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Freelancing: 11 Months In with Greg Stewart

In this second part of an ongoing series with Greg Stewart, he walks us through the twists and turns of having a freelance career.

Reading Time | 9 minutes

This is part 2 of an interview series with Greg Stewart about the joys and perils of having a freelance career. Part 1 can be read here.

Q&A with Greg Stewart

This follow up was supposed to be about freelancing, but here we are. You just formed a new company. What the heck? Tell us about that.

I‘m joining a little studio in Vancouver called Ordinary Folk with Jorge a.k.a. JR Canest. It’s just still weird to say aloud, honestly. If you would have told me that a year ago, I would have been like don’t even joke, that’s not funny.

No one thinks, “I’m going to go freelance for a year then start a studio with one of the most respected animators in the business.”

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t even really know how to talk about it because I’m so excited but I think the insecure part of me is like, “this isn’t actually real.”

A little bit of impostor syndrome?

Oh, 100%. And I think it’s been really comforting to see that as I’ve gotten closer with some of the people I’ve really respected, they struggle with it too.

Number 6 in your steps to going freelance was being wary of impostor syndrome.

Right. I was just at Motion Plus Design and Joyce Ho talked about anxiety and just kind of how you can let it be something that you can flip on its head and have it help you in your project. Anxiety shows that you care about what you’re doing or, at least, you can you not let it beat you up.

To get back to the question, I’m going to be joining Ordinary Folk as an Animator/Art Director. It will be me and Jorge and another guy named Victor Silva who’s also just like crazy good. He can do everything 3D and cel and all the stuff. I’m excited to be working with that team.

Ordinary Reel 2019

That was something you had mentioned in the previous interview. You used to be the only person in your department and how that can be very freeing but also very restricting in a way. You’re not learning from other people. So here, you get to learn from two of possibly the best people doing what we do.

Right, which is just so cool. There’s so many things that I have loved and I traveled so much last year. I took so much time off so that I’m certainly going to miss some of that.

Is it going to be like a full-time job. As our parents would ask “Is it a real job?”

I mean, I think it’ll be more like a full-time job than freelancing but I think there will be certain things that will be like freelancing in a sense. I think there will be some projects where it will sort of be like freelancing—like we’re just sent stuff to animate and we’ll just animate. We can kind of decide as a little team what projects we do and don’t want to take on. If one of us gets a project that comes our way that we’re really passionate about or for an organization we’re really excited about, we are able to take that on.

It’s also really important to us to be a family-friendly studio. Put family relationships first. Even though we’re in the middle of this really giant project right now, I had some family stuff come up in Europe and Jorge’s like, yep like, you know, just go. And so I’m still getting to grasp a little bit of the benefits of freelancing.

Previously, we had talked briefly about what it would it take for you to go back to a full-time job and you had mentioned how going freelance would give you a better idea of what you would need out of a full-time thing and it sounds like that has come true. So how did this all start?

Jorge and I connected because I was going back to Vancouver for a family reunion, and I was honestly just trying to think how could I possibly write this trip off as a business expense. I just emailed him and a couple other studios/people sort of in the area. When we were getting coffee, he found out I had a Canadian passport. And so there was a kind of bigger…that Bible project…coming up and so he’s like, “Do you want to come up here for a couple weeks?” I was just trying to meet the guy! I wasn’t expecting any work out of it. And I was like yeah of course.

That was my first time really being in-house like on an animation team and just like being able to sort of lean over and be like, “hey, I’m like wracking my brains on how to pull this off” or “it just doesn’t look right”. Like a week and a half in he like asked if I wanted to grab coffee and I felt like I might be sent home or there’s going to be some job offer out of this. It was the latter.

CROSS19: Genesis to Revelation – Directed and Produced by Greg Stewart as a freelancer before joining Ordinary Folk

Wow, Jorge doesn’t waste time.

Freelancing is more profitable than being full time generally so it’s hard to find people who are willing to give that up. But I was like are you serious? I didn’t say yes right away, but I think one of the biggest draws was that opportunity to learn and to be on that team. I hadn’t really tasted that before being like a one-man department and being a freelancer. You have to hire people who are better than you if you want to have that experience.

As a freelancer you have to be the expert when a client comes to you, but here you don’t have to be the best at everything. You actually have people that you can lean on and ask questions.

So it’s fair to say that this opportunity would never have come up if you hadn’t gone freelance in the first place.

Totally. Yeah.

That’s kind of crazy to think about because that’s just another thing that you can’t plan for. It’s like you have to have a personality that’s willing to explore.

Which is hard. I think like there’s a lot of risk associated with freelancing and it’s not the same as trying a new coffee shop. I’m giving up a lot of stability in a sense to go take this other thing but like the creative opportunity is so awesome that I think it’s totally worth it.

Early on, I didn’t say no nearly enough.

Can we cover it a little bit of like what happened between when you went freelance up until you decided to work with Ordinary Folk?

Early on, I didn’t say no nearly enough. I think it was hard to know, one what my capacity was and two what kind of projects that would be draining more than other ones.

The first few weeks of August, I was working probably like 12 or 16 hour days pretty consistently and that was sort of because I didn’t know how unpredictable deadlines sometimes can be. I had a project that was supposed to be July, then it got moved to August and at that point I already signed onto another project with the same agency that also moved so just like kind of a perfect storm. I think I was like afraid of, well, I have all these requests now, but I might not in a couple months. Everyone says it’s a roller coaster. Also there was a little bit of me that wanted to prove myself. I can do the work. I can I have a ton of capacity. Luckily at the end of all that craziness, I had two weeks to go hiking in the mountains in Wyoming with some friends. I really can’t ever do that again and I haven’t taken on that much work since.

We always say that. Enough time will pass and you’ll mostly remember the two weeks of hiking more than the late nights. Which leads into the next question that you had asked your future self. Did you create space for yourself to do life-giving things?

Yeah, I think I did. I mean, I planned that trip to the the Tetons and Yellowstone like long before I knew it was going to be a crazy month. I think helped me get through some of the craziest stuff.

That’s awesome. We don’t plan vacations nearly enough. We wait until someone tells us it’s time to take a vacation, then we do it.

I think if you wait to go to the doctor until after your arm is falling off, It’s a sign that you missed out on something that you need to be proactive about. I don’t rest unless I actually like make time. Work as hard as you can on the projects you say yes to, then rest as hard as you can in between. Even stop watching youtube tutorials between projects. Do something that has nothing to do with animation or motion design. Like run or play guitar. I’ve gotten into like oiling my Red Wings regularly. Just something that gets you off the computer. I think that will make your work better too. Giving your brain a break from work.

Next past-question. Have you been kind to people? Have you invested in people? Have you given what you’ve learned away for free?

I think I’ve tried. These last couple months, I’ve have been a TA with School of Motion, which has been super fun. And mentoring through Nice Moves. It’s been really rewarding for me to be able to give back in some small ways and there’s probably always more to do with that.

For one of the projects we just finished, I had to do this 3D tunnel thing and it was like very confusing for me to figure out. Eventually I wiped a bunch of shape layers across a thing and then just like mirrored it and it looks like a tunnel even though it’s completely 2D. I just did like a little like breakdown tweet of that and a lot of people were jazzed about it. You can’t give away your project files for everything, but I try not to hoard knowledge.

Well do you have any questions for your future self?

It might be similar, like am I creating space to be healthy outside of work. I think I feel an increased pressure to perform now that I’m like working alongside people who are big names. I started auditing Cinema 4D Base Camp because I was like, well like Victor knows 3D, Jorge knows 3D, I don’t know shit when it comes to 3D. But I feel like because I have the title Art Director, I need to be better at all these things. I feel very incompetent in 3D, cel animation, and character animation. That’s okay, but it doesn’t feel ok sometimes. Like am I staying true to myself? Am I accepting myself for who I am, for the strengths I have and don’t have? Am I willing to rely on others in the areas I wish I was stronger?

That’s a good one because there is a concern of losing yourself when you’re in a group of people.

One of the reasons I wanted to work with Jorge is that I think there’s something neat about being part of building a culture in a small team. Jorge and Victor and I are all Christians and I think that is a helpful in how we approach a lot of these things. When we’re faced with like, you know, really hard decisions, we have a common ground and a similar world view. One of the big draws for us and doing what we do is like getting to work on faith-based projects. That is what got me into the industry in the first place.

And yes, I think there’s an attention element to. People are starting to know my name more. I don’t want to let that go to my head and I just never want to become a jerk. I know myself well enough to know that once I get more of a spotlight, I kind of eat that up. And so I think the “are you being true to yourself” question—additionally are you using your increased platform to lift other people up and not just draw more attention to yourself. I would hope that the more followers I get on Twitter or whatever, the more that would like to be a voice for kindness and positivity.

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