David Stanfield shares how he grows his Motion Design business while raising a family.
Imagine doing work for Google, Coca-Cola, and Facebook. That’d be pretty sweet, right? But what if you were tasked with raising 4 kids at the same time. Do you think you could do it?
David Stanfield is a director, animator, and designer in Charleston, South Carolina. For years he’s been designing 2D masterpieces for the biggest brands in the world while being a father of four.
On this podcast episode we talk to David Stanfield about how he balances family and work. Along the way David shares how he uses social media to get new gigs. It’s a super enlightening podcast.
Joey Korenman: This is the School of Motion Podcast. Come for the MoGraph, stay for the puns.
David Stanfield: I was very comfortable at this job, it was an awesome job because I was working with all my very best friends. I was respected, I was getting raises, they kept giving me more money. There were a lot of things about it that do sound dream job-ish, but at the same time I think comfort can also be really uninspiring in terms of making good work.
Joey Korenman: In case you haven't noticed I'm kind of a fan of freelancing. It's not for everyone but I really think it's important for motion designers to at least be familiar with the concept of working for yourself. There's a lot of talk these days about the "gig economy", and motion design is so prevalent now that it's inevitable. There will be a growing need for freelancers for the foreseeable future.
My guest today is a very talented freelancer who manages to get great gigs, do great work. Juggle that work with being a dad of four kids and he works pretty normal hours from his office in South Carolina, which is not exactly a hotbed of MoGraph work. How does he do it?
Well, that's exactly what David Stanfield and I get into in this interview. We talk about the pros and cons of freelancing plus some pretty tactical ways to get noticed and to get booked. Now, before we jump in, let's hear a quick message from one of our amazing School of Motion alumni.
Lily Baker: Hi, my name is Lily Baker. I live in London, United Kingdom and I've taken Animation Bootcamp, Character Animation Bootcamp, Design Bootcamp with School of Motion. These courses genuinely launched my whole career into animation and motion graphics and illustration. School of Motion has eligibly taught me everything I know. I've been amazed that I've gone from being self-taught messing around with Adobe to actually being able to quit my job and start freelancing the next day in Vimeo and I haven't been on work, and I 100% owe that all to School of Motion. My name is Lily Baker and I'm School of Motion graduate.
Joey Korenman: David, it's so great to have you on the podcast. Man, I can't wait to catch up. Thanks for doing this.
David Stanfield: Yeah, man. Thanks so much for having me. It's a huge honor. Really appreciate it.
Joey Korenman: An honor. Stop it. Let's start with this, you and I have talked before because we featured you as one of the freelancers in The Freelance Manifesto, but I'd love for you to just kind of tell everybody how you got into motion design, because it's kind of an interesting story.
David Stanfield: Okay, sure. Yeah, I don't think my route is too normal but I'm very much self-taught. I didn't go to school for design or anything like that. I was an advertising major, kind of a fluff thing at the school I went to. There wasn't really much of an art program to speak of, either, there was this little house that was like three miles away from everything else on campus and you really had to want to get there. So, I took every art class that was offered.
Luckily, at some point along the way I kind of stumbled into an illustrator class Adobe Illustrator. The professor was, it was really cool. It was really just a class about learning the software, it wasn't like a design course or an illustration course I wouldn't say but we went tool by tool, down the toolbar and just learned the ins and outs of Illustrator. Through that, I kind of slowly found out that there was a thing called graphic design, and I was a junior in college I guess at this point and so I got really into design. There was a musician called [Taiko 00:03:58] but he also had a sort of design alias that he went by called ISO 50 like film speed, and he made these really colorful really ...
To me, I've never seen anything like it, they were really fresh I guess at the time. These vector illustrations basically, but he also brought in textures from Photoshop and had all these layers in his artwork. The art of ISO 50 along with his music like kind of got me interested in design. From there, I just kind of taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator are more and more and I would spend hours and hours, in the Mac lab just learning illustrator. Yeah, I feel like I'm rambling going probably deeper than you wanted me to go.
Joey Korenman: Oh, it's all good, man. Why don't we get into like ... What was your first sort of job in this industry? What was your role?
David Stanfield: Yeah, so my first job out of school I did a newspaper layout, and I got paid $10 an hour for my first year of school, yeah, first year out of college and as I was in Tennessee at the time waiting for my then fiance to graduate. She's a year younger. I thought it was amazing that I was getting paid to design things and looking back like there's nothing glamorous about that job at all. I got paid to learn and I feel like that's kind of been a theme in my sort of creative path so far is getting paid to learn just getting good opportunities and trying to take advantage of those.
Joey Korenman: Did you learn anything doing newspaper layout that ended up being helpful down the line? Are there any principles that came out of that?
David Stanfield: Yeah, like a million probably but the hands on stuff was ... I was InDesign, Adobe InDesign all day every day for a year, so Photoshop and InDesign and that again not too glamorous but every day I was essentially solving a puzzle because that's what newspaper layout is. You have a very finite amount of space and a very set number of words and imagery and logos and things like that, they have to be fit in to this defined space. It was really a crash course in how to design something efficiently, I guess and in page layout which the next year my wife and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and I got a job on a magazine that focused on like Youth Action Sports, like surf skate snow.
It was me and basically two other guys and we created a hundred plus page magazine. We wrote the articles, we shot the photography, we designed, we did all ... I did all the layout me and my friend Eric, and we basically were responsible for every aspect of this thing. Immediately like learning InDesign was huge for that next job. That job led to then getting to design show packages and blocks of programming, and coming up with the graphic packages for shows that I would then pass off to animators because the parent company of this magazine was a TV network.
It kind of became a direct path over a number of years. This was number of years, but it ended up eventually leading me to what they called broadcast design which is what we called Motion Design.
Joey Korenman: When you were working at this magazine doing layout, I mean to me that's like pretty pure design, given an empty page and you have to fill it. When you were doing that like, did you have some deep background in design that allowed you to do that? Or was it like figure it out and look at the internet for tutorials?
David Stanfield: Yeah, it was kind of fake it till you make it figure it out, and I had also towards the end of my time in college I'd been designing a lot of album art for bands, friends bands, and a little bit of like paid, I guess freelance work. I'm sure it was like 200 bucks or something, but I was doing more than just layout. I guess the cool thing about it being a youth sort of focused magazine is that we and even action sports kind of a culture of it is we've got to have more fun with the design I think because of that.
I was not only doing like page layout but I was also drawing things and scanning them in, and like bringing in fabric and like scanning that in to use this texture in the backgrounds of things. We were getting to like create art for some of these features in the magazine, we did like DVD packaging for these Costa Rica surf trips and like these skate tours. It was kind of a crash course in like Multimedia Design too, I guess, as well as kind of the puzzle that is layout all up. It was like typography in color theory and composition and it was just like I said just kind of an awesome lab to learn in with a lot of a lot of freedom.
Joey Korenman: To me, and I know to a lot of our students especially who take our design class, just composing the frame just figuring out how big things should be, where they should be, how much space is between and that's like one of the most difficult things. If you're doing magazine layout that's a humongous part of the task. Were there any like tricks you learned or things that you just sort of over time noticed like, "Oh, if I leave more space than I think I need, it actually looks better," are there anything you remember learning then?
David Stanfield: Yeah. I mean there's so much of that. I guess like it's funny, right around the time I was getting really into like grid systems and kind of rules of layout is also the time I sort of discovered Vimeo, I guess, and started looking at motion graphics stuff. Yeah, it really was like all of those things that you mentioned and also learning about branding and identity, we were designing logos for different aspects of this company and different aspects of this magazine. Then, that turned into getting absorbed by just a general creative department, and so we were learning or we were doing web design and part of that job that I really, really hated but was probably really good for me. With what you're asking about is, I had to make all these different web banners is when like half a designer's job was making web banners for some reason.
All these different sizes but they all have the same content and all of these, some were vertical, some were horizontal, some were big, some were small, some were square. Now that like, it's funny it directly translates into like making motion videos for Instagram but they're also going to be 16:9 for YouTube, and they're also going to be this other weird ratio for Snapchat or whatever. I feel like all these things have like somehow helped me, even if I didn't realize they were going to help me at the time because I hated making web banners.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that's really interesting that you say that though, because you're ... I don't know, I'll use the word journey even though that kind of sounds pretentious, but like the way that you got to where you are now there's probably a lot of weird twists and turns that made no sense at the time but in hindsight it's like, "Ah, there was a plan."
David Stanfield: Oh yeah.
Joey Korenman: "There was a plan all along," and I know that there was no plan but it's just interesting in hindsight how it seems that way. You ended up doing ... You were a designer it sounds like, way more of a designer than an animator but now you do both, and I know that you know before you were freelance you had a full time job doing this. You're at least compared to most of the artists in this field that I meet, you're rare in that you got good at design first and then learned how to make things move and tell a story that way.
I wonder if you've gotten any sense from just interacting with other people like, there's obvious advantages to learning that way, I think, but are there any disadvantages? Do you ever wish like you had more of a technical background instead of a design background before you got into this?
David Stanfield: Oh yeah, man. I mean, I don't even know about, I guess you could say technical background but animation, I mean I feel so just some such a baby just kind of learning how to crawl with animation. At first, I was thinking golly, like after effects, "How am I going to learn this?" It's such a deep ocean even though a lot of it looked very familiar to me because I was pretty fluent in Photoshop and Illustrator and even like InDesign so it kind of felt a little bit like home, but even still even with that background with the software it was like, golly aftereffects is such an ocean, but then it wasn't ... I guess I've been doing aftereffects animation for like seven years now, but it wasn't until like two or three years in that I realized like, "Oh my gosh, animation is the ocean."
After effects is like a drop in that ocean but after effects is just like one tool or one portal, one way of doing it getting there. Animation itself is like this incredibly daunting thing to me. Yeah, all the time, I wish I had maybe gone to school for animation or at least like at some point along the way just had more access to it or exposure to it. You can't really control what order things happen in or like you said there definitely wasn't a plan, this is just kind of like where I've gotten to because of my own interest and curiosities and what I enjoy doing.
I'm doing my best to kind of learn that side of it with every project that I get, and it's, you know I don't think I'll ever get there especially on that side of it but I'm enjoying the hugeness of it, I guess.
Joey Korenman: Have you ever interacted with Claudio Salas?
David Stanfield: No, I haven't. I've never met Claudio. I love his workshop.
Joey Korenman: He's amazing dude and he's one of these guys that is like a really good designer and maybe even a better animator. I really am amazed by people like him who kind of have both sides of it. When I look at your work, your animation is actually very good. I know you probably feel like, "Oh, I'm just a baby in this industry." We're going to link to David's portfolio and his dribble and stuff like that so you could see what he does, but it is clear to me though that like your work seems more design-driven than animation-driven.
Just as a side note to everybody listening, I think that that's kind of a super power because good design doesn't need a lot of animation, but bad design you have to do something fancy or else it just doesn't, it's not interesting. Would you agree with that?
David Stanfield: I do tend to agree with that, I guess I'm pretty biased because that's the only way I know, but I mean it's funny I think I heard on your podcast here today, Zach Dickson, I think was talking with you. You asked him what would he look for in a higher, I think, and he was saying design first because it doesn't matter how great the moves are and how fluid the animation is if the composition is terrible. It's just not going to be enough to save it. I tend to agree with that, I mean it's hard because the design part is also something that I'll never arrive at.
I mean, I can get on Vimeo for 10 seconds and realize how far I have to go, just to get level with what I'm seeing on the screen, I mean, from a design standpoint or an animation standpoint. It's not like I've got design figured out and I'm trying to figure out animation. I think they're both always happening at the same time. No matter how good I got at becoming an animator, I don't think it would matter too much if the frames weren't composed well and well-thought out. You know what I mean?
Joey Korenman: Yeah, totally. When you finally found yourself actually doing motion design, you were full time. What was a typical day like for you at your full time job?
David Stanfield: Oh, yeah. Again, I guess I was really fortunate. I worked for and with my friends which was the first thing, but my boss at the time was actually one of my best friends named Eric, and he and the guy that would become my boss, a guy named Zach, they both agreed and mutually Eric sort of released me to Zach's department which was the broadcast design side of the creative room that we were in, we're on this shared space, super fun. Zach, this guy Zach became my new boss and he let me switch over from print and web design to motion design with no change of pay, having use after effects one time on a personal project that I made with a friend for one of those weird like video contest things. We made a commercial for best buy with these like dancing monsters in it.
It's kind of funny side note. My first ever after effects, trying out after effects was animating characters into a real footage environment that were like motion tracks to camera moves. That was like way and over my head like the worst possible way to start, and I didn't know it was like, I didn't know it was too much. I was just like, yeah, motion track.
Joey Korenman: Couple of clicks, how hard could it be.
David Stanfield: Yeah, so there's like these little dancing guys in this footage. Anyway, they let me switch over without any change of pay. It's funny to your question about design and design first kind of thinking. I remember Zach said like, "We can teach you the software, we can teach you after effects, we can teach you animation, but you ..." In his estimation I guess he said you already have a good eye and that's the part we can't really train, but that's the part it's a lot harder to teach. They took a chance on me and let me switch over to motion design and then your question on the day-to-day stuff, I was getting to sort of just play really with learning this stuff but they'd have like a show package for this new show that the network was doing and I would design like a 10 second open, and I'd storyboard it out and present style frames to the producer of the show.
They were basically the client even though they were just another department in the company. Then, I would get to animate the stuff that I designed and it was really like a perfect training ground for doing client work because it basically was client work, they were just internal clients. I would do those and a lot of it was designing logos for these shows or for blocks of content, I actually got to rebrand the entire network. A bunch of us designed different takes on logos and they ended up choosing one that I had designed, so I sort of became the unofficial lead of the project and it was a crash course in learning how to apply a brand identity across all forms of content like print design and web design and motion design, and on screen bugs, and how does the logo animate the situation, versioning the things. I mean it was like, yeah, just getting paid to learn this is really the best way to describe it.
Joey Korenman: What you're describing is probably to a lot of people a dream job. You get hired at your old salary without knowing after effects, and you get to play around and then you kind of luck your way into leading entire network rebrand. Along the way, you're getting better at aftereffects and you're paid once. Why in the world did you go freelancing? Why did you leave that?
David Stanfield: Yeah, that's valid. Well, there were also a lot of things I'm weaving out that were not very dream job-ish about it that had more to do with politics, and the place itself. By and large, I just became man like increasingly more and more dissatisfied with how I was spending my time, my lifetime. I was just becoming kind of I don't know apathetic and I was very comfortable at this job. It was an awesome job because I was working with all my very best friends. I was respected. I was getting raises.
They kept like giving me more money and there were a lot of things about it that did sound or that do sound dream job-ish, but at the same time I think comfort can also be really uninspiring in terms of making good work and I was very comfortable. I also was having kids and after we had our second my son, I was just getting really just over it, man, like I was driving 45, 55 minutes each way, so about two hours of every day spent in the car and it was just ...
I was starting to realize that the way I was spending time wasn't what I wanted and it also was working towards someone else's thing. This thing that I was working toward like someone else's vision, this was their project, this was their freelance once upon a time. Now, I'm just like this like cog in the wheel of that and I don't really care about it at all. I love working with my friends. I love getting paid to learn all those things but like the big picture stuff, I just wasn't into it. I wasn't invested in any way personally and that story wearing on me more and more and more until it kind of became like the only thing I was thinking about when I was at work.
I also just on a more practical level was getting tired of making lower thirds and like bumpers to commercials, I was ready to tell stories and to use music and sound and all those things. Music used to be a huge part of my life and something I thought I was going to do like full time at one point, and I miss that and you don't really get to. You don't really get to use music that much when you're making posters or on the motion design side making lower thirds to show packages.
The practical side, I had this goal this in 2014, I will, and you fill in the blank, it's something I found online this guy come up with this thing. It was supposed to motivate you to go after one thing specifically. I had written in 2014, this is one of the so full-time employed, I will make six explainer medias which sounds really funny to me now.
Joey Korenman: It's not what I expected.
David Stanfield: Yeah, it goes to showing you were just how much of a plan this all wasn't, but that was like to me so I had gotten to do like two little like explainary type videos and I was like man, this on a freelance basis. I was like, it was incredible, I'm like, "All he did was give me a script and a music track and a video and I do everything else and I get to like decide everything about how the story gets told is amazing. I just want to make this."
Now, the whole term explainer video kind of makes me a little nauseated, but at the time like that was my goal was, if I could just make six of these in 2014 on the side while I'm at my job I think I would be happy enough to like let my day job sort of fun, this more fun thing I had or whatever. Then freelance work picked up more and more and more. Then in March of 2014, I decided I was going to go freelance and ask crossed out, make six explainer videos and go freelance in a sharpie way bigger than I'd written the first thing.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, sharpie, it's permanent and I have to-
David Stanfield: Yeah, no more, no more pencil, no more explainer gigs, but yeah.
Joey Korenman: You said a whole bunch of things there kind of I want to point out.
David Stanfield: Yes, [crosstalk 00:24:43].
Joey Korenman: Oh no, I mean that was a good ramble, there was like some wisdom in there. Everyone listening just you know, David is one of the artists that we featured in The Freelance Manifesto, which is if you go to schoolofmotion.com, you can find it. It's also on Amazon. One of the reasons I wanted to feature David is because his experience leaving his full time job, it really reminded me of mine. I think you were doing it for a lot of the same reasons. It has nothing to do with like not liking your boss, not liking your co-workers, not getting paid enough.
Although, I imagine now freelancing you probably make a lot more than you did on staff, but you said something that I have a feeling this is going to be the quote that opens this episode. Comfort can be really uninspiring, and I don't know if everybody's built that way. I am certainly built that way. If I don't feel at least a little bit nervous about what I'm doing at all times, I can't sustain that for very long and it's driven me in a lot of very strange, strange places.
You also mentioned that being there every day, two-hour commute back and forth and you have children it starts to eat away and you start to question your own, like these personal choices you're making. I'm choosing to spend 10 hours a week in a car.
David Stanfield: [crosstalk 00:26:06].
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it's kind of amazing. Then another big thing, the work you're doing doesn't sound awful but you had no choice, you had to do what was put in front of you and now you have a choice. Obviously, those are like three of the biggest reasons that people think about freelancing, so now you're freelance. What is a typical day look like right now? In a minute, I want to get back to what it was like when you started freelance but right now what does David's day look like?
David Stanfield: Man, it's probably a pretty boring answer. Every morning, I take my oldest two to school. They're both in full time school for the first time ever. I have a little office that's less than a minute drive which was the reason I wanted this little office, plus a minute drive for my kids' school, so I dropped them off at about 8:00 o'clock and then I work really, really normal hours from usually 8:00 to 5:00 basically and that's kind of it. I mean, one of the biggest differences of being freelance is now like when I'm working like I'm working.
At the job, I was at, a lot of our time was spent just being there because we had to be, I'd finished something, I'd be waiting for a response or whatever. It'd be 3:00 p.m. and instead of going to hang out my kids or I don't know do anything else, I had to just keep sitting in the chair because it wasn't 5:00 o'clock yet. As a result, a lot of time was spent sort of goofing off and having fun with friends, which I think is awesome and probably made our work better so I'm not discrediting that. I think it's great.
Now, time is much more valuable so on a typical day I work from 8:00 to 5:00, and for most of most every hour of that time I am actively doing some form of work.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, when you become a parent I think time speeds up.
David Stanfield: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Well, sometimes it actually slows down but at 2:00 in the morning when the baby [crosstalk 00:28:22]. Overall, it speeds up and I think when you're 24 and you don't have a family and your rents are really low, then yeah it's fun to be at the studio hanging out with your friends even like you're not really productive. But then when you're 30 and you've got kids at home and you want to go hang out with them and you're just sitting there thinking, "This is time I'll never get back."
I don't think that you can kind of say one way or the other, we're like sitting there in the studio wasting time with your buddies is bad or good. It just depends on the phase of life you're in. Do you start to have that sense that like, "I'm entering a new phase and this just no longer fits?"
David Stanfield: Yeah, I think so. I don't know if I thought about it in those terms at the time. I certainly do now having four kids.
Joey Korenman: Dear God.
David Stanfield: I do.
Joey Korenman: It's true.
David Stanfield: It's like that Jim Gaffigan quote, I think he said it, when he had five kids but it's like having another kid is like you're drowning and then someone throws you a baby, which is like more accurate than I care to, to think about.
Joey Korenman: I know.
David Stanfield: But yeah, I think kids too, I have a funny way of ... Time as always I guess a currency but you don't think of it that way. Like you said when you're younger and you have a lot of it to spend, I have very little of my own time now like my me time is spent driving home from the office every day for 10 minutes. By the time the kids are in bed and the house is quiet my wife and I both just kind of collapse on the couch at 9:00 p.m. or whatever time it is when we've gotten all the waters and done all the songs, and all of those things.
I don't really have after hours to just like work on my own stuff. All the things I see people talking about online. Gosh, I'm doing it again man I'm going off on a total rabbit trail, but yes, time is made into a very valuable currency when you have a kid when you have two or more that just goes and then like overdrive real fast.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and this is totally off. This is totally off topic but everyone with kids can pry commiserate. When you don't have kids, it's funny how there is time, there's lots of time. Actually now having, I have three kids and to me I see my friends who don't have any kids yet and I'm like, "You have infinity time," because you mentioned bedtime being like it's kind of this all-out assault and that's how it goes for us too. It's like from start to finish it takes at least an hour and there's usually at least one kid that really doesn't want to go down.
David Stanfield: Yeah, there's no way to straggler. You got to run development.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, like a hostage negotiation. All right, so you work essentially 8:00 to 5:00 which I think a lot, and you leave a minute from your house which by the way I have to say like that's exactly how I mean, a minute from your office. That's how when we moved from Massachusetts to Florida on purpose, because I was in the same situation up in Massachusetts, so three-hour commute for me because I had to take a train. I said I will never commute again. Our office, School of Motion's office is about a 15-minute bike ride from our house, so it's fantastic.
David Stanfield: That is amazing. I have to correct you a little bit. I'm actually, we live across the bridge now in Charleston on James Island I'm actually like a 15-minute drive from home to work but I'm really close to my kids' school so it works out nice. When we first moved to Charleston, which side note is something else that was only possible because of freelance I'm grateful for that. When we first moved here, we lived downtown and I worked on so and I could ride my bike to work and I miss that so much so I'm very jealous with your 15-minute bike ride.
Joey Korenman: It's such a simple thing. It's weird, like riding your bike to work versus [crosstalk 00:32:33]. It seems like such a small thing but when you start doing it you realize, I don't know. There's something about just being outside with air on you for 15 minutes that-
David Stanfield: Oh, man.
Joey Korenman: ... that you get to work and you're in a completely different mindset. I want to do a whole episode on this kind of stuff, too. I also meditate.
David Stanfield: I completely agree, yeah. It's built in to your day too, you don't even have to make it happen. It's just ...
Joey Korenman: Automatic you know, you work on that dad bad, you don't want to work your calories. You work from 8:00 to 5:00 and you said, when you're working you are working, you're focused. Now, obviously that means you are booked and you're busy and you've got a lot of work. When you started, I'm assuming that you didn't just start off instantly like booked every single day or maybe you did. What was it like at first? How did you get those first few freelance gigs? Did you have a great real? How did it work at the beginning?
David Stanfield: No, I definitely didn't have a great real. Yes, it's kind of fun, man. The job that sort of was like the straw that broke the camel's back and I was like, "All right, I'm going to quit my day job, this is it. We're doing this." It was this job that was going to pay not a whole lot looking back, but to me it was a lot and it was about the equivalent of a month of my salary and it was enough work that I couldn't take it on if I stayed at my job. It was like, "All right. I'd already been saving up, living expenses and I had like my goal was to get six months of living expenses. I think I had like four, so I was close. Then this job came in I was like, "All right, this is it. It's time. I'm going to take this on."
It's a whole other story but after a lot of deliberation and talking and all that stuff with my wife, I quit my job and then the job, the freelance job got pushed like two and a half weeks.
Joey Korenman: Classic.
David Stanfield: I was going to take like three or four days off like get myself ready and then start, and then the job got pushed off and I was terrified. Now, looking back, like I know that that just happens all the time. That's more the rule than the exception for a job to not follow the schedule that you were originally called. At the time it was like, "Oh gosh, we're screwed," like this job's not even going to happen anymore, we don't have any money. I just quit my job.
I worked on my logo, my personal logo for like a week and a half and animated it because I wanted to practice. I needed something to do and then the job started and it went horribly like it was awful. It wasn't stuff that I was even good at. It was the way the files were set up, it was like terrible and it just wasn't a good experience at all. I was like, "Man, what have I done?" So, that was how it started out for me, dream scenario.
Joey Korenman: I'm sorry to hear that man. You told me when we talked for The Freelance Manifesto that in the beginning it was difficult for you and you reached out to a few kind of industry superstars for advice. Can you talk about that? Who did you reach out to?
David Stanfield: Yeah, I was actually when I was still at my full time job, I think I was just trying to like ... I was like reading everything I could possibly read about going freelance and about like embracing risk and all these inspirational like old post and they were like huge for me. I was like, "Yeah, this is where I'm at." Part of that, at my job I think I did it while I was at work which is probably something you shouldn't do. I e-mailed a guy named Bran Dougherty-Johnson.
I'd seen his work here and there and thought it was really cool, and then I also reached out to Jordan Scott who I'm sure nobody's ever heard of. Oh, Michael Jones who's I guess maybe I shouldn't talk about him to you, because he's in your same marketplace. He's your competition.
Joey Korenman: Actually, we could definitely talk ... I'm actually talking to Michael an hour after I get off the podcast with you.
David Stanfield: Oh, cool.
Joey Korenman: He's coming on the podcast. No, Michael and I have a great relationship.
David Stanfield: Yeah, that's right. Cool. Yeah, he's a guy that I had actually thrown some work my way when I was still employed and some of those early explainer videos I was from up was a direct result of him throwing some work my way, and he had posted this talk called the Business of Motion Design that he gave out like a motion meet up in Atlanta. He like showed what he was making and he talked about the business side of it and how he hasn't experienced feast or famine, he hasn't experienced boom and bust.
I don't know man, that really inspired me. I was like, "Man, maybe I could actually do this and maybe I could actually like provide for my family and this could actually work and be more lucrative than certainly than like print design would have been for me because I just didn't see a way to make as much money that way." Then, I reached out to those two guys I mentioned Bran and Jordan Scott, and they both got back to me and like I remember Bran wrote me this like a long email about his experience like working in studios and while he's freelance, and completely, completely different from my story.
But super helpful and inspiring and this informative too, he was so relatable and down to earth. Jordan Scott I think he had like just moved across the country, I can't remember if it was to the west coast or east coast or what but he took time out. There were like boxes behind him and we FaceTimed, and the Google Hangout like dropped and didn't work so we had to try another thing. We had tried FaceTime and he just answered what were probably pretty naive questions because I literally didn't know anything about this industry at all.
I've just been sitting in a room making lower thirds and show packages in Charlotte, but he answered my questions honestly and patiently. Yeah, man. I don't know. Another guy is Jorge [Canest 00:38:54]. He was like the whole reason I got into motion graphics I should probably mention.
Joey Korenman: Never heard of him.
David Stanfield: Yeah, who's that guy? Who's that guy? But his work like all those early videos that everyone freaked out about that Jorge made that sort of started to define what motion design is. He, that stuff made me want to take stuff that I made in Illustrator and make it move around like big time.
I liked my first couple reals accent to him and asked them to critique him and he totally did. He was like, "Yeah, this is cool. This over here, not so cool. Maybe you should not put stuff that you made from tutorials in." It was just like, all these guys that I thought were like mammoth figures to me as we all know they're just people just like everyone whether it's a big client or you know a producer at some huge agency, like once you talk to him on the phone for a kick off call, it's like, "Oh, they're humans. Cool."
In the same way with these guys like, I was so intimidated and they were just so like, "Oh, yeah, love the chat whatever." That was really huge for me and kind of thinking that maybe I could go for it and do this.
Joey Korenman: That's one of the best things about our industry for sure. There's not many people out there that don't want you to succeed so that they can succeed more. It doesn't work that way. It's funny you mentioned Michael Jones and then you felt bad because we're technically competitors. We don't really treat each other that way. We recommend each other's courses to our students and all of that stuff, and it's the same with me and Christo and me and Nick.
Especially, when you get to the level of like freelancers because Michael Jones used to be a freelancer and he's wrecked that he's passing work to you that I mean ever come back to him because maybe they like you better for you know whatever. Once you get out into the industry and you're freelancing and you learn some tricks maybe you read The Freelance Manifesto. There's always work and I think there's more and more. Freelancing now versus when you started, obviously you know what you're doing and you've got some clients that you've worked with that are probably coming back to you. Have you noticed any trends? Do there seem to be more clients, less clients? Is it easier or harder to get work?
David Stanfield: I don't know across the board, I can speak to I guess my experience. I have been pretty constantly busy since I started and that's huge. I'm very, very thankful to be able to say that. I think now is a really, really good time to do what we do just because for better or worse everyone has a screen in front of their face at all times, and it's just more and more true. Yeah, man. I think for me, a lot of it has to do with just really trying hard to be good to work with and really considering every project as an opportunity to learn and it sounds cheesy, but I like doing the best possible job that I can with even the smallest opportunities.
At the beginning, I think led to some things in my career that caused me to get lots of work after that. An example of that actually going back in reaching out to people in your industry thing Bran Dougherty-Johnson passed my name on to a guy named Joe Posner at Vox. I don't know if he was at the time or what ... He's the head of all video at Vox News not Fox News, but Vox News.
Joey Korenman: Very different.
David Stanfield: Very, slightly, yeah. Bran passed him onto the director video at Vox a guy named Joe and he was awesome. I did these four explainer videos and from those, man, I tried as hard as I could on those I really did, like try to make them the best that I possibly knew how. They weren't the best things in and they're certainly not the best things now, but I think I also try to be very pleasant to work with and try to communicate well and clearly and through those I got a project doing design and motion for a series of interviews with President Obama at the time.
Those really, really led to a lot more work for me and I've had a lot of e-mails that reference those directly out Obama projects specifically. I think it was just a good example of like taking a relatively small opportunity and not taking it lightly, I guess, and trying to do the best work you can and use it as an excuse to learn and get better.
Joey Korenman: Well, it sounds like you're fortunate in that, you don't have to do a ton of I guess new client development or outreach. I notice you're very active on social media and I'm curious like how has that helped you get work and helped your career?
David Stanfield: It's funny. I always feel like a little funny talking about this stuff because it sounds so stupid, but when people ask me like, "How do you get work? How do you get clients?" It's like I'm always like, "Oh you know, Twitter. Vimeo." I think I'm going to start to sound like a jaded freelancer now. I'm getting more and more exhausted by keeping up with all that stuff. It's hard to do the self-promotion thing all the time, but I also have four kids that are always there when I get home and so I have a constant reminder of how much about me this isn't.
I'm fine with sharing work because it's actually tangibly gotten me work doing that and trying to stay in front of people I guess, and keeping your social media stuff like fresh or whatever. I don't know man, like Twitter has been huge because it's not just about like getting work it's like the community there is really cool, and I can ask a question about some like my new detail of after effects and within five minutes I'll have five really good answers from people who just like want to help.
Then I'll retweet those if I think it's like something that someone else could benefit from. There's like the community aspect as well and like even that goes back to what you're talking about with Michael Jones and School of Motion and MoGraph mentors like there's this scarcity mentality where you want to hoard things and you're like, "These are my secrets. This is the way I work I don't want anyone else to know about this." Or there's the abundance mentality which is where I tend to try to live, is there's enough for everyone and kind of like the rising tide raises all boats kind of way of thinking.
I've seen that come back to me in my career, I'm sure there's people out there that have taken on more of the hoarding mentality who have done just fun also, maybe they both work. With the online community, I've seen that to be true even with getting client work from Twitter. An example of that literally just happened last month where there's a guy named Sam Harris and he has like I don't know, put up like my 950,000 followers on Twitter. He literally asked, "Hey, I want to make an animated video, does anyone know of anyone?" And someone tagged me in it, which was nice and I saw it and then I saw how many followers he had and I was like, "Well, I'll never hear from that guy." He has a million followers.
Then like three weeks or so went by and then he e-mailed me and I just wrapped up a project for this app that he's making.
Joey Korenman: Oh, I'm jealous. I'm actually a big Sam Harris fan.
David Stanfield: Oh, yeah.
Joey Korenman: I love his podcast. Yeah, he's a very interesting guy.
David Stanfield: He is very interesting and he's very, very intelligent and this is I don't ... Well, actually I don't know when it's going to release, but it's called Waking Up and it's an app so I'll just leave it at that.
Joey Korenman: Cool. It's a book too that is actually out. It's pretty fascinating. It's very woo-woo but he's a genius. I think that's fair to say.
David Stanfield: Yeah, a very smart guy but that was a job that I literally got because of Twitter. Not all of them are that direct, I think sometimes things kind of like me under their way to you over the course of months because of social media but this was like a very direct example of that.
Joey Korenman: How about Dribbble? Because you have a ton of stuff on Dribbble and I know that that's become a very popular. Currently, if you go to Dribbble's home page and you go to like their about page Linn Fritz is like their featuring artist. Is that helped you?
David Stanfield: I like Linn Fritz a lot.
Joey Korenman: She's amazing.
David Stanfield: I like her like three different times at different places in the world. I like when it's a lot like three different times at different places in the world.
Joey Korenman: Super cool.
David Stanfield: Yeah, Dribbble is cool but I always forget about it like I'm embarrassed that we're talking about it because I haven't posted to it and like at least two months I need to do better with Dribbble. Also, I do think it's cool that they added gifts a while back and it seems like they're trying to like do the motion to them think a little bit more justice. Instagram is like, it used to be if you wanted to feel really crappy about yourself and your work you go in Vimeo, and go to one after [inaudible 00:48:39] and be like, "Ah, [inaudible 00:48:40]." Now, it's just so much easier to feel crappy about yourself because you can go on Instagram and-
Joey Korenman: It's more efficient. It's good.
David Stanfield: It's so much more efficient loss of self-esteem but, yeah, it seems like every studio, every freelancer, everybody is posting little project clips and snippets on Instagram, which is really fun because you get to go and see all the eye candy. I think I used to feel a little bit annoyed that all this stuff was there and like you had to kind of like be on it and stuff, but I think I've tried to kind of shift my perspective on it and I just think of it as an extension of my own website and it's not really any different than posting work to your site, which is kind of an exciting thing at least for me like I love that feeling of finishing a project and being able to like put it somewhere. Even just for nothing else to know that it's done.
Now, there's these different portals of sharing and doing work and I think Instagram in particular seems pretty, pretty uniquely suited for that so you can share, 10 seconds you can share a minute which is kind of crazy. For most of the projects that guys like me tackle you could kind of share like the whole project on there if you really wanted to.
Joey Korenman: I've heard a lot of people say Instagram is kind of ... Instagram and Dribbble seems to be the two big ones right now in terms of social media. I feel like, I almost feel old talking about Twitter because Twitter is like old. It's ancient in social media years.
David Stanfield: Yeah, it's not where the kids are hanging out anymore, I guess.
Joey Korenman: Exactly. Soon you're going to need like a Snapchat and I don't know. All right, so let's talk about the freelancing thing some more. Are you at the point where you're scaling yourself at all? Do you ever take on two jobs and book a freelancer that you kind of manage, or are you still basically doing it all yourself?
David Stanfield: This is going to show you just how naive I was when I first went into this. I pretty much from the get go was regularly juggling projects and taking on more than just one thing. The reason for that wasn't always intentional, it's just that schedules would flex some things would kind of like change, delivery dates would get pushed off because of the client taking forever to respond, or start dates would get pushed off because they weren't quite ready yet. I would line everything up on paper on my calendar, it would be like, "Hey, this job is going to wrap up here and I'm going to start on this job next. Woohoo!"
Then, it inevitably never went that way. I didn't even realize it until a couple of years in, but basically what I was doing was functioning as a very small studio and not as a "freelancer" and I didn't know that because I didn't know that going into a studio for a day rate was even a thing, like literally I didn't know that people did that stuff. I've always been remote like ... I lived in Charlotte up until three years ago we moved to Charleston but not exactly huge markets for motion design, or for any kind of video production or anything like that.
All the work I've done has always been remote, I've never done the like go into a studio and sit there thing. I didn't even know, people would ask me for a day rate and I would give them one if they really wanted it but I've always preferred working per project like a per project quote. I think the reason for that is like the whole reason I wanted to go freelance on the work side of things was I didn't want to be like maybe sat, I didn't want to be not trusted. I wanted to be entrusted with a project and then be expected to do it well.
The day rate kind of set up always felt like I was more of just like an employee, which is kind of what I just decided to leave. I'd always done like per project rates and again I didn't even know I would sort of operating like a studio but that has tended to be the way that I've done things. Now, as I've kind of gone on and gotten a little bit bigger opportunities there have been plenty of projects where I was doing a day rate and that was the only thing I was working on and that happens to which is great. By and large, I have tended to operate more like a little teeny tiny studio of one person.
Joey Korenman: Do you ever bring on like another animator or even a producer to help do stuff or is it always just you?
David Stanfield: Producer with me, it's so, so great. I wish I ... Every time I think about that I get really confused, it's like, "Well, how do you even like catch them up to speed?" I'd love to do that. Yes, I do bring on other animators more and more lately and it's something that I'm actually like more and more enjoying. I have a really good friend named Josh, Josh Hollars and funny enough he's one of the guys that taught me after effects at my full time job in Charlotte. He quit that job and went and like traveled the world for a while and then came back and now he's freelancer.
I use Josh whenever I possibly can because he's the man and he's my buddy, so that's awesome. Then, actually a huge thing that I'd love to talk about is beginning to collaborate more and more with another friend named Matt and Matt Smithson, he's known as Man vs. Magnet on the internets but amazingly talented animator, Fine art background. We're actually collaborating more and more and going to be starting something up and I'm really excited about so I don't know if you want to talk about now.
Joey Korenman: I would love to dig into that a little bit, because I was going to ask you I mean a lot of I've talked to a ton of people that go freelance and maybe they have a bumpy start but it ends up working out, and then they're like, "I am going to freelance forever." This is amazing and I was going to ask, "Do you feel that way because you've been doing it for a few years and now you're talking about getting bigger opportunities and collaborating." Do you think that you'll stay "freelance" or are you starting to you know see a way to do this differently as a group and not just as David?
David Stanfield: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. Yeah, I do feel, in terms of being on my own like self-employed, I started to feel pretty on hirable at this point.
Joey Korenman: It's a great work.
David Stanfield: I'm so happy to be doing things the way that I'm doing them and I've ... I mean, not the sound ... whatever. I've turned down some pretty big opportunities for job offers and when I did that, it kind of was like, "Okay, this is where the rubber meets the road. If I'm turning this down I'd better be serious about this, and I guess I'm really saying like, "Yes, I'm putting all my chips in the center of the table and I'm in this for real, because I just turned this down over here and this is something that ... this is a type of job offer that you just don't turned down like unless you're an idiot."
Either I'm an idiot or I really like the increments, or both. Yeah, man, it's been good and I love it and I feel it would be very hard for me to go back to a job where I'm expected to show up at this and that time. I'm expecting to go to this in that meeting. I've really just loved it. On the flip side, what I haven't loved and I'm increasingly realizing is that I'm tired of being alone wolf in this. I'm tired of being inside my own head all the time, particularly at the beginning of projects where you're story boarding and coming up with concepts and figuring out how you're actually going to tell the story that's in the script.
I'm tired of like it just being me and being alone in that and sort of carrying that both in terms of like the burden of it, but also in terms of like I'm sick of just having to go with my ideas. I'm ready to like let someone else in on that and collaborate on that. I'm crazy, crazy excited about working with Matt. We actually met at Blend in Vancouver when I met you and he used to live in Charleston and about the time that I was coming here he was moving away. We never met here but then we met in Canada which is random.
Joey Korenman: It's the way it happens.
David Stanfield: Yeah, sometimes as most people do, yeah we meet in Vancouver. Second time, I need to say thank you to Jorge for making Blend a thing that happens in the world because it allowed me to meet Matt and his wife Katie and them, and me and my wife really hit it off. We just kind of had this ongoing conversation about being tired of working alone and Matt's been doing this for a lot longer than I have. One day, I guess like maybe six months ago or something I was just kind of burned out, I had just finished this long stretch of work. I had worked long hours and my brain was mashed potatoes and I was driving home. I just randomly texted Matt I used Siri to text him. Don't worry I didn't type into my ... My eyes were on the road.
I said, "Hey Siri, text Matt Smithson," and then 15 minutes later she was like, "What do you want to say?" I said, "Hey man, let's just collaborate on a project and see how it goes. I would love to work with you." He wrote back and was like, "Man, it's funny. I was just telling my wife I'd really love to do some work with Davis." It was cool. We kind of started from this points of like mutual respect and we both admired each other's work. We already knew we got along IRL as the kids say.
Joey Korenman: Oh, boy.
David Stanfield: In Real Life. We got along well which is important and we sort of trust each other like on a personal level I guess. Man, we collaborated actually on that Sam Harris project I was telling you about. That was a couple three months ago something like that. While we were doing that one another job came in and while we were doing that one another job came in, and then all of a sudden we were working with five or six things and sharing the burden on all of it.
We were super stressed out and it was crazy but we were also both really enjoying the fact that we were doing it together. We were actually launching a thing and I think it will be the goal is that, it will already be out in the wild by the time anyone hears this podcast, but we're going to be calling it Igor and Valentine and it's going to be design an animation collaboration between Matt and I. Yeah, I'm very, very ...
Joey Korenman: Dude, that's a really exciting news. There's kind of this new model spinning up because of how easy it is to collaborate remotely, and most clients don't really care where you are now. As long as you can sort of get it done on time and they like it, and you're able to form these sort of pseudo studios, I guess. Essentially a two person studio that doesn't have the overhead of a big office and employees and things like that. It's great. I've talked to a few people that are starting to work that way and I have a feeling you're going to be super successful with that. I can't wait to see what happens.
The last thing I want to ask you about is, how you manage to do all of this with four children? Let me ask you this first. Do you think that being freelance makes it easier to be the father you want to be? Do you think you would be sacrificing if you were full time?
David Stanfield: I do. Real, real answer, it's been very, very, very hard, and I think that's a function of a lot of things in my life happening at once, meaning having two additional kids starting a business moving to a new city, moving houses three times, changing schools for my daughter. All of these buying houses, selling houses, these big life things, usually do them one at a time.
I'm a little unique in that, my answer involves more than just running a freelance business and having four kids. It's like there's all these other things that happen at the same time, so it's been kind of crazy in general but I also know for a fact that I have been way more in control of how I spend my time. I've had probably three or four different phases in the last year, where I took on entirely too much. I got super burned out and I worked long hours and I felt kind of crazy.
Different is, that was my choice, my wife supported it and she knew about it going in. We have these sit down talks let's say, this, this, and this. They're going to overlap. It's going to be crazy for a couple weeks. We'll get paid this much as a result but it is going to get kind of nuts for a second. If I get her blessing on that, I move forward if I feel like I can do the work and do a good job obviously and not betray any client trust or anything like that. I always notify the client. I do have this going on, this is going to be something I take on, on top of it.
This might be a nice weekend kind of thing. Are you okay with that? I've never had anyone take issue with that. That's a huge part of it, as my wife knows about it and is very, very supportive of me and like helps me but the difference again it's like, I've chosen those times of insanity and it's a choice that I made and like I wanted to do this because the projects, the type of projects that they were. Then, when they're done I get to take a break and I get to choose when I take a break.
I just wrapped up one of the craziest months in my career, October, but even in October I went to like four different things at my kids' school because it's around the corner and I knew that I could just like maybe work an hour later that night, or come in an hour earlier the next day and make up for it. Those kinds of things like just aren't really always an option at a job, job. Or if they are, you have to like give two weeks' notice on the department calendar or whatever.
I'm sure there are plenty of jobs that are super, super chill about family stuff and that's [inaudible 01:03:16]. For me, it's just like the knowledge of being in control of my time, so I decide when it's going to be insane and then I decide when and how I'm going to take a break after that kind of insane push. I'm not saying it's always an easy and there have also been other challenges with staying busy just creatively speaking, but the difference for me of kind of being my own boss or whatever you want to call it is I am the one who's calling the shots and making the decisions.
Joey Korenman: David is one of the nicest people I've met in an industry full of nice people. Seriously, there's not that many jerks in MoGraph, it's pretty awesome. Check out the show notes to see David's work and the work of all the other artists that we chatted about. If you haven't already, grab a free school motion account on our site, so you can get the Motion Mondays newsletter. Currently, over 24,000 MoGraph artists get this bite sized email each Monday and it keeps you up-to-date on the doings of the motion design industry, so check that out.
That's it for me. Thanks as always for listening and don't worry we'll be together again soon. See you later.