In this video Q&A, Joey virtually met up with students from Hyper Island to answer questions about freelancing, landing your first job, and more!
Long before Joey's head became a clean-shaven icon, Hyper Island was empowering artists to passionately pursue their careers. Since 1996 our Swedish predecessors have been pumping out amazing MoGraph talent with both in-person and online courses.
We've looked up to Hyper Island for a long time, so we were absolutely stoked when they asked Joey to do a live-chat Q&A with their students. In fact, we were so excited about the video that we had to share the recorded footage with you today.
Get ready, this video is packed full of delicious MoGraph knowledge nuggets. Yummy...
Note: The video also has the same run time as Mean Girls so you might want to grab a comfy chair or read the breakdown below. Also, you don't have to wear pink on Wednesdays to watch it.
If you don’t have time to watch the full video, there's a breakdown of the answers below.
Hyper Island Q&A with Joey Korenman
Feel free to skim through that section and grab some knowledge on the way out!
How did Joey get started in the motion design world?
Joey has been doing motion design work professionally for about 15 years. Since he has been in the industry for so long, his career inside of motion design has taken so many different twists and turns. This is quite normal for someone who has made a career out of the motion design industry. Motion Design isn’t your typical 30 year and retire with a 401K sort of job.
Joey studied film and television at a college in Boston where he graduated in 2002. Before graduating and landing his first job right out of college, Joey interned at four different places. There is no better way to get your foot in the door and land your first full-time job than to work for little to no money as an intern.
Joey immediately got a job as an assistant editor where he worked for two years before taking the editors’ position that had gotten fired. This is where he started getting into After Effects as a motion designer. Back in that day, the term was not motion design, it was mograph or motion graphics.
As an editor, he would be given ingredients and have to cook something from that, but as a motion designer, you’re given a blank page to imagine something and then technically figure it out. Joey became fascinated with motion design and quit his job after being there for only two years. He turned to freelance for around seven years, which turned out to be a really positive experience for him.
While freelancing he got sucked up into having this vision of owning his own studio with artists working together in this space with polished concrete floors and a coffee maker in the corner. So Joey partnered up with two local people in Boston and founded a company called Toil.
He was the Creative Director, Lead Animator, and Technical Director of that studio for four years. They did a lot of work with ad agencies since Boston is a big ad agency town. Some examples of the companies they were doing work for is JetBlue, Hummer, Subway, etc.
After four years, Joey sort of peaked and realized running a studio was not what he thought it was going to be. During those four years, Joey realized he really loved to teach the junior artists and interns that would come into their studio. He was able to reverse engineer the knowledge he would suck up from the Creative Director they hired and teach it to the artists and interns.
That is what led Joey to leave the studio six years ago and shift careers to teaching, where he started School of Motion. He moved to Florida and taught at Ringling College of Art and Design for a year, decided that wasn’t for him and put all of his focus on School of Motion, where it has grown really fast in the last few years. Now his full-time job is to stay out of the way of his team and to make sure School of Motion doesn’t explode.
Why did you start with giving away 30 days of After Effects with School of Motion instead of charging money?
30 Days of After Effects came into play about a year and a half after School of Motion was a thing. Joey offered this for free because he was afraid to ask for money. You have to remember that School of Motion has only running classes for a little over four years; that’s not very long.
At the time there was no such thing as a $900 After Effects class, so Joey thought it was crazy to ask people to pay money for this. YouTube was free, everything on Greyscalegorilla was like $12 a month, so he thought no one would value this enough to actually pay what it would take to turn this into a real business.
Part of it was fear, the other part of it is when you’re building any kind of web presence like the one we have, you have a chicken and an egg problem. The goal is to eventually find and grow an audience or tribe (Joey uses a lot of the same language as Seth Godin). You want to find a tribe of people that think like you and focus on providing as much value before you charge money.
You can build an audience through purchasing ads and raising capital, but Joey went the route of offering a free course of 30 days of After Effects in a row to build his audience. He stole this idea from the Podcast called Entrepreneur on Fire by John Lee Dumas. Dumas was a great interviewer and he was interesting to listen to, but the thing that made it take off was that he had an episode come out daily.
Joey thought that he would at least compete on quantity since he wasn’t sure about the quality of his tutorials. He figured doing the 30 days of After Effects would gather a lot of attention and people would think he is crazy for committing to something like that. It was really hard to do, but it worked.
After that, he had thousands of people on an email list that were emailing him daily telling him how great the video was and how it helped them by using the tricks he talked about. That is when he realized he was in a position to create a class that people would pay for.
Joey actually recommends building your audience first, because if you trying to monetize first, your incentives are in the wrong places. School of Motion looks through the lens of adding value wherever they can and helping make the students’ lives better. If it was looked at through the lens of it being a means to pay bills, then things would be done that didn’t line up with the core values.
How do you figure out what to charge?
When Joey was a freelancer, the only reason why he knew what to charge was that he asked another freelance friend. He wrote The Freelance Manifesto, a book on freelancing and put the rates you should charge right in the book because everyone needs to know how to charge when working freelance.
There is obviously a range depending on your skill level and how niche you are. As you network and talk around with other freelancers, you will start to get a sense of what you should be charging.
Joey changed his prices twice while freelancing. Nobody flinched the first time he raised his prices, which told him he was undercharging everyone. He received push back the second time he raised his prices, which told him where the line was for his work.
When running a studio, you're not just charging for your time, typically you’re bidding on projects. When Joey worked for Toil, a post house studio actually gave them another company’s bid, so they got to see how much they should be charging. Toil took into consideration the location and experience level of the studio and knocked their price down 25%, and that’s how they started.
We just had a Podcast come out with Joel Pilger on building a studio from the ground up and selling it. Pilger talks about pricing and how you should charge based on value instead of time. Say you get a 30-second commercial project and you think it’s going to only take a week to do, but you are the only place in town to be able to pull that off, then that elevates your rate.
If the client is a pain in the rear and you know this because you’ve worked with them before and they're going to be really “pixel effy” then you’ll want to pad that bid around 30%. You can add that padding through different types of fees on your invoice. There is black art when it comes to sending bids.
It seems unethical at first because you are essentially pulling numbers out of your butt, and not many people will admit that. But the truth of that is that you have to maximize the amount of money you are getting out of your client, that’s the name of the game. If you short change yourself once, it hurts you forever. You will forever be the budget option or the studio that the client goes to when they can’t afford Buck or Stardust.
There is some math and some science to successfully bidding. In the end, as a studio, you do need to focus on bringing in as much money as possible because it is very expensive to run a studio, especially the kind that Toil was.
How do you get over the fear of charging clients?
It feels weird to try and charge a lot of money when you are doing something that you actually enjoy. There will be some rough days, but for the most part, you will love being a Motion Designer.
The short answer is that there is a wall in your mind that you can’t get over because you are about to ask for $500 a day to work as a Motion Designer. It’s not going to feel normal until you destroy that wall, and the only way how to do that is to close your eyes, take a deep breath, take a shot of vodka, whatever, and say out loud that your rate is $500 a day.
The first time Joey felt that way was when he was on the phone with a producer from Converse Shoes because a friend had recommended him. This lady is talking to me like I know what I’m doing as a professional designer. By the end of the call, she asked me what my rate was, and Joey had to literally choke out the words “$500 a day”.
He freaked out once the words came out and she responded with “Perfect! We’ll see you on Monday!” You’ll say a number and they won’t hesitate and that’s when you know you said a good number. You just need to get that first bid out of the way.
Practice saying to yourself what you are going to discuss with your client. Eventually, it will become natural to say because you have internalized it. At some point, you are going to have to tell someone your rate or talk about your expected salary for a position.
Just know that every person in this industry has to go through that wall at some point, and as soon as you do, that fear generally goes away. Until you prove that you are worth more than the market says you're worth, you will generally get paid entry-level prices.
How do you handle clients that don’t know what a motion designer is worth?
Joey doesn’t recommend going after clients that don’t know what motion design is since there is so much work out there to be done. Try focusing on the easier ones, the ones that are easier to deal with. It would be easier for you to walk into an ad agency that does advertisements for apps than it would be for you to walk into an arcade and convince them to hire you to make some digital animation clips for their digital signs.
There is a Podcast coming out soon that talks about how animation in some cases is actually increasing the value of a product. When you think of motion design, you probably think of the work OddFellows does or the stuff you see on Motionographer, where it is advertising. Advertising is easy to sell, it is instantly valuable. You make something for people to see and then they buy that product after being shown it.
Another area is to find a software development firm such as Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google, Airbnb, etc. They all hire motion designers by the truckload because using motion inside an app or on a website increases retention, time on site, and it decreases customer support because you can communicate things better. So having clients like that make it super easy to explain what motion design is and how valuable it is.
To recap, go after clients that know who you are and what you do and learn how to position yourself to clients that come off as valuable.
How do you stay relevant in motion design?
The industry of motion design is humungous and it’s hard to see that until you get into it yourself. You will start to network and find motion design work come from places you never thought you’d see work come from.
There is enough room for everybody and you don’t have to know everything. Joey only animated projects for the first 5 years of his career. He didn’t know anything other than After Effects because he didn’t have to. You will have to know more than one software to land a job unless you want to completely specialize in certain software.
Focusing on the tools people are using in the industry is the wrong way to go about trying to stay relevant. You do need to know Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects, everything after that is gravy. You will be worth more money if you know some Cinema 4D.
It’s hard to do all of those things really well, so you will have to figure out what you want to specialize in a bit more than others and let some of the programs get a little rusty. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what tool you are using as long as you understand design, know your composition, and you know how things move.
Staying relevant in the industry is all about knowing what the design trends are and what new ways that motion design is being used. It is far more important to focus on visual trends in storytelling than to focus on what software to use.
What are the visual trends right now to focus on?
There are a few trends to focus on currently, and the cool thing about these are that they used to be trending back when Joey started designing and now they’re coming back. The collage, photo bash kind of grungy look is coming back. Kinetic pieces are starting to trend again.
There is a trend going back to the analog look from the 80’s, which Joey really loves because it is so “graphic designish” and it’s a great place for motion designers to start.
Joey predicts people will start using 3D animation to make things look like mixed media and playing with timing.
What are the technology trends to focus on?
Technology seems to always be getting better. Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Cinema 4D are not going anywhere. In Joey’s opinion, you should learn them in that order. If you know the first three, then you have a job waiting for you.
If you know all four, then you will have plenty of jobs waiting for you making more money. If you have all of these skills but can’t get a ball to bounce across the screen correctly, none of that will matter.
In ten years, where do you see this industry going?
Right now there is absolutely nothing out there that can do what a motion designer does. There are some really cool technologies like Dataclay that can spit out a ton of versions of the same project you originally created. There is a video on our YouTube channel that discusses Dataclay.
There are templates that clients can buy to plug in their content and make it look the way they want. But there is always going to be room for quality and high-end work because companies care about their products.
It could cause problems in VFX work since there are technologies that can rotoscope for you. It’s not perfect now, but in ten years, it will be perfect. It will kill some jobs, but will also open up other jobs that we don’t know about.
Have you had a job where the user interface is in code?
Joey quit doing client work before the time work could be implemented with code in an app somewhere. He did do a lot of product prototype videos where he would get a design of an app that didn’t exist and would have to show how it would work. It was really just to sell the idea through and then they would go to a UX Designer and they would figure it all out from there.
What’s cool about this topic is that it’s a very new idea and concept. It’s like the wild west because no one has really nailed it yet. There needs to be a standard way of doing before it becomes something important. If you are interested in this topic, you need to learn about UX. UX is separate from UI because it is more psychology related because it deals with getting inside the user’s mind on how they want it to work naturally.
Showreel vs. Individual Clips to land an internship.
There is a different bar you need to hit when you are reaching for an internship over a job position as an animator. The bar you are trying to clear for an internship is to show that you are super passionate about the industry and that you have some talent.
You don’t need to show them that you are a total pro at motion design, you have plenty of time to do that. A showreel is useful, but they really want to see that you know what you are doing.
The best tip to snag an internship is to do a short case study of the video the company just watched explaining what you did in order to make that happen. This shows them you care enough and you were good enough once to get that result. Case studies will get you an internship faster than trying to stretch your few pieces into a showreel or posting them on Instagram.
Joey’s advice is to not try and do a reel, just blog about your work with a few sentences explaining what you were trying to accomplish.
How do you follow up with a potential client that hasn’t responded to you?
Let’s start by answering why people don’t respond to your emails. People are usually super busy. If you’re writing to a producer, creative director, or even an animator, there is a good chance you won’t hear back from them.
Mailtrack is another plugin you should install because this will tell you when they open the email. If they opened it and didn’t get back to you, you know they at least know you exist, but maybe there was a reason.
Maybe they looked at your work, Mailtrack will tell you if they clicked any links in your email as well. If they did open your stuff and didn’t get back to you then you know they probably aren’t interested.
If two days go by and it still hasn’t been opened then you know that they are probably really busy at the moment and are not good at email management. Try sending the same email with a few lines switched up to see if that works.
The Freelance Manifesto goes really deep into this kind of freelance advice.
The next step to all of this is follow up. If the email you sent was open and clicked on, but they didn’t respond, you need to use the same Right Inbox plugin and snooze that email and have it come back in two or three months.
A reminder will pop up in your inbox three months later to help you remember to write them a new email following up with what the last email was about and any new work you have done since then.
Reach out to 30-50 people when you are looking for an internship or job, you will get a bite from someone. Be sure to think of your subject line and be intentional about it.
Hopefully, all of that was enough to get you started.
If you could go back to 17-year-old Joey, what would you say to him?
There are things that Joey did wrong that he really wish he didn’t have to go through at the time, but they did teach things that turned him into the Joey he is today.
What he wishes he learned sooner was that your success will be dictated by how good you are at the work, the quality of your work, how good you are at building relationships with people, and how reliable and how professional you are. And the last two mentions are far more important than how good you are at work.
What sticks with people is how nice you are and how good you are at communicating.
The secret to doing good work is not always about the work that you do. It takes all of the other qualities to work together to help you land that job and be remembered.
Give all of your clients an availability check email just letting them know that you have some open time to works on projects. Most of the time you will get emails back because there are agencies that are needing something right away and don’t remember who you are.
Any tips for the interviewing process?
Joey likes to get to know someone when they are interviewing. Companies already know the basics of your work. When you go to an interview, they are looking at if they can stand being around you full time. Are they going to enjoy having you on the team?
Do your research about the company you are interviewing with. Find out everything you can about that company. Find artists from that company and try reaching out to them about how the company is to work for. Figure out what your potential future coworkers are interested in and talk about those things in the interview.
First and foremost, be the nicest person that you can be. Be interested in what they are doing currently and create a conversation with that work.
What networking and social skills are good to have to be a good motion designer?
To be more creative, you will need more ammo. You can’t live in a studio apartment and watch Netflix for 20 hours a day and be very interesting, right? You need to get out and see things and expose yourself to the things you aren’t used to. It will give you a visual vocabulary and help you expand your palette.
You need to have an outlet besides motion design to get the poison out. Spending eight hours in front of a computer will fry your brain. Go for a run or walk and meditate to alleviate the problems you are experiencing.
Go to live events with people that are a lot like you so you can bounce ideas off of them and learn new techniques. There will be some sort of connection you will make by going to these events.