Terra Henderson shares how she crafted an amazing freelance lifestyle through her time in New York, Georgia, and Texas.
If you’re reading this article there’s a good chance that you didn’t start your Motion Design career in New York or Los Angeles. In fact, most of us were raised in areas that aren’t exactly epicenters of Motion Design. So what are you to do when you want to experience what it’s like to live near other Motion Designers?
Interview with Terra Henderson
Today’s podcast guest is Terra Henderson. Terra is a freelance Motion Designer who has lived in Texas, New York, and Georgia. Despite growing up in a small Texas town, Terra pursued her dream of becoming a Motion Designer. After completing school at SCAD she took ultimate professional leap and moved to New York City. Over time Terra has learned valuable lessons in networking, specializing, and the freedom of being freelance.
Terra’s laid-back perspective on work and life is a cool reminder that you don’t have to live in the biggest cities to be a successful Motion Designer. So, grab some kava and say hello to Austin-based MoGraph artist Terra Henderson.
Warning: You’ll probably be inspired to build your own computer after listening to this podcast.
Terra Henderson's Demo Reel
Here's Terra's reel with a lot of the projects mentioned in the podcast.
Terra Henderson Interview Transcript
Joey: Hey, everyone. Joey here, and real quick before we get into this episode, I just wanted to tell you about our new motion-design jobs board. Our mission at School of Motion is to help artists learn, master, and make a living in motion design. So to help out with that last part, we've built a jobs board that is comically easy to use for both companies and artists. If you're looking for motion-design talent, give our board a shot and you'll be blown away by the quality and quantity of artists in our network. And if you're looking for full-time or freelance gigs, we've got plenty of those. So head over to schoolofmotion.com/jobs to check it out. And that's it. Now, on to the episode.
Terra Henderson: I used to think a lot about that whenever I was first starting out: Do I want to be a generalist or a specialist? I think it's funny how that just kind of happens. I think that just by working at a small studio, it kind of necessitates that you are diverse, because if the job comes in and you're the one that's available, like, "It would be great if you could know 3D," or, "It would be great if you could use After Effects."
Joey: Motion designers have lots of different backstories. Some kind of stumble into this field; some take a very deliberate path; and for some, this is a second career. For our guest today, it almost seems like fate that she ended up doing what she's doing, and what she's doing, by the way, is really great 2D and 3D design and animation. Terra Henderson is from the greatest state of Texas, my stomping grounds, and she started her MoGraph journey in high school. Then, she went to SCAD. Then, she moved to New York City, went freelance, worked with some of the best artists in the game, and now has come full-circle back to Austin, Texas, and she's not even 30 yet.
In this interview, you will hear stories from the trenches at the epicenter of MoGraph in New York City. You'll get to hear how even someone who's been successful, like Terra, has a bit of imposter syndrome. There's a lot of that going around. And you'll find out why turning down a staff job can really hurt somebody's feelings. So sad.
All right, let's meet Terra.
Terra Henderson, welcome to the School of Motion Podcast. Thank you so much for coming on.
Terra Henderson: Of course, Joey. Glad to be talkin' with ya.
Joey: I'm really excited because we do not have enough Texans on this podcast. The first thing I wanted to ask you, actually, was about your portfolio site. Everyone listening, you need to go check out Terra's site because I think it's actually one of the most perfect examples of a portfolio site I've ever seen.
Terra Henderson: That's way too generous.
Joey: It's terrahenderson.com. We'll link to it in the show notes. But one of the things that I thought was really clever about it was, on your About section, which has this hilarious GIF of you ... I'm assuming that's you as a child dancing.
Terra Henderson: Yeah.
Joey: You have a section that you don't normally see on portfolio sites, which is ... I think the way you worded it is, Not My Specialty. So you list all the things that you can do, After Effects, Cinema 4D, Style Frames, but then you have a section that says Not My Specialty. You're basically saying, "Don't hire me for this," and you have a short list, and one of those things that you don't want people to hire you for is lens flares.
Terra Henderson: Right.
Joey: I was wondering if we could get a little explanation there.
Terra Henderson: Sure. Of course that's kind of a joke. Everyone in the industry ... Lens flares kind of get a bad rep. A long time ago, they were super popular, and people, they were very heavy-handed. But I basically put that up there, I guess, to get people to know what I don't like doing. A lot of times, people approach you with projects that you're not necessarily interested in, so, hey, why not just put up on my website what I'm not interested in to just divert people from hiring me for that? There's a lot of people out there who are great at doing photo-real 3D and visual effects and lens-flare-type things, but that's just not my style.
Joey: Yeah, I think we're gonna get into that later, because looking at the work that you've put on your site, there is, sort of, a style. You've got a lot of variety, and you've got even some sort of photo-realistic-3D-looking stuff, but it's very surreal and kind of living in [inaudible 00:04:39] stylized world, and it's interesting. So do you actively turn down work if someone says, "Hey, we're doing a [show open 00:04:47] for Showtime boxing, and we want gritty photo-real boxing rings and lens flares"? You would just say, "Well, that's not my thing. I don't really do that"?
Terra Henderson: Sometimes. It really just depends on how that client found me. But I found that just by putting that up on my website, I'm not attracting those types of clients anymore, which was kind of my goal in the first place.
Joey: I think that sounds like a good problem to have, to be in a place where you can start to really pick and choose which jobs you take, which, I think, for a freelancer should be the ultimate goal, to get to that point, so we're gonna dig into that in a little bit. But I want to introduce you to the audience a little bit more. Can you tell us about your name? 'cause I've never met anyone named Terra before, and it's really cool, and I was trying to find out if it was a nickname or something. Is Terra your real name?
Terra Henderson: Yeah, yeah, so it's spelled unusual. It's spelled like terra cotta, which ... there's a lot of people named Tara, T-A-R-A, but I've always liked the spelling of my name. I don't really know why my mom called me that. But I was born right before the time that the Little Mermaid came out, and I have bright red hair, and my mom almost called me Ariel, so I'm really, really glad that I ended up being Terra instead of Ariel.
Joey: Oh, okay, so it's funny 'cause I have friends named Tara, T-A-R-A, but I saw the E, and so I subconsciously want to make sure I say, "Eh," Terra, but do you-
Terra Henderson: Oh. No, I-
Joey: It's just Terra, okay.
Terra Henderson: I honestly don't hear the difference. I get called both.
Joey: Gotcha, gotcha. As a total non sequitur, my middle child, [Emmaline 00:06:35], has red hair also, so I am [inaudible 00:06:38] redheads.
Okay, so you grew up ... and I only found this out by doing my typical Facebook, Twitter stalking that I do for every guest. You're from Denton, Texas, which is interesting A. because I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, about a half hour from there but also because Denton, Texas ... for people listening, you've probably never heard of it ... it's in this part of Texas that my mom used to call the boonies or God's country, and basically when I was growing up, there was nothing there.
Terra Henderson: Right. Denton has actually ... When I was growing up there, it basically was a college town. There's the University of North Texas there and Texas Woman's University. It's pretty small, but I will say that in the 10 years that I had been gone from Texas, Denton has kind of had a little mini-renaissance, and there's a lot happenin' down there now. It's pretty cool.
Joey: That's what I've heard, yeah, yeah, yeah. Caleb, who works for us, he currrently lives in Denton, and he's been telling me that. He's like, "It's actually got a little scene. There's some good sushi there." So how did you get from there to SCAD to New York City and back to Austin? You've had a pretty interesting journey and career. I'm wondering if you could give us the CliffNotes of how that worked.
Terra Henderson: Right. So, I actually ... Funny, I'm from Denton because that's the closest town that everybody knows, but really, I'm from a suburb that's on the outskirts of Denton, so I'm from the boonies of the boonies.
Terra Henderson: But I'm from a small town called [Lake Dallas 00:08:11], Texas. At the school there, they actually had an electronic-media course, which taught you how to use Photoshop and Illustrator, which was really great for such a small town, that they would have an art class that focused on computer work, which was not very common back then, so I got into using Photoshop and Illustrator that way. And when I was in high school, I decided that I definitely wanted to get into design, so I started looking into design schools, and at the time, SCAD was by far the cheapest art school you could go to in the South. And I noticed that they had a program that they had recently just launched called Motion Graphics Motion Media, so that really attracted me to the school. But even though it was the cheapest design school in the South, it was still a really expensive school compared to your regular university. But I applied for a scholarship and ended up getting one, and so that's why I chose to go to SCAD, is 'cause it ended up being the same price as a regular university for me.
Joey: That's amazing, and so, let's talk a little bit about SCAD.
Terra Henderson: Sure.
Joey: SCAD obviously has an amazing reputation in the industry, one of if not the top motion-design program in the country. I'm partial to Ringling's program also, but SCAD is incredible. A lot of amazing artists come out of there. But I actually know very little about how that program works. Could you talk about it a little bit? What sort of things did you learn there?
Terra Henderson: Sure. Basically SCAD, for everyone who goes in there, your freshman and sophomore year is much more focused on the foundations of design, color theory, typography, those types of things. And then, whenever you start getting into your major, you start focusing more on motion graphics or visual effects. I thought it was a great school. Definitely got a really good foundation in design, and I learned how to present my work. I think that those were, kind of, the best things that I learned there.
Joey: Was there anything about it that you didn't like?
Terra Henderson: I kind of had mixed feelings about school.
Joey: I could tell by the way you said it.
Terra Henderson: Well, I have mixed feelings about school, but I think it's a critique on just all design schools in general. I think that they definitely could have focused a lot more on teaching the business of design. And I think that this happens at a lot of schools, is that some of the teachers are kind of out of the industry for a while. It doesn't make them bad at what they do, but I think that at the time that I went, they were just kind of a little bit out of touch with where the industry was headed.
Joey: So specifically, are you talking about things like how to get hired or how much to charge, stuff like that?
Terra Henderson: Well, I think that they even were more focused on the academic art focus of motion graphics instead of focusing more on real skills that you would be using in the industry. I think, also, I kind of had mixed feelings about it because I started working whenever I was halfway through school, and you kind of get this completely different perspective on the types of projects that you're working on in school, and some of them just felt kind of removed from what I was doing at work.
Joey: Yeah, it's interesting 'cause I had a similar experience in college because I started interning my freshman year and actually getting paid and stuff to edit and to do stuff like that, and then you'd go back to school and they wouldn't let me edit because I was only a sophomore and you weren't allowed in the editing lab until you were a junior, stuff like that, and I didn't go to art school. But it's interesting because there were similar conversations that came up when I taught at Ringling, where ... I'm sort of unapologetically practical with the way I like to teach. I like to teach people things that they are gonna go use tomorrow to pay the bills, but I think there's also the argument to be made that school is a place to experiment and do these art pieces and stuff like that.
So was that the tension you felt, doing these projects that weren't ... there's no way you're actually gonna get hired to do that in the real world; you're gonna be doing explainer videos and logo animations, no?
Terra Henderson: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there was a lot of focus ... which is great; it gets you to try a lot of things, and so maybe there's something to be said for exploration and stuff. But some of the projects that I would work on are kind of like, "Oh, do a short ..." It was more conceptual and more like making something just for myself, which is great, but that's not necessarily applicable to the workplace.
Joey: So I guess the end result that most students have in mind when they go to a place like SCAD is, "I'm gonna get a job in this field. Someone's gonna hire me based on my student portfolio." And did you ever see that not happening? because obviously, if you were working already, then you were ahead of the curve, but did you have friends that graduated with a portfolio with a bunch of neat-looking experimental stuff but no one was gonna hire them 'cause they didn't have anything that looked practical?
Terra Henderson: Well, I will say that I think that a lot of my friends did find work in the field, so that's definitely to SCAD's credit. So I don't think that ... I think that sometimes studio owners look at a, kind of, experimental reel and they see a diamond in the rough, and they're like, "Well, you know, we can give them practical, applicable skills."
Joey: Yeah, I think you're right. I think studio owners, for sure, feel that way. And I think that SCAD probably at the time you ... What year did you graduate from SCAD?
Terra Henderson: I graduated in 2010.
Joey: 2010, okay, 'cause I would imagine that in 2010, there probably were not a ton of students coming out of art schools with a deep knowledge of motion design. It was still very new at that point. In 2018, there's more programs. I can speak for the program at Ringling. Enrollment's growing pretty fast over there. And so, I wonder if there's gonna be a glut of motion designers trying to get into studios. And studios are run by artists, who are capable of saying, "Oh, well, I can kind of extrapolate out how this experimental thing shows me the skills that this person has." But I think a lot of graduates are gonna be getting hired by places like Amazon and Apple and giant ad agencies, and I'm not sure that those places are gonna be as good at that. And so, having that practical stuff in your portfolio too, to me, it seems important.
Terra Henderson: Yeah, I definitely would think so, in my opinion.
Joey: So you go to SCAD, and it sounds like they have a great program there.
Terra Henderson: They do. They do.
Joey: So the freshman and sophomore year, you're focusing on the fundamentals. You're not so much locked into software, which I think is really smart.
Terra Henderson: I almost would argue that they could've even focused even more on their design program because that is what I got the most out of school, was just those design foundations.
Joey: Yeah, well, it's interesting 'cause I talk to my friends who still teach in traditional schools, and obviously they know about School of Motion. There's just reality that places like School of Motion and Mo-Graph Mentor in the future are going to become very viable alternatives to learn this stuff.
Terra Henderson: Absolutely.
Joey: But what a traditional school can offer that we can't is twice-a-week in-person critiques with 20 students and a faculty member.
Terra Henderson: Right.
Joey: And eventually we'll be able to do that, too. But in the meantime ... And so that's what I tell them. I'm like, "That's what you should double down on, is that's your advantage."
Terra Henderson: Yeah, absolutely.
Joey: Teaching somebody Photoshop, we can do that pretty easily, for a lot cheaper, too.
So I want to hear, how did you end up deciding to move to New York and work ... I think the first company you worked for was Elevation. How did that happen?
Terra Henderson: Right. So, one thing I will say for SCAD is I got a great portfolio out of it that I took to Elevation for an internship. I was still a junior whenever I applied for that internship, and they hired me for the internship. I was there for about two months, and then, they said, "Okay, let's just hire you full time," which was great.
Terra Henderson: So for the last two years of school, I was working at Elevation as a junior artist. Then, whenever I got close to graduating ... It had always been my dream to move to New York, and even though I loved the studio, I didn't really want to stay in Atlanta. And so, I talked to the studio owner, Stephen Cocks, and he very graciously offered to keep me on remote. So he said, "Go move to New York, but we'll keep you on staff," which, for me, was great. I think everyone knows how expensive New York is and just having a gig already lined up was just invaluable, and that was such a great opportunity for me.
Joey: I didn't realize Elevation wasn't in New York. That's amazing. What a great gig. So you said that it was always your dream to move to New York. And coming from ... I'm a Texan, and so I always had a dream to go somewhere else, and I ended up in Boston. I'm curious why you chose New York.
Terra Henderson: I really have no idea. I guess probably just-
Terra Henderson: Probably just from movies. I had a great uncle who lived there, and he had long since passed, but it was always just kind of something that had been in the back of my mind. My husband also had that dream, and I don't think he could necessarily define it either, but we both just really wanted to move to that city.
Joey: Gotcha. Did you meet your husband at SCAD or in Atlanta?
Terra Henderson: No, so actually, I met my husband in Denton. He went to University of North Texas. So we met whenever I was a senior in high school, and we both worked at a DSW Shoe Warehouse.
Joey: A great gig.
Terra Henderson: So, yeah. [inaudible 00:18:41]
Joey: That's awesome. Cool, so high-school sweethearts. Love it.
Terra Henderson: Yeah.
Joey: So what type of work does Elevation do? I'm assuming a lot of people listening haven't heard of them. What kind of stuff do they do, and what were you doing there?
Terra Henderson: Well, at the time, they were specializing in broadcast work. Turner is based in Atlanta; so is CNN. So they did a lot of work with them. They also did stuff [inaudible 00:19:04] HDTV and Oxygen and other broadcast networks. But at the time, they were mainly specializing in broadcast packages, like show opens, intros, stuff like that. They have since diversified. Since I've left the company, they've diversified and become more brand-focused. But great little studio. They do amazing work for such a small team.
Joey: Yeah, that's kind of a trend I've seen. There's a great company in Massachusetts that I used to do a lot of work for called Viewpoint Creative. And they started ... it sounds almost identical ... doing lots of graphics packages for HBO and Discovery Channel and networks like that, and then, probably towards the end of my time freelancing there, moved more into that agency model, where they also do general branding and copywriting and creative direction for giant campaigns and digital and print and all that stuff. So it's an interesting trend.
And so, you moved to New York City. You're still working for a company based out of Atlanta. How was that transition? Did you have culture shock when you got to New York, or did you just fit right in there, loved it?
Terra Henderson: Not really. I kind of felt like [inaudible 00:20:17].
Terra Henderson: Yeah. I was one of those people that never thought I would leave New York, which is funny looking back now. But yeah, I loved it there, just the vibrancy of the city, just the energy. It's not really a definable quality, but I loved living there.
Joey: That's pretty much what everybody says that lives there. I spent a summer there interning, so I was there for about three months, and I really enjoyed it. But I have kids now, and I could not imagine living there with children.
Terra Henderson: It is very difficult.
Joey: Yeah, I could imagine. So let's talk about your skills. When I go to your website, the first thing that strikes me is your design chops and your use of color and all that stuff. You feel like a designer. That was my first impression. But you also do animation. You also use 3D, and looking at the credits of the work you've done, you sort of do a bunch of things. So I guess you're kind of a generalist, and I'm curious if that just naturally happened or if at some point you said, "I want to be a generalist." How did that work?
Terra Henderson: I used to think a lot about that whenever I first starting out: Do I want to be a generalist or a specialist? I think it's funny how that just kind of happens. I think that just by working at a small studio, it kind of necessitates that you are diverse, because if the job comes in and you're the one that's available, like, "It would be great if you could know 3D," or, "It would be great if you could use After Effects." So I think that by working at a small studio, that made me a generalist. And then, whenever I started freelancing, that ended up being a really great thing for me because I can jump in on a variety of projects and I'm not really limited, I guess, to being a specialist.
Joey: That makes sense. Yeah, I was kind of the same way. I didn't really design that much, but I edited and animated and I did 3D, and as a freelancer, that's like a superpower because you can just be booked all the time doing different things, and it's a really good career move. Did you ever feel like it held you back, like you couldn't really focus on just design or just 3D 'cause you were doing other things?
Terra Henderson: Yeah, I guess whenever I first started out, I was much more interested in the design side of things. Occasionally, I'll still get booked to just do style frames, but it kind of ... I don't know. My career's evolving still, so who knows? In the future, I could just be designing.
Joey: Yeah, I'm always in awe of people who just design. I've been really lucky I've gotten to work with people like Brian Gossett, who as far as I know doesn't animate, or anymore. He just does designs and art direction and stuff like that, and it just seems effortless, like these beautiful frames just fall out of him.
Terra Henderson: Yeah.
Joey: I wish I had that, but I never took the time and spent the energy to get there 'cause I was doing 15 things at the same time.
Terra Henderson: Right, definitely. I feel like I'm in a similar situation, where it's like, well, if I do want to specialize like that eventually, I'll have to start really focusing on something.
Joey: Yeah. I'd say to anyone listening, looking at your stuff, you've developed into ... You're good at everything you do, but you're definitely good-enough designer, good-enough animator, good-enough stylized 3D artist that if you chose to pick one of those things and focus on it, I think you'd be successful. And I think it's probably easier to do that than to do it the opposite way and be just a designer and then say, "Now I'm gonna start animating 10 years into my career,"-
Terra Henderson: Right.
Joey: ... and try to reposition yourself in the market.
Terra Henderson: Well, it's like I kind of [inaudible 00:24:03]. I think that specialists ... There's the learning curve for everything that you do, and specialists, they really ramp up and accelerate one learning curve. So if you're gonna be a great designer, you're gonna really just get in there and you're gonna get up to the top of that learning curve, and then you're gonna be at the bottom of other learning curves, whereas I feel like I've kind of approached it as, hey ... and maybe it's just because I am interested in so many things, but I'm kind of still ramping up on all of the curves.
Joey: It's more fun that way, I think. I could never ... Maybe there's some form of ADD that some people have where to focus on something for more than three months at a time is just too hard, and to become a really good designer, you gotta work your ass off, for sure.
Terra Henderson: Yeah.
Joey: I want to talk about 3D, 'cause I think the way we actually heard about you, Terra, was we were looking for female Cinema 4D artists to interview for our Cinema 4D Basecamp course, and we ended up meeting a whole bunch. And looking at your 3D stuff, it doesn't ... When I say, "3D," the image that pops into my head is not what you're doing. It's like the photo-real shiny stuff, and that's not the way you use 3D. It's cool. You use it more in a designy way, and so I'm curious why that is. Again, is that a conscious choice? Are you not into the whole Octane X-Particles look, or do you just see 3D as another tool to execute these 2D images that you want to make?
Terra Henderson: Yeah, I guess to me, I kind of see it more as a tool. Whenever I was first starting to use 3D in school, way back when in school, I was learning [Maya 00:25:52], and I took a couple of visual-effects courses where you're recreating a photo. And I found that there are people who are amazing at it, and I have so much respect for people who dedicate themselves to that. But I guess I found it really tedious because you have to be so focused on such minute details, and I was never really interested in recreating real life, I guess. And then, whenever I kept working ... I'm very much design-focused in everything that I do, and so I think that whenever I started using Cinema 4D, it's great because it can just be very quick and very get-in-get-out kind of thing. And I liked using it to add extra dimension to my flat aesthetic, I guess.
Joey: Yeah, so eventually, I got to a point when I knew Cinema 4D and some artists were sort of doing that aesthetic, the flat or toon-shaded ... It just didn't look like 3D. And it was kind of eye-opening to me that you could use 3D in a way that even five years or 10 years before that no one was really doing, and now it's everywhere. And I actually encourage motion designers specifically to think of 3D in that way and not in the way of a visual-effects-
Terra Henderson: Yeah.
Joey: ... 3D artist, 'cause I think it's kind of like anything. It's a tool to execute the idea, and the idea always comes first. You know?
Terra Henderson: Right. I think that so many designers, especially, are kind of terrified to use 3D because it seems like this big, scary thing: you have to learn lighting; you have to learn texturing; you have to learn everything all at once. And I think that the thing that's so funny about the flat aesthetic is like, hey, just pop flat [luminance channel texture 00:27:47] on it and you're done. You don't have to light. You can approach it in a different way, and it doesn't have to be that photo-real thing.
Joey: Yeah, well, that's actually how we've structured our Cinema 4D course, because the thing about 3D, I think learning 3D, in a way, it's like learning design, in that with design, you have composition and you have color and you have positive, negative space and foreground; you have all these concepts, and you can't just learn one of them. "Oh, I studied color. I studied color. I'm really good at color. That's all I need. Now I can design." No, you can't. It's like a stool with two legs. It will just tip over. You need to have three legs. And with 3D, it can sometimes feel like, "Well, I have to learn modeling and lighting and camera and rigging."
Terra Henderson: And particles and dynamics.
Joey: Yeah, or, "I can't do anything if I don't know all those things," and the truth is, you don't really need [inaudible 00:28:56] know any of that, and especially the way Cinema 4D is set up, where you can just use it like a designer and just throw a frontal camera in there and make some cool compositions and use the luminance channel, and boom, you get some really neat-looking things that are easy to create, easy to animate. That's how I use it now more than anything else. For a while, I got into the photo-real thing and trying to go down that rabbit hole, but boy, that's a deep rabbit hole.
Terra Henderson: Well, again, it's like you almost have to decide in your career what you're interested in and what kind of things you want to put your energy towards. And for me, it's not Octane.
Joey: Yeah, yeah. And who knows? There's the [Render Wars 00:29:36]. That's a whole nother thing you've got to keep your eye on if you're [inaudible 00:29:39].
So I mentioned, "Hey, spend a year. Get good at color," as if that's all it takes. But when I went to your site for the first time, actually the first thing I noticed was your use of color. You have this beautiful project that is currently sitting at the top of your site for some lobby screens I guess you did for Viacom. And just scrolling down your page, there's just really neat use of color. And color is the thing that when we teach our design class is one of the biggest sticking points for most people. Like, how the heck do I pick cool color combinations? So I'm curious if you have any tips or any ways you go about doing that.
Terra Henderson: I guess for me, I pull a lot of reference imagery whenever I work. That kind of helps to see what other people have done with their color choices. It's funny to hear you talk about color with my work because I feel like that's something that I'm always having to pull back on. I get a lot of critiques about, my work is ... It's super vibrant and the color choices sometimes are too bright. But I guess somewhere that I sometimes start is I'll go to colourlovers.com and they have pre-set palettes, and sometimes that gives you some ideas for where to start. If you're thinking, "Oh, I want to use this particular color," you can see other color choices that people have put together. But usually whenever I'm working on frames, I do probably three or four color treatments before I land on one that I think is working best.
Joey: Yeah, using the trick of finding reference for color palettes ... and I like to use [Adobe Kuler 00:31:22] and tools like that, too, to help me ... do you ever feel like that's cheating? Sometimes I feel like I'm cheating when I do that even though I know it doesn't really matter in the end how I arrived at it. But I'm just curious if you ever feel that way.
Terra Henderson: I think that if you're directly color-picking from somebody else's work, that's probably cheating. But you know, developing a color palette, everyone has their own process, so I don't know. I guess steal wisely, as they put it.
Joey: Yes, [inaudible 00:31:53] like an artist, right?
Terra Henderson: [inaudible 00:31:54].
Joey: Awesome. Cool, so another skill I wanted to ask you about, before we started recording, you were explaining that you built your own PC and you moved from Macintosh to PC. And typically, I find anyone who gets good at 3D tends to be a fairly technically-minded person. And so, A. I want to hear why you decided to build your own PC and move away from Macs and stuff like that, 'cause I've thought about it but it feels like I'm just opening this can of worms. So why don't we start there? I want to hear about that experience. And you said initially it was to build a Hackintosh; it wasn't even [inaudible 00:32:37] Windows.
Terra Henderson: Right, so whenever I went freelance, I started looking at buying a Mac, and it's like, wow, Macs are really expensive. And on top of that, they're a lot harder to modify, so if you want to upgrade something later on, it's kind of hard to get that upgrade done without going to the Mac store and paying them to do it for you. So I looked into the Hackintosh community, and I decided to build a PC that could run the Mac operating system. And I had never built a computer before, and I had zero confidence that I could do it, but I will say it's not as hard as it sounds. It's like anything that you do in motion graphics: there's a million tutorials out there on how to build a computer and what components you should use, so that's how I approached it. And I ran Mac for about probably three or four years, but recently I just switched over to Windows, and it's been fine.
Joey: So when I was still doing more client work and especially when I was running my studio, there was always this tension internally of ... I'm a very technically-minded person. My talent, if I had one, was figuring out tricky After Effects setups, Cinema 4D setups. I felt sometimes like a technical director figuring out these tricky things. But what I wanted to be was that really-creative-brilliant-designer type, and I had some of that in me, but I think I was far more, I guess, left-brained about a lot of things.
And so, I'm curious if you ever have that internal struggle, because on the one hand, you're building a Hackintosh, and I know you said it was the first time you'd ever done it but clearly you weren't afraid to do it, and you've learned Cinema 4D, which is a technical program, but at the same time, you have this very designer-focused way of working, and your work's very beautifully designed and very creative. I'm just curious if you ever feel that tug between the two sides of your brain.
Terra Henderson: I guess for me, I ... That's a tough question, Joey.
Joey: This is like Oprah. You can cry if you want. It's okay.
Terra Henderson: I guess for me, a lot of times, I kind of hide the technical part of me. I'm 100% a designer first, but there's things that I do technically that I kind of just brush aside like, "Oh, no big deal." One would be building a computer. Another would be the fact that I do use a lot of expressions in my work. I do know some coding. I built my website on WordPress. But I think that there's a tendency ... I don't know if it's because I'm a woman, but I tend to be like, "Oh, yeah, no big deal." I actually don't know that much coding. I kind of dismiss the more technical side of things, whereas I feel like with a lot of guys in the industry, it's kind of [inaudible 00:35:51] for them to ...
Joey: It's like a badge of honor or something.
Terra Henderson: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and it's almost like a one-up [inaudible 00:35:59]: "Oh, well, I do this, and I know this very technical thing about computers and hardware and all this stuff," and I've just never thrown around my weight that way.
Joey: That's interesting. It's interesting because I always like to look out at artists and try to dissect success. That's kind of ... Like, my favorite podcast is the Tim Ferriss podcast. It's exactly what he does. I just try to do that for motion designers. And to me, success comes far more often from the creative artistic side than from the technical side. But anecdotally, yes, I've definitely seen that where for male artists, it's kind of cool that you made this elaborate expression rig that you could've just keyframed [inaudible 00:36:49] but whatever, you spent eight hours building expressions. And I definitely have been guilty of that, and then you go brag about it on Twitter. You don't see females doing that.
Terra Henderson: No.
Joey: Actually, I kind of wish you would brag about it, Terra. I think it's cool.
Terra Henderson: Well, I think, too, that sometimes the responses that I get are more just surprised, and it's like, all right, well. It's more just like, "Oh, really, you built your website on WordPress. Wow. Okay."
Joey: Yeah, well, I think that that's something that we've kind of brought up a few times lately on this podcast. I feel like it's kind of silly, but have you ever felt pressured externally to do that, or are you just self-censoring?
Terra Henderson: No, I think it's just self-censoring probably.
Joey: Yeah. Well, I for one would encourage you to fly that [inaudible 00:37:44] flag as high as you can. That's cool. It's funny, we're doing another class at the moment. I can't really talk about it yet; it's kind of a secret. But we were actually looking for female After Effects artists who are pretty technically inclined and use expressions and stuff like that, and I can tell you, it's a lot harder to find them because even when you put the feelers out and you're like, "Are there any female artists that are like this?" and not that many raise their hand. So let's use this episode to say, "Fly that geek flag, all right?"
Terra Henderson: Yeah, absolutely [inaudible 00:38:19].
Joey: The more the merrier. Yeah, that's awesome.
Terra Henderson: Tell everyone what expressions you use.
Joey: Yeah, exactly. Cool, all right, so let's talk about the freelancing thing. When and why did you decide to go freelance?
Terra Henderson: I was working in New York for Elevation, still staff with them, and I kind of was wanting to, I guess, get to know the New York scene a little bit more. I was living there, but I wasn't working with a company that was based there. And I was going to the New York City Mograph Meetup, which is held every month. It's hosted by two guys named Adam Saul and Yussef Cole. And at the time, Adam, he was freelancing as an art director over at Yahoo, and he was looking for a freelance motion designer who could kind of be like a permalance-type position. And for me, that was kind of like the perfect opportunity to leave my staff job and build a nest egg while I was freelancing.
Joey: So you wanted to go freelance, and this was kind of your ... It was like a nice big net you could jump into.
Terra Henderson: Yeah, I guess it wasn't totally a conscious decision to go freelance. I definitely would've been happy with another staff job, but I think that it was just kind of an opportunity that ... It's like opportunity meets preparation. I was definitely prepared to leave, and when Adam had this opportunity, it was just kind of the perfect fit.
Joey: Sure, and it was, I'm guessing, more money, a change of scenery, maybe the opportunity to work alongside Adam. Were those all kind of playing into that decision?
Terra Henderson: Yeah, definitely.
Joey: Cool. It's interesting because you said that you didn't plan to go freelance; it wasn't like, "I want to go freelance." It was sort of like, "Oh, this is a cool opportunity." And yet, looking through your Twitter history, you had a pretty interesting little rant on there I wanted to ask you about, and I want to ask you because I've had this same experience when I was freelancing. And I forget exactly how you worded it, but basically, you were talking about how sometimes you're a freelancer and the client that you're working with offers you a full-time gig, and you turn it down, and they get offended that you didn't take the full-time gig.
Terra Henderson: Yeah.
Joey: And I was wondering if you could just talk about that a little bit.
Terra Henderson: It's funny 'cause that actually did happen to me at Yahoo. They did offer me a staff position, and I wasn't interested. At that point, I wanted to start bouncing around as a freelancer, so it just wasn't really the right fit for me. I had just gotten a taste of the freelance life, and I didn't want to be tied down.
But since I moved to Austin, I've experienced this a lot more. People are a bit more ... When you say you're a freelancer, they automatically hear unemployed. They don't really ... I guess in New York, it's so much more natural to be a freelancer, and people kind of accepted that and they got it. They got that you're running your own business, whereas here, it's, "Oh, well, you're not really making ..." They kind of assume that you're not making very much money, I guess, and so they offer you this great opportunity, what they think is a great opportunity, to be staff with benefits and other nice things that they can offer you like vacation time, and they don't understand that, no, I'm a freelancer. I would love to work with you on that basis, but I don't want to be tied down. I don't want to be staff.
Joey: I have a theory, but I want to hear yours. Do you have any theories on why people get upset that you're saying no?
Terra Henderson: Well, because they are offering you an opportunity, so I think that they feel that they have something to offer you and you're just kind of being blasé about, "Oh, well, I don't need that opportunity." I think that they honestly do believe that they're offering you the best thing out there, and so they kind of feel insulted when you don't accept.
Joey: Yeah, I have a different theory. I'll tell you my theory. I obviously am way in the bag for freelancing. I am a huge proponent. I wrote a book about freelancing.
Terra Henderson: I read it. It's great.
Joey: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. I think that sometimes people on staff in those positions of hiring freelancers, there's two things. One is there's an element of jealousy, I would say, with the perceived freedom and lifestyle of a freelancer. You can say, "No, I'm busy," and take two weeks off and drive around Austin hitting up [kava bars 00:43:15] and [inaudible 00:43:16] if you want to.
Terra Henderson: Absolutely.
Joey: Right? Which you should do. So I think there's that element. And then, there's the other element of, it is really hard to find good help sometimes, and you find a freelancer like you that's awesome and, I'm assuming, easy to work with and very creative, a good designer, good at technical jobs. "Man, it would just be so much easier if Terra just worked here and we didn't have to keep booking her," and it's kind of like a hassle. There's a little bit of that, too, so I don't know. That's my theory. And in my career, I've kind of been made to feel that a couple of times.
Terra Henderson: It's funny that you say that, too, because I talked to a creative director recently in the Austin area who they're looking for people to hire, and they definitely voiced that same frustration. They're like, "Well, why would they go staff?" There are so many benefits to being a freelancer right now that it's hard for them to entice somebody to become staff.
Joey: Yeah, I think honestly this conversation is like part of a much bigger conversation with the labor laws in this country and things like that. I could tell you as someone who's run a studio and now a business owner, the technology to work remotely and basically have anybody work with you from anywhere in the world, it almost doesn't make sense to differentiate sometimes between employee-
Terra Henderson: Yeah.
Joey: ... and freelancer. And we've kind of evolved to say, "Okay, well, I can use Uber to use the excess bandwidth that someone has with their car," sort of like optimizing the usage of that car, and freelancing sort of optimizes the usage of design talent and motion-design talent. If I have six months of work, I don't want to hire someone for six months and fire them. I want to hire a freelancer, and so there needs to be freelancers. No, we're not gonna solve this problem [inaudible 00:45:20] podcast, unfortunately, but I have a lot of strong feelings about this, Terra. All right, I'll get off the high horse.
So let's talk about how you get booked. So, you're in New York and you're at Yahoo, and then, does that booking end, or do you just decide, "Okay, you know what? I'm leaving this booking, and I'm gonna go find some other work"?
Terra Henderson: It's funny, actually right after Yahoo, I went and became permalance at Viacom. But the opportunity arose in kind of a strange way, because Matt Hanson, he was running the Viacom screens department at the time, which was responsible for all of the screens in the building including the lobby. They were kind of ramping up to get more content on there. But anyways, Matt Hanson reached out to me saying that he had gotten a recommendation from Michelle Higa Fox, who runs Slanted Studios. He said that she had passed my name along, and it's funny because months later, I had sent her an email thanking her for referring me because I had never met her before. And she said, "Oh, well, I didn't do that. I didn't refer you," which was funny because I guess either she didn't remember or maybe Matt had misattributed it to her, but later on, I ended up working with Slanted Studios as well, so, yeah.
Joey: That's awesome. So you've used the word "permalance" a couple times. I just want to make sure everyone listening knows what that means. What does it mean to permalance?
Terra Henderson: Permalance is basically like a contract-basis type thing where instead of being booked gig to gig, like you normally would be as a freelancer, you kind of come in-house and you're booked for months at a time at the same company just doing whatever projects they have coming in. So typically, permalance is at bigger companies, like Yahoo or Viacom, that kind of have the resources to keep somebody on staff and also have a ton of work coming in that they just need people to handle. So I did permalance at Yahoo and then Viacom, and then, I started bouncing around more, being able to go into different studios and stuff.
Joey: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, how is it freelancing in New York City? because New York and LA and maybe London, Chicago ... There's only a few cities that are really the epicenters of motion design, and New York, it might be the biggest one. So what's that like? Is it super competitive? Are there any disadvantages? Or is it so easy to get work 'cause there are just so many studios?
Terra Henderson: I definitely would say it's ... of course, just like anywhere in motion graphics, it's really competitive. But at the same time, I found it really easy to find work just because everything is so concentrated there. So you not only have all of these amazing studios, which are arguably very difficult to get into, but you also have all of these other really large companies that do need motion designers. You have lots of agencies. You have lots of brands that need in-house motion-graphics people. So I think that the work is just so concentrated there that it makes it pretty easy to be a freelancer there.
Joey: Yeah, and I know Google has a presence there. There's gotta just be infinity motion-design work there. And I've never worked in New York City. At this point, that ship has sailed, but I used to read Motionographer every day and see, "Oh, another New York studio. Oh, another New York studio. Oh, another New York artist." And you must have gotten some pretty cool opportunities to work with some amazing people like one of my heroes, Erica Gorochow. So I'd like to hear how that opportunity popped up, and maybe you could talk about that a little bit.
Terra Henderson: Sure. Well, Erica's ... It's kind of weird; she's my client, but she's definitely one of my heroes, too. I have so much admiration for her work.
Terra Henderson: She's not only an amazing designer and animator, but she's also a really badass business owner. I met Erica through Michelle Higa Fox because actually Slanted Studio has their space but they rent out office space to other studios, and Erica is still currently renting an office from Michelle, so they're actually in the same space. So I went and did work for Slanted. I met Erica while I was working for Slanted, and then, later on, Erica had me come on to work with her on some projects.
Joey: That's awesome, and so you were given one or two shots on the Dear Europe piece. How was it working with the cream of the crop on the thing?
Terra Henderson: Well, so Erica put that whole thing together. Basically, it was her passion project; it was basically a message that she really wanted to get out to people in Europe, to just go vote. They had a lot of elections coming up that had really far-right candidates running for office, and so her message was just, "Hey, no matter what you guys do, just make sure you go vote. Make sure that your voice is heard." So Erica had put a script together, and then she contacted all of these amazing designers, I think through Twitter, and then just her own personal contacts. And then she asked me if I would want a shot, and I was like, "Of course." That project had so many of my personal design heroes on it, and just to be able to do one shot for it was awesome.
Joey: And that's the kind of thing that I think being in New York ... It'd be very hard if you started your career in Austin to have an opportunity like that. And I always tell people that you don't actually need to live in New York or LA to have a successful motion-design career, but there are some opportunities like that that probably won't happen unless you're there. Would you agree with that?
Terra Henderson: Yeah. I think that definitely I probably wouldn't have met Erica in person if it hadn't been for New York. But I think that things are changing pretty rapidly. There are some really great designers here in Austin, and I know that sometimes they're building connections and their networks through Instagram and Twitter. And so, yeah, New York is extremely concentrated, but people only have so much time to meet each other, so I think that just through social media, now people are able to build those connections and get those opportunities that they otherwise wouldn't have.
Joey: And you think even when you're starting out and you don't have a bunch of awesome stuff on your portfolio that social media is gonna be a powerful enough force to overcome that geographic separation?
Terra Henderson: I think so. I kind of have seen some people doing it here. I think that I am very guilty of not putting enough on social media, on Instagram. But there's people that are younger than me that seem very adept at it, and they just keep working on their craft and putting out more work. And I think that whenever they do develop a good portfolio and whenever they are putting out good work, that gets noticed.
Joey: Yeah, a lot of people say that now, that, "Oh, I don't do enough with my social-media accounts," and when I was freelance, it was before that was kind of a established way of promoting yourself and of getting work.
Terra Henderson: It has changed a lot.
Joey: Yeah, and I know there's a lot of artists that that's one of the primary channels they use to get work. So I wanted to ask you, how do you go about getting work? because you've obviously got some relationships now. You've probably got repeat clients. But I look at social media, putting your work out there, that's kind of an inbound approach; you're relying on people to look at it and then contact you. But then, there's also the outbound approach, which is what I talk about in the book, reaching out and sending your portfolio to places. And I'm curious, what strategies do you use to get work, and what's worked well for you?
Terra Henderson: Actually, it's kind of embarrassing to talk with you about this because I have read your book, and there are so many great things that I [inaudible 00:53:44] that I personally have not done. I think that I basically have built all of my contacts just through people that I've known, so I guess I have a starting point and I've kind of worked out from that. I have worked with people. I have done the best possible job that I could do on every single job, and I think that that's how I've built my network, is just kind of organically through referrals. So I have never been very good about reaching out directly to companies and being more intentional about building my client list, which is something that now I'm trying to do a little bit more of. I'm trying to seek out clients that I think I would design-wise be a good fit for, but in the past, that's not something that I've done.
Joey: Yeah, I think it'd be very smart and probably pretty easy for you to do that because your work is good. All of the tactics that are in the book, they work if you're good enough. But you're way past that, so they'll work really well for you.
And okay, so I want to talk about Austin, too. What made you decide to move to Austin?
Terra Henderson: I'm originally from Denton, which, I guess it's four hours away. I had been living out of state for about 10 years, and my brother actually, he made this video for his fiance that was like ... Basically, he took a recording every day, one second every day, for a full year, and then he edited it together and everything. And when he sent it to me, I kind of realized how much me and my husband had been missing. We would come back to Texas once a year, but there's a lot of events that you kind of miss whenever you're so far away. So I guess for us, it was more of a decision to be closer to family, and my brother is a firefighter here in Austin, so it made that choice pretty easy for us.
But I also ... I think that I had been living in New York for five years, and I think that me and my husband both got to the point where eventually we want to own property and eventually we want to have children, and it just seemed really difficult to do it in New York. I have friends who have kids in New York, and I have a few friends who have bought houses, but they are much older than me, and it seemed like it was gonna take a lot to overcome those hurdles.
Joey: Yeah, I think that's one of the best things about the technology we have now, is that you can work with anybody. You can live in Austin, which ... Well, Austin's not really cheap [inaudible 00:56:21]. It used to be, but it's way cheaper than New York. You could live in Sarasota, Florida, which is pretty inexpensive.
Terra Henderson: Yeah, [inaudible 00:56:30].
Joey: Yeah, that's awesome. Okay, cool, and so it was basically for family, which I can totally relate to.
Terra Henderson: Yeah, 100%.
Joey: Yeah. Has freelancing been any more difficult for you now that you're not in New York, or does it matter?
Terra Henderson: It's not that it's more difficult. I will say that I've been working less, but that was kind of my intention whenever I moved here. Whenever I lived in New York, as everyone knows, it's very expensive, and I kind of always felt the need to constantly be working, so I was always booked. I was booked all the time, and I would take time for a vacation, but definitely now I have breathers in between jobs, which has been great. I work on a project for a month, and then I take a week off, and it's been a great change in lifestyle for me.
Joey: And that's the reason that you turn down full-time jobs, that right there.
Terra Henderson: Yeah, well, and I also think that whenever I do have children, I think that that type of lifestyle will work great for that. And I think that there's a lot to be said for that.
Joey: Yeah, absolutely, and why don't we end the conversation with this? because I was gonna ask you, what is your ... You've had an interesting journey going from Denton, Texas, to Savannah, Georgia, to New York City working with Erica Gorochow, and now you're in Austin removed from that MoGraph scene but still doing it but working less, and you're talking about eventually starting a family. So I'm curious, have you thought about what your life looks like at that point? How do you want work-life balance to look when you have a family and you're still freelance, I'm assuming, and you have to now juggle working and diapers?
Terra Henderson: Oh, man. That is such a difficult question because I know that there's people who are out there who do have kids, and they're just gonna laugh at whatever my answer is 'cause I don't have kids.
Joey: I'm sorry to put you on the spot.
Terra Henderson: I guess for me, I just want to have time to spend with my kids. I don't want to have to hire a nanny, which is what a lot of people in New York have to do. I guess in 10 years, I just want to be better at my craft. I guess I would like to be at the level of Erica, where I'm a director hiring other people whenever I need to scale up on projects, and I ideally would love to have a little studio in my backyard.
Joey: Head to terrahenderson.com ... and "Terra," by the way, is spelled T-E-R-R-A ... to check out her awesome work and to hire her if you want to. She's freelance. Just don't ask her to make lens flares.
I want to thank Terra for opening up on the podcast and sharing some of her experiences and even some of her insecurities. I mean, we're all human beings, right? I think it's awesome when artists are super honest about the way they really feel, even when it looks like everything is rainbows from the outside. And of course, thank you for listening. I will see you next time.