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.

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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!