SOM Teaching Assistant Algernon Quashie on When to Stop Learning and Start Doing
Motion Design and Music have a lot in common. From writing songs and scores to animation and MoGraph, it's all about rhythm and flow. Algernon Quashie learned to love music by following his father, and to love Motion Design by chasing Superman. His journey from rockstar to animator kept him humble, and taught him to appreciate what it means to give back.
We had a chance to sit down with Algernon and talk about his early career, what it's like trying to remix a song, and what he's learned since joining School of Motion as a Teaching Assistant. Get those fists in the air and start the mosh pit: It's time for a special Rockstar edition of Office Hours with Algernon Quashie.
Background & Education
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF!
I was born in the Carribean on an island called Tobago; one half of the country Trinidad & Tobago. I was around 5 or 6 when my family left. Today, I am married with a 2-year-old little lady. My wife’s a nurse that mostly works nights. I primarily freelance remotely. It's been tough figuring out the schedule with a toddler. It might be harder now than when she was a baby. In the baby stage, they just eat and sleep. But now, I understand parents more. My dad and mom at random points just laugh at me saying, “Oh boy, you guys have no idea.” The energy our kid has is off the wall. Either that or I’m losing my ‘jab step’ as I age.
HOW DID YOU BECOME A MOTION DESIGNER?
Well it all started with Superman, the movie. The 1978 classic with Christopher Reeve. Let me backtrack a smidge. My dad plays guitar (Hold on, I’m going somewhere with this), and has played in bands since he was a wee lad in Tobago. He once opened for The Meters.
He once left his band because the new drummer smoked weed. But being the nice guy that he is, he let them borrow his guitar and amp to play shows. Anyway...fast forward some decades later. I’m playing guitar, I’m playing in bands, I go to school for music, I started recording music, I started touring a lot. In that order.
As a musician I always wanted to compose the soundtrack for a movie. So then I acquired a copy of the 80’s classic, Superman, ripped it (early 2000 slang, for extracting a DVD to your computer), edited it down to 20 minutes, and started to re-score it. This was in my early days of “I don’t need a good backup system,” and I lost most of it when that MacBook died.
"So how did you become a motion designer?” you asked. I was working in iMovie at the time (I know, I know, but it did all I needed). During this process, I thought to myself, “I should make intro and outro titles...but how do I do that?” I picked up a copy of Apple Motion and made some titles. Then I started making random things, not related to Superman. I slowly just fell in love with making things move on the screen.
I started working on that more than the score. Then a buddy of mine said, "Hey, have you tried After Effects?” "No, what's that?" I asked. That was the beginning of the rabbit hole that I’m still in today.
BUT ARE YOU STILL A ROCKSTAR?
Still touring and whatnot at this point. My band is called Miniature Tigers, if you want to check it out. We have a new album coming out soon. Shameless plug to my boys. I’m not on it because of, you know, life, but you can find me on the previous records. To finish this long ramble, I made a remix for one of the best bands I’ve seen in my life—Pretty & Nice—and proceeded to make an animation with my new Apple Motion skills. It ain’t great, but you gotta start somewhere.
So to really finally answer the question, I am a self-taught motion designer that started because I was trying to rescore the Superman movie. This is the only unmixed clip I have from it.
I have a few of the other scenes, but not the music. I still think about it. Maybe I’ll go back to it when I retire.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL PROJECTS OUT IN THE WILD? WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THEM?
Yea. Earlier this year I decided to do a personal animation exploration. I did 30 days of animation straight. A new animation from start to finish everyday. I have a 2-year-old daughter so it was not as easy as I thought. Usually waiting till she fell asleep before going in on it. My goal was to post something on my Instagram before 12 am, just to stay within a day.
There were a few times early on when I was like, "No way I can keep this up." But at that point I'd already announced that I was doing it, so that and my wife kept me going. Now I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or that whole "put yourself out there" type thing, but I’ve been busy with work ever since, with a few employers specifically asking about my 30-day exploration.
So, what I learned was that you need to put your work out there, even if you think no one will see it or if you think it ain’t up to par.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PERSONAL PROJECT SO FAR?
Here were some of my faves from that project…
This was my daughter's favorite, she made me play this for here a good 50 times, probably because she is the star.
DO YOU HAVE ANY MINDSETS THAT HELP KEEP YOU MOTIVATED?
Well, I think the biggest thing is really enjoying the thing you are doing. I love the idea of figuring out how to do something and making it work. I took one of those test that tells you what type of person you are. I’m definitely a ‘learner’. I like learning things and making things work.
WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING RIGHT NOW?
I’ve been programing a lot. Between learning the guitar and playing in bands, I taught myself how to make webpages and was really in to programing. Actually ended up going to school initially for computer science, then left to be a full time musician. So a lot of my early endeavors are swinging back and tying into my motion career.
I created a Cinema 4D script earlier this year that helps you position lights by your current view. I was in the process of turning this into a full plugin, but got busy with work and have been since. I have a few more ideas for scripts and plugins to put out in the near future.
Oh yea, so what have I been learning. I’m learning how to draw, or trying to get better at drawing. Mostly because I want to make prettier storyboards and draw my head on the body of a snail when I’m procrastinating.
Creativity and Career
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE CLIENT PROJECT SO FAR?
I’m working on one right now. It’s NDA’d so I can’t say much. I’m creating the animation for this tunnel walk-through experience. I have not done anything on this scale before so it is exciting. Everything kind of goes seamlessly from one wall to the next, turning corners, including the floors as well. It was a really quick turn around, less than a week, so that included some weekend and nights to get done. There are definitely some things I would have done differently, mostly to speed up workflow and versioning. But in a crunch, you've just got to get it done.
I’ve been working a lot with Sony Music this year. I have a lot of cool projects with them, working on an Elvis reissue and a bunch of Spotify content.
I have to say though, explainers are tough. Generally, clients don’t want too much ‘funk’; you really have to tone yourself down and keep it simple. So those are really good in flexing your restraint muscles.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR CAREER DREAMS?
Oh man! I want to work at all the biggies that everyone else does. At this point, I’ve done the full-time jam and the freelance juggle. I’m gonna have to say it's “freelance forever baby!”, unless an awesome full-time pops up. I need to do more research, but I definitely want to do some work with organizations that are trying to help the planet, and helping minorities.
DO YOU CREATE WORK OUTSIDE OF MOTION-DESIGN?
Yea. There is this podcast I listen to and the host always says “creators create.” For me, music, programming and drawing...they all tie into motion. Those are primarily the things I like outside of just straight MoGraph. Sometimes us MoGraphers don’t utilize our other strengths as much as we should. Take time to look back at where you came from to see how you can utilize previous skills in this MoGraph life. For me, I have my experience with music and programming, the latter which I’ve only started to utilize this year.
Learning with School of Motion
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE SOM COURSE? DID IT HELP YOUR CAREER?
Oh yea! Animation Bootcamp was the first. Learned of it after that epic 30 days of After Effects thing that Joey did. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since I didn’t know anything about anything. It completely changed how I thought and went about animation. I also credit it with helping me get my first real job.
I took Design Bootcamp, that furthered my knowledge of the actual principles of design. Still one of my favorite SOM courses. Highly, highly recommend. It kicked my but, but I learned so much from this one.
I also took Character Animation Bootcamp, in addition to learning posing, weighting and character sequencing. One of the best side effects of the course is learning to deal with an immense amount of keyframes and layers. It's kind of a workout for you brain.
HOW WELL DID THE COURSES TIE TOGETHER?
Animation Bootcamp to Design Bootcamp is definitely the dynamic duo in my mind. They are the foundation of where you should be. If you need to animate and get what is in your mind out to keyframes quicker, AB is the one. If you need to make your animating make sense/use good design language/and just look good, DB is the one.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE PEOPLE JUST STARTING OUT IN MOTION DESIGN?
I did this thing where I would get stuck in tutorial heaven (limbo to some, but it was heaven to me). I wanted to learn everything. I’m not saying don’t do it, because we all do. All I’m saying is stop doing it sooner rather than later. You’re never going to learn everything, and you're going to forget most of it. Start making something of your own as soon as possible, especially if it sucks. The more it sucks the better, because the next one will be better. Rinse and repeat, then you get comfortable not sucking as much as you did before.
Time as a Teaching Assistant
HOW HAS BEING A TA AT SOM HELPED YOU AS A CREATIVE? CRITIQUING SKILLS, CREATIVE ABILITY, ETC…
One of the best parts of the SOM course is looking at what your peers are doing and thinking about how you would do things or what to change. It helps the students build their critical eye skills.
As a TA, it is on overdrive. You are looking at so many different variations. You become better at seeing what is working and what is not.
This has helped greatly in my career. I am able to give constructive feedback to coworkers, but also myself. I can let a lot of stuff slide when just doing personal stuff. When I’m working for a client, my gear switches and I become really attentive to the details.
You also know how to explain an idea or concept better. Instead of just saying, "Make that faster," you can actually describe the effect you are going for and how the element should feel.
WHAT'S A RECURRING THEME YOU SEE AMONG STUDENTS AT SOM?
They continue to use the skills from previous lessons in a new lesson. Each lesson in a SOM course builds on the previous. So when I see a student consciously applying everything so far to a current lesson, I know they will learn faster and be able to adapt to any situation that may come up.
ARE THERE ANY STUDENT PROJECTS THAT SURPRISED YOU?
Yeah, there’s been a bunch.
WHO IS AN UP AND COMING ARTIST THAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW?
An SOM alum? I just had this student in AB, Jonathan Hunt. He has a really great sense for adding personality to his animation. A few C4D Basecamps ago, Rachel Grieveson was killing it with the 3D. Also, Robert Grieves in basecamp was doing some cool things.
Non-SOMers. I wouldn’t say up-and-coming. There is this guy I’ve been following for a long time, Loukman Ali from Uganda. Everything I’ve seen from him has been gorgeous. Paperface, from ATL. Tynesha Forman. To name a few.
CARE TO IMPART SOME WORDS OF WISDOM FOR THOSE LOOKING TO GET INTO ANIMATION OR FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN HERE FOR AWHILE?
Hmm. I don’t know. I think I’m still figuring that out myself. Things change a lot in the industry. It's probably best to "do you" and not chase everything new thing that comes out or happens. Try to stay consistent and growing. Be nice. Don’t burn out, sometimes you need to binge that 4th season of Lost in one weekend.
Goals & Inspiration
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO LEARN NEXT?
Not necessarily learning anything in particular. Just more programing, more shorts. Definitely want to step into some AR/VR things. I saw the documentary Free Solo, recently. I don’t want to climb or anything, but I want to figure out how long I can hang on something with my fingertips.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATION SOURCES THAT MOST ARTISTS DON'T KNOW ABOUT?
I don’t think there are many secrets out there. Each person's life experience should be enough to guide you even if you are looking at the same resources. But if you really want to know...old vinyl covers and Pinterest (I know, not really a secret).
OUTSIDE OF MOTION DESIGN, WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT GET YOU EXCITED IN LIFE?
Watching my kid grow is wild. Always music, it's my go to for any sort of comfort. As much as I think tech is ruining QOL, I’m still fascinated by innovations in technology. For some reason, I can only think of the “Snuggie” at this moment in time.
I’m sure there’s been other great things though.
HOW CAN PEOPLE FIND YOUR WORK ONLINE?
My social game is sporadic, but I’m there. Algelab was a name my friend dubbed my recording studio in my backyard growing up. It has kinda always stuck with me in creative endeavors.
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