Back to Blog

Were We Wrong About Studios? Giant Ant's Jay Grandin Responds

No items found.

Did the unthinkable happen? Were we wrong about studios? 

You may have listened to our end of the year podcast where EJ, Ryan and Joey talked about all things design and animation. One of the topics we covered was the evolving relationship between artists and studios in the age of NFTs, mid-six-figure freelancers, and social media fame. Listening back, we wondered if maybe the picture we painted was a bit bleaker than the actual reality. And we weren’t the only ones who felt that way.

Jay Grandin—co-founder and creative director of Giant Ant—had some words to say about it. We asked Jay if he'd come back onto the podcast to chat about his thoughts on the episode and on the reality of running a studio in 2022. We hope that this episode provides a bit of a counterbalance to some of the stuff we discussed, and gets you thinking about your role in the creative space. 

Join us in a slice of humble pie as we sit down with Jay Grandin once again.

Were We Wrong About Studios? Giant Ant’s Jay Grandin Responds.

Show Notes

Artists

Jay Grandin
Beeple

David Ariew

DeeKay Kwon

Austin Saylor
 
Chris Anderson

Taylor Yontz

Joel Pilger

Ryan Honey

Chris Do

Bee Grandinetti

Vucko

Doug Alberts

Ariel Costa

Ben Ommundson

Studios

Giant Ant
Imaginary Forces

BUCK

Oddfellows

Hornet

MK12

Pieces

The Freelance Manifesto: A Field Guide for the Modern Motion Designer by Joey Korenman 
Stranger Than Fiction

Tools

Figma
Final Cut Pro

Resources

Blend

Transcript

Joey Korenman:

Hello, Oh boy. I'm not going to lie, today's episode was a little nerve wracking to record. You may have listened to our end of the year podcast where EJ, Ryan and I talk talked about all things design and animation. One of the topics we covered was the evolving relationship between artists and studios in the age of NFTs, mid-six-figure freelancers, and social media fame. At times, I think the conversation got a little spicy. And listening back, I wondered if maybe the picture we painted was a bit bleaker than the actual reality. And I wasn't the only one who felt that way.

Joey Korenman:

My friend, Jay Grandin, co-founder and creative director of Giant Ant, had some words to say about it. After texting back and forth a bit, I asked Jay if he'd come back onto the podcast to chat about his thoughts on the podcast episode and on the reality of running a studio in 2022. What follows is a conversation with one of my favorite people in the industry, and someone whose opinion I put a lot of stock in. I hope that this episode provides a bit of a counterbalance to some of the stuff we discussed in that marathon end of the year podcast, and get you thinking about your role in the creative space. So with that. Jay Grandin, right after we hear from one of our amazing School of Motion alumni.

Monica Meng:

Hi, there, my name is Monica, and I'm a two times School of Motion alumni. I would highly recommend School of Motion courses to anyone. For me, for example, I am a video editor slash graphic designer, and it's helped me a lot because I used to not understand what graph editors meant, not really fully be able to design something myself from scratch without using templates. And now, I look at it and I'm able to come up with all these brilliant ideas. I'm able to utilize animation theories into my work. And it's just all the little details now matters, and it's coming together into more well-rounded pieces, better videos, better designs, better everything.

Monica Meng:

Definitely, School of Motion courses have pushed me forward by like a mile. I would have never been able to do it by myself, learning by myself, or just freelancing by myself. So definitely, whether you're professional or a beginner or you think you know what you're doing but you are also on the edge of not really sure, try out a School of Motion course and you'll benefit so much from it.

Joey Korenman:

Hey, quick heads up, there's about 15 minutes of this episode where Jay's audio quality drops, and I apologize for that, but the content is so good that we just left it in. All right. That's it. Onto the episode. Jay Grandin, back for round two. It is really good to talk to you again, man. I'm excited to do this. Thank you for coming back on.

Jay Grandin:

Thank you for having me back, Joey.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. Well, I'm excited. You texted me after the end of the year podcast and you brought up a bunch of really good points, and I was like, "You know what, I shouldn't be the only one to hear these points, you should share this with the world." So I appreciate you doing that. Why don't we start we with a recap, because you've been on the podcast before, but it was a long time ago, even pre pandemic, a lot was going on. And then this pandemic hit and it changed everything for everybody. So I'd love to know, maybe you can just take us through the last two years. What was it like for Giant Ant?

Jay Grandin:

It's been tough and different and easy in other ways too, I guess. When the pandemic first hit, we obviously went directly home, and what happened was pretty much all of our clients just stopped being our clients, for whatever reason. The Slack work totally pivoted, and so we stopped working with them. We're doing a lot of stuff for Coca-Cola and Time Square, and there was no one in Times Square, so that work went away. But then there's a ton of other work that flooded in, which probably a lot of people saw, which was this panic reaction to say something about COVID and then also like a panic pivot from live action. So we went through this really wild couple of months where we did almost like a full refresh on what our client landscape looked like while also still trying to figure out how to work from home.

Jay Grandin:

And for the most part, it was pretty good. I was talking about this with some people at work the other day, 2020 and 2021 functionally weren't that different, but it feels like the big difference between them emotionally was that in 2020, we all felt like we were in a thing together and experiencing the thing together. And there was a lot of, I think, mutual support going on. Whereas I think in 2021, everyone just got really tired of it all and it just felt like a drag. The way that we were working was a little bit clunkier, getting together was harder, and all these things. And I think we really experienced the pandemic fatigue stuff more as a studio in 2021.

Jay Grandin:

And over the course of that time, we started out completely remote, and then eventually, we started to come back to the office. But it wasn't until September of 2021 that we really did that as a full team. But before that, we had a few people coming in here and there. I don't know, it's been fine. There's lots of work coming in, we're doing lots of work, we're doing lots of cool work. I think probably the thing that I struggle with the most as a creative director is that it feels like it's easy right now to be a cover band. We're back all at home together, separated back at home now. And so you sink back into those remote working habits, which I think a lot of them are like, we know how to play our greatest hits, but the improvisational jazz part of what we do is missing where it's like, "Oh look at the thing on Connor's screen, and look at what Eric's doing. You guys should get together."

Jay Grandin:

That's where a lot of the magic happened, I think, in the past. We're just combining ad hoc the efforts of people in unusual ways, because you're in the room and you're aware and you can see it all. But anyway, it's fine, it's just the way we work now.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I'd love to hear a little bit more about that actually. Because we've talked about this on this podcast a little bit, but from your perspective, you just summed it up. I think what most people who have worked in person in studios, I think would all agree, this is the biggest change. If we're working remote, you don't have that in-person vibe and the spontaneity and, like you said, it's like being in a jazz band or something, you're riffing off each other. But now you're saying that, okay, we took this gap year, year and a half. Everyone's working remotely. Now everyone's back, but some of that... What is it, do you think? Has the energy level been sucked out of people by this? Is it some of that fatigue just making its way now into the studio and it doesn't feel as lively?

Joey Korenman:

Do you think people developed just different habits about how they work? Are people more distracted? I'm curious if you have any theories on why things feel different even though you're back in person now.

Jay Grandin:

I don't have any theories, but I do think that everyone's really different, and a lot of our natural tendencies were really either really amplified or really muted by the time we all spent at home. And so coming back together in September, we were back in the same room from September to December and then we've been at home since because of Omicron. But I think what happened at first is that it felt awkward in the room where people felt watched or they felt socially exhausted or they felt like they were lacking some of the comforts of home. Some people really, really thrived on the other hand where they were so, so relieved to have somebody to talk to at the coffee maker and all that kind of stuff.

Jay Grandin:

So I think it's just been a real mixed bag. And I think what it has done is. I think that over time as a group, some of your habits average where you learn how to be in a specific group together and some people's extroversion dulls down and some people's introversion amps, goes the other way or whatever, and you find this equilibrium, and that equilibrium was just gone when we returned. And so there was a lot of days where it was just silent in there. We didn't talk to one another and we just communicated via Slack, almost like we were forgetting that we were in the same room.

Joey Korenman:

That's so weird. Yeah.

Jay Grandin:

Over time, that stuff eased up, and it started to feel fun and felt like the energy was back getting closer to Christmas. I don't know, I think that probably for a lot of people, work in 2021 felt more like a job than it ever has before, just a job rather than as this exciting creative pursuit that we're working on together.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. It really struck me. I have a team and we hired in 2020 and 2021. And so I've felt that same thing of, it's different now. I guess the relationship people have with work feels like it's changed. And it made me think about how fragile society really is. I always took it for granted that there's these enormous gears turning 24/7 that create creativity and commerce and customers and vendors, and there's this whole system built around it, and people are motivated to go and learn skills and apply for jobs and then go work. And all of a sudden, we had to pause that. And the thought was, "We're causing this temporarily." And then you turn the machine back on and it doesn't run the same way it used to.

Joey Korenman:

It's like something has been fundamentally broken. And I don't know if it's broken and will never be the same. In truth, I suspect that is what's happening. But it just struck me like, oh, we all took this for granted, that this is just the way the world works and we can stop it and started at will, and I think we were wrong, as we're all learning. Right?

Jay Grandin:

Totally. Yeah, totally. We talked a lot about that when we were coming back to the office. The sentiment was a little bit like, "Whoa, all the pieces are all over the floor right now. So as we go to put them back together again, do we put them back together the same way, or is there a new machine that we should build this time around?"

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. Which, I guess in a way, that's creative destruction, I guess, if we're going to put a nice coat of paint on it. So especially in 2020, and I remember, I think right as the pandemic hit, I reached out to a bunch of people I know in the industry, I reached out to you and said, "Hey, how's it going? How are you guys doing?" And the sentiment that I go at that time, probably around April of 2020, was that everybody had that same initial shock of, "All the work went away, and now I can't even go to my office and my team," and all that kind of stuff. But then pretty quickly, work picked back up for studios that can do animation, because all of a sudden, live action was based impossible for a while.

Joey Korenman:

And even now, it's more costly, depending on where you're doing it, I know if you're shooting in California, there's a lot of extra regulations around COVID that didn't exist before, it's just more money you have to spend. So how has that dynamic impacted the amount of work you're doing, the kind of work you're doing. Has that sustained into 2022?

Jay Grandin:

Yeah, it's kind of sustained. Actually, I pulled up some numbers out of curiosity, but we had 502 inbound projects in 2020, which is a lot. If you could think that we can probably do like 50 of those well, it gave us a lot of choice. But for a long time, post pandemic, there was a lot of small crappy projects with no time and no money to quickly play some sad violin music and say that we're in it together or whatever. And it took a little while for the cool projects to filter from live action to animation or to pivot from one to the other. But we definitely started to see that happening toward the middle and end of the year.

Jay Grandin:

And I think what's been cool about 2021 and still is that I think that it's gotten a lot of creative teams more comfortable with the idea of animation. Whereas before, a lot of classic advertising stuff, it just gravitates toward live action because that's what people grow up with, watching shows and stuff. And I think that it's more familiar to the creative directors and art directors that are working on those kinds of things. But I think that maybe the pandemic in the creative world has been like a crash course in animation literacy for a lot of people out of necessity.

Jay Grandin:

And just maybe I think that a lot of those doors have continued to stay open as people have gotten more comfortable with it. Well, what's been interesting too with that, and I don't know if it's related, we're seeing a lot of references come in, particularly from agency clients that things that I feel like we've already been there and done that, we're starting to see Catch Me If You Can and stuff come back and things like that.

Joey Korenman:

Deer antlers.

Jay Grandin:

We've been through this already. So I don't know. I think overall, it's a good thing or it's been a good thing for us in the animation world.

Joey Korenman:

Have you noticed... I know that Giant Ant doesn't do much live action anymore, but I know your wife Leah has a separate company that does live action. This is a little off topic, but I'm just curious because you're in Canada and the entire world is dealing with this reality of this country has these rules, this country has these rules. And the United States, from state to state, it's like living on completely different planets still. Did the live action come back to Vancouver? Has it come back to Canada? Because I know that the rules are stricter there than they are for example, in Texas or something where there's also a lot of production. Is that still a dynamic that you guys are seeing?

Jay Grandin:

Yeah, it seems to be going really well. We actually recently stepped out of that company. So it's now being run completely by Michael, who's the creative partner in that business. He's doing great. And I think the last six months have been the biggest ever, probably the last, even three months have been bigger than the last couple of years put together. So it's really doing great up here right now, it seems.

Joey Korenman:

Oh, that's awesome. That's great. Because I feel like just with the nature of live action, that's got to be a pretty good leading indicator as far as the health of the creative industry and advertising and stuff like that. Let's talk about the talent crunch. And this was really, I think, the reason you reached out, because in the end of the year podcast that I'd did with Ryan Summers and EJ, that was one of the big topics that we got into. And a lot of it for me anyway, was based on the experience that I've had over the last year where my email inbox is just constantly full of people who run studios or work at agencies or just somehow know about School of Motion, asking for talent.

Joey Korenman:

That's been the case for a while, but there's an urgency to it that hasn't been there. And I've had people just flat out tell me, it's harder to find people, it's harder to retain, especially senior level experienced artists, than it used to be. So I'm curious what your experience has been lately. Does that line up or have you seen something different?

Jay Grandin:

Yeah, I'm hearing all those things too and experiencing some of those things. I think in 2021, our issue was not senior level talent. I think we'd done a really good job of retaining our senior level talent. But what we've had a really hard time doing is retaining junior little talent, or I guess, ascending talent, people who have come in as juniors and are growing through the studio. And this has never been a problem for us, it's always been people come to Giant Ant and they become part of the family and they never leave, but they don't leave for several years and then everyone cries and they do. But in 2021, it was really different. I think we've had five or six people go, all at the more junior end of the studio.

Jay Grandin:

I don't know. I feel like I've come up with a bunch of reasons why, probably for self-preservation so I can got to justify it, but I'm sure that there are all kinds of things going on, I'm sure I don't have all the facts. But I think that some of the things at play are, one, we brought in a bunch of people from all over the world in June, July, August, September, 2019, in this time when we were all together and they got a few months of us all together. But then the majority of their time with Giant Ant and in Vancouver was spent alone in their bedrooms with really underdeveloped social circles because they hadn't been here for long enough to develop them.

Jay Grandin:

So I think we inadvertently created a super lonely time in these people's lives by bringing them to Vancouver right before a pandemic. And so, I think it's really natural that a lot of them have chosen to go do other things, either head home and be close to family or go out on their own freelance journeys or whatever they are. So I think that's one thing. And I think that there's a different attitude about work and career, I think, with some of the younger creatives we're seeing, and maybe less, not categorically, but maybe less reverence for the work your way up in a place and learn the ropes process that I think like I was brought up with through a more architectural style design studios.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I think it's got to be a little bit of everything. I think that the dynamic that you just talked about with you hire people, they move maybe across the world to Vancouver, which is an amazing place. But then if all of a sudden you can't do anything for three to four months and you're alone and you don't know a lot of people, it doesn't matter how great your day job is, you're just not going to be happy and you're going to look for a way out. And that's something I'm sure a lot of employers had to deal with. School of Motion was lucky in that we've always been remote, so I think people that have come and joined the team, they know what they're getting into ahead of time.

Joey Korenman:

So the day to day in that initial really acute pandemic phase was very different for us than I think for a place like Giant Ant. But I'm curious because my instincts were that, and I don't really even have anything other than anecdotes to back this up, which is why I'd love your take, and tell me if I have this wrong, there's been a lot of things that came along around the same time as the pandemic, and also things that have been building up for years. One thing is, you've got, frankly, people like me and Chris Do and other people out there that have been very vocal about the benefits of freelancing And stuff dad And built up a little bit, probably an overpowering myth of the incredible lifestyle of the rich freelancer.

Joey Korenman:

And then on top of that, you throw in the NFT bubble, which clearly was a bubble, but now is turned into something more sustainable that can still be pretty lucrative for certain artists. And all of a sudden, you've got the makings of, I guess, a low boiled gold rush. Also add on to that that companies Apple and Amazon and Facebook and Google need motion designers more than ever and pay really high salaries and all that kind of stuff. That's the lens I've been looking at through. That's what my gut was telling me is causing a lot of this. I'm curious what you think about those factors. Is that actually playing into it?

Jay Grandin:

Well, I think that all of those things are true. I almost think we should talk about them one by one, because the thing about freelancing is that... And I just want to come out and first say, I am not anti-freelance, I'm not necessarily pro-studio. I just happen to run a studio and that's the way that I've chosen to build my creative career. And it's going well, I'm happy, I enjoy it. I love my team. It's great. Do I think it's the only way to do it or the best way to do it? Absolutely not. There are all kinds of different ways to do things. In another life, maybe I'd be a freelancer. In another life, maybe I'd be an educator. Who knows?

Jay Grandin:

But I'm just in the boat I'm in. One thing that I find tricky about this whole thing is that there's this funny us and them tension around this whole conversation that feels a little bit like US politics to me when I hear people talk about it where it's like, you're a you're pro-freelance in and anti-studio or you're pro-studio and you're anti-freelance. I think that that's kind of silly because I really think that those two ecosystems rely on one another to thrive. And just to back up a little bit, the reason why I reached out, well, I didn't to just text you after I listened to it, I was live texting you as I was listening to it.

Jay Grandin:

And there was some stuff that I think made me pick up my phone and write to you, which was around like, "Yeah, 2022 is going to be finally a year that freelancers get what they're owed. Sucks to be a studio owner right now." And I just thought, that seems a really strange stance, because I think that the broader freelance ecosystem, not all freelancers, relies on a thriving studio ecosystem to be successful and to work on cool stuff, sometimes. And vice versa, a thriving studio landscape relies on having freelance talent that feels supported and engaged in what they're doing and will work for you. So I don't understand where the tension point is, and I'd like to understand that better, I guess, but also maybe I'd like to talk about it, I think, why it's silly.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I'm glad you brought it up, and thank you for sending me the text and all of that. Because it's important to talk about it. It's interesting because when you sent me that, I think just right before that, I had actually listened to the episode. I don't listen to every podcast episode I put out, but that one I always do to listen back. And it did strike me how harsh, I think, that section came off. Because I agree with you, I sense that us-versus-them mentality. It comes out all the time on Twitter, especially, and it always seems to be people straw manning studios and throwing out the worst possible version of how you could possibly be treated by a studio, and pretend and pretending that all studios are that, which is clearly not the case.

Joey Korenman:

And you're not the first studio owner to point this out to me too. I've heard other studio owners that reached out prior to recording that episode saying the same thing, that it feels there's an us-versus-them thing. Some freelancers coming in with an attitude of, already were in a combative posture, "This is a business agreement and you need to agree to my term." And really, it's like they're reacting to maybe just one bad actor that they encountered early in their career or something like that.

Jay Grandin:

Well, and taking specifically what Ryan and EJ were talking about, in a lot of ways, I feel like they were comparing the modern ultra-best case, one in 1,000 freelancers scenario, to studio 1.0, like Imaginary Forces dynamic. Whatever, like like looking back, you know, like Imaginary Forces like they're still around and I feel like they're making work that's as good as ever again. But also like when I first heard the Word motion graphics, like they were one of the studios that was at the top of my list of like cool places. So they've been around for a long time and they're like, they're they're structured like a business from back then, probably. Or at least I think that they were when people were having experiences with them talking about. So I think it's really unfair to lump all studios into this old school boys club version of the studio from the early 2000s, because the world has changed a lot for studios, and a lot of studios have come up with different values and different structures, just like the freelance landscape has changed and people have evolved as individuals. I think it's only fair to give studios credit that they've evolved as well.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I 100% agree. And I think EJ and Ryan, obviously aren't here to elaborate on their thoughts, so I don't want to speak for them, but as far as me, I think back to my freelance career, which predates School of Motion, obviously, and I worked with, I don't know, probably 100 different clients over the years. And I can think of maybe two that were really crummy to me. My take has always been, bad stuff happens in business, like schedules change, stuff pops up at the last minute. That's normal. That's not bad behavior.

Jay Grandin:

That's just life in the big city. It's the way it is.

Joey Korenman:

Exactly. Right. That's life in south Florida. And one thing that I'm glad we're having this conversation, because sometimes I forget how big this field is and how many people are designing and animating and using After Effects and Cinema 4D, it's hundreds of thousands. And when you get on Twitter or you're in a Slack group, like motion design Slack, or something like that, it feels much smaller. And there's these names and these personalities that pop up. And some of them, very few, thankfully, but there are some really loud people out there that their thing is complaining and talking about the worst possible thing that could happen. And I think it does skew, especially if you're new to this, it can skew the way it feels. It can feel like, "Oh my God, we're in the middle of a war here between the artist and the greedy capitalist, Jay Grandin."

Jay Grandin:

You've heard that about me?

Joey Korenman:

But really, nothing could be further from the truth. And I think you're exactly right, and I'll apologize too for how dire that conversation made it sound. Because listening back to it, I think it really did overstate it. And I think really, if I'm going to try to read minds a little bit here, what EJ and I have talked about a lot is that there's different ways artists can, I guess, capitalize on the value that they provide. And the typical way is, "Well, I'm an artist and I'm really good at creating things that are beautiful and that tell stories. I'm not good at going out and fighting my own work and pitching and stuff like that." And so, That's why it's really great to have a studio that's good at all of those things and can provide structure and has a talent pool that can help and all that stuff.

Joey Korenman:

But then there's also ways that, if you're a studio owner it's a little bit harder, but if you sell IP or something like that, you can leverage art and you can leverage that to create more value. And it's been harder for artists to do that. And then this NFT thing hits, and all of a sudden... I know School of Motion alumni who are very talented, but you've never heard of them. They're not names that have made six figures selling NFTs. Stuff like that. And so, all of a sudden, it felt like, wow, now there's this new opportunity where prior to that, an artist would have to pair up with someone who's good at the business side, because there's not really this one-to-one marketplace for it.

Joey Korenman:

And now there is, and I think that that empowerment financially for artists, I know EJ's super passionate about it, so maybe that passionate came out sounding a little bit more negative than I know he means. So that's my take on it.

Jay Grandin:

Well, the NFT thing specifically, NFT thing, first of all, I don't really know what I'm talking about, but in saying that, I think that my opinion is that when we lump together freelance motion design and NFT stuff, I don't think that it makes sense. I think we're talking about two different things and I think it's similar to saying, "Oh, so-and-so freelancer has started painting and is doing really well."" I think it's a different way of exercising creativity and maybe it's using remarkably similar tools. But I think that it's like trying to discuss the nuances between design and art. The best way I can make sense of it is that one responds to a brief and one is for self-expression.

Jay Grandin:

And I feel the NFT thing is more on the self-expression side, with purpose and there's strategy and stuff like that that goes into it, but I don't know if we can... I don't know. It feels more like it's "Oh, that person's doing a different thing now," rather than, "Oh, here's a thing that should influence the way that we perceive value for work done in a motion design project." Because I don't think that the two necessarily do or should influence one another, because they're for totally different purposes and different ways of consumption.

Joey Korenman:

You're exactly right. I'm curious, I'd love your take on this too, Jay. So I think it was probably right when Beeple sold his infamous collage of JPEGs for $69 million. And we experienced this firsthand at School of Motion. It actually triggered a lot of really difficult things. And some of that would be things like freelancers that we had booked to do things bailing because all of a sudden they felt their time was worth far more making an NFT versus doing day rate stuff. And it was very, very few four School of Motion, but I've heard from other people all over the industry that high end 3D artists all of the sudden we're breaking bookings and canceling first holds and stuff like that.

Jay Grandin:

Oh, that's interesting.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. And I'm curious, a, did you see any of that? Did you feel any of this like, "Oh, that freelancer isn't available now because they would rather not be booked and make NFTs and try to sell those." And what does that do to your impression of an artist if they're, I guess, damaging a business relationship because they think they can make more money doing this other thing?

Jay Grandin:

Well, first, we haven't seen that firsthand. I think second part one of your second question, I feel excited for people to use their artistic talents and energy in any way they choose. And I think if someone wants to make NFTs, great, if you want to be a creative director, great. If you just want to be the best matte painter in the world, fantastic. But I think with all that said, I do think it's incredibly important to honor your commitments. And when you commit to something in business, in this world, I think it's important to follow through on it. I would say that that probably, for me personally, ranks higher than talent on my list of reasons to reach out to somebody again, reliability and tolerance for commitment, satisfaction, whatever for satisfying commitments, I think is the number one thing.

Jay Grandin:

And then being really good at the thing is the next thing. But I think if people want to bail on this world, the motions design world and step into that digital art world, I think that that's okay. But I think any opportunity conflicts, I think you just have to be careful that you don't torch all the bridges on the way there?

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I agree 100% with that. That was the issue. Right after all of this started, we released a podcast cast that was called, We Need to Talk About NFTs. And that was basically the message of it, was, go chase your dream. And I hope you all make a million dollars. However, I would caution you against burning bridges. Don't burn your ships just yet.

Jay Grandin:

Totally. In your experience, we talk about all these artists are going and making six figures and blah, blah. In your experience of the people who you know who are engaged in NFTs, how many people are making real money? What's the percentage? Would you say it's 1%, 10%, 90% of people who it's actually viable for?

Joey Korenman:

So people who I know, now, again, I'll caveat, I'm not in the NFT world. I think if you ask EJ, he probably knows... He's friends with Mike, with people, he's friends with David Ariew, both of them have done really, really well. There's other artists that had one big pop right at the beginning and maybe made 50 grand or 100 grand. And then since then, it's slowed way, way down. Personally, I probably know five people that made enough where if they could consistently make that, this could be their full-time job.

Jay Grandin:

And how many people do you know who have made NFTs, period, relative to that five?

Joey Korenman:

Personally know, probably 30, but know of through my networks with School of Motion, hundreds. And I do keep track of the market so I can see what the average sale price is and stuff that. To me, it seems like this is a pretty standard hockey stick thing where 99% of people who do it are going to do something, they'll sell something. Maybe it's some extra beer money. And I know a lot of people aren't doing it to do it full time, some people are just doing it because it's fun and there's a community aspect to it, which is also awesome. But in the early days, that didn't seem like the case. In the early days, everybody thought they were going to be the next DeeKay, who who's an artist that sold NFTs for three to $500,000 multiple times and is now a millionaire, where I think really that is a one in 100,000 person.

Jay Grandin:

Yeah, totally. This makes me think of this meme that's been going around. Sorry, this is scratching on political, but there's this vaccination meme going around where, you may be seen it, it's Leonardo DiCaprio was talking somebody, and one guy's like, "Well, the vaccinated and unvaccinated can both get COVID." And Leonardo DiCaprio says, "Serena Williams and I can both play tennis." I feel like this NFT conversation is kind of like that, where it's like, "Hey, this person won the lottery, we all need to be buying lottery tickets." And I know that there's more to it and it relies on talent and marketing and strategy and coming up with a cool idea, and all those things. But I don't know.

Joey Korenman:

Well, let's talk about the freelance aspect of this too, because this is another interesting thing. And I think there's some parallels. I know a lot of freelancers, and almost all of them do pretty well. And by pretty well, if you factor in the US anyway, if you're freelance, you have to pay extra taxes. If you're an employer, you pay those taxes for the employee. So I'm sure it's different in Canada, but you factor that in, you factor in now you're responsible in the United States for your own healthcare and all of those things. Doing well as a freelancer, I think means basically bringing home the same net that you would if you were on staff somewhere, except you're running your own business, so you get that satisfaction.

Joey Korenman:

There are a few, a handful that are earning substantially more as freelancers than they could realistically at a studio or something like that. There's just not that many $200,000 jobs at studios. They're out there, of course. But as a freelancer, maybe you're playing the odds a little bit more. But I think even there, it's the tip of the iceberg of those freelancers Austin Saylor, he's been very public. He made $200,000 last year as a freelancer and he's hoping to do that again this year, but in eight months or nine months or something that. But I think he's a little bit rare in his ability to really hyper focus and go after the right kinds of clients and all that kind of stuff.

Joey Korenman:

But, I do worry that it creates this perception, and I am certainly guilty of this too, creating a perception where that is what you can expect and everyone will win the lottery if they go freelance. Have you felt any of that coming through as someone who hires freelancers and someone who has employees that maybe in the back of their mind, they want to go freelance one day and they're thinking that when they do, this is what will happen to them?

Jay Grandin:

Yeah, for sure. I think I have so many things to say about this.

Joey Korenman:

Say them all.

Jay Grandin:

I just have to figure out how to break them into pieces. But again, first I want to say, I am totally pro-freelance. I think if you want to go and be freelance, I think it's great. So I think that there are a couple things around that. So there's this mentality that going to freelance is the big ticket, I guess, if you have enough relationships in your Rolodex or if you're doing well on Instagram. And I think what gets confusing to me around there is that... Just to back up. In a studio setting or almost any career, you start as an intern or a junior and then you don't make very much money.

Jay Grandin:

And then you move to more of a junior, midlevel junior role, and then you make more. And then you hone your craft and you become an expert at it. And then you get more responsibility, probably interpersonally, so you start to direct other people. Then you get more business responsibility, maybe you start to be more influential in client relationships. And then eventually, you become more strategically involved in the way the business runs. And all those things and levels of experience unlock these gates of compensation. And I think that's true for almost anything. If you're a doctor or a social worker or a whatever, and they all have names associated with them.

Jay Grandin:

We have vocabulary to describe this career evolution, and in motion design, we don't, we've got one word for it, and it's motion design freelancer. And I think that that is very confusing because I think that some people are Serena Williams and some people are me playing tennis; I know I'm not very good at tennis. And I think that that can be really challenging. So where it gets difficult as somebody who buys freelance talent is that it can be kind of a minefield where some people are amazing and fast and they they've gone through that whole system that I talked about from junior to creative director and beyond, and then maybe they've gone freelance after that.

Jay Grandin:

So people like Chris Anderson, who's amazing, or Taylor Yontz, who's amazing, or 1,000 others. But those people really, they should charge a lot because they're really good. And they're really good because they're amazing at the craft, they get the context, they're never late, they always deliver, the dog will never ever eat their homework, and they'll see to it. And I feel Chris or Taylor on a bad day, you still get something good, and on a good day, you get something great, and it's worth the money. And I think that there's also a group of freelancers there who is really inexperienced.

Jay Grandin:

It doesn't mean they're not good, they're probably great at something, like they're great at animation or they're great at design, but maybe they're missing the contextual experience and the level of professionalism, or maybe they're lacking speed or they're lacking skills in some areas and not others, their offering is a bit lopsided. And in a way, that's not always clear until you get in and try to experience it. And that's okay, but I think that where it gets complicated is that, I think, that there's a disassociation between the realities that people's experience and the idea of value.

Joey Korenman:

I've seen this firsthand, I'm sure you have too, so I'm hoping we can figure out a way to talk around this. There are freelancers out there, like you mentioned Chris Anderson, and I know who he is and I know his work, but I bet a lot of our listeners don't, because Chris isn't all over social media and shilling NFTs and doing... I don't know, maybe he is, but not as visible, not making as much noise as a lot of artists do that we look up to and respect. And I know quite a few of those artists. And when you have someone that's a really good marketer and they have a lot of followers and this and that, I find that it can be a coin toss when you actually book them to do something if the public persona matches up what you get, when it's one-on-one, please make some work for me.

Joey Korenman:

And it almost feels worse when you feel they've over promised through their public persona. So I'm curious if you've run into that and how you look at someone's public persona, if you're thinking of hiring them for a project.

Jay Grandin:

I don't know. I think I'm naturally skeptical about salesmanship, which makes me a really bad marketer. But I think that a lot of it has to do with this dubiousness around that. And often, I have this emotional reaction where I feel like the noisiness of someone online is probably inversely proportional to how busy they are just being awesome and making amazing work. So I think if I see someone talking a lot and sharing a ton of behind the scenes and just hammering Instagram constantly with all the stuff they're doing, it makes me think that they're probably not that busy. And then when people like Chris and Anderson again, I feel like you only hear about him a few words of mouth and it's like, if you know you know kind of thing.

Jay Grandin:

And he's just smoking busy, making a lot of money, having a very successful career, as a freelance guy without doing a ton of quarantine. And I think that that's all rooted in a belief that really truly the best work does float to the top eventually. And when great work does float to the top, people want redo it and people find out they talk about it. But I think you're right, I think there is some asymmetry between people's personas and what they have to bring to the table often, not always, but we have run with that for sure. And there are some people that we were really shocked about how awesome the experience was and we will just continue to work with them.

Jay Grandin:

And then there are people who we were felt a little bit let down by the legend or whatever. And we probably won't work with him. And I think what's tricky about that, coming back to the core issue, which is maybe compensation versus value, I think that if you're charging scarcity based prices, because you can, and you're not producing in line with what you are charging, it's only going to last so long, I think. And studio honors talk and people know each other. And I know that there are cautionary tales about certain freelancers and that stuff really does follow you around, I think, or has an opportunity to.

Jay Grandin:

Fortunately there are tons of doors to unlock them, but what I've found with the freelance relationships that we have, the best relationships that yield the best work and the most exciting relationships are once where we're working with people over and over again and we get to know them, they get to know our staff and they sometimes will get to know us so well. And they come in and take a more senior role on a project and help to play our art orchestra a little bit and just make cool stuff.

Joey Korenman:

All right. Well, let me ask you this then, and again, this is my gut, this is based on my email inbox. So you can confirm or deny, but it feels right now, if you are, let's say a middle weight to heavyweight motion designer, and the way I would define that by the way, it's someone who obviously knows the tool, can animate or design, but I think more than that, you just mentioned, they have these soft skills that enable them to plug into and be a valued team member almost instantly, they're trustworthy and on time and all that stuff. When you find someone like that, or if you are that person, I think right now you can basically just write your own ticket.

Joey Korenman:

It just appears that there's way more work out there for that level of motion designer than there are artists who are freelance at that level right now, it's just literally economics, and it's a seller's market. So as a studio owner, I assume that there's an element of competing for that talent, both on the freelance side to and on the full-time side. And so I'm curious, has it always been that way where you have to compete for talent or did it used to be easier, now it's harder? And how do you compete for talent? How do you attract even freelancers and get them to stick around, even though I'm sure if you're hiring, Taylor, I'm sure a lot of studios are contacting Taylor to work with her, but she's on booked at Giant Ant and she could not let you book her again, but she keeps doing it. So I'm curious, how do you approach that?

Jay Grandin:

Yeah, good question. It is hard. I think it's always been hard to get certain people. And the thing about freelancers is that often when you hire a freelancer, you need something really specific. So you need like an amazing sound animator or a great composite artist or a fantastic whatever. It's rare that you're like, "I just need a senior level creative generalists for this project." Projects don't get resource that way, at least in our studio. From a freelance perspective, usually those top level thinking roles are handled in-house and then we find people to knock down the domino side set by those people.

Jay Grandin:

In case of people like Taylor, I think that that's probably, I don't want to speak for her and you should talk to her about this, but we do have a book, we bought her book for a few months and she's amazing, but I think probably one of the things I imagine for her, it's challenging as a freelancers that she left IV doing great work as a creative director. And so she got a full view of the business as much as I imagine, having [inaudible 00:45:52], where you get to think about the job and work with the client and work with the team and strategically put all the pieces together and then potentially contribute as an artist to make this stuff.

Jay Grandin:

And now she's a freelancer, and what that means for her is that she's kind on the box doing 3D design animation. I think that that's probably awesome because I think she probably missed that stuff a lot, but I think probably there's also a bit of a gap for her in her creative pursuit now where she doesn't have the opportunity necessarily to think at a higher level always, or be asked for that where it's like, oh, you're this high level freelancer you're not cheap, we just need to squeeze as many seconds of animation as possible is probably the attitude often. And to the retention question, I think with her, I think we worked together on some stuff and then we were like, "Oh, you're great. You're so smart. Why don't you help us think as well?"

Jay Grandin:

And so we tried to structure her booking in a way where she's doing some executional stuff or a bunch of executional stuff, but she's also doing some strategic stuff where she has a chance to use her voice and give us the benefit of all her experience that she gathered as a creative director and not just like the animator. So for us with retaining freelance relationships, we try as much as possible to do that. I think the reason why we've been successful in retaining staff or senior staff is that we focus a lot on what people's hopes and dreams are and then trying to work with them to make those happen with their creative hopes and dreams.

Jay Grandin:

And on a very small scale when we do engage in a longer freelancer permanence relationship, we try to take some of those principles in where it's like, "Okay, well, we're going to be together for a while, what will make this successful for you? What will make you go away and have this time have been more valuable than if you worked with seven other studios on different kinds of projects?" And then really listening to those things and then trying to make them happen.

Joey Korenman:

Interesting. I want to point out for everybody that at no point did you say the way to compete for freelancers is to pay them more. And I think that's probably an assumption that some people have is that to get top talent and to keep them, you have to pay them as much as Google will or something like that. Has that pressure from giant tech companies who can pay probably close to double the salary of what a studio can probably afford, has that ever put pressure on what you're able to pay people?

Jay Grandin:

Yeah, totally. We've had rounds of this where Facebook will try to hire everyone in the same day. Maybe a particular recruiter over there is just a little lazy and they just found all the emails and offered everyone job or whatever, but we've always managed whether those terms, and obviously it does upwards pressure on salaries, just like a lot of things put pressure on salaries. But I think the compensation equation is not always that simple or sharing money as a way that you're compensated, but then there's also creative opportunity and there's also an opportunity to learn, and there's also an opportunity to have a voice.

Jay Grandin:

And there are all these different ways in which people receive compensation in a software for what they do. And I think that's real important. And actually it's maybe a segue back because I think that often the freelance conversation is like this, it's like, "Okay, you can work on a studio working on shoe stuff or you can go freelance and you can make a ton of money. You can work on whatever you want and you can take off as much time as you want." But I think that those three things don't almost ever exist as a group of three. I think you get one of those things. I think you can go and make a ton of money doing work that may not be that fun.

Jay Grandin:

But I think it's often true that it's you go and making a ton of money doing stuff that you don't want to be doing, banners ads and UI animation for tech firms, or the other part of the conversation is like, "Okay, you can work on whatever you want, and I think probably you're not going to be compensated that well for it. You're doing a lot of personal projects or a lot of passion projects or just working with people you can have really fun time with." I think that more likely than not, you probably get compensated better at a studio for that kind of approach. And then I think you can work whenever you want, take as much time off as you want.

Jay Grandin:

The thing is true, but it's fraught because as a freelancer, you're not being paid and you're not working. And if I look at our folks, we get three weeks of paid time off, we pay people off for two weeks at Christmas, that's five, we pay for two weeks' worth of bank holidays, that's seven. Last year we gave everyone a week off in the summer, that's eight. And then we gave a bunch of long weekends just through the summer and the spring to get outside, which made it nine. And I think when you add some of those things together and you think about David and stuff, a lot of it starts to come out in the wash.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. Absolutely. And I think my take on freelancing and I'm very, very explicit about it too in the book is that as a freelancer, my experience, it was almost perfectly correlated inversely, how much money I was getting paid and how cool the thing was. And it's almost a perfect inverse correlation, but the thing is, it's all about your goals. So if you're young artist and you want to work on cool stuff with the most talented artists out there, that's a different goal than you're approaching 40 and you've got a family and you just want to make your money as painlessly as possible so you can just spend more time not working.

Joey Korenman:

That's a different goal with a different calculus to it. And one of the dynamics, and I found this personally, I know a lot of people have found this and I always wondered what is the effect of this being public knowledge on studios? And the dynamic is something like this, and I'll just use a personal tale to illustrate it. So when I was in Boston running my studio for four years, we would routinely work with this ad agency, and one of their big accounts was Bank of America. And this was the work that never goes on your reel, if you're a studio, of course, even most freelancers wouldn't put the stuff on there, but it has to get done, it has to look good, it has to be done quickly.

Joey Korenman:

And it's complicated because you're talking about complex topics. You need to have a good creative director and designer and animator, all that stuff. And so when I left and I went back freelance for a little while, I left as a creative director who could design a little bit, but I knew a lot of designers who could help me and I could animate and I could edit and I could do voiceovers. And I was almost instantly able to start getting that exact same work at the exact same budgets, but doing 90% of it myself with no overhead. And that's very appealing to a certain type of freelancer with a certain goal, right?

Jay Grandin:

Yeah. And also with a certain benefit of experience.

Joey Korenman:

Right. Exactly.

Jay Grandin:

And in this case, you're Serena Williams, you got [crosstalk 00:53:08] you got across the core class, you know how to produce, you understand the context, you probably have the relationship with a client because you were paid to develop one, and you have the creative directorial skills and skills to take complex, probably break into little pieces really quickly and just drew them adequately. And that can't be understated how much of a talent that is, that you probably spent years developing in order to give yourself that opportunity.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I quit listening after you said I'm Serena Williams.

Jay Grandin:

You're just [crosstalk 00:53:43].

Joey Korenman:

I was basking in it, I was like, "This is the quote of the episode. This is amazing."

Jay Grandin:

Flexing in the mirror.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I totally agree with you. And I know that sometimes I sugarcoat that part or I gloss over it. It really is true, I would not feel comfortable at all, even with, I think at this point I probably have two decades of experience doing this, which is scary. I still would not feel comfortable taking on projects that you take on. You guys are so much better at that than I ever was and will be, I can do the Bank of America video. I'm comfortable there. And I think that at some point, and I think I've said this pretty publicly, it's like, I just quit wanting. I still like the idea of doing these beautiful pieces. You guys have done stuff that makes you cry when you watch it. It's so beautiful and poignant, you're masters at that.

Joey Korenman:

At some point I said, "You know what, right now I just want to make money quickly." And so I guess a lot of it is probably my own bias coming through. It's like as soon as I made that switch and I saw that was possible, it made me unhirable. And I'm just curious, how that dynamic, because it is real, it is real that if you're at a certain level, it does take a lot of other skills that some designers don't have. You have to be able to market yourself and do good client service. But if you can do that, you actually can quote, and I'm triple quoting this, compete with studios as a freelancer.

Joey Korenman:

And I do believe that's true and I've gotten flack for saying that, but it is a thing up to a certain level. However, in our text thread back and forth before we decided to do this podcast, you made a really good point about the flip side of that. If someone is going to go out and promote themselves as a studio and charge the same thing, but they're not really a studio, they're one freelancer, there is a flip side to that I think I often discount probably other people do too that you made a good point about. So maybe you can talk about what's your thoughts on that?

Jay Grandin:

First, just on the first thing you said, I think what you did made a whole bunch of sense. I think that's great. I think everyone who has that opportunity and wants that has a career passion, jump at it and charge as much as they can for it, because why not? But I think where you, Joey, need to be cautious is not to confuse you going out as an independent creative director, because that's the job you left and that's what you have to do as a freelancer with what anyone who takes animation bootcamp at School of Motion can accomplish, because it's just not true.

Jay Grandin:

It may be at some point, but again, it's reliant on a whole different set of skills that have nothing to do with button pushing that allowed that magic to happen for you. So there's that. I think the other thing, I don't remember what I said exactly, but it was probably something along the lines of independent people compete in studios. Absolutely. There are tons of small jobs we see and turn away or that we see and we do, some of them are really lucrative, some of them are not. A lot of them are, particularly if they derive from an agencies, some of them are those small jobs are kind out sync with the work, you just make a lot of money with them, but absolutely a freelancer could do it because we have one or two people do.

Jay Grandin:

So I think there's nothing stopping a freelancer from competing in that way, but I think that again, there are a lot of jobs that we do learn so complex and need to be done so quickly with such assistant project management and creative negotiation that I think a freelancer it would be impossible to do it. As a team of one, two, three or five and I think when you move beyond that and you start to have talk about like, "Okay, well, what if freelance takes that job and then hires a producer and brings in an art director, and then a bunch of animators. Yeah, well, then I can compete with studio. I do all those things." But then guess what? You're a studio, you're an improvised studio.

Jay Grandin:

And also guess that's how we all started studios where we started for the most part as independent creatives making stop and then we would exceed our own capacity. And so we'd find some buddies to help and those buddies would find buddies. And then before we knew it, we have a logo and then eventually an office. It feel what we're talking about in that case is just the evolution toward starting your own creative business that extend behind yourself, which is a studio.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. And it's really funny because that was actually the point you made. I'm glad you remembered it and brought it back up. When you're a freelancer and I went through this and this is why I started a studio was because I started to cap out at what clients would trust me with and also what I could say yes to, and I started hiring my friend McKayla to produce things for me and my friend, Matt, to design things for me. And sometimes I'd sub out some After Effects work and all of a sudden I'm project managing. And then I realized I'm not very good at that. And so it would be helpful if I had a producer full-time, and all of a sudden, now there's a studio.

Joey Korenman:

And the line between solo freelancer that caveat has all of these other skills, creative direction and client service and marketing and all of that. Technically they can operate as a solo studio, a one-person studio, but at some point to grow, you just have to become a studio, whether you call it that or not, it's the same thing. So that brings me to the last thing I wanted to ask you about, and it's a broader question about the way the industry is changing right now because of, I think, mostly the impact of remote work and the impact of, I think, which hasn't really hit motion design yet, but will soon, the impact of everything being in the cloud and hardware being less of a requirement because you can do a lot of things now just through a web browser basically.

Joey Korenman:

Eventually the way Figma works for UX, I have a feeling motion design will work as well. When I started working in 2003, every big post house in Boston had millions of dollars of equipment, had a big staff, had a big office, it cost a fortune to run. And that literally I watched it collapsed after Final Cut Pro came out because all of sudden, the entire business model had to change, the pricing structure had to change, expenses, everything. And the only ones that survived were the ones that did really smart things like buy their own building, so they didn't have huge overhead.

Joey Korenman:

And that's taken us through basically to the current day, I think, where now it feels there might be another shift with remote work. I have friends who took out studio space at the beginning of the pandemic and then got rid of it because they realized, "Actually we don't need it, we're fine just doing this remote". And that brings down their expenses, it enables them to hire artists from all over the place and maybe charge less than their competitors. I don't really know on that, I'm guessing, but it's a big shift and I'm curious from your perspective, what is that going to do to studios and I guess the way that you need to run the studio and be nimble and staff up and things like that?

Jay Grandin:

Oh man. Well, first we did buy the building as well.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I threw you a bone, I knew you did. I threw that softball.

Jay Grandin:

Thank you for making me feel smart. I think you're absolutely right, I think it's an example of lots of different kinds of businesses that have become less of an elite infrastructure based business to an experience based business probably. I think what's really exciting is that in a lot of ways, I think the democratization of the tools and also, I guess, the democratization of location now suddenly is going to just hugely democratize talent in terms of, you don't have to be in New York or LA to be successful. You can be anywhere, and I think what that's going to do is just open the Pandora's Box of different kinds of people, different sensibilities and life experiences that are bringing amazing work to the table.

Jay Grandin:

I think as far as on the studio side, the effect, I don't know, I think that that's going to be really interesting. And the first time I really thought about this stuff hard was I think at the first Blend, Ryan Honey gave a talk, that's the one that you hosted, I think, and he was talking about BUCK and their business model and that they're not like a design business or an animation business, but they're a talent business, and now they call themselves a global talent company. And I think they saw it before the rest of us did, and they've spent the last few years just absolutely gobbling up the smartest, most talented people they can get their hands on in the world.

Jay Grandin:

And sometimes I expect without even a really specific purpose in mind, just with the idea that with great talent and great ideas doors open.

Joey Korenman:

Wait, let me ask you something, I hadn't thought about that in a while what Ryan Honey said that we're a talent company. And if you really dig into it, it's profound because, I don't know, I think Ryan is also an artist, but I see him as a little bit more of a businessy studio owner, whereas I see you as straddling both worlds, because I know you're a great artist too, and I know you're on the box still sometimes, but you're also the running the business operations of the studio and in charge of that, but in the end of the day, you've got clients coming to you and then artists that you employ have to do the work.

Joey Korenman:

And so if you go back to first principles, I guess what a studio is, to take all of the sexiness away, is it pairs up talented artists with clients that need talented artists with a management layer in the middle. And so one of the things I love about Ryan by the way is how blunt he is, he doesn't sugarcoat. I think that would be very hard for a lot of studio owners to admit that, "Well, yes. I guess in a way, that's true." And so now what happens when, and I'm going to throw you another car ball here, Jay. So if you're asking people to move to Vancouver to be artists at Giant Ant, well, there's a certain cost of living associated with Vancouver, it's pretty expensive city.

Jay Grandin:

Sure.

Joey Korenman:

But I have friends who run startups and they're built around doing things in the design space and illustration space, and they're hiring artists from Poland from Indonesia. And these artists are every bit as talented as the rock stars that have Instagram followers and all of that, their every bit as good, but their cost of living might be a quarter or less. And so to pay them the equivalent of $40,000 a year US is an enormous salary for them. And it enables this global arbitrage, I guess, is the way I'd put it. And I feel like every time I ask a studio owner about that, it hasn't quite land it in our laps yet this dynamic of, well you could just hire someone who's not in Vancouver and pay a lot less.

Joey Korenman:

And if that works well and if the kinks get worked out with time zones and all that, well now you're a lot leaner as a studio and there's advantages to that. So how do you feel about that dynamic?

Jay Grandin:

That's a really good follow up question because I guess it does make me question my own set of guiding principles and values around what I see a studio to be. I guess a few things. Back to of the talent business stuff, and I think the implications of that conversation, and I'm not speaking for Ryan because we haven't spoken about this personally, but I think that the content needs of big brands has gotten way and way, and way, and way, and way larger. And I remember thinking about this five, six years ago where Facebook would call us for a job, but then they were working with maybe Oddfellows in a job and BUCK on a bunch of jobs and maybe animate on a few jobs.

Jay Grandin:

And I always wonder like, "Why would you do this? Why would you work with all of us at once and onboard us all separately and try to get us to work with the same brand guidelines. And that just seems a big headache and a recipe for consistency." I remember thinking like, "Well, what if there was one shop that was big enough to take all this work, wouldn't that be better?" And fast forward a few years and BUCK is a really big company and I don't know who exactly they're working with and how much of those people's work they're doing.

Jay Grandin:

But thinking from a brand side, I think that would be really valuable to have one place where I could go for all of my needs, whether some of them were freelance scale or some of them were studio scale and some of them were small little money jobs, and some of them were big strategic showy jobs. And I think that going forward in some ways, the value of a studio is going to be wrapped up in that a little bit where it's going to be not so much about who's capable of doing the work because they have the tools, they don't have the tools or whatever, or these three freelancers can do that job.

Jay Grandin:

I think it's going to be more about building a relationship that makes people at brands feel secure in quality management and relationship management and being a strategic partner in road mapping all the content that needs to get done and making sure it gets done on time efficiently, really well. I think it's the big motion design opportunity is that it shifts more toward an agency of record type of model in some cases when there's a brand that's large enough to satisfy that. And I think suddenly scale can have a huge amount of value for a brand that needs a lot of stuff and needs it consistently done, and with a unified point of view and set of values that a big studio can curate like the Hornets and the BUCKs.

Jay Grandin:

And I think that is interesting as it relates to the conversation around freelancers just can now just go in and take a project and do a project on their own or whatever. Because I think that there's going to be pressure maybe on independent directors from the studio model as well now where maybe certain studios are getting so much larger that they can take on a bigger piece of the pie that they wouldn't have previously, or maybe they would've taken like the five A projects, but now they'll take a bunch of the B projects, maybe a couple of the C projects as a way to manage that relationship more thoroughly.

Jay Grandin:

And I'm interested to see what's going to happen, whether that's going to put pressure back in the other direction or not, who knows.

Joey Korenman:

Are you familiar with the comment that Chris Do made a few years ago, the infamous brick layer comment?

Jay Grandin:

No. Refresh me.

Joey Korenman:

Okay. Essentially, he was having a conversation, I forget who it was with on his YouTube channel. And he was making the point that as a studio owner, because I think what it was, it was somebody making a point to him about the value of artists and artists need to know their worth or something like that, that typical refrain that we always hear, which is true. However, he was pointing out, "Well, from the perspective of a business owner, I am selling a product to my customers and I know that it sounds gross to put it that way, but everybody who runs a business knows that's what it is. I'm selling a product to my customers."

Joey Korenman:

"My customers need good design, my product is good design. In order to produce good design, I have inputs. I have computers, I have software and I have artists. And in that way, artists are like brick layers, they have to be good enough and know what they're doing, but after that, obviously with exceptions, one is going to work about as well as another for most projects." And it pissed a lot of people off. He got a lot of Twitter heat for that one. However, I don't know how to argue with it unless you get into specifics. If you're like, "Okay, I'm on Hornet's website right now and I'm looking at their director roster and I see my buddy Bee Grandinetti on there. And I see Vucko, and I see Doug Alberts, it's an Ariel Costa."

Joey Korenman:

Ariel Costa, if you want something to look Ariel Costa did it, you have to pay Ariel Costa to do it. Basically that's the way it works. However, if you're Facebook and you need 900 animated emojis, then you just need somebody good, but you actually need probably 50 good people. And that's the kind of scale where if you're a BUCK and you have hundreds of artists on your staff, you can pull that off. And so from a business perspective, that makes a lot of sense. From the artist's perspective, I'm not sure that that's for everybody, but I'm curious how you feel about that, Jay, because you run a small studio that is known for quality, quality, quality work, and I'm sure you also do stuff that you don't put on your reel, but how does that brick layer comment make you feel as someone who owns a studio?

Jay Grandin:

If I think about certain projects, I think that comment feels pretty close to the bone. But I think in general, I think it really does come down to how you choose your work if you have a values based system of choosing it, for instance, is the first question, what's the budget or is the first question, what's the creative opportunity? And I think that we fortunately started asking the second question first. Well, actually the first question is, are our moms going to be proud? But years and years, and years, and years, and years ago, you were fortunate enough to take on a lot of work that wasn't paid very well, that was really creative and was able to be a launchpad to other creative opportunities and more and more, and more, and more, and more.

Jay Grandin:

And to the point now we're we do see a lot of pretty well funded, really interesting work because we have very slow built up our reputation of doing that kind of stuff. But that's a very privileged position to be in based on some early gambles in the business. So all that to say, we do get tempted often with those more brick layer style projects. I would say every once in a while we take one and sometimes it's fine, sometimes it makes us sad< but by and large, I think with those three, four, 500 projects a year coming in knowing that we need about 50, we're able to pick and choose pretty carefully.

Jay Grandin:

And I guess as a studio owner, because I do have a small team and I'm very connected to all of my team members and I know them really well and I know what they want to do, and what makes them excited and where they want to go in their careers and all these kinds of things. I think we can make decisions around projects based on those things. And I guess even if somebody, even if they're laying bricks, we're trying to get them to be laying the bricks are their unique points of view and their thoughts and their opinion and how we can make things better and all those things.

Jay Grandin:

And that's the end package might be like a brick, but what we really do as much as possible try to be like, "Here's a brick, where do you think we should put it? How should we lay it? Let's do this together in the most interesting and collaborative way we can."

Joey Korenman:

So you lay the nice bricks, you don't skimp on the bricks when you're laying bricks. And just to lead back to, I think what the original question that got us down this rabbit hole was we were talking about this new dynamic of remote work and how it's already unlocked. If you want to hire someone who lives in a country where the cost of living is a quarter of Vancouver, they're just as talented, they're just this wonderful, it's just going to be less expensive to pay them full time. That's an option. And also frankly, even if they're living in a country with a high cost of living, but it's not Canada, you can also hire them. And how does that change the way you define what your studio is?

Joey Korenman:

Would you hire someone full time to be part of a Giant Ant family? And it sounds like it is a family if there was no hope of them ever coming and being in the studio other than on a retreat once or twice a year?

Jay Grandin:

I think we are open to it. I think it's a tricky conversation. I think it's tricky because I really do aspire to us to have at least a core team that can have the opportunity to be together and to be spontaneous and find solutions that can only be found when you're putting yourself in a position for stuff to just happen without a scheduled video call. It's so hard because I do really, really, really believe that the majority of our success has to do with choosing people really wisely, but then also getting to know their talents intimately and facilitating a warm environment where they get to know each other's talents intimately and then just lighting little fires and just seeing if they catch in bigger ways.

Jay Grandin:

And they often do. And a lot of our most interesting or most notable, or most popular, or work that we're the most proud of is really a result of an elegant process of sitting around and chatting and grabbing each other's mice and riffing, I guess. So I think if we want to work in the way that we do, I think I would prefer that we have a critical mass that can be together as much as we require to form that intimate bond like us without sounding like a creep. But then on the other hand we work with Ben Ommundson who's amazing. He's an Australian freelancer living in Ireland, he's been with us for, I don't know, six or eight month's full time.

Jay Grandin:

And the time zones are the worst, we catch him in the morning and his evening, but he's again, he's like a Serena Williams where he's a total pro, he's really good at managing his time. He really knows what needs to happen. He knows how to organize his files in a way to make us successful the next day and all these things and it works. But sometimes it is a little bit bumpy where it requires a lot more emailing than we would like to coordinate things.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. This is great. I think hopefully everyone listening is getting the sense that the way you just described your vision of a studio is probably very different than a lot of other people's visions of what a studio is in a lot of different ways. And so on behalf of School of Motion, I would like to apologize for anyone that came away from our end of the year podcast with a bad taste in their mouth about studios because it's not accurate. What I got from this conversation, Jay, was really just that the range of opportunities available to studios and to freelancers and to full-time employees radically got shifted around over the last couple years and it got confusing.

Joey Korenman:

And some people made a lot of noise and some people didn't and just quietly kept doing amazing work and killing it quietly without telling anybody. And some studios tripled in size, some shrunk a little bit, some stayed the same. It's the Wild West every studio's different, every artist is different. And I think if our industry approached work with the thoughtfulness of a Jay Grandin, I think there'd probably be a lot less complaining on Twitter, I think.

Jay Grandin:

Well, the thing, if we're giving closing thoughts, the thing I want to say is that to echo what you're saying, there's a ton of work, there's a lot of work to go around. Some of it we're going to need to do together, some of it we're going to not need to do together. And I think that we should just allow for both of those things to be fun and true. And I acknowledge as a studio owner that we need freelancers, and I acknowledge as studio owner that freelancers need us. And so I think my preference would be that we can stop thinking of them as these binary situations and just think about it more as, here are different ways to engage in work that we're all trying to make and we're all trying to raise the tide.

Joey Korenman:

Exactly. I have one last question and it has to do with, you talked about it a minute ago, the fact that Giant Ant is now in a position where you get 500 plus incoming requests a year, you only need 50 and you're able to be really picky about the work you do. And most importantly, it has to make your mom proud, which I think is just beautiful, but really you're in this position because you played the long game. And I think the last time you were on this podcast, we talked about your early reel, and even some of your early work in the realm of fart comedy, which I still think holds up by the way. But Giant Ant's been around long enough to really get very, very good at this.

Joey Korenman:

And you've learned how to identify talent, and hire them, and retain them, and create a great studio culture, and all those things. And you've also now been in the game long enough to have seen the cycles. And you even talked about how you're now getting catch me if you can references. And I'm sure, what's the movie with Will Ferrell where he is brushing his teeth and there's a counter attached to it? That was another reference that everyone-

Jay Grandin:

Oh yeah, that was the big one.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah. I'm blanking on the name of it, but I'm sure all of that's going to come back-

Jay Grandin:

Stranger Than Fiction.

Joey Korenman:

Yeah, Stranger Than Fiction. And then eventually someone's going to hand you Brazil from MK12 and say, "Hey, can we have something like this?" In any case, there are cycles to this. And right now, I think we are in a seller's market as far as freelancers go. And hopefully it's just a small number, but I think there are people that are really new to this creative world and they're entering it at a time where maybe they could get the wrong impression that this is always how it is. There's always this just insatiable need for bodies that know After Effects and you can charge more than you worth and all that. Eventually, it'll come back the other way.

Joey Korenman:

And if you aren't acting with respect and treating people well and providing the value you're charging for, it's going to bite you in the ass. So I was wondering, Jay, if you had any advice for young artists coming in to this field for the first time today, in 2022, in this world, not really being aware of what it was like maybe in 2013 when you were probably getting a 50 to 100 reels a day, I imagine, just thrown at you. What advice would you give for young artists?

Jay Grandin:

I would say, as you describe, Joey, you're coming out of nowhere with very little experience, I would choose humility and I would recognize that you're just not that good yet. And I don't mean that you're not good, you might be hugely talented, but you're not as good as you're going to get and you're going to get so much better. And then there's a huge road ahead of you. I think the thing that I think people squander right now is this amazing moment when you first join the industry, either out of school or just out of the ether, there's this moment between the flash of lightning and the boom of thunder or whatever, where you don't have that many expectations placed upon you yet because you're expected to be a junior and you're expected to be in this learning mode and people want to help you.

Jay Grandin:

And I think if you come in guns blazing as a "director" who's already by some stroke of imagination arrived at the top of the hierarchy, then you have really cut off this huge opportunity to learn really, really valuable lessons about how the industry works and about different ways of thinking creatively about the tools that you're using, not because you're an idiot, but just because you haven't been exposed to those things yet. So the only way to really absorb that opportunity is to come in with humility and excitement and enthusiasm and allow that to be infectious and soak it up.

Jay Grandin:

And I think a great place to soak that up is at a studio. And I think a good place to soak it up can be as a freelancer too, but one who's really maybe self-aware about where they sit in the scope of their own experience and their own journey.

Joey Korenman:

I really respect the hell out of Jay Grandin. And I thank him for his candor for calling out things that he thinks we got wrong and for being honest about the things we got right, that really are challenges studios are facing these days. If you're going to start and run a studio, Giant Ant is a pretty incredible example to follow. And I think the culture that has been fostered there, can be a model for anyone thinking of going down that road. And finally, I'd like to thank you for listening. As always, show notes are available at schoolofmotion.com. Give us a shout on Twitter or Instagram @schoolofmotion if you have any thoughts on this episode. And have a lovely day, I'll catch you next time.