Doug Alberts and the next generation

Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Doug Alberts. For the past four years now, I’ve had the good fortune of being his teacher at Ringling College of Art and Design and on top of that, I consider him a friend.

Over the past 10 or so years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazingly talented people in every situation from small-town newsrooms to the big city top studios. I’ve seen the generalists that can do it all, the technical directors that can fix anything, and the designers and directors that make work you could only dream of. Whatever it is that these people have, Doug has it too.

In these past four years, I’ve seen him balance making great student work, taking on freelance work and working directly with clients like Ted-Ed, Lyft, and MTV, crushing it at internships with Giant Ant and Gunner, and still finding the time to be a tutor and mentor on campus… that’s a lot! (Plus he’s a runner who can hold his own!)

As Doug enters his last semester and is on the precipice of graduation and entering the “big leagues”, I wanted to sit down with him and chat about what he’s been up to and where he’s going.

Q&A with Doug Alberts


First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to the world of motion design?

Hey Joe! Thanks for all the kind words. You’re the man.

I’m a twin, I’m from Chicago, and as you mentioned, I’m a runner. About 7 years ago I fell in love with Design and Animation almost mistakenly. I would spend hours in my basement making little short films that would end up on my youtube channel and I never thought this hobby would turn into a career. While other kids were wishing for Xbox and PS3’s, I wanted Adobe Flash and After Effects for Christmas and believe it or not, Santa delivered. My parents, who are both creative, really helped me pursue this passion and encouraged me to follow this as a career.

Taking this love, I looked up the best colleges for “Motion Graphics” and found Ringling College of Art and Design. Almost four years into the program, I feel very part of our industry and it’s really because of how the faculty and internships with Gunner and Giant Ant have taught me so much.

Out of all the options, there are to choose from in the creative world, what is it about the crossroads where design, animation, and technology meet that you’ve found so interesting and fulfilling?

Great question. I feel it combines the best of every world. We get the heavy technical aspect mixed with a very subjective way of designing and animating. I think my favorite thing is with the advance of new software, plugins, and scripts that make our lives easier, we still need to do one thing successful that software can’t do by itself. Tell a story and connect with viewers.

When you can make someone giggle or feel a certain way through a short film, it isn’t because we used Cinema 4D or After Effects, it’s because the story was told effectively and that’s the most fulfilling part for me. The final result with the viewer.

As noted above, for the past few years, you’ve been juggling a lot. How have you found the time?

It’s scary, sometimes my little computer at home is breathing so heavy it can’t keep up with all the renders. Haha! Honestly, I think the things that I’ve picked up from the people at Giant Ant and Gunner have taught me to work smarter, not harder and have allowed so much more time to take on more. Plus I feel all the projects that have come from school, freelance, and personal endeavors are too much fun to miss out on.

On a similar note, how have you stayed energized and avoided the dreaded burnout? 

I think we all go through these seasons of self-doubt and burnout and I’ve certainly had some myself. One thing that has really helped me is mixing up your ideas. If I just came off of a project that is super fun and energetic, I try to go to the opposite spectrum and play with an idea in that territory. It results in keeping things fresh emotionally and showing you can work on more than one tone.

Also, something that has really helped me stay motivated is a personal goal from a few years ago to make a new short every 5 weeks. Trust me, I’ve missed a few in there but the result has been a ton of fun and now makes up the majority of my portfolio. These range from 30 seconds to a minute and give me a chance to try something out without the pressure of budget or clients. The coolest thing is, these projects become references for clients to say, “we want this” and it’s your project from a few years ago. You instantly know how to do it and it’s such a compliment on an exploration.

Personally, I imagine this is an exciting time as you near graduation. How does that feel and what are your hopes for the future? 

A very exciting time indeed! I’m doing this awkward dance right now with one foot in school with a thesis and a second foot outside of school working on freelance, and client projects. Then there’s a third foot somewhere in there that wants to explore personal projects and news styles. (disclaimer: I do not have 3 legs) So yes, I’m excited to be done.

For the future, I’m really hoping wherever I land to ultimately keep telling stories that matter. I’ve thought about freelancing, potentially joining various studios, moving to NY, moving to LA, moving to Canada, even moving to Europe but I’m realizing more and more that I’m a family-kinda-guy. Chicago calls to me and I think there’s a really great potential for the market there.

The big question is what you’ll do next; go for the fulltime job, go freelance or try to make it on your own? 

After graduation, I’ll be going full-time freelance with hopes of continuing direct to client/agency work. If it continues to grow, I’ll begin thinking about building a studio presence somewhere in Chicago.

And how did you arrive at this decision? 

It’s been a question on my mind for years. In all honesty, it’s always been a dream to work direct to client from the start of a project to the end of a project. There’s something so rewarding about looking at a finished product and owning the work from story, direction, design, animation, and even sound. I wouldn’t ideally be making this decision right now, especially so early in my career, but recent client jobs have given me a feeling that it’s the perfect time to go for it.

It’s funny, for my generation, the top of the mountain that everyone was aspiring toward was the big studio job at a place like Buck, Psyop, etc. That was the dream.

In teaching, I’ve found that the new generation doesn’t share that dream in the same way. How you would describe that? 

That’s a really interesting perspective. There’s a part of me that still does think the majority of students are still looking for that full-time spot at those amazing studios you mentioned. But I can also agree about a different dream for our generation. I think we share the mindset in the back of our head of when can I go do my “own thing?”

There’s tons of micro-studios opening like Toast that have proved they can do it on their own and I think that is really inspiring for us. When we consider that some of them pitch against major studios and win jobs, it makes us turn our heads and say, “can I do that?” Again, I don’t speak on behalf of everyone but that’s the general idea I get from our generation.

To me, it comes back to different perspectives and how things change. It’s the way that the next generation is the one who defines what “good” is. Take music, for example: older generations won’t get it while the next generation loves it.

I know you can’t speak for everyone but, in your opinion, what is this next generation of motion designers looking for and how would you say that compares with previous generations? 

Great question! Ok firstly, any kid can download a free copy of After Effects, play around, and become amazing before even hitting college years. In the “founding fathers” generation of Motion Design, I’m not sure if they had thousands of youtube tutorials or resources to learn from, but the work that came from that generation is so amazing and still holds true today. It has such a distinct voice, especially when we consider Giant Ant’s, Claudio Salas’, Joe Donaldson’s, Jorge’s, Buck’s, Psyops, early work. (your new stuff is still just as cool) But I think this new generation knows the trends from our “founding fathers” and try to fit in as closely as possible. Anything trendy we see on Instagram isn’t usually anything pushing the bounds of Motion Design, but following trends set out from the past. Not going to lie, it scares me because who are the ones that are going to push us past that? Who’s our generation’s Motion heroes?

The old-timer mentality that I have definitely is one that would advocate for the New York City experience and hopping around in the studio circuit.

What do you think are the pros and cons of your decision to go in a different direction? 

For sure, the studios and work coming out of New York is incredible. Additionally, I feel it’s a circuit that I can hopefully always jump into if that’s a route that really strikes my interest. I’ve made a teeny tiny list below of some pros and cons.

-I get to be close to my family.
-I feel well equipped from producers, animators, and designers from previous rolls with Gunner and Giant Ant.
-I’ll own 100% of the projects from direct to client with the chance of hiring others to help when things swell up.
-I get to continue exploring personal work on the side and continue making shorts.
-I get the chance to be a part of the Chicago market, which is very exciting for a Midwestern.
-I don’t have to pay New York cost of living.

-I won’t be part of the “physical scene.” I’ll basically just be somewhere in a cyberspace profile.
-When new tech hits, I’ll have to learn independently.
-There are bigger projects with bigger clients that I may miss.
-I won’t be able to get a New York hot dog.

So fast forward 6 months to a year from now, when Doug Alberts, LLC will exist. What do you hope that the future holds? 

Ha! That’s a fun one. I hope it holds the possibility of continuing direct to client work, growing persona online, and doing things completely differently. It’s going to be a slow start, as any startup is but I feel like it’s an insanely fun opportunity. With the possibility of growing into a studio or remote studio, I hope to also bring on some incredibly talented friends to help with projects and keep it fresh. Finally, whatever is formed (freelance, studio, collective) I want to be the place that does the work but also does the play with passion projects. Shoutout to the Gunner folks for showing me how important it is to laugh, play, and explore with work.

And what would your ideal project and partnership be?

I loved the commission work from Ted-Ed and MTV where it’s a stylistic exploration with a budget. More of that work would be so fun balanced with the work to keep the lights on. Also, I’d love to work on the Blend Titles again, as it was such a blast last summer. :)

If there’s anything you leave the readers with about you and your work, what would it be? 

Thanks for taking the time to read through my rambles and to Joe for having me. I really appreciate how this industry doesn’t shy away from helping students grow into professionals. If you’ve helped me at some point in my journey through an internship, an email, a coffee, a conversation, or just a quick chat at Blend, thank you. I really hope we as the next generation can keep this industry just as fun as it is now.

Lastly, where can people find you at online?

Feel free to contact me with questions or just say hi

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.