Reading Time | 11 minutes
How would you describe your process?
I don’t really plan. I don’t make story films or anything. I just see some really cool animation and think, “how do I make it as close to that as possible?” I’ll just do that and see how many times I can do it to get it exactly how I want it.
How did you come up with this mandala looping animation that you do?
When I was finishing up college, I was really burned out and I wanted to do something that was just my own thing. No input from other people. No assignments. Nothing. I finished my student film early and I was just going to have fun and make something.
I really like experimental animation; things set to music, just kind of evolving. I came across this artist that does that style of animation and I was so blown away by it. I became obsessed with his work and I would obsessively watch his animation to figure out how he does that.
Do you remember the name of the artist?
His name is Nicolas Fong. I’ll show you a clip. My goal is to get that intricate if not more than that. I’ve been wrapping my head around it, trying to break it down as much as I can and learn from that. I’m totally shameless with ripping him off. Whenever anyone asks, I always tell them, “I really like this guy’s work—I just want to make it that good.”
…if I like something, I want to copy it just so I can learn from it.
Through emulation, you managed to put your own stamp on something. I think a lot of people are afraid to do that.
My approach has been that if I like something, I want to copy it just so I can learn from it. Because I set this as my goal, it made me get way better at animating really fast. If you’re just experimenting, you end up somewhere eventually but you’re not really striving to reach a certain level.
You’re not limiting yourself to just your peers directly around you. You’re looking for inspiration somewhere and saying, “I can do that.”
I’m not surrounded by artists all the time. I live in the woods by myself, not by myself, but with my family, but none of them are artists. So I’m just on the internet getting inspiration most of the time.
A lot of your work is very nature based, so how do you feel about that combination of living out in the woods but also being very connected.
I think about that a lot actually. On one hand it would be nice to be in a community of people where we are all doing the same thing all the time. For example, working at Make is really cool because I get feedback from people all the time, but it’s critical. I’m OK with critical feedback; it’s nice and it helps me improve. On the other hand, it’s nice to be an individual because you get to develop your own style and not be influenced by everyone around you.
You are specifically trying to copy someone but you’re worried that being around too many people would mean that you’re being too influenced.
I’m thinking more in terms of not just artistic influence, but how I think about art. I have an idea or vision in my head of what I want, but when you are always being told by one person, “OK this is good”, you eat that up. Then next person you talk to thinks this is bad and you don’t know what to think about your own work anymore.
So you’re at Make now! The work you do there is obviously different from what you do independently; Can you talk about that?
Yeah, very different. I really like doing the motion graphicy stuff I’ve been doing at Make—I’ve been wanting to get into it but I haven’t had an opportunity to really experiment with it. My personal work is free association stuff. I don’t plan a lot of things ahead of time. I’m used to working in my own head; I have my own pace and my own way of going about everything. When I’m in a studio I’m worried that I don’t know what I’m doing.
You’ve developed a strong self evaluation of good vs bad, but when you get into a studio setting, there’s lots of other people that have opinions on what’s good or bad.
You don’t know what you think anymore. Yeah that happens.
How do you make that separation? If you go to work all day, are you able to come home and work on stuff or are you overwhelmed by being in a studio all day that you need to take a break?
Personally, I lean more towards that. I’ve never actually worked at a studio that long. It ends up being late hours sometimes, and by the time I get home I don’t want to work on anything anymore. Actually, at work, I’ve been doing these types of animation for social media. So I do sometimes get to make my own projects, just with the Make brand on it.
How did you first find animation? What made you choose to pursue it as a career?
I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid, and, for some reason, I really wanted do animation despite never actually animating until getting into college. I had no clue how it was done. I was just like, “Cartoons look cool—I’ll do that.” Second year of college I picked up animation and found out how it’s done. I get really into it because I get kind of lizard brainy watching my own drawings come to life. I get even more obsessed with it and try to do more and more of it. I wanted to do the whole “Disney thing” because I didn’t know there where other types of animation. I didn’t even know the whole commercial studio stuff was a thing. But I go into college and take experimental animation and it’s like a whole new world opened up to me and that’s all I want to do.
And you won Best Student Animation at MET!
I still don’t know how that happened.
I was a judge that year and I advocated for yours because it just seemed so much more mature; not just in concept, but in execution.
Well thank you. That was my attempt at putting together a storyboarded short. I have a really hard time with that.
Can we talk about that? Your work is a lot of this looping social-media-first type of thing, but your senior project is very much not that.
The loops that I do was the result of me being done with school. I was just “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m going to do something completely different.” That’s my relationship with school. I had a tough time with it. I always needed to do what needs to be done to get the grade, but it was never really an expression of myself. I could have just kind of faked my way through it; make something I want along with the assignment, but I never did that. I’m a rule follower so if you give me instructions, I will follow them. I had a hard time staying true to what I wanted.
You say that you found your love for animation through experimental animation but you gotta follow the rules.
I know it’s weird. The rule was make whatever you want in those experimental animation courses so I was like “great I’ll do what I want.” No boundaries. I’ll just do whatever I want.
Were there any challenges you faced while you were producing your senior film—other than being outside the kind of work you wanted to do—and do you think it influenced more of the experimental animation that you wanted to do?
The challenge is always, “What is it trying to say?” I have an idea of a cool movement, but I don’t have an idea of how it starts or how it ends. It’s this amalgamation of all these ideas floating around. It was really hard for me to sit down and be like, “this is going to be a complete idea…kind of.” I was hoping to have someone write a song for me and I would then just animate whatever to the music. That didn’t work. I ended up storyboarding it and figuring out precisely what everything was going to look like anyway.
On instagram the other day, you posted a picture asking “who else writes notes?” But for you, a lot of the process is the concept. Where did writing down words come in?
It’s not like I write complete sentences. I have a vision in my head, but I don’t want to draw it out because it’s animated so I don’t see the point. I like to take notes on what I’m going to do so it’s, ”I like this flower. I want it to open up like this. I want something to come out of it or for it to transform to this and I want it to be this many seconds long.” I may not do it that day, maybe I’ll do it another day. Sometimes it will change as I’m animating, but I have an idea and I’d like to write it down before I forget what it is.
It’s almost like you’re setting rules for yourself. It’s like you’re your own teacher.
I don’t like rules but I like to set boundaries. If you look at my really early loops, it is three colors—there’s a background green and the animation was a contrast of a really dark and a really light color. I was thinking that I could do a whole rainbow. The background is a color of the rainbow but the actual animation is two contrasts of that color. I was just like, “let’s do that”; let’s just make this thing with these very specific rules. When people give me rules, it’s hard, but when I set rules for myself, it’s easier. I guess I like to be in charge.
If you start an animation without those rules, then no one is in charge and it’s hard to execute something.
I feel like I’d be wasting a lot of time trying to get somewhere. No one likes to animate and not use that animation—especially if you’re doing it frame by frame. So you have to have some sort of rules set in place so you can put it into something.
It‘s a way to define a successful animation. Did I meet my rules? OK we’re good. It goes back to how do you think about your work and your value judgement is kind of based on the rules you set for yourself.
Am I putting words in your mouth?
No I just never really sat and talked about it. I just kind of let it happen.
I don’t like rules but I like to set boundaries.
How do you view nature because nature can seem very boundless—boundless beauty. Do you see rules in nature or is this a way to categorize and make sense of all this beauty?
I’m an introvert and I can be a very withdrawn person, so I find a lot of inspiration in nature; that is where I feel the most happy and at peace and myself. Sometimes when you’re around people, you’re too self conscious; you think about the crowd. Outside I get very emotional. I love going biking and I take in all the sites and sounds.
As an artist, you don’t just see a tree or a flower or a mountain. You hyper analyze every detail. Look at all those colors—it’s so exciting. I think most artists can relate to that. That’s what sets us apart from non artists; you’re trying to see something deeper than what’s actually there. When you’re outside in nature, you can just enjoy everything and not worry about what anyone thinks.
What are you plans for the future?
To be honest, I don’t know because I’m just kind of going wherever the wind takes me. I like to animate, and I really hope I can stay in the twin cities. I want to have a family and do art, but art is not the end all be all for me. I love it, but I like relationships with people too. I like that more actually. My goal is to do this for as long as I can, see how far I can go, but stay here and down to earth.
You don’t hear a lot of people say that, especially when they have a distinct artistic style like you.
I’m always thinking about it. My long term goal is to have a family; it’s not to live at work. It’s not what makes me happy as a person—ever. I have this conversation with myself all the time. What would I do if I had…say I have three kids right now and I can’t draw anymore? It’s scary because this has been a part of my identity for so long, but in the long term, would it make me happier if I had to do something else? I think so. I want to have a job and I want to live in a normal life, but I don’t want to become this famous artist or anything like that.
You’re open to change and I think that is a pretty key ingredient to having an art career.
Life is bigger than a job I guess. I’m still overwhelmed by all this attention I’m getting because it just kind of happened. I was just goofing around and posted stuff online. I didn’t expect it or think it through or have this idea that this is going to be big.
You didn’t set any rules like, “I’m going to get this many followers on instagram”?
Nnoooooo. If anything, I hate social media, but I know that I have to be into it because that is the future and that is where everything is moving. If I could, I wouldn’t upload anything online, but I still need to pay bills and all that.
Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self?
If I could go back in time and do college over again, I would be like thinking less about meeting requirements that someone else sets for you. Just make a thing; make it the best you can do it. I’m kinda nervous of failure all the time and the school’s idea of failure is you get a bad grade on something. I worried more about that than how I want to express myself to my fullest. That’s why I waited until my senior film was over to really get out there. I feel like I could have started sooner. Expect that you will fail, but don’t be scared to do it, you’ll just learn from it.
Are you ready for the spotlight?
Submit a short & sweet personal bio or project summary and we'll be in touch!