to going to the College for Creative Studies, you've taken classes with animation mentor, and I animate. I'm wondering if you talk about those two programs a little bit. Like, why did you decide to take those and what did you get out of them?
Rachel Reid: Well, really, for my whole life, I've really just wanted to be a 3D animator. I love 2D animation, and I took those courses during my time at the College for Creative Studies, it was like I was going to two schools at once. My passion, I felt, was always 3D animation because that's what every film ... the earliest feature film I saw was 3D, and I was like, "If I want to do this, I should learn that."
So, I took Animation Mentor and that's such an amazing program. You work in Maya, so you are given rigs that you animate. And in those courses, I first of all understood how to puppeteer, really, a character in Z space. In 2D animation, you are just focused on a flat drawing, but in 3D you have to rotate around the character, and it's almost like being a puppet master, really, which is really difficult. But I learned a lot about body mechanics and taking reference of yourself for your animations. Yeah, and that actually applied to ... that really helped me in my 2D animations as well because now I understand a lot about volume and how to keep a 2D animated character proportionate. So it all crosses over really, it's just more animation training for me.
Joey: So why did you decide not to stick with 3D animation?
Rachel Reid: Well, to be honest, it's kind of been like a tug of war in my heart when it comes to both mediums because I love 3D so much, and it's something I still haven't had a grasp on yet. I'm still working towards being good at it. But just really the honest answer is that life just seems to want me to do 2D animation. Honestly, it comes more naturally to me then 3D, and it's fun, and I love to draw. That's just where my life is going, and I love it too. If it wants to go that way, that's great, because it's been a blast so far.
Joey: I still think it's really cool though that you took Animation Mentor, which has an amazing reputation. Some of our students have also taken Animation Mentor, and they rave about it. And we have a character animation class, it's interesting how knowledge can crossover in ways that you don't really anticipate. You know what I mean? When you're doing character animation and I'm sure a lot of people listening don't do a lot of it because it's challenging. It's a little bit different than animating a logo, or something. But when you learn character animation, you learn the importance of pose, which in 2D and 3D, too, what's the silhouette that you're creating with that character? Are there lines of action that are kind of interesting. And that kind of relates back to gesture drawing. And in all of these things actually apply perfectly when you're doing traditional logo reveals too. It may not be obvious how, but everything you learn makes you better. And it's just interesting, the strange combination of ingredients that made your education turned you into the amazing animator you are.
All right, let's get into the tools a little bit. When I saw you at Gunner, you were animating in Photoshop, which seems very popular these days. I'm assuming it probably has a lot to do with just ... people are comfy in Photoshop and the brushes are really good and all that. I'm curious why, though, that's your tool of choice? And have you used other programs? Are there other pros and cons for using say TV Paint, or something like that?
Rachel Reid: Actually, I didn't start animating in Photoshop until I came to Gunner. There were a lot of firsts at Gunner. Honestly, for me, quite impossible for me to animate in Photoshop without the plug ins like Anim Dessin, and Animator's toolbar because those help you create the frames. If you want one frame, and then you can do onion skins, so you can look back at your previous frame, and color code them. That made it possible really to animate in Photoshop. Without those, I probably stick to TV Paint because I was using that in school. TV Paint is also a really great program. For me, as long as the software has a timeline, frames to add, and subtract, and onion skin, then I can animate in it pretty much.
Joey: So, why then at Gunner did you switch to Photoshop? Was it just because the designs were coming in, in Photoshop? It was easier to just work on them in the same, or was there some other reason.
Rachel Reid: When I came into Gunner, they were working on their short mesh. And that was the first thing I worked. And so, we had another very talented freelance animator, Mel McCann, and she gave me her roughs, and I had to clean them, color them, and make it final. So she was working in Photoshop, and I just kind of felt like I had to adapt to that because it was like, "Well, she's doing it in Photoshop. I can do it in Photoshop." That's pretty much how it happened. I think that's just the animation software that we were ... the software that we use for animation here.
Joey: Can you talk a little bit about the workflow? You just mentioned something that I think a lot of people listening may not actually understand. Going from roughs to clean up to paint, which is sort of like the, I guess, the traditional process that Disney would use. They would have sort of the lead animators animate things with a pencil, and then it would go to a clean up artist, and that was a process, and then it would go to ink and paint. How does that process work now, in Photoshop? Can you almost maybe explain what each of those steps are for?
Rachel Reid: Yeah, so of course, when you animate something, you don't want start off with a really like a final because when you're animating, you're thinking, and you're jotting down ideas as you go. And you're eliminating frames, and you're adding frames, and you're moving them around, and extending them to get the timing right. So, first, you have to do rough animation, and it can look like stick figures, it can like scribbles, or whatever you want. And then usually after that, after I get the timing down, and this is what I want, I do a tie down pass, which is must making the lines a little bit cleaner, still maybe a little rough, so I can actually see what's happening. So that I can make everything proportionate, fix things that I didn't in the roughs. And then after the tie down pass, then I do a final line pass. And then after the final line pass, I color it.
So, it's almost like you're animating the same thing five different times, yeah.
Joey: It sounds very tedious. I understand why on a feature film there would be different departments handling that stuff, so you could sort of almost have a conveyor process to finish shots. I'm curious if you think that ... because it sounds like you're doing everything. You're animating your shots, then you're cleaning them up, and then you're getting the lines, and then you're painting Do you feel like there's any reason to sort of try and bring that old school factory approach to animation into motion design, or do you like doing all those things? Is there a good reason why you think you should be doing those things, and not maybe, I don't know, an intern, or a junior animator or something?
Rachel Reid: To be honest, I actually enjoy doing the whole process, because I can call it ... It's kind of selfish, to kind of call it mine although I would love help all the time, but it's just nice to know that I did this from start to finish. For me, cel animation is only one part of what we do here at Gunner. So I'm responsible for that part of the project. Everyone else is doing 3D and storyboards and design. So, I feel like I want to do the whole process just to ... I don't know, just to ... I don't know. Get it done.
Joey: You like to feel ownership of it?
Rachel Reid: Yeah, ownership, something like that, yeah.
Joey: Yeah, I totally get that. I definitely, definitely, get that. Well, let's talk about Gunner. So, Gunner, just in case someone listening doesn't know who Gunner is, go to gunner.org check out their stuff. They are really making a name for themselves very quickly in the industry. Everybody I talk to about Gunner loves Gunner. So how did you end up getting the Gunner gig? And I assume it helps that you were in Detroit.
Rachel Reid: Yeah.
Joey: How did that play out?
Rachel Reid: It's funny, well, my teacher, which was Mel McCann, an awesome freelance animator, she freelanced with Gunner at the time in 2016. And I was just graduating school, and I was like, "I have to find a job." And then everyone tells you in school to go to California, or go to New York. I didn't really know how to approach finding a job because I was trying to finish my senior film and graduation was approaching. I didn't really know what to do. And I've never heard of Gunner before until she told me, "Hey, Gunner's looking for interns." And I said, "Oh, cool." And I looked at their website, and I was like, "Wow. This stuff is really awesome." And so, I emailed them, and I was like, "Hey, my name's Rachel. I animate, look at my stuff." And they were having a party for their opening. And so, I went to their party, and we talked, and then they called me in for an interview, and then that's when I got it. And I was super excited.
Joey: I bet. Yeah, that transition going from student and into the real world can be a doozy for some people. So, can you talk about what was that transition like, because you were a student? It sounds like you were very sort of ambitious. You were in the College for Creative Studies, but also doing Animation Mentor, learning 2D and 3D at the same time. But what was it like going from student to intern, and then from intern to pro? What were the challenges, or the things that were hard to acclimate to?
Rachel Reid: I think the most challenging thing for me was while in school, you're always reviewing your reel and changing your portfolio. Going to conventions like CTN, and getting your work critiqued by professionals as a student and by your peers. And just sometimes as a student it just feels like your work is never enough. People tell you, "Oh, well, you have potential, but ... " Or like, "This is really good, but keep working on this, keep working on that." And it's like, "I have a whole lifetime to work on this."
And sometimes as a student it feels like you're not gonna get anywhere because animation is so hard and you have to ... it takes so much time to learn. And so, when I came into Gunner, it was like, a real surprise, really, for me, for them to really enjoy my work. I was able to be an asset to the team, and get recognized by The School of Motion is real crazy. Like, "Oh, wow. I've actually did something right. I kept going as a student." And I didn't give up because sometimes you don't think your work is good enough, and then finally when an awesome studio takes you and gives you a chance, you become better. And then you have more confidence in your work, and you know that you could contribute to the team.
Joey: Yeah, so when you're telling that story it sort of reminded me of something that happened when I started freelancing, which was kind of surmising to me. I'm trying to sort of figure out how to say this. Like, I had a full time job, and I did After Effects. I was actually an editor more than an After Effects artist, but I got really into motion design, and I wanted to do that full time. So I quit, and I went freelance. And my work, at that time, was probably objectively awful. It was not good. But then somehow a client gave me an opportunity. And that first job I did for them was the best thing I'd ever done. And I don't know if it's like a thing of ... it was always there, I just never had the opportunity to show it, or if when you're ... if you're a student, or if you're in a job that isn't actually kind of encouraging you and pushing you to do really good work, that it just doesn't come out of you.
So, I'm curious when you got to Gunner, and you were an intern, and they put on your first project, did your work improve in your eyes, or was it just a different way of looking at it instead of your faculty and other students looking constantly for things that could be improved? Gunner's a business and they're saying, "Yeah, that looks awesome. I think the client's gonna love that."
Rachel Reid: Yeah, that's the difference really. I think my work improved immensely since being at Gunner because instead of getting critiqued for my skills it was more like a critique for, "Well, the client wants this, and this is how we want it to look, and this is how we want it to move." And then when I do it, it's like, "Cool, great. Let's move onto the next shot." And it's like doing that helped me get better at animation because you have to be quick. Animation is kind of at the tail end of the pipeline. You have to do the design, you have to do the storyboards. And if we're working with 3D, kinda have to do that first, and then animation before rendering and compositing, so even with the deadlines and just working with everyone. Being a part of that, people depending on you, helped me get better. And that was also a challenge as well, but it improved my animation because I had less time to really nitpick myself and be self conscious and just do the work really.
Joey: That's really good advice actually for anyone out there listening. A lot of artists are sort of masochists and like to ... It's almost like tick, to feel down about the work you just did. Yeah, and it's kinda nice sometimes to be in these pressure cooker situations where you don't really have time for that, and you just have to do it to get it done. And I also think it helps, too, when you're a part of a team, that it kinda diffuses some of that responsibility and you can play to your strengths as an animator, and rely on ... say, Ian, Ian's one of the founders of Gunner, rely on his strength as a designer and the combo is pretty awesome. So I want to talk about how that works at a place like Gunner. You look at ... maybe a good example, there's something ... I don't know if I'm pronouncing this right, non do apparatus.
Rachel Reid: Yeah.
Joey: Okay, cool. So there's this cool little piece that Gunner put it out, it's on their site, it's on their Vimeo. We'll link to it in the show notes. And it's this cute little character sort of doing almost like a floor routine like you see at the Olympics, but on this pile of 3D geometry. And there's obviously 3D in it, and there's cel ... sort of traditional animation in it, and it works perfectly in sync together. And it's sort of one of those things where it's like, "Well, where do you start?" How do you figure out? Do you do the 3D first? Do you do the cel first? What if you adjust something? Can you talk about what that process looks like from start to finish? How it all integrates?
Rachel Reid: Yes. Well, first of all, we have an amazing artist here, Marcus, he came up with it. I don't know how his mind works, it's pretty unique.
Rachel Reid: Yeah, but, yeah, he came up with the characters and the whole idea of the moving shapes in 3D. Of course, he did the animatic and the timing for each shot, and we, I guess, tweaked that. I would take that, put that into Photoshop, draw on top of that, and start doing rough animations. Of course, before I do that, I kind of try to get an idea of what I want to do on paper, so I always looked up reference for like, Tai Chi, or some kind of Kung Fu, to sort of get some of the movements for the character. But then, yeah, it took three weeks to animate the character, and as I was doing that, Marcus was animating the shapes in Cinema 4D. So in a shot where I didn't have to draw on top of the moving 3D shapes, he would be in progress with that on his own. And then once he's done with that, then it's like, "Okay, I can draw on top of that, animate on top of the moving shape." And then we just ... And then I give it back to him, and then he does his thing in After Effects and makes it look super cool. And then that was it.
Joey: Is there a lot of back and forth? Like the character lands on a shape and it would be cool if that shape kinda reacted and dipped a little bit, so now, you gotta, "Hey, Marcus, so he's gonna land on this one on this frame." How do you, or is it pretty clean? Like someone has it in their head and it's just like, "Nope, you did it on the first try."?
Rachel Reid: I think he did, Marcus did, some pre viz. So the character wasn't animated, so he kinda placed it on the shape and kinda moved the shape with the character. So when he landed, the character was there, and the shape was moving with the character. So it was like the shape was reacting to the character without it being animated yet. So then I would take that pre viz and I would just make sure the character is right where the kind of default character was placed on the shape. If that makes any sense. I'm trying to find the words.
Joey: Yeah, well, I mean, it does. And I guess, the point is that it takes a lot of planning and doing that ... Like, you basically did a pre viz the way a visual effects shop would for a movie before going in and doing all the simulations and all that stuff. They sort of make sure that basically it works. And it seems like for cel animation, that's super important because if you finished a shot and then something changed, you can't go in a fix it really easy. [crosstalk 00:49:08]
And so, another piece that Gunner did recently was sort of the announcement for the second season of the Motion Awards. And that thing is such a cool piece and it has a million little cute characters in it and stuff like that. And when I was visiting the studio, they were showing me how many versions of character designs, and animations, and cuts, and this and that, went into making that. So how does it work where ... a lot of times in motion design that's how it works. You're on version 80 before the thing ships, but your task that you have to do, you don't want to do it more than once all the way through if you can avoid it, right? So does it typically work out that way, or do you sometimes you finish a shot and it's like, "Change this. Well, basically I just got to do the whole thing over now."?
Rachel Reid: Yes, we try to avoid that as much as possible, but I feel like you have to start somewhere. So I'd probably do a test, and then I'd say, "You know, it would be nice to have this here before I animate that." Because sometimes your animation is contingent upon what someone else is doing in 3D and then they have to finish that first, so then I can animate on top of that, right? Yeah, so sometimes it's a back and forth process with everyone. And you just kind of have to do it and say, "Well, this didn't work, so how about we do this first, and then I animate?" And then sometimes it works out like that. It's really just trial and error until you get it right.
Joey: Yeah, so let's talk about the Space Explorers piece that recently dropped because that was one where you said that you were actually animating characters that were designed by someone else, right?
Rachel Reid: Right.
Joey: Yeah, so that, to me, is crazy. So getting back to when we were talking about with drawing and having different styles that you can kind of pull from. When you are animating someone else's character design, is that more difficult because it's not how you just sort of naturally draw? Does it take more effort to do that, or is that something that as kind of as a trained animator you sort of know how to do?
Rachel Reid: I think that part of the reason I'm able to do it ... it is difficult, but the part of the reason why I'm able to do it is because I have to. You know? It's like it has to look like this, so I have to draw it over and over and over again in order to get the essence of that character. In James' piece, it's a very loose style in Space Explorers. We used the pencil tool in Photoshop the whole time, and it's very sketchy. It's clean, but it has this kind of looseness to it. And so, his style kind of changes a little bit with each shot. So it's a little hard to figure out, "Okay, how does this character look?"
And a lot of the times I would default to my own natural default style for myself. And then James would remind me, "Hey, you know, it's supposed to look like this." And I'm like, "Oh, yeah, okay." It's a little difficult, but I think it's fun because that helps me improve when I do my personal work because a lot of the times I get bored with my own style. It's like, "I want this to look different for once." And working on Space Explorers and all the different projects at Gunner really helped with that.
Joey: You're definitely in the right place to be working on a lot of different styles because Gunner's work certainly has variety. There's no question there. So my last question, Rachel, is what skills are you working on now? You seem like someone who's always trying to learn new stuff and really into improving, but also broadening your skill set and stuff like that. So is there anything at the moment that you're working on?
Rachel Reid: I do continue to do some 3D animated tests on the side on my own, but I think since being at Gunner and learning more about motion design, I want to get better at color and design. And I started working on my perspective, so that I can start putting these characters in an environment for myself because that's really difficult for me, perspective. But it's more so learning more about the mo graph industry as a whole and being able to contribute more than just cel animation because I'm a traditional animator. I studied feature animation and in school, the College for Creative Studies didn't really expose me to the motion design industry. And I'm just learning it now as I'm at Gunner. So basically, I'm looking at the work that my peers and learning from them, and they show me how to do things. I just want to be a well rounded artist and be able to contribute.
Joey: I got to say at 24 you are in the right spot, and you've got really good skills. I have no doubt that the next several years of your career you're gonna get even better, and I cannot wait to see what you and the amazing team over there come up with next. So I want to say thank you so much for your time, Rachel. This has been awesome and we will definitely have to have you back on when you hit 30.
Rachel Reid: Thank you so much for having, Joey.
Joey: Check out Rachel's work, and definitely check out Gunner's work to see some ridiculous talent on display. Those links, plus, a bunch more are all found in the show notes for this episode at schoolofmotion.com, and while you're there sign up for a free account, so you can get access to our Motion Monday's newsletter. It's a bite sized email that keeps you up to date on the industry. You can read it in one minute, and you won't have to pretend that you've actually heard of the hot new After Effects plug in because we'll tell you about it. Thank you so much for listening. Thanks again to Rachel for being awesome and coming on. And I'll see you later.