School of Motion

The Secret Sauce: A Chat with Jay Grandin of Giant Ant

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Giant Ant Co-Founder and Creative Director Jay Grandin joins us on today's podcast episode. Say hello to an industry legend!

When it comes to high profile work, Giant Ant is walking up there with the titans. Co-Founder Jay Grandin has built a studio that we all look up to, and here at School of Motion we all take a break from our day-to-day work to watch their freshly released reels each year.
Giant Ant hasn't always been the mega-star mammoth of a studio that you see today. This success was built through trial and error, and this podcast will dive deep into Jay's story.
This podcast is special, not only because we are fans, but because it's not everyday you get to hear from an industry leader like Jay. There is a lot to unpack, learn, and apply to your own unique journey. Let's get started!

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Jay Grandin Interview Transcript

Joey Korenman: Back in 2013, a studio birthed on to the scene and became an overnight success, churning out incredible work from day one, making it look easy in the process. How did Giant Ant open their doors and immediately start producing jaw dropping pieces left and right? They didn't, because Giant Ant was actually founded in 2007 and nobody in our industry really paid attention until six years later.
Joey Korenman: There's a lesson in there somewhere. To help us dig out that lesson, we have Jay Grandin, co-founder and creative director of the legendary Giant Ant of Vancouver, British Columbia. Right before we recorded this episode, I found out that Jay will also be hosting the 2019 BLEND Festival, which I'm very excited to attend.
Joey Korenman: I know I say this so much that it's become cliche, but it's a real honor for me to talk to Jay. I have been a Giant Ant fanboy since they came onto my radar in 2013. I've always wanted the opportunity to ask him about how he and Leah, his wife and co-founder, built Giant Ant into the powerhouse that we all look up to. What is the secret sauce that they drizzle on top of every project giving it that thing that all of their work has?
Joey Korenman: In this conversation, we go all over the place. We talk about how Giant Ant got started, Jay's previous life as a furniture designer/Myspace star, how the company attracts such amazing talent. At the end, we dig into some of the challenges that studios like Giant Ant are facing as the industry shifts. It's a very dense conversation and you're going to have a lot to take away from this one. With that, let's say hello to Jay Grandin...
Joey Korenman: Jay Grandin, thank you for coming on the podcast, man. It's really awesome to talk with you. Yeah, I can't wait to hear what you and Giant Ant have been up to.
Jay Grandin: Thank you for having me. It's nice to chat with you again.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, always fun, man. We'll be seeing each other in Vancouver soon, maybe get some running shoes going. I wanted to start with your past, and I know that you've been on Ash Thorp's podcast and other podcasts. You've told a bunch of these stories already, but I really want our entire audience to understand what an interesting person you are.
Joey Korenman: I figured I'd start with this, I was doing my like Google stalking of you yesterday preparing for this. I actually didn't know that you have your name on nine patents for various furniture related things. Why don't we start there? Did you have a previous life or something where you weren't Jay Grandin of Giant Ant and you were making furniture?
Jay Grandin: Yeah, I had a brief previous life that was really different from my current life. The way that life went is that I finished high school, I went straight into university at a school in Vancouver called the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. I fell in love with industrial design. I always thought I wanted to be an architect and then all the architects I talked to were figuring out where to put the windows on bad condo development.
Jay Grandin: I thought, "Okay. That's not that exciting, I want more control," and so I went into industrial design, which is like architecture for little stuff. As I was doing that, I fell in love with furniture and finished school, kind of went right through. I finished when I was, I don't know, whatever, 21. It was like a different time here you ... People didn't just find you on Behance or on a cargo website or whatever. I was just like coming to job boards applying for a job after job after job.
Jay Grandin: Finally, somehow I kind of got my dream job at this company called Steelcase, which is a massive furniture company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In Michigan, they're the big three, Steelcase and Herman Miller, which most people have probably heard of, and Haworth.
Jay Grandin: I went and joined this, I don't know, like 17,000-person company in this nine-person design studio and just got super lucky, amazing job, worked on a lot of really cool projects. Yeah, along the way, I picked up some design patents and a couple invention patents for different ways of connecting stuff to stuff. Yeah, I took a total exit and a left turn and then tumbled down a hill for 12 years and here I am.
Joey Korenman: In that field, is it normal to just have patents? Is that a thing? Or, do actually get revenue like recurring royalties or anything from that? Or, is that just sort of a thing that happens when you're in that field?
Jay Grandin: No,I don't think it's a thing that happens in that field, but it's in bigger companies of all kinds, there's just kind of a grab for IP, I think. You can see that in our industry a little bit, with people developing apps and things. It's kind of the same in industrial design or specifically in the furniture industry. They'll patent things or different approaches to things to create a buffer so that they can produce that thing before anyone else does, or to prevent people from doing something in the same way.
Jay Grandin: If you think of a really iconic chair design or something like that design would be patented. Just to protect from knocking things off and stuff. I mean, in Mograph, you make a video and then six weeks later, you see that same video, like 20 times. Because people are like, "That's cool, I'll do that." Or clients were like, "That's cool. I'll do that." I think it's just an exercise in trying to prevent blatant infringement.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that's definitely one of those things that does not exist in our industry. There's no such thing as a patent.
Jay Grandin: No. Steelcase is a big company so they've got a legal team and they can do that stuff. As far as revenue goes, you don't get anything for it but they did ... I don't know if it's like an old tradition or something, but every time you get a patent, you get a crisp $1 bill that's never been in circulation. At least they did at Steelcase. I don't know if it's a standard or something, but I think that there has to be like an exchange of something for me to relinquish the IP or something.
Jay Grandin: I've got this little folder somewhere that's got these like nine crisp $1 US bills that have never touched anyone's hands but mine, I guess, and the lawyers.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. That's a good retirement plan. That's a good start. That's funny. Okay, so were you at that time doing anything with video or did that come after?
Jay Grandin: No, it came after, or it came kind of during. When I went to school I wanted to do everything like graphic design, industrial design. I almost did a painting degree. I just wanted to do it all but I never ever was interested in video or animation. It was the two things that I thought sounded super boring. I was at Steelcase, I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was not as lively a place as I was used to.
Jay Grandin: We had a nice video camera for the time in the studio, which I would take home sometimes. We had to do this little project, we did like a studio project where they, whatever, kind of said, make a piece of art with a word. I think my word is traction or something. I made a giant slip and slide on the roof of my building and film myself sliding across the roof and made a little video out of it.
Jay Grandin: Then, I posted that on MySpace, because that was a thing that was new back then. One day 25,000 people watched this video. I got a note from the director of content that was like, "Hey, that video was kind of cool." They said, "It's a bit weird but we liked it. If you do anything else, let us know." I was like, "Okay, yeah. Okay." A couple weekends later, I just made a video about farts and then put that up and they're like, "Yeah, that was really good. That was funny. We'll feature that."
Jay Grandin: Then, there's like a couple of hundred thousand views on that. Then, 500,000 views and then a million views. Then, I came home for Christmas that year, so that would be like 2006, Christmas 2006. My girlfriend now wife, Leah, who runs Giant Ant with me had just finished film school. We just made a video, like based on a viral email and we posted it and it was embarrassing and we almost didn't post it but we did. It just went super, super viral.
Jay Grandin: I don't know, it had like 30 million views on Myspace and 30 million on YouTube and 30 million on Metacafe and brick.com and all these places. Maybe not that much, but maybe like cumulatively 30 million I think on YouTube it's got something like 15 or so. Anyway, that just sort of changed everything. We got a call from Myspace and they're like, "Hey, come out to Beverly Hills, let's make a series for us." I got a timer like that. I don't know. I mean, we don't really want to make sketch comedy because we're not very funny and we don't really know how to use the gear. This seems like we're going to lose here.
Jay Grandin: On the other hand, we're like, "This is kind of the weirdest thing that's happened to anybody ever so why not just roll with it." At the time, I love my job, but I was kind of looking for an excuse to go do something with her, like go travelling or something. It felt like the right on ramp into another thing for a bit. I just thought we'd make some stuff for a while and then I'd go get another design job or go back to that job or something, but it just never happened.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it's really strange to think about where you are now and what you're doing. Because it almost like hearing that story and kind of where you came from, it sounds like you almost just stumbled your way into animation. Did you have any thoughts at that time? Like one day, I want to open a studio that does animation and live action and stuff like that, like Giant Ant used to do? Or, was it kind of an accident that you're here?
Jay Grandin: Oh, man, it was a total accident. At the time, animation wasn't even on the radar. We were doing ultra-low budget standard def live action stuff, like usually starring ourselves. We made the series for Myspace and then some legal education company got us to do another thing. We played German twins named ... it was just bad. It was so bad. We opened an office. We're just like screwing around for couple years and we're kind of doing these little jobs like just getting by living in Leah's parent's attic.
Jay Grandin: Then, we had this brilliant idea that we'd open an office. The two of us open this little space that we rented. We plugged in a phone and we're like, "Okay. I guess we've got a studio now." Then, I met this guy for lunch, who'd reached out and he told me about motion graphics. I've never heard the term before. He showed me Motionographer and I got introduced to Shilo. This is early 2009, I guess. The cream of the crop Motionographer kind of went through all that stuff. I was like, "Holy shit, this stuff's really interesting."
Jay Grandin: I was like, "Just maybe, I can take my design background and put that together with video, which is what we're doing, and what is that, I guess it's motion graphics." We started to just tinker a little bit and I would do tutorials on the weekends and stuff. Leah, her heart stayed in live action and my heart sort of started to shift animation. Then, we hired this intern guy that just kind of showed up at our office and wouldn't leave. I'm like, "Okay, well, animate some stuff then."
Jay Grandin: He figured out Apple Motion, which was like Apple's version of After Effects back then. We just started doing it and then we put it on our website as a service. People started to hire us and it was really bad, but I got better and better.
Joey Korenman: This is like the least likely origin story for a really great [inaudible 00:13:24]. We had an intern and motion and [inaudible 00:13:28].
Jay Grandin: Yeah, it's so weird. It's so weird. It wouldn't happen now. We're just blessed by timing, kind of, and I don't think, motion wasn't really a thing yet. People weren't really going to school for it in a mainstream kind of way. We just had the benefit of a bit of time to figure it out.
Jay Grandin: Now I think you're expected to close the gap between your potential and what you can actually do, kind of before you finish school. Whereas like the stuff that we were making back then, even a couple years into animating, it's stuff like I wouldn't even finish the reel of, a student reel of that quality. It was just brutal but we got it early enough that I think we had time to kind of learn a bit.
Joey Korenman: I want to get into how you did that because I did dig really deep and I watched all of your old reels. We're going to link to everything we're talking about in the show notes so if you're listening to this, this is one of the great things about not just Giant Ant, but also you personally, Jay. All of your old work is still out there, it's kind of GMUNK does the same thing, like everything he's ever made professionally is on his website, going back 15 years or something like that.
Joey Korenman: One of the things, I really had no idea who I was dealing with, until yesterday, I watched how to conceal a fart, which was one of your early films. I think it's suffice to say, it doesn't share a lot of traits with the work that Giant Ant does now. It's really funny. It actually reminds me of a thing that I made when I was a student. It was like a mockumentary for a class and it was called Girls Like Beans. It was about this guy who's like really terrible with girls. He goes out on dates and just does everything wrong. It was like the exact same level of humor and production value and everything like that.
Joey Korenman: It's interesting, because now if I see that and I don't think it's on the internet, I'm going to try to find it post it for everybody. I cringed looking at it.
Jay Grandin: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Then, I look at the stuff that I was doing towards the end of my client work career and then the stuff we're doing out in School of Motion. I can't understand how I matured. If I even have matured. I feel like there was a maturation process along the way. I'm curious, what does it felt like for you over the past 12, 13 years, however long it's been since you made How to Conceal a fart. To sort of elevate your taste and things like that, have you noticed your work in your studios were getting better? Or is it just sort of like you're in this pot and it's boiling, so you can't really tell?
Jay Grandin: Yeah, I mean, I guess so. Of course, if I look back at an old work, I can see how there are certain things about it that weren't very good. I think like, first of all, you described it as a film, that's too generous. I made a video of my fart. I had a job that was creatively satisfying, that I took really seriously and that I was good at and it was my design job. That was just me screwing around. It'd be like, if I was like, "Hey, Joey, you’re a motion guy, you run this motion school, let's go make a paper mache lampshade." You'd be like, "Yeah, okay." You just throw something together and it'd be fun and we have couple beers and talk probably.
Jay Grandin: That was kind of the purpose of that video. I was just being silly. I wasn't trying to reshape the artistic landscape of user generated content or anything. The pressure was very low. Then, when I shifted out of my creatively satisfying thing that fed my soul and Leah did too. We were like, "Okay, let's make some stuff." We were just, well, I don't know. Do we want to be professional fart joke makers? I'm like, "Not really." What do we want to do? We want to make stuff that we think is beautiful and that connects with people.
Jay Grandin: Industrial design is that, right? You make a chair for someone, but it's not just a chair. It's like a ritual around like does it make work better? Does it make drinking coffee better? How does it make the room different? All these things. When we started to think about it as our creative outlet rather than just like our goofing around, the stakes just went up a little bit. We started to think about what we're making a in a different way, I think.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it's just something you just said I want to ask you about because you said that when you were making the fart videos and the infamous shower video, which is what got you kind of on the radar of Myspace. You said the pressure was low. Having that kind of situation, and this is also back before social media was what it is today. You probably were making things assuming no one would see them, which that's not how it is now, now you assume if you put it on Instagram, people are going to look at it.
Joey Korenman: Now you're in a totally different situation. For a lot of reasons, you're now a really good professional studio, but also your studio stature in the industry is up pretty high. Now you're, I would imagine, under a lot more pressure. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on what the effect has been on your work to have no pressure in the beginning and ramp that pressure up over time?
Jay Grandin: Whoa. That's a heavy question. I don't know. I think there was always pressure. Like when I was posting that stuff before, I as posting it as whatever it was Jay Grandin1, I think I like registered for Jay Grandin and then lost the password and so I ended up with Jay Grandin 1. There was still there was still pressure which is a different kind of pressure. I don't even know how to answer that.
Jay Grandin: I think the more we think about how people are going to feel about the work in the industry, the less interesting the work gets probably. If we can try to put blinders on and just think really hard about who we're making the thing for client like one, but audience also. Try to make interesting decisions about how people are going to receive the information or the art or whatever the work stays a bit fresher.
Jay Grandin: I think one of the problems with our industry, I think, I don't know if it's still true, but it felt true for a long time was like Vimeo is just this incredible echo chamber, where you make a thing and then that ... or somebody makes a thing, that thing becomes a trend. Then, everyone wants to be relevant and fresh so they make the same thing, and everything looks the same. I think it can be a bit of like a dark, sad vortex to get sucked too deep into that stuff.
Joey Korenman: Right. Yeah. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about was to try to get to the root of what's the secret sauce at Giant Ant that makes your work different? Because all of the work that you guys have been doing, especially over the past several years, it's really beautiful, awesome animation. There's lots of studios doing that. When you watch something from you guys, there tends to be a different feeling to it. There's something different about it. It's really hard to put your finger on.
Joey Korenman: In other talks that you've given and Leah has given, I've heard you both talk about the importance of being storytellers. A lot of people say that, it's almost a cliche, but when you to say it, I'm pretty sure you mean that. I'm wondering if you could talk about what do you mean when you say that we're storytellers and that animation happens to be the medium we're using this time?
Jay Grandin: Yeah, you're right. It is a cliche. It's a total cliche. We started to say that years ago. At that time it didn't feel as much of a cliche, but now it really does. I think if I was to rephrase it, I would almost say like, we want to be feeling givers rather than storytellers. I'm just sort of trying to think of this as I go. That's something that's really important to us with every project, we never sit down and go like, "Okay, we're going to make a 3D thing. We're going to make a 2D thing. What if we do this and sell animation?"
Jay Grandin: Because that's a set of tools. It's not a concept. What we always start a project with is, what do we want people to know? Then, more importantly, how do we want them to feel as they're knowing that or like learning that? Then, what do we want them to do next? I think if we always have that, what do we want people to feel thing at the top of our minds, it just leads us into different kinds of decisions in the editorial process.
Jay Grandin: Sometimes, it leads us into decisions that are less flashy and less interesting from a design perspective but maybe more impacting from an emotional perspective, where maybe we just need to stop and not animate anything here and make the music really good and maybe that's what's going to let this thing land versus how many times can we flip this cube over in 60 seconds, as we're talking about a piece of software, which isn't ... it might be cool and like really kill it on Instagram for three hours, but it's not really going to give anything new to the audience.
Joey Korenman: Where did that discipline come from? I remember when I was starting out and I see this a lot with our students who are new to the game that when you're stuck, the easiest thing to do is to make something cool looking. The cart can lead the horse pretty easily in this industry. To me, it's kind of a sign of experience and maturity that you can be restrained in those moments.
Joey Korenman: I remember, I used to have to convince my junior animators to just use a cut to get from one shot to another because well, Psyop did this crazy transition, that sort of stuff. Where did that come from, that sort of storytelling filmmaking, feel giving sensibility?
Jay Grandin: Yeah. If I'm being so super honest, I think, it's probably just that we weren't very good at all the design and animation stuff when we started. We thought we understand the feeling stuff so we can really lean into that. I don't know, that Johnny Cash movie where he says like, "We just couldn't play that fast so that's why the music is slow." I feel like that at the root of it, it was like, "Okay, what can we do really well? What can make us different even though we don't really understand the software very well yet?"
Jay Grandin: Then, that just became something that was very important to us, as a way of bringing people into stuff that they would maybe judge at face value otherwise, I guess. As we kept going, I feel like I watched a ton of work every day that is so beautiful and exquisite. Then, as soon as I end the video, I'm like, "What was that?" I didn't feel anything, next and it's not memorable. Some of our work is that for sure, but I think that we've got a desire to make as much as possible to make this stuff that's super ethereal and momentary.
Jay Grandin: It used to be that we'd make a three minute thing that would live on the internet for years. Now, we're making stuff for Instagram stories that's six seconds long that's going to be there for 24 hours and then no one ever watches it again.
Jay Grandin: It's almost like the content is becoming so much more disposable and how do we offset that by making it land in some kind of a way that makes it at least a moment that isn't for nothing, I guess. I don't even know what I'm trying to say.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, you're getting me thinking, you're getting me brooding a little bit. I want to come back to what you just said about disposable content, because that is something that it's really interesting, actually, that it's almost kind of come full circle, where you used to have these things called TV commercials that would run a few times, maybe like for a month or two even and then they were gone.
Joey Korenman: Then, everything was perpetual. Now we're kind of coming back around a little bit. First, I want to I want to talk about how your studio has grown. If I did my math right, I think you guys are just about 12 years old. Is that correct?
Jay Grandin: That's about right. Yeah.
Joey Korenman: That is awesome. Congratulations. In your mind, I think, Giant Ant especially there's been such a transformation from where it started to where it is now. I'm sure there's been lots of phases. I'm wondering, you can just talk about maybe some of the big milestones that you experienced, if there were any particularly scary moments or moments where you're like, "Oh, my god, we just hit the next level."
Jay Grandin: Oh, man. Always, the whole thing is a scary moment, kind of. Then, you have these little periods where you feel you're invincible and you're killing it. Then, you get run over by a scary moment truck. When we started, so we moved into this little tiny office and plugged in a phone and just hoped it would work. We weren't paying ourselves and making any money at all.
Jay Grandin: Then, we hired this intern guy. Then, Shawn showed up who still works here, actually, nine years later, which is amazing. We move in to a slightly bigger office and that was very scary like having suddenly a payroll of a couple of people.
Jay Grandin: I don't even know. It's so hard to see it when you're in it. It's one of those things where you have a goal to get to a certain place and you think like, "Whoa, we will have made it when we have whenever, a bigger office or four staff or seven staff or whatever, or we win an award or something." By the time you get to any of those milestones, you've kicked the goal so far down the field you can barely see it.
Jay Grandin: It's always this exercise in moving toward these other things and maybe not sitting and registering the things that you have accomplished or that were hard, I guess. Because you're either so busy trying to accomplish something different now. Or, you're so busy trying to solve the problem that's difficult that you don't have time to think about how it feels.
Jay Grandin: I think a really early milestone for us was hiring Jorge, which was, I don't know when that was even, probably 2012-ish. Jorge, which most people know like JR Canest, founder of Wine after Coffee and now Ordinary Folk Studio. He reached out to us, he was at Buck. He wanted to come back to Vancouver because he'd fallen in love with a Vancouver girl and just couldn't find out what he was looking for in Vancouver.
Jay Grandin: I think, he said something similar to what you said, he was like, "Your work is not very good but I can feel something when I watch it. Let me join you." We did. I think that that had a really measurable impact in the acceleration of our ability to make interesting animated content because he just knew so much. He had kind of his own celebrity that preceded him. I think just gave us interesting access to other kinds of people who then saw us as credible.
Jay Grandin: A good example is Lucas. Lucas Brooking now ACD at Buck, Sydney. He was just some dude who had made a couple interesting videos on Vimeo and no one really knew who he was. We saw his work and we're like, "He's awesome." He was traveling around the world and we flew him out to check out Vancouver and see what it's like and to convince him to work for us.
Jay Grandin: I remember him saying later, "If it wasn't for Jorge having kind of vouched for you guys, I may have tried to go elsewhere." I think Jorge's presence in the studio kind of gave us ... it was kind of a backstage pass a little bit to some certain things that we wouldn't have had otherwise.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. One of the questions I had was actually, I think, you just answered it. I was looking at your old reels and I looked at your 2010 reel and everyone listening, it's on Vimeo, you can go watch it. It's not bad.
Jay Grandin: It's bad. I mean, it's okay, it's bad.
Joey Korenman: Okay, fine. It's not up to the current level of quality. Then, 2011's reel, it's like something is starting to happen. Then 2012 it's like what the hell? It's like a completely different studio. I was going to ask you what happened in those two years? Was that the time period when you brought on Jorge and Lucas?
Jay Grandin: I think that's when we brought in Jorge. We hadn't brought in Lucas until a little bit later, I don't think. I'm getting all my time kind of mixed up. It feels like when you think back to your childhood and it felt like everything was so slow and took forever, but it was like, that was just one summer. I feel that way about thinking back to the early days in the studio, where these couple years feels like such a great expensive time and now the years just click by. It's hard for me to index myself.
Jay Grandin: The 2010 reel, first of all it was terrible because we just began doing animation. We didn't really know what we're doing. It was like you had a few students in a room that were just getting their first After Effect assignments. However, it happened to be client work and then they cut a reel together.
Jay Grandin: Then, by 2012, we'd all had more time to do it. Jorge is a great animator, but it wasn't like he was the only one in the studio who knew how to make good stuff. Shawn is doing nice work and Derick was making good work and I was making some good stuff. I mean good for then, but we just had gotten better. I think having Jorge in the studio probably kept us a little bit onus as well. We're like, "Okay. You're really good so we shouldn't blow your reputation by making garbage. We're going to try a little harder here too."
Jay Grandin: I think we just got better and better. I think the first thing we unlocked was animation through Jorge. We started to, really, as a culture begin to understand what good animation meant. Then, I think similarly, when Lucas arrived, we started to really understand good design where that was the ... I mean this sounds so stupid of me to say now. I think it was a real insight. We're like, oh, actually have a real illustrator, real designer making stuff purposely rather than just having a bunch of animators designing shit as they go as they move through the timeline.
Jay Grandin: Yeah. Lucas showed up and we really started to understand the value of a really good storyboard and the value of really good style frames. We're like, "Whoa. If we can have really beautiful artwork and we can have really good animation. If we put those things together, we can probably make a really good video. We should try this."
Jay Grandin: I think that was the moment where like Voltron assembled and we're like, okay. We kind of get it. Since then, maybe like that Toms video we made was the first expression of that in a serious way. I don't even remember when that was, but since then, I feel like up to then, that was the period of where are we? What am I doing? What are these things on my face?
Jay Grandin: Then, moving on into like, okay, we understand all the steps that need to be taken, so how can we make those steps better every single time and make better and better work.
Joey Korenman: Wow. It's really interesting to hear that story, because you learned that lesson while you were running a studio, as oppose to the way most artists learn it is by working at studios or freelancing or something like that. That's where I learned that lesson too, that like if you have a good designer who make style frames, you're not guessing what's going to come next. This is way better.
Jay Grandin: Yeah, totally.
Joey Korenman: I was actually trying to look up when that Toms video came out, because I feel like 2013 was the year that Giant Ant really got on everyone's radar. I think you had a feature in Motionagropher and a lot of amazing work was coming out.
Joey Korenman: I wanted to point that out just because, for everyone listening, it's like the classic thing of the overnight success. You founded Giant Ant in 2007. This was six later and probably a lot of hard lessons and stuff like that. I want to circle back, because from the outside, it's like oh, now, they've entered this new face of existence. At that time, what did it feel like inside Giant Ant to all of a sudden have attention from the industry. Did it feel like, "Ah, this is what we work towards." Or was it like, "This is weird, I don't know what happen."
Jay Grandin: Yeah, it was super weird. It was super weird but it was also such a crazy exciting time in the studio. Yeah. Jorge was there killing it. Lucas was there killing it. We brought on Henrique who is like ...
Joey Korenman: Amazing.
Jay Grandin: Henrique Barone who's ... he's going to become an icon in the industry but he was this classical animation guy that we brought in to help with the thing. I think Jorge, the first insight, we're like, "He's really good. What if we do more cell animation?"
Jay Grandin: We didn't do character stuff because we didn't know how to animate it well. Duik can only get you so far kind of thing. We're like, "Okay, what if we take motion graphics and you bring in cell animation to it," which is like every single project now. At the time, it felt really radical. We start to do like liquid animation cell stuff. It really did, at that time, I think feel like every single project was ... we're like, "What are we even making? What's this going to look like?" We're like, "We don't know what we're doing."
Jay Grandin: It was so invigorating and like Matt showed up who's here now. We built this really tight little team just doing really crazy stuff. It felt like a little, I don't know, I romanticize it. I'm talking about it like it's the glory days, which it feels like that now too at times. I really felt like every single project we went into at that time was kind of a mystery. We didn't really know what was going to come out the other side. Or, whether we're going to have to camp out in the couch or whatever. It was cool. It was a super cool time.
Jay Grandin: The studio was growing rapidly. We had a lot of people reaching out who want to work with us. It was at a time when not every single job was like an eight-way bid. People would just call you and be like, "Hey, it's Target, we want you to make a cool thing." We're like, "What? You do? You've actually got a budget? No way. That's amazing." It was cool. It was like going to high school or something or in a university.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome. I can't imagine because I've never had the experience of working in a studio with that kind of team and project opportunities popping up. Man, it must have been really, really cool. That leads me to my next question which is, I think a lot of studio owners finding themselves in your situation would have maybe thought, "We better get ... all getting's good. Everyone's looking at us. We've got this amazing team. It's time to scale. Let's get really big."
Joey Korenman: A lot of studios, they get to a certain size and then they're on a treadmill of having a lot of overhead, hiring new ... scaling up their team so they can take on more work. Then, that turns into, well, now we have to take some jobs that really aren't very cool but we need to keep the lights on.
Joey Korenman: It seems like you guys have avoided that somehow. Am I correct in assuming that? If so, how did you do that?
Jay Grandin: Yeah. We did, I guess. Obviously, we made some sucky jobs like that were money jobs. The percentage of those was always very low. When you say, "Let's get while the getting's good." For us the good getting was making cool stuff and trying to push where we're capable of. I think, we, at least, I felt at the time, I was so intoxicated by this idea of making more interesting work and making work that was different from the work I've ever seen before. That was the carrot. The money stuff was almost purely secondary.
Jay Grandin: Probably to the detriment of all of our salaries, no one got paid super, super well, like particularly Leah and I. It was just so fun. I felt what we're actually making at the time and it didn't matter. The thing about scaling and I think that if we think about the percentage of work that goes in your portfolio that you do. We were trying to calculate it the other day, I think it's like 70 or 80%. I think as that percentage goes down, like the more that percentage goes down the more everything changes kind of.
Jay Grandin: I think I was saying this to you before too. The bigger you get, the more as an owner and or creative director or whatever that you can distance yourself from the work and from the army that's actually in the battlefield of getting slaughtered. I just decided that I would always be in the pit sitting with the team working on the work as much as I could. I think in some ways that kept us really honest.
Jay Grandin: Leah is the same way. She'll dig into an edit or whatever when she needs too. I think we've always just tried to keep the creative opportunity to really high so that ... I guess, the altruistic way to describe it would be that we just really love and care for and value the creative energy of the people on our team. Then, the selfish response would be like, I want to own the studio that I want to work at that really values creativity and doesn't treat me as just a set of hands or a commodity.
Jay Grandin: Then, probably, the business, the extra selfish business response would be, these people are here because we provide them that opportunity, and if we don't they're gone. All this people in the room are so talented. The reason why we can make really good work sometimes is that we've got a team that is really good and really cares. They're the people that have made the decisions to come across the world to be here.
Jay Grandin: As soon as we violate that social contract and just make them animate in cards all year or whatever, they're not going to last very long because they can jump in the freelance market, they can go somewhere else, whatever. Keeping that family together is really important in providing opportunities for creative fulfillment is really a big part of that promise, I think.
Joey Korenman: I think you and Leah are rare in that way that you ... because you practice what you preach. The decision to always try and have at least one of your hands on some key frames, that's something that I find a lot of studio owners eventually make peace with the fact that that's impossible if you want to grow to a certain size.
Joey Korenman: I'm curious now. You were telling me right before we started recording that you've got some new hires. I think you said you're around 16, do you feel like you're almost at that size where it's going to start to get really hard for you to actually put your hands in the work?
Jay Grandin: Yeah, probably. We've been 16 actually for years, for probably five or six years, we've been around 16, it seems to be a magic number. I think the difference was that back then, we were a live action team, an animation team and then we had Ryan doing music.
Jay Grandin: Since then, we've split the live action off into a separate sister company. Now, the 16 seem to be 18, I guess, is just the animation team or the team responsible for making animated content at least, not all animators. In that way, the head count is staying the same but the people that I'm responsible for seems to be growing. I don't know where that barriers. I think of I'm hovering around it.
Jay Grandin: It's one of those things where you reach your capacity of people that you can oversee and then maybe six months later, your capacity increases a little bit. Then, I seem to fill that capacity with more stuff until I'm at capacity. I don't know what the endgame is but I suspect that the way we're currently structured we're probably pretty close to a glass ceiling.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. You just mentioned the live action component so I wanted to ask you about that, because I know that when you burst on to the scene, overnight success back in 2012, 2013, you also had live action on your website. That was another service that you guys offer. Looking at your site now, it's seems like it's just fully animated content. That's what Giant Ant goes but then you've got this sister company that Leah runs. I'm just curious, what prompted that? What was that decision like?
Jay Grandin: We had babies.
Joey Korenman: That'll do it.
Jay Grandin: I was running the animation site. Leah was running the live action site. We had two babies at once which is called in the medical world.
Joey Korenman: Twin apocalypse, yeah.
Jay Grandin: Leah just needed to ... one of us had to step back for a bit and obviously that was going to be Leah because two babies and her biology fitted them better than mine did.
Joey Korenman: Of course.
Jay Grandin: She sat back for a little while. I tried and tried and tried to keep the live action stuff going. Between Teresa, our EP I, we did a few projects where we'd bring on a director. We just weren't very good at it. Leah is really good at that stuff. I'm really not good at that stuff.
Jay Grandin: I let that part of the business atrophy a little bit. That coincided a little bit with just a little bit of a market shift, I think, where Giant Ant animation was really ramping up and we were trying to service a more global clientele, I suppose. Then, live action is more regional. It was kind of a confusing time where we'd really like in some ways prize ourselves out of the local market on the animation side but not necessarily on the live action side.
Jay Grandin: How the perception of who we are, we're at the time ... I think it was just confusing for people. They didn't really knew who we were. We started to hear about fewer live action projects. When Leah came back into the fold and was ready to get going again, it just felt like the smarter thing to do to make that its own thing. The other reason was we wanted to start it up again with another creative partner. We brought in Micheal who's an ex-ACD to an agency here in Vancouver Krasselt. He's super smart and awesome but Giant Ant was ... it had always just been the two of us.
Jay Grandin: It just felt like, if it's not broke, don't fix it. We were nervous about bringing another creative partner to that. Separating the two things created a space where there's less pressure for them to make that what it needed to be in today's context and not necessarily meddle with what was going at Giant Ant, which was working was well.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I think that makes a ton of business sense. I also found out recently that you have moved studios. Actually, I think it was Greg Stewart from Ordinary Folk was saying that he thought you actually designed your new studio. Is that true? What's the story behind moving and designing it yourself?
Jay Grandin: It's true. Yeah. Our old studio, which you've been to was just big enough for us. We started to take capacity there. Then, when Micheal came in and we had Kiddo, our live action company, is a director roster so we'd have directors coming in and producers that would be having laptop parties in the office. That filled it to the brim. We moved into a space about a mile down the road. Yeah. It's awesome.
Jay Grandin: We got this big empty concrete box with 25 foot ceiling or something and a little mezzanine and we just got to what we wanted with it. That's the space design stuff, like office design and stuff was my first love. It was just a chance to do something really cool. It was a big enough, like interesting enough space to ... I don't know. I guess, I got a chance to make my dream office. It was so fun.
Jay Grandin: I 3D modeled everything down to the millimeter and picked the furniture and Leah did a bunch of plants. It's just a really cool space. It feels like it's finally a space that feels like I got to almost close the loop on my industrial design career, where I finally got to make something that matched up to my taste. Everyday, I come here and like, "Yeah, this place is fucking awesome." I feel really good about it.
Joey Korenman: That's so great. Twelve years down the road and now you're designing your own office and you've got this growing team and a sister company. It's really, really impressive, man, it's awesome. Let's talk about that secret sauce again that makes Giant Ant work feel unique. One of the other things that I found listening to you and to Leah when you guys give talks and when we've spoken. There's a big emphasis on ethics, I can't think of a better word than that.
Joey Korenman: You have a compass that leads you in a direction and you don't want to stray from that. That affects the jobs you take and things like that. I think in one of the, I can't remember which talk I was watching, but you guys alluded to doing a spot for a giant restaurant chain that makes breakfast sandwiches. You were doing it and then realizing like, "We don't really align with this at all." I'm wondering if you could talk about that experience and how that's shaped the decisions you make when clients come to you and ask you to do work.
Jay Grandin: Yeah. Okay. It's true. Historically, we've been really choosy about the people we work with. I would say, obviously, it's a business, first, it's not just a personal project. There are times where there's more pressure on the business and that compass loosens a little bit, where we're starting to blur our eyes at where it's pointing. By and large, we really do take that stuff super, super seriously. Yeah.
Jay Grandin: One of our first real commercial project was for a company that sells breakfast sandwiches.
Joey Korenman: It rhymes with ...
Jay Grandin: It rhymes with Alex Honalds.
Joey Korenman: There we go. That was really good.
Jay Grandin: Yeah. I don't know. It just didn't make us feel really good. We weren't excited about the brand. It wasn't something that we would typically participate in the brand. We made a little set of informal rules and the rules go like this. One, would our mamas be proud? Two, would we use this product or service? Three, is this a creative opportunity? Four, is this a financial opportunity? Five, have we done this before?
Jay Grandin: That have we done this before could be a yes, it could be really good because we know how to do it. Or, yes, could be bad because we don't want to repeat ourselves so it depends what way we're thinking about that yes. In our new business meetings, we don't do it as much as we used to but we used to actually bring the checklist up on the screen and go through those things one by one. Now, it's a bit more of an intuitive process.
Jay Grandin: I do think that that stuff is really important. People feel really strongly about all kinds of stuff. If we're not asking those questions, I think, it comes back to. Are these things creative opportunities for the team but team but also, are these things that people can believe in?
Jay Grandin: Truly, that sounds really altruistic. Also, from a business perspective, people make better work if they care about it and we want to make better work. We want to make stuff that's really good. The only way we can deliver that is if people feel they're challenged and safe and working on stuff that they can buy into. Then, that's when we can accidentally go the extra mile and make something really interesting and feel really proud of it.
Joey Korenman: What is an example of something where you would say, "Would this make mom proud?" and the answer's no? I circled that one because that's so interesting. It's just a cool lens to look through. When you're considering it, what are you actually considering?
Jay Grandin: Okay. I'll give you an example, a really complicated example. It's one that some people still feel really proud about the decision we made and some people still feel frustrated about the decision we made. We saw a board for a pro-choice campaign a few years ago and without getting it into my personal ...
Joey Korenman: It's a minefield, yeah.
Jay Grandin: Yeah. Whatever, it doesn't matter what my personal view is but I felt this could be a really interesting campaign or it could be a really interesting thing to talk about and to be part of talking about. Because it's about people's body rights and all these things.
Jay Grandin: We took it to the team. It was really interesting because some people felt very for this thing and some people felt very against this thing. It was a fraught subject but it was also a huge ... We've never seen a budget as big as this budget and so it would have let us probably kick back and relax and make short films for the rest of the year kind of a budget.
Jay Grandin: In the end, after so much discussion about it, we ended up just declining to participate in the pitch because we just decided that we're a family. The analogy somebody made was, "If your daughter is vainly opposed to Disneyland you don't take the family to Disneyland." We're like, "Yeah, you're right. You're right." We don't want to create an environment where it's an us-and-them in the studio or whatever and so not to do that thing.
Jay Grandin: There've been other things where it's been less black and white for people and people have abstained from projects. Yeah, I don't know. Then, there are certain things that categorically we just avoid. Certain aspects of the pharmaceutical industry we just steer clear of that stuff, certain ... Yeah, I don't know.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that's a really fascinating story, man. I can't ...
Jay Grandin: I wonder if I said too much.
Joey Korenman: We'll find out. Just check Twitter after this episode comes out.
Jay Grandin: Yeah, totally.
Joey Korenman: When you were going through that, as a business owner, you must have been very, very torn. How did you feel? At the end of the day, when you when you made the decision to turn the job down, which had a big paycheck attached to it and something, sounds like you were excited about the possibilities, it could've turned out really good. Was that a wake-up call for you like, "Oh man, this is way more complicated than it seemed at first."
Jay Grandin: Yeah, I guess so. I think I went away from that feeling really proud of the decision. It wasn't necessarily a decision that I would have made at first glance but it ended up feeling like it was the right decision for the studio. I think it was a moment where Leah and I got to ask ourselves, "Okay. Is this a business or is this a studio? I think, if it's a business, who do you owe the most to? You owe the most of the spreadsheets and the numbers and making sure all that stuff reconciles in a way that's in the black and is black as possible."
Jay Grandin: Then as a studio, you're beholden to the people. You just had to think about what are all the things that we've been given from these people. It's their time and their creative energy. All these things, all the successes we've had, the awards and the stature in the industry all those things are a direct result of all of these people that work for us coming together and putting their trust in us and making really good work because they believe in the mission or whatever.
Jay Grandin: Because if it was just paycheck related, at least in the earlier years, they would have been working elsewhere. I guess I've always felt a great responsibility to ... I mean, I've said something about the social contract but to honor my side of the social contract, where it's like, "Okay. Here's what you're giving up and here's what we're giving up and let's meet in the middle and make it fun."
Joey Korenman: Man, that's beautiful. Yeah. I love what you just said, "As a studio, you're beholden to the people and not the spreadsheets." That's a really great philosophy and that actually explains a lot of why Giant Ant's work is the way it is because if you have the fortitude to actually stand by that and by those principles, then that's going to trickle down through your staff and everything that happens there.
Joey Korenman: That's really awesome and I think that's a really good lesson for everyone listening to take in because there are other models out there where you can just make a lot of money and ...
Jay Grandin: Yeah, but they're not bad. It's just different.
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Jay Grandin: There had been times we've made a lot of money, there's been times when we lost a bunch of money. I don't know. It's just they way ...
Joey Korenman: Speaking of losing a lot of money, I wanted to ask you how you feel about pitches, because I'm not in the industry anymore the way I was. The sense I got was that for a little while, there were less pitches and now there's more pitches. The pitches are growing again. There's this cyclical nature to it. What's your stance on pitches?
Jay Grandin: Dude, it is a minefield. I have a complicated relationship with pitches. I remember standing up for the first BLEND on that panel that you moderated with Ryan Honey and Chris Bahry from Tendril. Ryan Honey from Buck, and feeling so smug, like a man of the people because I was like, "We don't really pitch."
Joey Korenman: I remember that, yeah.
Jay Grandin: Those guys were like, "What? Are you crazy? We pitch for everything." I'm like, "Yeah. We don't have to do it." There was like ha, ha,ha. I think there were a few realities to that. One is that those guys at the time and now still I think, work further upstream than we do, so they're ... I mean, this is such a complicated conversation because now that the tech landscape is just throwing the whole deck of cards in the air. I think at the time Buck and Tendril were both competing for really high-level work that was controlled by the moving picture mafia, which is big agencies in New York and working with a certain rep structure so blacklist, free agents and stuff. All that stuff was a three-way bid and that's just the way it was.
Jay Grandin: Whereas we were working at a lower tier often direct to client with internal teams that weren't always super sophisticated and so they'd just be like, "Hey, we really like that thing you made. Can you make a cool thing for us that we'll also like that much?" We would say, "Yes," and we would do the project.
Jay Grandin: What's happened in the time between then and now is that I think we've been pushed upstream a little bit. We have started to compete against those guys for that kind of stuff. Then also, what's happened, which is probably more interesting, is that you've had a lot of people leaving agencies because that agency-client relationship, the big brand-big agency relationships are starting to ... there are cracks happening and it's starting to become less likely that a big brand has an agency of record who just does all their shit in perpetuity forever for five years until they review the contract.
Jay Grandin: Now, it's that that big brand is working with a bunch of different agencies. I think what's happening is that all of those agencies really need that work now because it's less of a sure thing. They are way more rigorous so the pitches are becoming more rigorous. Also, I think, there are a lot of agency people jumping ship because they see the cracks in the armor and they're going over the brand side and then that's bolstering the brand side internal agencies and that's further perpetuating the problem.
Jay Grandin: Then, it's also creating this problem where big brands are creating their own internal agencies that are just as robust as some big New York agency. Suddenly, the landscape looks like, if you're pitching for an agency, it's way more prescriptive, there's less time, there's less money, there's more insecurity, there's less room to do something kooky and wild because they're so nervous about losing the business from the client that they wanted to deliver them exactly what they've asked for.
Jay Grandin: Then, if you're talking to a brand, you're often going through that same three-way bid process or even like we just lost an eight-way pitch for a big tech company. I didn't even know it was an eight-way pitch. We're up against whatever. All the bigs for this job. Yeah, it's becoming really difficult. I don't know.
Jay Grandin: I feel like it's just this calendar year and less calendar year a little bit, we've really started to notice it, where no matter how many times we've worked with someone, we have to do a full pitch to win the business. It seems crazy. It's almost like the industry has moved into its online dating phase of like, when I was in university whatever, you just had to go meet somebody and then you'd commit to that and then you'd build a relationship.
Jay Grandin: Whereas now, it feels like brands and agencies are just left swiping like crazy until they find something that's going to stick for a bit. Then, they go home and then they keep swiping kind of thing. I don't know. I don't know what all is going to happen there but I do feel there's a major, major shift happening in the way work is being distributed and commoditized. I think that maybe it's a coincidence maybe it's not, but I feel like the work that's coming out that I'm seeing isn't as interesting as it was a couple years ago or it's rare that I see a piece and like, "Holy shit. That is new. That is awesome."
Jay Grandin: It's more likely that if a studio does something really interesting, it's for themselves on their own Instagram feed, which is problematic. I think if the way the work is being procured is causing the work to be commoditized and dulled a little bit and they have all these people rushing downstream because the ad stuff is collapsing and all this people rushing upstream because there's like a new studio every six seconds. Then, I just don't know what it's going to look like in a couple years. I feel like it's going to be just a big knife fight in the street and all that camaraderie that we experienced the first BLEND is going to be very different because it's becoming so competitive in a way that is unfamiliar to me and I guess, in the way that I entered the industry.
Joey Korenman: Wow.
Jay Grandin: That was such a rant but-
Joey Korenman: Yeah, you just took the steering wheel and you just cranked it 90 degrees to the left. Okay. Let's dig into this because ... I've noticed from talking to people on this podcast and in real life also, a lot of people are saying exactly what you're saying.
Joey Korenman: Let's start with pitches because I do remember very clearly and that's [crosstalk 01:02:51]. Yeah, yeah. I do remember at that first BLEND talking with you and Chris and Ryan and it was interesting to me and I know everyone who was there, it was super interesting because we actually, up until that moment, had no idea how different Buck and Giant Ant were. Because we would just see your work and their work pop up on Motionographer and Tendril also. Cool. It's awesome. They all do great work.
Joey Korenman: Then, we started talking about pitching and you said that you guys typically don't pitch. I think Ryan said that they're willing to spend 40 or 50K on a pitch depending on what the end result might be. I'm curious from your perspective, is the issue with pitching just that it makes the studio take a financial risk? Or, is it more of a philosophical thing? A lot of people on social media complain that ... and I think rightfully so, that this kind of creative work can be commoditized and people can look at it as something it's not. I'm curious, what is it specifically about pitches that grinds your gears?
Jay Grandin: Yeah. I think it's a few things. It depends on the pitch but the things about pitching that bother me are ... the things that are very common that bother me are when the creative isn't fully baked and it feels like a pitch is a way for an agency to develop a more clear point of view about what they're selling to the client. The pitch phase almost feels it's like you're doing the hard work, whereas the brief is kind of like, "Okay. It's a guy in space and he likes cheese."
Jay Grandin: Then. your job as the production partner is to like, "Okay. How does he get into space? How does he get the cheese? Then what?" You're kind of filling in all the gaps and doing it for free with the hope that you're going to get this project that hasn't been very well defined. That is a huge bummer.
Jay Grandin: Another thing that sucks about pitching sometimes is when a pitch is so prescriptive, where it's like take this text and animate it on this image. You're like, "How do I even pitch this because you just need hands. What is going on? Why is this a pitch? We have the technology, just hire us." That's another thing that's a bummer.
Jay Grandin: Then, aside from the jobs I guess, what's tricky to do a really good pitch is that it just takes a lot of resources. In a small studio, let's say, we have right now, 10 people in production, it's like doing design and animation. Often you get 48 hours to turn around a pitch and to do something really good and maybe give a couple options where you can feel really confident that you're going to win against a Buck or a Gentleman Scholar, which you never feel confident about because they've got so many resources pouring.
Jay Grandin: You're like pulling six people off a job to do a thing for a couple days and that's often just not feasible because we don't resource our studio in a way that has all this extra time to give. People are fully resourced for projects and so I feel like if we're going to pitch and everything that comes in, that's when people are staying late because somebody's going to be actually doing the work that we have.
Jay Grandin: That can be really stressful, I think, for people in the studio, where you're either spreading people thin by making them work too much or you're diluting the quality of the work that you have in the studio, which is what is actually paying the bills for the promise of maybe paying the bills with somebody else's money some other time. I think that that's a bit complicated.
Jay Grandin: I think the thing that bothers me the most is that because the pitch turnarounds are often so quick, a pitch doesn't favor the best idea. It favors the first idea. You only really have time to come up with an idea and then draw that thing. You don't have time to sit there with it for a few days and really explore like, "How can we make this more interesting or better? Or how can we impact the audience in a deeper way?"
Jay Grandin: I would say that 90% of the work that we've made where we feel really proud of it that it's in our portfolio and people like it is this stuff that people reference us because we've had a bit of time to sit there and get it wrong a couple times first before we get it right. The pitching process just doesn't really afford that. They're like, "Name your favorite vegetable." You're like, "Beans."
Jay Grandin: They're like, "Okay. You're making a video about beans and you're going to be doing that for eight weeks." You're like, "I should have said eggplant."
Joey Korenman: You guys did make a great video about beans by the way, just completely off topic.
Jay Grandin: That's true.
Joey Korenman: Is there a budget where ... Because it's interesting. I've talked with a lot of studio owners who are in the start up phase and there's like one or two or three or four people there. The budgets that they're working with are small enough where they're typically not asked to pitch for those jobs. Is there a budget level where that triggers this behavior, "Okay. It's over 100k for the budget so now you're going to have to pitch for it," or is this just a trend across the board?
Jay Grandin: I think there are just more companies asking for pitches because I think that they can because there are more options out there, probably. There's always someone that's willing to pitch. It used to be I think that when you would pitch, it would be for an agency and the trade-off of the risk of pitching was that it was going to be probably a bigger, juicier budget than you otherwise would secure from a client on your own. Now, that seems to be not true anymore.
Jay Grandin: The short answer now that I've rambled is that I don't really have a clear sense of where the boundaries are now. We see some really, really rude asks for pitches, I guess, sometimes. Then, every once in a while a project comes along where it's not required but that feels more and more the deviation rather than the norm.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, because what I was wondering was is this something that Giant Ant is experiencing because your stock in the industry keeps going up, you're established, you've been doing amazing work for years. I'm hoping that the budgets you're seeing are trending upwards as well as you do work with bigger brands and things like that. I was just wondering if this is an effect that you're feeling from your success that now you're in a different league of budget levels and stuff like that. It sounds like that's not really what's going on, it's an industry trend.
Jay Grandin: Yeah, I think so. A concrete example is that we used to work with Target a lot and ... by the way, they're amazing to work with. Often, they would just call us and like, "Hey, we've got this thing we want you to work on it because we want what you do." In the last couple of years, if we've engaged with them it's almost always been a three-way bid. It just seems like it's just the new way of doing stuff.
Jay Grandin: In some ways I get it. Say, you're some executive that's not a creative person, you're just dumping a duffel bag of money into the abyss, right? Like, "Make me a video." I don't even know if it's going to be good. I don't even know if when I watch it, it will be, it is good because I don't know. I think the pitch process just probably, at least, puts a check and balance against the danger of that situation where you're like, "Okay, let's put it in front of the entire creative team and see what they think and everyone can vote on it or whatever." We'll know if we miss briefed the three companies because we'll get a bunch of nonsense if we did.
Jay Grandin: I kind of get it but on the inside, it makes it way more challenging to get one.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I used to do a ton of work with ad agencies. It was my primary client. I found that at some agencies there's literally, just like this rule that if you're going to do a project, you triple bid it. Even if you know that you want to work with this studio, it doesn't matter. You know that you're going to get three bids and you know which one you're going to pick but you still need three bids. I'm assuming that it's a bean counter somewhere that makes that rule.
Joey Korenman: You were saying that a lot of these ... People are leaving ad agencies because the ad agency model is, I don't know if crumbling is too strong but it's definitely shrinking. Now they're ending up at places like Facebook and Apple and Google and Netflix and Target.
Joey Korenman: I'm curious, are there other effects from these giant technology companies and these giant brands that are now bringing a lot of the advertising creative stuff in-house and just going directly to studios like yours? Are there other things that you're sensing in the industry or other effects that you've seen?
Jay Grandin: Yeah. There's one thing that I think is going to become a big deal. This is something that ... you talked about Ryan Honey. It's something that Ryan and I talked about a while ago and he said something that stuck with me and I can't remember what it was. Those guys, the guys at Buck, I feel like it's like they're sitting on a higher perch and they can see farther into the future. They've been around for a long time, they've always been at the leading edge of what we've been doing so it's really interesting to watch the decisions that they're making. Right now, they're scaling in a really big way.
Jay Grandin: I think what is so interesting about right now is that if you think about the big three in Silicon Valley, you've got Apple, Facebook and Google. Those three companies combined have just such an insatiable need for content. Content and movement and just stuff in the UI. It used to be that if you go through a mobile app on something you get to whatever, your four screen and it's just an image. Now, all that stuff is animated and they're AR masks and just ... It's kind of endless.
Jay Grandin: Think about say your Facebook or your whoever, you need all this stuff like a mountain of stuff, thousands and thousands of deliverables. Do you want to work with a hundred different studios and brief them all? As you're trying to get your brand standards organized and have 30 different studios working on those brand standards and everything's going to look a little bit different because like, "I've got a better idea. This should be purple," because that's what creative people are like.
Jay Grandin: Whereas I think what's really interesting about Buck is that they're scaling to this monstrous size but they're also doing a shitload of work for these big, big tech companies. I think, probably for the tech companies, that's really, really nice where they can centralize, rationalize the way they pay. I don't know what their arrangements are but I imagine maybe there's a retainer and you're not having to go through the procurement process with every single person that you work with.
Jay Grandin: I think that that's a really long-winded way of saying, I think that there's going to be a really interesting place available for mega studios in the next little while. Mega studios compared to what we're used to. I think that it's going to be more and more challenging for mid-sized studios to secure some of that work for those bigger companies as more mega studios start to hoover that stuff up.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It seems like the mega studio, I love that term by the way, because Buck is really 20 times the size of you in terms of their staff. It's a lot bigger and they're also Buck. I mean you could also say I don't know maybe the Mill or something like that. They're studios that just have a giant workforce that can handle stuff like that. Then, there's small companies.
Joey Korenman: I think that the size you guys are at, you're kind of right on the cusp. I mean, you're still a fairly small studio and I'm sure that it feels like a small studio vibe, where there's work that suits that. Then, there's this middle level of now you have a 30 or a 40-person studio where my prediction is going to be really hard at that level to survive.
Joey Korenman: I talked to Chris Do on his podcast a while ago but that's basically what he said. That's one of the main reasons he's essentially trying to shut down Blind and to focus on his new company, The Futur, is because he was right at that level. Yeah. Do you agree with that? Do you think that that midsize studio is going to be squeezed?
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I think it's going to be tough. I think they're like 30 to 50 I think is ... I mean even like 20, even like 15 and up I think it's going to get harder and harder. Also, the freelance market is putting pressure in a different direction as well. I would collect studios and air quotes where you have like a director's duo in two different guys in two different cities or girls in two different cities and it's more of like a freelance tag team and less of a studio but I think it's ... We had people making such good work that it ... the perception is that you have all these studios popping up whether or not there's infrastructure.
Joey Korenman: I think that those people aren't going to put pressure on the Bucks because there's such a clear difference in scale and infrastructure and opportunity for the client. It will put more pressure on people like us, like Oddfellows and like Gunner to compete against these smaller and smaller teams, I think, which I think is really interesting.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. What's interesting competing for work is one thing but then there's also competing for talent. That's something I really wanted to ask you about because Giant Ant, essentially from day one but especially once you sort of brought Jorge on and started hiring like A-lister after A-lister essentially, you've always been able to attract really high-level talent.
Joey Korenman: I remember when Jorge left and Lucas left to go freelance and Lucas moved back to Australia I thought, "You can't replace those two. Giant Ant had a good run I guess," but then sure enough Rafael comes in. You've always managed to attract really great people. I've heard from studio owners recently that it's getting harder and harder to attract really good talent because of the, I think probably, because of the financial opportunities out there at places like Apple and Google but also then once you hire somebody, it's really hard to keep them.
Joey Korenman: I'm curious what your experience has been?
Jay Grandin: Yeah, man. That's tricky although I would say there's a difference between really top talent and A-lister. I would say that Jorge has always been an A-lister, he was born an A-lister, I think.
Joey Korenman: He was.
Jay Grandin: Lucas wasn't necessarily like when we when we brought him over and he was just super talented. After giving him some really interesting opportunities to succeed, I think, and giving him enough support so he felt safe doing it and had the space to do it and develop stuff, he became an A-lister really quickly. That's when it becomes hard to keep people working. The same thing with Henrique . He's like an A plus lister for sure. When he started with us he was just a dude that had done some stuff but again, I think it's good creative opportunities over time plus talent is what creates these A-list people.
Jay Grandin: I think our strategy has always been to avoid going out and trying to find a fully-formed A-lister. It's like try to identify somebody who's really talented, really hungry, wants to be part of the team and do really interesting things. The natural evolution of some of those people has just been that they've turned into superstars. If you take all that effort and promise and then add social media, you just create industry celebrities.
Jay Grandin: Like Henrique for sure and then Rafael is a good example and Eric on our team, they're both ... when they came in, I don't know that they necessarily were really known at least in our industry but have made some really, really cool work over the last few years. I think they're quite well regarded now and same goes for [Zichy 01:20:05] and Diego and Conor and Shawn and all the guys in our animation team too
Joey Korenman: Do you feel pressure from those giant tech companies with essentially like a wallet that never runs out of money? Does that put pressure on you in terms of, I don't know, the kind of perks that you have at your office and the salaries? Does it make it more expensive in general because now you have this, I'm trying to think of a good word. I mean, it's like this pot of gold across the street that, "Come in here, you'll sign an NDA and nothing you do will ever see the light of day. You can't put your name on it but we'll pay you $200,000 here."
Jay Grandin: Yeah, I mean we just can't compete with that. There's no way that we can compete with the financial upside of those places. I think we've, again, thinking about it as a studio, we think of ourselves as a studio more than a business. I think the people we've hired consider themselves more creatives than business people as well in terms of their own business.
Jay Grandin: I think if we continue to do that, we'll always have people that are willing and excited to be here doing cool stuff, getting paid what we pay them. Every once in a while, there's a day where eight emails pop into the office from some big company that I won't name trying to recruit everybody. I think we've had a few of those days where the whole team gets a recruitment email at once and I'm like, "Oh, shit. This is going to get really weird." Usually, we manage to weather those.
Joey Korenman: Just so you know, you and Ryan Honey say basically the exact same thing about your philosophy with talent and that is that, if someone's goal is to get paid the highest amount possible, then a place like Buck, a place like Giant Ant, that's not a good fit.
Joey Korenman: If they want to work on an amazing team and work on a really cool creative stuff, that's the sell. I suspect, I mean, who knows, those giant tech companies have a completely different model than what it is you guys are doing. There's really great stuff that comes out of these internal agencies but it's never even close to the level of what a real motion design studio does. I hope that continues to be the case in the future.
Joey Korenman: I want to circle back to something you mentioned earlier, which was doing, and please tell me, I don't know if you were exaggerating or not, you said you were animating things for Instagram stories that would literally expire after a short amount of time. Is that really a thing that studios are being asked to do now?
Jay Grandin: Yeah, totally. They ask you to do all this stuff including ... I mean often those are cut downs but every once in a while, we did a set of Instagram stories for Instagram to describe how to use an Instagram story effectively. It's like this like a teaching tool about how to make inherently temporary content, which is wild.
Joey Korenman: It's like Inception. It's an explainer video on a social medial platform about the social media. Yeah, that's really, yeah.
Jay Grandin: I think the thing about that about making that kind of stuff is that that's one of those things that puts a lot of pressure on the ability to actually tell stories and make stuff that's interesting. Because the content is so inherently temporary and I think it just needs to be flashy and trendy to catch people's eyes.
Jay Grandin: We see in the last year and a half or so more briefs than ever that are basically like, "Can you make us something like explicitly trendy that people are going to like on Instagram," which is kind of different for us. Because usually it's like, "We want a talk about our new thing," but now it's like, "Just make something that's going to look like everyone else's stuff so that we can get up to parity with what everyone else is posting," which is kind of wild.
Joey Korenman: Right. Unfortunately, I mean, that's not surprising given you talked about it already. There's this sensationable appetite, it's like these monsters that just want to shove content in their mouth all day long and someone's got to make it and these companies have the money to pay really great studios to do it. Are there less opportunities now because of that to really dig in and make a two-minute animated piece? Are those client jobs going away? Is everything that that's long and that cool going to be a studio project now? Or, are there still those jobs out there?
Jay Grandin: We still get some of them. I mean, like a two-minute video is really long and rare. We used to make all kinds of stuff that was like three minutes or three and a half minutes or whatever and people would watch it. I just don't, I don't know. It seems like people have less use for a long thing. Usually, if it's going to be like a longer kind of more epic story-driven piece of content, the desire still that it fits on Instagram or Facebook, usually 60 seconds is the cap.
Jay Grandin: Yeah, I would say durations are definitely coming down. The further the duration comes down, the less story arc or whatever you can put into something. I don't know. That wasn't very clear. Yeah, the answer is yes, we see less and less of that stuff these days.
Joey Korenman: I mean, we would basically just put a giant rain cloud over everybody for the past 20 minutes taking into everything that's so ... All of the negatives.
Jay Grandin: No, I think it's still really interesting though. I mean, it's just changing in a really fascinating way. I think the silver lining to that rain cloud is that there are so, so, so many interesting places to put content and put motion and movement and ways to do it.
Jay Grandin: One thing that we're seeing now is that we're thought of as an animation studio but we're getting asked so often to do illustration work. It's almost like the definition of the studio, the kind of motion design industry-type studio is evolving as well.
Jay Grandin: We're becoming like providers of illustration and providers of all kinds of other things that are on the fringes of motion. I know that that's true for everyone else because we're pitching against other people on these things. That's really cool.
Jay Grandin: I think that one thing that's interesting is that when we all entered the industry like you and I and a lot of people in the studio that are kind of older generation, at the time, you had to become a crazy maverick to go into it because it wasn't really a defined career yet. The reason it became a defined career is that people like us and all the others kind of just did it. We defined it and we figured it out. We built communities around it and inspired other people to go into it.
Jay Grandin: Now, it's like a degree, right? Joe Donaldson, I was talking to him a little while ago, he's like, yeah, so many of the people he sees in school are ... they're really into it but they just are kids that needed to go get a degree to please their parents. They didn't want to do math, whereas, that wasn't really an option for us anymore.
Jay Grandin: I think that maybe we're unhealthily precious about this thing that we love because we had to fight for it, whereas as motion design hits the mainstream and people aren't as fuzzy and precious about it as a thing. I think that's just going to bring other opportunities and it's going to change. I think those changes are going to be really fascinating.
Joey Korenman: Really well put. I talk to Joe a lot. He's not my neighbor but he only lives about 20 minutes from me and he runs a lot faster than me. It's funny because I never ... I like to think that I don't harbor any resentment of the new generation that for sure has a lot more resources available than we did to sort of figure things out. Even in terms of how do you get work? How do you get a job? Things like that where there was no answer to that when you and I got into the industry.
Joey Korenman: I mean, you started your own business. That was your answer. I don't know what I did. I bribed somebody. I lied on my resume, whatever I had to do. There is kind of this generational thing too where I think that you and I probably look at these Instagram story length pieces of content we're like, "It's just so unsatisfying." I don't know. Maybe someone who's 22 and just getting into the industry, maybe that's what they want to work on.
Joey Korenman: I kind of want to wrap this up because you've been so awesome with your time, Jay, pull your crystal ball out and tell me what does Giant Ant look like in, I mean, I was going to say 10 years but that's impossible to imagine but what do you think it's going to look like in say three years? Do you feel like you are still steering the boat or are the currents just kind of pushing the boat where it wants to go? What do you see?
Jay Grandin: I mean, oh man, I don't know. I'll have my hand on the rudder but the current might be stronger than my arms. My hope of hopes is that I kind of think we're in a bit of a like there's a land grab for media going on and where it's like Instagram and stories and feed and Facebook. We're making shit everything all the time right now. My hope is that it starts to get organized a little bit and ... what am I even trying to say.
Jay Grandin: If you think about television, cable TV, it was all kind of centralized and advertising was kind of centralized. Then, Netflix came and blew out of the water and then now it's Netflix and there's Hulu and up here there's Crave and then Apple is getting into it. Suddenly, you have all these services everywhere. You've got to subscribe to 20 things to see all the things you want to see. Then, it feels like it's moving back to someone's going to bring a service that just pulls it all back together and you pay a monthly fee or going to recreate cable but it's going to be additional.
Jay Grandin: I wonder what's going to happen with the advertising content that we're making and if some of the other ways that people digest and monetize other kinds of media starts to gain a bit more clarity, if it's going to provide us with more clarity about how we make content. Maybe it will provide different opportunities for more interesting long form stuff.
Jay Grandin: Sometimes, I just kind of wonder if advertisers are just wading the storm out and flooding Instagram with all kinds of stuff because it just seems like a sure thing. In a couple of years, we're going to have this different media landscape and a longer form content that's really interesting and sticks to your ribs a little bit, is going to come back. That's what I hope is that we'll be doing that kind of stuff but I don't really know. I don't know.
Joey Korenman: I really want to thank Jay for coming on and being a completely open book and for talking about the reality of running a growing, Mograph famous studio. The work coming out of Giant Ant is still some of the best in the industry. They have managed to keep the bar really high for a long time.
Joey Korenman: Now, I feel like I have some new insights into how they do that. I hope you do too. If you dug this episode, please let us know. You can find us at schoolofmotion.com. We're also on Twitter and Instagram @schoolofmotion and we would love to hear from you.
Joey Korenman: Show notes for this episode can be found on our site. Go check out what Jay and the Giant Ant team have been up to lately, giantant.ca. To say that they're killing it is a criminal understatement. Thanks so much for listening. I hope you dug it. See you next time.