If you’re a freelance designer or animator, there are literally tons of jobs that need your skills today
Are you still looking for work? If you can’t find a job in commercials, film, or with a studio, what else is out there? Our community of artists is incredibly versatile, but often we put on blinders outside of our preferred lanes. There is a world of work out there in the most unlikely of places, and it can be just as satisfying—and lucrative—to take on.
We often talk about finding work at a studio, or we talk about how great it would be to become a freelance generalist and maybe one day be a creative director. But you know what? Motion design can be so much more, and sometimes even we need to be reminded of just how much more is out there. Every now and then, an artist reaches out to remind us.
Today, we’re honored to welcome Leeanne Brennan to talk about the uncharted territory of uncommon design and animation gigs. She is a freelance illustrator and animator with over ten years of work for clients such as Samsung, Holiday Inn, and Southwest Airlines. Like so many artists, she’s built her brand by finding her own niche and excelling within it…all without following the “traditional” paths to a motion design career.
Go find yourself a nice box—shoe-sized or bigger—and then THROW IT AWAY, because we are thinking outside the box with Leeanne Brennan.
Unique Jobs that Need Motion Design
Harmonix Music Systems
Leeanne’s Customer Experience Storyboards
SOM Podcast Episode: How Personal Should A Personal Project Be?
Motioneers, on today's episode of the podcast, I'm going to do something a little bit different to start us off. If you can, hop on over to Google and type in design thinking, and swing on over to the images tab. See all those infographics? Now, that's something very different than what we think of most of the time with motion design. We talk about After Effects, Photoshop, maybe sprinkling a little bit of Cinema 4D on top of everything, and boom, motion design. Right? But today's guest is helping challenge those conceptions of what motion design can be. Leeanne Brennan calls herself a freelance storyteller, illustrator, and an animator, but one of the most interesting things about today's conversation is she introduced me to this concept of innovation consulting.
Now, I didn't really know it meant, and I wasn't really sure how it really connected to motion design, even once it started to be explained to me. But what Leeanne tells us is that there's a lot more to think about what you can do with your skills that you've learned in motion design and still have an incredible, healthy work-life balance. If you're interested, let's lean in and listen to what Leeanne has to tell us. But before we get too far, let's hear from one of our alumni at School of Motion.
I first took a School of Motion course back in 2018 when I was working full time as a graphic designer and wanted to break into the world of motion. For me, the big benefit of taking the courses while working was being able to incorporate the things you've just learned straight into your job, which gave me a real nice boost as my enthusiasm was starting to fall off. But when you're working on assignments and seeing your peers turning great work, it's really inspiring and the time just flies by. Especially at the end of the course, when you look back on how much progress you've made, it's a really great feeling and a nice boost to your confidence.
Not only have these courses given me the skills to get hired in the world of motion design, but they've also given me the knowledge to be able to dive deeper into areas that I'm passionate about, and experimenting with my own style. I'm Scott from London, and I'm a School of Motion alumni.
Motioneers, you know the story. We talk about Buck, we talk about Oddfellows, we talk about how great it would be to be a freelance generalist and maybe one day be a creative director. But you know what, there's so much more to motion design. And honestly, at School of Motion, we're just as guilty as anyone else about talking about the common experiences and the common goals and aspirations. But I know there's more out there. And you know what, sometimes you listeners, you motioneers reach out to us to remind us. And that's just what happened.
We have someone on the podcast today who's going to tell us a little bit about some uncharted territory that you might find really interesting for your motion design career. Today, we have Leeanne Brennan on. And Leeanne, I cannot wait to talk to you about some of the other places you can go with all these skills that we call motion design.
Hi, thank you. I'm so happy to be here.
I have to ask you, we talk about if you've listened to this podcast before, we always like to say at the end that we're here to tell you about all the great people out there, expose you to some new talent and tell you where the industry's going. But to be honest, I feel like we could probably do a lot more of that. And that's why I was so excited that, I don't know if you reached out through email or Instagram, but someone messaged me and said, "Hey, there's this person, Leeanne who thinks we should be talking about something else." How did you reach out to us? What got you thinking about wanting to talk more about this?
Yeah. Well, I listened to your podcast because I want to stay up with all the new technology and the lingo and what's going on in the motion design industry, because I actually am not kind of in that industry, if you will, but I'm still a motion designer. So I reached out through Instagram and said, "Hey, there's this uncharted territory that I'm in and nobody seems to know about it and nobody seems to be able to find people like me, and I'd love to share this with other motion designers in case they're interested in using their skillset in this way."
Well, that's super exciting. You mentioned in your messaging that you want to talk about innovation/human-centered design. And I want to keep people on the hook a little bit. I want to have a little bit of mystery to that, because I had no idea, honestly, what that was even referring to. And I thought I pretty much knew everywhere you could go with motion design skills. But let's rewind just a little bit. Can we talk about your journey to how you got to where you're at now? How did you find your way into, maybe you don't even think it's motion design, but using the skills that we think of when we talk about motion design?
Sure. Yeah. So I went to college at Rhode Island School of Design and I majored in film, animation and video, I don't if that's what they call it now. I grew up in a very traditional art setting. My mom is a painter, so we grew up heralding, the Rembrandts and the Monets, and painting and sculpting was the way you could make art. So I originally went to college for illustration, but I by chance took an intro to computer animation class and was just like, "Oh my God, what is this? I want to do this. This is magical." And I quickly fell in love with animation and storytelling.
And then my first career outside of college was actually to work at a video game company, which was a big surprise to me because I am not a gamer and I was not a gamer back then. I actually got in at Harmonix, the creators of Guitar Hero. And I got in there when the company was super small and they were creating Guitar Hero at that time. So it was a really exciting place to be exposed to multidisciplinary teams, which I had never really done before. I actually met one of the artists there who was doing motion design for the game. He was animating these like psychedelic kaleidoscope type patterns that were going to be on the screens in Guitar Hero. And I was like, "What are you doing? What is this?" And he started talking about motion design.
He was the UI lead, I think, for the game at that time. So that's how I first heard the term motion design. And from there, it piqued my curiosity.
Harmonix is such an interesting case study for someone to be there so early on because they really were, I'm going to use this term way too much, but they really were going through uncharted territory in terms of interaction design and player psychology. That's a great place to be learning or getting your feet wet with motion design, because so much of it is, it's not just setting the key frames or picking the colors, it's also trying to understand how people interact with your work. I don't know how it worked for you, but I can imagine. I went through something somewhat similar in terms of working in video games early on, and there's just that immediate response to your work that's so nice to see. You can test to what you're doing, you can see something.
I think for most motion designers to get into broadcast, it can feel a little bit like there's no feedback loop, because you make something, it goes out in the world and you're already on the next project. And by the time you see it on air or you see it in a movie's theater, it disappears really quickly. So you don't really get that understanding. I'm making 17 decisions hour. If I'm making a choice on a font or a choice on a color, how big or how small, you don't really know if that worked. I think that's really difficult. And I have a feeling that that's going to enter into what we talk about when we talk about human-centered design.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. It's such a thrill when you come in the next day and you see the changes that you made in the game, you're like, "Oh my gosh." From there, I was working on a character art team, so I actually wasn't involved in motion design at that time. I had moved up and they were trying to groom me for an art director role. And I was like 23 at the time. It was too much too soon, and I wasn't a gamer. And I was done with that a little bit was an exciting first start to my career, but I was missing that storytelling aspect to everything.
From there, that's when I entered the whole human-centered design world where my roommate, who is now my brother-in-law, was working at an innovation consultancy. At the time it was called Continuum, now it's EPAM Continuum. And I didn't know what he did all day and I was very curious. And there was this one moment when I was between jobs and he asked me to do this animation because he knew I was messing around in Flash because I was trying to apply to new jobs. And he's like, "Can you do this little animation for our marketing department? Because we won this award and we need something to explain what we made."
And I said, "Sure." And we worked together. It wasn't paid. I did it just for my friend. And the marketing department was like, "Oh my gosh, who made this?" And everyone started saying like, "Oh we could use video here." The lead of the design strategy team saw what I had done and he said, "Why don't we bring this girl in for a six-month experiment?" And that is when the journey started with innovation and trying to figure out, "How do I use my skills in this whole new playing field? And what do they need?"
That's super exciting. I want to talk more about it, because I feel like... And just that term, innovation consulting, it almost sounds a little hand wavy, like voodoo until you actually sit down and understand what that leads to. I don't know about you, but I've always been super interested in like theme park design and interaction design. Disney's Imagineering team always seemed like this big black box of just like, who are they? What do they do? What kind of tools do they use? Do they make their own tools? How do they make this end product? Where do the ideas come from? And how do they figure out what people will react to and improve it?
It's very obvious how you make a movie these days, at least. It's not that hard to understand what you need and how you tell a story and how shoot something and then get it on screen, but this whole idea of innovation consulting, that sounds very exciting. So what's the next step then? So you made this animation and people are like, "Oh wow, you can use animation to explain things." Obviously, we've had an explosion of companies and people making explainer videos in the last decade, but we're did it go for you after that?
Yeah. My first big project there was with this pharmaceutical client. So the innovation consultancy team, which was filled with design strategists, engineers, business strategists, all these different people with different disciplines who come together on these project teams and they partner with a client to first figure out, "What does your customer need? What is their life like? What are their problems?" Innovation and human-centered design really is all about stepping back from the solution. A lot of companies want to just jump to the solution and create stuff and iterate in these small, incremental ways. And innovation says like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. We don't even know what problem we're solving yet. We don't even know what the issue is."
So they solutions are based in research and empathy with the customer. So they go to the customer and they do these very intense like one-day or even full week one-on-one, follow around, ask them questions, "What is your life like? Getting ready for work, what are you dealing with?" And they really get to know the customer, and then they do the same thing with their client. They learn, "Okay, with your company, what are, what are the resources that you have available?" To try and figure out, "Okay, if we make these solutions, let's make sure it's actually feasible and viable for the company. We don't want to break the bank."
So there's this balance between, "What does the customer need? What is viable? What is the desire? And how can we make all that fit together?" So it's a lot of understanding, what are those unmet needs with the customer? And then they analyze all this research, they come up with ideas, and then they prototype it and they make really quick prototypes and they test it with the customers and they say, "Tell me about this. What do you think about this idea?" And they learn, and then they make new prototypes and they test it again after what they learned, and they say, "What do you think about this?"
And that's where the first touch point where motion design can come in, and that video storytelling is in the prototyping. But then again, after they've refined their idea and they're ready to really sell it into the company, because a lot of time this is eternal work, so they're selling it within their own company and they're trying to get permission to move on to the next phase and start developing it. So then they start to envision this idea and really bring it to life, and that's another touch point that motion design can come in to help them really tell that story.
I'm sitting here nodding my head the whole time you're saying this, because I feel like I was like a lot of people, in air quotes, in motion design, just really focused on tools and keeping up with, "Okay, I need to know," you said Flash, "I need to know Animate now," or, "Oh, I need to know these six new plugins in After Effects," or, "Someone did this thing in Houdini." There's nothing wrong with that, that's all well and good. But there was a moment in my career where you have this realization or this aha moment where you're like, "Oh, I could actually get paid for how I think." I love the fact that you used the word empathy, but how I can look at a client and understand and feel for them for their position or an end user or a viewer.
And I feel like that's the dividing line for a lot of people in the career in motion design. Their journey sometimes hits a glass ceiling and they don't know where to go next. And sometimes that's being called, like you said earlier, an art director or a creative director, but sometimes it's just going to a studio or to a place or to a business that doesn't call itself motion design, that values the thinking as much as the doing or the making. Was that an easy leap for you to make that switch or make that jump into valuing that part of the process, or did you have to be convinced of that?"
Oh my gosh. It was, I would say a full year of me trying to wrap my head around what was going on and what are these crazy people doing? I did not really understand what they needed and how quickly they were iterating their ideas and how they needed me to meet them where they were with my skills. I had one really bad incident where I didn't get that they weren't really following the typical animation pipeline. I had made this script for them, I had made a storyboard, I had made an animatic, I had gotten approval from the team. I started making the assets, I was animating. I was almost done with this pretty complicated six videos that were like two minutes long each.
And they come to me the near the end of the project, and they're like, "Oh, actually, these scenes in video, two, three, and four, we need to change them because we changed our idea." And I was like, "What do you mean you changed your idea?" They're like, "Yeah, we tested it and it's not going to work, so we changed it to this. So can you just do that? And we need it by Friday." And I'm like, "Oh my gosh." So after that experience, I really learned, "Okay, I need to scale back this style of what I'm doing." And I even this rule for myself, I was like, "You know what, never make anything that you couldn't completely redo from start to finish in three days."
And that allowed me to come up with all these really basic, but compelling ways to tell a story. And I'm dating myself, but if you can think of reading Rainbow Storytime, you know where they had, it was just a still image of the picture book and there was just narration, just voiceover, and then they would cut to the next picture? It was a still image. And you can think of like Ken Burns it was just slowly zooming in. That kind of thing. And I was like, "Okay. You know what, this is good enough." So I would get into this flow with people and I would say, "Okay, what's your idea? How many concepts do you have? How long do we have? Okay, it's going to be this style."
And then I would quickly make a script for them based on our conversation. And I would allow them to work on it. And I really learned, the pre-production phase of this is everything for these people. So it's like 70% pre-production and 30% actually making the video.
Oh man, we're going to get a little philosophical about this because I feel really strongly about... There's this growing sentiment, I think, amongst some people in the industry that motion design is just a set of skills or a set of tools that you patch together. That can just be thrown around really loosely. But hearing you say this really reinforces to me that I personally think, in capital letters, motion design is actually a philosophy. It's a way of working, a way of thinking. We happen to use After Effects or Cinema 4D or Photoshop, but it's a lot more than just, "I use these tools to just make something."
Because I really think the fact that what you just described is so commonplace to so many artists at early stages in their career, that it forces them to reevaluate the priorities they put on their work. Most people think like, "I did a good job because I worked really hard. I used all the available time, and I polished this to like 98%." But that is just one way of doing "a good job." Being able to be super flexible and being able to meet client's needs and change on a dime and set yourself up with your entire workflow, being able to understand that, that would be successful even if the finished pieces isn't as polished as you would think it could be.
I feel like motion designers can make that leap a lot faster than if you went with the same scenario to a VFX studio or you went to a TV animation studio where they said, "Okay, cool. We have three days left. We need to change three scenes." They wouldn't do it. They wouldn't know how to. Not only just like in terms of the amount of time, but philosophically, their entire structure, the entire pipeline, their job titles, the way they work and hand work off to each other would not allow for it. But for some reason, because motion designs always had this kind of like Wild West, there's six different ways to accomplish anything, nobody really follows the same rules or pipeline.
That is in the DNA of what we call motion design now, that I feel like it actually maybe the term motion design isn't strong enough to describe the way we work and the way we think beyond just like the tools and the final product, but I feel like hearing you talk about this gets me excited because I've tried to find a way to describe this to people, because I get really frustrated when people are just like, "Oh, are you a motion designer or are you an After Effects person." So many people just go straight to that equation. And I'm like, "No. Actually, I'm a totally different thinker. I put my team together in a different way than any other kind of industry would."
Did it take you a long time to used to the idea that your utility, your being a good artist meant that you could be flexible, versus just making something look beautiful? Or were you able to just be like, "No, this is my superpower, I know how to get something done with anything that gets thrown my way"?
Yeah. It was really hard because you're really swallowing your ego and your pride for a couple different reasons. And one of them is like you said, the craft of it. And I'm coming, like I said, from a very traditional academic art background, and it is really hard for me to say goodbye to that beautifully polished piece of motion design, like the Bucks and all the other great studios where... I was looking at my friends who are killing it in the industry who are art directors and making all this cool stuff. And if I were to show them the actual outcome of what I was making, they'd be like, "Okay." If I were to show them without the context, it looks really unimpressive, but I really had to let go of what this video is and really celebrate, what can this video do?
And that was a huge mindset shift for me. And once that happened, I will say it was about a year in, when teams would come back to me. So excited after a meeting where they had gotten the executives from all these people all around the world who were coming in from this big company that they were working with, they had shown that two-minute video that explained me entire idea that got everyone in the room so inspired and excited to learn more that it set them up for success to then go through their 30-page PowerPoint deck, it opens people up and it allows them to connect with the customer, to connect with the ideas in a totally different way.
And it's so valuable. It's so valuable for the innovation industries. And now they have full departments within big companies that have their own innovation design teams. So you don't just have to work in an innovation consultancy now, now you can go direct to a company and work directly with their innovation team. So there's just such a need for this type of work. And I think a lot of people, first of all, don't know about it, but second of all, don't want to do it because you're not able to flex the artistic craftsperson muscle. It's funny, I was listening to a previous episode with the Between The Lines team with the personal projects, and that's where that comes in.
It's really important for you to have your own personal thing going on so that you can still satisfy that part of you. So that's exactly why I love this type of work because I get to use my creative skills on my own stuff, so I created this whole other brand that I'm doing illustration, I've got a product now. And because I'm not staying up late and killing myself over my freelance work because it's not really skill intensive, I'm able to have that freedom to work on my own stuff. So it's just a totally different ballgame.
I'm so here excited to hear you... and I want to talk more about your own product and your own brand in a little bit, but I think that that's an important thing to mention, is that when you're literally just focused 1,000 % just on upping your craftsmanship or upping your skills game, that can eat up all the oxygen in the room for you to understand the full spectrum of what you can do as an artist or a motion designer. I don't think a lot of people allow themselves to stretch their entrepreneurial side or their narrative storytelling side or their product development side, but all the skills we use, you may think that that's crazy right now if you're just in an After Effects setting key frames, but the problem solving you're doing to get to the point where which key frames to set, that skill, that ability, that capability is at least as valuable to some people, if not an order of magnitude more valuable, to some companies.
I love that you said that, there are many more places starting up innovation design centers. And I think maybe part of it is, the language skills built around all of these are still very nascent, they're very early. But I've worked at with brands that they don't have a Skunk Works team or a Blue Sky development team, or like a black box R&D, but every one of these industries, when they get introduced to this, the light bulb goes off. And I can give you a short example that I was helping an architectural firm in Atlanta pitch on a project in Las Vegas. There's a shopping mall, it's been around for 25 years, people just park in the parking lot and walk through the shopping mall to get to The Strip, but they don't do anything inside.
Tons of foot traffic, but no one remembers the place, no one even knows what the name is when they walk through it. And they were pitching against four much larger architectural design firms. And when we met with them, they're like, "We're missing something, we don't know what. But here's our deck." And the deck was literally 112 pages long, and it was just, which paint are they going to put on the walls? Which floors are they going to tear up? And how big are they going to make the screens and the signage outside of the building? And we literally told me like, "You're in Las Vegas, you're missing the reason for people to even be here. What's the story of the space?"
And they looked at us like we were crazy. It's a shopping mall on the Las Vegas Strip. What do you mean story? And we're like, "You have a pirate ship across the street. Down the way, you have a rollercoaster on top of a building. There's like a million different stories and you literally don't have one, that's why no one remembers you." And we had like two days and we put it together, a ton of reference of what it could be. But I remembered, I think like four or five hours before the actual pitch where we go into a room against all these huge gigantic architecture firms, I wrote out two paragraphs, I think it was like nine sentences of why this place needed to be and what the story of it was.
And it was just written out, it was dashed really quick. We convinced him to let us put this as the very first page in the deck. So we go in the room, we pitch it, we tell the story. And then they come in and they tell the 45 minutes of all the architectural stuff they're going to do. Two days later, we get a phone call and saying like, "You guys are very lucky because we picked you over all the other teams, and we actually increased the budget from like $5 million to $25 million be because of the story you guys told on that one page. Whoever wrote that, let them know that they won this job and grew it because you came to us with a story."
Now, that had nothing to do with my ability as an animator or being able to draw stuff, and nobody asked us to do it, but I really think as a motion designer, when you're doing this work and you're seeing these things happen and you're around films and you're around TV shows and great products and great brands, you absorb so much of what storytelling actually is just to be able to do your work, like I said, to know which key frames to set, that we have it built into us that we can do these things. It's just no one's telling us that innovation and storytelling and human-centered design is actually something that we can sell, something that we can use to make us look different from everyone else.
I love hearing what you said because it blew my mind open to be like, "Wait, what did they just say? I wrote three or two paragraphs and that won a job? It wasn't the 25 pages of reference or any beautiful style frames we made, it was literally words on a page?" That I wish more people in motion design had the moment you're talking about, the moment I'm talking about, to realize there's a different game to be played here within motion design.
Yeah. And I can still relate to that because even within what I'm doing with human-centered design and innovation consultancies and stuff like that, the work that they do, a lot of the teams know now the value of video and they try to have the people on their teams do it, people who have art skills. And a lot of the people who are coming into these design strategist roles are coming from an industrial design background, a lot of them are coming from architecture backgrounds and they'll make these videos where they have these like silhouette versions of people who are placed in the environments, or they like trace pictures that they took of themselves.
Where my skills come in is that I can draw people. And if you can draw people, and I'm not talking about realistic people, even if you can draw stick figures, you can tell when someone draws a stick figure, but they actually know how to draw, it's this simple way of drawing. And you can go to my site, leeannebrennan.com. There's an example of a customer experience storyboard on there. It's very simple, black and white like a comic book. And what you need to do is show the customer's face, show their expression, how are they reacting to that new wearable watch that they have?
Are they happy? Are they sad? What's in the environment? Are they at home? Are they getting out of bed? It's like all those little things, a lot of the people who try to do this who don't have that storytelling background will just show the watch and they'll show the UI of the watch and how it works. And then as we're growing away from products into service, and that's the explosion that happened while I was at Continuum is like, okay, it's easy to make a prototype of a watch and create a CAD version of it, beautifully rendered and you've got the image spinning, that's very exciting, but now we're in an era where there's huge ecosystems of services that people are coming up with.
You can build a prototype of that, and some people do. I've seen projects where they have a huge warehouse where they build white foam core prototypes of all these different points in the journey. And that's very cool, but you still need that video to tee it up to be like, "Okay this is what we're doing, this is how we're feeling." It's just such an advantage to be able to have that skillset and it's very rare to be able to write because there a lot of writing that goes into this type of work. I would say half my job is writing the scripts.
It's all about interviewing the client and saying, "Okay, what's your idea." And to get them away from talking about the features and talking about how does this impact the customer?
Again, I'm just nodding my head. We have a free course called Level Up at School of Motion that I made. And in that, I talk about how I think lots of motion designers inside of them have three superpowers that very rarely get developed, but it doesn't take a lot to unlock them and see the difference if you can demonstrate it. And you're hitting on all of them, like drawing, I think is a huge advantage for anybody in motion design, whether it's to figure out their own ideas or communicate someone else's, it's like the fastest preface tool of all time, you can draw.
And then writing is a huge one because it's one of the few ways, especially in a world where we're all on Zoom and everything's being done virtually, being to write your idea down and leave it behind for someone when you're not in the room with them and you're not on a Zoom with them to understand, being able to write succinctly and very minimalistic, but also express emotion, super, super hard. But I feel like motion designers are somehow capable of doing it if they just try a little bit. And then being able to speak, being able to do what we're doing right now, just to talk about and interact with people and coax something out of someone and make someone believe in something.
Those three skills have nothing to do with software. I actually call them an artist operating system in that once you learn how to do those things and you feel confident and comfortable, you never have to learn the next version of it, but it is in some ways almost like software if you can view it that way. We're so accustomed to always having to learn something new with a keyboard and a screen, but it's really hard to ask somebody to be like, "Hey, you should be a better writer." I guess that's a really good question for you, is that we think about this stuff all the time in terms of tools and to techniques, but I really think, like I said, motion design, its real strength is ability to rapidly visualize or pre-visualize and test like you said.
If people are listening to this and they're really, really excited about, "Okay, cool. I'm maybe tired of always doing the same stuff and maybe I've just become a new parent and I don't want to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week and spend countless amount of time on YouTube or somewhere else trying to learn the next hot thing," do you have any suggestions on how you sharpen those skills of drawing and writing and honestly, just your ability to just verbalize these thoughts? How did you get better at it?
Oh my gosh, I can still relate to this because it's not a skillset that I really recognized until I started freelancing. So I was working at the innovation consultancy as a full-time employee for about six years. And then I got pregnant with my first child and I decided to freelance, which a lot of us do make that switch when we have our first child. And I was like, "Okay, cool. I'll be a freelancer now." And then I was forced to really get into that role of, "Okay, I need to get clients, I need to explain my worth. I need to talk with them on the phone and over Zoom, I need to sell myself. I need to figure out what they need."
And doing that year in and year out, you get better at it. And because I was doing these type of projects where you're not plugged into a machine of like, "Oh, I'm just the designer making the illustrations and then it's going to be handed off to the animator," because you're doing everything and because you're doing it in a way that is very low fidelity, you're forced to get good at those skills of writing, of talking, and the drawing piece, I've always spend drawing from the time I was a kid. I was going to life drawing lessons with my mom at the age of 12. That's just something that I've always enjoyed is drawing, drawing the figure, drawing people.
So I would say life drawing, it's hard to do that in-person, but even just those basic skills, set up as still life and draw it or something, draw your roommate or your friend who's laying on the couch, just have a little sketchbook and it's just practice putting the hours in. But I would say one of the advantages to this type of storytelling, going back to me as a mom, I now have two kids. I'm 39, so this is when you either get phased out because your skills are irrelevant because there's all these hot new 20-year-olds who have all the latest tech skills.
And the amount of time also.
Yeah, and time, but no, not in this world, you only get better and better and in more demand because you get so good at what you're doing. Now, I'm at the point where a client says, "Yes, let's do this project." I'm like, "Okay." I'm going to set up a call, in an hour I know all the right questions to ask to get what I need. And I can turn around and within a couple hours, hammer out six scripts, I hand them to them, have them revise it. I've got this whole process down so pat. And it's so valued by the client, it's such a relief for them not to have to push or ask for these things, I know exactly what they need and that's all from experience.
So I'm in such high demand at the age of 39 and still a practitioner. A lot of people that get to my age now they're like an art director, or creative director, and now they're no longer really making stuff. A lot of that is pitching the clients and that's a small part of my job. I get to do it all. And that is such a fun place to be like, I'm having a blast over here and I'm not killing myself.
Yeah. It's a weird place to be. And I feel like it's this unknown territory that I want more people to know about.
I do too in the sense that I think there's a lot of people struggling with exactly what you talked about. We always say, If you want to climb to the top as fast as you can, here's the ways to do it and here's the studios where you can do it at, but I know from being in that position, having been there, looking back on it, no one tells you about this and no one talks about it, but there is an incredible amount of stress. And I would say even budging amount of fear that, "Oh, okay. Well, if for some reason I can't win three pitches in a row or for some reason I'm not as good of a creative as I thought I was, there's this just like mounting pressure in the back. And I also don't know all the tools, the tools I used to know are getting irrelevant or the ways those tools worked, they're not necessarily like what I used to use."
And it can really grind you in a very unsuspecting way that you're like, "Oh, well, I'm doing this creative directing or art or anything, but really what I used to do is what I'd like, or what I define myself as, what am I going to do?" And I think that we don't talk about it, but that's a huge amount of pressure and stress, I think, in the industry to be somebody who talks to clients, but also know how to do everything, and at a moment's notice be able to get on the box and do it, but the way you're talking about it sounds very different. It doesn't sound like it's this massive crush of 40, 50, 60 hour work weeks and this impending sense of doom if you don't win every single thing going forward.
Can you give us the context, we talk about like Buck and Oddfellows and Ordinary Folk, we love all of them and we love their work, but I don't know if people even understand, what's the play field like for, like innovation or human center design? Are there like top shops that everybody knows about in that world? Or is it just a bunch of freelancers that are all working under the cover of darkness? You mentioned Continuum, is there a buck for what you do?
Yeah, there is. It's called IDEO, I-D-E-O. And there's a ton of them. There's frog, there's smart design, there's, I don't know. I can't even list them all, but IDEO is the big one. If you want to look this up, that's the one everyone knows. And just going back to that stress piece for a second, it made me think of one of the reasons that I didn't want to get into the big animation studios, when I started doing this type of work, I was like, "Oh I'm feeling like I'm missing that crafts piece. I want to get back into the art of motion design." And I was actually starting to develop a portfolio to then apply to be a proper motion designer at an animation studio.
But the more I thought about it, and as my life was changing, getting married and starting to think about kids, I was like, "You know what, I don't want the pressure of having to come up with this clever new design or the latest way to make something move." I was like, "That's too much for me right now. I'm not in that stage anymore." And that's why this type of work fits so well for me, not only because I get to still play and make stuff, but the pressure is off there as well, but the skillset... I still keep up with my skills and I'm always learning and watching tutorials, but it only has to be to a certain level because another part of this is that almost everything you make, and this is a pro and a con, almost everything is internal, almost everything is under an NDA, nondisclosure agreement.
It's a blessing and a curse because it also takes the pressure off because you're like, "Okay, the outward facing world isn't going to see this. This is just a quick thing to shepherd an idea." So it takes the pressure off of the look of it, but you also never get to share anything. So my six years at Continuum, I had nothing to show for it. And you can't talk about it. You can't even talk about what you're doing. You have to talk in general terms. So that's one of the drawbacks, but also the pluses is it takes the pressure off, but you also can't share.
I think that begs the question then. And I think probably a lot of people listen to this are thinking is, how do you, especially if you're freelancing, where do you find your time being spent to find the next job or the next project? Are you building relationship?
Oh my gosh, no, you are not. Once people find out that you can do this, when the innovation industry, and this is people in innovation consultancies, and people within big corporations who have innovation or design strategy teams, once they find out that there's someone who can make videos, who knows how to work with them, you are sought after, you are indispensable. I don't think I've searched for work in years. And I was nervous, I took two years off to have my second child. I have an 18-month old now. I took two complete years off and I was like, "Oh, it's going to be hard to get back into this."
I sent an email out to all my past people, I'm like, "Hey, I'm working again." And they're like, "Oh my gosh." I had work the next week. It's a different way of working, it's a different industry.
I'm glad we talked about this because it sounds like the dream in terms of someone who may have been spending their life at their desk animating, chained to their computer, always worried about how to like, "Oh, I got to show my next piece and how do I make a new demo reel? And where's the next thing coming from?" It sounds like the work comes to you once you build your reputation, you don't have to worry about it being the 100% final polished piece that everybody talks about having to be. You're in a leadership position in the sense that your clients aren't ordering something that you do off of a menu.
They're asking you to almost be at a partnership level to help them solve a problem, which is like the best place to be in any kind of industry, especially when you're freelancing, you can take the time to learn things, but you don't feel like you have this unyielding pressure to learn everything. And you're exercising a lot of other creative capabilities beyond just clicking a mouse, you're writing, you're speaking, you're thinking, you're drawing, all on top of the skills we all know and love is motion design. Are there any path ways for somebody who's listening to this, someone who's listening and they're like, "Man, this is really interesting. How do I find a way to break into this?"
Is there a pathway to get into a place like Continuum or one of these shops like IDEO at a lower level and work your way up to be able to follow in your footsteps? Or do you think that there are other ways for someone who's listening right now that's really interested, that's leaning in and like, "Tell me more," what do you think is a way for someone to find their way into the innovation design industry?
I would definitely recommend as a best case scenario that you put your time in as a full-time employee at an innovation consultancy. That's how I learned, that's how I really understood what they needed from me and how I could bend and not break to meet that need. And that is a learning process and not everyone is up for that. So that's where you can really decide like, "Okay, is this for me?" And then from there, you meet so many people, you create so many connections, and people from those industries are always hopping around. So once you leave and become a freelancer, it's very easy to reach out and say, "I'm available. This is what I do. This is what I can offer."
And if you wanted to just jump in and say, "I think I can do this," you can literally just search on LinkedIn for CX designer, experienced designer, design strategist, service designer, design researcher, human-centered designer, any of those things, you could find those people, reach out and say, "Hey, I'm a motion designer, I'm a storyteller, I can draw, I can write, I can make videos. And I'd love to see if you ever have a need for that."
Yeah. You might be surprised, people will be like, "Oh my gosh." Because a lot of this stuff, they don't really need a video. A video is a nice to have, so it's like they learn about you and they're like, "Oh, how could we use video?" It gets them to ask the question. And then if they know you're available, they say, "Oh, maybe Leeanne could do this for us."
I love that. All those job titles you described, I'm going to bet, at least more than half of the audience listening right now is either never heard of those or at least didn't know what went behind those job titles. I'm laughing to myself right now because even in my last company that I worked at before I joined School of Motion, I was always struggling to try to describe to the people that owned the company, how we were changing and what we should call ourselves, because we were doing a lot of this work where we might even pitch against an IDEO, or a Gensler, an architecture firm. And we never knew what to say, what to call what we did.
And I always said like, "Well, we're like a black box studio. You can come to us with a problem, you will not know how we get to the solution from when you send us the problem, but when you come back, you'll have something that you never even thought of, that will have solutions that you didn't even realize were addressing problems at the root of what you asked us to do." And the idea that innovation design or human center design, and the fact that there's like this idea that you're a consultant, you're not actually making the final thing, this company's going to go and make the, whatever it might be, the hotel or the product, or the app, or the service, but you're helping them figure out how to talk and think about it before they even actually go and do it.
I think there's probably a lot of people listening to this saying either, "Hey, that's what I'm already doing and I never get paid for it." Or, "Oh my gosh, that sounds as exciting as what I do day to day, I just didn't know what the job title was."
Yeah. And as a freelancer, you make a lot of money too. This is a very lucrative business and you have less stress and you're working less. The only drawback I will say is that you can't share anything that you do and you lose that craftsperson artist piece that like Harold the beauty of what you're making. And that goes back to that, you got to have a personal project, you've got to have something separate to make sure that part of you is fulfilled
Well. And I will say, I think that's part of anyone working in motions, they needs to do that still, whether they are making cool looking work for someone else, to get to the point where you feel comfortable, maybe even entering into this innovation focused narrative, storytelling, problem solving focus, you have to do your own personal work so you can figure out what your voice and your vision and your obsessions are, even if you're doing day to day key framing. I think that's good advice for anybody, but especially if you're thinking about entering into this side of the industry.
I have to ask you, we ask a lot of people this, and a lot of times it comes from a very focused, very almost like niche perspective of just like animation, but just in general for, I know you say you don't think you're necessarily in motion design, but a lot of what you're doing is coming from it. I love asking the million dollar question of just like, in the next five years in motion design or your field, what are you most excited about? Where do you think the industry is going? We talked about how you hit just the right time for people learning about ex explainer videos and video being a tool. Do you see something else on the horizon that you're excited about being able to add to, or be able to do in your day to day?
Yeah. Well, I think the answer to that is what other industries can use us that don't know the value of visual storytelling, a video. And there's probably so many. If this industry is just really wrapping their heads around this now, think of all the other places that are going to find out, "You know what we could use to get this idea across or to get to the next phase, or to develop this thing? We could use a video that explains it." How many other industries are there? There's probably an infinite amount. I think that's the future. It's not about technology or a platform, although I'm very excited about NFTs, I will tell you that.
Oh yes. Excellent. We could do a second podcast just to talk about your perspective on that.
But yeah, I think that would be my answer.
Excellent. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it, because I feel like this is a whole realm that motion designers just need to be introduced to you, just this idea that your thought process and your ability to communicate your ideas being just as valuable as the actual final product itself, that value, that intrinsic value you bring to the table is I think the source where we have a lot of these psychological barriers in the industry. Everybody talks about FOMO, everybody talks about imposter syndrome, the fear of the blank page. I think so much of that is rooted in the sense that we describe our value by, what's the thing I can make that convinces somebody to hire me the next day to make more of it? And it's a physical thing.
It's literally like, I made a quick time or I made seven style frames, but I really think we need to help each other understand that what you bring the table in terms of the thought process and the ideas is actually just as valuable as that. And then maybe, it feels like, I don't know, 1,000% this is the case, but it feels like you've conquered a certain amount of that day to day imposter syndrome that almost everyone in motions on you talk to feels. And I don't know if that's true, but maybe that's a part of unlocking and pushing some of that aside, because I do feel like there's a lot of these, like I said, mental or psychological barriers that we feel in motion design.
And maybe it's rooted just in the fact that we don't value ourselves or we don't value the full breadth of what we offer to potential clients.
Yeah. I absolutely still get imposter syndrome. Every time I'm working on a project, I'm looking at reference and inspiration from the big studios and I get all in my head like, "Oh, I'm not good enough to make this thing." But then I always tell myself, "That's not what we're doing here. We're not playing that game. This isn't what it's about, it's about what can this video do, how can this video help shepherd this idea, this project onto the next phase within this company. This isn't about selling a product or a service to direct to a customer." So I just always have to remind myself to really celebrate, what can this video do? What can this video communicate? That's the win.
I love that. I think that points to how young just motion design and the industry you're in, how young these industries are, because if you went to, let's say a storyboard artist working at Pixar that still works in pencil and paper, just does drawings, that industry has been around for so long and people know the inherent value and what the role of that person actually is that they don't wake up in the morning and be like, "Oh no, you know what, I don't know how to render and animate and create that final image. I don't know if I'm good enough." They know that their ability to come up with an idea and draw it on a series of frames carries a lot of weight.
It carries a lot of value that the rest of the process can't happen without them. But for some reason, especially in motion design, we haven't gotten there yet, that just doesn't happen. And I feel like listening to you and your discoveries and your journey, even if it's gone through motion design to get here is such a valuable story for anybody that's feeling that right now, because it is a journey. There is growth that you have to have as an individual, but even just the industry, as a group of people working together needs to learn this at the same time.
Yeah. Oh, that's great. It's part of everyone's process too and growing, we're constantly growing, but there's a certain point where you get where you really value what you can do.
Well, Leeanne, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it. For everybody listening, it almost sounds like you might have some homework. You might need to go and look up Continuum and IDEO and all those job titles that Leeanne mentioned. If that's interesting to you, LinkedIn seems like it's a really great place to go in and just start seeing what people are looking for, see what people are doing. Go to Leeanne site, find out what this whole additional industry next to motion design could offer to you. And it sounds like it's something that's really fun to explore.
But Leeanne, thank you so much for introducing all of us. Thank you for introducing me to maybe a job title I think I was doing, didn't even know about, but we really, really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
Oh, thanks so much for how having me.
I don't know about you Motioners, but I learned a lot from this conversation with Leeanne, and honestly, I want to keep going further into some of these ideas about innovation design or human-based design. And Leeanne herself has a personal project where she's continuing this conversation. You have to go over to epicbones.com and check out everything Leeanne's doing in this world. Beyond just pushing her career forward and finding new clients and getting that really nice work life balance, she's also got a podcast going, she has some products. She has this whole different world about thinking about accountability as an artist that it's worth checking out.
So if you like this conversation, I think it'd be worth it to go out to epicbones.com and maybe reach out and start a conversation between Leeanne and yourself. Well, that's what this podcast is all about, isn't it? We introduce you to new artists, new ways of thinking, new ways of working and just keeping you inspired in your day to day life in motion design. Until next time, peace.