For me, and many of our readers, the best part of Animation Career Review's Interview Series is hearing the various ways people enter—and succeed—in the motion graphics industry. Our recent interview with Carey Smith of Division05 showed us once again the variety of roles available in the industry, and the unlikely starts that often accompany them.
Carey's role in the production process is one of incredible originality and creativity. Carey's job is to get the creative ball rolling, by conceptualizing and story boarding projects. He very aptly described the story-boarding process as “stealing frames out of a finished piece that doesn't exist yet”. Working primarily in TV Carey creates designs and storyboards for show packages, show opens, network branding and commercial spots.
Carey took a non-traditional approach into the industry with his professional training being as a print designer, but, after falling in love with motion graphics he quickly became involved in the imaginative cycle for the entertainment industry.
We recently caught up with Carey and picked his brain about his experience in the industry and he offered some incredibly poignant advice about the type of training that will help aspiring animators succeed, what kind of clients to watch out for, and how to make yourself a vital commodity:
What is your focus within animation and production cycle and what led you to choose this focus?
I primarily work in the design/concepting stage, meaning that I essentially decide where a project is going, what it looks like, what's going to happen. The end product for me is usually a storyboard that shows exactly how key moments in the yet-to-be-created piece will look and what is happening in those moments. It's like stealing frames out of a finished piece that doesn't exist yet. I do this mostly for TV, which includes show packages, show opens, network branding, commercial spots, etc. I like that because I was trained as a print designer, but fell in love with motion graphics, and found that my skillset was better on the design end than the production end. It's also more fulfilling for me to start with a blank slate than to realize a pre-existing idea.
What influenced you to start your own business as opposed to working for someone else?
My first few jobs weren't staff jobs. The motion graphics industry was starting to shift more toward staff expansion/contraction through freelance usage, and it just became standard to bounce from studio to studio. Eventually, as a freelancer, you kind of realize that you are your own business. Especially when you bring a friend into a project and realize that, financially, they really are an employee. It's kind of that simple.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in this field?
The best is that your work is actually seen by people. Motion graphics is pretty ubiquitous these days, for better and worse. And when you have some sense of social responsibility for the subtle messages that you put out there, having a big audience is a plus. On the downside, much of the work that is most prized is commanded by advertising agencies, where ethics and social responsibility is regrettably in lower supply, and because of the stranglehold on that prized work, agencies are really able to squeeze the profits out of the people who actually make the work.
Among your achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?Honestly, it's just a joy to make something well. It's the creative person's drive in everything. You just want to be inspired, make rad shit, and inspire others. Maybe that means getting excited to make people laugh, or think, or become curious, or blow their minds, or send them into a rage, or whatever. But the more you can give to the world, the more you seem to get out of it.
What skills/qualities do you think are most important for a career in design, production and directing fields?
People skills. Being someone with whom people actually like to work is a big deal when you have to work with, y'know... people.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers and animators?Creativity is not magic. And intelligence is not book-learned. If you want to make great stuff, you need to know lots of stuff about lots of things. All creative endeavors come from and communicate to pretty much the same human drives. Once you understand the parallels between animation and music and film and sculpture and poetry etc, you're pretty much on your way. You can tell a story about a rock that will make people cry. You can make a film that affects a culture. But this takes having a broad self-education in many things. So don't get nearsighted and over-focused on your specific craft. It's great to have mastery of 3D modeling, but that's kind of worthless if you don't understand biology, or architecture, or music, or fluid dynamics, or photography, or...
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
Projects where the client didn't know what they were trying to do. Didn't know what they wanted or what the goal of the project was. These are usually the most challenging because YOU don't know what you're trying to do, and neither you nor they have any way to measure your success. These people will waffle and change stuff forever if they can, because they have no way of knowing whether this is better than that. It can take a while to realize that you're dealing with this kind of client, but once you do, avoid them like genital warts.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
An art education is vastly more helpful than a technical education. The important thing is to learn to THINK. The tools of your craft will change rapidly, and you can learn them as you need them. But getting a foundational understanding of visual communication is really important first. In the CalArts design program, we always looked to past examples of the things we were learning, which basically amounted to Art History. First we learned about composition, then about the form of typography, then about visual meaning and metaphor. Then you could get into storytelling through editing and so forth.
What software packages do you prefer to use? Which one(s) would you recommend to beginners?
I'll say this: use what you need to make what you want. If you need to drive a nail in, use a hammer. If you need a charcoal sketch, use charcoal. That said, graphic design and motion is usually a short deadline field, and photoshop / after effects / cinema4D are pretty ubiquitous in the production stages. But don't get stuck swirling down the drain of starting and ending with software. Know when you need to shoot it, or fingerpaint it in blood, or make paper cutouts. The authenticity of these things usually trumps anything software can generate on its own.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the industry.
The best times are when it's late and you have a song on that you can't get enough of, and whatever you're making is looking rad and only getting better, and you feel like you're making work that's better than you are. This happens more often than you think it will.
Has the trend of outsourcing design and animation overseas affected you? If yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
It hasn't, really. A company can only outsource what they can get elsewhere. When you offer something unique, then it can't be found elsewhere. That's why it's important to be an artist, not a technician, and to develop your own voice. No one can send overseas to get a cheap duplicate of that.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for designers and animators overall? Why?
Increasing. The market is expanding because the media outlets for it are expanding. The number of screens in the world is constantly increasing, making it a more and more tantalizing prospect for companies to get content on them. However, as a result of that, educators are turning more of a profit pumping out more graduates, so the supply of workers is growing too. As ever, you have to be better than the next guy, but now more than ever you have to stand out from the rest of the crowd by having your own unique voice. So be an artist, not a clone. There are plenty of clones already.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.