Teaching Motion

Did this ever happen to you? You're totally into a certain musician or band and nobody you know has ever heard of them. But then all of a sudden they release a new album and everybody and their grandmother becomes a big fan? 

That's the way I've started feeling recently about teaching motion design.

But with one big difference. When my favorite unknown band suddenly becomes popular there's an ache of annoyance that comes with their success. I got robbed! Something that only I loved now needs to be shared with tons of Johnny-come-lately fair-weather friends who never suffered through the years of obscurity like I did.

When it comes to teaching motion, it's the opposite. Now that it's cool, I'm off the charts thrilled about it.

For those who don't know me, I've been a motion design educator for a long-ass time. Before it was even known as motion design, actually. I became an adjunct professor of "broadcast design" at Parsons School of Design in January 2001, and have been teaching there ever since. When you consider that Adobe released their first version of After Effects six years before that, I have to think that maybe only a handful of people have been continuously teaching motion graphics as long as I have.

Yes, I'm OG.

Now, I have to add that for many many years I felt a little conflicted about teaching. Not in the classroom, but outside of it. I never really wanted to talk about it, especially when I was freelancing at shops around NYC. Why was I ashamed about teaching? That's very easy for me to pinpoint.

A single joke in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. As a young Jewish kid growing up in the 80s I must have seen that movie a dozen times.


"Those who can't do, teach. And those who can't teach, teach gym."


Hilarious, right? Well, yes and no. In High School that one-liner allowed me a snarky feeling of superiority when I was pathetically unable to do more than one push up or climb rope in phys ed class. In my head I could get revenge on the gym teacher and imagine that I was somehow better.

But as an adult teacher and freelance animator, those words haunted me. I felt that because I was a teacher, I would never amount to much in my field. I accepted that I "couldn't do" on some level.

For many years I never really told other freelancers that I was a teacher. But I realized at some point that if I mentioned it to my clients, they would be impressed and I could even charge a little more. Somehow to them it meant I was an expert, even if I didn't believe it myself. Once I got to be a certain age I stopped giving a shit altogether what other freelancers thought about me, and I started telling everyone. 

I should also mention at this point that I fucking love teaching. Once I got good at it and felt I was really communicating effectively with students (that took a few years), and I started to see the results of my efforts play out in their work, it filled me with pride in a way that nothing else could touch. Even more, once I started seeing my students get real motion jobs and move up in their own careers, and even do some amazing professional work, it made me feel like a huge success.

But I still felt like the guy who loved the band that nobody had ever heard of.

Around 2014 it began to shift. I had become obsessed with a relatively unknown guy named Joey Korenman who was making amazing tutorials. I found him to be a naturally gifted teacher who could take something kind of dry like the Speed Graph and make it both interesting and informative. When he announced that he had created an online class called Animation Bootcamp, I knew I had to take it. Not just because I could learn some new tricks about motion, but also to gain further inspiration for my own teaching.

Although I didn't recognize it at the time, I can now clearly see the moment when teaching motion started to become cool. And that was at the first Blend Fest in 2015. If you've never heard of Blend, you should know that it was started by some of "the cool kids" in the industry: Jorge, Sander, Claudio. If motion design was high school football, those guys were the quarterbacks who dated the prettiest girls and were voted homecoming kings. 

So when they asked a teacher -- my teaching hero Joey -- to emcee the first Blend, I felt a little tingle. Something had shifted. The cool kids liked teachers! My favorite band was getting some recognition.

In the three years since then, this tingle has become a plate tectonic shift. Now when I meet with people in the industry, everyone is interested in talking to me about teaching. Teaching is cool! 

Want a concrete example? Joe Donaldson, who has a resumé and client list that most of us can only dream about, gave up a full time job at Buck LA for a full-time professor position at Ringling College of Art and Design. This would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

Who else is a teacher at a brick and mortar school? Adam Gault, another rockstar and founder of Block & Tackle teaches at SVA. Daniel Oeffinger, Creative Director at Buck NY taught there for many years as well. The amazing Austin Shaw is full-time at Savannah College of Art and Design.

And that's without talking about the highly popular and fast-growing online educational resources like School of Motion, Mograph Mentor, Learn Squared that are taking over the world. I mean, when Ash Thorp, Jorge Canedo Estrada, Henrique Barone and other industry leaders jump into online teaching there's no stopping the amount of influence they are having in our field. It's a whole new day. 

So SCREW you Woody Allen. in my field,those who can do, teach.

They teach motion.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

I need to say a big thank you to Daniel Oeffinger and Claudio Salas for recent conversations that inspired me to write this post.

Also I need to point out that Michael Jones, the founder of Mograph Mentor, was waaaay ahead of this curve, and has been hiring the cool kids to teach for many years. My hat is off to him for being an early pioneer in changing the perception of teaching in our industry! Thank you Michael! 



Understanding Patrick Clair

My new article for Motionographer about Patrick Clair is out, and people seem to be enjoying it. Gotta say, I'm quite relieved, because I struggled for months with it.

Being commissioned to write this piece was a huge deal for me, as I've been such a big fan of Patrick's work for many years. But it also meant that I felt a tremendous weight on my shoulders to come up with something that could live up to the example set by his work.

This pressure I felt had some bad consequences. For one, I had horrible insomnia the night before the interview and wound up feeling kind of sluggish and dopey on the phone with Patrick. Not a great start. Also my little voice recorder thing pooped out unexpectedly at the last moment and I had to scramble to record the interview using a combination of Screenflow, speaker phone, and a USB microphone.

Even worse, I had a lot of trouble coming up with a compelling lede to the article. I must have written the opening paragraph fifty times before I found the one that I eventually went with. Here are a few examples of some of my rejected ledes:

"Patrick Clair is a man of many surprises, large and small."

Yuck! I'm not even sure what surprises I was thinking of. Plus, this is such a boring cliché. Yawn meets yuck.

"Patrick Clair calls himself a nerd a lot. According to him, he’s an architecture nerd, a politics nerd, and of course a design nerd. I was surprised by this at first, and then I realized that he’s a fucking smart guy."

This one's kind of funny, and it sort of humanizes him a little, but ... it doesn't make me want to read more. And while I don't think of Motionographer as a family blog or anything, dropping an F-bomb in the opening paragraph is a little much.

"I was hooked when I first saw Patrick Clair’s "Stuxnet" project. What a bold designer! I mean, who else would use so much hot pink in a piece about glitchy high-tech military futurism??"

Let's move on before I delete this entire post. 

The piece really came to life for me when let go of my hero worship of Mr Clair and instead tried to put myself into the shoes of a typical Motionographer reader. When I read an article about someone with a trove of amazing work I often think: what are they doing that I'm not? Put another way: Is it possible for me to make work as good as that person's, and if so -- how? 

I was pretty happy with the final opening I came up with:

"At the age of 21, Patrick Clair was absolutely nowhere. He was obsessed with motion graphics, but didn’t even own a computer. And yet somehow, eleven years later, he nabbed an Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design for True Detective and became arguably the most famous motion designer in the world."

This made my day. Thanks for the compliment Ryan Summers, and also for the excellent use of curly brackets! 

This made my day. Thanks for the compliment Ryan Summers, and also for the excellent use of curly brackets! 

The only real bummer for me about this article is that I decided to go with no direct quotes, and therefore left a lot of amazing, inspirational things that Patrick said on the cutting room floor. In general I'm happy with this choice but feel like I deprived the community of some real gems. 

So here my Top Ten favorite quotes from the interview:

1. "When you’re figuring out what your voice is, consume everything voraciously across the broadest possible spectrum. And then once you’ve found it, focus on just what you do."

2. "There can be a little bit of a trend-churn in the industry, and if you’re going to do distinctive work you need to be really careful to get out of that trend-churn."

3. "If you find a way to do something efficiently -- basically cheaply -- than you’ll get more creative freedom."

4. "There certainly was a point where I stopped getting my inspiration from motion graphics. And I started getting it from anywhere but."

5. "Bookstores are my weakness, my Achilles heel. Bookstores are my crack. I’m just hopelessly addicted to bookstores. And have been for years."

6. "One of the hardest things with anyone’s career is that you tend to get pigeonholed. You tend to get more work like the work you got before. And that’s great because it tends to be what you’re good at. But it can also be frustrating. And you want to find those chances to just step forward."

7. "Yeah, I don’t know if I have necessarily a process. I read articles about people who seem to have these very set processes. And I feel a little jealous as my process is mainly “get a bunch of information and then just panic that I won’t be able to come up with an idea.” And that panic continues until delivery day."

8. "Certainly for me I came from a design and a hands-on background. And there’s something really satisfying about doing design hands-on. Truthfully, sometimes I find it’s easier to do yourself than to try and convey it to someone else. Not because you’re better at doing it, but because you don’t have to face the challenge of articulating it. You can just trust your hands."

9. "I don’t think you can do this job if you aren’t a design nerd. And being a design nerd is a really fun thing to be."

10. "I think the challenge in motion graphics -- and in all sort of design -- is to not let the aesthetics overwhelm the story and the meaning of things."

* * * * * * * *

Also I need to say thanks to a few people for their help with this. For starters Justin Cone, who introduced me to Patrick and trusted me to write the article in the first place. Also Joe Donaldson the editor of Motionographer, who formatted the piece for Wordpress and provided some key compliments at vulnerable moments. Without a doubt this article wouldn't have been nearly as good without the help of my wife Rebecca Klassen, who isn't that into motion design and might not have ever read the final piece, but who always knows just the right way to kick my ass when I feel cocky or overwhelmed. 

I'd also like to thank Patrick Clair's wife Bridget, who help me fact-check the article for inaccuracies. And a final huge thanks to Patrick himself, for being such a cool nerd, as well as a man of many surprises, large and small. 

Advance Backwards

I made this little loop for the Mixed Parts Brief #1. The theme was "Advance" but seeing the way things have been moving recently in America, I'm calling this Advance Backwards. Thanks to Dan Savage for this creative challenge.

Advance Backwards

Hear My Voice

If you ever wondered what my voice sounds like, why my name is Nol, and how I would up making a short film with Christopher Nolan, check out this fun interview I did recently with Joey Korenman for the School Of Motion podcast.

Warning: I have many opinions about things.

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Another Spin Around the Wheel

Happy New Year! To celebrate 2018 in advance, we made this hypnotic little loop called "Another Spin Around the Wheel".


This was seriously fun to make, and, actually required me to stretch my brain to figure a couple of things out. If you're interested, you can check out my project file HERE

Hint: it involves a lot of precomps. 

This was made for the School of Motion 2017 Holiday card project, and was organized by the one and only Traci Brinling. Big thanks to her, and all the fine folks at SoM! 

I used two tools for this that I've never used before, and both are excellent. Both saved my butt on this, because of the tight turnaround time.

FLOW by Zack Lovatt and renderTom. Generally speaking I'm such a big AE geek that I enjoy spending a lot of time adjusting keyframe interpolation in the Graph Editor. But for this project, I needed something that would allow me to apply the exact same interpolation to every property of every layer. That would have been a total nightmare without Flow, I assure you.

SHADE IT by Eyedesyn (aka EJ Hassenfratz). As many of you already know, I'm a bit mad for textures. For this project I knew I wanted a little something-something to take the flat edge off the shape layers, but I had no desire to move each one of the 300+ layers through Photoshop. Shade It saved my butt!

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy and productive 2018!!

Stay Tuned!

Other than watching Game of Thrones, all I've done is since April is work and sleep. Oh, and go to Blend Fest and the MODE summit. But other than that, all work and no play has made Nol a very dull blogger and social medi-er.

And for that, dear faithful readers*, I humbly apologize. 

I am itching to tell you more about what I've been up to, but I still need to gather up a few threads. I'll leave you with a few clues, to drive you mad with slavish anticipation..


*I assume you're out there.

Introduction video for School of Motion’s "Kickstarter” course, open this summer. https://www.schoolofmotion.com Score by Ryan Griffin: ryangriffin.media/index.html
Can't wait to tell you more about this!

Can't wait to tell you more about this!

Definitely going to share this soon!

Definitely going to share this soon!

Someone likes us!

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In that case, whoever designed this video for TracksRacks really, really likes me a lot!

Note the similarities with this piece I made for Fashion GPS a few years ago:


You know, everyone rips off everyone else all the time. I've done it myself. But a general rule for stealing is to remove it a few steps from the original. If you are a tech company that makes apps for the fashion community, don't rip off a video from another tech company that makes apps for the fashion community. That's really lazy.

3 Quick Texture Methods for AE

I've been getting a few questions recently from MoGraph friends and students about texturing methods for After Effects, so I thought I would put together this quick tutorial going through a few tricks and tips that I have on this subject.

Method 1 involves a scanned piece of newsprint given to me by my buddy Chris Roth from The Other House in 2006. I love this method because it's completely low-tech and has a friendly, hand-made quality to it.  If you want a copy of this legendary newsprint texture, here is a link.

Method 2 uses fractal noise. I believe I saw this technique a few years ago on Lester Banks, and it's super easy and fast. Plus, since fractal noise comes native with AE you can share settings and comps easily.

Method 3 involves creating layers in Photoshop. I heartily recommend Kyle T Webster's amazing brushes, which you can find here. Additionally, this method uses the awesome combination of two expressions: posterize time and wiggle.  

Check it out!

9 Squares Round 30

Warning: Staring at these images will undoubtedly lead to madness.  

This was my first time playing 9 Squares, and it was hella fun. Al, Skip and David recently adopted a two-color palette, which at first I thought might be limiting, but in the end really forced me to be creative. 

The theme for this round was Perception, which I was way into. Maybe to much, even. I found it hard to limit myself to one square.

I started out with an homage to an artist I recently discovered, named Pedro Friedeberg who often incorporates intricate geometrics in his paintings and sculpture.  

But then I wanted to play more with the idea of depth in a flat, two-color world. How would it look? I also experimented with different frame rates and exactly which ones caused epileptic seizures.

Eye popping goodness!

Eye popping goodness!

At the last minute I had a whole different idea that I worked on for while and then ultimately ran out of time before completing. The idea was to paint the whole 3 second sequence frame-by-frame in Photoshop, dividing up the frame into a series of smaller squares. 

I really like the quality of the test, and want to do more of this in the future. Maybe in a different, less ... abrasive ... two-color palette. :)

Check it out!  9 Squares Round 30

Thanks to Al, Skip and David, as well as the other eight contributors to this round!


WIPER PACK - Evolution


Some time in the Spring I saw a transition in a project that I liked -- honestly I don't remember what -- and of course I wanted to copy it. Well, more precisely, I wanted to know how to do it so that I could copy it. But, you know, in my own way. 

So I did what any self-respecting motion designer would do: think about it for five minutes and then ask a talented friend on Slack. In this case, I asked my buddy and Motion Corpse co-Founder Frank Suarez, and he said something like "I think they just painted it frame by frame in Photoshop and used it as a matte."

This was a moment of clarity for me, and it set me off on a frenzy of experimenting and playing around with different methods of making textured transitions for my own work. As a bonus, I had just won a Cintiq 13HD tablet -- thank you School Of Motion! -- a few months prior and had discovered the insane life-changing beauty of Kyle T Webster's Photoshop brush sets.  So I was set.

And from that humble beginning arose a large, sprawling, disorganized mess of a folder on my drive named Wipers. On the jobs when I had time, I made more of them and stuck 'em in Wipers. And on those other jobs when the pressure was on to turn something around quickly, well who could resist a folder named Wipers? I mean, come on! It's right there.

And then, of course, it was only a matter of time before I realized ... these might be useful for other people too! People with tight deadlines, or people who didn't want to hand-make their own transitions, or even worse -- the unfortunate souls who didn't win a HD Cintiq in an animation contest against a bunch of other ridiculously talented motion designers like I had (sorry, hard for me to resist the humble-brag).

And thus I realized I could potentially make money from all this stuff I was already doing for myself. And, even better, it could actually really benefit some folks! 

If I have enough time in January, I really want to make a tutorial that will go into some detail about how I made these, in case there are enterprising souls who want to make their very own Wipers one day, and don't have a Frank Suarez to ask. 




New Graphics Reel


Oh man, I do not like making new reels. Does anyone? 

First you have to find just the right music track. That always takes forever.  I drove Robert -- my biz partner and master music editor -- crazy making :45 cut-downs of track after track. 


At some point I was really close to using this mid-tempo cover of the classic John Denver song by Toots and the Maytals. It's a great tune, to be sure, but ... what was I thinking? 

Luckily I stumbled across that killer instrumental track "Beats For The Listeners" by Erik B and Rakim from their sophomore classic Follow The Leader, and everything got a lot easier. After asking Robert for one more cut, that is.


My goal for this reel was to show only new work, and get rid of all those old projects that were awesome a few years ago and now seem dusty and dull. Luckily I've been pretty busy in the last two years since my last reel, so there was a lot of new material to choose from.

In the end I got very close to including only new work. Everything on the reel is from 2015 and 2016, except a few shots from the documentary Greedy Lying Bastards that I animated in 2012. Still, I'm considering this a success.

The opener and closer were super fun to make, and helped me push forward the collage/mixed media aesthetic I've been enjoying so much recently. Plus I got really into the idea of using as many different, clashing patterns as possible in one frame, while still looking coherent.

I built a simple little rig so I could control the X and Y Position and Scale, as well as the Copies property of a Repeater I had on the word REEL, all with one slider. Nothing too fancy. Depending on the size of the images I wanted to show on screen, I used different multipliers, positive and negative to move them in a range.

scan014 copy.jpg

Collecting and assembling the vintage images and patterns was especially gratifying. Not sure why this midcentury American imagery inspires me so much, but I think it has something to do with the combination of optimism, glamor, and downright strangeness. 

I still haven't worked out this collage bug I'm feeling, and want to play more with accidental processes. I might have to learn more about coding. Darn.

Finally ... gratitude. All this new work makes me realize how much amazing teaching and guidance I've been given recently. Thanks very much to Joey Korenman, Michael Jones, Jorge Estrada, Ariel Costa and Colin Hesterly for continuing to push me. Almost every piece on this reel was directly influenced by one or more of these super fellows.


Obsessive Layers 2.0

Excited to say that we just released a 2.0 version of our popular tool Obsessive Layers, with some sweet new improvements.

For example, you can now Trim by Markers!

Most exciting for me is that we added an option to display the functions as graphic icon buttons, so the tool takes up much less space than before and works just as well.

Lester Banks wrote up a pretty thorough review on the updates here:



Another great round of Motion Corpse, this time with 5 of our favorite female animators: Bee Grandinetti, Linn Fritz, Rachel Yonda, Bethany Levy and Kelli Anderson.

Music and Sound Effects provided by Wesley @ Sono Sanctus.

Check out Kelli's excellent process on her blog here:

More kudos for Nix + Gerber

"Nix + Gerber" named Short of the Week on One Room With a View

Sweet review by Lina Jurdeczka:

"When it comes to the spaces we live in, there are few topics as contested as clutter. While some people are devoted to and even thrive in the midst of creative chaos, others feel oppressed and anxious being surrounded by random objects. For those of us who are not committed to or simply can’t up-keep a Muji-esque minimal space, working on any kind of larger project ironically goes hand-in-hand with living in an environment that resembles what is left after the end of days. The creation of one thing seems to go on a par with the destruction of another. This premise is at the heart of Robert Hall’s and Nol Honig’s extraordinary documentary short Nix + Gerber.

Since 2005 the artist Lori Nix and her partner Kathleen Gerber have explored the idea of a world post-mankind in their series The City. With extreme attention to detail, they create miniature models of subways, churches and libraries as they crumble and have nature take back some of the spaces. An anonymous graffiti from the May ’68 riots in Paris features the slogan “Sous les pavés, la plage!”: “Beneath the paving stones, the beach!” Nix and Gerber’s work explores a similar idea, that of a repressed nature claiming back its ultimate superiority over man-made urban environments.

With this tension between creation and destruction at the core of their work, Nix and Gerber appropriately conclude the series by portraying their own studio. Once the picture of the diorama is taken the pair gleefully destroys months of their work. The lovingly crafted tiny copies of Sleater Kinney and Kate Bush albums end on a dumpster in Brooklyn, while the photograph is hung in a gallery. In just under eight minutes, Nix + Gerber manages to convey an incredibly rich meditation on the creative process and the space it occurs in."



Flip The Script: The Underwear Perception

Check out my guest post today on Motionographer about the legendary Lloyd Alvarez, creator of aescripts.com

To quote Justin Cone "aescripts + aeplugins is an essential marketplace for the contemporary motion designer. But how did it come to be? Who's the man behind it all? And, perhaps most importantly, are you wearing pants?"