Allen Laseter Talks Productivity, Passion Projects, People Management, Motion Design, Direction, and Developing Your Own Style
One day, after graduating with a BFA in Film, he was offered an animation project from a friend of a friend — and the rest, as they say, is history. Allen's since completed projects for the likes of Lagunitas, TED, Coke, Disney and School of Motion.
How does he do it? Almost exclusively in After Effects.
And now, with a new baby at home, how does he juggle his creative work, commercial direction and family life?
On Episode 81 of the School of Motion Podcast, our founder and CEO Joey Korenman and his guest Allen Laseter discuss the road to renown; developing your own style; After Effects animation; coordinating paid client and personal passion projects; billing for your services; working freelance versus studio employment; project and people management best practices; and Stanley Kubrick, School House Rock! and The Beatles's Yellow Submarine.
Allen Laseter on the School of Motion Podcast
Show Notes from Episode 81 of the School of Motion Podcast, Featuring Allen Laseter
The Transcript from Allen Laseter's Interview with Joey Korenman of SOM
Joey Korenman: Few motion designers have an instantly recognizable look to their work. You know how can you can kind of just tell when Sander Van Dijk animated something? Or when Sarah Beth Morgan designed the frames? Well... Allen Laseter is definitely on that list, too, with one of the most unique styles of anybody currently working in the field.
Allen works out of Nashville Tennessee, and he has built a reputation as a brilliant illustrator / animator who can work equally as well on a team or as a solo artist. He is capable of using After Effects in ways that would terrify most of us. He's a brute force guy, let's just say that.
In this conversation, we dig into Allen's current setup as a freelancer who is also expanding into directing. He's also recently gotten himself a rep, which we get into... and we also talk about the challenges he's faced in juggling parenthood (he and his wife have an infant daughter) with his career. He's got some productivity hacks and tricks we talk about towards the end that should be helpful for just about anyone in the same situation.
Allen is an amazing artist and an amazing guy, so sit back and enjoy... Allen Laseter... right after you hear from one of our alumni.
Julian Beltran: My Name is Julian Beltran and I’m a School of Motion Alumni. The Training from School of Motion has been just so helpful. Literally within a few months I have gone from knowing nothing to being able to implement tons into my video work and I really recommend any of these courses because not only do they teach you how to’s, but they teach you history they teach you background, they teach you what is currently going on in the industry. And more importantly for me anyways, it’s really just given me a lot of inspiration as far as what I can achieve in my career and life in general so I think more than ever I’m really really hopeful about the future and driven and motivated to get there.
Joey Korenman: Allen, it is awesome to have you on the podcast and I'm really looking forward to catching up with you, it has been a while.
Allen Laseter: Yeah, it's been awhile, thanks for having me.
Joey Korenman: No, my pleasure man. So anyone listening who's taken our Explainer Camp Class has heard an interview with you that Jake Bartlett did, it was really interesting because back when we did that, I mean I feel like that was probably two, maybe almost three years ago. That was when you landed on the radar of everybody in the motion design industry, and since then your career has progressed and you've done even cooler work and bigger things. So maybe a good place to start would be just tell us what's your current work set up, are you still freelance, are you still in Nashville, how does your work life thing actually work?
Allen Laseter: Yeah, so I'm still in Nashville and still freelancing. Yeah, I'm just working out of my home office right now. I'm still doing the freelance thing, but I'm trying to pivot a little bit more to approaching that or presenting myself a little bit differently. I've been trying to slowly move into a directing phase a little bit more. So that's one thing I'm focusing on right now, and I've started working with a rep recently, Jelly in London, and right now they're just repping me in the UK and so we've yet to actually book any work together on that yet. But, I've pitched on a few things and so that's been pretty fun to get into that world a little bit and start to see what that's like a little more.
Allen Laseter: And outside of that I've just started to try to focus a little more on doing director-client work and directing projects, whether that's me just working on a project solo and being able to have a little more control and input from top to bottom, and that's debatable whether you could actually call that directing or not, but just approaching work with more of a director's mindset as opposed to just coming in and being a part in a larger team, which I still enjoy doing that as well, but I'm just trying to expand the work I do into directing territory a little bit more. And I guess just presenting myself more as ... or thinking of myself I guess more as a business instead of just a work for hire type of thing.
Joey Korenman: Cool man. Well, I mean it sounds you're at that point in your career that a lot of freelancers get to where you've done the freelance thing and you've been very successful and then it's time to say, okay, what's next? Let's expand a little bit. So I want to dig into all of that. I do have a question and I know we'll talk more about this later in the podcast, but I know that you had your first child, a daughter last December, I think you said.
Allen Laseter: Yeah, December.
Joey Korenman: And then you said that you work from home. I'm curious because, I've tried working from home with young children it never worked out for me. I'm curious how you actually manage that.
Allen Laseter: Well, it is much easier that she goes to daycare. So during the day it's usually a pretty normal work day. It was interesting the first few months, her and my wife were here, and my wife was on maternity leave for a few months and so Mattie is, my daughter's name. So her and Mattie were here hanging out and it was a wild ride pretty soon before and after she was born, I was working on a project that was a little bit longer and it was this weird thing where I was just so naive about how little control you had in the process of having a child, and it was like, okay-
Joey Korenman: We all are.
Allen Laseter: Yeah. The deadline is a little bit before the due date, so I could finish this project, and as long as she comes around this time I'll be done with this project with a week to spare. And of course she comes two or three weeks early, and so it just throws everything into chaos. And I'd had this plan, I was going to, okay, I'm going to finish this project and I'm going to take a month, maybe two months off and just really soak in being a dad in this new phase in my life and everything. But when she came early, I mean I was emailing the client from the delivery room, like, "By the way, I'm having a kid right now, I don't think this original deadline we had set is going to work anymore." And fortunately they were very cool about it, but that set me on this path of insanity because, instead of taking this time off and going with the plan that I originally had, I had to figure out how to balance finishing this pretty intense project with having a new kid in the house.
Allen Laseter: So I didn't really get to have any normal paternity leave like I'd planned, but it was definitely its own adventure and learning how to balance those things. So that was a pretty interesting way to learn how to balance working, especially from home with a newborn baby in the house, and anyone who's a parent knows that a lot of time spent in this first few weeks and months, luckily the baby is sleeping, but when they're not sleeping it can be quite chaotic. So yeah, I learned how to deal with that a little bit, but yeah, eventually she started going to daycare, and so yeah, I'm just working from home, and I tried to start working after she leaves and get done before she gets back, it doesn't always work out that, but that's how it typically is.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. My goodness, man, that sounds like a crash course for sure. That's good. I mean in a way it's good that you learned that lesson so early, sometimes, I've seen new parents go through this honeymoon phase where they have their newborn and everything's worked out where they have some time off, in those first few weeks, the baby does typically sleep a lot, and you are like, "This isn't so bad, and I've got my family." And then the shit hits the fan, and it's almost like, you feel like you've been lied to. But you just ride away, you realize that your life was no longer your own, so that's good. So I want to come back to this and talk about the challenges of, especially working from home while having a young child.
Joey Korenman: But I want to get into something I've always been fascinated by. So everyone listening, we're going to link to this in the show notes. So you worked on recently for us an intro to a class called Design Kickstart, and it was totally your style of, illustrative, surreal, corky, really cool. And a lot of the work that you've been doing lately has that vibe, it's illustrated, there's a characters, and it's almost throwback looking, it reminds me of schoolhouse rock or something like that, and people that see your work probably assume you're doing it all old school animation, it looks like you're in Animate or Photoshop or something, just doing frame by frame, and then when you delivered that Design Kickstart Intro, you also delivered the After Effects project for it and I couldn't help myself, I went in and I looked at it, and I was flabbergasted.
Joey Korenman: So the way you use After Effects, I mean you abuse it, let me try to explain, this is very difficult to explain for everyone listening over a podcast, but I'll do my best. If you look at this particular After Effects project, and I'm assuming other ones work this too. It's like every frame is just made to look the way it's supposed to using whatever and all means necessary, and then the very next frame is made some completely different way. So there's rigs, there's manual key frames on every single frame for masks, there is shape layers being moved on every frame, then there's some tricks. I mean it's crazy, it reminds me of the way Ariel Costa works, where it's just whatever gets that frame to look the way I want it. So, I'd love to know why, I don't know, how did you arrive at this workflow, because I've worked with a lot of After Effects artists, and there's not that many that worked the way you do.
Allen Laseter: I think it's really funny to hear you frame like that because it does sound insane hearing someone say it back. But yeah, I mean I think you've got to hit the nail on the head. I don't really think about it that much other than I just, I have an idea of how I want it to look and I'm not really that concerned with what method is being used just as long as it ends up being similar to how feel it should look. I think I arrived that just really naturally from starting using After Effects, I didn't have any formal training with it. I actually started my motion career just in an emergency, in a project that needed to be done really quick and I'd said I was going to be able to take it on, I only had a very small amount of After Effects knowledge when I started, but I didn't realize how little knowledge I actually had.
Allen Laseter: And so doing this first full on After Effects project I ever had, I just did a lot of just, I didn't really feel I had time to do any formal class or anything that, so I just started poking around and I would run into a problem and I would YouTube something and figure out how to get past this certain speed bump and keep going and just repeat when necessary. And so I think that forced me to have this really weird, unusual way of using the program, and that built into how I learned After Effects where you just pack everything you can until it starts to look how you want it to look. And I think a lot of really truly good After Effects artists would probably look at the way I work and just think it's absolutely insane.
Allen Laseter: And, I mean it is true, it does make it difficult to ... it's made it very difficult to know whether what I'm doing, whether it's the worst way I could possibly be doing it, or if I can make my life a lot easier by doing it a little more conventional approach. But at this point I think it's become more of an asset, or at least I try to look at it that way because I think when people do approach tools in a way where they are trying to use them either beyond how they're intended to be used, or just in a completely different way than they're intended to be used, I think a lot of times you just naturally without even trying, you just end up coming with more unique and personal results. So I guess that's the way I look at it now, but it definitely did create a much more rocky path to get to the place where I'm running comfortable with the way I work.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. You did this thing for Motionographer a while back, they used to have this series called Step-By-Step where they would just have artists, 3D artists, designer, After Effects artists, they would just have them record themselves making something with no audio, no video, no music, nothing, no commentary, just, this is a five hour recording of me making something cool. And you did one of those, and I went back and I found it, and one of the comments on YouTube or Motionographer wherever they post, it was something like, "Five hours to make that, you could've just done this and this and this." And it's so funny because I think that there's this tension with After Effects artists that everyone has to grapple with, where you're trying to be very, very clever with the way you use the tool and you're always trying to rig things so that, “Just in case the client doesn't it, I can just push this button and change the whole thing because I spent six hours writing all this code to do that.”
Joey Korenman: Versus doing the old school thing, of just it's a brute force medium animation, old school animation just took a lot of hours and a lot of work and you can apply that same mentality to After Effects. And I think speaking just personally my opinion is, I think your technique with After Effects plays into your work looking the way it does and you don't recognize it instantly as an After Effects animation. The way you do when you see something animated by someone who's really good with the graph editor, I mean I've never made something look the way your stuff looks. I've always just been the clever guy. And so it's actually refreshing to see you do it that way.
Joey Korenman: And I'm curious if … I know that you do a lot of work as the solo, do everything guy, but you also work on teams, and I'm curious if that's ever been a liability for you, because you have to hand maybe hand off your After Effects project to someone, or direct some other After Effects artists who's used to doing things the 'smart way' or the more clever way, scalable way. Has that ever happened to you?
Allen Laseter: Yeah, it's definitely an anxiety inducing moment when I have to hand off my project flow. I feel anyone who has seen any of my project falls are going to be able to call me out as ... in my head it's like, I try to keep it somewhat organized, but I know that sometimes I get really into a rhythm where I'm just trying to move as fast as possible, and I slack a little bit on the organization, but I think at least a lot of times I'm fairly organized so I think that helps save me sometimes where many people will look at it and not understand why I would have done it in a certain way, or what I was even trying to do, but at least they can see my basic approach.
Allen Laseter: I don't know, I haven't ever run into any issues that I know of where it's caused a real problem, but it's also very possible that people are just being nice and not telling me about it.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Allen Laseter: Yeah, I can't think of any real disasters it's causes, usually in my experience, most of the projects that I'm working on with teams, I'm usually just doing an entire shot and combining it with someone else's shot, which obviously makes it easier, because only just piecing shots together versus working on the same shot with someone else, which I guess that would make things a little bit more delicate in terms of how you handle that.
Joey Korenman: Cool. Well, let's talk about your style a little bit. So, I mean your style has really shifted a lot over the years. I mean if you go, anyone listening, if you go on Allen's Vimeo or Instagram or any of that, and just scroll back to the beginning, and then just scroll up through the years, and you can really see your styles shifting, and it's really interesting. And lately the stuff that you've been noticed for it does have a certain look, it's really hyper-stylized characters, there's stuff that ... it reminds me of that old Beatles movie, the Yellow Submarine, where there's these humongous noses and these weird proportions and the animation I think you were interviewed once and you used a really cool term, 'Endearingly crude.' It's all done on twos and it's really quirky. And I'm curious where the heck that came from because I've talked about this with Summers before, that look is, it's very old, but compared to most of what's happening now in motion design, it's so fresh. So, I'm really curious how you arrived there.
Allen Laseter: Yeah, I don't know, that's a good question. I think ... and it's interesting that you say School of Rock and Yellow Submarine, I've actually never seen Yellow Submarine all the way through, but I mean I grew up being obsessed with the Beatles and stuff, so I always saw that artwork and would see clips of the animation, stuff like that. So, that's definitely a touch point for animation for me, and School of Rock is the same way. I didn't really grow up having a particular interest in animation, I mean I liked a lot of it, but I wasn't specifically into that, so I didn't have a lot of the classic animation references. But those things I was pretty aware of, so maybe that is why some of that style comes through in my work sometimes.
Allen Laseter: But I do think just in general, even outside of visual aesthetics, I am just really drawn to things that are a little bit more wonky and rough around the edges, if you can create something really rough that's executed very intentionally and very, polished isn't really the word because it's rough, but meticulously I guess. My influences are really more live action post to animation, I went to film school and all that stuff, and I was super into Kubrick every other film student was. And one thing that I really liked about a lot of his stuff specifically was that it was just so meticulous, and yet there's such a ... I mean I think people think of Kubrick, like when they talk about him, they think of him as if everything is so immaculately polished.
Allen Laseter: But if you really go back and look at it, it's really not, there's a lot of organic quality than a lot of the shots he's creating, but it's just so intentionally meticulously done, I don't even think you really notice that. So that's a balance that I'm always trying to find and work is stuff that is a little bit more rough looking, but it's done in a super intentional super ... again, polished isn't the word, but you know what I mean? In just a very specific way on to that.
Joey Korenman: Well, let me ask you about this because this is something that I don't think I ever, in my client career got to this place, and I think it's something a lot of artists struggle with. I love that you're using the word intentional to talk about this stuff. The style that you're known for now and that's really apparent in a lot of your recent work, probably the reason that Jelly wants to rep you. Now clients are asking you to do that and so you probably are pretty confident doing it saying, “Well, this is my thing and they like it, so I'm going to do it.” But before all of that, how did you have the cojones to even try this stuff on client, were you exploring this style on client work? Because to me the safe thing to do is shapes and gradients and really smooth animation, and you're always going to hit a double or a triple if you do that well.
Joey Korenman: What you're doing is you're swinging for the fences and you could also fall flat on your face, you didn't, and so now you've found this style that you can play with. So I'm curious, how did you break through that initial phase of ... I've gone back and looked at your old work and it doesn't look this at all, I mean it looks a lot more standard things that you would see every other average motions that are doing. How did you bridge that gap and get to climb over that hurdle?
Allen Laseter: Yeah, I mean that's a super a nice and flattering way to put it that I was swinging for the fences and taking risks and stuff like that, but I definitely wasn't really thinking of it that way. I think, again this is part of ... it can be seen as a disadvantage, but I think it has its advantages is working mostly remotely based in Nashville where it's definitely outside of all the big scenes for animation and all that. I think there was a certain amount of isolation there that maybe allowed me to focus on just what I was more interested in personally rather than what was working elsewhere in the industry or whatever. For example, I think one of the first projects that I did where I felt I was making something that was more a little bit more personal to me and actually reflected the aesthetic that I'm interested in was a project that I did for TedEd.
Allen Laseter: I guess this has been maybe four or five years now, maybe four years I don't know. But doing a project like that is great for being able to experiment with a certain style that you're interested in because they give you a lot of freedom. You're being asked to do a lot of work on a limited budget, but in return you get to really stretch what you want to do stylistically on a project that is several minutes long. And that was a huge thing for me and just having that opportunity to discover what I would naturally do if left to my own devices and figuring out style I want to work with them. I did a couple of projects for them and both of those projects were similar experience where I got to have a ton of freedom and figure things out.
Allen Laseter: And I guess it's one of those things where once you have a couple of projects under your belt that seem they have a specific look to them. I mean you said, more people will start coming to you for that and you can just start doing more of it, and I guess maybe people start specifically thinking of you for that style instead of just, “Hey, you're an animator, can you make something for me?” They're actually coming to you with a little bit more of a specific intention. But I will say too that, for me I'm still definitely experiencing the ... and I hope to figure out a way to get out of this, but the higher the budget the less ... I've actually done a few bigger projects recently where I have not been able to work in that style, it feels a little bit more personal to me. I'm very much more catering specifically to the client's wishes which are not necessarily in line with what I naturally would to do and feel I do best.
Allen Laseter: And I'm totally fond of doing that, it's a whole different challenge to me. I really enjoy having to work in a completely different style than what just naturally comes through me. I mean I see artists do this, I see artists breakthrough a level where they are doing something that's very personal to them and getting to do it on a pretty big stage with bigger projects, that kind of thing. But for me, I've found it a little bit difficult to do that, and it's much easier to do it on smaller projects where the stakes are a little bit lower. But yeah, so I'm still navigating that whole territory a little bit.
Joey Korenman: That's really interesting to hear you talk about that, I mean that's been a recurring theme on probably the last 30 podcasts that we've done, is that that tension between the jobs that pay you to sustain your lifestyle, or if you run a studio or a business to keep the lights on at the business, those are generally not the most creatively fulfilling, and those are the ones you don't put on your Instagram. But then the stuff that moves you forward, not just creatively and artistically, but also eventually in your career, the things that get you noticed, that gets you paid work that you want to do, those things are typically done either for free or for way less than they're worth.
Joey Korenman: And so you always have to have this balance of work that you just do and you get paid well, and then work that you don't really get paid for but you love doing, and then you eventually hope that more of the paid work looks that. But you're saying that you've seen artists ... there's some ceiling you can break through where all of a sudden you are paid and doing the stuff you want to do.
Allen Laseter: I think so. I don't know, maybe I'm still being a little bit naive with that, but I feel I see certain people who ... I mean I think it takes a long time and it takes a lot of proving yourself that you can do certain things consistently, and obviously timing is a big part of it. I think in order to be able to do really big projects where there is more money involved and that kind of thing, and have people trusting you to do it in your personal style, you also have to be lined up with whatever's in design guys in that given moment, there has to be some an interest from the general public in that style whether it's conscious or not.
Allen Laseter: I mean I think someone who ... I hope this isn't too ... I don't know Daniel Savage personally, I haven't talked to him much, from my perspective, he seems like someone who's doing incredibly well with working in his really beautifully specific style for pretty, I don't know, it seems like he pretty much consistently works in a style that is very personal to him. There's a few like Nicholas Menard would be another one who I think seems, and again I've not talked to these people about this, I'm doing a lot of assuming here. But from my perspective it seems they've broken through to this place where they can do something very personal to them on a large project scale. And that's really cool, I hope that it's possible, but yeah, I'm still trying to figure out how to even get to that point if it's possible.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I honestly don't know if it's ... I assume it has to be possible, but it seems like ... and I remember talking to a studio owner probably three or four years ago, and their studio was very, very, very, very well known, and asking him the same question and he said that actually almost all the things they do or things they want to do, they're very picky about the stuff they're working on and they generally really love the projects they take on. But a few years later there were bigger, overheads bigger and that's changed, and so it almost feels if you want that then you need to pick a smaller business model. So I think that might Segue nicely into the next topic I wanted to talk to you about, which is, you've been freelance for a while, but now you signed on with Jelly and they're repping you and you've used the word direct a few times in this conversation. So I'm wonder if you can talk a little bit about, where you are now and what you're hoping to build your motion design practice into.
Allen Laseter: So yeah, I'm definitely still in that place of trying to figure out which direction I really want to end up in. All I know right now is that I really ... the most long term goal I've had is wanting to direct and be able to make stuff, make films, make whatever in a way where I'm able to have influence from everything, from beginning to end. That's just what I've always wanted to do. And it started, again like I said, I went to film school and I started out doing more live action stuff as a freelancer and making short films just for fun and for personal reasons and with friends and whatever and that transitioned into animation. But that goal has always been the same of wanting to just make something and be able to, yeah, just a ... I don't want to say control it because that's not really what I mean, but just be there from top to bottom.
Allen Laseter: That just brings me a lot of satisfaction. So getting repped by Jelly and also just in my own personal by my own means, reaching out to people in a different way and trying to attract more director-client work is one way I'm trying to get there, but I also definitely ... having worked a little bit in both worlds at this point, I've realized that I want both if that balance can be sustained. I do get a certain satisfaction out of approaching a project more as a director, but sometimes too much of that for too long can feel, it becomes very attractive for me just to be able to join a team and work with them on a project that has a clear beginning and an end, and I have a clear small set of responsibilities that I know I just have to do to the best of my ability], and then when I do that the job is done.
Allen Laseter: I still really enjoy working that way and I've just made to be good relationships with studios and people that are really enjoy working with to just ... I still definitely want to continue trying to do that, but I'm also want to expand that into being able to both present myself as a director a little bit more, and also just obviously attract more that work.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that's awesome. There is not really any rules, so you definitely can do both and balance it. I want to talk about the rep thing, that's something I don't have any experience with in my career, and I've learned more about it as I've talked to people, and I've heard the good and the bad and all that stuff. So I'm curious, so what was it like getting signed by a rep, and what was the decision making process like?
Allen Laseter: Yeah, it was a pretty slow process and it wasn't something … I've been curious about being repped for a while, but I had not really done any, I had not been very active in pursuing a rep or anything. And actually Jelly reached out to me, it's been several months ago now, but they reached out to me and said that, if I was interested they might be interested in adding me to their roster of directors. So that started a conversation that I had with them over the course of a decent period. And for me, my concern has always been with the rep was is this going to take away some freedom I have to be able to work with whoever I want to work with. And is it also going to take away just a certain, I guess level of autonomy I guess. And having to depend on someone above me to bring in work for me and something that could potentially get in the way of me going after the work that I want to get on my own.
Allen Laseter: And so there's a lot of the questions I had and they were … And we talked about that a lot and ultimately I just really like their overall vibe and I liked their approach to getting work. And also it was a thing for me. It's like I really would … My thinking also they were specifically wanting to rep me in the UK and I mean I didn't know anybody in the UK anyway. I really don't have any of those real connections. So I felt that was a thing that could maybe open me up to that market a little bit more and I would still able to do my own thing in the US and that's something I've been thinking about too is maybe pursuing representation in the US or maybe working with Jelly in the US as opposed to just the UK.
Allen Laseter: But yeah, those are the main issues that I had going into it. And so far it's been good so far it hasn't, again, we haven't … I haven't won any pitches yet, so it hasn't really affected the way that I've worked that much yet. But it feels really good to know that I have a legit company working for me a little bit behind the scenes and that thing. And they're really supportive in things outside of working on commercial projects. And so yeah, it's good. And it's also good just as someone who works alone in the house all day to feel a little bit more they're part of a team.
Allen Laseter: Because that was the one thing that was always weird, just continuously working with studio after studio. It's where you work with, you're on a slack, you're in a little studio family for a short period of time and then you leave and it's weird. It's you don't feel you have any roots anywhere because you're just going from place to place. So that's one thing that I wouldn't have really expected to be a plus about having a rep, is feeling you have a little bit more of a stable company that you're a part of, but you still have a certain level of independence from it. So yeah, I think it's been good so far.
Joey Korenman: That's super cool. Well I'm looking at Jelly's website now. I mean their roster is incredible, so amazing artists on it. So, I mean, from the way you described it, it sounds, if there is a great company that has a good roster and a good reputation and they want to rep you, there's almost no downside to it, right? Because you're free to continue freelancing and getting direct client work and directing things and in the meantime they're, marketing you to a different market to the UK market and should something hit awesome. It's just a job you wouldn't have got otherwise. Is there any, I mean, A, is that accurate, B, are there any downsides or anything that you're worried about?
Allen Laseter: I don't want to say there are no downsides because again, I'm still very inexperienced in this whole game myself. So I would hate to just say flat out that there's no downsides. I mean, for me, in my particular situation, I haven't seen any downsides yet. I mean to me the things that are worried about were just things of, “Is this going to stop me from doing something that I want to do?” I'm I going to have to ask permission to do things that otherwise I would be able to just do, without having to think about asking anybody? Especially in terms of going after a certain client that maybe you can't or maybe you have to worry about, I don't know conflict of interest or whatever.
Allen Laseter: Those are the only things that I was worried about up front. I mean so far, again, nothing has been an issue. I think to me the only thing that could have been a potential downside was just creating any more barriers between me and getting the type of work that I want to get. But yeah, again, that was a huge reason why I was pretty keen on getting representation specifically in the UK because I don't know what I'm doing in that area anyway. So it was pretty great to hand over the control to someone who does know what they're doing.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome. So cool. You have to report back after you win your first pitch.
Allen Laseter: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Let us know how that goes. So let's talk about this expansion that you talked about, trying to be more of a director and I think I get what you were saying. I mean it sounds; it's not about control it's about having that opportunity to have your unique vision, lead the creative and lead the execution. It's amazing to work with teams and that's what I did for most of my career. But then, it's nice to also be able to have your thing done at scale. So how are you approaching that expansion? I mean is … I think at this point its pretty established how one freelances in this industry, right? You put a portfolio together, maybe a reel, you do some outreach and studios and companies generally know how to plug a freelancer in and use them. How does it work as a director? How do you tell people that that's the thing you can do now and what does that look?
Allen Laseter: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, again, that's a good question. I think for me, so far, a big part of it has just been setting the intention for myself personally, that that's what I want to do. And I think it's maybe so far, not so much about telling people that's what you want to do, but just showing them and said, and again, I've tried to do that, by intentionally and strategically taking on projects with a much lower stakes that I can do what I want, just to be able to show people that look, “Look, here's what I can do when I'm able to approach a project in this way with more of a director's mindset.” So showing them with certain projects that as opposed to just telling people that that's what I want. Although, that's certainly a huge part of it, you have to be able to sell yourself in a certain way. And that's something that doesn't really come naturally to me that I'm trying to work on going forward.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Well, I mean I think just the fact that you're pitching is also probably really helpful because that's a thing directors do and freelancers typically don't have to pitch. I mean obviously at the high end, if you're … And that's necessarily, it's interesting too because the line between the high end freelancer that's doing a project all by themselves and a director, I mean, where is that line? Do you know where that line is or is there one?
Allen Laseter: I mean I think it's honestly just … There may be no practical line. It's just how you define what you're doing. There may be no real difference in what's actually being done. So, yeah, I mean that is actually a great argument for. It does matter what you say to people and how you express what you're doing to other people outside of just them seeing the work you do because that will affect what people think of you for when they're trying to hire you.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. And do you think that client, what I was thinking was maybe clients think of you differently too. If you say, “I'm directing this for you versus I'm designing and animating this for you.” I wonder if they feel they have more of a responsibility on the creative side if you're not directing it versus if you just tell them you're directing it may be they can be a little, they can feel more comfortable about being hands off. Have you noticed anything like that when you've freelance verses directed?
Allen Laseter: Yeah, I definitely think that's true. I mean if that's what you want, if that's what you want to do and be seen as, you definitely need to make them feel you're a collaborator as opposed to someone they're hiring to execute a task for them. Whether it's true or not, I mean, I do think people look at hiring an animator as I think sometimes clients look at that as hiring someone to execute a task for them as opposed to hiring a director. There's just sort of understood extra responsibility that comes with that and they're expecting you to have a little bit more of a role in conceptualizing and all that stuff. So yeah, I think that's totally part of it.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that makes sense. It's like you're being called in to solve a problem versus you're being called into design and animate something. So let me ask you about this. This is something I was really curious about. I can imagine a scenario where, I don't know, I'll use an ad agency as an example. They could hire a freelancer to come in for two weeks to design and animate a video that they need or they could hire someone for two weeks to come in and direct a video that they need. Do you charge more if you're doing one or the other or is it the same?
Allen Laseter: I honestly, I don't really think of it like that. God, I would hate for anyone to take this as advice that I'm giving because-
Joey Korenman: I could tell how uncomfortable you are.
Allen Laseter: Well, I am totally fine I am talking about it but I definitely, I just have a natural aversion to talking about money and I think a lot of people do.
Joey Korenman: A lot of artists do it's true.
Allen Laseter: But I do. I mean I fully, I wish I wasn't that way. I mean, I completely see the value in every being, everyone being much more open about talking about how they handle money and especially when it's in a creative business like this because so many people want to pretend that the money part of it doesn't exist. I mean, I have been that for most of my career and it's something that I'm trying to be very intentional in changing, where I just constantly repeat this thing, in the past I've constantly repeated this thing where, I just want to focus on the creative, I don't care about the business side. I just want to do my thing, man. And that's, I took this weird, I took it as a badge of honor that I didn't know anything about business for the longest time, which is just all I think about it now. God, this is stupid. It's such a more empowering thing if you can take control of the business aspect of your career.
Allen Laseter: Obviously, I mean to even say that just sounds ridiculous because it's so obvious. But yeah, I definitely have been in that boat for most of my career of just wanting to pretend that that part doesn't exist and you just focus on the work. And maybe in an ideal world that's how it could be. But that's just definitely not how it is.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I also think too, one thing I would say to you too because the stuff you're talking about, you want to make a short film and all of that. And this is for everyone listening too. I mean I'm actually ... It's really great that you're being so honest about your feelings about this Allen, because I haven't heard many artists just come out and say how icky it makes them feel to talk about money. And it's funny, I don't know if you've ever met Joe Donaldson, but he doesn't talk about it exactly the same way, but this is similar thing with him. He wishes everything was free, but you know you want to make a short film. And so if you had, I guess a little more experience on the business side and raised your billings by 30% or something that, that might give you the time to do that short film.
Joey Korenman: So one thing that's always helped me is to decouple money. Think of money as just a currency that's ... It's a stand in for time. That's all it is, right. It's just a store of time. But anyway, sorry I didn't mean to interrupt you. I just wanted to get that out because I suspect a lot of people are nodding their heads right now going, “I feel exactly the same way. You just put it into words.” Yeah. So continue. So, the money thing, is difficult for you, but you're a director now, so how do you approach, giving out a budget or a bid or anything that?
Allen Laseter: Yeah. I don't know, I mean I still pretty much ... That's still something I'm very much trying to learn how to do differently. I've been trying to ask more people lately what do you do? And it's such a weird thing. For me it's been very difficult to learn about this because so many people are kind of like ... I think there's a lot of people who will talk to you about it and a lot of people who have given me great advice. But, I mean I think across the board almost everyone is much less forthcoming with talking about it because it is just such a weird topic. I mean my approach is still pretty much based on time in a similar way as a charge a day rate working with a studio and I don't do that when writing a bid for a project that'd be directing or something.
Allen Laseter: But my bid would still be based on a day rate depending on the client. I might raise the day rate a little bit or to be more willing to go down if it's a particular project or if it's an agency, I'll usually typically charge a little bit more things like that go into account. But I'm still pretty much thinking about it in the same way. And I will say too, that recently I was working as a director on a project and it was really, again, this is such a … It's such a weird thing talking about directing when you're not actually you're not literally directing other people. But I want, recently I did, I was working on a project where I was, I did have animators and designers that I was working with and of directing through the process, even though I was still doing a lot of the animation and the design myself. So it was a hybrid process.
Allen Laseter: That was one of the first times I'd had a bigger responsibility in terms of people that I was actually directing in the process and I charged for that project upfront in the same way that I would have for working for a studio and learned very quickly, “Oh man, this is a completely different animal.” Like when you're already doing all of the work that you have to do. I mean my day was still pretty much filled with animation and design and yet all of a sudden there was this whole other just avalanche of responsibilities of people that I had to check in with pretty regularly and way more stuff on my brain. And again, it wasn't for it ... I mean it definitely wasn't close to the first time where I've approached a project as a director.
Allen Laseter: I've worked on plenty of stuff where all the responsibility, or most of the responsibilities is on my shoulders, where the project is handed off so it means I have to do it. So I guess I just thought it would be the same thing, but man, yeah, it's a completely different animal when you have a team of people checking in with you, and the level of responsibility really just gets ramped up. And I guess that's probably obvious to most people but, it caught me off guard a little bit, so I was in a place where I wished I had, “Man I wish I had quoted this totally differently.” But I mean it all ended up being fine and it was a great learning experience, but that has made me think more for the future like, “Yeah I've got to figure out a different method for this.” Because there is a different worth or value to it I think.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, absolutely man. And what a great lesson to have and hopefully you just learn that lesson once and then you don't make the same mistake. Let me ask you this, how did you find the process, because this is something that the first time I was in a position to direct something and have a team helping me, I found it so difficult to give feedback, especially critical feedback. If something was good, it was easy for me to say, "I like it, make this one little tweak." But when something wasn't working, not necessarily because it was badly designed or badly animated, it just wasn't working, it was really hard for me to tell that artist, “Yeah, it's not working, you got to try again.” How did you find that?
Allen Laseter: You know that part actually isn't really as difficult for me, I mean that is one thing where again a more live action background comes in handy in my experience of making shots in film school and outside of film school ... on the one hand it's a completely different animal but on the other hand, it's still pretty similar in the way that ... with live action particularly when you're doing takes you're giving feedback. I mean different people work in different ways, but if you're working with an actor in a scene, I mean for me it was, you're often giving feedback between every take, and so you have to quickly learn how to give critical feedback in a way that isn't going to be demoralizing or discouraging or whatever to the actor.
Allen Laseter: And so I think there was a pretty easy translation from that, not in terms of the feedback you're giving, but in terms of the tone in which you give the feedback. And I mean I think the tone is everything because I mean I know that I've been on projects where I react completely differently to a director who tells me I'm doing something completely wrong in a way that still feels like ... there's a difference between doing it in a way that is where you're being empowered to correct a mistake, or to look at it in a different way, to do something that's a little bit more in line with the overall vision, in a way that just leaves you feeling like, “God, I'm really sucking at this, I'm failing right now.”.
Allen Laseter: And then you can just get into your head and spiral and you start procrastinating because you feel you're not going to do it right, all that bad stuff. I could be wrong. I mean, I'm not the one to judge, I guess to the people who I've given feedback to would be better judges of it. But I think I have a pretty decent knack at this point for giving critical feedback in a way that is still overall encouraging as opposed to discouraging.
Joey Korenman: That's cool. If anyone listening has been directed by Allen and you disagree, please tweet us at school.
Allen Laseter: That sounds a great idea.
Joey Korenman: I think you nailed it. I'll quote Handel Eugene, he gave this amazing speech at Blend and one of the slides it had something in there about that feeling as a creative like, this is shit versus I am shit. And as a director you want to aim at the first one, it's the work, it's this shot that doesn't work, it's not you aren't working.
Allen Laseter: Sure.
Joey Korenman: So this has been really fascinating for me by the way, this whole director conversation, because this is ... I know that there's a lot of artists out there that had been freelancing for awhile and they're thinking about this and they're all grappling with it the same as you, so it's good to get the stuff out there. I want to circle back to talking about what's changed for you since you've had your daughter, and the animation that you've been doing, I know you do all kinds, but the tedious frame by frame character based really, really detailed illustrative stuff, that is really, really time consuming, and it's also, I think one of those things where you, I'm assuming you get into a flow state and you just want to stay there as long as you can because that's when you're productive.
Joey Korenman: And I found that when I had children and especially when I was working from home, that flow state got broken all the time, it was very hard to not have that issue of context switching. So I'm curious if you could just talk a little bit about, I guess that idea of, has it been harder to achieve the focus necessary with the added responsibility of being a dad?
Allen Laseter: So for me, I honestly think it has been easier to get a focus and maintain a focus because it has set more non-negotiable boundaries I guess in the work and when I can work. I've made much more of an effort this year since becoming a parent to have like, I start working at this time, I end work at this time and that's just how it is. And there are obviously times that come up every now and then where I'm having to work around the clock for longer periods and that's just, you just have to do it what you have to do. But for the most part, I feel like I've been forcing myself to work in a predefined timeframe, and that has been a huge thing to me in actually boosting my productivity I think, whereas before I might've thought that I was going to get way less done.
Allen Laseter: And I will say personal work has definitely had to go by the wayside a little bit, like non-client work has gone by the wayside because I can't just work on that whenever I want to. But for client work, I do feel like I'm much more efficient now because instead of ... what I used to do was I would get eight hours of work done in, whereas now I feel like I'm getting eight hours of work done in eight hours, and I used to get eight hours of work done in 12 to 14 hours, your stressed out ... I had this habit of stretching my work day from as soon as I woke up to right before I went to bed and I was thinking that I was, "Yeah, I'm working long hours and I'm getting all this stuff done, and it's good," and you get high off of that.
Allen Laseter: But realizing there is so much of that time where I was just so distracted and so unproductive, because I think most humans really can only, whether you have kids or not, you can really only be productive for a certain amount of time in the day before you just start to burn out. And I would just stretch that time over a longer period. And now I feel like I'm much more efficient by having a little bit more of a defined schedule that I have to stick to. So I honestly think that's been a pretty big help and that's been very unexpected. I might be oversimplifying it right now, I'm sure there are times where I would argue with myself, obviously it depends on the situation and what's going on at the time. And one thing specifically about having a kid that I have learned big time is that, and maybe it's more this age, I don't know, but it's just constantly changing, you're learning, “Okay I've gotten this down now.” And then a new leap and development comes and then everything changes.
Allen Laseter: And so it's hard to stick with a very specific routine when things that happen. But again, just having a kid is made me define those parameters of this is when I'm going to be working, and so there's a little bit more of a sense of urgency to get things done during this window and that's been a huge help for me overall.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it is counterintuitive, probably three or four years ago now, I've really got serious about being efficient because we found out we were having a third kid and School Motion was starting to grow and I realized I was wasting so much time every day. And if you're listening to this, I mean there is this app you can install, I think it's free, it's called Rescue Time, and it will basically time how long you're on websites, how long your email client is open, how long After Effects is open, and it'll give you a report and you'd be shocked how much time you're spending on YouTube and Instagram and stuff like that. So Allen were there any concrete steps you took other than just being aware that now you only have those eight hours, did you start using a to do list, or did you install apps that blocked the internet, or did you do anything like that to help you be more efficient?
Allen Laseter: Yeah, I use this app called Freedom.
Joey Korenman: I use it too.
Allen Laseter: Do you know about that?
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Allen Laseter: Yeah, okay. Yeah, you can basically set it up to where you have certain block lists so you can put social media sites on one list.
Joey Korenman: It's handy.
Allen Laseter: Yeah, it's great. And what I've been doing lately, I mean I've just in general been trying to ... this is probably a more recent thing in the last few months, just been trying to just dramatically curb my social media time because just realizing so little comes of it in relation to not only the amount of time you spend on it, but the amount that it affects you outside of the time you're spending on it. It's different for everybody, and everybody knows what works for them and what doesn't. But I've found that the more time I spend on Twitter usually the more negative feelings I have in my day to day life. There's just something about it, I just don't jive well with just the constant stream of shouting and arguments and extreme insane, like black and white thinking and stuff. And I don't want to get too into that.
Joey Korenman: Oh yeah, I'll go there with you if you don't do it.
Allen Laseter: I mean we can, yeah. To me it's less about what's being said, even just in the way it's being said. The stuff that people talk about on Twitter, I would be very happy to hear and talk about that stuff in real life, but there's something about just scrolling and there's person after person, after person, after person, after person, after person with their different thoughts and stuff that I just don't think it's good for, it's certainly not good for my brain. And it took me a while to realize that, I think it's probably not great for a lot of peoples brains, but it is so addictive, it just feels so good to just get angry about stuff, it just feels there's something that you want to keep going back to, even though I think it does make you feel bad in the long run.
Allen Laseter: But for me it was hard to come to that conclusion, and I think it's hard for a lot of people, and for a lot of people it just doesn't make them feel that way, it's a way to relax and it works for them, and that's amazing, but for me it doesn't. So anyway, that was a huge tangent, but for using Freedom for that, I'll set my Twitter block list to the max, which was 23 hours and 55 minutes or something, and I'll get on Twitter for five, 10 minutes tops, during a day. And then as soon as I get to the point where something is annoying me, or starting to eat at me, I just click the block list thing, and it's like, "Okay, for the next day, I can't get on this on my computer."
Allen Laseter: And that's better regardless of how Twitter makes you feel I think, especially when you're trying to get work done, that is just such a pointless distraction. I mean it just gets me a little bit worked up thinking about just how crazy it was that I would just allow this distraction to constantly be tempting me while you're trying to get work done. I just don't think that's great for anyone's productivity, and certainly not great for anyone who is trying to get into a rhythm with their work and get into a flow state like you were talking about earlier. And so that's one thing that I've been trying to focus on a lot lately, and yeah, Freedom is a pretty handy tool to deal with that stuff.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I can't tell you how many times I've loaded up Freedom and I'm working and then I'll reach a point where I'm distracted for a second and I'll look over and my hands have opened a web browser and typed in Twitter or Facebook, and the Freedom app puts this screen up, enjoy your freedom, you're not going to look at Twitter now. And it's crazy how much it gets into your head.
Allen Laseter: It's muscle memory.
Joey Korenman: I think there is a lot of people talking about this now and books coming out, and it's kind of an awakening now that this is not good for us. And I wanted to comment about something that you were actually talking about this earlier and I thought it was very interesting. I think a lot of the reason that people spend so much time in our industry on Twitter and Instagram, stuff like that, is there's this FOMO, you don't want to miss out, right?, “Oh, but there was this big announcement, I missed it.” Well, no, you'll hear about it a week later. No, your life won't be different. I was originally trying to see if your style that you hit upon came from boldly trying this style out, and you were saying, well it was mostly ignorance of what other people were doing, this is just what I like to do.
Joey Korenman: And I'm in Nashville and I'm not paying attention to every single thing on Vimeo. And so this is what came out of you and maybe if you had been closely tracking the trends of motion design, you would have just done what everybody else is doing and we wouldn't be having this conversation. I mean the older I get, so I start to feel an old man, get off my lawn, kind of stuff, but I realized that social media it can be quicksand, like if you're in and out, you skip across it and get what you need out of it, it's great, but you spend too much time there, it'll suck you in, it's a dark place. A place of madness. So are there any other things that you've done? I mean, just in terms of scheduling, how do you break up your work days? Is it just sit down in front of the computer, open Photoshop or After Effects and go to town, or do you do, Pomodoros or anything that?
Allen Laseter: I mean it definitely just depends on the project. Lately, I've been trying to have a more specific routine in the morning. I've started waking up a lot earlier because I've found that that's prime time to get stuff done. I used to wake up early sometimes to get work done, but now I'm realizing that's actually a great time to get non-work stuff done before for anybody else in the house has woken up. So I try to have a pretty specific early morning routine where I go out and take a walk or do something physical and try to calm my mind down by doing something like that, and try to have a little bit of a slow but steady morning where things are not stressful, but you're constantly doing something, just getting to that rhythm of, that whole thing of start your day off right, and it can trickle into the rest of the day of a better momentum for sticking on the path that you want to be on.
Allen Laseter: So I try to start my early morning that and when my daughter wakes up, I try to have a certain amount of time to just hang out with her and my wife before she goes to daycare, and try to get the workday started eight o'clock. So from that point, it depends on my wife and I will switch off who takes her to daycare and who picks her up from daycare, so that is a variable that I have to switch from day to day in terms of when I start working, and when I end to working. But ideally I'll go from eight to six or nine to six or eight to five or somewhere in that realm of that blocking off my time in that way.
Allen Laseter: And so that's the constant, and then everything else between there just depends on what project I'm working on. Definitely typically it's starting off, jumping into After Effects and just getting going. One thing I've been trying to is that I really, this is an important part of my early morning routine and how it affects the rest of my day is, I have also in the past just had such an addiction to listening to podcasts and music and stuff like that in the background while I'm doing stuff to the point where I just expect that that's just what I should be doing while I'm working or have a podcast on, have some music on or something. But I've really been trying to build that into my day where I listen to podcasts and stuff while I'm not working.
Allen Laseter: So another thing that I like doing during my work day is I try to work for a two to three hour block at a time and then go on a walk around the neighborhood, depending on the day, two or three times a day, because it's just a great way to get away from the computer and keep moving throughout the day. And also I try to use that as a time, “Well, that's when I can listen to a podcast and take in some other non-work information.” I've found that my tendency is to listen to a podcast while I'm working, I don't really know why I do it, I guess there's a thought that, “Oh, I can make your workday more fun or entertaining or whatever.” But I've found that it's actually way more, it feels way better to have silence and allow yourself to not be distracted and get into more of a rhythm and a flow state.
Allen Laseter: I mean, obviously you should totally listen to School of Motion podcast while you are working I mean obviously. I don't mean to disparage listening to podcasts here, but I guess that's just something I've been thinking about in terms of, I don't know, I guess just appreciating having silence a little bit more while I work. I do that in phases, I don't do that all the time certainly not even close, but I've just found that trying to build things that into my work day, really just allowing there to be nothing, nothing but the work, just doing the one thing, that's made a pretty big difference in again, just being more productive and all that.
Joey Korenman: Check out Allen's work and everything else we mentioned in this episode by going to schoolemotion.com and peeping at the show notes. Is it weird to say peeping at the show notes, sounds sketchy. Maybe don't peep at them so much, just gaze upon them, that's weird too. In any case, thank you for listening and I'll catch yo next time.