Introducing Bullpen and the art of going it on your own

Over the past decade or so, the number of large legacy studios has steadily decreased. If you compare then to now, it’s mainly the same names, just fewer of them.

As the industry has shifted, we’ve seen many individuals and small teams put on their entrepreneurial caps and test their business acumen as they go it on their own.

Just as we’ve witnessed this shift from the industry solely favoring large studios, we’re currently witnessing a new shift with the added possibilities of remote work. Individuals are more empowered than ever before. No longer do you need a shiny new office and increased overhead to make great work.

Case in point, the newly formed Bullpen.

Started by Elliot Lim and Aaron Kemnitzer, Bullpen is a great example of the next generation of studios. With a wealth of knowledge and experience under their belts, and a wide array of capabilities, Elliot located on the West Coast and Aaron on the East Coast, they’re able to team up and make great work, together, from anywhere, for anyone.

The following is a brief Q&A with Elliot and Aaron about their experiences and what led them to start Bullpen.

Q&A with Elliot Lim and Aaron Kemnitzer of Bullpen

First, can you tell us a bit about yourselves?

We’re long time friends who met while working at Digital Kitchen in Chicago over 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve been looking for ways to doodle and make fun stuff together whenever we can. With Bullpen, now we can do it full time!

And how did Bullpen come to be?

While we’ve been talking about starting up a studio since early on, Bullpen largely grew from frustrations with the state of our industry. We were both able to learn a lot of from our various experiences at some of the top animation studios, but we’ve also seen the other side of the coin, where companies are beholden to large overheads, investors or bad partnerships.

This wasn’t lost on us when we started up and wanted to prioritize keeping a low overhead so that we could be picky with which projects we took on, while ensuring we’re both hands on with each project that comes in.

You both have a tremendous amount of experience. What is it that made you want to start your own studio and why now?

We simply got to a point where we felt it didn’t make sense NOT to start a studio. Working as a repped director or freelancer, wasn’t providing us with the opportunity for control and ownership of projects we were looking for.

Being bicoastal, how would you say this influences your process?

We find that being bicoastal actually has a lot of advantages: a wider range of available work hours, as well as more potential outreach in two of the largest markets for animation in the world, NY and Silicon Valley. We’re certainly not the first company to grow from smaller, low-overhead principles, but we believe this is the direction the industry is heading in the future. With Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, etc., it’s easy to make high-level work without any constraints to our preferred workflow.

There’s also the added benefit of fewer distractions and zero commute time. Given the state of the NYC subway… it’s not a bad thing!

What would be the ideal project for Bullpen?

Animation has a powerful ability to communicate complex and divisive subject matter in a digestible, disarming manner, and we enjoy leveraging that for clients and causes that we believe in. The work we’ve done for Greenpeace and Alcoholics Anonymous (soon to be released) would be a good example. Also on our wishlist, just for fun: the NBA, Tesla, and Playstation :)

Finally, with the constant changes in the world of motion design, what are your hopes for the future of our industry?

Neither of us are long removed from freelancing or being a repped director, and those experiences won’t be lost on us anytime soon. We want to strive to treat our collaborators the right way: no blanket-holds and kill fees if applicable. While we’re not in position to help unionize the industry (something that should happen but likely never will), we do plan to try to help to set a new standard for treating freelancers and our future employees.

About the author

Joe Donaldson

Joe Donaldson is a director, designer, and animator who worked on Motionograpgher from 2014-2020. Previously, he was an art director at Buck. Over the past decade, he's lived and worked in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles and has directed work for clients such as Apple, Google, Instagram, The New York Times, Unicef, Etsy, and The New Yorker. In addition to his creative work, in 2018 he started Holdframe. He's now working as a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design and when not teaching he can be found spending time with his family or out running.