Too old for mograph?

Editor’s note: Most people in our industry can attest to the fact that it seems very much like a young person’s game. They’ve likely found themselves wondering “Where are all the old people?” There are many different hypotheses surrounding this question: Is it simply that our industry is so young? Does everyone burn out? Also, where does everyone go?

Thankfully, Joey Korenman of School of Motion is here to shed some light on this topic. In this month’s Guest Post we asked Joey to do some investigating into this issue and he received some great insights from many of those in our industry who have found themselves asking the same question, “Am I too old for mograph?”


 

Oops. Wrong Mountain.

Storytime.

It’s the Friday before Easter in Boston, and things are quiet around the studio. Two of my Animators were finishing up some client work and getting ready to head home early to hang out with family. I was looking forward to seeing if I could fit 3 Cadbury Eggs in my mouth, sleeping late, and playing with my kids.

Around 2pm the phone rings. Our producer takes the call, and afterwards informs me that one of our biggest clients has a rush job that absolutely HAS to be done by Monday. We’ll need to work the weekend to do it, and I’m supposed to go tell my team that they’ll have to juggle Easter around this turd of a job that will have absolutely no redeeming qualities other than the fact that it will be a favor for a good client. I go to my business partners to discuss the situation, and immediately suggest that we say “no” and turn the job down. I thought this was a reasonable course of action.

My partners didn’t. “It’s just how this business works,” they said. “We’re doing it.”

That was my “Wrong Mountain” moment.

I was 32, and I was the Creative Director of a studio I’d helped launch.  We were doing national work for major brands. Our clients loved us. I was paid very well, and had an amazing team to work with. My 22-year-old self would have been thrilled to know that all of these goals had been achieved. Unfortunately, my current-self was miserable, and could not imagine how my 45-year-old self would be able to keep going down the path I was on. Worse, I didn’t even know any 45-year-old Motion Designers who weren’t in Senior Management on staff somewhere or running their own studio. Were those my only 2 options? Honestly, I didn’t want either one anymore.

I loved doing Motion Design. I hated running a Motion Design studio.

So basically, I’d spent the past decade climbing a mountain only to reach the top and realize… oh crap… I climbed the wrong mountain.

It’s not just me. Is it?

It turns out that this is a very common story in our industry. Motion Design is a difficult field to have longevity in… the energy required to sustain a strong work ethic and constant improvement of one’s skills can be a difficult thing to muster when you start to approach mid-life, start a family, develop other passions, and change your goals. I wondered if there was something unique about my story, or if there might be a legion of MoGraphers out there struggling with the same issue. Was it possible that I would have been happier stopping halfway up the mountain? Should I have stuck to freelancing, having less stress at the expense of some of the “glory” of running my own studio? Was I too obsessed with always getting to the “next level?”

I posed this question on Mixed.Parts (check out the full thread here), on Twitter, and to the School of Motion Alumni group, many of whom are in their 40’s and 50’s already. This article is my attempt to incorporate the many, many viewpoints that I was exposed to by asking my peers these 2 questions:

  • Is it harder to age gracefully in this industry than in others?
  • How can MoGraphers make sure they find a career path that’s right for them?

Where are all the middle-aged MoGraphers?

Do artists just burn out of this industry after a while? Or is the industry still so new that we just need to wait a few more years before there are plenty of 40 and 50-something artists working in Motion Design? Is the only path to retirement as a Motion Designer to survive long enough to become a Creative Director or open your own studio?

It seems like there’s a combination of many factors going on. Burnout in Motion Design is a very real prospect, and something that artists who’ve been in the game for long enough have to fend off. Long hours and late nights are sometimes part of the gig, which isn’t a huge deal when you’re younger and have less responsibility (I’m generalizing here, of course.) But when you’ve got kids and a mortgage, you can’t burn it at both ends like you used to.

“We are a small studio with 4 partners/animators running the show. Two of our partners are mid 40s and we are all aware of the bias that lives within the industry, and even engrained in ourselves. It’s not JUST because of age, but also the practicality of a middle aged person burning the midnight oil every week. At some point, you want to progress out of that standard, and move on to something that is more conducive to a family life, or just simply a better life. This certainly isn’t true for everyone, but it is for the majority of humans.”

Amanda Russell, Cream

Becoming Time Poor

When I hit my limit I had 2 small children who were generally asleep by the time I got home each night from work. That takes its toll on you as a parent. On the flip side, when I was 24 I had no problem sleeping under my desk at a studio if we were doing something cool. As my family and other interests started to overtake Motion Design as priorities, I worried I’d get left behind in the industry because I couldn’t obsess over it for 12-14 hours a day.

“I’m now 35 and doing relatively well. I’m finally able to make enough income to pay my student loans, and eat decently enough and enjoy some fun time. However, how long can I keep this up? I just recently joined a “MoGraph Accountability” group, and it was glaring realization of “How can I keep up with all of this???” I would step away for a few hours, and tons of conversations and chats about industry and work happened that I missed… Which, to me, feels like how the MoGraph industry is… FAST.”

Christian Prieto

You tend to become more “time-poor” as you get older because you take on more responsibilities. Maybe you get married, you have kids, you buy a house, you sign up for a marathon… all things that are wonderful but that take time away from your career. And my career was built by constantly pushing myself to get better and do more. As embarrassing as this is for me to say, I was so concerned with career growth that I never even considered the idea that I could just… ya know… be content with where I was. Several artists who are wiser than I was figured this out.

“I’ve made my life goals rather than work goals a priority, especially when my daughter came along. Does this mean that my studio isn’t growing as quickly as I had planned at the start? Yes. Does it mean I see my daughter every night before bed? Yes!”

Dave Cochrane

“I’m fortunate enough to work in-house at a young tech company that values balance, but still offers me interesting work. Now, I’m not working on Nike spots, but I also learned early on I wasn’t interested in the trade off to say I worked on high-profile campaigns.”

Paul Conigliaro

Your Perfect Day.

Sometimes it’s helpful to take an hour and write down, in detail, what a “perfect day” would look like for you. I actually did this while in the throes of self-loathing and Wrong-Mountain-Syndrome, and found that my perfect day was the complete opposite of my current day (more on this later). That clarity helped me realize that that I would probably be much happier with a smaller salary and less glory, but with more time-freedom. I realized that when you’re chasing a happier life, it’s ok compromise career-growth… no, really, it’s ok! And others have found this out, too.

“My solution? Make less money, unfortunately(?). Our house is modest, our bills are low, and well, we don’t travel that much… We can’t all be Creative Directors, or managers, and not all of us will end up starting our own studios. That means, a lot of us will have to learn how to keep working in this business as, well, “bricklayers”. Maybe that’s me? I’m not sure yet. I’m fine with it though, as long as the work keeps coming, and the clients are happy, and well, I get to pay the bills, take care of the family, and have a cup of coffee every morning.”

Dave Glanz

I love Dave’s advice because it reminds me that we don’t all have to be big shots in the industry. Motion Design, as amazing as it is, is just a small piece of your life. Sometimes it’s nice to take your foot off the gas and coast for a while.

Blindly pushing oneself forward towards the “next level” is something that I’ve seen many artists do. Sometimes, though, it’s not even their idea! Their company may have a system in place where junior artists become senior artists, then leads, then Art Directors or Creative Directors. Chad Ashley from GreyScaleGorilla recently talked about this phenomenon on the GSG podcast. He used the example of a CG artist who is happiest when sitting behind a computer making work, but then gets promoted into management:

“You’ve got a person who is frustrated, that artist you moved up because they’ve never had to [manage] before.  And they can’t be on the box to “make it happen,” so then they end up hovering over some other artist and saying, “Ehhhh just do it like THIS, gimme the mouse!” And it’s just bad all the way around.”

Chad Ashley, GreyScaleGorilla

Even though I was the one who pushed myself into a management role, I can totally relate to what Chad said. I was happiest sitting behind dual-monitors slaving away on an After Effects comp. When I had to manage 2 or 3 other artists I just wanted to push them aside to do the work myself because that’s what I was best at and what made me happiest… doing work. Now, I certainly wasn’t the best manager, and a GOOD manager would never push an artist aside to just do the work themselves, but I also realized that I LIKED doing the work myself… far more than trying to wrangle others to do it for me. Unfortunately, by the time I realized this I had become a manager.

Beware the Ladder.

Al Boardman had the same realization I did. He chased the “run your own studio” dream because he saw it as a viable way to keep progressing into your 50’s and 60’s. He saw it work in the Graphic Design field and figured it could work for him.

“The path is well trodden [in Graphic Design]. It’s easy to see yourself as a Creative Director or studio owner at 55, that can work well. It didn’t work that well for me, however, I didn’t like managing people that much, the tough schedules and deadlines. I wanted my life back and the freedom I had when I was first starting out, not endlessly generating new business, long meetings and business admin.”

Al Boardman (One of the creators of 9-squares)

That’s the problem with moving up the ladder. You end up with a bigger paycheck and maybe some more authority, but you’re not doing as much of the thing you love that got you into the game.

“We have this idea that you have to progress and the entry point is designer and the trajectory is designer / art director / director / creative director / studio owner. Of course, you can bypass some of those but it’s supposed to be the path you take. What I have learned is with each step up the ladder you do less and less of the actual making.”

Brian Gossett

So, for some people moving up the ladder is a good thing. They thrive on the new challenge of managing a team and running a studio, and there are plenty of examples of amazing studio owners in their 40’s and 50’s to look up to. But what about for the rest of us? Where’s the 55-year-old working After Effects Animator being featured on Motionographer? Do the opportunities just dry up for you once you hit a certain age?

Abundance, not Scarcity.

Often two people can see the same situation very differently. I looked out at the industry and saw what I interpreted as a scarcity of older artists which led me to believe it must be difficult to be an older MoGrapher. It turns out, there are plenty of “seasoned” artists out there in the field, and some were gracious enough to share their thoughts and experiences with me. Mike Beckman, a great Nuke / C4D / After Effects artist and father from Boston gave me a rundown of his current situation and where he’s headed.

“Traditional freelancing (going into a shop and trading hours for a rate) is fundamentally inefficient. The model works ok for younger artists who can operate at a low rate, but it’s a career path with a pretty low ceiling. So for me personally, working as an “artist” for someone else has been off the table for quite a while.

Luckily, media production is one those industries which works well for sole proprietors and micro companies, and this has never been more true than now. Personally, the tradeoff for me (as opposed to having traditional employment) is the life this industry affords me:

I work from home. I walk my kids to school every morning, pick them up every afternoon and kiss them goodnight EVERY night. But, to your point, what will my place be in this industry when I’m 50, 55, 65?  I haven’t got a clue. In the next 20 years technology and industry will change just as much as it has over the past 20 years. So rather than think of being at the top of the wrong mountain, I see it as being on a mountain, looking up and not even seeing the top; unlimited potential and opportunity. “

Mike Beckman

Mike’s outlook really inspired me. Where I saw scarcity, he saw abundance or, as he put it: “unlimited potential and opportunity.” He made me realize that I was being very shortsighted to worry about the ability of this industry to support older artists as well as it supports younger artists. By narrowly focusing on “growth” as a career strategy, I was missing the fact that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep getting promoted or open your own shop. Your client base as well as your work can evolve over time to better fit the stage of life you’re currently inhabiting. And there’s more than one “right’ way to do that.

“I’m on board with the concept of retirement being a worst case scenario. The path I see myself on is one of creativity, curiosity, connection, coaching and courage. With that ridiculous alliteration leading the way, I think anyone can have what it takes to sustain a fulfilling life in an ever-changing career and personal landscape.”

Austin Saylor

Retirement, as it’s typically thought of, might just be an old-fashioned idea. Why retire from Motion Design if you love it? If you get fired up up every time you sit in front of After Effects to create something, you never have to stop. As long as you can learn, you can be relevant in the industry. And you don’t have to follow the “typical” career path, you can blaze your own trail.

Job Security is an Illusion.

“Career path conformity creates a sense of security when you are young…but later, you may come to realize that you can create security in anything…and now that you’ve amassed an amazing skill set…what ELSE can be done with the knowledge that will bring you not only money, BUT JOY, FULFILLMENT and security? AND FREEDOM?”

Heather Crank

Heather’s words are powerful, and I wish I’d heard them earlier in my career. I think a lot of young artists confuse the appearance of job-security with actual job-security. There are no guarantees that your “secure” job with a big company will still be around in 10 years… that secure feeling you have about your employment is an illusion. As you get older and this illusion is broken, you can create your own work situation that’s custom tailored to fit your life goals and ambitions. Once you realize that you can also feel secure by being confident in your abilities to find and create good work, you’ll see that there’s an abundance of opportunity out there for an older Motion Designer with a great skill set and years of experience.

More, more, more.

One of the toughest lessons I learned was that there’s hefty price to be paid for chasing the monster named “More.” I wanted more clients, more national spots, more high-end work, more dollars, more accolades… There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but when followed blindly it can lead you in the wrong direction. If you’re a type-A goal-oriented MoGrapher, how do you measure your success if not with awards, fancy titles and bigger checks? I asked the wise-beyond-her-years Lilian Darmono for her thoughts. She told me something that another artist had said to her:

“When a client pays you for your service, and you maintain a healthy income year after year for decades, that is success. Although you have no trophies to show for it, nor ‘prestige’ in the traditional sense of the word as seen in this industry. I feel that if we encourage more of us to think of things this way, you’d have less frustrated, broken hearted, run-down (health wise) people working in the Motion industry regardless of their age and family situation.”

Lilian Darmono

This message resonated with me big time. What it made me realize is that I had been quite successful for most of my career and had just been too focused on “More” to realize it. I had felt like I was living my life daydreaming about the future, about the time where I’d finally “made it” and achieved whatever the thing was gonna be that would make me feel like I’d won. I wasn’t paying attention to the present, where I actually WAS successful. Had I taken a moment to reflect on the reality of my situation… I was a working Motion Designer that made a great living and had happy clients… I might have stopped a bit further down the mountain and avoided burning out.

Frank Walters, a 51 year-old MoGrapher told me this:

“I’m just happy every day that I get the chance to use animation to help people tell their stories. Maybe the work I do isn’t sexy or trendy, but I do have a decent work-life balance, and to my way of thinking, I feel blessed to be able to say that I truly have the coolest job in the world. “

Frank Walters

Frank isn’t chasing “More.” He’s happy with his life and career, and what else can you ask for, really? Another beautiful thing happens when you ignore the “More Success” demon and stop chasing artificial symbols of prestige: You find a better More to chase… More Knowledge.

“I’ve seen a lot of my friends already peak in their non-creative careers and start to look a bit bored. I only started doing Motion Design 2 years ago and (with a little help from School of Motion) I’m totally addicted and plan on dying with my Wacom pen duct-taped to my old-man hand/claw. But it’s quite liberating to know I shouldn’t ever need to worry about peaking, there’s always something new and cool to learn and I should just embrace doing it.”

Brendan Cox

Compulsive Makers can’t be stopped.

Designer / Animator / RubberHose Creator Adam Plouff has a neat way of looking at career progress as a “Motion Designer.”

“Rather than ask what it would mean to be an aging Motion Designer maybe think in terms of motion being one aspect of how you make stuff. Because limiting yourself might mean you miss out on work that could lead you to your next job which could lead you to a whole different profession that would really benefit from skills you’ve learned from practicing the craft of a designing motion.

I feel that believing Motion Design to be a true profession unto itself might do a disservice to you as a person who compulsively makes things. My current job is a full-time Motion Designer, but before that I freelanced for 6 years and before that [I was] a broadcast editor, and before that a magician. I don’t think Motion Designer is my final form because what you do when you’re 32 is rarely what you are doing when you’re 64.”

Adam Plouff

If you are a person “who compulsively makes things,” nothing will stop you… certainly not age. As the industry itself gets older, we will undoubtedly see a rise in the number of artists in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. There will be, I hope, a Motionographer post one day in the future about a MoGrapher in their 70’s still kicking out the keyframes and running circles around their younger, less experienced peers.

“We will see the age of the average motion artist go UP over the next few years. Why? Because we love what we do and although the ways that we make animation will change, animation will remain the same complicated mess it is now. I am pretty sure I will die animating a scene… I will always be the doer, the one in the trenches getting my hands dirty and getting the F-ing work done. I love it – for all its torture it seems worth it.”

Gary Tussey

Finding your “Why”

So what happened to the 32-year old Motion Design burnout from Boston, MA? In the end, I found my path. Teaching was the calling that led me to move to sunny Florida, to eventually stop doing client work entirely, and to launch School of Motion which now has over 2000 alumni all over the world. I’ve never been happier, and I can see myself doing this for a long time.  The path I took to get here was twisty, and there were plenty of wrong-turns along the way. But I did learn some very valuable lessons that I hope can be useful for anyone grappling with the issues I’ve written about.

When I started writing this I was hoping to give you ACTIONABLE advice. So, in that spirit, I recommend these 3 things.

1. Do the “Perfect Day” exercise.

If you’re not into the self-improvement thing, this one might feel a little “woo-woo” but I have to say that this exercise, more than any other, helped me gain clarity about which path I should pursue in my career. The exercise goes like this: Imagine a nondescript Tuesday ten years from now. Write down, in meticulous detail, everything about that day. What time do you wake up? Where are you? Do you have kids? Are you married? Do you have a long commute? Do you bike to an office? What are you doing for work? How much are you making? How much is in your bank account? What does your home look like? What are you wearing? The more detail, the better.

The interesting thing about this exercise is that, once you’ve done it, you’ll know almost instantly if the path you are on has a chance in hell of arriving at the perfect day you described. If your current path won’t get you there… well, you’re gonna have to choose a different path. After doing this exercise I moved to Florida and started teaching. That’s how powerful the realization was for me, and for my family.

Graphic Design legend Debbie Millman talks about this exercise and lots of other eye-opening topics in this interview with her from the Tim Ferriss podcast.

2. Ditch the “Scarcity Mindset”

We humans have this annoying tendency to think that our life experience will be limited to what we see immediately around us. If you have a job that you don’t like, you’re afraid to leave because you think that job is your only option… possibly the last job you’ll ever have! If you’re freelance, you get that sinking feeling when you haven’t been booked for a week. You think, “Ruh-ruh… I don’t think I’ll ever get booked again… I’m gonna lose everything!” But, of course, neither of these thoughts are true. There are ALWAYS companies looking for Motion Designers, and there are ALWAYS clients looking for freelancers.

When you’re in that Scarcity Mindset, you tend to cling to what you’ve already got instead of looking for new opportunities. The thing is, you’ll never know just how many cool options you have until you ditch the thing that isn’t working. You need time and headspace to change direction, and you’ll have to do the scary act of letting go before you’ll be open to the next amazing thing in your career. If your Perfect Day includes you working from home and picking your kids up from school everyday, you might have to let go of that “secure” job to open yourself up to the opportunities (like freelancing) that will let you live the way you want.

3. Stop blindly chasing “More.”

This one really hits home for me, because I ended up at the top of the wrong mountain by constantly chasing “more.” I was a freelancer making $100K a year. I wanted more. I started double-booking myself and hiring my friends to help out. I jumped to $160K a year. I wanted more. I opened a studio with some business partners, hired staff, pitched ad agencies, learned to manage a team, made $200K a year. I wanted more. I wanted us to be a “top” studio like the ones I saw on Motionographer so we pushed ourselves every day to get better, to take more risks, to invest in spec work… and that’s when I finally broke.

In hindsight, had I been content when I was making a very comfortable living as a freelancer, I could have done that forever. But I clung to the fallacy that there always has to be a “next thing” for your career. So, my advice is to figure out what makes you happy, and then to do it. That’s it. If you love animating in After Effects more than anything, you may not like being a Creative Director. You may HATE owning a studio and being a business owner. So don’t be either of those things. It’s ok to say, “I don’t want to go any higher than this on the food chain.” You can continue to improve as an artist for the rest of your career, to be fulfilled creatively, and to pay your bills without becoming the thing that your 22-year-old self thought was a great goal. Be happy with “enough.”

I want to thank everyone that responded to my Mixed.Parts post or who e-mailed me with their thoughts. Digging into this topic has given me a ton of confidence that our industry will be around for at least the next 100 years, and that we will soon be surrounded by plenty of happy, older MoGraphers in their 50’s and 60’s who can be examples for the younger generation. I feel strongly that Motion Design will continue to mature and evolve as an industry, and that we’ll mature and evolve with it.

Figure out what makes you happy, and do it. No more, no less. That’s how you have a long, prosperous career in Motion Design.

And finally, to the young, ambitious 20-something MoGrapher out there who wants to start the next Buck one day, I say: Take it one day at a time, enjoy the journey, and look up once in a while to see if you’re still on the right mountain. Your older-self will thank you.

For Further Exploring…

Here are some resources, conversations and ideas that have influenced me while thinking about this topic. If this essay resonated and you want to dig deeper, check these links out:

Mixed.Parts: Too Old for MoGraph? (Original Post)
Are you too old for 3D? (GreyScaleGorilla Podcast Episode)
A Short Lesson in Perspective (A devastating read… be careful with this one)
How to Design a Life: Debbie Millman (Tim Ferriss Podcast)

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  • John Rice

    Great read. The timing of this article is eerily poignant for me as I am regularly asking myself many of these questions. It is refreshing to know I have company and I am not the only older MoGrapher.

    • You’re definitely not… after researching this article and writing it I felt soooooo much better about everything.

      • John Rice

        Thanks, Joey. You have single-handedly brought a ton to the MoGraph community, and we all collectivley – and I personally – owe you a huge thank you.

  • PintoSixty

    I’m 65 years old and retired. I began my foray into the world of Adobe in 2010, a few years before retirement, by purchasing the CS5.5 Master Collection. Now, I’m headlong into CC. My days begin with coffee, catching up on email and news and tweets and sports. As a freelancer, I then work on client needs (I have 4 now.) Mid-day is reserved for a break, when I hit the gym for an hour or more. Then, it’s back to the apartment to continue work. At around 5 p.m., I bathe, then eat dinner. In the evening, it’s a few hours of tutorials and lessons from a variety of sources, just to keep honing my skills. After a couple of decades of existence in the grueling world of radio entertainment as a morning jock (yes, 10 to 16-hour days, 6 days a week, always prey to ratings), I’ve never been happier. I can say “no” whenever requests infringe on my routine. I can say “yes” whenever I need a new client. And my retirement income is enough to allow me monetary freedom, as long as I don’t allow materialism to control my happiness. No kids, no wife, no mortgage … just senior years spent in creativity and helping people. Ahhhh, how grand! (And a big thank-you to School of Motion for being a source of learning.)

    • You’re living the dream… great outlook!

    • Dave

      Happy for you man! Your schedule sounds like something I’d love to get into! I’m just incredibly drained after working(even just being at the Office) for a day to even get to the gym, I need to make some changes.

  • Scott Gordon

    Joey THANK YOU for this. I almost didn’t click on it because I was dreading what I thought the article would point out. As a self employed 48 year old motion designer, this is something I think about a lot. But your article has left me feeling great about the choices I’ve made. I’ve made a good living, been able to take my kids to school and bring them lunch every day while working at home with complete freedom. Can’t really complain about that!

    • Rock on! That’s not a bad life man… well played.

  • Baptiste Lefebvre

    Thank you Motionographer !
    Articles like this are really inspiring and powerful
    These wise words are really precious to me ; a 19 years old student

    Keep up the good work ! ♥

  • WITCH DOCTOR

    Very nice article. its always nice to get that reassurance that other people in the industry are having some of the same, conflicted feelings around this topic.

    i would like to recommend a book that had the best description ive ever read about the size of your studio impacting your everyday duties/role. its a very small section of the book, but there’s a lot of other great info in it also and well worth getting.

    https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Business-Running-Graphic-Updated/dp/0393732991

  • Gabi Vallu

    i see things a little different, maybe because of what i have seen from older colleagues, and in the reality of where i live and work, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

    I see many of the older motion designers that don’t make it to a a management position, or don’t open their own company, being fired from the few bigger companies that exist here, to be replaced for younger and cheaper motion designers. and many also getting sick and having health problems because of the rhythm and unbalanced work-personal life situation.

    I also see many young and older freelance motion designers, graphic designers and animators, having a really hard time managing to survive, to get enough income to have a comfortable life by themselves, as freelancers. the local market is small, everyone knows everyone and everyone works for the same companies.

    as thing seems to be, at least around here, unless you become a fucking amazing artist/designer to the point you are somehow famous or you become extremely expert in something technical, all this before your 40s you will have great difficulty making enough income to live when you get older and can’t manage to have 2 jobs, or work and freelance whenever you have freetime, and specially if you have kids, or older relatives to take care.

    the other option I see many trying to do is to become good enough towork as freelancer to other countires, raise enough money to immigrate and eventually move to other country, most commmonly canada, usa or europe.

    ok, i know i maybe be exagerrating a bit to the worse, or being bit pessimist, but it is not so far from the reality i see. since i started working with motion graphics in 2012 I worry a lot about these issues, and really have no ideia how my future will be, or what should be my plans so i don’t end in these bad situations I don’t wan’t to be.

    I already feel physically and mentally tired many times, when I get freelancing jobs with crazy deadlines/never-ending revisions for no extra money while working somewhere else in a company , at the same time. and whenever i’m no in this situation i kind of feel guilty, because I see most of my colleagues doing this almost all the time…

    I’m trying to become a really good motion designer, but I also wonder if my maximum level, the maximmum I can ever reach will be enough. wonder if my maximmum is not that high, if i already reached it, and unfortunately I really suck, because when i look to my work it is soo much lower than my visual and mental standard…

    :P sorry for the bad vibes!

    • I feel your frustration, the business in Brazil is a disaster – and things won’t get better anytime soon.

      On the positive side, as the article pointed out, you can always teach yourself to work as a full-time freelancer/be your own studio and get some gigs from anywhere on the globe – and doesn’t need to be a rockstar to get a thing or two.

      Just keep doing your best under the limits of each project, hit deadlines, don’t be so hard on yourself and don’t let people take advantage of you (stay way from those studios/people who demands unreasonable deadlines and offers shit as payment) and things will be fine – in my humble opinion.

    • leonardo2001

      Gabi, I am from Rio as well but I moved to California almost 25 years ago. Brazil is a huge mess. Sorry to say. I love my country but honestly when you live abroad you realized how complicate and difficult things are in Brazil.
      I recently did some project in Rio and it was awful. There is an interesting culture that people just want to use the ones they know. There is not much support and interest to use people for their skills and talent. It’s a close group of individuals (panelinha) that won’t allow outsiders to get in. It’s part of our culture unfortunately.
      Also, Rio is a much smaller market than São Paulo. I think you would have better luck there where people are way more professional than in Rio. I know, Cariocas rather live in Rio.
      Good luck to you!

  • liliandarmono

    Excellent write up Joey. This (to me at least) is absolute proof that you’re destined to be a teacher and a great one at that. Thank you. Profoundly useful.

  • Heather Crank

    Great article Joey!

  • I’m in my 30’s my first paid piece of work came via posting a film on Vimeo, so subsequently i always go back to this method of obtaining clients, posting online like most other youngish designers, it’s ingrained, how could you get work without an online reel?

    But I’m wondering if this is why we maybe perceive fewer older motion designers working, because they’re not using the same platforms as us to share / talk about work?

    I have worked with motion designers who I perceive to be older (50+) who are creating fantastic work, working on a mix of projects, a lot more offline, TV, movie titles etc. Older traditional animators screening their works exclusively at festivals. None of these animators have much online presence, a few clips on Vimeo password protected, none of them are on Twitter and most keep FB pretty private. My animation tutor at school had won a BAFTA, but had never been on Motionographer.

    So my point is that maybe our perception is just based on what we see and think, our own circles, how we consume motion design and share it.

    I’m wondering if this discussion is based on perceptions of age, or statistical information?
    I would suggest a poll.. but I’m not sure my animation tutor will catch it!

  • Dave Glanz

    Thanks for putting this up Joey and Justin. Happy to be a part of this discussion.

  • Abbie Rennes

    For someone who is taking a leap and moving to a different state, I had to learn to let go, and honestly, it pushed me forward in my filmmaker career and now I am at a place where I get exactly what I had in mind, and a recipe for a successful freelance career. It’s when I let go of security when I find my true happiness in work.

  • J Horn

    Glad I found this article. I’m at a mid-life crisis myself. Just turning 50 this month; was just laid-off from a merger between the company I’d been with for 12.5 years and the new one taking it over. I’ve always like being creative and have been using After Effects before it was Adobe’s baby (remember CoSA & Aldus?). Not sure what to do now, change careers, freelance, find another creative job, or find a management position, etc. Thanks for writing this, gives me a few things to think about.

  • careyd

    Thanks for posting Joey. Good read. At 49 I have long lamented that the generation coming along behind me has been so “staff job heavy” and I felt the independent practitioner was a dying breed. Too bad because it’s a great way of life although it certainly has it’s challenges and requirements. What I love is that it keeps me hungry and fresh in a way that a staff job simply would not.

  • Dan

    First off Joey, your SOM bootcamp helped me so so much so thank you. You are a great teacher. Second, you talked about always wanting to get to the next level, $100k, then to $150k, all the way to $200k, and then you broke. But haven’t you well passed those numbers with SOM right now? You mentioned that you could have been a freelancer forever, but maybe something is not connecting for me because it seems like you are at a good place, perhaps better right now with SOM.

    • Dan, you bring up a great point. Who the heck knows where School of Motion would be if I hadn’t first broken myself on the mountain of “Starting a Studio.” You can’t A/B test life, so I have no idea if I could have ended up here any other way, but I do think I could have avoided some of the pain had I gotten my priorities straight sooner.

      In hindsight, I probably would have done the studio thing totally differently had I optimized for happiness instead of “prestige.” I might have still ended up starting School of Motion but without the massive flameout before-hand.

      I guess things worked out the way they did for a reason, but I hope I can save other MoGraphers from some of the stress I put myself through chasing the wrong things.

      • Dan

        Thanks for the response. I am wondering if the game really is to do something you enjoy and just let money come, or if you do need to chase the dollar to take care of needs. It seems like there has to be a balance, but the creative side of me just wants to say, “do what you love, come what may, it will be okay.”

  • Grrrrrrrrrrrrrreat post. Timely and poignant.
    Thank you.
    Paul, 38y.o, Australia, still keyframin’

  • I follow Joey and School of Motion pretty much since he started to post tutorials (like the “Intro To AE Expressions” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWNP8wAO4EM). That was also the moment I got really interested in motion design as an additional career path for myself as well.

    I’m turning 44 this year and I asked myself and fellow motion designers this very question the article is about on several occasions. As has been mentioned in the article I consider myself successful and very happy as I have been running my micro business (a one man graphic design studio) for more than 17 years now while enjoying marriage and being a father.

    I love the process of creating and communicating and being able to offer an expanded skill set with motion design to my clients. Sometimes it is hard for me to be patient because I’m a keen learner and obviously it takes time to master any craft. So I try to enjoy the process and focus on one step a day.

    Thanks Joey and the team of School of Motion for your inspirational support!

  • Dave Glanz

    I’m in if Joey is.

  • “Any high end shop is 35+ unless you work at places with all students and interns.”

    Do you mean that at high shops all employees are predominantly 35+? Or just those in certain positions?

  • Walter Blazewicz

    Thanks for this article Joey. It’s great to see other media professional’s perspectives on this and know that I’m not alone.

    I came to video editing in my early 30’s as my second career. I’ve now been at it for 10 years, and after working as a freelancer, perma-lance at a TV production house, lead editor at a small shop, I’ve now transitioned to media production in higher education. It took awhile to adjust to working on projects that didn’t have the perceived glamour and buzz of my previous gigs, but now I’m happier than ever! While I gave up something in salary and prestige, I gained a lot of balance, stability, and time for other things in life.

    I love editing and creating – blending story, images, sounds, and graphics together, and hope I can keep it going awhile longer in an environment that works for me.

    • Thanks Walter! Great to see you ’round these parts.

  • Lizzie Lay

    Woah, reading this article earlier really effected my day. Especially as I’ve been having a big think about whether the work I’m doing now is anywhere near what I really want to be doing with my life.

    A lot of the things mentioned here are food for thought for creatives at any stage of their career. My take away was this: Why am I chasing corporate clients (and therefore filling my portfolio with work that reflects that) when I would much rather in 10/20 years look back at all the great work I’ve done with companies who do things I actually give a shit about.

  • You’re doing something right. Fantastic advice!

  • Can I hire Morgan Freeman to read it? I think it’d be awesome done in his voice.

  • Scott Bartholomew

    As a just turned 39 year old self employed freelancer with 15 plus years of experience, I’ve had the following conversation with many of my close friends who aren’t in the industry…

    Me:
    “Should I take another staff job?”
    “Should I start my own studio?”
    “I at least need an office that isn’t across the hall from my bedroom!”
    “I can’t freelance forever!”
    “This won’t last!”
    “The phone hasn’t rang in two weeks!”
    “I’ve lost my edge!”
    “I’m an imposter!”

    Them:
    “Why are you so freaked out? Seems like you’re pretty successful to me. What’s wrong with continuing to do what you’ve been doing?”

    Its nice to get an objective opinion from time to time and get out of our bubble. Thanks for the excellent article and all of the insightful comments!

    • popupblocker

      I like the Imposter line! It’s hard when clients expect something new and exciting every time. And the second you overstep you abilities you are dumped.

      I’ve got to the stage where I do the minimum work for the gig. Reel out old work and repeat it. I literally copied an entire event animation and changed some textures and the logo the other day, rerendered and charged them £4K. Neither company would ever know. Different industries and an internal corporate thing. Am I a fraud?

      • Aaron Casey

        I don’t know if fraud is the right term, more like dishonest. Clients pay for a unique piece of work – not a template. You basically got paid twice for the same piece of creative. I totally get that we all have our own styles and little tricks that we tend to repeat which sometimes gives our work a similar feel, but doing a straight up copy and paste of an entire video is a different thing. The fact that you won’t get caught isn’t the point – and if you did – that’s for sure a way to earn a bad rep and lose business.

        • popupblocker

          Hmm, did they though? They would have got remotely that quality? The original job was 12k worth. They actually got a bargain.

          Basically it was an advanced template.

          Disney reused animation countless times… were the animators dishonest?

          • Aaron Casey

            I’m pretty sure they’ve been counted – and re-using piece of animation isn’t the same as re-skinning an entire movie.

            What you did kind of screws both clients. The first one paid for all the look development on original work, and the second one got a discounted rate for a copy of that work. If client #2 ever comes back for more work they might be shocked at what it costs to actually produce something from scratch – unless you just give them more copies for cheap.

            But hey, whatever. They’re your clients, not mine.

          • popupblocker

            But that’s what I did. Same animation. Different textures and and rebuild in after effects.

            If someone asks for a USB stick to fly through an environment then another asks for a book flying through exactly the same environment – both for one hit private events. The book event had an audience of 21 people and I was 1 of them – what’s the point in reading reinventing the wheel.

            We all like to think we are producing great art but most of the time is some marketing dudes idea he had on the toilet.

  • Griffen

    Great article.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m not at the age mentioned
    yet (turning 30 this year), but I have sort of “seen the needle and the
    damage done” when it comes to chasing work and success, or that next
    level. And I’ve recently become ok with the idea that maybe the work I
    do isn’t as high profile as it used to be (also my skill level isn’t exclusively high profile), but I get to see my wife
    every night and make jiu jitsu on time.

    Something I’ve been
    trying to do lately is dive into business education as heavily as I did
    when I first started doing after effects tutorials, so that later down
    the road I can potentially have something that provides me with enough
    income (preferably passive income) so that I take on only the projects I
    want to, which could include a week straight all nighter for the big
    game or an easy turn around video that no one ever sees but I’d have
    doing it.

    FWIW I think the business of running a studio (both
    successful and not so much) would be a rad article to peel back the
    curtain on some of aspirations.

  • leonardo2001

    Great piece.

    I am 48 and I have been working since 94 in design for tv and film.

    I worked on big budget projects (2m+) that I spent time on posts houses in LA for months to go down to projects that the client wanted it to designed and animated in two days for less than my daily rate.

    My take is, back in the 90’s and early 00’s motion graphics was still somewhat a niche and budgets were great or good. Now, it just became too mainstream. While this is good because technology allows more people in the field and the tools are simply amazing, the downside of that is too many people = less money.

    Motion is going through what print did. It is going to get worse. The projects we have around means the clients are well aware they can ask more for less. Pitches are awful and people out of desperation sell their ideas for free or almost. We have producers outsourcing work for other countries so they can pay less.

    I am sorry to say if one of my kids come to me and ask to be a motion designer, I will tell them to possibly look into something else. Sure, we will have some individuals who will do great, that are extremely talented and have great selling skills but for the majority, it will be a field that you will work have to work too much and not make good money out of it.

    Sorry for the pessimistic view. I have been watching this trend for many years. I really don’t see it changing for the better. I love my work, it is very fulfilling creatively and I wish I could think otherwise, but reality is just hitting me in the face.

  • Thanks for the link through to Linds article. It’s funny I worked as his assistant at The Campaign Palace and his creativity gave me a lot of motivation to do long hours and want to get better… RIP Linds you were a top bloke.

    • That article is incredible… it’s rare to read something that honest. Must have been quite a character to know.

  • popupblocker

    Personally I’m 43 – The problem I a have is the rates have not really risen in a long time and in a lot of ways they have gone down as the clients expect more and more.. I actually had someone using Finding Dory as the quality they wanted for 30 seconds Viral with a £4K budget. So many inexperienced producers with no idea how long these things take.

    The other issue is the amount of people taking up has gone exponential and they are all chasing the same projects leading to a race to the bottom. The industry rates seem to have stuck the same for 10 years which is insane.

    I’ve always enjoyed the challenges of a new project but the process is getting harder and I’ve had 5/6 projects recently with unreasonable deadlines. One specific client that kept me on the hook on a 3 week job for 2 months waiting for 3d assets to arrive constantly promising this week etc and when they did rock up.. you have 8 days to finish it. I told them it could not be done so we parted ways for half the money. ( note – the project setup didn’t really allow for multiple artists )

    It’s a historical thing too – 20 years ago you needed a 30K workstation and 1 artist getting paid 100K+ now they can have 10+ people on 2K machines and pay them peanuts cos it’s cool to work on FIlms/TV whatever.

    I am quite lucky as I made enough early on to buy an apartment, flip it and a few houses etc… in fact I made more money in houses over the past 5 years than the work.

    So yes I am a bit jaded by it all. I like to think I have a good skillset and great portfolio but it’s worth squat unless you are being paid correctly.

    So I am now looking at what to do next. Something for myself… a revenue generator – I did think of Games and VR – but it’s a Black hole of problems even if they do sell.

    Oh and the constant constant learning new features is so time consuming!

  • rafdesign

    Thanks for writing this article. It was very insightful and touching. I’ve been wondering about the same questions.

    Here is a story about getting older:
    Recently I took a non-profit project. Because I want to help, once a year, someone or an institution with all my skills ( I guess we can’t count on our new president Trump to make things better out there, so this is my personal fight).

    But I also decided to set the rules: I wasn’t going to just do what they want and I was ready to fight for a better idea, if there is one to be. I wanted to be able to stay honest and direct. The client was a little surprised. But since this was a charity work, they also understood this would be part of the deal. So I listened carefully to them, we met in person front of a coffee a few times.

    Then I came up with a better idea. Yes, better. I found myself able to use my knowledge and experience, without restriction, to do something effective and creative. But it was far from what they expected and… their idea.
    After a few months, the end result was that they were really happy about it and they felt they could trust me as an expert. I felt like Tibor Kalman…

    So, it raises a new question for me: I have all these years that can lead me to do great work.
    I worked on so many network packages, commercials, animations, illustrations, etc.
    But companies see me as just another freelancer whose making cute things and hopefully follow the instructions. Why?

    I wish I would get hired more often for all this knowledge. Being young and fresh is awesome and can lead to really trendy design. But getting older is also a way to get all this experience and knowledge. It’s just accumulation of all these years!

  • Danielle H

    What a fabulous article. I wish someone had said some of this to me when I was younger. I too had a wrong mountain moment. Shortly before my 30th birthday, I was working on crazy high-profile amazing campaigns, burning the candle at both ends and then my health took a nose dive. I spent the next 7 years in and out of hospitals, struggling to recover. There is nothing like facing your own mortality to make you take a long, hard look at how you’ve lived. I am happily now in remission and I live my life very differently. I no longer do the prestigious stuff. I don’t need to be on the latest Apple or Visa campaign. In fact I usually do one or two studio jobs a year, and a handful of small client gigs, then I focus my energy on teaching and making my own books, comics and films. I do not make nearly as much money as I did when I was in my late 20s, but I am happy for the first time in my life. I wake up and feel blessed every day to work on the things that I love, to be engaged with my incredibly inspiring students, and to have the time and energy to do what I love. The more-monster almost ate me, but I got out just in time. I am so happy to know I am not alone. Thank you for the article!

  • Donavon Brutus

    Took me most of the week to read this in 5 min chunks but totally worth it. Great article. I’m at the 10 year mark in the middle of my career. I had a happy enough mentality a few years ago, but now I’m experiencing that secondary hunger for more again. Its a good note to look up often to see if you’re climbing the right mountain.

  • James Gladman
  • OrangeCrow

    I’m approaching 50 in a few weeks and thought I’d chime in.

    A little background: I’ve been a multimedia artist since the early ’90s. Started off shooting and mounting slides then morphed into authoring CD-ROMs and building websites. From there I began delving into 3D, mograph, videography and editing.

    I’ve primarily worked full-time for production houses, but have also freelanced for individuals, agencies, and large corporations. I’ve worn most every hat there is to wear in this business from a production standpoint. After 20 years of pushing myself to do and be more, I was completely burnt. Coincidentally, that was when the production company I’d been with for the majority of my career began to collapse in earnest. Hello, unemployment line!

    In retrospect, being jobless turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me. I got to spend time with my kids and re-evaluate where my life and career were going and what I wanted to do. I also got to try new things career-wise like teaching digital design at local colleges. By the time I landed a full-time gig again (I love freelance, but the whole “mystery paydate” thing is nerve-wracking as hell when you’ve got kids), it was as an in-house designer for a financial company of all places.

    I didn’t think I’d like the job, but any port in a storm, right? Well, in all honesty, it’s been this job that has revitalized me and made me enjoy work again. I’m a department of one with a single, sane, dependable client. Despite the fact it’s a financial company, I have quite a bit of creative freedom. I get any software or equipment that I need or want (within reason) and I create the vast majority of the company’s media from print applications to cutting video and everything in-between (thank you, Adobe CC – despite the fact your support sucks). I’m not stuck doing the same thing day in and day out. I have a 15 minute/no-highway-necessary commute, work Monday thru Friday 8-ish to 5-ish, rarely travel (twice in five years) and have a very flexible schedule. In contrast to previous jobs, I don’t commute for an hour each way or work nights or weekends unless I want to. I actually get to see and interact with my family. What a novel concept!

    I learned in my early 30s that management wasn’t my thing. I like production work. I don’t like meetings and I don’t like conflict. I’ve accepted that I’m not going to get the enormous paycheck and it’s all good. I have a competitive salary, enjoy my work, my coworkers are great and I find I’m not sitting at my desk counting the days to retirement like some of my associates. I don’t know what the future holds, but if it all wraps up the way it’s going now, I’ll be able to honestly say I am satisfied with the end result.

  • Sebastian Moreno

    Incredible topic, The idea of making sure you are in the correct mountain I had to do it at an early stage of my career thanks to a super burn-out that put me in the hospital for some time.
    I totally agree with the double check for the mountain, and the ambition question to the young ones. After what happened to me I knew I have to do something for my future and I didn’t see myself in front of a computer, If so, it wouldn’t be more than 8 hours a day: I am happy with enough. Like some people say: you can continue to create in different fields, and like Adam Plouff mentions, one profession leads to another and it would be still a creative job, just keep looking for what motion or creativity takes part in the next technology available. I started as an engineer and move to do 3D animation and now I am taking the journey of motion graphics, which by the way of all the 3 fields, it is the one filed that the people want most :THE MORE. Also moves so incredibly fast that when I finish learning a technique there is a plug in for it or the new one is already trending.

    If your creative effort would be in 10 years teaching motion, supervising or actually key-framing, then do one thing a day that leads you to that.