I sat down with lynda.com authors Chris and Trish Meyer, legends in the motion graphics industry, to talk about where they came from, who inspires them, and what the future holds. Here’s what they had to say.
When did you get started in the motion graphics industry? What was the industry like then? What/who inspired you?
We got our start back in the early 1990s, which was when motion graphics started moving to the desktop. We were one of the development sites for After Effects 1.0, and used a lot of “1.0” software back then. This was the era where traditional post production houses charged in the area of $500/hour, one gigabyte hard drives were just starting to appear, and capturing uncompressed standard definition video (one frame at a time) to a computer file required a dedicated Abekas hard disk recorder. Desktop-based tools like After Effects were what we call today a “disruptive technology.” Indeed, the reason we started writing books was to help train other desktop motion graphics artists about the right way to do things, so that clients would have no reason to pick a traditional post house over a desktop-based artist.
One of our early inspirations was actually Lynda Weinman. Before she moved to the web, before there was a web to move to. she was creating visual effects for movies like RoboCop using desktop tools originally designed for computer-based interactive media, not video or film. She was also one of the earliest users of After Effects, and called Trish in to help out on a nine-screen CircleVision project she was supervising for the Korean Expo. Trish’s first professional motion graphics job was pretty much Lynda’s last; Lynda moved on to become a pioneer in web design after that.
As your careers began to take off, were there any defining moments that made you re-consider working in this creative industry? And what were your proudest professional moments?
Everyone has a client or two that makes them feel like changing careers, but nothing major. More common is just dealing with the stress of the job. For example, film output can be tense. One mistake could result in a several thousand-dollar do-over.
Additionally, desktop motion graphics is a field that challenges both the left and right side of your brain. There’s all these crazy details such as pixels that are not square, frame rates that are not rational numbers, black points that move depending on what media or even what codec you are working with, etc. If you try to remain a strictly right-brain “creative” artist, it’s tempting to see the technical side as pure voodoo and something you’ll never master. But that’s why we’ve put so much energy into learning the technically correct way to do things. Once you make the technical problems go away, it’s a lot easier to focus on being creative.
And that’s also part of the reason why we love motion graphics. There’s always something new to learn! Plus we still love working with the After Effects team.
As for proudest moments, it was really nice to overcome the hurdles involved in creating film titles using desktop tools early on. We animated one of the first major-studio film titles using desktop tools in 1994. And when we were working on the titles for Now and Then back in 1995, it was being output at a major Hollywood post house. Some of their staff crowded into the screening room to see the test output. When one of their main artists left the room muttering, “It looks just like film… it looks just like film…” we knew the desktop tools had arrived. In fact, the Kodak Cineon system was discontinued not long after that (although the Cineon file format remains).
Another proudest moment had to be shipping our first book, Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects in early 2000. Our publisher printed what they thought should be enough copies to last for six months. They sold out in a few weeks. This was a time when it was unheard of to create a full-color computer book, but we demanded it, because we knew our peers were artists, not just software users – and should be treated as such. Our belief paid off.
Now it’s ten years later, and we’re working on the fifth edition of Creating Motion Graphics. And because motion graphics is now being taught to so many new users, we launched an entry-level book, After Effects Apprentice, that we are also very proud of.
Who keeps you inspired, and who you think is doing really solid and exciting work right now?
There was a time when we used to watch tape after tape of the annual BDA [Broadcast Designers Association] award winners for inspiration. But honestly, these days we find more inspiration in fine art, and in nature. Rather than watch demo reels or search websites, we’d rather go out for a hike, or go visit a few art galleries showing modern or contemporary work. Once you know the underlying principles of how nature works, and the principals of design in any format, it’s easier to come up with authentic designs than to copy the latest trend.
That said, we’re also inspired by cutting-edge 3D motion graphics, especially when they include particle systems, and are moving toward incorporating more 3D into our After Effects work.
How did you and lynda.com begin working together? Do you have any favorite movies within your extensive lynda.com collection?
A lot of people have the impression that we came to video training late in the game. In reality, we released a training video, VideoSyncrasies, in 1999, before we wrote our first book. And as it so happens, Lynda gave us some advice when we were negotiating our first book contract. After that, we focused on books plus production and design work, while lynda.com moved into video training.
We kept talking off and on over the years about creating videos for lynda.com. It seemed to us that lynda.com already did a good job creating comprehensive courses. We thought a good alternative would be focusing on specific techniques or features, sharing the mental process an experienced designer or animator may be going through when they make decisions. We toyed around with a few preliminary courses, distributing them through various outlets, and quickly came to the realization that lynda.com had the best platform. Fortunately, we were able to work out an arrangement where we can produce our videos ourselves and in our own style, while making them available to the large number of lynda.com subscribers.
As for our favorite movies, that’s like expecting someone to pick their favorite child! The Cinema 4D and After Effects Integration course contains a lot of tips that others don’t seem to discuss. And we just finished up one of our longest – and perhaps best – courses for lynda.com. Look for that in the next month or two.
Talk a little about your recording setup.
Chris still does a fair amount of audio work, including audio forensics for sampling cases, so we have a dedicated audio room. In the background in our videos is a synthesizer Chris helped design, and those are examples of Chris’ art on the walls. Last year we decided to try a new piece of software, ScreenFlow, that made it easy to record both the computer’s screen and an external camera at the same time. So we set up an ancient DV camcorder, and turn to it whenever we felt it would be more engaging to explain a concept directly to the viewer rather than shake a cursor around the screen.
What are the different strengths you both bring to the table? A married couple working together in this creative space is very inspiring. How do you find the balance between work and marriage?
Our experiences in other fields certainly help inform what we do in motion graphics. We both have musical backgrounds, so we’re very interested in pacing and dynamics. Chris has an engineering degree, while Trish has extensive experience in print and typography. And we both have been getting into fine art over the past few years. But what probably comes through the most is that we really care about how information is conveyed. Whether it be a marketing message for a client, or teaching a concept in our books and video training. We really sweat the details.
We’ve had many people tell us that they can’t believe a married couple works together. For us, we can’t imagine it being any other way. When you both do the same thing, you understand what the other is going through, both the high points and the low points. And we’re able to help each other out, be it splitting up a job, or just bouncing ideas off the other. After all, two heads are better than one.
The balance between work and marriage comes down to having a life outside work. Early in our careers, the workload was often very intense and there was little time for outside interests. That might be okay when you’re young and you’re building a business and have bills to pay, but as time went on, we had to carve out time for other interests or we might have burned out. Now that we’re enjoying a lower cost of living in New Mexico, it’s freed us up to spend more time living the creative life.
Being self-employed, with the variety of things we have our fingers in, including fine art, a large portion of what we do now can be classified as “work.” So for better or worse you could say we’re both workaholics. But since we share so many interests, it all just becomes things we do together, whether it’s learning some new software or taking printmaking classes. When you do all that with your best friend, your marriage just keep humming along. We’ll celebrate our 22nd anniversary this year!
How has After Effects changed the industry? How do you think online software training has changed the industry?
After Effects was the first desktop motion graphics application where the quality it produced and variety of formats it could handle meant you didn’t have to make any excuses to the client. You could do the same quality of work at home on a desktop computer as the post houses did on their expensive, dedicated machines. It would take a bit longer, but it would cost a lot less. As a result, it had a splintering effect on the industry: rather than a few post houses built around a few expensive machines, now there are hundreds or thousands of designers and design shops able to do the same work out of homes, small offices, or even a laptop computer on the road. And as a result, it became more about the design than the limitations surrounding the hardware required to execute the design.
Online software training has meant no longer being stopped in your tracks because you don’t know how to do something. It knocks down more barriers, just as desktop-based tools knocked down the barrier of having to afford a ridiculously expensive piece of equipment before you get into the business. It’s also very useful for people who are unable to attend conferences to hear users teach or speak.
What does the future hold for Crish Design?
We intend to continue to have our fingers in a lot of pies. We plan to keep updating our two books on alternate years, and we’re hoping to ramp up the number of videos we create for lynda.com. On the other hand, we’re also looking forward to spending more time creating art. It was one of the main motivations behind us moving out of Los Angeles and into the mountains between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We’re looking for ways to bring together our varied interests in collage, photography, calligraphy, printmaking, bookmaking, digital printing, encaustics, and other media into new personal forms of expression.
And finally, will you be speaking at any upcoming live events? Teaching more hands-on classes soon?
We’ll be giving four sessions each at PostProduction World, which is part of the upcoming NAB show in Las Vegas. We also have tentative plans to teach a hands-on class as part of the motion conference in Albuquerque this October, as well as a three-day After Effects Masterclass in Amsterdam on September 1–3. And there are other ideas in the air as well. We’ll just have to see what develops!