Jon: My guest on this episode of Wellfed is motion graphics director Magnus Adam who currently works at the creative studio “Elephant” based in Brooklyn. His work has been featured on sites like the Art of the Title and Sash Media and whose work has also garnered awards from the Type Directors Club, The One Club, D&AD, the Cleo's and PromaxBDA. So, Magnus thank you so much for joining me today and taking the time to chat with me.
Magnus: Thanks, so much for having me.
Jon: So it's been a while since we you know obviously I've seen each other we first met at Vice Land when the channel just launched and you have been doing a lot of work since then you have been doing a lot of awesome projects and you know a lot of things are kind of in the works currently and I'm super excited to chat with you about that. As the season is coming to an end for the first season Wellfed I kind of chat to my guests about their backgrounds and a lot of them have usually some kind of mentor or role model in there kind of like childhood that somewhat influences or encourages their creativity and I'm curious if there was someone in your life when you first started off that might have influenced you a little bit.
Magnus: Oh for sure definitely hands down shout-outs to my dad because my dad's an artist and growing up I actually all I cared about was like video games and Yu-Gi-Oh cards and Pokémon cards and Saturday morning cartoons and so he was always like pushing me like he didn't even give me a choice really he was like you have to go and do a painting like go pick your subject matter I don't care what it is. And it was like a lot it was like at least like three times a week you'd be like go and paint something, go and draw something. So, I kind of saw it as a chore growing up and I was like you know whenever your parents tell you to do anything, you're like I hate it.
Jon: There's always like frustration and you give them shit for it.
Magnus: Oh, for sure yeah but when I did do it, I was like you'd totally get into it. Like as a little kid I was like getting into like that “flow state” at like you know eight years old nine years old just painting and drawing. It wasn't till later on when I was applying for you know art high school and art middle school and then art college and even some like art programs at like Cooper Union that I realized holy shit the portfolio that I had built because my dad had just made me do so much painting and drawing at home was like so much better than a lot of the other kids and so it wasn't till later on that I was like oh wow thank you so much.
Jon: Is your dad a painter?
Magnus: Well he's kind of like a mixed-media artist actually it's funny because he's a jeweler and he also makes like sculptures and he takes a lot of like inspiration from like nature and stuff like that and he's been doing that like basically all his life. But he's been sitting on like all this jewelry and like all this work for the longest time and I got to the point where I was just kind of like getting frustrated seeing him just sitting on top of a lot of his stuff. And actually, this last winter I was like okay we're going to do something about this. So, as a Christmas present actually, I created a website I created like a branding for him like all the logo and like all this stuff took the photo. I'm not even a photographer but I was like you know I'm just going to take this my camera phone and then later on my sister who is a photographer she was like “We could do this better.” So, she took photos like really professional photos. So, it's been like a little bit of like this family collab and I'm hoping it launches like the website and the company like launches either in late spring or early summer. So, that's basically I guess the business I'm trying to push him into.
Jon: He's been kind of been making jewelry and has just like you said has just been kind of keeping it to himself.
Magnus: He's kind of like an art hoarder…
Jon: Of his own stuff.
Magnus: Of his own stuff and he just will make so much stuff and then like just show either me or you know my girlfriend or he'll show like my siblings and then like he has crazy ideas about them like he always comes out every piece with this crazy cool like idea like really he's like probably the most artist person I know where he like draws inspiration from everything from like nature to poems to literature to like science fiction to politics to just anything that inspires him. Then he like creates these little pieces of jewelry that are embody like a little poem or something.
Jon: Inspired by whenever he was kind of looking at the time.
Jon: You mentioned you have a sister and she's a photographer. Is she older or younger?
Magnus: She's younger than me.
Jon: She's younger.
Magnus: Yes. She graduated we both went to Parsons a new School of Design in New York but she graduated a couple years after me.
Jon: As you know as the older brother were you guys ever like working on different projects or were you working on a painting and was, she also kind of in the creative space or exploring that as a kid?
Magnus: You know not really. I know my dad pushed me a lot to be an artist and my sister has always been you know creatively inclined and you know she's always been super fashionable and she's obviously very beautiful and I think she also wants to like break into like modeling a bit. But it wasn't until college when she really took up photography and she really found that she really loved you know everything photography related.
Jon: You went to school at Parsons leading up to that you had mentioned that your dad had always push you to do drawing and painting was that was that kind of like your portfolio going into the school? Did you have a lot of that work?
Magnus: Totally. Actually, I think I used like the same portfolio or almost the same portfolio to get into high school that I did to get into college I mean with some updated stuff. I think I had just been like sitting on a lot of artwork and I went into art high school and I had like a good mixed-media of stuff like printmaking and at the time I didn't even know I wanted to do animation but I had a teacher who was teaching like computer arts I think was the class and I discovered Flash like on my own. Like no one else in the class knew about Flash. I was just like “Oh what is this program like that's not Photoshop and Illustrator?” And I saw that you can make things move in it and so I was like I got enamored with like animation. So, I think that was like the start of my animation career.
Jon: So, what year was that was like sophomore/junior or is that even freshman year?
Magnus: Of high school?
Jon: No, the whole Flash thing was college.
Magnus: That was like in senior year of high school.
Jon: Oh really?
Jon: Okay so you were like straight up painting and drawing and things like that.
Magnus: Yes, I was pretty much a fine artist just doing fun actually I've kind of done. I've gone through a lot of like career things that I thought would be my career paths. When I was graduating, I actually thought I was going to be an architect because growing up I think a lot of kids in art high school not a lot of them are introduced to commercial arts or graphic design or animation. So, when you're growing up you kind of see that you have two choices right you can be like one of these starving artists who makes like cool work, but is like poor as shit like all the time and like it's really hard and competitive or you can go into something a lot more traditional and is more like rigid which is like architecture or something.
Jon: Something that has more like a financial background behind it more kind of monetary exchange which is always the struggle right. Like I've had guests before that have hit that point as well like in their in school and in college where to kind of have to make that decision because it's really scary growing up you know your parents are always so worried about you and their and obviously they're really compassionate and love you and they do for all the right reasons. But as a kid it's like you do this because you love it and then there's slowly like reality's creeping in and it's like oh well that doesn't necessarily transfer to dollars it's like super kind of disheartening a little bit.
Magnus: Well it's funny because I feel like my childhood was actually the complete opposite and a lot of people because I grew up-- I didn't even think I wanted to do art. I didn't really push myself to do it that much my parents pushed me to do it. And my dad he's always said you know like “I've always wanted you to be an artist.” You know like a lot of people I talk to or kids are like my parents really want me to be a doctor or my parents really want me to be a lawyer. My dad really wanted me to be an artist. So, his whole philosophy was you know you find something that you love to do you, find something that you're pretty good at and then find a way for you to get paid doing those things. And if you could do that then you, you're going to have a happy life. So, I'm glad that he was able to introduce me to art because later on I was able-- actually I became more passionate about it when I graduated high school and I got into college and I found my calling in animation.
Jon: I there's like a fiber that runs through some people or being a creative where you just continue to do things you love and you just have this drive to not necessarily let go sometimes right and if you do that's fine like you know maybe it's just that point where you have a change in mindset and you actually realize you may not enjoy it as much you may actually like this other thing. But what you're a dad had mentioned you find a way to do the things you love and find some kind of group or audience that will enjoy it as well and they'll eventually kind of reward you in some way.
Magnus: Totally. I think animation was the first medium which I jumped into and when I was starting making stuff everybody in my class and my teachers would be like “Wow like this is great.”
Jon: What made you switch? Like what was the kind of the thing that like raise your eyebrow because you were painting and then like you said you stumbled into the program of Flash, what kept you coming back for it?
Magnus: So, I really discovered animation as a real medium in college and it was about sophomore year and I had a friend-- shout-outs to Ray Misaki who was a super creative like super talented dude and he was kind of jack-of-all-trades where by like freshman sophomore year of college he had already like created like a clothing brand and he was already dabbling in animation like just by himself. He was just like one of my best friends and I saw him doing that stuff and I was just super inspired by like him and also some of my other peers. And I was like oh I want to do that that looks fun. I just remembered doing animation like I took an After Effects class like 101 After Effects and I was like holy shit you can like make all your paintings move and like all your illustrations like you can bring them to life and there. I don't know there was just like something magical about that. It was the first time I was willing to put like just all-nighters like in a row and like not even think about it was like I'm enjoying this so much this is fun like I want to just and this is even before I realize you can even make money at that stuff. Yes, you just do that and you're like you put all your love and work into something and then when teachers and peers and colleagues they see that stuff and they are like holy shit how did you make that like there's something special.
Jon: It is like that positive reaction kind gives you that an inkling of like oh okay so people are enjoying this maybe like continue to do it- continue to see how far I can push it.
Magnus: Totally and it's like a snowball effect or it's like the more you do it the more it accolades and you know--
Jon: It's interesting because you know you already had like this background in painting right so you're already able to visualize what you're looking at study in and observe kind of like objects and to depict them in a way you know. I haven't seen any earlier paintings but you have that kind of that vision right the way of looking and seeing things and then you kind of just amplified it by; taking those paintings and like you said and animating them you know taking that next step of actually bringing some life to them in a sense. What was the program like at Parsons? You know you started really learning how to animate and things like that like did you have teachers pushing you in a direction what was that? I mean I went to a traditional design school and they didn't even have an animation program so I never got to see like any projects that other students were working on, but what was life like there?
Magnus: So, for me I don't think I had a traditional path I actually went into Parsons into their design and technology program and at the time when I was going in, I think they had just created that program a year before and it was very experimental. So, I think there were like maybe 30 kids in my class and you know that whole section and so all of them kind of had different ideas of what they want to do like some of them want to go into coding some of them wanted to go into web design some of them wanted to go into experiential artwork and like experiential work in general and then some of them wanted to go into film. So, it was very broad and I saw that you can take like basically anything they wouldn't stop you as long as you took like you know your liberal arts classes- you got your liberal arts credits done you can basically create your own path. So, when I discovered animation in sophomore year, I was like after-effects I was like “Oh this is what I want to do like this is it.” And so I just wanted to learn everything there was to know about animation so I was like okay so I know after-effects like that's like the fundamentals and then I took like a CG class and then I took a CG modeling class, CG lighting class and a animation 2d cell animation class, I took stop-motion. I wanted to like learn everything you could learn about animation. And I even went so far as they like take a sound design class because I was like I like just working by myself. I like collaborating but like I have trust issues a lot of times.
Jon: It's like every creative at some point when they're first starting off wants to learn to make as much as possible on their own because you're young and you haven't made those connections yet where you can trust someone because you realize that they like you're either really good or they're a lot better than you. So, you kind of just take all the work on yourself.
Magnus: Definitely. I think later on I realized I was like okay it's impossible doing everything yourself. You can't do the sound design and the art direction and the sell animation and the CG. It's like you can but you're going to burn out like super quick. So, actually I think working Vice really taught me that you know you can have a bunch of people from different backgrounds like working with Annie over there who was you know amazing art director and she was so good at like just traditional design like typography and layout design. I didn't really have that classic design background. I came from animation; learning how to just make things move. And so, to me like typography was like what this is crazy like how do you do this. Then like having someone like Matt who is like just really good at like storytelling and creative direction and someone like Gabriel who's like a jack-of-all-trades and you have all these different people coming in who are really good at there were specific thing and then we had sound designers obviously who are really good at sound design and the end product being like a really cool piece that you just couldn't make on your own.
Jon: Before we get into the work at yeah where we met and the work that you did have Viceland and Vice I kind of want to get to some of the earlier gigs that you had. So, you graduated Parsons and then as I looked on your experience you freelance a lot you started off at what was the first studio something Cinema Darling…?
Magnus: Omega Darling oh my god.
Jon: Omega darling as the lead animator there what was the work that you were doing? What was the studio doing?
Magnus: So that was a really good jump to my career I think because I actually was taking classes under Zach Shukan you can who was who ran that company and he was the he was one of the CG teachers at Parsons. He was a really good mentor as well. I had come into the class like pretty far behind. A lot of the other students a lot of the other students were like really advanced and were really like just way farther along in their CG you know careers than I was and so I came in not knowing anything. He was he took it upon himself to be like hey like if you really want to catch up come to my studio Omega Darling and you know we can work on some of this stuff on the side and I can show you some animation stuff. So, like I spend a lot of time like in-between classes especially in the beginning just and he was teaching me just like one on one. So, he saw that I was really passionate about it and he saw that like I had a drive for it and I was just like really hungry to learn everything that after the class was over he was like, “Hey do you want to intern for my company”, and this was about junior year beginning of senior year and I was like yeah sure like I need an internship at this point like graduating soon. So, I interned there for a year and then right upon graduating he was like he didn't even give me a chance to like look at other studios because I think he saw he's like oh shit like this guy's going to be like other studios are going to like want to hire him. So, like it was graduation day I was like going through the ceremony, I look at my phone and he was like “Hey I want to offer you a full-time job at my studio.” And I was like “Cool yeah let's do it.” I already love everybody there so it just felt like a very natural progression.
Jon: Having that internship already like you said establish that relationship with everyone and you kind of had already been gelling.
Jon: What were the projects that you guys you know the focus of the studio?
Magnus: So, it was a lot of different things in the beginning we had one project that we did for the Smithsonian Museum in DC where they wanted to create a bunch of motion graphics to go along with one of the exhibits I guess on was it on DNA. It's like I'm not a DNA person at all I totally forgot all about that.
Jon: The ladder of DNA and chromosomes.
Magnus: Yes, the letters and the chromosomes and all that stuff. So, like that was one project and then we had another project which was for another educational program I forget what the name of the company was, but they wanted to basically show how like the digestive system worked but they were really open to being like really creative so they were cool with us doing like all this cool stop-motion and we had built a bunch of sets just with cardboard and like paper and paper mache and cardboard cutouts. Then we photographed all that stuff and brought it to life in CG and motion graphics. So, that was really fun creative opportunity. We had this one job it was for a music video for Kanye West I think was “Mercy”.
Jon: That’s dope.
Magnus: I mean it was very stressful.
Jon: No big deal just a Kanye video.
Magnus: Yes, I mean it was very stressful because it was like very tight turnaround time and I think the clients were a little difficult to work with.
Jon: Sure, you know Kanye's Twitter feed now or imagine a few years ago.
Magnus: Yes, it was definitely crazy Kanye it was quite crazy Kanye moments. Oh yes it was just funny because like it was so stressful for him because he was trying to like keep the company running and that was a huge money thing for him so he really didn't want to lose that. So, I think he like he aged a little bit.
Jon: few gray hairs.
Magnus: He grew a lot of gray hairs. It was actually funny because like later on we went to his wedding and like it was like this traditional Jewish wedding and we snuck in Mercy onto the playlist and we all were like looking at him and I think he had like almost like a full-blown like panic attack like listening to the song again because he was like calling up like those old memories.
Jon: Bringing back some memories.
Magnus: But now it's fun because we could talk about it.
Jon: You were there almost what two years.
Magnus: I think it was about three years including… I interned there for a year and then I had worked there for two years after I graduated.
Jon: After that you went on to freelance for like a bunch of big-name design agencies you know Wolff Olins, Siegel and Gale. What made you kind of make that choice to go freelance you know was that just like naturally was it like intentional? I know that's a big thing that a lot of designers, creatives, struggle with right it's like you take the full-time security kind of position or do you take that leap of faith and put yourself out there and try to like really become your soul you know you're the sole proprietor like you have to go out and get the jobs?
Magnus: Totally, no it was really scary. Actually what had happened was the company was going under and I had always thought about freelancing because at the time work was starting to dry up and there was no new clients coming into the company and you know I felt like I was kind of just sitting on my hands like maybe 70/80 % of the time. So, finally I get back and after all this like thinking about like I get back from a trip from Japan and all this thinking about going freelance my boss calls me and he's like, “Hey I have to let you go because we can't afford keep the doors open anymore.” And I had mixed feelings- A: I was like awesome because I was like I just wanted to do it for so long and it's just I was so scared to just like leave because it's such a huge jump. So, it was such a good like it was almost like the baby the mother bird pushing sure the baby bird out of the nest and it's like I spread your wings and fly and if you hit the ground well so it was meant to be. I left and I “flew out of the nest” and I luckily had some really good friends from college and they were doing motion graphics as well and one of them was working at Wolff Olins and one of them had done a job for Siegal and Gale. I had enough connections that I was getting like a good amount of like steady freelance work right after that.
Jon: I feel like just from my experience with the motion designer is yourself Mieka, Taylor you know at Vice it's like the motion community is really close and that kind of is a testament to making the friends in school who are also in that same in your classes that are hey you know I had this freelance opportunity maybe you should look here and things like that. I saw you were doing kind of like month-to-month projects things like that. During your freelance time is that stressful? What's your mindset during that? Are you going through and worrying about the next gig or is it really just like are you owning that and just taking one project at a time and really thinking about it?
Magnus: Definitely a little bit of both I mean as anybody who's like started freelancing will tell you it's very “feast or famine”. I remember when I first started freelancing I was doing a job for this architecture from Diller Scofidio and Renfro and it was like very long nights and I was charging overtime so I was making like a lot of money like hands like just a lot of money was coming in I just didn't even know what to do with all. I remember making so much that I was like shit I'm going to buy myself like expensive coat that I don't need an expensive shoe and of course I'm not saving anything for taxes.
Jon: And then taxes come along.
Magnus: I’m not saving any for taxes.
Jon: I've made that same mistake where you're freelancing and you're like wow this is a lot of money and just to preface or kind of a lot of money as a designer right.
Jon: Just like as a young kid you are not used to seeing a paycheck that is like you know somewhat big and then because you don't have that mind of like “Oh, I got to pay taxes at the end of the month and I've gotten screwed.” Like I've had to pay back a lot of stuff. It's not like we're making it like bags of cash but as a creative especially at a school you kind of you know you're not exposed to that yeah and then you learn very quickly that like oh it's not actually a lot of money because I have to give a big ass chunk back.
Magnus: Sure. I definitely didn't grow up like with a lot of money at all and so I think when you come into that and suddenly, you're just like earning it yourself you're like holy shit like this is crazy.
Jon: You get excited eyes wide open.
Magnus: I understand why like the rappers--
Jon: Go bankrupt.
Magnus: Yes. You see them like spending like thirty thousand dollars on a chain and like you know seventy thousand dollars one hundred thousand dollars like on a car that they like on their fifth car and I'm like oh I get that like. I get why you would like all of a sudden want to like splurge like that. I think I've gotten to the age now where I'm just like okay like I feel more comfortable I would rather put my money into savings mhm and have that feeling of safety and security net.
Jon: That longevity.
Magnus: That longevity because going back to what you're saying like what I was saying about feast or famine there were definitely moments when like making a lot of money but there are moments when you're just like have no money and I was like--
Jon: You have this kind of dryer periods of you just got out of a gig, you take a week and then that week turns into two three four weeks and you're just like aww.
Magnus: Yes. I think there was a point when I went through like two and a half months of not working and it was so scary it was like I was hard for me to pay rent. I was paying rent and there was definitely points where I'm like I guess I'm just having dollar slice pizza like again tonight because that’s all I can afford. So, it's nice when you get to like a full-time, you’re like okay alright.
Jon: Do you do anything in those dry moments right like in between gigs do you do anything to attract more businesses they're like self-initiate projects and stuff like that or are you going to networking events? I think those are a lot of things that people may not think about in between the gigs it's like if you don't have something lined up immediately how do you drive up that business in a way?
Magnus: Totally I mean there's only so much reaching out to clients that you can do right like after a while if you're not hearing anything it's like it's not you it could be a dry season for the industry or whatever. So, you have to recognize when you have those dry periods you can't just sit on your ass and watch TV, you can't just play video games you can't just like chill out and like hope that it's going to come you have to actually work for it. I spent a lot of that time really getting into personal artwork and personal animations. I started a one-a-day series and I was on that bandwagon for a while.
Jon: I think everyone or every kind of design and creative goes through that's aww like okay you're in a creative rut or like you're in between jobs and it's like how do you kind of keep that kind of fire burning that candle lit so you just don't like get stuck into your couch watching Netflix.
Magnus: Totally. I mean personal projects really help because I started realizing like the jobs that I was getting it just wasn't really interesting it was very commercial work it was very like dry like not very creative and I was like I'm better than this I can I want to get hired to cell animation and I want to get hired to do design and illustration. So, when you do those personal projects, you're doing exactly what you want to do. I think Instagram has been actually really great for it. I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram. I just deleted it off my phone for like a couple weeks and I just installed it again to post some stuff. But posting that stuff you're getting your name out there and people are seeing your stuff. Actually, I had a couple clients reach out to me through Instagram just because I had posted like some personal cell animation stuff there and it was actually Atlantic Records. They had seen something I had done there and were like, “Hey like we really like your stuff do you want to do some animations for a Lil Uzzie Vert?”
Jon: I remember that project.
Magnus: I was like cool like this is probably the best thing I've gotten from Instagram like who would have thought.
Jon: In a way it's like it's like a secondary portfolio right; not so much the one that you're sending directly to people but it's very much like to get more eyes on your work and get more eyes on the projects that you're working on.
Magnus: Honestly, I tell people that it's Instagram or your social media is just as important. Your portfolio and online website that's the stuff that recruiters and that's the stuff that if you're hiring art directors, creative directors, we're looking at that stuff and we're sifting through it to see like your real and your overall portfolio. We want to see that stuff, but your Instagram is just as important because as shitty as it is having like followers like is kind of validating. If you're working with like random clients, they are more willing to take a chance on you if you have a couple thousand followers. Rather than someone who has like you know 30 followers like on Instagram. As shitty as it is, I have some great friends who have amazing work on Instagram they've like 30 followers and then I know people who have like 70+ thousand followers and I’m like “I don't like their work at all.”
Jon: It's like this weird moment though because in a way like to your point of it validating it means that people are interested right like; there's eyes obviously on your work so more people are looking at it so it's like kind of this opportunity for the brand or the client to be like oh that's potentially 70,000 people that just see this project that we're working on. So, it's a weird I feel like it's definitely a weird time right because you know to your point there are you know amazing designers and as I do that have a very low social following and they're almost being shorted because they don't have as many as say like someone who has 70,000 or something like that.
Magnus: Yes, I mean it's definitely a shame. You can be like well what is the value of like just scrolling through your Instagram and like looking at something for half a second and double tapping it and be like and then you have like you know 30,000 people doing that to you to your photos and like so what does that mean for your artwork like does that mean it's good-- not necessarily but in the commercial realm you do have to be realistic and be like clients are more willing to take a chance on you if they see that other people already liked you. It's kind of goes to also being a designer or art director and trying to sell an idea; a lot of clients don't want to take a lot of risks because there is a lot of money involved. If you show a client a reference for an ad that's garnered a lot of attention and awards and as popular, they're more likely to be like yes let's do this let's do this. It's harder to take a risk on someone who's like work is like not as well-known and is different and fresh and innovative because clients are like I don't know like I don't know if I want to take that kind of risk.
Jon: On the flip side though, I think back to the kind of your point of attracting clients attracting you know as an art director or hiring someone your website is kind of like the standard right; those are what the kind of industry standards that people are looking at. But then on the side of like Instagram you know even like personal projects when you share those things you kind of show your personality - you show like what you're interested in generally if you're sharing those things; some people just share selfies right. But like if you're sharing those projects that you're doing at the comfort of your home it gives people a better idea of who you are and that would potentially lead to being more likely hired for a gig. How long were you freelancing before your next kind of like full-time thing?
Magnus: I believe I was freelancing for about a year and a half maybe two years before and I started freelancing at Vice. Gabriel Tick- the art director over there brought me in and I was freelancing there and it was fun it was like really creative work and then one day Matt the executive creative director just pulls me aside and was like “Do you want to work full-time for us?” I'm like “Yeah sure I guess so.”
Magnus: Yes, he's super straightforward. So yes, I think it was about two years.
Jon: What year is that was that 2015/2016 is around then I think?
Magnus: When did the Vice Land launch?
Jon: It was 2016 something like that. It's 2019 now which is kind of scary to think of. I think it was like right around one of the new year's because I joined 30 days after. So, I think it launched at the beginning of 2016.
Magnus: Okay and I was there in 2015.
Magnus: I was freelancing for them six months before they had launched the channel.
Magnus: So, I was like developing a lot of the brand and a lot of the graphics and which would go on to influence. I remember when the channel first launched it was like so cool because it was like oh shit like this is like the stuff that I've been working on for six months like--
Jon: It was a big project to be a part of. You were working alongside like the branding studio Gretel that had been working each other's teams to develop the visual identity, the animations things like that. I remember also when I joined it was a big moment for design - it was a big moment for cable and TV because it was like the unbranded kind of offering from Vice and it was super exciting you know. What kind of work went into the early months of developing the channel; you know show graphics, branding. What did you do?
Magnus: Sure. So, actually I didn't really work closely with Gretel by the time they had me working on the branding and the design I think Gretel had already created a lot of the package design. So, when I was brought in I think a lot of them thought we're going to just make this a lot like other channels and like or like what was going on in Netflix and you know create like a traditional motion graphics title sequences and like that's the stuff that they brought us in to do. So, a lot of the stuff I was making it was pretty like glossy, very commercial and very typical of what you might see on like you know FX or Spike TV. And it's funny because as an example I was doing the branding for Gaycation and I'd spent about like three months just doing the animation and design myself--
Jon: It is a big title sequence.
Magnus: But it was funny because then they brought Spike Jonze in and he took a look at like the stuff we were doing and he was like “No.”
Jon: He said no.
Magnus: In a nice Spike Jonze way like he's such a nice guy.
Jon: Was it because it was more on the side of like conservative- more akin to the cable channels that already been out?
Magnus: Yes. I think he wanted to do something a little bit more just fresh and I mean the term ‘raw’ gets thrown around a lot.
Jon: What happens? He says no.
Magnus: He says no.
Jon: I would go home crying.
Magnus: It was definitely like disappointing because like everybody loved the work I was making and like the creative direction everyone was like oh this is great. It was actually my first real design job before that I was just basically making things move. I was taking things from design areas and I was making it move. I wasn't actually doing the designing, but I realized that's what I want to get into and so they saw that I was really pushing for that. I was really just passionate about the design of it and so they were giving me those opportunities. So, yes Spike Jonze came in and he was like ya know this ain't it. You know it's a little disheartening to hear but at the same time we're like alright jobs a job. The first thing you learn as a designer or just as a creative in general is never fall in love with your own work because then you have egos and then you bring in like all this shit like. You can't have that when you're working with clients and you're working with people above you.
Jon: You can't just take things personal.
Magnus: Never. That's a rule for life I never take anything personally.
Jon: So, you scrapped three months of work.
Magnus: They scraped all of it and they're like fuck it.
Jon: What happens?
Magnus: So, we were like okay well pitch like a bunch of new directions to Spike Jonze hopefully he'll like it. And one of the directions he ended up going with was just like this hand-painted frame of like taking celluloid image or celluloid film and painting over it and originally as a creative like I was like “Oh wouldn't it be cool if we actually took real celluloid and like painted frame by frame and then have it you know filmed it like moving through a film rail.” In retrospect I'm so glad we didn't do that because it would have been a nightmare for like all the client revisions.
Jon: To have like physically go back and paint that.
Magnus: Yes, oh shit we got repaint this whole celluloid.
Jon: That was the kind of direction.
Magnus: That was the direction yes. So he saw that and was like this is it like this is what I was envisioning and so it was cool because it was like I was trying to take what I had learned as an artist being expressive and my sense of colors and my composition and just being like really expressive and abstract and how can you make a title sequence or something a little bit more commercial from that. Yes, it was it was really cool and they were like “This is great we love these style frames.” And I did a couple of motion tests and which and I was trying to make it look as real as possible it's actually filming celluloid and they were like “This is cool” so we just ran with it and we it took a couple months and you know of like a lot of long nights and hard work, but yes I mean the overall product I think spoke for itself and we were all proud of it.
Jon: The title sequence if any listeners haven't seen it definitely Google Gaycation intro super awesome. I think that was just about the time I was joining because I was working on like the show posters and stuff like that, I remember you had floated me like a brush pack that you hadn't been using at the time. One it's like super crazy to just even have a moment to get feedback from Spike Jonze and I don't mean to say that like you know he's just a super talented guy his work is amazing and as a you know role model I personally definitely look up to him just like a lot of creatives do. So that's awesome. But, then to be able to kind of combine your background and as a painter you know growing up and to also bring that into a more commercial environment and put it out in the world where you know you're launching a cable television channel, people are going to be watching the show like that's got to be super gratifying.
Magnus: Totally Yes.
Jon: You had been doing a lot of different show titles you also went on to work on like the I remember Hamilton's Pharmacopoeia with the cell animation that was an awesome intro you did what was the one with like the kind of textures and it was like… drawing a blank. It was one of the more recent shows that they launched it had like the pink water or pink fabric.
Magnus: Oh, Slutever.
Magnus: Oh yeah.
Jon: You have a favorite that you worked on.
Magnus: I mean maybe it's nostalgia but Gaycation was definitely a favorite because I was like that was the heyday of you know creativity at Vice and Viceland. Other than that, I would say the Business of Life title sequence was really cool and I remember watching the showing really loving the web show and I was like oh this is like a really interesting format and concept for a show. And it was the same thing as Gaycation where they give you the brief, they give you the parameters and they tell you work within these guidelines and then you just go at it. And as an artist you're like well I want to make stuff that's expressive and I want to make stuff that evokes like an emotion and I want to make stuff that's like just aesthetically beautiful. It was a lot of like just experimentation because I think a lot of the best work comes from just fucking around and like-- I'm sorry am I allowed to curse?
Jon: Go for it.
Magnus: Like messing around and just failing a lot and the first hundred things that you make or maybe like ah this isn't it you know this is kind of crappy, but then you hit something and you're like you just keep pushing pixels and you're like oh what if I invert this - what if I play with the levels on this - what if I add this texture - what if I push this around - what if I push this out of the boundaries. You're just trying to see what works and like see what doesn't work and at the end of that and it's very much you get into a Flow State at least for me I mean you get in a flow state of doing that and at the end of it you come out and you're like “Huh this is half decent.” I remember for that title sequence the first couple of designs that I'd done or terrible like I was like “Oh man they're going to fire me.”
Jon: But you have to go through that brain dump right?
Jon: All those ideas out is something one it's like exploring potential routes and potential directions, but also like to clear head to know that when you do find something interesting that you kind of have that moment of 'Oh Eureka' and then you kind of pursue that more and slowly just dig deeper.
Magnus: Totally you definitely just have to like suffer a little bit.
Jon: You started off in the department as kind of just the motion graphics designer you know working on a broad range of things but then eventually you guys the team so you eventually formed Vice Visual Studio that went on to do work for outside clients. What is that relationship you know when you're in the studio within a company our clients coming to you and are, they looking for work specifically similar to the stuff that you've been doing for the channel?
Magnus: Well, I think there is definitely some cachet with a client and they're coming to a design agency that they know is funded or at least related to Vice. We were definitely different than a lot of animation studios and design houses in the sense that we have to operate within Vice we kind of have to operate within the politics and within the structure and infrastructure of Vice, but at the same time we were just a group of like really hungry talented kids who wanted to just make cool shit. So, I think we had built up a portfolio of basically everything that you see on Viceland channel in terms of the title sequences in-show graphics, design and an animation that was all just done in-house. And so, by year two or three we just had a huge portfolio of work because we just had done all that stuff in-house. So, I think we had that great portfolio and clients were seeing that and was like “Yeah we want work that's like similar to this vibe.” Luckily, we had Matt Schoen who's a great executive creative director and also played the role of executive producer and he was good at working with clients and you know bringing those clients in. So, we had everything in place as an animation studio. So, we had clients come in were like yeah, we want to just be associated even if it's just in the background with Vice because Vice is such a cool name it's a cool brand. Yes, I guess it was just all a lot of good things and great opportunities all coming together.
Jon: Since then you spent what three/four years at Vice?
Magnus: It was about three years yes.
Jon: And you've moved on since to be the motion graphics designer or director sorry at Elephant. What's that moment you have been a designer this whole time and then you kind of get this opportunity to be a director? Was there a shift in how you presented yourself? Was their shift in the work that you presented? I think every creative at some point deals with that “impostor syndrome”.
Jon: So, it's like when do you overcome that I kind of want to pull some things out if possible.
Magnus: So, if there's one thing I learned at Vice about art directors the best art directors are just 100% themselves. There's no one mold for an art director or creative director and so you don't really know how to be an art director or a creative director until you just do it and luckily at Vice there were a few opportunities where I was able to play a little bit of that role. They had brought me in as like an associate art director and I was giving direction to like some freelancers and I was able to work on those pitches and like pitch in meetings. They were really good about giving me that opportunity because I had voiced that I wanted that to be a career path for me and they wanted to see me grow because they were all good friends. So, when I left there suddenly you know Elephant was like “Hey we need an animation director or at least a motion graphics director or motion graphics art director.” And I was like okay I could do this it's fine.
Jon: Put me in.
Magnus: It’s fine I'm just going to ‘fake it till I make it’. And there was definitely a lot of like going to like clothing shops mmm this looks very art director like let me buy this jacket.
Jon: Play the role.
Magnus: Yes, art director jacket. And then you realize a couple months in like four or five months in there's no mold to being an art director you can literally come in a t-shirt and shorts and like be schlubby as long as you have 100% like authentically yourself and you have like a bit of a portfolio and a voice to back it up and you're just good at working with people or you're good at managing people and you know being somewhat of a leader.
Jon: To that point it's very much sounds like you don't look a certain way but you have those skills and you have that experience of being in a room and being able to have a voice and also an opinion and also being able to back it up as well. You can't just talk the talk you have to also walk the walk.
Magnus: Oh 100%.
Jon: If you have an idea and you can't go back and execute it you kind of make yourself look pretty stupid.
Magnus: For sure you definitely need to be able to talk that language you know like you can't just be like hey let's do this and then you get back to your desk and you're like shit I don’t know how to do this.
Magnus: So, it was fortunate that I had spent such a long time trying to understand every aspect about animation and it kind of goes back to like my time at school where I just wanted to learn every aspect of animation motion graphics not because I was like one day I'm going to be an animation director it was just because I was fascinated by every single thing or a single aspect of animation; I just wanted to know how it worked how do you do that. And so now as a director you're kind of like you can draw on all that stuff so it's like “Oh you wanna do stop-motion?” Like “Yeah I've done stop-motion before that's not going to be a huge problem.” “Or you want to do cell animation?” Like “Yeah like I know all these programs and like all these creatives.” Honestly it does feel a little bit of Imposter Syndrome because I still a part of me wants to go back and become a designer again and work under some really talented art directors and creative directors just to learn more about like what it means to be a really good creative director in art director and I think at some point I am going to do that but--
Jon: I was going to ask you know as a director your responsibilities sort of shift right. It's not so much about making all the time right. Like as a as a designer as a younger designer your percentage of what your role is making things and then as soon as you kind of switch over to that-that percentage slowly gets less and you start to have to be into more meetings you have to advise on and manage more people. So, you kind of have that moment of you're sort of missing the making things because your time is taken up more like on that kind of higher-level priority.
Magnus: Yes. I was definitely scared of that happening because I never want to be in a position where I'm not making stuff. I like the idea of being an art director who direct and also you know actually make the style boards or make the storyboards or make style frames and dictate that art direction. So, I never really want to be in that position where I'm not doing that. Even if I'm directing a film or something one day you know with a whole cast of talent, I still want to be there like actually making it myself. And maybe it goes back to me like having a little bit of trust issues and like not wanting to relinquish as much control, but that's still to me is I'm more passionate about that than I am about telling people what to do.
Jon: Being a director now role having gone through the trials and tribulations of being a young designer working your way up the ladder what would you say to a motion graphics designer or someone starting off graduating school this summer? What would you kind of extend to them as like a piece of advice?
Magnus: Definitely personal projects because your personal projects and the work you do on the side is the work that you really want to do because sometimes you are doing stuff that you're not sure if you want to be doing and you're like oh maybe people will like this and this is what people are doing and this is what is popular now. When you're doing stuff for yourself you realize “Oh this is what I want to be doing like this is it.” If it's not then you realize that too that's great.
A little bit of an anecdote: When I was freelancing, I was working at Method Studios and I had a lot of downtime in between projects and so they were just like paying for me to like sit in a chair and not do anything. I was just like okay I don't want to just sit here and do nothing. So, I actually started drawing a lot like at my computer because I was like I want to get better at this style of illustration and I want to get better at using these types of brushes. I was just sitting at my desk a lot just doing these illustrations and people would walk by and they'd be like “Oh that's cool like what is that for?” “Oh, it's personal project that's cool.” You get a few compliments and it feels good. It wasn't until later on when I had left there Gabriel Tick who I was also working with that Method Studios he hits me up and he's like “Hey, I remember you working at method studios and you were always doing these illustrations and I feel like you were kind of wasted like there because they had you doing like these boring Microsoft jobs.” He's like “Do you want to come and do some of that stuff at Vice?” I was like “Cool ye.”
Jon: Definitely sign me.
Magnus: Yes, and now that's was the best career move that I've had and I will probably wouldn't have gotten that if I wasn't doing that personal stuff like in my downtime and someone had walked by and was like hey that's kind of cool.
Jon: As you have responsibilities as a director now you're still working on personal projects I'm curious when you're out of the office what do you do to give yourself that break you know how do you kind of relinquish the responsibilities of work and clear your head? Is it personal project still are you doing something completely out of it like you like to knit or something like that or like Netflix everyone likes Netflixing.
Magnus: I'm actually not a huge Netflixer.
Jon: I’d rather cancel my account.
Magnus: Yes, I don’t like a lot of the shows on there. [laughs] Every time I try a new one, I'm just like good yah this isn’t good. I have a lot of personal stuff. I mean personal hobbies; definitely I try to stay fit; I've picked up rock climbing within the last six years and it's just it's such a great way to get out of design. I always recommend that to designers you should definitely have a hobby that's not related to design or like not related to anything creative almost or maybe not creative but like it shouldn't be related to your work at all. So, rock climbing is kind of that for me where I get on the wall and you're not thinking about anything else you're getting to that flow state because you can't think about anything else.
Jon: Just like don't fall.
Magnus: Exactly you're just thinking about like the next handhold and if you think about anything else, you're going to fall. So, to me that's such a great hobby for me. I also love to play the ukulele like only if handful of people have seen me play it.
Jon: There you go.
Magnus: I just do that for myself because I'm like this is really fun and I actually discovered it I kind of like the same. But in terms of purse projects I have a couple that I'm working on right now and they're still in the works, they're still in the baby phases and hopefully it's not one of those projects that like you work on like for like a year and then you're like I give up.
Jon: They just fizz out.
Magnus: Yes, everyone has those. I'm working on a short film and I'm writing the script to it and its kind of really fun because I am not a writer per se I mean I like to write. I actually discovered I kind of liked poetry like I was like “Oh that's cool poetry it's hard.” And I like script writing. So this film for me is like such a great way for me to get into writing and really understand like what it means to you know write a story and write an arc and be a little bit more expressive; take that sense of expressiveness that I am as a painter or an animator but bring it into writing.
Jon: Step away from the stuff that you're so familiar with or something.
Magnus: Exactly. Totally not my comfort zone like I'll write something and be like “Okay like this is terrible.” And then like you write something you look at it like a month later and you're like “Well why was I even thinking about that- that was terrible.” Then you'll write like one sentence and you'll see it like a couple months later and you're like this is it.
Jon: I don't want to give it away but you had mentioned that you have some plans coming up where you're going to be leaving New York it'll even Brooklyn could you tell us about that.
Magnus: So, close friends already know but I guess it's just putting it out there I'm actually moving with my girlfriend to London in a couple months because I've lived in New York City all my life and just as a creative you need to spread your wings a little bit and I love to travel. I travel all the time, but I've never lived anywhere else. So, this is going to be like such a great opportunity for the both of us to really just experience a different culture, experience different like not a language but like you know different city and like different vibes. And also not lie and kind of goes to I feel a little bit of Imposter Syndrome because right now what I'm doing is I'm a commercial artist working for these brands like big name brands like Comcast and Apple and I'm realizing “Oh I don't think this is exactly what I want to do.” So, it's a little scary to be like oh I'm finally making a lot of money but I'm not like creatively happy and fulfilled at work and so I kind of just want to get back to making short films. I'm working on a clothing label with my girlfriend right now as well which actually goes hand-in-hand with the film I'm writing.
Jon: There you go.
Magnus: Which is like a fun--
Jon: Combination of the two.
Magnus: Combination yes two birds one stone because I've always like been interested in clothing design as well but yes, I think going to London jumping back into the freelance lifestyle and pushing myself out of my comfort zone because this is completely out of my comfort zone. I think it's going to be really good for me and we'll see. It's like maybe it won't work out but I get this point I've been around the block but I know it's probably going to work out like things always work out.
Jon: I feel like you know it's always the things to wish you good luck, but I know you're going to with working with you and your experience and knowing the type of work that you do I know you'll figure your way so I of course I still wish you the best of luck.
Magnus: I appreciate that.
Jon: It's exciting and that's awesome. If people want to get in touch with you if people want to check up on your work how can they find you?
Magnus: So, my website it's just www.Magnusatom.com. I would say my Instagram but I deleted my Instagram and I'm just like I'm kind of off of it, but definitely my website and just if you're interested in seeing like what other work is going to be coming out it's all going to be posted to and linked on my Instagram and my social media.
Jon: And it's at Magnus.Atom on Instagram, right?
Jon: I want to make sure you plug that you got to plug that.
Magnus: Yes, it's at Magnus.Atom, not MagnusAtom that's my personal one.
Jon: There is a dot.
Magnus: If you try to follow me it's private, I'm not coming accept it.
Jon: Magnus thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Magnus: Oh, it's been a pleasure thanks Jon.
Magnus Atom is a motion graphics director and good friend that I had the pleasure of working with in a previous role. We caught up on what Magnus has been up to since working together, his introduction to motion graphics, transitioning from designer to creative director, and plans for the future.
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