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From Animating to Directing Animators with MOWE Studio Owner and SOM Alum Felippe Silveira
MOWE Studio Owner, Motion Designer and Character Animation Bootcamp Grad Felippe Silveira Shares His Top Tips on Making it in the MoGraph Industry
By the time Felippe enrolled in his first School of Motion course, he was already actively pursuing his motion design dream, armed with a bachelor's in digital design and a master's in motion. What he found in Character Animation Bootcamp was the niche educational opportunity he had been seeking: "a course designed for people who are already working in the industry and have good knowledge of the tools and concepts," but need to "add another level of skill" to their work.
After graduating from SOM's character-centric continuing education course, Felippe was off and running — and what started as a parkour-related hobby (believe it or not) was now a life-altering opportunity.
MOWE has worked with Adobe, Google, Geico, Visa, Pepsico and Pfizer, among other brands looking to "resonate" with their audience. Not bad!
In this interview, we speak to Felippe about how he runs his business, how he finds and charges clients, who he hires (and doesn't), the keys to success as a motion designer and studio owner, the value in failing, what inspires him, and why "you can never get too much education."
An Interview with Felippe Silveira
1. Hey, Felippe. Thanks for joining us. Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself? Please include your childhood experiences, family life and early education, and how they might play a role in what you’ve become.
Hi, it's a pleasure. I was born in Niterói, Brazil, next to world-famous Rio de Janeiro. During my childhood, my parents always supported whenever they could, and I was into computers and video games since age 4. My parents knew I was going to work in front of a computer, but they just didn't know how... and, as of today, I'm still not sure they understand what I do.
As a teenager, I took some courses in Photoshop, web design, Macromedia Flash, and even 3D Max. At the same time, I started practicing parkour, which was emerging in Brazil around 2006.
I became heavily involved, helping to organize national events and traveling the country with my parkour friends. A big part of parkour in the late 2000s was sharing new movements and training spots with the community, and the best way to do that was by sharing videos on YouTube. That's how I started editing videos.
I started making parkour videos on Windows Movie Maker, and later added intros I created with 3D Max. Then, I began editing in Premiere and exploring After Effects as a way to enhance my parkour videos. For one of my favorites, I played in After Effects with Twixtor, trying to achieve a slow-motion effect, and added text with tracking.
Nowadays, of course, I see a lot of flaws in this project, but it was very special to me at the time.
2. Interesting. You never know how someone is going to make their way into motion design. This is a first for parkour, but it makes total sense... So, what happened next? Did you go to art school?
I did. I studied digital design, doing a little bit of everything to understand what I liked and what I didn't. It was at university that I had the pleasure of taking a course in traditional animation with one of the greatest Brazilian animators of all time.
During the summer before my senior year, I was consuming more and more on Vimeo and became fascinated with projection mapping projects. This is how I decided on my graduation project.
I spent the entire year learning this skill so I could create something my professors had never seen before; it was the first time anyone had worked on this type of project at this university, so there was no one experienced enough to teach me.
The project turned out to be a great success, and I decided this whole 'animation thing' was what I was born to do.
After graduation, I went to Barcelona and enrolled in a master's program in motion design and 3D motion at BAU Design College of Barcelona. I discovered a new world that wasn't technical, or strictly about learning After Effects and Cinema 4D; I found myself with a new perspective on how to think about animation.
Ever since, everything I've done in life has revolved around animation.
For one, I created a music video that involved mixing design, animation, and a lot of compositing.
3. So, with that extensive background, how and why did you end up a student of School of Motion?
By the time I enrolled in my first SOM course — Character Animation Bootcamp — I already had a bachelor's degree in digital design and a master's degree in motion, and had completed extension courses in animation, worked as a freelancer, and opened my own studio; however, I've always believed you can never get too much education. I’m always looking for the next thing to learn.
What I was missing was a course designed for people who are already working in the industry and have good knowledge of the tools and concepts. When I learned of Character Animation Bootcamp, I knew it was the kind of niche course I needed to add another level of skill to my work.
4. What was your experience like?
Back in 2016, one year after I opened my studio, I wanted to dedicate more time toward animating characters. After seeing the trailer for the Character Animation Bootcamp course and learning more about SOM and the other courses it offers, I was convinced it was the best move to make.
I was already doing some character animation, but in Character Animation Bootcamp I learned things I'd never noticed before about how to make my animation even better.
The feedback from the Teaching Assistants was a big plus for me in terms of not only getting a better understanding of what I could do better but also where experienced people put their eyes while reviewing or directing other motion designers.
After taking the course, I knew character animation was something I wanted to do more, and it's now a core aspect of the work we do at MOWE.
5. That's great! How and why did you decide to take another SOM course? Which one was it?
One of the things that impressed me the most while taking Character Animation Bootcamp was the rigging of characters, and I wanted badly to understand more. Once I saw the announcement about Rigging Academy, my next course was a no-brainer for me.
6. What was your experience in this second course, and how did it impact you moving forward?
By the time I enrolled in Rigging Academy, I was already near transitioning from being the animator to being the director and business development person at my studio.
The knowledge I gained from this course was terrific, not only as it would apply to my own projects but also to help me guide and direct freelancers who are working with us.
I was able to apply the fantastic knowledge of Morgan Williams immediately.
7. Can you share some client projects that reflect what you've learned at SOM?
This project we did for Google Apigee was a very special project, and one of the last projects I helped to animate. We had about three weeks to develop three minutes of animation, including storyboard, additional illustrations, voice over, directing... and all without a fixed team yet.
It was a great challenge and learning experience, balancing directing and hands-on work.
I'm also proud of the work we're producing for iluli. For this series, we are releasing five-minute videos every month, including storyboarding, illustration, After Effects animation, cel animation, and sound design direction.
These educational videos have a different pace than most ad videos people usually see in our industry, and it's very sensitive in terms of using the design and animation to help facilitate the knowledge and reflections our client wants his audience to have.
8. What about personal passion projects?
Can’t Beat Me is a very special project for me, and for MOWE. It was our first short movie, something Raff and I had wanted to produce since founding our studio. We'd been looking for the right people and the right time, but the main reason we made it was because of its idea.
Can’t Beat Me is not a passion project to show off mad skills in animation, it’s a project to bring reflection and discussion. The challenge for us was how to connect such a powerful topic in a storyline that is different from everything we’ve done before — from ads to explainer videos.
We believe what we created connects the viewer with our protagonist and builds the atmosphere we were looking for.
9. Yeah, it's a great work. So, when and how did you transfer from motion designer to business owner?
It happened sooner than expected. When I was freelancing, based in Brazil and working on projects from all over the world, a friend of mine came to talk to me, looking for some advice on freelancing and landing projects. During our talk, it became clear that we were both unhappy with the way many studios and agencies treat their employees and freelancers, especially in the creative field in Brazil. We were saying things like, “If I have my own thing, I will do things differently.”
Then, suddenly, it occurred to us: “We should open our studio” — and, just like that, we started on that journey.
In the beginning, MOWE was just Raff and me; for a long time, I was not only a business owner but also a motion designer. The real 'transfer' came not so long ago, when we noticed that to grow better we needed external help.
Slowly, I began migrating from animator to director of animators and, later, to using my creativity to develop MOWE as a studio, building this team of amazingly creative people I have today working with me.
10. What are the mission and key services of your company, and what differentiates you from your competition locally and abroad?
Technically speaking, MOWE focuses on 2D animation and motion graphics, with a strong presence of characters.
Together with that, we always love to be involved during the script phase, as Raff and I both believe an animation starts during this phase.
Part of what differentiates us is our structure. MOWE started in Brazil, extended its operation to the United States and is now also in Europe. We also have a remote team spread around at least four different countries.
We see that by combining different world experiences we can touch people with our work using a universal language.
In the end, we work together to explore the different emotions we can bring to our projects.
Being able to create pieces that resonate with people is what inspires us.
11. Indeed, that's what really matters in the end. As a studio owner, what attracts you most in a potential hire?
I usually say there are two kinds of professionals: task-doers; and problem-solvers.
Some very talented people are task-doers — we give them a task, and they complete it, amazingly. However, with this kind of professional, whenever we face a problem or barrier in our project, they have difficulty providing solutions. Also, if we say something, they'll do it, but if we don’t, they won’t take initiative.
With problem-solvers, the experience is different. When we give a direction, they are open to it, as well as presenting something they visualize that might be better. This is great. As studio owners and directors, we're not always right. If a contractor or employee offers a different solution, we are always open to considering, and sometimes it’s a lot better than what we thought of initially.
At MOWE, we're looking for people who not only receive a task and execute, but contribute creatively to our projects — those who see the bigger picture, and identify new directions.
Typically, we find this among people who explore more, who have passion projects, and who are continually learning and testing.
12. Thank you. That's a great breakdown, and it should be helpful to those looking to land a role with a successful studio like MOWE. As a studio owner, how do you manage your time across business duties, creative production, and personal life and family?
I believe the whole concept of work-life balance is bullshit.
As work is part of our lives, it doesn’t need to be treated differently. When working in a remote environment, it's easy to find yourself going deep into your work for the whole day, or the opposite — being there, present, but procrastinating a significant part of the day.
What I see is that this balance depends on what’s essential to you in your life. Some people focus on making more money, others in expressing themselves artistically; some people have many hobbies they like to pursue, while for others having time for family is everything that matters.
I’d say that, better than aiming for balance, do what fulfills you. Live a full life from the beginning.
For me, my job is something that fulfills me; however, I know that to be able to do my best I need to be at my best. So, I take personal life pretty seriously as well. I go for a workout, run, or just walk by the beach every day as a way to not only maintain my good health but also give space to my brain, so I can use that space in my business duties and creative production.
In terms of family, I’m glad to have a wife that is as hard-working as I am. She understands when I need to commit some extra hours, or when I want to work during the weekend to try this new idea I have.
Having someone who cares about you and has the same mindset is vital.
13. Well said! Are you, either as a company or individual, working on anything currently that you'd like to share?
We are working on some cool projects at the moment, but I’m afraid I can only share some still images of a couple of them.
What’s cool about these two is how they differ visually from each other. One has many references from the Japanese animation style, while the other is centered on design and composition.
Both of these style frames were created by our amazing illustrator Mayumi Takahashi.
14. Those are awesome! Can't wait to see the finished products. How do you get client work, like these projects? Do you mostly respond to RFP requests, do you target, approach and pitch to particular companies, or do clients typically reach out to you directly?
Client work should never come from a single source.
One of the biggest mistakes we do as creative people is think that just putting our work on social media will attract new clients.
What I learned through the years is that we should touch all areas possible to get client work. You should have some inbound work, coming from people who found you somewhere; some referrals; and some outbound work, when you actually go and pursue opportunities.
We've had a lot of direct client work in the past, but recently we've been looking to partner with more agencies to help push MOWE’s work even further... of course, without losing our relationships with our clients, and while keeping the momentum by sharing our work.
15. That makes sense. How do you charge clients? By hour? By project?
Is anyone still charging by the hour?...
Anyway, my answer is none of those. I could say we charge by the project, but in the end we charge by the client.
Our work as motion designers is not only to fulfill some technical request, like creating 'a one-minute explainer video with a flat design aesthetic' — it’s about helping our clients succeed, based on their vision of success.
Of course, you should always have a clear picture of what the production and direct costs of a project will be, but I guarantee you that most of the clients don’t care how many hours you're putting into the work. The results you bring them is what matters.
There's a lot of math and understanding of value that goes into being able to price projects appropriately, but if you charge your clients with the best intentions to solve your client’s problem, and do so, no price you charge will be considered too expensive.
16. Interesting. Just so we're clear, yes, some do still charge by the hour; but, your thought process makes a lot of sense. What do you believe is the most important thing to consider when working on a client project?
While we are in a creative industry, none of our clients are going to pay us to do something that is simply 'beautiful.'
We're not selling paintings; we are designers. And the core of every design project is to solve a problem.
Always be aware of the goals of your client and the problem they want to solve, and in every creative decision you make be sure sure you're aligning it with what's best for your client.
17. That's great advice, thank you! Speaking of advice, can you offer any gems for the aspiring motion designers out there?
Forget about making money in the beginning. Many people try to pursue money way too early and forget to train and sharpen their skills.
Also, make an effort to learn, understand, and consume design. Even though movement is our focus, a great design makes the difference in our animations.
And, lastly, don’t worry about making mistakes. We do it all the time. The difference is that we become better at hiding it.
Making mistakes is a way of learning. If you’re getting everything right, you’re not growing. Look at every obstacle as a way to reflect and try to understand what you could do better every time — and please, please, please don’t beat yourself up too hard about not being able to do the amazing animations you see from those designers and studios that inspire you.
Sometimes we feel we will never be as good as they are, but remember two things:
- Studios usually have a bunch of people working on just a single project. None of them, as experienced as they are, would be able to do it all by themselves.
- Everyone’s reality is different. Some people have been working for more than 15 to 20 years, while some of the new generation, with fewer years working, have been in touch with the motion design world since they were a kid.
Instead of feeling bad watching a recent animation of one of your idols, reflect on how much time, effort and experience they put in to be in the place they are now.
18. Beautiful. On that note, do you have a favorite designer or studio?
I can throw out many names here — from studios to designers and animators that I’d love to hire someday — but I’d say, at the moment, my favorite studio is State.
It's not only because of the work they put out, but also because of the person running it. I appreciate the way Marcel Ziul conducts his business, and I learned a lot from him in the few moments we got to sit down and talk.
We usually put so much value in the creative people upfront that we forget the people behind, putting the best creatives together, and making all that possible.
So I’d like to give a big shout out to Marcel — another Brazilian taking over the world — and State for being a reference and inspiration on what I do.
19. Anything or anyone else that/who motivates you?
It’s a tricky question. Motivation is good, but we shouldn’t think of motivation as what triggers our work. Instead, showing up to work and putting in the work is what ignites motivation.
My inspiration usually comes from people. I like meeting new people and getting to know about them. Everyone has a story to tell, and the more we know about people and the world, the more we can create stories that touch them.
20. Motion design meetups are great opportunities to meet new people, or at least more motion designers! Do you attend any meetups?
You can easily find me at OFFF in Barcelona every year.
I’m also helping to produce Anymotion, an amazing motion design festival that happens every year in São Paulo. It has been growing a lot in the last few years, with people from all Latin America attending.
I invite all my motion friends up north to take a look at the motion design scene outside the traditional countries. You’re going to surprise yourself with the number of creative talents out there.
21. So true. Are there any online platforms you check regularly?
I used to go to Dribble and Vimeo every day. Nowadays, I’m not sure who is still hanging out there.
Right now I keep my eyes on Instagram, not only because it’s fast to check and consume, but also because it's become an easy way to get in touch with people who inspire us and connect with the fantastic folks in our industry.
22. Interesting to hear. Yes, Instagram is definitely more expansive, and a great way to connect with people through private messaging and commenting. But, you might not want to give up on Vimeo yet — it's still the third most popular platform in the industry... So, what else do you do to stay fresh and relevant?
One of the biggest fears of every creative person is to lose their motivation.
I believe that the moment you stop enjoying the process and worry only about delivering projects, you start to lose part of your creative soul.
The way to stay fresh and relevant is to fail — a lot. Try new things, experiment with new stuff, even without experience in that area. Don't worry about what's 'trendy' at the moment. Learn to appreciate the new, and weird. This is how you start to reinvent who you are and stay fresh.
23. Indeed, trendy is just that — a trend... and trend's fade, right? What about continuing education? You've mentioned this a few times in our conversation. Do you or your staff take continuing education courses on an ongoing basis? Do you watch tutorials? If so, what/who would you recommend?
I’m always studying something — if not a specific course, it's a podcast or a book.
24. Yes, everyone should check those out... As for courses, do you plan on taking any more from SOM?
For me, at the moment I’m not sure there are any SOM courses directed more toward people running studios... But I’m always keeping an eye on what SOM is doing, so we can put our team on to take your courses.
25. That's what we like to hear! And, don't fret, we'll have a course for studio heads soon, promise!... Lastly, as someone who does run a studio, what advice would you give to someone aspiring to in your shoes?
- You’re going to lose money — a lot of money — before you start making it.
- There is no rule book on how to run a studio, so you’ll need to learn and adapt as you go.
- Reflect on how clients get to you and how you can get to your clients, and always look to be improving.
- Give huge importance and value to the people working with you. They are the ones helping you push your vision forward.
- Remember, you’re not only responsible for yourself anymore, but for all the lives of people working below you. Inspire them to do their best work, and the reward comes.
- Don’t look at other studios as competitors, but as a different perspective on how to live in this animation world. Be their friends and take care of each other. We are all in this together, and only we can help make the industry become a better place for everyone.
- Respect your peers, respect your team, and respect your clients.
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