How Giant Ant became a leading motion design studiow/ Jay Grandin
Ever wondered how motion design studios become known worldwide for their work?
In today’s episode Jay Grandin explains how he built Giant Ant from the ground up and why he feels the studio has been so successful. This episode was taken from a call we had with our Accelerator program group. Apply here if you would like to join the program.
About Jay Grandin
Jay is Co-Founder of Giant Ant, an animation studio in Vancouver. As Creative Director, Jay oversees nearly every project in the studio—leading the concept development and script writing processes, as well as being actively involved in design and animation.
In 2006, after unexpectedly creating a series of viral videos with his wife Leah, the married couple found themselves quitting their full-time jobs and working on a freelance basis for MySpace.
Slowly Jay and Leah’s videos evolved from low budget live action content to videos starring other people. Over time, the pair found themselves hiring team members and expanding into animation too. Eventually (after the arrival of twins!) Jay and Leah split the business into two: one for live action and the other is the Giant Ant we know and love today.
Jay’s story shows how even the top motion design studios have humble beginnings.
Ahead of the curve
The motion design industry has changed a lot since the mid-2000s explains Jay. He notes that he didn’t know what the term ‘motion design’ was until he was already doing it.
While there is more appetite and understanding of motion design now, Jay argues that he was really fortunate to have started Giant Ant during a time where people were confused by the industry. He says that he was really blessed by this, as it gave him some time to learn his skills and master the relevant tools and software.
Another thing Jay believes helped shape Giant Ant into the leading motion design studio it is today, is that he and Leah agreed making money wasn’t going to be important for a long, long, time.
He understands this was a very fortunate position to be in but believes this is what enabled them to build a substantial and interesting portfolio. Alongside this, another guiding principle both at the beginning of Giant Ant and to this day, is that everything is a statement of their taste, from a shot in a video through to how Jay treats his people and clients.
It never gets easier; you just keep moving faster
Are the challenges of running a leading motion design studio the same as those of a start-up studio? Jay believes that the struggles he faced early on were very similar to that of a small studio, but of a different scale.
Jay often finds the same questions being asked: how do you manage people effectively? What about from a HR perspective? How do you manage a project? How do you break a project down? How do you communicate with a client? How do you make sure a client pays you?
Jay notes that you’re always at your limit as a studio-owner, yet that limit just gets larger. He considers how he is now 38, and that when he first founded Giant Ant, he was 25. Meaning that generationally, the way his current younger team members want to be managed is different to how Jay once did. Because of this, he’s always having to build new skills and learn on the job.
Knowing your clients
When considering Giant Ant’s client base, Jay explains that there are three core groups. The first he names ‘entertainment’, which encompasses the likes of Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. These kinds of clients have predetermined requirements as their characters and universes already exist. Oftentimes, they ask for a bumper or an animation slot and it’s more of a styling exercise for Jay’s team.
The second group is made up of ad and design agencies delivering work for their own clients. Jay explains this work is a little more varied depending on the agency’s own skillset. In some cases, Giant Ant will be working with a great print agency for example, but they need his team’s help in storytelling across time and support in scripting.
Direct client work makes up the last group. Jay explains that like working with other agencies, this work can really vary depending on a business’ in-house capability and competency surrounding motion design. A benefit of this with this group is that you are often talking directly to the person making decisions, meaning things don’t get lost in translation.
Telling the right stories
While Giant Ant aims to tell effective and meaningful stories through its animation work, Jay makes it clear that the studio doesn’t deliver strategy or decide where and when content is released.
Instead, Jay and his team probe and establish clear goals that can be accomplished through motion design work. When speaking with clients some of the questions they ask include: who are we going to talk to and why? Why should they care? What do you want them to feel? What kind of association do you want them to have with your brand, why? And lastly, what action do you want them to take after watching?
Jay explains that while his team charges for assets and output (on a time model), they also add a percentage to cover management costs and creative direction. This helps Giant Ant to cover intangible time that goes into a project, he notes that it’s hard to charge for ideas, because they just happen.
Jay believes that all the micro-decisions he has made at Giant Ant over the past decade have helped to build trust with clients. He believes firmly that if he’s going to work on anything, it doesn’t take anymore time to do a great job than a mediocre job, as you’re taking all the same steps to deliver the project.
He strongly believes that everything he does, and every piece of output says something about who Giant Ant is and whether or not they care.
Do you want to hear from more leading motion design studio founders? Let us know which other motion design businesses you would like to hear from in the comments section below!
In this episode you heard a behind the scenes of a call with Jay from our Accelerator program. If you would like to join the program click below.
- An introduction from Hayley about Motion Hatch’s Accelerator Program
- An introduction to Jay
- How things have changed in the industry
- Strategy vs strategic thinking
How Giant Ant charge
- How Giant Ant works with freelancers
- Jay’s struggles as a studio founder
- Jay’s guiding ideologies
- Thoughts on securing work and pitching
“The truth is we were really blessed by having time to figure it out, and the industry is really different now. I didn’t know what motion design was until we were already doing it.” [7.52]
“The industry is very different, it’s simultaneously way more cutthroat but there is way more opportunity. So, it’s good news and bad news. “[9.11]
“It becomes really reference based, people see a thing and they want that thing. But it’s all the stuff we’ve seen like 100 times, and I think it perpetuates this echo chamber.” [14.50]
“What we’re good at, at Giant Ant, trying to figure out what is the nugget, why does anyone care? What should they feel? And how to recommend a solution that accomplishes that goal.” [17.12]
“It’s hard to charge for ideas because they just sort of happen. They happen because you think about them all the time. And you’re not necessarily doing anything but you’re doing something.” [19.35]
“If I’m going to do anything, it doesn’t take any more time to do a great job than a mediocre job, cause you’re taking all the steps.” [36.00]
“They’re asking for a free sample, and so if we’re going to give them something for free we have to get something back and it needs to be something substantial.” [43.07]
Follow our new YouTube channel here.
Learn more about Giant Ant.
Jay Grandin (00:00): But one thing that we really take seriously, as far as pitches go is first of all, they have to be clear about their budget. So we're not going to spend a bunch of time pitching on a project that's underfunded. So it needs to be like kind of a juicy job either like really juicy creatively, or really juicy financially to engage in the pitch process because they're asking, they're asking for a free sample. And so if we're going to like give them something for free it's because we want to get something back and it needs to be something substantial.
Hayley Akins (00:31): Hey, hatchings welcome to the motion hatch podcast. I'm your host, Hayley Akins.
Hayley Akins (00:39): Hey hatchings and welcome to episode 98 of the motion hatch podcast. Only two more episodes to go to 100. I really can't believe it. And it's pretty awesome today on the show we have Jay Grandin partner and creative director at giant ant. I'm pretty excited about it, and I'm sure most of you already know who giant ant are, but if you don't giant ant is a creative studio based out Vancouver and they make pretty incredible work. I was honoured that Jay agreed to come and chat with us today's show is actually a recording of an expert call that we did with him as part of our accelerator program. So it's kind of like a behind the scenes look at what it's like to be in the program. You will hear some of our students asking Jay questions and we do do these expert calls on zoom.
Hayley Akins (01:25): So the quality isn't maybe quite what you're used to from this podcast for the past year behind the scenes, we've been building out this new program of motion hatch. The purpose of the accelerator program is help motion designers who are looking to expand their business in some way, usually either repositioning or marketing themselves in a different way, building a studio or starting to hire other people even freelancers or working to build out another part of the business, such as a podcast or a YouTube channel. It was born out of our MoGraph mastermind program and our students asking us for a longer and more in-depth training in the accelerator. We provide help and support for six months. So you can achieve your goals faster and more easily. The program includes one-on-one coaching sessions with me group coaching, a peer mastermind group and calls with industry experts like Jay. We only take 12 people for each session because I'm going to be working very, very closely with you on your motion design business for six months, if you would like to be part of the accelerator, you can apply at motionhatch.com/accelerator. So let's take a listen to this industry expert call from our program with Jay Grandin
Hayley Akins (02:38): So Jay, do you want to tell us a bit about yourself and what you do just to kick off and then we'll go around and do some Q and a that's all right.
Jay Grandin (02:47): Sure. My name is Jay, as you know I run a studio called Giant Ant, which is in Vancouver and my role there is I guess, a creative director. But as a studio owner, it's kind of a multi hat role. So I'm sort of, you know, share the human resources kind of stuff with tereas our ep and I lead the creative stuff. So, you know, I'm not involved in every decision in every project anymore, but you know, typically at the beginning of a project, I will sort of like pick a team and sort of pick a point of view and put the project into more of a digestible box which is a bit of a big part of my job as a creative director. So often it's, you know, sometimes we get really prescriptive briefs where it's really clear what needs to happen and kind of how, but then often it's sort of an open kind of brief.
Jay Grandin (03:35): And in those cases, I think the biggest value I can bring to a project is at least in this role is sort of, you know, taking that kind of you, we can do anything and put it into, you know, a smaller box that other people can kind of grab, hold of and run with and without it feeling super overwhelming. So, yeah, and then other than that, it's kind of, you know, just running the studio and trying to keep people engaged and happy and figuring out what's next and how how to keep us moving forward in an ever changing industry, as we all get older and change as well. So that's kind of what I do. And I guess this might end up being a question, but I started the city with my wife, Leah kind of accidentally in 2007. So what happened was that we were doing other things in our careers.
Jay Grandin (04:25): Leah was working, she'd gone to film school and was working for a casting director. I was, I'd gone to industrial design school and was working in a studio in Michigan and a really cool company called Steelcase designing office furniture, which I loved actually. And I started making silly videos on the side and some of them went viral. We've made one together. They went really viral and she was like, well, I went to film school, I know how to do this stuff. And I was like, I don't, but let's go. And I'm in my space. If you remember what that is, ended up hiring us to make a series back in, I guess, 2006. And so we quit our jobs thought that was weird. We did it. And then kind of went through this, I don't know, like 18 month period of like, I would call it now freelancing, cause I know what that word means, but at the time it was just sort of, you know, people would call us and ask us to make something.
Jay Grandin (05:20): And so we would do it. And that just evolved into what turned into a studio pretty slowly. So initially it was extremely low budget live action stuff, you know, often like shot edited, starring us. And then that slowly evolved to still low budget live action steps, starting other people. And then slowly that evolved into like other people holding the cameras. And then we got to a point where I was like, this is boring. We just carry gear around all the time and like log footage from tapes, which is the way it was at the time. And I was like, I want to do design stuff. And what happened is that in Vancouver, there wasn't a thriving design industry, industrial science. So I kind of thought, okay, well what's like video plus design, I guess it might be motion graphics or animation or something like that.
Jay Grandin (06:07): And so kind of just figuring out after effects and slowly brought in some other people, we ended up having an intern that kind of knew his way around and stuff. And then slowly kind of built that as capability. And I took on the, the animation side of the company, took on the live action side of the company, which eventually got broken off into a separate company called kiddo after we had twins, which is two babies at the same time by accident. So everything got a little bit crazy for awhile. And and then when she came back to work, full-time we sort of split off live action. So anyways, today giant ant is a company that you guys are obviously a little bit familiar with. But we do kind of all things animation a lot of kind of sell a character animation, a lot of motion graphics. We do some 3d stuff as well. We sort of I guess we kind of like do everything like up to when it starts bumping up against more visual effects type work. And then that just, we leave that to other people who are much better at it and that's who I am and what I do.
Hayley Akins (07:10): Yeah, that's awesome. I was just thinking, I can't believe we've been doing it for like so long, but it's amazing. Really? It is great because I feel like everybody knows Jane and everyone's like, that's, that's so cool. Like the coolest studio, you know, and all that stuff. And it's good to hear that it's like taking time, you know, it's not like an overnight thing. Cause I feel like sometimes people think they've got to be there like instantly, you know, and obviously you've put a lot of years and a lot of hard work into it and that kind of thing. So I think that's really cool.
Jay Grandin (07:42): Yeah. Like it took us a really long time and we had our first employee in 2009, I think, which is when we moved into a little office space for the first time. And I think the truth is that we were really blessed by having time to figure it out. And like the industry is really different now and like, I didn't know what motion design was until we were already doing it. So it was like, have you checked out Motionographer and he was, this guy was like, I'm a motion designer. And I just thought he was being a. I was like, what are you talking about? Like that's not a real job. And I was like, oh, wait a minute. That's what, I'm a motion designer. Like I have the job too. That's so interesting. But it was it was really kind of not in its infancy, but it's like in the iteration of the industry that we're in now, it was whereas before I think you had like broadcast design, which was more of like a, something that moved alongside visual effects and then there was TV animation.
Jay Grandin (08:32): That was something totally different. And then suddenly like the barrier into your came way down with like IMAX and after fixing all this stuff that people could afford it, this thing happened. And so I think if that thing hadn't happened at the time that we were starting, like the confusion around it gave us a couple of years to sort of develop our practice, I guess, or kind of figure it out. Whereas we didn't, you know, in today's terms have the talent to ever succeed. I think if it was, I started now, like I think I would be doing something very different because I don't think I would have been good enough to do it, or it would have been too much of a journey I think, to get up to industry standard for me personally. So anyways, it's, I think it's, you know, the industry is very different. It's like it's simultaneously like way more cutthroat, but then way more like there's so much more opportunity. So that's good news and bad news.
Hayley Akins (09:20): Yeah. Well, let, let's get into some questions then I'm just going to go and brown and pick on everyone. And then we'll probably just like keep leaping around till we get like to the top of the hour basically. So Andy, you've got loads of questions. Do you want to pick one that maybe you feel is relevant task? J
Andy (09:40): Yeah. Hi Jay. Hi Jay. Thank you very much. I was asking the question in college. I was also interested in is where does your service begin for the client? Besides the production of the video itself. So does it begin at just at the, okay. We have this idea and this is the goal, or do you go in and start a little bit earlier even? And what do you, what are you doing with the clients when you finished the video itself? There are some, some campaigning involved. Is there some I don't know, positioning involved or is it really just the production itself?
Jay Grandin (10:21): Yeah. Good question. And that's something that changes depending on the kind of client and it's something that changes depending on the kind of project. So we I would say our customers are sort of broken into three groups and one group is entertainment type clients. So that would be people like cartoon network or Warner brothers or Disney or somebody like that. And so typically they have a really like pretty developed universe around whatever it is that we're doing. So we're using a character that exists. So there are all kinds of rules around that. They usually have a really specific idea of what they need. So it's like something to fill a media spot, like a bumper or something that's gotta to be six seconds and it's got to have these characters in it or whatever, or it's a segment from a show or an intro or something.
Jay Grandin (11:09): So the rules are really, really confined. And often in those situations, it's sort of predetermined what it is. So if we work with Warner brothers, for instance, on the Animaniacs show, like they'll give us a really developed enemy animatic to start with. And then we sort of, it's more of a styling exercise. So like how do we take this into an interesting style when we recommend something or whatever, in the case of cartoon network, where we doing all these bumpers for them, we do have a bit of leeway, but, but it's kind of like we're working within a pretty small box. So that's kind of like one group, another group is working for ad agencies or design agencies who are working for their own clients. And that is probably the hardest one to figure out. Sometimes we get, you know, really prescriptive storyboards and even style frames.
Jay Grandin (11:54): So we just have to make some stuff move for them cause they don't have expertise, but then sometimes they need a kind of a storytelling partner where they, you know, they're really good at like print stuff and broad or whatever, like billboards, but they're not very good at telling stories across time. So they'll kind of bring us in to do that and we'll try to, you know, take the, the essence of a campaign and like squeeze it into a 15 second spot or some six second spots or a 30 or 60 or whatever. So that can really, really range. But usually it starts at, you know, at the very least we usually have a script to work with and at the very most, sometimes we have design. So again, that kind of feels like we're coming in as like a, you know, a really high powered freelancer to kind of be a mercenary for their project.
Jay Grandin (12:37): And then the last group are kind of direct to client relationships and that also really varies, but it used to be that a brand would call us and they'd be like, Hey, we need a video. It's going to be about this. Can you like now what? And we would kind of, you know, start with from the research and we would write a script and then we would sort of figure out a tone of voice and do all the art direction and stuff and then make the thing and then deliver the thing. But that's, that's always where we stop. Like we don't do like media buys or strategy around that kind of stuff. So, so that's kind of the way it used to be the way it is now is that it's sometimes like that. And oftentimes what we're finding is that brands are developing more and more sophisticated internal agencies.
Jay Grandin (13:20): So in some cases it doesn't mean they're good internal agencies always, but, but they do have a process that like very closely mimics what it would be like to work with an ad agency. The good news often is that you're closer to the stakeholders. So you're more likely to be talking to the person who needs to make the decision. And so it's easier to make the right kind of recommendation for them because there's less translation involved. But then other times it's, you know, just like working with an agency where that's like one department that talks to another, then talks to another and it's this huge chain of command within, within a big company. So it's kind of like, it's not a great answer. Like the answer is it's always different and it depends who it's with. And but one thing that we've really noticed in the last couple of years, which is, I think probably a trend in any creative industry is that when it starts, nobody knows what it's about.
Jay Grandin (14:13): So like 10 years ago, no one knew how to make a video. No one knew no one really watched this stuff. So so we were like really, really the experts in everyone's minds. Whereas now I think more and more people sort of fancy themselves like armchair directors or because they've watched lots of stuff on, you know, whatever wine after coffee or Motionographer, or like they've judged an award show or something. They think that they know how to do everything and it's not always true. And I think what often happens is that when our clients sometimes don't have like a full view of the industry, but kind of think they know what they do. And it becomes really like reference-based. And so that people see a thing and they want that thing. And, but it's all the stuff that we've seen like a hundred times.
Jay Grandin (14:56): And so I think it perpetuates this like echo chamber on Instagram and other places where everything starts to look the same, right. It's like, oh, we're doing this is the gradient year. And like next year is going to be the whatever, like purple people walk into, like, and things start to get kind of same, same. So anyways, we don't really know how to battle against that. But what we're finding is that briefs like w we're routinely asked to do less and less and less, and it feels like we're being the pressure is to push us more toward production in terms of the breach that we see. But I think that that's industry wide,
Andy (15:32): Maybe it makes a bit of difference of how big the clients are that you get, because we are getting clients with not that big of a budget and they often don't have much marketing idea experience. And then they, they want the video and, but they don't know where to put it. And just essentially saying, yeah, we want to put it on the website and put it on Facebook and then we have to get down with them and get, get to know what actually the, the goal of the video is and stuff like that. And this is, do you understand right? That the clients that you got mostly understand what to do with the video and where to put it or, or, or it's just not a field, none of your concern.
Jay Grandin (16:22): Well, I think that there are two things in that question and one is like, where does the video live? So whether it lives on the website or on Instagram or Facebook or whatever. And then I think the other part of the question is like, what is the video trying to do? Or what's, what's it trying to accomplish? And so I think we get really engaged in that question. But less engaged in the first question. So usually people have an idea of like, where they're going to put the thing. And then from there we're like, okay, well, you're going to put it there. Like, who are you going to talk to and why, and why should they care? And what do you want them to feel? And what do you like, what kind of associations do you want them to have with your brand and why, and what do you want them to do next?
Jay Grandin (17:01): Like, do you want them to know something? Do you want them to feel something and you want them to go like sign up for something. And I think that that is kind of the core of maybe what we're good at at China. And just trying to figure out, like, what, what is the nugget, why does anyone care? What should they feel? And trying to recommend a solution that can accomplish that goal. And I think that it, you know, it comes right down to, you know, in opportunities where we get to write the script. I think we can make script scripting decisions that can really service those goals. Whereas, you know, if you're trying to make somebody understand blockchain or some financial services system or something that they don't trust because they don't get it and it's confusing, you don't tell them like some aspirational story, that's a poem.
Jay Grandin (17:45): Cause that feels like, like that doesn't tell me anything. Like you give them like a five paragraph essay with the kind of essay you would have written in high school. And so it's like, this is what I'm telling you. This is me telling you, this is what I told you. And try to like really break into new as logical progression as possible. But then if you want to meet people, develop a personal connection with the idea of empathy, something like maybe that's a poem or maybe that's a story about somebody or maybe that's something else. So I think that there are you know, depending on your, not necessarily your kind of placement goals, but your kind of results goals or your engagement goals. I think that those things play pretty heavily into like a lot of what we do. And I think that like, if you want people to feel like something is authentic and bespoke or whatever, you don't make like a glossy, 3d cube flying around. Right. But maybe you do that for the bank thing. You probably do like the hand drawn things, be like, kind of have these little mental connections between something that's a little bit more folksy with something that feels honest or whatever, those kinds of things that we play with it a lot. Thanks.
Hayley Akins (18:49): Awesome.
Javier (18:53): Yes. Thank you. My question is, is something following what you were talking now about this value that you are bringing to the clients in performing the strategical decision, the concept decisions to really have a best practices of using and making the video. My question is about how do you value and charge those creative efforts? Do you have some kind of a package that includes the creativity, the, this, this, this direction for, for the client that when all they know that one, a video, or they don't know how to use them is something that you add on your, or your quote.
Jay Grandin (19:32): That's a good question. Cause it's, it's hard to charge for ideas cause they just said that happen and they happen because you think about them all the time and you're not necessarily doing anything, but you're doing something. So the way we have arrived at doing it and just to be clear, we don't, we don't really engage in like strategy, like bigger strategy, but more like, I guess trying to tell the right story for the right intended results. But the way we do it is we, if we're writing a script or we're doing a storyboard or making a tangible thing that we're going to send to them to review, we will charge for that. So if we think the script's gonna take us three days to write, we'll charge them for three days of a day rate or similarly with, with storyboards and all those things, but on top of a project fee.
Jay Grandin (20:19): So we add up all that time and then we'll add a percentage for creative direction. And on top of that, and that's sort of to like capture the sort of intangible. Like, I don't know, our art director like goes for a run in the evening to think about the project or whatever. Like just to kind of like capture that stuff. Like the stuff that's kind of hard to get otherwise, or like the time that we'd like walk around the office and sit there and scratch our heads and talk about stuff like five minutes at a time to kind of figure it out. So that's how we do it. So we, we charged for all the assets that we're creating through like all the artists and then we'll add a percentage for creative direction and then also a percentage for project management. Oh good.
Hayley Akins (20:58): So Eric's question was when hiring freelances, how do you contract them the amount of time on the job or the amount of time animated or a number of shots that they do or a combination
Jay Grandin (21:09): It's always based on the time that they spend. So that's how we charged. And so that's how we expect other people to charge. And I think where that gets difficult sometimes is if it's somebody we haven't worked with before and we don't understand their speed very well. Sometimes they're faster than we expect. Sometimes they're slower than we expect. And so we don't always know exactly what we're buying. I guess when we go into those relationships, which is tricky, I think some certain kind of aspects of what we do are easier to predict. We find that cell animation is really hard to predict. Some people are really fast and some people are really slow. And at the end, when you look at it all in the portfolio, it's really hard to tell, which is which, and it's not always connected to quality. So typically what we'll do is go in with as clear and brief as we can of like what the shots are and what our timeline is, and just ask people to be as upfront as possible.
Jay Grandin (22:01): What they think is, is doable. And I think, you know, similarly like speed varies and sort of day rates. Some people are really, really expensive and some people are way less expensive. And so what we find is that if we get into a situation where we feel like the sort of what people, what people can accomplish at a high level, if it becomes out of sync with what they charge, we just usually don't work with them again. But but we work with people who are on the less expensive side that are slower and on the really expensive side who are very, very fast. So we try not to, we try to think about like the value rather than the particular dollars, because I think that's fair. And we hope that people treat us that way too. Like we're never going to be the most expensive option, but we're never going to be the cheapest option either. And we hope that at least if we communicate clearly about that, that the value is there. And so we kind of treat our freelance relationships the same way.
Hayley Akins (22:57): Cool. I think Andy, you've got a follow-up to this question
Andy (23:02): Quickly, when you speak about hiring freelancers how often, and when do you decide to hire freelancer and when to keep it in in-house what's the decision.
Jay Grandin (23:14): It's usually a volume thing. So if we are, if we have more work than we can accomplish in house, we will bring in freelancers it's. And sometimes it's like, if there's a, you know, a technical thing that we just don't know how to do, or aren't very good at we'll bring somebody in. But typically like just say, we like to keep like the thinking in the house. So like, you know, art direction and animation direction, creative direction, and all those kinds of things like design as much as possible. And usually when we add freelancers, it's not adding somebody who's like crucial to the project where it will fail if we don't have them. Because you can never, you never know, like when you book a project who's going to be available. So typically it's like adding more of what we do already to, to a project I would say more and more like there's a huge movement towards freelance right now.
Jay Grandin (24:03): I don't know. I mean, for all the reasons that are obvious, like we've all been working from home or we're in the office and Ken now, but so a lot of people are trying it out cause it feels safe. Cause I kinda they've already built a routine of being at home. So what we're finding is that because of that and because of COVID and all the stuff that's going on in the world, it's hard to get people to come to Vancouver, to work in our studio. So these days we have more and more freelancers and it's not as easy to quickly and easily replace people if they leave in the way that it was a couple of years ago.
Hayley Akins (24:32): Cool. Thanks. Okay. I'm going to keep comb around. Alexi, do you have a question?
Alexi (24:38): Yeah, it's a question about regarding the struggles. So it's knowing the struggles that you had at the beginning when you started the company and then we just struggles you have right now. So it's just to measure a little bit the difference between their beginnings and the actual moment.
Jay Grandin (24:59): I mean, there are like thousands of struggles. There's so many struggles. So I I do a lot of running and I used to have a running coach when I was training for something. And one thing you said one time is like in regards to training, like I was like, man, this is hard. It never gets easier. And he said like, it never gets easier. You just keep moving faster. And I was like, oh, like that's just like running a company. Like it, it feels like it's, it never gets easier. You just accomplish more and it's still equally as hard. So I would say that, you know, the struggles that we had early on are probably very similar to the struggles we have now, they're just at a different scale. And so I think when we started, it was, I mean, there are a lot of like struggles with like, how do we even do this thing?
Jay Grandin (25:49): Like how does the software work? Like that kind of stuff. But there are a lot of struggles around like how, how to manage people effectively and how to like how to manage people from kind of like within a company from a human resources perspective, but then also how to manage people within a project. How do you manage projects? How do you like elegantly, like, you know, break a project down into little pieces that you can share. How do you communicate your vision to a client? How do you get people to trust you? How do you make sure they pay you? Like all that stuff is kind of still true. It just keeps changing. And I think it's, it's one of those things where like, you know, you, you start and you build a capacity and then you, you reach it and then you like max yourself out.
Jay Grandin (26:32): And then as you max yourself out, you build more capacity. And then when you realize that you feel it, you hire somebody else and then you do that again and do it again. So you're, you're kind of like always at your limit, but your limit just gets larger, I think. And all of the same struggles with, you know, people and how to manage people. And I'm gonna sound like an old man now, but like I'm 38. I was 20, whatever five when we started. And, and I find that like, not to sound again, like old, like, but generationally, like the people that we hire now that are 20 or 22, like they want to be managed differently than, than I do or did. And so it's, I'm not relying as much on my intuition anymore. I'm having to rely on building skills and like learning new things and trying to figure out new ways to connect with people creatively and emotionally and in the workplace and all these things. So I don't know. I don't really have a good answer for you, but I just feel like it never stays still for long enough to develop, like to learn at all. Like it just, as soon as you figure it out, it's different. Does that answer your question at all?
Hayley Akins (27:47): Alexi is basically like, so you're telling me there's no hope.
Alexi (27:51): Yeah. But it's good to know now, you know,
Jay Grandin (27:54): It depends on what you're doing as well. Like if you're some people push themselves to the limit all the time and some people don't, it's like one of those things like, okay, just like two more years than I can relax just three more years than it. I'll just gotta to finish this one project and then I can relax. I'm just going to do, like, I just wanna win this one award. And then like, and then it's done. I'm just gonna chill it. You never get there. Like you'd never get there. This is a goal that's like way out there. And then by the time you get to it, like, there's another goal, like way out there. So you never stop. You just keep walking depending on who you are. And some people, you know, are very different. Like I think with artists, people in our industry, they're kind of like two paths.
Jay Grandin (28:34): One is, you know, you learn, you get good, you become a senior level person. Then you become an art director or whatever director. And then you become a creative director. Then you start your own thing. And then like, it's like this steady progression. But I think that there's another path. That's like, you get good. You get really good. You just get so good and you become a master of your craft and you like focus all the complexity on doing the thing and becoming like the best. And like people, like, I don't know if you know him, but Chris Anderson. So he lives in Arkansas on a farm with his kids. He works from home. He's really expensive. He's amazing. He's so good. And he's just like become a master of his craft and he just chills out. And I mean, I don't think it's easy, but, but he's chosen a different kind of complexity. Whereas the complexity that I've chosen is to like expand my career and like skill, the amount of people that I'm working with. So I've just chosen like a different problem to solve. And I think it's a problem that's constantly changing because you keep going through different stratus of things. Whereas I think if you want to like be relaxed, maybe you choose the other.
Hayley Akins (29:43): Yeah. I'm just laughing loads because I can very much relate to what you're saying. Like, you know, you're always, everyone's always pushing and it's good, you know, it's good. But like I try and encourage everyone to have some balance too, and be, you know, try and organize it. So you don't have to constantly like, think about it, but is tough because we're always like once we get to a goal, like you say, we're trying to get to the next one, which is true. In fact, me, you, everybody here
Jay Grandin (30:13): So much so that you don't enjoy accomplishing the goal, which is the kind of the tragedy in it all.
Hayley Akins (30:19): Yeah, it is. And that's why, you know, in this group as well, we share wins every week we try and share wins that we've done, like as well as sharing struggles where like sharing the wins and going, this is why we did great this week so that we can hopefully remember to celebrate, because I think it's important. Cool. So DJ, do you have a question?
DJ (30:38): And so I actually really appreciate the last answer just because people don't ever really talk about like the struggle or just like when things aren't super awesome. And so just hearing you like the list of like things that are still kind of doing that. So something that really interested me was when you were talking about how you, you know, you started to kind of just you and your wife making these live action, things that you acted in and kind of the stage from when it was kind of that level, or like just above to where you're bringing people in to kind of, once you were moving to a much larger things. I mean, I guess, you know, what are, what's the one or two or, you know, handing full of things. But I think it would probably be easier to answer it as one or two, but they were kind of like the things that you're like, that decision we made was kind of a turning point. Like that was kind of what really propelled us to like the next thing. Or if there was one, you know, what were the kind of paramount decisions that led to kind of success in those kinds of middle years?
Jay Grandin (31:39): I don't know that we had any turning point decisions. I think I've never been like, I don't trust turning points usually. I mean, I think we made a couple of really good hiring decisions that ended up being, you know, minor turning points. I think like, you know, we hired Jorge Jr. Can ask who now runs ordinary folk. And I learned so much about him from him about motion design. So that was a turning point in some ways, but then he left and we still were able to do good work. So it wasn't you know, because we absorbed stuff from it. Similarly like Lucas Brooking, who's now creative director at buck Sydney. We sort of like, I just saw his work and thought he was great and nobody knew who he was and we hired him. And that was a different kind of turning point.
Jay Grandin (32:23): Where were you, like, we'd kind of learned about animation that we learned about design and then another turning point was in hired Enrique Barone, who is an incredible cell animator. And he was just like some guy at Vancouver film school. And we were like, wow, wouldn't it be cool if he like, didn't motion design, like what happen? And we learned a ton from him. So I think we've made a lot of like good, like intuitive early discovery types of hiring decisions and like our team now, like Raphael and Connor and Suchy and Eric, and like all of those guys are so amazing. But I think that probably the best thing we ever did was two things. One was we decided that money wasn't important for a long, long, long time and not everyone has that luxury, but at the time we did and we kind of thought, okay, we're not very good at this yet.
Jay Grandin (33:16): One day we're going to be great at this and then we'll make all of our money. But right now what's more important is our creative expression. And so in the early five, six years in the studio more, maybe we really like biased our decision-making toward creativity and we still do, but what's happened now is that like the money stuff has like kind of come together with it because we've made those decisions for so long. And so I think that the result of that was that we just focused on projects that we could really like learn from and feel good about. And like, we only have so many hours in a week and a month in a year. So if we spent all of those hours on this, like making these boring banner ads for like X giant startup, then that's going to take up the whole year and then we're going to get attached to that money.
Jay Grandin (34:01): And we're never going to be able to like stop and do something more interesting. But instead, what we decided to do is just like pump out interesting work, even if it meant we didn't get paid at all personally, which happened for years. And I think what that did was it allowed us to build a portfolio that became substantial or interesting enough that then we started to get those big brand projects that were interesting, that had money attached to them. And then we're able to kind of like build a studio on top of that foundation. So that was like just kind of an intuitive decision. It wasn't like we were trying to do a thing, like a strategy. It was just that we just wanted to work on fun stuff. And so that's where we focused. So we did that for a long time and it worked and I think otherwise we probably would never have been able to communicate our potential to people who ended up hiring us later.
Jay Grandin (34:49): And then the other thing which is sort of related is that we sort of took the stance that like everything we put in the world as a statement of our tastes. And so like, that's kind of a guiding principle for me at least. And so I think about that as like how I treat people, how I treat clients. How like, is this shot good enough? Like, no, it's not like, like we put this out and feel good about it. Nope. Not yet. Like, let's try harder. Like even if you know, we're going to lose a bit of money on it or just all those things. And I had a boss and my first job and it was probably the, like the most valuable lesson I ever learned, but I submitted this like drawing package for some, whatever, a chair or something. And he was just like, this, these drawings are not good enough.
Jay Grandin (35:37): Like all the information is here, but it's messy. It's just not like do better. I think you're better than this do better. And so I spent the whole weekend, like redoing this drawing package and it was like beautiful and meticulous. And I had it on his desk on Monday morning. And you just like, kind of like, whatever gave me like a thumbs up, like just like, it was like this movie moment with the boss and it felt so good, but I really learned the lesson that if I'm going to do anything, like it doesn't take any more time to do a great job than a mediocre job often because you're taking all the same steps. So what we really try to do is like, put really consider everything and put thought into everything. And I think if it's easy to say, oh, that doesn't matter. But the truth is like, it does matter. Everything matters. And like, if there's a glitch, it matters. If there's a, like in between frame that matters, it all matters. And it all says something about who we are and like what we care about and whether we care. And I think all of those like little micro decisions over like a decade build trust, I think in people who may hire us and build like positive habits, that's probably the biggest thing is just trying hard.
Hayley Akins (36:50): Yeah. That's great. Thank you so much. Anyway, before I go back to Andy, does anyone else really want to ask the question? Just because I know that we're like kind of running out of time soon, so just want to check. No. Ever Alexi says let him speak. Okay, Andy, go for it.
Andy (37:06): Okay. Thanks. I want to go more into the processes that you guys have, especially when first contacting a client or getting the contact of the client to bidding and how to communicate and how to follow up until you finally get the job. Like how do you calculate and bids and stuff like that from first contact to, to, yeah. You got the job.
Jay Grandin (37:35): It's not always the same unfortunately, but so we've had an executive producer named Teresa and she does most of this stuff now. At least like the first contact. And first of all, like, we're really lucky in that most of we've been around for a long time and it doesn't mean that we're better than anybody else. It's just that I think we're more familiar with more people because we've our name's been floating around for years. So a lot of people reach out and I think we get like an average of about 500 new inquiries per year probably, or maybe like, whatever, 50 ish a month, 45 50. And so a lot of the job starts with like a filtration job. So it's like kind of like looking at the emails, seeing what is there and trying to decide like which things to pursue.
Jay Grandin (38:24): Cause Theresa spends a ton of her time, like talking with people and having two or three conversations before we kind of get anywhere. So really quickly, what we want to do is figure out, like, do you have enough time? Do you have enough money? Do you know what you want? And do you know, you want, can be, no, it can be a good answer or yes. Can be a good answer. Kind of depends. And then we'd try to and this is hard, but like quickly evaluate the tastes of whoever's reaching out. So, you know, what kind of like look at their website, look at the other stuff they've made, try to figure out if they're trying to do something new, if they're relaunching or if this is like fitting into their existing world and then kind of make a quick like gut decision on like, Hmm.
Jay Grandin (39:04): It doesn't look like we have overlap or like, oh, it looks like we have interesting overlap or like, it looks like they want something really good because they've done really good things to the ones that are in good from us. But sometimes we'll look and we'll be like, oh, they don't know what good is. Like, all this stuff is bad. So if we give them something we think is good, they may not recognize it as such. And so we're going to end up in like a taste gap situation. So yeah. Do you have time? Do you have money? Do you know what you want? Do, do we agree on what's good. And so those are kind of like the first things. And then usually that kind of happens in an email. And if people say like, I dunno, like what do you think it should cost?
Jay Grandin (39:41): Like, we, we don't spend a lot of time making a develop bid or budget at that point. Usually we'll kind of be like one of two approaches, but it's like, do you have $5,000, $50,000 or $500,000? And those are kind of dumb numbers, but they're so specific that someone will be like, oh no, no, no, no, no. Like I've got like maybe seven or something I've got like, you know, not 50 but 40 or like a bit more like somewhere in between. But you know, it'll like give us a reference point because they're so, so different and so specific. So we'll either try that or we will kind of give them like general kind of per second costs. So we're like, you know, generally our projects per second are like X to X, depending on kind of what it is. And like at this end, it's more like this at this end.
Jay Grandin (40:23): It's more like this kind of stuff. What do you think? And often that's the point where a conversation either kind of accelerates or stops. And so from there, we'll usually have a phone call, which is often kind of like a get to know you call. So it's, you know, we ask all the questions about dates and those kinds of things, but that's usually when I come into the process and when I'm most interested in knowing is kind of all that stuff we talked about before. So it's like, what do you want people to know? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do next? And seeing if we can get kind of good answers to those things so we can kind of understand what it is that they're trying to accomplish. And I think as much as we're interviewing them, we're trying to like allow them to interview us.
Jay Grandin (41:08): And I think the way that we do that, like people aren't always good at asking the right questions. So our approach is to just kind of like ask you questions and show you how we think. And often that's enough to allow a client to kind of evaluate whether we seem like we're, we're in sync without having to know what to ask. So if that makes sense. So like, we really like to kind of try to show them like how we would think about the problem solving or the storytelling, whatever, and what kinds of questions we're going to engage in, in the project. So we use those like early calls as kind of like a, a proxy for that. And I'm starting to ramble a little bit, but one thing we do also say is that the new business process, like kind of that, that step of getting from first call to a signed contract is kind of like an avatar for how the project will go.
Jay Grandin (41:56): So if it's really, really difficult, if the contract is really difficult and if everything's like a struggle, if scheduling is really hard, it's going to be like that all the way. So we look at that stuff really closely as well. And kind of a call to the place like, Hey, this is, this is like not making our lives any easier. Like what's, what's going on here. And sometimes we kind of make decisions on projects based on that. So that's like when somebody reaches out and they just want us to work with them. And so then it's usually a contract, blah, blah. And then there are lots of situations where they reach out and they want to see something. So if it comes like a pageant, kind of like a pitch of some kind. So that's usually when it's with an agency, often times now it's with clients direct where they, they have a brief and they want you to pitch them on how you, how you do it.
Jay Grandin (42:43): And we'll kind of go through all those same early steps. But one thing that we really take seriously, as far as pitches go is, first of all, they have to be clear about their budget. So we're not going to spend a bunch of time pitching on a project that's underfunded. So it needs to be like kind of a juicy job either like really juicy creatively, or really juicy financially to engage in the pitch process because they're asking, they're asking for a free sample. And so if we're going to like give them something for free it's because we want to get something back and it needs to do something substantial. And then the other thing we like to find out is whether they know what they want at all. And sometimes I think the pitch process is used as a lazy way to do creative direction on the brand side or on the agency side.
Jay Grandin (43:31): So the kind of have like a really loose, like we're going to make an animation, but then like no idea, like style execution, why animation, like any of those things, like nothing is figured out, like sometimes no script. And I feel like, like, oh, I see what you're doing. Like you're using the pitch because you can't come up with an idea and you want to choose between three and then take the best ones of your clients. And so we avoid those because it's just random. Like then you're kind of relying on again that like synergy of tastes with the agency or with the client or whatever. So I think if if we are going to engage in a pitch, it has to be in response to a brief, that's really clear. So it's like, okay, you said this, this and this. And so we're recommending this, this and this as an answer to this, because I think so much of the sales process and the pitch process is like kind of walking people through a set of logic of like, okay, well, like this is how we're going to tell your story.
Jay Grandin (44:23): And this is why, and because you want to do this and all these things, because otherwise it just becomes like kind of a styling exercise where it's like, do you, this t-shirt or this t-shirt. And it's like, I don't know, like they both have for your body, so who cares? Right. and it just comes down to kind of how you feel that day. But then when we actually do a pitch what we decided a couple of years ago is that when we pitch, we're going to pitch hard. And so we'll pitch less, like we're going to pitch the out of a project. So we will, you know, like do a storyboard. We'll often like rewrite their script. We will like make a bunch of style frames. We'll make an animation test. Like we'll just throw down. And it used to be that we were like making kind of like crappy pitches really often.
Jay Grandin (45:08): And instead we do like maybe a quarter of those. And then we'll just throw like a bunch of people at it for three or four days, it's kind of fun. It feels like a university project and we make a bunch of stuff and then we hope for the best. And I think that that's really increased our success rate on pitches too. It's just being like hyper selective and just shoot the kill kind of. But the problem is that, you know, we're often pitching against like these giant companies too, like people like buck or people like PSYOP or people like Hornet or whatever. And we just don't have nearly the amount of resources at our disposal. So in some ways like that approach to pitching is the only hope to go up against some of those companies, because even taking buck as an example, like a hundred percent of our resources represent like 4% of theirs or something like that, whatever the math is.
Jay Grandin (46:02): So we really need to push our chips in pretty hard in order to, to compete. What I always hope for is that we can describe our pitch in one sentence. And I think it's easy to be like, it's, we're going to use 3d, but that's not an idea. That's just an execution. So what we always try to come with is some like one line concept. And I think also when you're usually you're pitching to the person who's pitching to somebody else later without you involved. So I think if you can give them like a good sound bite, kind of, it makes their job easier to sell your stuff. So I feel like the concept is about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Then they can go and say that and feel smart and sound smart or whatever. And whereas you're like, okay, like the concept is like, we're going to use a lot of purple because purple is like your brand color and it's going to be 3d. And they know it's not really an idea. It's just like, oh, I don't like it or whatever. And I think if there's an idea there too, it can transcend the wrong style decision. So if you've got a great idea, you're like, here's, here's the concept. Here's one way we can draw this picture, but there are a thousand ways to draw this picture. And I think you can still maintain a level of success by having an idea.
Hayley Akins (47:19): Awesome. So thanks everybody. This is really fun and thanks so much today for giving your time to us and like really, really appreciate it. Thanks so much for Jay for being an expert in our accelerator and for allowing us to share the call on the podcast as well. If you'd like to join our accelerator and find out more information, go to motionhatch.com/accelerator, or email us at email@example.com with any questions that you have. Thanks so much for listening all the way to the end. I appreciate you. See ya.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Thanks for Listening!
To share your thoughts:
To help out the show:
Podcast music licensed by Big Waves
Podcast production & marketing support by the team at BE MORE Media
Some of the links above are affiliate links. Basically, this means that if you decide to make a purchase through one of these links, we will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. You can be sure that we would recommend these products whether or not we made any commission on them. Please don’t spend your money on them if you don’t think that they will truly help you improve your business, although, in our experience, they will.
Recent podcast episodes:
When Motion Hatch first started it was a side hustle, now it's a company! Have you considered starting your own motion design...
Charli Marie is a YouTuber, podcast host and Creative Director. She provides guidance on how to create a motion design side project that complements your day job.
Looking to make six figures as a motion designer, but not sure where to start? Motion designer John Filipkowski discusses how he hit...
Do you ever feel like you’ve hit the ceiling in your motion design freelance business in terms of how much money you can make? Web...