School of Motion

Animate Until it Hurts: An Interview with Ariel Costa

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Ariel Costa shares how hard work led him to animate Motion Design projects for some of the biggest bands in the world.

We are huge Ariel Costa fans here at School of Motion. Seriously, everything the dude puts out is absolutely incredible. If you're unfamiliar with Ariel's work, go check out his site, BlinkmyBrain.
Ariel designs and animates in a very unique and quirky style that is super difficult to pull off. The crazy thing is he animates mostly by brute force. In other words, he's a not a very technical animator…
Ariel's done music videos for Green Day, Mastodon, and Led Zeppelin. Before that, he moved to the US from Brazil and ended up at Buck for a year. This dude, is legit and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, too.
In this episode, we go into Ariel's past and find out how he ended up finding his unique style, how he got on the radar of GIGANTIC bands, and the economics behind animated music videos. He also drops TONS of wisdom about freelancing, balancing paid and unpaid work, and lots more. Get a notepad, this episode is PACKED full of helpful info.

Ariel Costa Interview Transcript

Joey Korenman: This is the School of Motion podcast. Come for the MoGraph, stay for the puns.
I was so excited to talk to this episode's guest. I will admit it. I am an Ariel Costa fan. Personally, I celebrate his entire catalog. If you're unfamiliar with Ariel's work, then go to his sight, blinkmybrain.tv, and look at what he does. He designs and animates in this very unique, quirky, cool style that is surprisingly difficult to pull off well. He animates mostly by brute force in after effects. He's not a very technical animator. And he's done music videos for Green Day, Mastodon, and Led Zeppelin. Seriously.
And before that, he moved to the U.S. from Brazil, and ended up at Buck for a year. This dude is legit, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet, also.
In this episode, we go into Ariel's past a bit, and find out how he ended up finding his unique style, how he got on the radar of gigantic bands. And what the economics looks like of music videos. He also drops tons of wisdom about freelancing, balancing paid and unpaid work, and lots more. Seriously, this episode is jam packed, so get a notepad. Now, at the very end of the episode, Ariel surprised me by saying some very nice things about my book, The Freelance Manifesto. And since that's just about the best testimonial for the book I could've asked for, I'm gonna play that part real quick.
Ariel Costa: Dude, I got a lot from your book, that's for sure. As a single professional, you have to deal with business. You are your own studio. One man studio. And I had no idea how the business work until I bought your book, dude. And that, was amazing. It changed my whole perspective in the industry, for sure. And thank you for that. I've learned so much about the business side, about how to approach a client, and it's working man. It's really working.
Joey Korenman: Seriously, my head almost fell off when he told me that. You can find the book on Amazon in Kindle or paperback format, and that's all I got to say about that. All right, let's get to the interview.
Ariel, it is amazing to have you on this podcast, man. Thanks for doing this.
Ariel Costa: Thank you so much for having me. It's a great honor.
Joey Korenman: Well, I'm a big fan of your stuff. I'm just gonna get that out of the way. So, I wanna start, I guess, way at the beginning. How did you get into motion design? And I know that this might be a long story, but that's why we have podcasts, man, 'cause I wanna find out, how did you end up here?
Ariel Costa: Okay, actually, it was an accident. You know? My intention in the beginning, was to be a live action director for commercials, mainly. And later on, I had plans to debut it in the movie industry, as a great, amazing director.
Joey Korenman: Of course.
Ariel Costa: But that never happened, because I stumbled across this thing called animation. And as I told you, I graduated in media arts, [inaudible 00:03:31], United States. And I got this intern job at this production company back in Brazil. And they mainly do the effects. And there, I got to introduce with this two amazing after effects thing. And that, changed my life. There, at this production company, I learned how to use an after effects cameras, and all those funny stuff. And that, was the beginning for me.
Joey Korenman: So, what was it about after effects in animation that appealed to you, in way that live action and visual effects didn't?
Ariel Costa: I think the mobility, you know? I was able to create stuff by myself, without have to use all those real expensive equipments, like cameras, and sound equipment. The crew, and stuff like that. And I was able to create my stuff. And I always draw stuff. I have this passion for illustration since I was a kid. And combining those things, you know, like movies, in a way. And illustration, you know? Having those graphics and movement for me, was something new, and something that really got me to this world.
Joey Korenman: So, did you actually study animation anywhere, and learn the principles of animation, and learn the principles of design? Or did that come when you were already working?
Ariel Costa: Yeah, I did, back in the days, way back in the days, a basic after effects course. But I've learned a lot watching tutorials like Andrew Kramer, come on.
Joey Korenman: Yes.
Ariel Costa: And at the time ... I don't think people would know these, like people from the industry nowadays, but I used to have the After Effects Bible from Trish Meyer.
Joey Korenman: Oh, of course. Yeah.
Ariel Costa: Amazing book for me. It was my great source of inspiration. But mostly, I'm self-taught, by watching all those heroes doing great work out there. And mainly working, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, because all the things you just mentioned, they're amazing resources to learn after effects, but that's not enough. 'Cause then, you have to have good designs to animate it.
Ariel Costa: Good designs, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Where did you pick that stuff up?
Ariel Costa: Mostly watching online, and I have great mentors through my career. People that I worked with. We have amazing designers back in Brazil, and I got to work with some of them. And I've learned a lot from them. Yeah basically, I think working in different places with those amazing people, it was my school. My real school. Design school.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome, man. And it's probably a better education than a school, because you're working with the best of the best, right?
Ariel Costa: Absolutely. You're totally right. Because you learn to do design for real problems, you know? It's not ... of course has it's values, but working in the wild, you know, like the wild west, where you have to deal with clients, a timeline, deadline, stuff like that, budget, it's a great way for you to learn the right way, you know? Because you have to solve problems all day.
Joey Korenman: I love it. So, talk a little bit about what your career was like when you were still in Brazil. How did you get your first gig? I mean, you worked in a lot of studios, right?
Ariel Costa: I did, yes. I did, because I had this, let's say, a free spirit, in a way. I don't think I was born to be staff. But being staff allowed me to learn from great people, and not just design, and not just animation-wise, but business side, because most of people, they are in this industry, but they forget it's a business. You know? And working with this amazing studio has allowed me to get to know more of their business, and their craft, and a lot of things. And I like this. I like to get to know, "Okay, how does a studio work?" And how that's to work, and get the better from an average studio, and try to apply to my career, you know? In a way.
But to be honest, I don't remember what was my first gig. But in Brazil, we don't have this huge industry. We have amazing solo designers and animators. We have [inaudible 00:08:54] to use, and back in the day, we just had Lobo, I don't know if you know them.
Joey Korenman: Oh yeah.
Ariel Costa: They're great. Lobo, I think it still is the biggest studio in Brazil. And I started to work for companies, but was not happy, because again, agencies in Brazil, they don't understand animation in a good way. And at the time, I was, of course, hooked on the Motionographer website. And I was watching all those great projects from abroad. And I wanted to do this kind of work, so I decided to open my own studio in 2007. And I found it with a partner, this studio called, Studio Nitro. And I run this studio for four years.
But again, because of the industry, and the markets that we have in Brazil, I was still not happy. And I saw the problem was not these studios out there in Brazil, it was more the industry that we have in Brazil. So, I was not learning anything. I was doing basic stuff. And I had this hungry to do something else. To do something beyond. To take a step forward. So, I decided to, "Okay, let's move forward." So, I talked to my wife, and she was super upset with her work as well, and we decided to come over to the United States to learn more about this industry, learn more about animation, and motion graphics. And here I am.
Joey Korenman: So, Ariel, you decide to move from Brazil to the U.S. for work, which to me, that sounds terrifying. And you somehow end up at Buck, which is very high on the top of a lot of people's lists of studios-
Ariel Costa: Yes.
Joey Korenman: They'd like to work for. So, what's the story there? How did you end up in California working for Buck?
Ariel Costa: Yeah, so basically, I decided to come to Los Angeles, because Los Angeles, at the time, was the mecca of motion graphics. Like, [inaudible 00:11:18], a lot of great studios were here. And of course, Buck. And I came here to work mainly for a studio called Roger. It's a great studio with great people. I worked there for about one year and a half, and after that, again, they're great people, but I wanted to move forward, I wanted to learn a little bit more design thing, and I felt like Buck, at the time, was the great studio for me to learn. You know? And it was.
So, at the time, I had this friend working at Buck, and he told me, "Okay, there's a spot opening here." So, I have this friend at the time, working at Buck, and he told me about this spot that, they needed an animator and designer to fill a position. And of course, I said, "I'm 100% sure that they're not gonna call me, but I'm gonna apply anyway," because Buck, it's really a name in the industry, you know? And I said, "I have nothing to lose, so let's apply." And I applied, and Ryan called me in to talk. And [inaudible 00:12:46]. And the reason that they hire me is because i was a kind of Jack of all trades, at the time. And they needed that. Because that was a good thing for me, to grow as a professional in Brazil, because since we don't have an industry, I had to learn how to do a little bit of everything. So, they needed someone like that, to fill a position.
So, they need someone who could art direct, who could direct a project, who could animate, or who could just design, or illustration, or whatever. And I landed there, and I could say for sure, it was the best studio that I ever worked in my whole life. And I've learned, in six months, what I haven't learned in my whole career back in Brazil, for sure, with amazing people, great staff, great bosses. It was great. Great experience, for sure.
Joey Korenman: That sounds amazing. So, let me ask you this, you brought something up that, it's actually been coming up a lot recently, with interviews I've been doing. And that's this idea that the industry seems to be moving towards wanting more of that Jack of all trades, or a generalist, I guess, is the term. And it's kind of surprising, I guess, to me, to hear that Buck was looking for that. I'm guessing this was what? Like 2007, 2008? So, because I would imagine, though, at a bigger studio like Buck, they'd want you to specialize, and have ... "You're the designer, but you don't open after effects, you design it, because you're awesome at that. And then, we'll get the animator who can't really design, but can animate anything. We'll get that person to do the animation."
So, do you have any idea why they were looking for a generalist, instead of a specialist?
Ariel Costa: I think Buck still has a lot of specialist people working there, but I believe they wanted to solve problems. They wanted to spread their options.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Ariel Costa: Style, or I don't know for sure to say why Buck wanted that, but I know the industry today, they wanted to have more generalists, let's say, often, it's to solve problems. I think it's a great way to have the right people to deal with different styles, and I don't know. I would say, I think it's easier if you have someone that can deal with problems in a wider way, and solve these problems, than have someone that just can do, I don't know, 2-D animation, or something like that.
Joey Korenman: Right. And it seems like a good business move, too. I mean, you mentioned that, that's something that a lot of times, artists can forget, or they don't like the fact that it's a business. And having the ability to take a project from start to finish, especially if you're freelance, is invaluable. And you used to kinda be able to get away with just being an animator, or just being a designer. And it seems like that's harder and harder. So, I just thought that was interesting. So you've worked a lot of different studios. Lobo, and Buck, and Roger. And I know you worked at other ones, and now you freelance for many studios. And I'm curious, I never freelanced for very many different studios. Maybe like, two or three. But you've done way more, than that. And I'm wondering, what are some of the things you notice about the best studios? What is it about the Bucks and the Rogers, that makes them able to produce such cool work?
Ariel Costa: I would say it's the planning of stuff. Organization. And too, understanding the project. Let's use Buck, for example. The thing that I most love about Buck, and this too me some time to learn from them. It's how to push clients forward. Because usually, clients approach Buck, because they are a great studio. But Buck pushes the work forward. They propose different pitches for clients. And all those different directions, they're crazy amazing directions. And it's usually things out of the box.
And I love the way that, like, for example, when we used to have a pitch at Buck, they used to bring everybody to talk about it. And you were able to give an idea for the project. So, at Buck, they have a huge amount of staff. I think in L.A. office, during my time, it was like, 50 people.
Joey Korenman: Wow.
Ariel Costa: Not just designers, but in general. I would say, designers, it was like 10, or something like that. Animators, 10 or 15. Something like that. And they talked to you. They wanted to hear you. And Buck, for example, they have people from all over the world. And bringing these combinations of culture, I think it creates something special for clients. And yeah, I think it more like, makes planning, hearing from staff, and come up with a good approach for the clients, and push the clients forward.
Joey Korenman: That's really cool. It almost sounds like having a process that you can follow, and replicate project, after project, that's a good way to make sure you're always getting a high level, and a good result, and all that kinda stuff. And studios have figured that out. I guess that's something that even freelancers can take away. You know? And you don't have as much ammo. You don't have a room full of amazing designers to pull into a conference room and get pitch ideas from, but maybe there's other ways to do that.
Ariel Costa: Yeah. Yeah, totally.
Joey Korenman: So, I wanna get into the work that you've been doing lately. If you go to Ariel's website right now, we'll link to it in the show notes, the work, it's all got a very different feeling, and different topics, and this and that. But there's kind of this style that you seem to have settled on in the last few years. And it's really unique. I know that there's other artists out there that have done stuff similar to this. Adam Swabb, for example.
Joe here, sorry to interrupt myself like this, but I need to correct something. I just mentioned Adam Swabb. I actually meant Adam Gault. You can see how one might make that mistake. Anyway, Adam Gault's style is similar to Ariel's. Not Adam Swabb, who is also an incredible artist. Both Adams will be linked in the show notes. That's it. Carry on.
But it's almost at the point where I could see something, and know that you did it. And I'm curious, where did that come from? How did you develop that?
Ariel Costa: Thank you. I think it's ... one of the reasons that I decided to leave Buck, it's not because Buck is a bad studio. It's totally the opposite. It was because of me. I wanted to try, and find my own voice. I wanted to pursue my own style. Something different. So, when I decided to leave Buck, I had this plan to create a personal project. And I wanted to create this personal project that, in many way, if you look at that project, you will see Buck in there. So, I decided to create a live action, grotesque piece called, Scenes. And this is a collage thing. It's a collage thing. It's not designing, graphic, a lot of colors going on. It's pretty much monochromatic. And that piece opened to me, a lot of doors. Because of the piece, I got projects for Green Day, and stuff like that.
In the past, I think it's part of Brazilian culture, in the past, we had a lot of collage experiences, and a lot of projects made in collage. And I have that in my DNA, in a way. And I wanted to bring that back. I wanted to make the old school thing cool again.
And we're in the industry where everybody ... we have amazing people doing a lot of cool 2-D work, Buck style kinda thing. And I don't wanna do that. I wanna do something different. I wanna do something that, if people saw it, they say, "Okay, this is different. This is not a solid animation. It's liquid thing, morphing kind of thing. It's different.
So, I wanted to position myself as a motion designer, when the old ... like an old school motion designer. Because back in the days, if you get studios like back in the days, we don't have styles at the time. Like, we have projects. We have 3-D solo animation, stop motion. It's way wider, the possibilities of being creative in a project, and just doing one style. So, I wanted to create that kinda thing.
But for some reason, clients kinda like it, the things that I've been doing, collage wise. And they've been asking me, they've been hiring me to really work on projects that have this specific look, per se.
So, I was a statement, in the beginning. But then, again, accidentally became my thing. In a way.
Joey Korenman: I love that you said you were trying to make what was old, new again, because I think I was having a conversation with ... you know what? It was actually a conversation with Nol Honig, you know?
Ariel Costa: Oh yeah.
Joey Korenman: Who, we both know. For the listeners, so Nol teaches our After Effects kickstart class.
Ariel Costa: He does a lot of amazing collage stuff, too.
Joey Korenman: Exactly, and his style is similar to this, and he mentioned you as an inspiration, and I think we both said your work kind of reminds me of some of the MK12 stuff from 2002, 2003, because this style was kind of in for a while. I think there was this really famous, in our industry, graphics package for Country Music Television that Eyeball did in those days that was kind of like this. It was collage, a bunch of weird things mashed together, but somehow it all worked, and it definitely reminds me of that, Ariel, but it is unique, the way you do it.
So, my first question ... For anyone listening that hasn't seen Ariel's work, you have to see it. I mean, it's really unique and cool, but it's composed of all of these old-timey-looking images, these strange photographs of people, and you cut their heads off and you manipulate them and you do all kinds of things, and there's these textures, but my first question is, where the hell is all this imagery coming from? It's almost like you must have some hard drive just filled with old stuff. Where are you getting all the-
Ariel Costa: I do a lot of researched, because working with collage theme, it could be tricky because you are doing real work, so you have to be aware to not be sued by anybody. You have to be aware to not just Google the image and grab whatever image you think is necessary for the project. You're dealing with copyright things, and I tend to, of course ... For me, in order for me to not be arrested, I tend to ... Sometimes I buy images, and of course, I can give you all the links. I don't mind at all to share my resources.
It's not about the resources. It's about what you're gonna do with them. So, I don't mind sharing my resources. I'm gonna send you the link. But I usually buy from this cool website, and it's cheap, called Depositphotos. It's cheap, and for those really old school material, I use [inaudible 00:26:21] licensed photos from this Flickr page. So, basically, it's stock footage, but they are free because they have no license, and they are really old, like from 1920s, 1910. It's from the beginning of the past century, so you're free to use, and it has a lot of great stuff in there.
The good thing about working with college, in my opinion, is doing the research because you ended up looking into history, in a way, because you are doing this really research, deep into this research, and you're browsing all ... You could see how science fiction began by just looking those photos, like those early NASA kind of rocket stuff. It's amazing. It's a really journey.
Joey Korenman: That sounds really fun. I want to say to everyone listening, the Library of Congress actually has a big digital collection online, and a lot of it is public domain at this point because there are laws that sort of when it gets to a certain age, anybody can use it, and that's cool because that's a source of inspiration that we don't typically hear about. Right now, it's kind of like, oh, well, who do you follow in Pinterest, and what design blogs do you go to, and that's a really interesting thing. Well, I go to the Library of Congress, and I look at old pictures of old rocket ships. That's-
Ariel Costa: It's amazing, right?
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Ariel Costa: It's great.
Joey Korenman: It gives your work a very unique look. So, the look is one thing, the actual designs and the way you kind of chop up photographs and put them together, but you also animate everything in this kind of lo-fi, cool, funky way, and you did this thing for Motionographer a while back, which was really cool. It's called Step by Step, and basically, you just recorded your screen for two or three hours as you animated something, and then it's up on YouTube, and we'll link to it in the show notes, and it's just put up there with no commentary. It's not a tutorial. You just get to watch Ariel work. I watched some of it, and what kind of struck me was how you just brute force everything. I was the kind of animator, and it's interesting, because we're building a class right now with Sander van Dijk, and he is a very clever animator-
Ariel Costa: He is. He is.
Joey Korenman: ... and very good at figuring out a clean, technical solution to stuff, but not every animator's like that, and I get the sense that you are not afraid to have a million key frames in your [inaudible 00:29:24], so I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit. Do you consider yourself more of a hands-on animator?
Ariel Costa: Actually, yeah. I love San. I'm totally the opposite of him, totally. I'm not a technical guy at all, at all. I've tried to in the beginning, but I'm not this kind of guy. I like to put some key frame into it. I kind of ... Have you seen that piece, Motion Designers Are Masochists, or something like that?
Joey Korenman: Yes. I love that piece.
Ariel Costa: Dude, I'm kind of like that. I'm all supportive of plugins. I love plugins like GBK, RubberHose, and stuff like that. I've used in the past, but I believe I can achieve a unique and organic animation, and if I try to not rig my characters, and still animation, we don't have a rig for characters. It's frame by frame, and I try to create something more unique because I don't know if everybody can tell that ... I can tell when people is using some sort of IK plugin by just looking at their animation, but it's hard to say when people animate without using any kind of plugin. So, I believe I can use more of my time trying to explore my character's action than spending rigging a character, so-
Joey Korenman: Yeah. There's almost a jerkiness to a lot of your work, and it feels like old school, almost like stop motion sometimes, the way things kind of move, and I was gonna ask you, is that just an artifact of the way you're animating, or do you put effects on it and wiggle expressions to make it do that, or is that just it just looks that way because you're actually animating tons and tons and tons and tons frames?
Ariel Costa: Uh-huh. Yes, yes. No, usually for projects, I animate it by hand, and I use Posterize Time a lot, like 12 frames per second, to give this steppy, funky kind of motion to the character, and for some projects, like for the Green Day one, I wiggle the members, every part of the character, to give this crazy look, and I don't know if you can achieve that kind of effect using IK plugins. Maybe you can, but because, again, I'm not a technical guy, I cannot do that. So, I'm not trash talking about those plugins. Again, I love those plugins, but I think I can do things different without using, so-
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It gives it a different character, and it kind of makes it more ... I mean, it's cool. It's more, I don't know, ownable. I mean, you said that you were trying to find your voice, which it's something that every motion designer at some point realizes, hey, I'm just doing stuff that looks like everybody else's stuff, and how do I find something that's me, and animating, that's not how most After Effects artists animate, as I'm sure you know. Let me ask you this. This just popped into my head, but did you ever animate like this at Buck, because I can imagine that if you had to hand off your After Effects file to another artist, they'd probably want to kill you. Right?
Ariel Costa: I did once, and it was not a good experience.
Joey Korenman: It didn't go well.
Ariel Costa: Yeah, it didn't go very well, because we have a technical director at Buck, Moses Journey. He's brilliant. He's a technical dude. Again, totally the opposite of me, and I've learned so much from him, and he was the guy that had to constantly try to get me back to earth, like, "You can't do that, because other people will try to work with your files, so you have to make people more comfortable, so let's try to keep things consistent," and okay. Of course, I'm working for a company, so I have to play their game, but it kind of ... It usually feels a little bit tight when I have to do this kind of animation, because sometimes I think about an action, and in order for me to make my character do this action, I'm gonna have to re-rig all the character all over again.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Ariel Costa: Yeah. So, I think it speeds up a little bit the process for me not having my characters rigged.
Joey Korenman: So, that brings up another point. I mean, just a lot of the movement and the ideas in your work, it's very quirky, but there's a lot going on, and you actually have pretty complex movements and walk cycles and things like that, and if you're doing it all by hand, I'm sure you're not literally animating every single frame, but you probably have way more key frames in your timeline than the average sort of After Effects artist would. So, do you do a lot of pre-planning? Do you do animatics? How do you make sure that you're not gonna spend all day animating something with 700 key frames in it, and then the client is gonna say, “Oh, actually, that one move right there, can you change that,” and you're like, “Well, I can't, actually. I'd have to kind of redo it”?
Ariel Costa: Yes. That could be part of a problem, too. I tend to create my comps in a way that it's easy for me to change frames, so I try not to ... Okay. It's a mess, but it's an organized mess. I know where everything ... I know how to find the right frame to ... This, again, this is a system that I don't think works very well working in the group, but it works well working as a solo guy because I don't have to hand all my projects to someone else to do tweak my frames. So, basically, what it is is I know where everything is, and I can go back and tweak that specific frame that a client wants me to change, and sometimes if it's too crazy, I can break the comp and create a free comp of just the part the client wants me to change and reanimate, but I tend to plan the shots before I start animation, but I ended up having a different animation than I planned usually.
Joey Korenman: Well, yeah, because in traditional animation, you've got kind of two ways of animating. You've got pose-to-pose, where you sort of figure out the shot, figure out the timing, and then you've got straight ahead, and the way your animation looks, it feels straight ahead. It feels like you start animating, and you just kind of see where it goes, which is how most motion designers animate in After Effects, actually, so that's normal, but its easier to manage when you have less stuff. But you brought up an interesting point, Ariel, which is that the way that you're working and the way your comps are organized and the way you're animating is not efficient for a 50-person animation studio, to have everyone be doing that, but you're not a 50-person animation studio, so it's okay. It's actually okay that your comps are like that.
Ariel Costa: Yeah. I'm aware of that, and that's why, again, I'm telling you using those kind of plugins, it's really important, but if I don't have to use, if I can create my own stuff, okay, I can do that, because it's just me working on this project, and I don't have to hand all my project to the client, or they're not gonna tweak anything like that, and I'm aware of if clients want me to ... Okay. I want you to create this project for me, but I want the After Effects file, I'm gonna talk to the client and say, “Okay. We have two options here. I can do my way and you can tweak on your end, and I can do in the industry way, and it might not have this DNA that I always wanted to put in this project, but in the end you're gonna have the project so you can tweak by yourself.”
I had experienced already, like for the New York Times piece, I have to hire help, so I have this guy, Alexander [Serhovisk 00:38:52]. I've probably been saying his last name wrong, but he's another Brazilian guy, and he's a super talented character animation in After Effects, but the way that he works is creating rigs, and it's fine by me, because I trust him, and I know that his animation, it has some personality, and for those key moments that I need the animation to have a little bit more of craziness or to be more out there, I can do it in a way that we don't need the rig, but I believe there's a perfect world where these two techniques can combine in a good way.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and it sounds like in that case you're acting almost as an animation director, and you can sort of direct that animator to use the tools and the techniques that they are comfortable with, but however you do it, make it look like this. You know?
Ariel Costa: Oh, yeah. He might. I don't know. Again, I don't know. To be honest, I have some limitations with the technical stuff. There might be some guy out there or some really talented girl out there that can create this amazing rig in an easy way than we can animate in a really organic way. I couldn't find yet, but I believe if there's some person out there, I would love to meet this person, and please teach me how to do this thing, how to be good at the rigger, because I kind of don't understand very well the process, and I think it's more like my weakness in this process to not be too technical, because I think pretty sure I could get some stuff a little faster than I can get right now.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, but that would almost require an Ariel Costa plugin or something. It would be so specific to the way you animate. So, you mentioned for bigger projects you gotta bring on help and try to still maintain your style, so let's talk about some of these big projects that you have on your reel, some pretty crazy names. Why don't we start with a little band called Led Zeppelin that asked you to do a video for them? So, can you just tell us that story? How did that come about? What was that for?
Ariel Costa: Yeah. That was amazing. It was a highlight of my career. That's for sure. But I had a blast previously working with another great band called Green Day, and because of this particular work that I did with them, a really nice guy inside Warner Records at Warner Music passed my name along to the guy that was in charge of Led Zeppelin, and the guy talked to me, and he said, "I love what you did with Green Day. Do you want to make a video music for Led Zeppelin," and I thought to myself, what? I thought they broke up. I told to the guy, "Are they getting back together?"
They say, "No. We're releasing this promotional campaign for them. They are releasing a collection of the best of the best in Blu-ray disc specials, DVD, CD. It's a pack, and we want to create this music video for the song, and this music video, it's gonna be the lead card of this campaign." I said, "I'm a huge fan of Led Zeppelin. Of course, I'm interested." I didn't ask about budget or anything like that. I just said yes. I just said yes, because I think that was a one-time opportunity in life, and the guy told me, "Okay. So, you have two weeks and a half to three weeks to do it. Can you do it?" I say, "Okay. I can do it," but it was amazing, to be able to pull it out, and it was great. It was amazing.
Joey Korenman: So, the Green Day video actually came before Led Zeppelin. So, let's kind of rewind a minute and go back to that, because that one, and I'm imagining that probably came about because of Sins, your short film, and it kind of has a similar look. So, how did that video sort of fall into your lap?
Ariel Costa: Okay. So, again, it was because of Sins. So, I was contacted by this guy, again, Devin Sarno from Warner Music. He contacted me and said, “Okay. I have this project for a great band, Red Hot Chili Peppers,” and I said, “Wow. Me, a guy?” He said, “Do you want to make a music video for Red Hot Chili Peppers,” and I say, “Of course, I want to,” and I don't think I ever told this in public, but the Green Day music video supposed to be a Red Hot Chili Peppers music video, and yeah, I don't think I ever told anybody about that. So, I work on this music video for about three weeks for Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it was 70% done, and then Devin called me and said, “I think the band wants to go life action on this one,” and I said ... I felt like shit.
Joey Korenman: I bet.
Ariel Costa: Oh, I'm sorry. Can I curse?
Joey Korenman: Oh, yes, you can.
Ariel Costa: Okay. Sorry. I felt like shit because I put my whole career in the game for this, and I was super bummed. I was super, okay, they didn't like my work. My work is shitty. I don't do nothing right. I was blaming myself, and he said, “No, it's nothing about your work. They loved your work, but they think for this specific song ...” Their manager told them to do live action or something like that. I don't really remember what was the reason, but it was something like that, and he said, “Don't worry. We're gonna pay you for the work you put into this, but let's talk. Okay?”
I said, “Okay.” I don't think I'm ever gonna talk to this guy again, because I don't think he's gonna talk to me again, and a month passed, and I received email from him. “Do you want to use that approach for Green Day, because Green Day is gonna release an album in August,” I think it was. Yeah. It was August at the time, and I said, “Okay, of course.” I kind of felt alive again, because I said, “Okay. If this guy approaches me back, I don't think I suck that much,” and he said, “Okay, but you have to put together a pitch for them, and we can see. If they like it, we can move forward.”
I put a pitch together. I used some of the art directions that I used for the Red Hot Chili Peppers one. I redesigned all the characters to become Green Day, members of the band. I sent it to them. They sent me the okay, and yeah. So, I had two weeks and a half to pull everything together and to recreate a music video for the Green Day, and because of that, I got the Led Zeppelin.
Joey Korenman: So, let's talk about the Green Day video. It's just really cool. Everyone listening to this, you have to go watch it. It's very unique looking, and it really goes with the song, and it's an interesting blend of a lyric video and a real music video. Was that something the band wanted, they wanted the lyrics onscreen?
Ariel Costa: Yeah. Actually, it is meant to be a lyric video more than video music for itself for this one, but they wanted to create a different kind of lyric video. It's more like a video music kind of thing, and KUDOS to them because they gave me a lot of liberty to create the things in my way. The only thing that they asked me was to make the Green Day logo in the beginning bigger. It's the most cheesy clients' request, make the logo bigger.
Joey Korenman: That is amazing.
Ariel Costa: Yeah, but that was the only thing. They were super supportive. They trusted my work, and yeah, it was super fun.
Joey Korenman: So, you had to animate. I'm looking right now. The video is three-and-a-half minutes long.
Ariel Costa: Yes, yes.
Joey Korenman: There's a million little pieces to it, and it's all hand-animated in your kind of quirky style. How in the heck did you do that in two-and-a-half weeks and get it approved and all that?
Ariel Costa: It was insane. It was insane. The good thing about being in this market for a very long time, because I'm 34. I've been working with motion graphics and animation for a while now, and I kind of understand the game. I understand my limitations, and I understand what I can put into the project and what I cannot put into the project. So, I kind of come up with the game plan, and the idea for me was to create not a storytelling. It's more like if you watch it, you're gonna see that it's a bunch of different GIFs. Every single shot, it's a different GIF. So, not having a specific storytelling, or I have to follow a rule here, it eliminates a problem for me. So, this is more like a catharsis kind of project. There's no storyboard. There's no sketches. It's more like sit down, animate, and bleed. Basically, that was it.
Joey Korenman: Sit down, animate, and bleed.
Ariel Costa: That's it.
Joey Korenman: That should be a poster, man. That sums it up. I mean, it's amazing what you pulled off. So, let's talk about the last video that you just recently finished for the rock band, Mastodon.
Ariel Costa: Oh, amazing guys. Yes.
Joey Korenman: Oh, my gosh. So, I'm imagining it was kind of a similar thing, the label contacted you, saw what you'd done, and said, “Can you do this for us?” But this one, there's a little bit more of a narrative to it. There's almost like a little storyline. Can you talk about ... What was different about this one?
Ariel Costa: Yeah. I had more time, actually, to do this project. The budget was better than the other one. I think it was a little bit more comfortable for me, just sit down, and less bleeding. It's more joy, but it was super fun. It was super fun. Brann did the main vocal, and the drummer. He's the guy in charge curate the artistic side of the band, so he's the guy who talks to people who does the posters and t-shirts, video music, stuff like that, and I talked to him on the phone. He said he loved it, did the collage piece again. He wanted to do something like that.
Mastodon have the history to create these funny music videos. They don't take themselves too serious on their videos, which I think it's amazing because it creates for them this personality, and they want me to create something fun for them, and I say, “Of course.” I'm a big Mastodon fan. I love their music. I wanted to create something special for them, and I was really into this science fiction phase, in a way. I still have the plan. I have the plan to create this animation short film in a science fiction way. I'll collage stuff, mix with cell animation, and I had that in mind when they approached me. I said, “Okay. I'm gonna try to create something,” and I think the lyrics, the robot stuff, it came to me super clear that I had to do some science fiction for them, and it was super fun. Super fun.
Joey Korenman: How much input do you typically get from bands on this, because I would imagine that ... Bands are musicians. They're artists, and so they probably have, I would hope, a little bit more of a respect for what it is that you're doing and putting it. So, when you're working with Brann, the drummer, who's an amazing drummer, by the way ... If anyone is a drummer, go check him out. But what kind of notes does a drummer give you? Was he telling you, “Oh, that composition's not working”? Was he giving you art direction, or just like, “Yeah, that's cool. Keep doing that”?
Ariel Costa: No. Yeah, totally. He trusted my work 100%, 100%. The idea for this music video was to create something not just in a technical way, old school, but in a film way, old school, so tried to create this silence kind of cinema where we have the support of phrases to explain what the characters are saying, and most of the notes that the band gave to me was let's not ... Because they put a lot of swear curses in the beginning, and they asked me to make more kids-friendly, in a way. They didn't use these words, but it's more like, "Let's make this a little bit more ... We don't have to curse that much. Let's just ..."
But I totally understand that, and just changing a little bit here and there, but nothing major, nothing that changed the whole aspect of the final project. But working with Led Zeppelin was tough, was tough. I think that project was really tough, because Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, they didn't break the band in very good terms, and they have this ownership of the band, and they wanted specific and different things for the music video. So, get them to agree on one thing was hard, but for the other bands, it was the most funnest client that I ever had, for sure.
Joey Korenman: So, for Led Zeppelin, was there just more and more revisions until you could sort of-
Ariel Costa: Oh, boy. Yeah.
Joey Korenman: ... get it to work?
Ariel Costa: Yeah, yeah. More, more. Yes. It was tough.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Well, the Mastodon video, and frankly, all of these, it almost sounds like a dream gig. A lot of people get into motion design because of music videos, and this idea that you can take music, which is something I'm super passionate about, and then something I'm also passionate about, animation, and you can combine them. Now, the missing piece there is can you make a living doing that. So, I want to ask you about sort of the business side of doing these videos.
Ariel Costa: Sure.
Joey Korenman: So, we've had, actually, on the podcast a friend of mine, Mike Pecci, and his business partner, Ian McFarland. They've directed music videos for a lot of metal bands, and some of the big ones, like Fear Factory and Killswitch Engage, and they've told me the budgets are not very big.
Ariel Costa: No.
Joey Korenman: In the live action world, you definitely don't shoot music videos for the money. That's just crazy. But how does it work in the animation world? Is it actually possible to get your day rate on these types of things, or are there different reasons to do it?
Ariel Costa: It depends on the project, I think, I would say. For Mastodon, for example, I would say I had a pretty comfortable budget to do the whole thing, but for the other ones, I didn't do much for the budget. I did it for my love for the animation world and for the exposure. I would say if you were an individual like me, you can afford yourself doing some video musics, for sure, because you use, for example, like for the Green Day, for example, I used two weeks and a half of my month to do this music video, but the other two-and-a-half weeks, I did really not-at-all-fun projects to pay the bills. That's because I'm a solo guy. I don't think a studio, for example, could live out of doing just music videos, and I don't do music videos very often. I did Led Zeppelin and Green Day in 2015, and now I did this one for Mastodon because they're a great band, and I love them so much, but I don't do video musics very often, and I don't think I could live out of just by doing music videos.
Joey Korenman: Right. Well, I want to point out that you used a dirty word earlier, and that word is exposure.
Ariel Costa: Exposure.
Joey Korenman: So, I wanted to ask you about that, because personally, I think it's fine to do work for exposure, but there's kind of this knee-jerk reaction sometimes with artists even hearing that word. It kind of makes you cringe because you associate it with clients asking you to do crappy jobs for crappy money for exposure, but for something like this, would you say that exposure was actually worth the bleeding that you did?
Ariel Costa: Yeah. No, that's for sure. I can't complain. Still today, I receive emails from bands that want me to do their video music for exposure, and I say no, but not because ... But I don't think it's worth it anymore. Of course, if it's a band that are interested in me, it's something that I can put together my passion for design animation and the passion for their music, it's something that I have, I'm 100% gonna do it, and as a designer in this industry, you're gonna have a lot of requests, a lot of inquiries of people asking you to do projects for free or with this absurd of a budget, and it's up to you to say, "No," or, "Okay. I can do it," but for me, I said yes, and it was a blast, for sure.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and the Green Day video, I think when I checked the other day it had like 19 million views or something like that.
Ariel Costa: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Joey Korenman: I mean, if you talk ... That actually is exposure.
Ariel Costa: It is.
Joey Korenman: That's actually legitimate exposure.
Ariel Costa: I do receive the emails talking about the Green Day project and people approaching me to do projects with that kind of look, so for me, it was a huge display, and yeah, I totally ... Sometimes you're gonna have to ... If you're working in this industry, sometimes working in projects like this, worth better than a thousand of reels, and this kind of project, it's amazing because it was some sort of a personal project because they gave me a lot of creativity to do whatever I want, and I put all my effort. I said bleeding in the beginning because the timeline is super tight, but I did with a truly passion, and I believe it paid off, and yeah. For sure, it was a huge and it still is a huge display for me.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. That's, to be honest, one of the things that ... I mean, I've kind of lost count of what podcast we're on right now, but I've recorded a lot of these, and there's a lot of other ones we've done for classes. I mean, I've talked with a lot of motion designers over the past couple years, and that is something that really surprised me, this idea of doing these personal projects or doing projects for no money, and if you really put a lot of work and love into it, it almost always turns into client work. Now a client wants that. Spotify wants it, or something like that. Right?
Ariel Costa: Yeah, yeah. Sure.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and I don't know, I guess it was kind of counterintuitive to me, because I thought, how do these ... These clients aren't getting on Motionographer, are they? How the hell are they gonna see this stuff? So, when you do a music video, like when you did the Green Day video, did you promote it? How did you get people to know that it was you that did it?
Ariel Costa: Again, this guy from Warner, he was kind enough to link my website on their Green Day YouTube description, and I'm super thankful for that, and we have a lot of creative people that work for the industry, and they are all always searching for new people to collaborate, and those people, they tend to browse more on websites like Motionographer, Stash, and other creative sites out there. So, yeah, we have a lot of people in this music industry that they kind of ... They are fishing for new talents. You know?
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Ariel Costa: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Well, it's cool that all of that hard work paid off, starting with Sins, which you just did by yourself for free, and then that got you the Green Day opportunity. I mean, it's crazy how it's kind of snowballed, and so now I'm imagining you must have plenty of opportunities to do cool stuff, and right before we started recording, you told me you just finished up a project that's gonna be released shortly, so I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about that.
Ariel Costa: Yes, and I think it's such a special project for me. Last year, I had this amazing opportunity to work with this Academy Award winner director called Morgan Neville. He's a great guy, great stuff, and he directed and just finished this documentary about Mister Rogers. I was born in Brazil, so my childhood wasn't based on Mister Rogers, so I didn't have this affection that people have for him here in United States, but when I met him, when I sat with Morgan and he explained the story, he showed me some footage, and I did some researches to see, okay, who is this Mister Rogers, and I've learned that his guy was one of the most beautiful human beings in the world.
He was a huge presence here for kids, and the way that he spoke to kids about real problems was amazing. I wish I could have this kind of conversation with someone when I was kid, because Mister Rogers used to talk about really difficult themes with kids, like divorce, sickness, the loss of a dear family or a family member or something like that, and the way that he talked to kids, it's in such a beautiful and respectful way, and I've learned how to appreciate this human being.
When he invited me to be part of this project, I didn't think it was that special, but when I learned ... Because I got to animate ... I'm not gonna spoil anything here, but it's a documentary that's gonna talk about his life, and they are gonna approach his childhood, and I was invited to create this [inaudible 01:05:54] animation world for when we talk about his childhood, and it was amazing. It was amazing. For me, it was great. So, it's gonna be on theaters in June, in select theaters, I think, sorry, on June 8th, and soon it's gonna be out there for everybody to see, but this is such an amazing project. Not just for the animation part, but for the whole thing. It was amazing.
Joey Korenman: It sounds really amazing, and I'm assuming that after it's in the theater, Netflix or Amazon, someone will pick it up, and everyone will be able to watch it. If it's out by the time this interview airs, we will link to it, but if not, look out for it. So, I want to ask you about ... I mean, it sounds like you're in a pretty awesome place, Ariel, because you're freelance, and I love ... At the beginning of this conversation, you kind of, offhand, you said, "I don't think I'm built for staff," and I thought that was kind of interesting. So, you're freelance, and you've put in the bleeding to get work out there that's got you other work, that's got you other work, that's now got you this amazing Mister Rogers documentary, and so I'm wondering, do you see yourself just kind of staying solo? Would you ever start your own studio? Do you have any sort of idea of what your plans look like?
Ariel Costa: You know what? This is the kind of question that I've been asking myself for the last couple of years. I don't know. I wish I could have the answer, to be honest with you, but I'm happy as a solo, but sometimes I want to, again, push things forward as I always wanted to be. So, having my own studio is not something that I ... It's not idea that I disagree. It's something that I keep cooking in my mind. I'm pretty sure this is something that will come in the future, but I don't know when, because I can't imagine myself in the 50s sitting here, animating stuff. I just want to have something more solid, and idea more concrete, something more ... An asset, let's say, something like that.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Well, I guess that kind of leads me to my last question for you. I mean, you've got a family now, too, and you're 34, which is young, but in mo-graph years, it's kind of old. Right?
Ariel Costa: I'm old. Yeah, I'm aware of that. I'm aware of that.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and so how has having ... You have a son and you have a wife, and you seem like a family guy. How has that shifted your approach to work and your career and stuff?
Ariel Costa: That's one good thing about being a freelancer and about be able to ... Because of the Green Day project, again, it was an investment for me. Nowadays, I tend to go less often to studios. It's been, I would say, a year-and-a-half, almost two years that I stepped my foot into a studio, and being working remotely and working from home allows me to be close to my family, and that's amazing. I love to have lunch with my son. I love to have lunch with my wife. My son is going to school now, but I love to go to pick him up at school, and being close to him, being close to my wife and my son, and I think that's the most valuable thing for me, and I think that's the most important achievement that I could have in my career. So, yeah, I love working from home.
Joey Korenman: Well, dude, that is beautiful, and congratulations for everything you've achieved, and I know you're just getting started, too. 34 is the new 24, is my [crosstalk 01:10:10]. In my case, 37's the new 27.
Ariel Costa: Perfect.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, but dude, I want to say thank you for coming on and just sharing your story and your knowledge and your wisdom, and I think everyone's gonna get a lot out of this episode.
Ariel Costa: Dude, I got a lot from your book. That's for sure. I meant to tell you that sooner, but sorry, man, if I left for the end session, but as a single professional, you have to deal with business. You have to deal ... You are your own studio, a one-man studio, and I had no idea how the business work until I bought your book, dude, and that was amazing. It changed my whole perspective in the industry, for sure, and thank you for that.
Joey Korenman: For the love of God, go to blinkmybrain.tv to check out Ariel's work. It's amazing, and frankly, I think he's an excellent example of the modern motion designer. He's balancing different types of work to suit different purposes in his life, and he's doing it in a way that's getting him a ton of attention and a lot of cool opportunities. I hope this episode inspired you. I hope you learned a ton, and I hope that you are now an Ariel Costa fan. Until next time.