School of Motion

Designing with Dogs: A Chat with Alex Pope

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Alumni Alex Pope shares how career changes, rejection, and animals have led her to a rewarding design career.

Have you ever spent a week working on a fart? Alex Pope has.
As Motion Designers, Illustrators, and Graphic Designers we often end up working on projects that can be downright strange. It seems like the journey from aspiring artist to creative professional is one full of really unique experiences and in Alex Pope's case, lots of animals.
Alex is a Brooklyn-based Animator, Illustrator, and Designer who has made a name for herself as an artist. Alex's light-hearted illustration style perfectly reflects her personality, and it's only fitting that she share her journey here on School of Motion. In fact, If you're a regular School of Motion follower you've probably seen Alex's work in our courses, tutorials, and blog.
It hasn't always been smooth-sailing for Alex, but through difficult experiences she has developed an inspiring perspective that is helpful to anyone looking to pursue a creative career.
We're super excited to bring you insights from a fantastic human and School of Motion Alumni. Enjoy.

Hey Alex! Tell us about yourself, how did you become a motion designer?

I've just always been into art.
By senior year of high school I was a part-time student, taking just 4 classes-- 2 of which were art related. For the other half of my school day, I became an intern at a business that sold fine art to office spaces and worked at a girls' art camp on Tuesdays.
It was pretty clear to me that I would be doing something creative with my life, but becoming a Motion Designer was not at all a straight path for me. I loved illustration and while my parents supported me they also told me I needed to make money... the 'starving artist' warning was given to me regularly by teachers and parents. I tried Illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but then enrolled in Game Art + Design at Ringling College of Art + Design. I switched to Computer Animation and switched again to Motion Design before finally graduating. I had finally found a field that I both loved and felt was financially viable.
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Walk cycle Alex created in Computer Animation at the Ringling College of Art and Design

What types of projects are you drawn to?

At this point, I am becoming more particular about the people I will be working with over the project itself. I believe all projects have their benefits and drawbacks. 
However, I am starting to realize how much more I grow personally and professionally by the people I am surrounded by. Additionally, life is so much better when you enjoy your coworker's company while being stuck in a room with them for hours... days... MONTHS on end. 
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You seem to do quite a bit of illustration work. Tell us about that.

Back in my day ... hah! I don't think I'm old enough to start my answer with that phrase.
Growing up in a time before we had a computer at home, art was quite literally the only thing to hold my attention (I tried being a swimmer, diver, ice skater, etc.). In 4th grade my Mom signed me up for art classes with fine artist, Marian Osher that I continued with until I graduated High School. I credit her with giving me a solid foundation in traditional mediums and art principals, which then lead me right into illustration as a career.
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Some pieces Alex created with Marian Osher for her High School Portfolio.

Outside of motion design, what are some things that get you excited in life?

I think this is an important question for everyone to answer. I couldn't answer this immediately after college and ended up becoming pretty depressed for that reason. 
Art had been such a major part of my life that it became the only thing I did, all day every day. I would do it for money at work, then at home on personal projects and also as a form of expression. 
I began to burn out and even resent the thing I had loved so much. On top of it all, when you take your first stumbling steps on your career path, each mistake feels so much worse if you have nothing else to ground you in the grand scheme of life.
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A few of Alex's favorite hobbies: motorcycling, travel, and animals!

What was your favorite project of 2018?

Honestly, I can't even pick because 2018 was a big year for me! These were the most monumental projects: 
1. Company: Cycle, Project: 2018 Winter Olympics  I was living in Atlanta when I was asked to come up to NYC and help cover the Winter Olympics on Snapchat for the country of Sweden. It was such a wonderful team that made working 7 days a week, from 8pm - 4am (matching the South Korean timezone) for a month straight insanely fun. This project had some unique challenges too because it was my first time working in another language! Note: You can view this project here. Use password 'cycle'
2. Company: Cheddar, Project: Snapchat Channel  This was such a huge opportunity for me and solidified my move to NYC-- and I couldn't be more thankful! I established a workflow, file structure, templated designs, etc. while managing another designer, all in my first leadership role. I learned so so much. 
3. Company: Art and Industry, Project: The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj  First, I moved to a new city. Then, I took on my first leadership role and finally this year I took a conscious step in changing my career path. I decided to leave social media (Snapchat specifically), and landed a spot on the Patriot Act. To this day, it is probably the project I am most proud of because it is the kind that "makes a difference in the world" and shares the beliefs I support. 

Your resume says that you volunteer your time. Does this impact your career or art at all?

Yes! wonderfully so -- it has become the thing that grounds me in this world. It de-stresses me and became a serious source of pride and happiness. 
When I turned my apartment into a foster home and was still going into work at an office, it forced me to leave work on time and therefore keep a real work / life balance. Then when I began to work remotely, I was able to take on baby animals which changed my life. Raising anything takes so much work and patience that it makes you feel so accomplished afterwards. 
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A few of the MANY animals Alex has fostered

What has your time freelancing taught you? 

1. Establish Clear Expectations: Especially around: rate, number of revisions, and duration of employment. Preferably in a contract, but at least in an email -- always in writing. This will go a long way in making everyone happy! 
2. ALWAYS be Nice, to Everyone: There are a good number of people I don't particularly like who have gone on and recommended me for jobs so ALWAYS be nice. I mean, I've also totally gone and stuck my foot in my mouth a number of times, but you can apologize for that. You can try to apologize for being a jerk, diva, or snob, but that usually leaves a lasting impression you can't shake off. 
3. You might not be everyone's cup of tea, but you can be someone's shot of whiskey: Going off the previous point in addition to the importance of grounding yourself. I believe this saying to be very true. While you always have to be nice, you don't always have to like everyone. Alternatively, it is equally as important to recognize that not everyone will like you. Early on in my career I was told "Hey, we'd really like to offer you a job, but not everyone likes you here-- sorry."  This... crushed... me.  A few years later, I've accepted this and as a result refined my workplace decorum. It was a tough lesson, but one I needed to learn and it has ultimately bettered my career. 
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What's a major up and down in freelance work?

Working in Office: 
  • Up: You get paid significantly more and there are no limits on vacation time! My first year of freelancing I made $10k more than the previous year as a full time employee AND visited Las Vegas / the Grand Canyon, Iceland and Ireland. 
  • Down: You have to be good at what you do: People won't hire you and invest their time and money in making you better, they just called you in to get a job done, done well, and delivered on [usually crunch] time. If you mess up the first time, there is a good chance you won't be called back. Once you build up a rapport with a client that could change, but isn't typically the case. 
Working from Home: 
  • Up: You can choose your own adventure! But it is your daily life which is even better -- and a rare luxury to most people. 
  • Down: If you don't plan your daily life... All of a sudden the work week passes without you ever leaving the house. You begin to smell terrible smells, and realize with horror that it is coming from yourself. Then, you ask that cat if they smell it too and realize you are losing your mind and need to get out of the house and talk with non-animals. 
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I need to go outside!

Do you try and choose motion design and illustrative work that portray your values?

Eh... There was one job where I animated a fart for a week straight and afterwards thought to myself "what does my life meeaaaan?" From then on I tried to find 'meaningful' projects, but now looking back I realize just how much fun I had and how much I learned by animating that toot. Like I said before, I think most projects will teach you something, whether you know it or can even appreciate it at that moment -- or not. 
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The infamous fart project.

How would you define your work? Certainly illustration heavy, but to be honest, I'm not sure!

I am always excited to try new techniques and jump at any opportunity to do so. Every project I've worked on has been on a different canvas and in a different style so it is especially hard to pin down. Plus, I don't really have a desire to pin it down now anyways. 

Do you have any inspiration sources?

I love collecting illustrated novels! In this age of social media and content overload, I see lots of pretty stuff, but don't remember who it's by or why they did it. The way things stick with me is when I understand the big idea behind it. These are some favorite artists of mine: 
  • Camille Rose Garcia: I first read about her in 'Juxtapoz' and she described her inspiration as "dark / dystopia Disney." That description really stood out to me, and her illustrated version of Snow White is stunning. 
  • Michael Sieben: A skateboarding friend of mine turned me on to this guy and I loved his illustrated version of the Wizard of Oz. His quirky, kinda twisted subject matter resonates with me and the detail of his line work is amazing. 
  • Bee Grandetti: The queen bee of Motion Design! She is such a talented designer, illustrator, animator, and world traveler on top of it all! I especially enjoy her work because it has that hand drawn feeling I love, but with a sort of finesse that I truly admire. 

What current art styles are you drawn to currently? What seems to be captivating your attention?

I sincerely love all styles. To me, the most important thing is when the medium and message truly align to make something that sticks with me long after I've stopped looking at it. 
At the bottom of my heart though, I do particularly love strong line work and colors. Pen or ink over messy, bold colors is always attractive to me. Anything hand drawn or imperfect has more soul to it that I tend to appreciate more.

How did your time in School of Motion courses impacted your motion design style?

Honestly, I signed up for Design Bootcamp in order to provide a structure that would make me create more work without expecting to get so much out of it... and was completely blown away! 
The opposite ended up happening: I was trying to balance work and the class at the same time, so I didn't end up making as much as I wanted too. But I listened, watched and read all the material and ended up learning a ton! There was a number of techniques I picked up that totally leveled up my work.  

Do you have any advice for someone going through our courses?

If you are going to invest your money, truly invest your time and attention. I wish I had taken off work and fully committed to the class. This is a big lesson I've been in the process of learning though. Personally, I believe it is better to do one thing really well, than trying to do many things at an average to possibly poor level. 

How can people see more of your work?

I created many of the character designs and props used in the character courses at School of Motion, in addition to my other design work-- it is always an honor to work with the School of Motion team! 
You can actually watch Patriot Act on Netflix right now! Here's an Easter egg for ya'll to find: I actually worked my cat into one of the backgrounds! 
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Additionally, I am in the process of revamping my website (axpope.com) to show way more of my work, including more things I've done for School of Motion.  
Also, a goal of mine for the coming year is to get into the habit of posting regularly to Instagram and Dribble. So follow me now for upcoming goodness! 

Check Out Design Bootcamp

Are you ready to get serious about your design skills for motion graphics? Check out Design Bootcamp here at School of Motion. Just like Alex, you'll learn some hardcore design knowledge that you can use in your daily motion design work from Mike Fredrick. Along the way you'll get real-world projects and critiques from professional designers.