Zach Christy shares how his love of learning has led to some incredible motion design opportunities.
Today we're super excited to talk to Zach Christy, an incredibly talented and kind motion designer living in California. Zach's MoGraph journey has led him all the way from the suburbs of Ohio to the biggest MoGraph studios in LA and silicon valley.
Zach Christy Interview
Zach is also a School of Motion alumni, Vimeo Staff Pick awardee, and all-around great dude. Let's get to the interview...
Can you talk about your background? Where did you learn Motion Design and what led you to do MoGraph in Los Angeles?
I grew up in Northeast Ohio in a pretty suburban family. My mother worked as a writer and my dad as a salesman. I always loved art, but I also loved a lot of other things. I played a ton of baseball, a little bit of basketball and honestly had no idea what I wanted to do as an adult.
In high school I took several photo and video classes and began to feel like I had it all figured out. I watched a ton of films and got into directors like Noah Baumbach, Harmony Korine, and the Duplass Brothers on the fiction side and documentary filmmakers like the Maysles Brothers and Errol Morris.
I went to college in Pittsburgh and studied digital media production thinking I was going to be a filmmaker myself. After college I ended up moving to Cleveland, OH where I started working for one of the bigger ad agencies in the area. I shot and edited a ton of stuff and in the process started using After Effects- mostly for things like lower thirds and end tags.
There was something really exciting to me about being able to create something from nothing and it really pushed me to explore design and ultimately motion graphics. After about 4 years at the ad agency I saw a listing for a job at Oberlin College. I was ready for a change and after a few interviews, I got the job.
It was an amazing learning experience where I was basically put in charge of creating the video content that was released by Oberlin itself. It was my first time not only making a lot of the content, but working with vendors (students at the college) to create the work. I learned a ton about how to actually manage a project and set timelines for production. This additionally helped as I got more into the motion side of things and started picking up occasional freelance motion graphics jobs.
I kept doing freelance jobs on the side I realized that it was motion graphics and design that I was really interested in. I found myself shooting and editing videos for work, but being super excited about actually adding extra touches with motion. Around this time, I attended the Motion Conference in New Mexico and saw what really could be done in the field. There I met Ariel Costa (BlinkMyBrain) and Marcel Ziul (State Design) and basically at that moment I decided I needed to make a change once again.
So, in 2014 I made the decision that I was going to leave Ohio and make a jump to the west coast. While I was saving up some money to make the big jump, a woman started working at Oberlin a few offices down from me. Soon after we fell in love and the plan to move took a bit of a backseat. But, after we got married in 2016, we packed up what we could and sold the rest and made the jump to LA.
Since moving to LA in 2016, I have been working as a full-time freelancer at a number of studios including Shine, Buck, yu+Co, Steelhead, and Laundry where I have gotten to do everything from illustraion to design to animation and 3d modeling. And all that time, I have tried to learn as much as I can along the way.
You have over 100 videos uploaded to Vimeo. Do you feel like it’s important to create a lot of stuff at the beginning of a creative career?
I feel like it is becoming a bit of a cliche, but Ira Glass did a talk about The Gap that I think sums it up pretty perfectly.
Basically I always wanted to make stuff that I saw in my head, but didn't always have the skillset to do that. So, because of that I have made a lot of stuff. A lot of that stuff is really bad but I have learned every step of the way. I should probably put a lot of the videos on Vimeo on private links, but I think it's important to see where you came from.
I recently looked at my reel from 2014 and it was actually kind of cool to see where I were at that time and honestly it's a reminder of how far I have come since. I still know I have a ton more to learn and honestly I am learning everyday, but there is something kind of wonderful about seeing your work from the past.
You have a very bold brand that is represented in your demo reel and on your website. How did you go about creating a brand? Do you have any tips for someone looking to brand themselves?
I don't remember who said it, but someone told me that the work you present to the world is the kind of work you get hired to do. And, with that, I guess my brand has evolved over the last few years. I think the colors have gotten wilder and the movements a bit more exaggerated- but a lot of it comes down to taste. My brand is currently bold, but that doesn't necessarily mean my tastes won't change in 6 months and I will want to do something really refined.
What’s the most overrated movie of all time?
I know I am going to get a lot of flack for this, but I just cannot get into the Star Wars franchise. I don't know if I just missed the boat when I was supposed to get into Star Wars, but it's not for me. I can appreciate the special effects, especially for the time the originals were created, but it's just not my cup of tea (more of a coffee guy myself).
You’ve landed some insanely big gigs over the last few years. What’s your secret?
I am not sure there is necessarily a secret. I have worked pretty hard and tried to put myself in spots where things could happen. I don't miss deadlines and because of that would like to be considered a reliable worker.
Also, for what it is worth, moving to LA has been huge for my career. There are several things that I do not have on my portfolio that 3 years ago I would have loved to have there. I am not necessarily sure people have to live in big cities forever to "make it" in our industry- but I think there it definitely helps to get the ball rolling.
What projects do you have coming down the pipeline?
As of July 2018, I am currently on a contract at Facebook in the Bay area, so probably some pretty cool projects will come out of that. I also was lucky enough to work at Steelhead with some very talented people for EA's Madden Longshot title sequence as well as on the design for Operation Finale's main title sequence with Shine -- both which have come out in the last month or so.
Besides that, I am also hoping to incorporate my frame by frame stuff into my work- so look out for that.
Has anyone really influenced your career?
I don't know if I got lucky, but the very first person I followed on Vimeo was Jordan Scott. He had done an animation for his wife's baking company and I was amazed by how cool such a simple idea could be. Since then I have met Jordan a few times-- once at F5 in New York and again at Blend in Vancouver.
He consistently seems to be doing pretty top-notch work and if I wouldn't have stumbled upon his work I am not sure I would necessarily be where I am today. Besides Jordan, I feel like our industry is just so open and cool in comparison to other fields. Whether it is at a studio, on Twitter, or actually in person, it's great having a network of people who I feel like I could turn to to ask any question about basically anything. Some of my better friends have come from this world and for that I am constantly influenced.
You developed an animated font. How did you do that? Did you create the typeface yourself?
I have actually made 2 animated fonts-- one several years ago called Sputnik and one more recently called Ringleader. Honestly, I am not sure why I made either of them other than it is something I wanted to do. Basically I made square comps in After Effects and set "rules" for how each letter would function-- how wide the serif would be or where the glyph would fall. I made both entirely by myself-- mostly as a challenge to see if I could.
Where do you go for MoGraph inspiration?
My dad got me into antiques at a pretty young age so besides the regular places (Motionographer, Vimeo, Instagram, Wine After Coffee, Ice Cream Hater, Pinterest, Dribbble, etc), I like to go hunting for stuff out in the real world. It's amazing how much inspiration you can get from the typography on old matchbook or oil can label. If you don't believe me- check out Aaron Draplin at this sale.
Do you have any projects that you are particularly proud of?
I just finished an entirely self-motivated project called The Man Who Owns The Moon that I (at the moment) really like. So far in my career I haven't gotten to do a lot of editorial work and because of that I wanted to do a project that is (mostly) based on facts. I also wanted to play with different mediums-- 2D, 3D and mixed media and seamlessly transition between each of them.
(Editor's Note: After releasing the project, 'The Man Who Owns The Moon' landed a Vimeo Staff Pick which is fantastically cool.
You took a School of Motion Bootcamp, can you talk about your experience there?
School of Motion Bootcamp was really great for me. I was working at Oberlin College at the time and felt like I had a grasp on how to make things move. But, looking back-- I knew how to make things physically move, but there wasn't a lot of thought put into things like weight or motivation.
School of Motion Bootcamp didn't necessarily teach me how to use After Effects, but it changed the way I approached a piece of animation- it made me think why something is moving a certain way and it also really pushed me to make things more pronounced. And as good as the course was, I think having the SOM community to bounce stuff off of (or just chat motion graphics) has been huge. When I took the class I was living where there weren't many people in my area to geek out about pieces we saw on Motionographer- but having the SOM community to talk to was key.