Rob Garrott interviews storyboard artists, animators, VFX artists, and other film-industry pros in this series of creative conversations.
(rock music) - Man, that song was new when that came out.
(laughter) - So that was a really cool blast from the past. Tell me a little bit about how you got started. Everyone knows you as the gorilla, but obviously you were something before that. - Yeah, I was Creamy Orange before that, right? So that was my After Effects as you could see a lot of After Effects stuff in there a lot of 2D kind of fake 3D stuff but I got started in somewhere around 2001, 2002 I saw some MK12 stuff and that was when it, that's when my mind was like, I wanna do that.
And I looked and at the end of their video they had what they made it with, it was like After Effects and Maya and Final Cut and I'm like I know Final Cut, Final Cut 1 I was using, I'm like what's this After Effects thing so I start playing with it and I realize it incorporated a little bit of everything as far as my personality. I was already doing Pro Tools and audio stuff so I was familiar with timelines, I was familiar with key framing and volume adjustment, stuff like that. - Wait, so were you a musician before this or? - Yeah, I grew up a musician and always interested in four tracks, I was always recording my own stuff so when a Mac could finally, when I could finally get an eight track Pro Tools rig where I could record eight at a time and play back 16, my mind was like, wow, it was crazy it was like 2000, 2001, had the Mac there, it was my first Mac, had Final Cut, learned how to key frame and move video around.
I had a high eight digital camera. And, you know, the technology was so nothing back then but it was enough for me to go, this is really cool. - It was revolutionary, though. - Yeah, for me to be able to do it in an apartment was a big deal, right? And I always grew up around computers, always grew up around music and so when I saw what After Effects could do it was right when they had the 3D After Effects so it was right between 5 and 5.5, which will date me, but once I saw that you could not just take stuff and move it in and out, scale it, which you could do in Final Cut, but also with the new After Effects you could take a camera and do the post cards in space they call it, right? You remember that.
You could fly a camera around it and what that meant to me was I could bring a photo in, I could bring a piece of video in, I learned how to roto things out and fly through, I started buying books, Angie Taylor and Kristen Trish. - Kristen Trish, right. - Right? And my favorite, Brian Maffitt. - Yeah (laughs). - And total of training. So I've been a fan of video training forever, right? It was me and Brian Maffitt on VHS tapes. (laughter) Back in the day and I didn't even have a DVD player, you know, I'm watching these VHSs on like After Effects 4.1 or something like that I'm like well if I get through these and I'm still into it maybe I'll buy the total training 5.5 disks, you know, and that was like years later I could finally figure all the stuff out.
So kind of grew up on Brian Maffitt teaching me all these things and some books and made the most complicated technical ugly stuff in After Effects for years. Learned every button, learned how to make roller coasters in After Effects, learned how to put layers together really to make 3D objects and all my friends just kept saying, learn a 3D program, cause they kept making real all these, I was basically building things polygon by polygon. (laughter) But layer by layer. - Out of images? - Yeah.
Yeah, and I would take a photo of a friend and then cut them out, put them as like a little layer in there and take a photo of a texture and cut that out, make that, and was basically building my own models in After Effects and you know, tried a whole bunch of different software and ended up, this is maybe later, but ended up in Cinema 4D somehow. - So how did that happen, though? What was the moment where it entered your life? Cause for a lot of people there is a big conceptual leap between even 2 1/2 D and actual 3D so like how were you, how did that happen for you? - I've always been good about the 3D stuff, right, the After Effects 3D stuff made so much sense to me and I instantly was like, got it, cameras, lights, layers and I was building walls and all this stuff and so the 3D land always made sense.
There was XYZ, you can move cameras around, you just gotta make sure you don't go to the side of your layers cause they're just flat, right? So I was pretty good with manipulating cameras and that's really what drawn me to MK12 cause they were so good at that like 3D land built a little bit of 3D but mostly 2D poster stuff and it just made sense to me. And the interface for After Effects made a lot of sense to me. In fact, I got to Photoshop class in school and they started teaching me Photoshop, I knew every button in After Effects, couldn't care a bit about Photoshop and they started teaching me Photoshop and I go wait, you mean I have to like, if I wanna blur things I have to bake a blur into a layer? Like there's no slider for a blur? Like, screw this, this software sucks.
I'm gonna use After Effects, and I ended up using After Effects for all my Photoshop projects because you can tweak things. - Non-destructively. - Forever, non-destructively. Exactly, so I'm like, this program, I don't know what you're doing, this thing's dying. (laughter) So I was playing with After Effects and for me it was cinema because I tried other 3D programs. My school, where I went to school, they taught Maya. - Where was that? - It was one of the AI schools in Chicago and they had a 3D pipeline thing where it was character animation and making space ships, the normal 3D whatever stuff And that also didn't interest me.
The whole 3D thing was like, they're building aliens and spaceships and they make movie special effects, all this crap I don't care about. I wanna make TV commercials. I wanna make logos fly around. That's what After Effects does. I wanna stay in this world, cause I don't wanna be in alien lizard world. (laughter) That's not my personality. But then when I saw some of 4D I really tried hard, because I can't remember where I got introduced to it first but it might have been a book, it might have been Angie Taylor's website cause she had a really nice tutorial. - Yep. - On how to integrate the two.
And I was like, it's integrated into After Effects? Perfect, this is what I wanted all along. I wanted to make a simple 3D shape and bring it into the tool that I knew how to use. - Right, right. - You know, I wanted to get out of 3D, I'm like this is too complicated. I don't, this is not what I need, I want my my baby, I want my After Effects so Youtube did not exist, video on the internet was this big, nobody was up there doing videos on how all this stuff works, so for me it was either DVDs or if I bought the student version from cinema, I got this packet of DVDs, just like 20 DVDs in this cool case and I could insert it, watch these videos, learn from the people that knew what they heck they were doing.
So I got that, started learning, started integrating stuff but where I worked, I was at a post house for a long time doing work and then I started working at Digital Kitchen. I was really the After Effects person, you know? I wasn't really counted on for 3D stuff. - Did they have 3D in house? - They did. They had, it was a Maya pipeline, and really great Maya artists but there was more and more of this kinda motion graphics 3D that was popping up and I just continued to play with it and learn it.
But it was one of the projects that we pitched, Target Health I think they called it, and it was all in-store stuff and what they wanted was these really simple 3D things moving around so like a little pill bottle kinda spinning or literally pills, you saw it in that reel we just watched, those little pills hitting the ground spilling a Target logo. So, I think they won the job but then the 3D people or the 3D team was like we're too busy, like we can't take this, we can't take this they want pills falling to the ground? Like, whatever, we're too busy making robots and lions and real 3D stuff and I kinda raised my hand and I'm like hey, I've been playing around with some cinema.
I'll take a stab at it and if they like it then we'll take the job. So I made that piece and made the pills hit the floor and I made the little pill bottle, I figured to how to model, model it's like a cylinder with a cylinder on top of it, you know, a little pill bottle with some textures on it and moved around and ended up working on that spot, so for a good year there, I was doing kinda the, I was the cheap 3D guy, let's face it.
If you want the real stuff, you go to the other guys. I was like, you want your logo spinning around, you know, come to me. There was also a caterpillar spot in that reel that was a globe. It's like a yellow and black globe with arrows flying around. And so, same thing, real simple stuff, mow grass stuff but they were too busy doing really crazy complicated stuff to worry about that. So I got that job and that's where I really started learning cinema cause it was not just playing anymore. - You had to make actual shapes and.
- I had to figure it out. Cause when you play, you get to a hard part in the software and you're like mm, I'm not gonna open that, I'm just gonna, I'm having fun. But when a client's over there they're like yeah we want flying arrows, I'm like uh, I don't have no clue how do I make a flying, well let's figure it out. - Right, right. - So that was a big turning point. - A lot of folks come to 3D sort of accidentally would be the wrong way to say it, but almost improvisationally I guess would be a better way to say it. Is that like, you mentioned that you happened to be at sort of the right place the right time and no one else could do it so I'll so it and now you're faced with these big challenges.
Did you ever crash and burn? - Um, yeah, I made ugly stuff forever. My crash and burn was design stuff. That was really my, I tend to pick technical stuff up pretty okay, not heavy technical, but I can learn quickly enough to make it work. So my big crash and burn was always design because I was so, I was so interested in making things fly around and having shapes and patterns and clones and all these things were so fun to me that I never realized when I hit render why my stuff was so ugly, cause I'm like, I know all these buttons, I read the manual, I read all these books and I know what they did, they made a book I read it, I'm practically as good as they are.
- But everybody thinks of you as a designer, I mean, that's Nick Campbell designer, Grayscalegorilla, the designer. - Oh, God. It's all, it's all a sham. (laughter) It's all a sham. Here's what I know about design. Don't use a lot of typefaces, use two colors at most. If it's black or white and a color, even better, so there's like one color really. Try to either center it, alright like symmetrical composition or rule of thirds, like, draw a tic tac toe board and put your main objects on one of those corners, and then just look at a ton of books and compare their final piece to your final piece and go, why does theirs looks so much better.
Design was never an interest to me, it's still, the whole design culture is kind of weird to me and it's never been a big part of my personality. I had to learn design because I was tired of my stuff looking so ugly and in my, coworkers were tired of my stuff looking so ugly, right? So I learned design luckily by some of the best designers in the world frankly, like these people I worked with at Digital Kitchen were nice enough to come up to me and go, yeah mean, we gotta talk.
- They had an intervention? - Yeah. Your camera move? Pretty cool, I like the way you did that thing and the way you have like 100 layers all falling down at once and kinda making this, I was good at smooth key frames and (explosion) and I was good at that, but then when it came to the colors I chose and the typefaces I picked, I'm like well there's gotta be a reason there's 100 typefaces included. Let's use all of them. (laughter) They were like, let's talk about this, and so I started learning a little bit more, some classes I took, some from them, just basic design stuff literally just so, just so my stuff looked more like MK12 really and once that check box went off in my head I'm like wait, it doesn't matter actually how many buttons I know if I don't know the design principles that go behind this it'll never look even close to that, so that was a big turning point for me just to continue to ask all my friends, I'm like if you walk past my desk and it's ugly can you just please, first of all tell me it's ugly, if you have a minute tell me why it's ugly and if you have another minute, describe the principle behind that and why I could choose the correct typeface the next time.
So I got interested in it purely on a, I wasn't interested in, like I didn't read books on designers and poster designers and documentaries about designers, I just purely was like, I know I need to learn this because I'm so awful at it. - So your self-deprecating on purpose here, but I mean, the thing that illustrates is sort of a need to get better which is inherent in all artists. - Yes. - So was there ever a point where you didn't feel like you were an artist yet, so, I guess that kind of begs the question, when you were in school what were you studying? - So the first part is, the more I talked to actual designers, I don't think designers ever feel like they're a designer, I think a lot of designers feel like they're a fraud anyway.
So there's something inherent in that, maybe I'm displaying those personality traits. I don't consider myself a designer but you talk to em and everyone's still like, I'm getting better but this person, they're looking at their next person so there's that. Maybe that's my thing, I don't know, but the other one was what the heck was I doing in school? I was doing in school what I'm afraid a lot of people are doing in school right now which is learning software and I didn't need to learn software in school and I wish I knew that, you know, and now when I talk to students I'm like don't please don't learn software in school, if nothing else we got Lynda, we got my site, we got Youtube alone.
Just go start learning, you do not need to go to school to learn software. What I should have been doing was taking more design classes and luckily I learned that somewhat early, kinda tested out of some After Effects classes, tested out of some Photoshop classes and got into actual design classes. - Saved some time. - Saved some time, so what I was doing was there was also a little bit of film making kind of in my degree, so I was in one of those weird degrees that don't mean anything, like digital media production. (laughter) And they taught literally, again, before Youtube, they taught web compression, that was one of my classes, really used that knowledge.
But you know, they were teaching how to edit. We were using Final Cut, we were learning how to make a short film, we were learning how to light, so I did learn a lot about lighting and I point at your pretty lights you guys got, but I learned a lot about lighting and filmmaking and exposure and those kind of things, and those things did help me out later on. For now, now that we do tutorials and I'm kinda focused on lighting, a lot of that stuff kind of translated into 3D so those classes ended up really good helping me a lot.
And that editing teacher that I had, too, was like one of the, I think everybody kinda hates their school but there were like two good teachers and luckily my editing and lighting teacher was really great and I had a good After Effects teacher too that was in the industry and was able to kind of show how clients do stuff so, lucked out there. But yeah, you know what I was doing in school? I was learning how to drink and not be a jerk, right? Like, that's frankly I think that's what school is mostly for these days.
- It's a valuable skill, though. - It's a good skill. - It's a social, it really is, it really is about learning how to develop relationship and how to talk coherently and. - Yeah, there's something too, I'm glad I went to school for a lot of those reasons, met a lot of people, it kept me in the culture of it, but the classes themselves, if the school was just a bunch of hallways and rooms we hung out in, maybe that would have been better. (laughter) You know? So, we'll figure out the school on how it's gonna go.
- So, how did you make the transition then from from motion graphics artist, you call it aspiring motion graphics artist to motion graphics artist but then suddenly along comes Grayscalegorilla, like where was that, where did that switch happen? - Um, Grayscalegorilla, so we'll start with Creamy Orange, Creamy Orange was my first website I ever purchased. Everyone else had a site where they showed their best work, I'm like that's my site so I bought my first domain, made a site, figured out html stuff and learned how to code and do like a basic website, started putting some work up there and that was my motion stuff, that was After Effects, that was Cinema 4D stuff and I also at the same time got into digital photography, and it was right when digital photography was picking up 2003, four, affordable digital cameras were coming out and I bought a D70 Nikon and a kit lens for 1200 bucks, four megapixels.
(laughter) - State of the art. - It was, it really was and that was expensive and so I started shooting photos mostly because I was really into, I knew something in the back of my head knew that I needed to learn some more visual language stuff. At the time I didn't know that it was typefaces and logos, but in my head I'm like I gotta get better at this composition stuff. I see these really beautiful photos from other people. I wanna try that and I started posting a photo a day, and I ended up doing that for three years on a website called Grayscale gorilla so I bought the domain, set up a little template and it just allowed me to post a photo a day, there was no social media nothing, it just somehow the word got out and we had like 30,000 people looking at this site every day of my photography and it wasn't great photography, there was some good stuff, there was some bad stuff, but the key to it was was that it was every day.
And I learned a lot. I learned a lot from other photographers that chimed in and talked about technique and I just kinda loved that so much so that when I wanted to share some of my thoughts about, what, people ask me all the time what camera do you buy or all these things, I didn't really have a place to put that, right? Again, before social media there wasn't anything there so if you wanted to say anything online you needed to build your own space so I built Grayscalegorilla.com/blog and started on there saying alright here's my camera gear and here's the lenses I picked and here's why and here's how I learned how to shoot photography and linking to other things and silly stuff, too.
- Mm hmm. - But then I started doing After Effects tutorials. - Mm. Okay so what year was this? - This would have been 06 07 was kind of blog era, um, 06 07 08 was kinda this part so the blog started, a couple of After Effects tutorials, people were I love this app, people were more like eh I get this photography stuff but Nick you actually get paid to be an After Effects artist, I was working at Digital Kitchen at the time, they're like can you show us After Effects stuff the same way that you show us photography stuff, I'm like well I don't, you guys know there's other people like better people than me doing this stuff and they go, well we like the way you talk and we like the way you explain things.
I'm like, alright, After Effects tutorial. Those were well-received but there were a lot of After Effects tutorials, but somebody goes, you're also learning cinema, right? I'm like yeah yeah. Can you do a cinema tutorial? So I did one, real simple one, just how to make, it's honestly still it's a bunch of shiny spheres with a reflection on it, my whole career is based on this, but it's how to take an HTRI and project it on your scene and add a couple colors and kinda move them around the screen and then how to deal the final rider and that wasn't long, but it was so well-received and so many people were like, yes, we need more cinema 4D stuff and I'm like guys, I'm learning this as I go, like that's the most I got.
But they go, well you know more where you are then we do and we're right here and you're right there and I knew there were people way up there but they weren't making tutorials, you know I was finding the stuff out on DVDs from Maxon right and like 3D fluff DVDs, alright, there was no online source so I'm like, I'll tell you what, when I learn it, you'll know it and that was my philosophy making our tutorials was if I figured it out, you should know it the next day, so that's how the Grayscalegorilla blog tutorials started.
I learned another technique, learned how to use a cloner to animate things and I would just make that tutorial at night when I got home, set it up in the living room, start recording and it wasn't super fancy but I started, I just told people what I knew. If I learned it that day you knew it tomorrow and that still is kind of our philosophy with the site which is we're still playing, we're not experts, we're just having fun like you guys are and if we come up with a new thing, we want you to know it the next day.
- So how did you make the transition then to business? I mean, that's the great leap I think that a lot of folks either wanna make or fail to make at some point. - The transition from working at Digital Kitchen to kinda running Grayscalegorilla full-time was a series of little accidents, so during this whole time 2005-2008 I also was experimenting with stock photography and it started with stock photography, just straight up there.
I was shooting literally hundreds of photos a day to get to my one good photo a day on my website and I saw this istock website and they said hey we sell stock photos, oh I'm like oh I know what stock photos are it's like people shaking hands and on the phone or whatever, but they also sold textures, they sold all the stuff that wasn't necessarily artistic but was practically or technically a good photograph and what didn't mean a lot to me emotionally I started to upload to istock and I realized that there was a different way to make money.
There was a different way to support yourself other than getting paid per hour at a job and it was just a little shift in my brain but it ended up turning into a big shift when I looked at all these tutorials and training and people really were into this and that's when I had an idea for a plug-in for Cinema 4D that would help make lighting a lot easier. - Right. - I knew about lighting from college, I knew about lighting from photography and I was always struggling with lighting in 3D until my buddy Chad said, you know how to light, you know studio lighting, you know how light falls off, bigger lights have softer shadows, smaller lights have harder shadows and all these things, you know where to set up a light in a studio, just do that in 3D and the software does the rest, right? I'm like dang, I never thought about it that way so I started building this plug-in and I realized, I should try to sell this plug- in, I think it's worth it.
It helps me, I use it all the time and I started using it in all my renders and I'm like, I'm gonna give this a go. - Yeah. - And that was kinda all those things combined allowed me to look at it and go, I'm gonna try this. So I guess the main things are, I wanted to see if I could trade my energy for money instead of my hours for money. I wanted to see if I could do what I wanted to do all day, which was just play in Cinema 4D and like make a living out of it.
And I wanted to see if I could make a product, cause I always loved plug-ins and trap code and I was just obsessed with cool plug-ins when they come out and I'm like, well if this works and people find as much value out of it as I do and I can sell it for at the time I think it was like $65 or whatever, if I can do that and make a living out of it and continue to do free tutorials for everybody and it's kinda paid for by the plug-ins then I can do everything I want which is never have to talk to a client again, you know and also be able to just play with these tools and come up with cool ways so that's kinda how it started.
The jump was I should say, the jump was after I knew it worked, not before I knew it worked, there's a lot of people that are like, I'm gonna quit my job and then I'm gonna go try this thing and go do it I'm like whoa whoa whoa whoa, just come home, don't play Xbox, don't watch a movie and start working on whatever you're trying to do separately and then if there's traction then move into it. I'm not like - You're not a cliff jumper? - Not a cliff jumper. I'm like, alright, once my rent's paid by either istock, you know cause that was an interesting experiment as well, let's upload more photos let's upload more video and see if this is valuable for other people, so once I had enough income from istock and Grayscalegorilla separately I said hey guys, I love Digital Kitchen, I love working here, I learned so much from you guys, if I left for like six months or a year would you have me back? And they go, you have a place here.
And like just that alone I'm like, I love you, I'll let you know and that was it, that's how it started. And luckily it worked out. (laughter) We're still making shiny spheres look good. (laughter) Six years later. - So, a lot of folks don't realize also that you have iOS applications. - Mm hmm. - So, that's a really big jump from doing shiny spheres to making apps for phones. - Yeah, that one surprises me, too.
(laughter) I don't know, I try to tie all these things together into one cohesive story but there is none, there's just a separate thing in my life. - Well, it's a photography app, so there's. - Yeah, there's a photography background to it. I was always obsessed with looking at film, there was a photographer called Quaralo and he shot on film and he shot slide film and then he cross-processed the film to get these really saturated colors and shot New York where there's just gorgeous stuff and I was obsessed with, and I thought to myself, there has to be a way to make my digital photo look that good, there has to be a way, it's just pixels and there's a chemical in there that's making this cross-process stuff look so good and I'm gonna figure it out.
So in my spare time constantly I was always trying to figure out the way to fake film, fake film with digital and a lot of people have tackled this problem but for me, it was just looking at this Quaralo website and going like, man I can't afford to process slide film you know every time I wanna take 24 photos. - Yeah. - And I'm not as good as a photographer, I have to take 400 photos to get one. - Yeah. - And he takes, you know, half his roll's probably amazing. So I was always on the lookout for formulas and trying to make stuff look that way so when the iPhone came out I got the first iPhone and I started with playing and I realized that taking photos was the thing that everybody was gonna do on this thing, it's in their pocket, I had to spend $1200 to get a digital camera and now here's this thing it's in my pocket, it's a one megapixel and it's not a great camera but it's also, it's right there.
- The camera you need is the one that you have at the time. - Exactly, and I found myself using it and I had this expensive camera gear at home and I found myself using this crappy one megapixel camera I'm just thinking like, man, this is nuts, I wonder if there's a way we can take this crappy lens really, the first version was not a great camera, but it was there and I was like, well I don't wanna make a fancy good-looking kinda camera app, what I really need is to kinda emulate a crappy camera to begin with and there was some other emulation stuff when the app store came out, there was Vint Green, I think it was, and I went to his website, figured out who made Vint Green and I'm like, hey man, I'm just this iPhone stuff's kinda new to me I was wondering if you could point me in the right place and you know, kinda help me learn some of this code or whatever he's like, nah, screw off good luck.
So I'm like, man, Vint Green I loved you man. Alright so what do I do? So I had this concept, there are people out there that already know how to make stuff on the iPhone, I have a big enough following with this Grayscalegorilla photo website, it was before the 3D stuff and I'm just gonna put it out there and say, anybody know how to make iPhone apps, I got a cool idea for a photography app. And a guy got back to me and we made a deal and we just made it. - Wow. - And he did just a great job, we made ShakeItPhoto that allows you to take a photo, it looks like a Polaroid when it comes out makes the noise and then it's gray when it comes out and I know it doesn't work, don't write in, but you shake your photo, you shake your camera and then the gray turns into your photo.
And it did great, people loved it, people still to this day shoot photos of their kids like every month with it and they have these ongoing projects, like it's such a great community but it was a hit, I think it was one of the earlier apps in the store. - Editor's pick. - Yeah, editor's pick, it picked up, and we were just in there and it just ended up being kind of a side thing. It's still out there, it's still doing okay, it's not like top of the charts anymore but we keep it updated, we try to put a couple new features in it here and there but we have that one and Cross Process, too, so eventually I did figure out kind of a cross process formula and put that in there, so that was always a hobby for me, and I think that's what got me thinking that I could make software when I got into Grayscale gorilla and plug-ins I thought maybe I am okay at this, maybe I could at least try to get better at this, try to make plug-ins and try to kind of make stuff look better for people, you know? That's always been the goal.
- So, somewhere along the line, you really have sort of transcended the idea of artist, um, in a way that I think a lot of artists envy and would like to emulate but it seems like it was also a very circuitous, I guess would be a good way to put it, app, but you've gone from an editor, and a kid just out of school to a motion graphics artist and now a person making photography and then a person selling photography and then a person selling tutorials and then a person making iPhone apps, and now you're doing plug-ins as well for Cinema 4D, so somewhere along the way you became a business person.
- Well, talk to me in a couple years maybe, that's the new one, right? For sure. - I would say a few years, you're a business person now whether you like it or not. - Yeah, well yeah that's true. (laughter) - You've got employees. - Don't tell my employees that. (laughter) Wait, can you cut that part out? (laughter) - So, how is that like I mean, are you, do you ever hit a point where you're like, oh my God, I'm a business person.
- Um, yeah, yeah. That's a scary one, like I've never been responsible for anybody but myself professionally in the way that I do things, I'm kind of a, I love to talk but I'm kind of a loner sometimes and kinda stick to myself and just work on a project until it's done kind of thing but to have a team and to have people around was a necessity really that turned into a bigger opportunity, so what happened was it was just me in a bedroom for Grayscalegorilla, left DK, started selling plug-ins trying to figure out how to use Expresso to learn more stuff and I bumped into Chris Schmidt who is like long-time Cinema 4D, used it longer than I have, he was to Cinema what I was to After Effects.
He knew every button, he knew how to do it and he'll say the same thing, he didn't know the design stuff, right? So I bumped into him and it was like chocolate peanut butter, boom, cause he was so, he knew so much about the program, he was to technical, and the key was he was a good teacher, he could show up and explain what he knew to people that didn't know it and that's not an easy skill. - No. - I know you know this.
And I'm like, Chris, we should work together, like, I need your help because the site will be nothing but shiny spheres unless you come help me. (laughter) And he's like, this will be great, so we started working on that, we started working on a plug-in, we started working on City Kit, just kind of a brainstorm idea and he knew some ways to do it, but anyway, so that kinda graduated into and it worked, so my brain was like well, that worked, like one more person we're getting more done, it's more diverse, we have two trainers now instead of just me and we have a more technical side and me I'm doing more the design lighting side and this is working great so as things expanded, it kind of expanded by accident, employee by employee but then I realized cause I have this Midwest problem, it's a Midwest problem which is when something goes wrong, it's on you and you fix it, and that's a great problem in most circumstances but when it comes to business it's not a good way to look at things.
When it comes to business you look at like okay there's a problem, who can we hire to solve that problem that would do a better job than I would do it. - Right right right. - And that wasn't in my head. And every time I accidentally made the right decision, pulling Chris in and getting his brothers in and hiring a studio manager that can go through customer support, like every time I did one of these things, it was like I had to do it because there was no other way it would get done but I was reluctant because it's not my personality.
My personality is like let me help, I got this, come here, you know, that's how I was raised so the business side's been a big learning experience actually for me to step back away. People ask all the time why I don't call myself the gorilla anymore, right? I stopped saying it a couple years ago and I realized, if I'm gonna name myself after a website that it doesn't work when there's more than one person running the site, you know, and it was out of respect for the employees, it's out of respect for everybody, it's still a catchy catch phrase, let me tell ya.
(laughter) But it really turned into a bunch of accidents where every time that business got to a place where I literally could not contain it myself I had to reach out for help or somebody happened to be there that I let control a little bit and it worked, luckily. Great team, great group of people that helped me do that so that experience, I mean honestly this is what I'm going through this week, if this is turning into a therapy session let's get into it.
This is the hard part because when it was me and I was responsible for myself and it was just this, if it fails, what happened? I got my job back. Now if it fails, right, we got seven jobs on the line so it's a different way I'm trying to expand as like an owner and like as a business person trying to expand as a somebody that wants to help all the time and just say alright, now my helping is not helping. (laughter) Cause I'm just in the way.
- Now you're meddling. - Yeah, exactly. They're like, it was working until you showed up and now we have all these like, I'm like but it should be orange, they're like we like the blue one get out of here. And they're right, right? So for me, I just like learning stuff. I see a problem like that and I guess that's maybe why it's so scattered all the way down the line from photography, from 3D, from istock and all these and apps, right? I see something I'm just interested on how it works, I think when I think of all those things, the thing that rings true to me is I look at something and I go, how'd they do that, right? And then I just go on the hunt to figure out how they do that so my current hunt is learning how to be a good boss, you know? Learning how to be a good manager and it's not built into me at all, but I gotta learn it, right? So my tutorials that I'm watching are those tutorials.
- Right, right. - How to be a good. You have those tutorials? - We actually have those tutorials on lynda.com. - Alright, alright, I'm searching. - You can learn it. So there's an interesting thing you said earlier which was you have this tendency to not let things go and to wanna do it yourself and to wanna help and solve that problem. Most business people, most people that start a business are in that same boat as you where they have this thing they do they love, they start a business around it and they can never let go enough to cross that threshold, so where, that letting go part is not natural so was there a person that taught you or smacked you over the head and said, let go? - Yeah, luckily there's been a lot of kind of accidental mentors, too, over the course, I guess all life's, I'll stop saying accidental cause that's just.
- But that's life. - That's how life is. But a lot of mentors that and people I looked up to that I eventually met that have I've either heard them say things like this or they tell me directly so my thing about sharing and training and all of our free tutorials and everything is because when other people made videos that I just accidentally got to see because somebody recorded it, put it online and I watched a talk by Jim Kudal from Chicago who at at the time I just knew him as a website name and eventually became buddies with him but at the time didn't really know him, but he started saying things out loud that were in this vein like if you put help around and you all you people to do a job better than you can do it you're better off, right? Jason Fried was the same, another Chicago, runs 37 signals, was sharing all this knowledge and doing all these videos about it, and then I met Andrew Little who runs Red Giant.
- Oh yeah. - And he was great because I came to him and Red Giant's such a great example because whenever I had a question about software on how to price things or what customer support should be or should we do a 60-day or 90-day guarantee or whatever, I just looked at Red Giant and I said, I'm just doing what they're doing cause we didn't cross any customers. - You were complementary. - It was complementary. - There for After Effects and I'm like okay, got it, I'm gonna be the Red Giant for Cinema 4D and so anytime I had a question I kinda looked at that, so I've had a lot of mentors whether they know they were mentors or not, I kind of like emulate, I've always learned by emulating like it's working for them and let's see if it works for me, so their plug-ins are around $60-150, that's what ours are.
(laughter) It just went down the line, so when I finally got to meet Andrew, he was super helpful because you know, he was so open on the struggles he did, he went through from hiring people and he's that mentor for me and I really believe this, everybody has this person they can look up to to learn from to move up for and the key part is, everybody can also be that for somebody else no matter where you are in your learning so I know a little bit more about business than somebody just starting, maybe I can help them move to where I am while I'm also reaching up and grabbing onto them and it's just this, it's just this chain of learning whether through video, whether through meeting people directly, there's just so many ways to learn things.
- So, is there a, for someone coming up just getting started, is there, what's the magic piece of advice, the Nick Campbell magic that you could impart on someone. - Man, I feel like in the shower this morning, I'm like you know what everybody should do. (laughter) That's hard, so for me I would say that the big one for me is that what society places on you and what family places on you and what friends place on you as the standard path does not have to be the standard path, so whether that's who you are dating or what your job is, there's always another angle to everything so you know, the easy example is that I loved, just personal example, is I got into this because I saw MK12 moving stuff around and then when I started working with clients, I realized, this is not why I got into this, right? They're paying well but this is not what got me excited about motion graphics and all this stuff.
What got me excited about this is all the software and all the tools and all the little buttons and plugs, like that's the part, so how do I design my life to do the part of this job that I liked the most? And if you are stuck in a place everyone's got to pay their dues everyone's gotta build up, everyone's gotta learn, you can't do this right away, but I think that being self-aware, I think it's being self-aware so if it all boils down to one thing it's being self-aware for what you like doing the most and trying to design your life around that and I'll add one more thing, it doesn't mean you have to get paid for doing that thing that you like the most, maybe the thing you like the most is surfing, which a lot of my friends just like to surf, kind of hard to get paid to surf, but if you can design the rest of your career and where you live, that's a big one if you wanna surf, and what your free time is, maybe you work at night instead of during the day, there are always ways around this.
Not always ways around this, there's always a different path, a way, there's always another angle to look at it so be self-aware and realize that there are other angles in the world. I mean, man, I can try to give advice to any specific thing, but I think that key alone is realizing that there are hundreds of different paths is was eye-opening to me and very helpful for everyone that I see that is trying to be more happy (laughs).
- Nick Campbell, motion graphics artist, photographer, and entrepreneur
- Marc Potocnik, designer and 3d artist
- Tim Clapham, VFX artist and educator
- Alan Torres and Stephen Morton (Cantina Creative), design and visual effects artists
- Aaron Limonick, concept artist
- Mike Lowes, 3D animator and technical director
- Lorcan O'Shanahan, motion graphics artist
- Scott Keating, 3D artist and illustrator
- Clear Menser, visual effects artist
- John Robson, motion graphics artist and filmmaker
- Grant Miller, VFX supervisor
- Tomasz Opasinski, creative director and movie poster artist
Watch for fresh insights into the careers and creative processes of these working professionals.