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Yes, You Are a Designer

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Are you intimidated by design? You are not alone.

All great art starts with design. Understanding the fundamentals of scale, contrast, and other principles allows you to create evocative and inspiring work that dazzles clients and elicits emotion. Once you have confidence in your design, you'll be amazed at how quickly the other pieces fall into place.

Greg Gunn hit his career at a gallop, eager to work with the best clients and produce next-level work. He joined forces with two other artists—Casey Hunt and Reza Rasoli—to form the creative powerhouse of Three Legged Legs. There he found his unique style and voice, creating some truly inventive pitch decks for projects that might never see the light of day.

Now he works for The Futur, co-hosting their podcast while creating educational content for the YouTube channel. His journey, like so many in our industry, is filled with twists, turns, and a few scoops of good ol' fashioned luck. He found a way to defeat his fear of design and use his passion to find success.

Grab a pair of sunglasses, because this is one illuminating conversation. Let's sit down and discuss design careers with Greg Gunn.

And if you’re feeling so inspired that you want to dive right in, Greg is hosting The Futur’s Winter Workshop on January 12, and 13th!

Yes, You Are a Designer

Show Notes

Artist

Greg Gunn
Casey Hunt

Reza Rasoli

Joel Pilger

Chris Do

Coldplay

The Beatles

Glen Keane

EJ Hassenfratz

Rick Ruben

Sarah Beth Morgan

Taylor Yontz

Studios

Ordinary Folk
Gunner

Three Legged Legs

Blind

Disney

Pixar

Work

Amp Energy X-Games
Get Back

Paul McCartney Rick Ruben doc

Between Lines

Transcript

Ryan:

Sometimes you see someone's work or you find a studio that just resonates with you. It might be the color choices, it might be the way something animates, it might just be the music or the composition that the studio seems to use over and over and over in their projects but you find that one shop or that one artist that you just want to know more about. Back when I was getting started in motion design, there was one place that I went to every day online to see if they posted any work and that was Three Legged Legs and one of the principals of that studio was a guy that you may have heard his name. Greg Gunn, who now works for The Futur, had this little shop called Three Legged Legs that you can still go to the website and see it. But every single thing that Greg touched just seemed like it was infused with this crazy sense of energy and a really strong sense of design fundamentals, and I've always wanted to talk to Greg about how did design become such a big part of your toolkit and how do you use it even today. Well, now, I'm going to get some of those answers. Join me as I talk to Greg Gunn, but before that, let's hear a little story from one of our School of Motion alumni.

Mark:

I've been working on motion design for the last 10 years, but I thought it was about time to refresh my skillset, so I took the Advanced Motion Methods with Sander. I really enjoyed [inaudible 00:02:23] the lessons and I found the community super supportive and I was amazed by the talent that some of my colleagues had, and overall, I found it like a very, very amazing and enjoyable experience. Quite challenging to be honest, despite being an experienced motion designer, the exercises are quite demanding, but it's great. It's a great way to refresh your skillset and level up your career. So I would recommend School of Motion to anyone. Hi. My name is Mark, and I'm a School of Motion alumni.

Ryan:

Motioneers, there's two words that describe our industry. One is motion, we all know it, we all love it, we set keyframes, we push curves. But that other word, design. Does that word scare you? Does that word intimidate you? Are you not even really technically sure what it is? Well, you're not alone, and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to bring one of my favorite ... I don't know what to describe him, creative directors, designers, animators, I've seen the phrase splendid weirdo a couple of times to describe Greg. But that's who we have [inaudible 00:03:29] today. Greg Gunn is one of my favorite people working in motion design and I wanted to bring him in just to talk about his origin story, to talk about design in general, and to tell you about something that he's got going really soon that's really special. Something that I'm actually going to hopefully take part in as well. Greg Gunn, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Greg:

Hey Ryan, yeah, thanks for having me. I love that you open with like, "Let's talk about design," and then you bring me on the show because I would not consider myself a designer.

Ryan:

Well, it's funny that you say that because in this research I went to your website and I was like, "Oh, he lists himself as an illustrator. He lists himself as an animator." But I literally think of, in the world of motion design, character-based stuff, whether it's character or dealing with color, one of the people who has legitimately inspired me the most and taught me a lot and even in-person, kind of gave me a light bulb moment for how I think about color has been you, Greg. So it is interesting. I feel like you're almost the perfect person to talk about how we use design as a tool, we know about all the principles but we're very cautious at ever even calling ourselves designers. So that's one of the reasons why I wanted to have you on.

Greg:

Okay. I'll bite. Let's go. Let's talk.

Ryan:

You seem skeptical, which is interesting, so let's talk a little bit just about your origin story. There are so many paths into what's now called motion design, but I wonder if even back when you and I were getting into it, we even knew that phrase. I just thought of commercials or motion graphics or a new MoGraph from mograph.net. But how did you find your way into this weird kind of mix of so many different industries? Like what was motion design for you when you were getting started?

Greg:

I think I was with you. I had no idea what motion design was. Like I went to Otis College of Art and Design here in Los Angeles, and I went there to study graphic design. That was my goal. I liked making rave flyers, designing flyers for my own band, and I was like, "Maybe I can make some money doing this."

So I did that, and while at Otis, I took a few electives and I saw one about this program called After Effects and I was like, "The hell is After Effects?" And once I saw what it could do, I was like, "Oh. This is basically graphic design but animated too or on a timeline." So I scrapped my graphic design classes and just switched to learning like ... Basically After Effects and animation stuff. Only then did I understand that was an industry and it was its own kind of unique, weird little niche.

Ryan:

Yeah, I think it's ... It's interesting, for as much as at times After Effects gets derided as not being new enough or fast enough or robust enough, it really, for a certain generation, was the gateway drug that got us into this. It was the, "Oh, it's Photoshop with a timeline," that kind of like was the initial spark for so many people in the industry.

Greg:

Right, exactly. Yeah, I didn't even know it existed. I was running like bootleg Photoshops, trying to make flyers for my band, and yeah. I didn't know what that was, I didn't know what Director was, if anyone's old enough to remember that.

Ryan:

Oh my hod. Macromedia. Even just the name Macromedia is a foreign concept now.

Greg:

Exactly.

Ryan:

Yeah, I mean I remember when I was in school, I was going to school for 2D animation specifically when that was still a viable industry to get into and I remember I had a mixed media class and I didn't even know what it was, I just knew I had to take it and I was excited because I'm like, "Oh man, this would be painting and collaging and all this different stuff," and I walked in and it was a computer lab, and I was like, "Oh, I must be in the wrong room. What's going on?" And it was basically an After Effects class. But they had it listed as mixed media. Like when was the last time you heard the term mixed media being used ever?

Greg:

Like when I think of art history, I think mixed media. I wish I was well-versed to cite a reference here, but I don't have one. But I think at Otis, they called it digital media. That was my major was digital media which is like ... Basically it was like some new shit and we don't totally know what to call it and yeah, we're going to teach you this stuff.

Ryan:

I feel like ... It's kind of interesting now, because I feel like I talk about this a lot. There was that kind of MoGraph.net era where it was all Wild West, right? Like motion design or motion graphics was basically like how do you just get something into the computer and it could be photography, you could be building sets, you could do stop motion, it could be typed, you could be hand-drawing stuff and scanning it, and then it slowly turned into just like motion design equaled Cinema 4D plus After Effects for broadcast, and I feel like having gone to a couple schools, we're kind of almost back into that Wild West era of, "Oh no, motion design, we don't know what it's going to be or where it's going to go because of virtual reality, because of all the Web 3 stuff that's coming out, because of go ahead and take your drink right now," NFTs. Like the world for what we can kind of like play in and what we can make is kind of about to explode, and it's interesting even just seeing schools trying to react to that, the same they were when we were starting out.

Greg:

Yeah, no, you're totally right, and I've always been one to ... I don't know, embrace the weird, new, unknown stuff. That stuff kind of gets me excited even though I really don't understand most of it. I think it's all potential. So I don't know anything and I don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm stoked for all of it and hopefully I will get a chance to explore it too.

Ryan:

So you went to Otis and you discover that animation and motion is something that sits alongside. It's funny, you said you don't consider yourself a designer, but you started going to school specifically for design. I think that's a common story with a lot of people. I went to school for 2D animation, I barely ever do 2D animation anymore, but it got me there. So you finish school at Otis, you come out to this world, and then I don't know at what point this becomes a thing, but I still, to this day when people ask me what's your favorite studio, any time I talk about all the regular ones, the Ordinary Folks and the Gunners and BUCK and everybody else, I still always include Three Legged Legs in that list, and depending on my feeling at that day, it's like the top one or top two, and I legitimately, right before this call, every time I ever want to talk about Three Legged Legs, I cross my fingers that the website is still there and it still is. But anyone listening to this, while you're listening to this, pull up threeleggedlegs.com and follow along because that honestly was one of the studios that when I'm going through school, even when I first got in the industry, I'm like, "One day, one day, I will work with Greg Gunn at Three Legged legs."

Can you tell us just a little bit of the story about how did this happen, who were your partners, what was it like at what I'm assuming was a fairly young age running a studio that from my perspective, being a couple years probably right alongside or just behind where you were in the industry, as being like a shining light, like a place that people should want to be.

Greg:

Oh man, that's a really big question. The very short answer is by accident. All of it by accident. Like going back to sort of the Wild West comment you made and being in the right place at the right time, Three Legged Legs was started by myself, Casey Hunt and Reza Rasoli. We all went to Otis together and we essentially just made a bunch of short films and were goofing around, making stuff and this was pre-YouTube, and in my days being in a band, making flyers and websites, and I was like, "Okay, shoot. We need a website. We've got to put our work up. Let's submit to festivals." So we did that just to sort of like plant our flag on the internet so to speak and this sounds totally bonkers but someone saw it and they were like, "Hey. Do you guys want to direct TV commercials?" And the three of us were like, "I guess? I don't know. Like not really to be honest, but we're about to have a lot of student debt, so maybe we give this a shot."

So that is the very abridged version of how it was formed, and I think on the outside, we probably came off like a studio, but really were just three buddies trying to make cool work and not be broke. That was the goal, there wasn't a plan to grow or scale or hire people even. We did hire freelancers to help us take on work and produce stuff, and we always just tried to hire our friends who were like our friends' friends as much as we could, and that was it. The goal was to not be a studio really. It was like let's explore this commercial work, try to make stuff that's really interesting to us and hopefully not go broke doing it.

Ryan:

I think that the phrase I'm going to say, I've probably already said it twice now, but the phrase I'm going to say the most while talking to you Greg is ahead of the curve, because I still go to Three Legged Legs and I almost always, whenever I want to show people like a really cool project breakdown in terms of like where the idea came from, the process, the blind alleys you go down and then where you come back, and it still ends up with a really cool spot is the Amp XGames spot that you guys did at Three Legged Legs. Because there's an energy about the animation, there's a certain amount of like ... It has like this kind of, I hate using the term everybody says but like punk rock kind of ... Not just aesthetic to the animation but the feeling of what it took for you guys to get there. Like you're throwing a lot of things up against the wall and it seems like it was made fast, but because of that, it has this crazy energy that you don't see in motion design now.

But as I scroll through it now and even just look at it, what also kind of like is really stark to me is that back then, Three Legged Legs was doing what I still feel like many studios struggle desperately at. Like you said, this was pre-YouTube, pre-Instagram, pre-Behance, pre people using LinkedIn to kind of like establish your brand as a studio. But what you guys were always doing, I always felt like there was a sense of who the studio was just by when you posted a project. Like I get a sense of who the people are, I get a sense of the energy inside the studio, I can see drawings, I can see ideas, I can see process, and even in the way the team wrote, it didn't feel ... Like you said, it felt like a non-studio. It just felt like, "Oh my gosh. If I needed a company to do something with energy that was playful, that was gnarly, that had life, that felt like it had something, the hand of the artist in it," immediately my brain always would go to Three Legged Legs, which is honestly, when I talk to studios now, when I meet with Joel Pilger at Revthink, these are the things that everybody's trying to do or looking for someone else to teach them how to do.

And you can look through this and you're like, "Oh, I can almost even just see, oh, this is what your Instagram profile would have looked like if Three Legged Legs was built now," right? There's behind the scenes, there's all this great process work, there's drawings, there's stuff that didn't make it, there's photos of the team working. You're doing what most studios didn't even do back then and really don't do know, you're seeing who worked on the project and giving out credits. Like these are all the things that a lot of studios can't do or don't know how to do now that you guys had down back then.

Greg:

Yeah, I've never thought about that, but I suppose you're right. I don't know, it just felt like ... We don't know what we're doing, so why not do this too? It's like let's just keep art school going and try to pay everyone along the way.

Ryan:

I love that mentality and I feel like there's a possibility for there to be a resurgence of companies or groups of people like Three Legged Legs, if it's not even already happening now because the ability to learn this stuff, obviously you work at The Futur, I work at School of Motion. The ideas are out there, the guide paths are there, but the tools are so much easier, or at least plentiful, to be able to kind of like do this. Like, "Oh man, I really liked working with this student at this other person's school. Let's see if we can make some money doing it." Getting your name out there, getting your voice out there, and finding a client is not as difficult as it was back then. Like it's almost a miracle that you guys were able to find these agencies and these brands to work with, but tell me a little bit about how Three Legged Legs kind of ended. I hate even saying it, ugh. It actually breaks my heart even saying ended, but how did you transition from being part of this collective and two other partners, and where did you move onto next? What was the next step?

Greg:

Yeah. I think there's nothing wrong with something ending. I think that's perfectly fine. Essentially, like I said, we just didn't know what we were doing and we wanted to make fun work and say no to everything that wasn't fun, and that worked for a while, but things change, people change, lives change, and the industry changed quite a bit too. I think we got started in 2006 and I also, one more reason that we were not a studio I guess I could say is we had a production partner, Green Dot Films, who ... I don't think they're around anymore, but they did all the sales and marketing. So we owe any sort of financial and commercial success to those guys, and without them, we obviously wouldn't have any work. But around 2008-2009 when the market crashed, the financial collapse I guess you could say, everything changed in the industry and we didn't see as many jobs and jobs we did see, the budgets were maybe half of what they used to be. So I don't know, things got dicey, things got weird, and we were like, "Oh man, what do we do?" The same goes for everyone else. Everyone was kind of like scrambling, like, "Oh my god, how do we survive this?"

And we really didn't have a sort of financial or business plan for that and I can't speak for the other guys, but I was like, "Man, I need work. I have to pay rent, I have to do stuff. I'm a person, I need to like survive." So I started freelancing a little bit and just kind of taking on whatever work I could to pay the bills, to make sure I was still alive and supporting myself and over time, it just kind of fizzled, as things tend to do and shift and change, so at some point, I think it was 2011, we ...

Well actually before we disbanded, we moved from Green Dot over to Blind, which is Chris Do's design company and we literally moved down the street. It was like two blocks away, we brought our three PCs and were like, "Hey, we live here now," and essentially kind of worked as a directing team under Blind and we booked a few jobs through them and that was cool and I think that's where things started to sort of just fizzle a little bit because I don't know that everyone wanted to keep doing it, and especially not in the same way. So I think at that point, we made the decision to disband and dissolve Three Legged Legs, and I stayed obviously at Blind and over time eventually I started working as a creative director on staff with Chris at Blind.

Ryan:

Right. Well I need to find a way to just like compile and save the entire Three Legged Legs site. Because it feels like it needs to be ... Maybe I'm Three Legged Legs' number one fan. Maybe I just discovered that.

Greg:

Maybe, yeah.

Ryan:

But I need to find a place to be able to like still reference it and send it out to people. I mean I know I definitely have right clicked and saved all of the Amp XGames project and I probably could put up the Behance page for that and reconstruct it. But it is a very interesting artifact of a time and of a place that like you said, I think anybody who can remember working in this industry back around 2008-2009 probably is a little gun-shy and a little trepidatious of the energy that's going on right now in the industry where everybody's like, "There's too much work. I don't know what to do. I've got to hire more people, find an artist." I'm kind of still probably in that group of people that is probably like people who grew up during the Depression, where they're like, "I can't believe that this is going to last. Oh wait, the bottom crashed. We have the experience." I wonder how much that's even affecting people's decision-making process now. Because it feels like the sky is the limit, right? Like anything is possible, but I feel like on the same side, there's still that kind of crash that did happen in the past that it could be waiting any time.

Greg:

It could be. That's an interesting point, and I thought about that too. It could be something like PTSD from that era. Like I remember as a kid, when I was at my grandma's house, who did survive the Great Depression, she had this giant cabinet in her garage, like floor to ceiling, and it was just filled with cans of beans and tomatoes and crazy shit like that, and I was like, "Why Grandma? What is all this?" She's like, "Just in case," I'm like, "I don't know what that means."

Ryan:

Yeah. Yeah. I hope I don't want to. Now we have plastic jugs of water in our basements and who knows what else. Okay, well, so you get to Blind and I think ... Your time at Blind is pretty well-documented, right? Like the projects that you worked on and things that people like Matthew Encina worked on and I'm sure you grew and you learned a lot but what's really interesting to me is again here's another instance of being way ahead of the curve. You transitioned from Blind and probably what you were used to doing and had a lot of confidence in doing, using your skills as a designer and an animator and an illustrator, and you start finding yourself in this thing called The Futur, and I remember ... I mean I think I first met you actually when that was happening, when you were starting to do more work there and probably doing some Blind work at the same time. But it always was very curious to me that like here's this guy who I think is one of the best illustrator animators in the industry and he's doing essentially tutorials and kind of teaching people rather than just making. Like what's going on? What is that like? Why is he doing that?

What was going on in your head as that was ... It didn't happen over night, it didn't happen all at once, there wasn't a flip of a switch and all of a sudden The Futur is there, but what was that like, being in a place where you guys were a powerhouse studio, doing really killer work. I remember when that Coldplay video came out, Blind was at the top of its game, and then all of a sudden, there's this other thing coming out of that building. What was that like for you?

Greg:

Yeah, it was like the dark horse within the company. Yeah, I mean that in the best of ways. No, it was weird. It was, because to your point, I built a whole career on doing this thing and slowly over time Chris made the decision like, "Hey, I want to focus my efforts on The Futur. And eventually, kind of Blind will not cease to be but it will sort of go dormant, and you're welcome to come with me." And I was like, "Oh, this is interesting."

So I remember giving it some real thought and I struggled with it, because I think ... It did feel like, "Okay, well I have to give up doing something I do truly love to do this other thing that I really don't know anything about, who knows what this is going to be, what it means." I remember struggling with that decision of whether to take that leap forward and work with The Futur, or I guess I don't know, not get left behind but stay behind and keep doing what I'm so used to doing, what I really kind of built my career on, like directing creative work, producing creative work, making creative things. But when I think back about all the decisions I had made to get to where I was and where I am today right now too, I never just sort of was like, "Go ahead, I'll stay here." I always sort of just said yes and I was like, "Well, let's see what happens. Worst case scenario, it fails miserably and I can go back and find something else." And I think that's a lot easier to do when you're younger. You can sort of take those risks and play the what if game without worrying too much about the repercussions. But it has served me well and I've been very fortunate and very lucky in that sense too.

So transitioning to The Futur to answer your question was scary and it gave me some anxiety about leaving behind something I loved to do and stepping into something I really don't know how to do, which is ... I don't know, teach and share what I know and all that stuff. But I think I made the right decision. I'm very happy with that decision, and as it turns out, I didn't have to give up a whole lot.

Ryan:

I think it's really interesting that you describe it that way because it reminds me for myself and honestly like for a lot of people we talk to at School of Motion who may be great animators or great designers and they're used to kind of like ascribing their value for what they can do on the box and then they get asked to art direct, or they may get an opportunity to be in the room with a client and kind of start creative directing. And it may not be as obvious as the choice that you're able to make with The Futur but you do have that kind of like turning point challenge in our industry of, "Oh man, this is what got me to the dance and this is what got me to have this opportunity, but I'm kind of potentially walking away from everything I love doing and everything I know I'm good at to go and do things I've had no training for."

Like I tell people all the time, so many students coming out say they want to be a creative director, but they don't really know what that means, in terms of just like the day to day makeup of what you actually do, right? There's a lot of writing, there's a lot of psychology, there's a lot of talking, there's a lot of thinking. There's very little sitting on the box and doing what you already know how to do, and it sounds like that was a very similar kind of transition for you of like, "Wow, there's this mystery and I don't know how the stuff that I'm good at it is going to necessarily apply to what I have to wake up every morning and say I'm good at doing now."

Greg:

Right. Yeah, it's mostly emails. Let's not lie.

Ryan:

Emails and Zooms now. Lots of Zooms.

Greg:

No, I think as a creative director, yes. Like I think that is a weird transition, not for everyone. There's a lot I loved about it and there's a lot I didn't love about it too. Transitioning to The Futur was an even weirder one, but yeah, it did come with some of that stuff.

Ryan:

Well I have to say, I am really glad you did, and I've always ... I've had conversations with Chris Do where I've always said over and over, like your guys' secret weapon is Greg Gunn. Like Greg is not utilized as much as he could be in terms of being on camera and talking to people in a way that is very empathic and a way that feels really true and really authentic and I don't think there's a better example of what I meant by when I said that to Chris than honestly, what is one of my favorite things, top 10 things on YouTube ever, and I watch a lot of YouTube, is the series that The Futur did called Design from Scratch, and I'd love for you to talk a little bit about what this experience was like, but if anybody hasn't seen it, definitely go to The Futur and search design from scratch or just search Greg Gunn's name on The Futur channel.

Because this is being recorded right after I watched the Beatles documentary Get Back. I don't think you've watched it, Greg, but I know there's a lot of motion designers who have watched it and whether or not you know The Beatles, you like The Beatles or whatever, there's something really amazing about watching this documentary with four of the best musicians, most high powered band of all time in rock and roll basically set the stage for something that no one else has even surpassed now, 40, 50 years later. But you get to watch these people as humans and you get to see them with their insecurities, with their failures, with their squabbles and the friction between each other, all for like a unified goal. And it was fascinating to watch, and immediately, as I was watching, I was like, "Oh man, you know what I need to do? I need to go back and watch Design from Scratch," because it is in my mind for motion design the closest thing to that Beatles Get Back documentary. But Greg, when I mentioned that I wanted to talk about this, you asked why. What was Design from Scratch like? Like what was the intent for making this video that opens up this whole process and what was it like for you going through it?

Greg:

Great question. I think before I answer that, I'd just like to note, for everyone listening, that Ryan just made the comparison of me and some video series I made to The Beatles. So no pressure. But [inaudible 00:28:46].

Ryan:

No pressure. For me you're the George in that. So anybody who's watched Get Back knows what that means. But go on Greg, I want to hear more about what it was like for you.

Greg:

Yeah. No, I asked why because I'm like, "That's so obscure. That's just some videos I made one time and that's it."

Ryan:

[inaudible 00:29:05]. We do our research here at School of Motion.

Greg:

Yeah, apparently, apparently. No, Design from Scratch, and it's been a while so forgive me if I get some things wrong. Design from Scratch, I want to say it was like a three video series that we did on The Futur's YouTube channel. It was created ... I think we had Webflow as a sponsor, and we were also thinking about redoing our website, thefutur.com. And this kind of felt like, "Oh, you know what? That might be a good idea. Maybe we like document that and then that can be like ... It makes sense."

It should be known I am not a web designer. I don't know how to do that. But I do know how to make videos. So I was tasked with telling this story and documenting it, and the goal was really like, "Okay, we have to make three videos that are sponsored by Webflow and they have to make sense. And while we're at it, let's start redesigning our website."

So that was my plan. I was also tasked for some reason with leading the redesign of our website, and despite The Futur being as ... I don't know, I guess you could call us successful or at the scale at which we appear, we're a relatively small group of people, and back then, an even smaller group. So yeah, long story short, I documented us trying to redesign our website, showing it to Chris and other people, and just like you get to see and hear it all. People were like, "I don't think it's very good. Missed the mark." I remember after it came out feeling kind of humiliated, kind of like a fool a little bit, and that's silly because I'm like, "Well Greg, you're the one that made these videos, you dummy. Why did you do that?" Right?

Ryan:

Right.

Greg:

But it just seemed like, "Well this is the story." And also a little bit of, "Oh my god, there is no story, so we have to add some sort of conflict to this video. Otherwise, this is going to be so boring." But YouTube is a fickle place and YouTube comments are even more so. So it was ... I don't know, I mean to be honest, it was rough. It was really, really rough when those videos came out. I felt stupid and that's okay because I don't know how to make websites and I probably shouldn't have made that website, or at least let it. But you know, that was what we had to do and we did ... That was the first obviously like attempt at redesigning the website. The website looks so much better today. No thanks to me, but we did ultimately end up making a really, really great site, so kudos to our web development team. They did a great job.

Ryan:

I think it's ... When you're in the middle of the storm, it's hard to be able to see outside or understand what it's doing, but for me, what was great about it is something I like to talk about all the time is that motion designers aren't allowed to fail, or they're at least not allowed to show the process that they think was a failure, right? Like everything in a post social media, post content creator world, even in a world where everybody's looking for as much content as possible, most people don't show and don't talk or verbalize failure or mistakes or anything like that. But for me, it was like actually ... I feel like I was benefiting from the pain you were going through. I was like, "This is a revelation." To literally see a studio full of people who I respect and admire and see the process of them failing, right? Like doing the best they can, getting confused, getting lost, arguing, having something to submit, showing it to Chris, seeing him question it with clear eyes from a different perspective.

That to me was kind of just like, "Oh my god. We're allowed to be human. Like we're actually allowed to make mistakes," in a world where you make mistakes all the time. People don't know the answers to anything. Like our industry is so crazy because you wake up every day with a blank page or a blank screen, and you're paid, you're valued, your identity is based on your ability to fill that screen with something that another person will pay you to come back the next day and do it again, right? Like the psychology of being a working motion designer, like the things that go into it are kind of shocking that we don't talk about any of them, and this is the first time I had a place where I could point and be like, "Look, it's hard. This stuff is hard."

Like eventually we will figure out the solution, and that's why I compare it to Get Back. Like you watch halfway through this, and you're like The Beatles are literally breaking up in front of your eyes because they don't know what to do next and they don't know who the leader is and they don't know where the good idea comes from and they're so lost in the process, they can't even tell that they just wrote one of the best songs of all time on the piano in front of each other. And they're like, "Oh, this is garbage, we're done. I guess we have nothing left." And it felt a lot like what I felt like watching you do stand-ups to the camera, trying to explain where you're at. It felt so similar. In my mind it's almost like required viewing for people who are like this is the industry you're about to get into. It's cool, it's fun. The end product is great. But this is what you can expect the process to sometimes be like.

Greg:

You know what the difference is though, Ryan?

Ryan:

What's that?

Greg:

The Beatles wrote Eleanor Rigby, and I got shit on in YouTube comments.

Ryan:

Well you know what? I really wonder what The Beatles would be like if while they were on the fly, recording any of their albums, people could watch a livestream and make comments about it. If Twitch existed when The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper's, everyone would have been like, "These guys are awful. What are they doing? They've lost their edge." There is something about being able to exist separate from the rest of the world for a brief moment when you're trying to be creative. But I think that's the big ... That is a huge difference.

I was reading a really good article about that documentary, about how it's almost as much a point to like how messed up things are now as it is a cool document of the past because they're like everybody dressed either super cool or super buttoned up, there literally are no cellphones, like people are ... They cannot be distracted, like they have to sit in the room with each other, and there's no plastic anywhere. Like people are literally being brought tea and biscuits on actual real plates with real cups. Like it really shows how much because we're in the boiling pot of water for the last 50 years, the changes were slow to happen, but when you literally go back to the past to 50 years ago, it would be amazing to do the same thing and be like, "Oh, let's go to 1988 when someone's making a movie trailer or a movie title or someone's creating a commercial for Sears, doing the same thing we're doing. Same job title, same company, same expectations, how different the day to day would have been like back then versus now and how the pressures are totally different."

Greg:

Yeah. No, a lot of ... I struggle daily with distraction and trying to be in the moment. That's a totally separate conversation, but yeah, I get it.

Ryan:

Well I mean one thing I'd love to talk to you about, because I feel like we talked about it a little bit and we've danced around it, but I always think of in motion design, so many people like we were saying come into the industry from radically different ways, and I think a lot of people come into the industry, like you mentioned, you were in a band, you wanted to make some posters. Some people are skaters, some people watch cartoons, some people read comic books. They all come in from different ways but now, a lot of people come in straight through the technology. Right? Like there is a generation of people who played Roblox when they were kids, played Minecraft, started getting into Blender, started just like bolting on these tools and these techniques to be able to make an image completely devoid of the word design. Like design did not enter their lexicon, they don't know the fundamentals, they haven't been introduced to any of it. But you could literally get a job in our industry easily without ever knowing, touching or interacting with design at all.

But I really think the superpower for a lot of people in our industry, the people who are at the top of the game, design is that secret weapon. How does design for you, for a person who I look at as an amazing designer, but literally like you said on your website, you're an illustrator, you're an animator, you're a creative director. How do you use the things you learned at Otis and picked up from Three Legged Legs and Blind, how does design enter your day to day life now with where you're at?

Greg:

Okay, okay. It seems like a roundabout way of asking me to cave and call myself a designer, but -

Ryan:

I mean that's the whole goal of this entire thing -

Greg:

Yeah, that's what I figured. Okay.

Ryan:

Is that at some point, you will have designer somewhere on your website or your LinkedIn.

Greg:

Okay, maybe I'll just cave immediately. Maybe I am a designer. I think it depends on what you consider a designer and what design means to you. Like we design our lunch every day. We design our schedule. Like everyone is a designer in that sense. I think I hesitate to call myself a designer because of the design community and what those expectations are and I don't think that I meet them. I'm not good with type.

Ryan:

Can you elaborate a little bit on that? Like because I think that's really important because I feel like I've had similar conversations with lots of people who are like, "I'm not an artist. I'm a designer." Or, "I use tools. I slide sliders and click buttons and hit render, but I'm not an artist." I feel like I've heard the same thing. For you, what do you think a capital D Designer is that you don't fulfill?

Greg:

I guess ... Let's see. I suck at typography, I don't use grids. I think in my head when I hear designer, I think graphic designer, then I think like what that traditionally means, and this is probably my own limited thinking and limited belief in like, "Oh, a designer can be more than that." Like I know that, it's easy for me to see it, but not in myself I guess if that makes sense. So fine Ryan, I'm a designer now.

Ryan:

A designer, Greg. Well I mean I'm interested in this too though because Camp MoGraph was a very formative thing for me, the very first one a couple years ago, and you were there, and I had this interesting conversation at the campfire talks when I was talking, I asked these questions, and one of the big questions I asked the crowd, to the whatever it was, 100 people there staring at me, trying to figure out what I'm going to say, I asked, "Does anyone here feel imposter syndrome?" And the one thing that everybody raised their hands on when I asked three different questions that was unanimous was every single person save for one or two put up their hands and said yes, I feel imposter syndrome. And I'm trying to figure out, constantly since that moment, why specifically for motion design, why do so many people feel day to day imposter syndrome? Like there is the everyday I got to make something on my screen, that's hard, right? And you got to get through that every day and that's a little game you play with yourself and figure out how to do it but I think at a bigger picture, there's something about the way you get into motion design, or a lot of people have gotten into motion design.

Like you just said I went to school to go to Otis to be a graphic designer and everything that that meant, probably print-based, probably like a lot of elitist designers that you think in your head are like the pinnacle of what Graphic Design in capital letters is, and you didn't do that. You didn't end up becoming one of those people. But at the same time, you have an incredible amount of knowledge for design that shows up every day in your work, whether it's characters, whether it's how you deal with the client, whether it's the final look for the pieces, whether it's how you teach. You know Greg, you have two really incredible educational products and it's super obvious between things like that and your website that the invisible hand of someone who actually is a designer, who is trained as a designer, is at play here, right? These don't look like things that someone who came from animation just threw together.

There's decisions and intent with it that it's so funny to me, because I feel the same thing coming from a world where I was a 2D character animator, I went to school hoping to be able to work on feature films drawing with a pencil, right? Like Glen Keane is everything to me, and at the same time, I have always felt like a bit of an imposter inside motion design because I didn't accomplish my goal. Like I kind of felt like I forfeited, like I gave up and I resolved to just like take what I know and become a motion designer. But I didn't make it to the end goal, right? Like I'm not in that world, but every day, you use what you know from design, from going to Otis, by being trained as a graphic designer, the same way 2D animation still enters into every single day, everything I do. It feels like that that's where for some very specific reason, with motion designers, based on where we came from, we have the issue that I would never tell anybody that I'm a 2D animator. I would never do that. Even though I love it, I do it, but that's not who I am, that's not my job title, the same way we just spent 10 minutes trying to convince you, yes Greg, you are a designer.

Greg:

Yeah. I don't know what that is. It's probably insecurity. That's got to be like the root of it, which ironically is probably why I pursued a career in the arts also. Everyone needs therapy, it's fine. But you know, one thing I was also thinking about was insecurity and also just like not ... Like the idea that I can admit that, "Oh yeah, I'm good at something." Like to me, that ends that journey. It's like, "Okay, you've made it." I don't want that to ever end. I don't want that at all. So I think part of me, when I really think about it deep down is like if I ever just sort of say like, "Yeah, you know, I am a good designer." I'm like, "Well then now what? What am I supposed to do now?"

Ryan:

Yes.

Greg:

Like there is no longer, like the story can't go on or something, and I know this sounds absolutely crazy. Like I can hear it, but I think that, combined with insecurity is probably why I'm so cagey about being like, "I don't know, I'm not a designer." When objectively, yeah, I look at it and I'm like, "Okay, color," like all these kind of fundamental design principles, I think I have a pretty clear understanding of.

Ryan:

Yeah, and you can demonstrate it. You can do two things. You can demonstrate it in your work, but you're also extremely talented at explaining those things to other people in a way that changes their viewpoint on that, right? Like I know, going back to Camp MoGraph, you did this really amazing ... We had these breakout sessions where nobody had computers, people weren't actively doing what we would call "work" but people were sitting down, listening to people explain things, and you had pens and paper, you could draw, you could take notes. Your color session was legitimately like in my mind the buzz of Camp MoGraph in terms of people that I know that have been working for decades, right? 10 years, 15 years. I remember EJ Hassenfratz came to me afterwards, was like, "Man, you got to sit in with Greg's color session." I learned so much of what I kind of just intuited. Like I just had a gut instinct on what works and didn't work with color, but I would just like throw stuff up and try it and it didn't work and I would throw it up again. But like you gave a lot of people a system and a framework for thinking about one of the biggest design fundamentals there is, right? Like what makes good color combinations? How do you find the colors that express the emotions you want to express?

The way you did that live, on the day was amazing, and it literally changed people's perspectives and now you have a really awesome product, Color for Creatives, that anybody can take that experience that lived in the day and kind of like pick it up very quickly, very easily in a way that sticks with you. Not just like you watch a YouTube tutorial and it's like fast food, you watch it, you think about it and then you forget about it as if you never saw it again. The way you teach is very like ... It's very open and inspirational but it also sticks. Like when did you realize that you can take these things that you don't even call yourself an expert on and transfer that knowledge to people in a way that's very, very powerful?

Greg:

I think I realized that just now when you told me that I have that capability.

Ryan:

I mean come on. You had to have heard at Camp MoGraph, you had to hear at camp that people were super excited that, "Oh my good. This is like ..." It did make a really big effect on people.

Greg:

You know, I don't know that I did. I think ... Or at least no one came up to me afterwards and was like, "That was mind-blowing." I remember just having the time of my life in those ... I think there was like three workshop sessions, and each one was a little different obviously and it was just ... It was so much fun and it was early in the morning too if I remember and I was just trying to get people stoked and sort of like zenning out. Like we basically just used like pastel crayons and paper and masking tape just to kind of make some fun shapes and colors and gradients and all along the while, I'm sort of kind of lightly lecturing, saying like, "Well here's all those color things. This is what's really happening and why this makes sense and why this kind of doesn't."

Yeah, I think to your point about EJ, it's like all of this stuff I kind of did intuitively too, I just didn't know why. I didn't understand the purpose or the reason I guess I made those decisions, and that was a big part of me pursuing color and learning more about it. I was like, "How does this stuff work? I don't even know what I'm doing." So I got to know this. No one taught me this. What do I do?

Ryan:

Yeah. I mean I think ... Not to stretch The Beatles metaphor even more, but I think there's a similar thing with musicians where if you don't actually read music and you weren't necessarily taught the technicalities between why music works the way it does but you learned it by ear. Like some of the best songs and some of the best musicians we all know and love in every genre, they don't read music, they don't play off of a sheet, they don't know how to denote or record it, but they just have it instinctively from being around it, from experimenting, from just like living within it. But then you meet the people who do, like I've watched this other really great documentary with Paul McCartney and Rick Ruben, where they know it. They understand it at a molecular, like DNA level, why this note after this note resonates and what should come after it. Like it's almost in their head, they can hear it before they ever even play it.

I don't think there's many people like that in motion design who can in the moment explain to you what design choices you need to make to get to where you want to go. There's a decent amount of people who can look at something afterwards and evaluate, "Oh, like look at the black and white value contrast and look at how you used foreground background and you've used Gestalt theory." You can identify it afterwards but there's very few people I run into who can formally design knowing those and utilizing those principles. Compared to like animation, right? Like I think a lot of people understand the 12 principles of animation, understand what overshoot and understand what appeal and those things are and they think about it when they're working. Do you think there's a way or there's something we can do just as an industry to get people to consider the fundamentals of design and their process as much as we do with animation? Is there a different way we could be talking about it? I struggle with trying to convince people that design is as powerful of a tool set as Houdini or that cool After Effects plug in. But it's almost like design is its own piece of software.

Greg:

Yeah. That's an interesting point. When you were making that Beatles analogy, I really do think you love The Beatles, Ryan. It's okay, you can admit that.

Ryan:

I guess I do. You're a designer.

Greg:

Yeah, exactly.

Ryan:

And I love The Beatles, and we can both admit it.

Greg:

No, you know what? I was thinking, I was like, "You know? Do I really think about that stuff when I'm working in the moment? Am I being like, "Oh, I should do this," and applying the principles?" I don't know that I do. I think part of ... What do they call that, the curse of knowledge, where it's like if you know too much, you kind of become paralyzed and you really don't know what to do, versus a novice let's call them. They have no idea what is right or wrong about what they're doing, they just jump in and do it. Like there's something really, really great about that and I suppose all creative work, not just design is striking that balance of making sure there's something that makes sense and that you're doing it right but also that you're kind of letting ... I'm going to get all woo-woo, but letting creativity and ideas flow through you and onto the page, onto the screen, whatever and sort of turning off somewhat of that analytical side of your brain and making sure that it sort of feels right too. I think one side or the other gets really boring, but being able to strike a balance between the two I think is where the real magic happens.

Ryan:

Well I mean I definitely agree. Like you said, you can paralyze yourself from trying to make sure everything ... I know a lot of film directors who start off on a project, and in the first couple days shooting, they are thinking about every single specific, like little bit of compositional analysis and where the depth of field is at and exactly what the color temperature is. And then about three, four, five days into a two week shoot, all that goes out the window because if you spend that much time analyzing every single movement or click or decision or placement, you're never going to get anything done. Like at some point, you hope you build up enough momentum that your prep and your experience takes over, and then it turns into instinct and you can go. I think that's probably really true for young designers that are starting to try to like build momentum in their career.

Can we just talk a little bit about something that I'm super excited about because your sense of color, awesome. I love your Illustration for Designers product, I think it's a very good complement to a course we actually sell in the sense that there's a lot of people who draw, there's a lot of people who have fun drawing, but they don't see what they do for fun or in a sketchbook as something that's very commercial or ready for a client. And I think what both our course and especially what your Illustration for Designers product does is it teaches people how to think in a way that you can draw and you can apply that to your day to day. I love that, but one thing I've always been dying for someone to do, and I've always thought you are a great person to potentially do this is that people who've listened to me talk for the last few years at School of Motion, one of my pet peeves is how there has somehow become a house style for character design, in motion design, and you know what I'm talking about, right?

Like everybody has the same proportions, the little black triangle is underneath their neck and their armpits and everything looks like the same person designed 90% of the character work in motion design, and I've been dying for someone to break that. Have something I could point to people, like, "Hey, if you want to do something different, here it is."

And Greg, lo and behold, mid-January, you're hosting something called The Character Design Workshop, which I am signing up for and I will be there. Tell us all about where did this idea come from, what's it going to be like, and what can we expect to learn from sitting in on this workshop?

Greg:

Yeah, for sure. Character Design Workshop is something I wanted to do for a really long time. I don't know about anyone else out there, but I go through a lot of phases where I'm like really into something for a while and then I will move on and do something else for like a couple months or whatever. That's sort of been my life, along with a series of bad haircuts. But there's a handful of things that have been just like the throughline with my life and what I'm interested in. Like heavy metal. I don't know, I just love it. And another one is characters, and I attribute that to Saturday morning cartoons and growing up with all that stuff and games. So understanding character design and doing a workshop about it is, I'm like, "I got to do that. I don't know what it is yet, but I have to do that." Yeah, this ... It's December now, but last month, I decided I'm like, "Okay, I need to come up with a workshop. So I'm going to do it about character design."

And full disclosure, I'm working on it right now. I have like a rough outline. I know what I want it to be, but there's also a reality. It's probably going to be just a few hours, so I can't do everything, but my goal for that workshop is to get everyone drawing and at least being comfortable with the idea of designing their own character and set yourself up for success. So we're going to cover just some fundamentals of how do you put a character together, how the proportions work, and also like more importantly, the idea that anything can be a character. It doesn't have to look like concept art, it doesn't have to look like a Pixar sketch. You don't even need to know underlying form and structure, like the human figure. That's all really good stuff, don't get me wrong. Like if you really want to pursue that, definitely check that out. But that's not what this workshop is. This workshop is about having fun and learning how to make your own character, no matter what it looks like, and being comfortable doing that. And then hopefully, after the workshop with what you've learned and I'll probably leave a little takeaway, you can continue to explore that, and hopefully that will be sort of the entry point into learning more about character design for people.

Ryan:

You have a line here that could be a line from a Beatles song, but you have this line that says, "A square, a squiggle, a single little pixel." I love the idea that anything can be a character. You don't have to be an expert draftsman but you do need to understand how to create something that people empathize with or that people associate through charm and appeal, those fundamentals of animation design also apply to motion design, but it's not one set of rules. It's not just like, "Okay, the head needs to be this size and the body needs to be five heads tall for it to be able to be appealing and the eyes have to be ..." Again, you can get into what we just talked about. Even something that should just be as fun as doodling a character, you can go down the rabbit hole of like this is the 12 steps to making a perfect character, that I'm excited that this is not going to be that.

Greg:

Yep. No way. I am not that good. There are people who are so much better at that stuff. So yeah, I'm not going to do that.

Ryan:

But you know, I go back to this though Greg is that that's what makes motion design so interesting is that it doesn't have to be that. Like we can be informed by the 95 years of history of Disney style animation or we can be informed by anime or manga or any great illustrators we love but motion design has a different set of expectations. Like if you go to watch a Disney film or a Pixar film, there's an expectation of what it has to hit in terms of like a level of production quality and draftsmanship and you know what to expect from a story and if it doesn't hit that, there's something wrong with it, there's something strange.

But I just did a really cool podcast with Sarah Beth Morgan and Taylor Yontz and Rebecca Hamilton about their ... They have a short film coming out called Between Lines, and it does not ... It is animated with the same level of craftsmanship as any other animated feature or short, but it feels like something that could only come from motion design because the rules are different, the expectations are different coming from our side of the creative arts, that I love this idea that like you know what? You don't have to spend four years at a school and interning at a major studio to be able to design a character that can be animated well and tell a story. You can take what you already know and use the things that you use day to day in a way that makes things look different and might catch people's attention in a totally different way.

Greg:

Totally. Yeah, characters are just ... They're like little storytelling vessels. That's all they are. They're supposed to make you feel something, and that's what a story does, so ... A square can make you feel a lot of things.

Ryan:

I love that. I love that as like the core idea behind this. Okay, so tell us ... This is called Character Design with Greg Gunn. Where can people go to sign up for this and when should we expect to be signing up for this?

Greg:

Yeah. So I don't know when this episode will come out, but the workshops themselves, there's two. They're on January 12 and January 13, one in the a.m., one in the p.m., and you can sign up right now, hopefully still it's available.

Ryan:

Sounds awesome, and we will include the link here, everywhere you might find this podcast but I think I'll be signing up for the second one in the p.m., so if you want to take a drawing class and see my smiling face, I will be there on the second day on the one that happens at night. Greg, thank you so much. I always love talking to you. I'm glad that we got you down on the podcast and yes, my name is Ryan Summers, and I'm a Beatles fan, and your name is Greg Gunn, and yes, you are a designer.

Greg:

Yeah, all right, I guess.

Ryan:

Cool. Thank you Greg. Thank you so much for the time.

Greg:

Oh I appreciate it Ryan. Thanks a lot for having me.

Ryan:

I'm so stoked that I got to spend some time with Greg Gunn and you got to hear us talk about all kinds of things. Probably a little bit too much about The Beatles but yes, Greg Gunn is a designer, and if you listen to this, you can be too. Design fundamentals are really the software that drives every single decision we make, and as cool as it is to learn new tools and learn new techniques and pick up things like VR and AR and all that stuff that's out there that's super exciting, every button press, every decision you make is informed by what you know about design. Which is again why I really wanted you to hear from Greg Gunn and understand how he brings design into his everyday activities.

So as always, here at School of Motion, we are here to inspire you, introduce you to new people, and just show you what's on the horizon for the world of motion design. Until next time, peace.