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SOM Teaching Assistant Van Velvet Shares Insights and Her Journey as Artist
Art reflects the struggles of the artist and shares their story with the world. School of Motion Teaching Assistant Van Velvet takes us through the ups and downs of her emotional journey navigating the industry.
Motion design is a unique industry, breaking down traditional borders to open up for everyone. Yet even with a fairly level playing field, an artist's path can be fraught with with incredible hardships.
Van Velvet shares her personal journey as a motion designer and cinema enthusiast, riddled with unique life-altering peaks and valleys all along the way. Van's persistence and passion is absolutely stunning and—we believe—highly encouraging.
From Buenos Aires to Barcelona, Van walks us through her time studying cinema: Time spent launching an animated series for children, creating an 8mm film, and plenty of inspirational insight surrounding personal projects she's completed.
Get ready for office hours with School of Motion Teaching Assistant Van Velvet!
Background & Education
Tell us about yourself!
I grew up at the end of the world. A wild, inspiring, bohemian, and controversial city called Buenos Aires. In that place, if you want something, you need to be a Lion. You need to fight for everything, literally. It’s not like you study, get a job, and so on.
Nothing like that.
You don’t know what is going to happen next week. If you’ll be able to pay for your studies tomorrow, if a stroke will collapse the city, or if you’ll be back in one piece when you come home late at night.
Artists and women are seen as weak and lazy. It’s getting better nowadays, yes. But still, it’s a tough world.
Right after grade school, I started studying Cinema at a university with the goal of becoming a Film Director, and I enjoyed every single second. I was the first one waiting at the door, ready to get into my class.
In my class, there were just a few girls, the others were men. It has been like this all the way until a few years ago. So, I am really happy to see more women around these careers!
I loved the idea of a career that allows me to create from my ideas, not just by my hands but by being a team player. By creating a unique force that just a team is able to generate. A career where you are an artist, a technician, and a leader pursuing your vision.
But life played me a dark card. I had a life, and the next day, it was like someone took my stage out from under my feet and I started to fall.
My parents died. My mother first, and two years after that, my father died. My life entered in a pause; my strength wasn’t there anymore.
So, I started out as an Editor. Editing was an easy path for me. Being an Editor, was like being the co-pilot of a Director. And I had this kind of Director’s mindset, so I kept myself quiet in the dark: a chair, a computer and a few people around.
And that saved my life.
How did you become a motion designer?
One year after my father died, I packed my things and moved to Barcelona hoping for a better life. It wasn’t easy at all.
Barcelona was, indeed, a really kind and nice place to live. It’s a world where you can be a person. You can dress as you wish and no one cares. You can be who you are, and you have civil rights. Plus you are not fearing for your life when walking back home at night.
I’d grieved, and hid, and cried for 10 years. And then, I said "Enough!" I learned the basics of After Effects on my own and got myself a job as an intern in a small studio in Barcelona.
In a month, I moved from being an intern to be a full-time Editor who could do some After Effects.
The studio was like having a family again. We thought better of spending time trying to get new leads/clients. Instead, we wanted to come up with an idea for an animated TV series for kids and started to look for funding.
We did it! We got the funding! We produced the first season—24 episodes—of the Dr.W series.
For the project, I was a full-time Compositor, Motion Designer, and an Editor. I didn’t know that at that time. I was just doing what needed to be done on the post-production side of that project.
I've worked many late hours learning about compositing, making a lot of VFX, animating little things here and there, and creating titles and transitions.
That experience took the place of school. But I didn’t really know the fundamentals of anything.
We kept going, we produced a 2nd season with 52 episodes, and I had a little team of 2 for that one! Then, we went for more.
I co-directed, together with Martin Guido and Alex López, a series called The Flying Squirrels.
That was really big for us.
It was a co-production with channel Arte France and RAI Italy. We split the project into three different parts. We shared director tasks, and each one of us was in charge of one part of the production. Mine was the Post-Production.
We had a bigger team of compositors with a lot of rendering to take care of! There were a lot of production sheets to keep track of every single shot.
Those years were very intense. I learned a lot, but not necessarily in the best of circumstances. The production was kind of big, but the budgets were low.
That brought about a lot of stress, hard work, and poor results. I didn’t want that anymore.
One day, waiting for the metro on my way to the studio, I received an email from Joey Korenman, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Want to level up your skills and become a better Motion Designer? Learn animation for Motion Designers.
I got into the first Animation Bootcamp class...And that, definitively, changed my life.
People started to notice my work! And not only did my work change, but I started to change as well. I had a new kind of mindset towards establishing working relationships, learning to see animation, and critique the work.
That was another level of learning during the course.
This is the opening title sequence for The Flying Squirrels series. This was created just after I finished Animation Bootcamp.
I learned how to design and how to work with clients. It was the type of work I wanted to do.
At about the same time, I studied compositing for VFX at Escape Studios (for the same reasons I wanted to learn design and animation) and I started to realize I didn’t want to be a Compositor. After that, I jumped into the first class of the Mograph Mentor program.
Being a Motion Designer became the perfect career for me. I realized I could be everything I wanted—mixing Cinema, Photography, Animation, Design, Compositing, Lighting, Painting and much more—just by calling myself a Motion Designer. On top of it all, I could work alone or with teams.
I just needed to say it: "I’m a Motion Designer."
After 9 years, I left the studio and became a freelancer. And with perfect timing, School of Motion released the Freelance U webinar, which eventually became a book, The Freelance Manifesto.
From that moment, I knew I wasn’t alone in this world. In a world of remote work, I've gained friends that I might get to know one day in person, and collaborated in awesome projects like Please Rise of Jordan Bergren.
What have you learned from doing personal projects?
Oh! Personal projects!! I have so many of those waiting to be done!
For Class 1 at MoGraph Mentor, I made a final project called Iron Fists.
The idea was to build something in between a title sequence and video poetry.
I believe personal projects are so important to develop our inner voice as Artists. Shooting, compositing, and design were involved to create that project.
Now, when I look back, I would say that project helped me to establish how I wanted to build up my career. A motion designer that's capable of combining film, compositing, and design.
I made this storyboard out of compositing photography and stills from footage using Photoshop.
I’m not quite happy with the graphics on it. But I do like the overall idea of creating something between poetry and a title sequence.
Here's the full project of Iron Fists if you'd like to check it out! I feel I could take it much further and create compelling designs that fit better with the story, but deadlines exist.
What has been your favorite personal project so far?
So far, Dahlia!
This is an opening title sequence for a TV series project. I worked to combine photography, ink, textures, painting, and darkness to create the evil feeling and obscure atmosphere that evokes Dahlia’s story.
Do you have any thoughts you would like to share about personal growth? Any mindsets that help keep you motivated?
Oh yes, there is one thought that keeps me motivated.
When my mother died, my father entered my room while I was crying. I looked at him and asked... "Papa, what are we going to do?" And, with a broken voice he said "We keep going..."
If everything is not where you want or what you’ve been expecting, you keep going.
If someone doesn’t like your work, show it to someone else! If someone discourages you from moving forward with a project, don’t mind that comment, take what you think is positive to improve your work, and keep going.
Take the best of whatever is in your way, and create something new.
It could be anything from a sentence, an animated GIF, a short-film, a painting, a photograph taken with your phone, to a big project. Take the adversity and use it as a transformation tool.
What are you learning right now?
I’m trying to get better with expressions and the overall workflow of using those on projects. And I’m revisiting all the Screen Grammar, film language, film techniques, and storytelling that I’ve learned during my career (a long time ago) for a personal project I’m slowly working on.
I want to give back something meaningful to the Motion Design community. That’s why I’ve started to work on this idea of blending the Principles of Design with Screen Grammar, Film Language, and Storytelling concepts.
Creativity and Career
What has been your favorite client project so far?
She is a music video where I worked with flowing ink over water paintings on paper.
It is a mix of ink painting and a bit of overlay illustration on the paper textures. It was such a good experience!
Jake Bartlett passed my contact to the band, The Pink Dust. They sent me the song and I immediately fell in love with it. A lot of ideas popped up in my mind. They were open to hear those ideas. So I sent them three proposals!
For the three different proposals, I made some tests to explore the technique and possibilities.
Those tests allowed me to create the Styleframes to give them a sense of what I was aiming for here.
A while before that project, I had a talked with Joel Pilger about how to move from being a freelancer into a small studio, and how to charge for the value of my work instead of days or hourly rates. His words remain printed in my brain since then. And with this project, even though it was kind of small, I could start giving those words a real meaning.
I understood that in both proposals and budget, you can give options, but behind the scenes you are just pointing them to choose the one you want. And it worked!
I really wanted to try the technique of painting with water and fill up those paints with ink drops. Shoot close-ups over paper textures, and create a subtle flow with colors.
I’ve also learned that with more money I could get the killer team I needed for what I was aiming here. Instead, I went with a guerrilla team and a lot of compositing. This is the final result:
Here just a tiny look at a behind the scenes for the Pink Dust "She" project!
KILLER WEEKEND Project
This was a small project that just involved me and my computer.
There was a lot of creative freedom and I really enjoyed designing and animating this sequence. Cel animation was a major part of this project and I learned a lot in the process.
At the very beginning, my baby suddenly became very ill, and the deadline was hard set. I thought I wasn’t able to make anything at all; cel animation takes up a lot of time!
So, I decided to be very honest with them.
They gave me a little extra time but asked me to deliver a preview to see if we were on the right track. I managed to do it in record time, and they were really happy with the results! Once that preview was knocked out, they gave a bit of extra time, which allowed me to handle both my little baby and the project.
I made three proposals for the project. I was super happy that they ultimately chose the one I was expecting them to choose.
They asked me to focus on the comedy side of the film rather than in the zombie one. The film takes place at a Paintball camp so the final proposal was focused on working with inks flowing, exploding and splashing, combined with “kind of” cell animation that leads the sequence forward, and spice it up with war elements to enhance the battle idea.
I sent them the titles and you can see below how the end result turned out!
What are some of your career goals?
I would love to team up with some talented artist or studios that I admire, that are my heroes. But I don’t want to go in-house anywhere.
I don’t believe in bosses-employees, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday life. I believe in teams and I believe in work. I believe in partnering up or teaming up to create something together.
I believe in working with someone and not for someone. Everyone has a role, of course, for the well-being of the project. But hierarchy is just to place pieces in the best spots and create a machine that produces the project.
Here's some work that Raoul Marx worked on for West World:
I want to continue working remote, traveling a bit if necessary, and create my own small remote studio capable of putting together killer teams for every particular project.
My career dream is to be able to put together the best teams possible for each project. And, to continue developing projects like title sequences, motion design for broadcast, film and digital, idents, music videos, and explainer videos in a visual essay fashion.
Projects involving shooting with a design-driven thought process, motion design sequences, blending techniques from cell animation to VFX and analog or experimental techniques. I want to be able to constantly work on personal projects or explorations that lead us to paid projects. I want to create projects with a cinematic flair built with design-driven thinking first.
Do you create work outside of motion-design?
Yes! Chris Do once told me that I’m a "multidisciplinary artist." I don’t love that term, but it is kind of true.
I’m a Director/ VFX Compositor/Motion Designer that loves to mix techniques to create worlds, atmospheres, styles. I believe each story has its own needs. So, I don’t want to stick to one area or technique. I want to follow along with the story and create the visual representation that best fits what the story is.
If it is just something produced within a computer, it’s cool, but it can be so many other things (photography, film, video, stop-motion, small set designs, etc and/or a combination of many of those)!
A while ago, I made an experimental (narrative) TV series of short episodes. It was all shot in Super8, Black & White.
The Super8 format seemed to be the right choice at that time to create a dark and suffocating atmosphere and underpin the idea that the story was happening around 1949 in an Industrial area of Catalunya, Spain. Here you can see the trailer.
I love analog formats. And for the titles, I wanted to create something that wasn't 100% digital. I made a cutout of the name and shot it in Super8 with a white BG in the back. Then I composited a scene we made for the titles.
It’s a scene where the protagonist wakes up, dresses for work, and leaves the scene. Like the everyday routine.
That was an amazing experience for me.
We shot almost everything in an industrial area of Catalunya, Spain. We got a little house and we all moved there during the winter for the shooting. It was so cold!
We were a small team but it felt kind of big sometimes. I’ve learned so much doing that project. It was a personal project I could get financial support to do without having to sell any part of my soul! It was low budget but we had enough to create the 12 + 1 episodes, 6min long each.
I wanted to work with light and shadows, close-ups, off-camera elements/ situations and sound design. I wanted to embrace the limitations of the format like “not having direct sound” And just shooting some of the scenes at 24fps while the other ones were at 18fps (typical for Super8 cameras)
We had so many problems during the shoot (things that are much easier to sort out when you have better budgets!): the 1st camera wasn’t working well (we finally changed it), we added a filter to a lens and some of the shots came out blurry, the next camera fell, but it seemed to be ok until we discovered one of the zoom lenses had broken (many shots have weird framing). But we just keep going. We took in all those defects and made it part of our own experimental narrative.
What was your favorite SOM Course? Did it help your career?
My favorite course was Design Bootcamp! Such an amazing time! Do you know when time just flies? That was Design Bootcamp for me! Every assignment was perfect. It was exactly what I needed at that time.
Design focused on Motion Design and learning how to deal with briefs, clients, how to create a proposal, etc. There was a before and after taking Design Bootcamp for me, for my career. From that moment, I felt confident when presenting proposals. And the clients were saying yes!
So… Thanks, Design Bootcamp!
Are you still taking new courses with School of Motion?
I haven’t finished it yet, but this is what I was looking for to improve my workflow. It changes the way you think about the project, the approach to the overall system you can create to contain your work, to help your art flow, to animate, to follow along with the story.
What advice would you give people starting out in motion design?
Learn the craft: Animation · Design · Film Language · Storytelling; they give you vision, context, and confidence.
I wouldn’t go to a 5 year university for being a motion designer.
Instead, you can take bootcamps that teach exactly what you need to know or level up your skills, and some other courses or programs that offer you a mentor or teaching assistant or someone to guide you through the work and learning.
Having someone on the other side really helps when learning, expanding your learning/ interest horizons.
Painting, Sculpture, Cinema, Installation, Technology, Science, Physics; there are so many sources of inspiration.
Working with references is super helpful, but don’t rely only on Pinterest or similar resources. Take your camera with you, take pictures, let the world inspire you, pick frames from films, travel, look for details around you. Then you can collect your references and create your own resources folder.
Have an opinion. Speak up. Offer creative solutions to your client/project problems. I think it's super valuable when you work with people that are a team to you, with you. When they work together with you and not “for you”.
Work hard, but don’t forget to value your time properly. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out. Your time is valuable!
Collaborate with others! This will help make friends and you'll start to have opportunities, all while you are doing something you love.
Time as a TA
How has being a TA at SOM helped you as an artist? Critiquing skills, creative ability, etc...
Being a TA for SOM has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done both on a personal level and as an artist.
I’ve learned to value the power of getting feedback from work, and I’ve learned to work much better with colleagues. All from working with students that really want to improve their skills.
I’m thrilled for the opportunity to work with different artists (students), with such different approaches and styles. It’s like a bootcamp training for critiquing, on how to get the best out of every single piece of design or animation, your eyes (and brain) get intense training.
I really enjoy working with students in this field. It feels we are creating something more than just “homework”. We are creating a beautiful world for our eyes.
This has made me grow immensely.
Critiquing the work of others has really has helped me to spot issues faster, think faster, and develop a much more positive attitude as a director. the process sharpens the overall sense of collaborating with others and has thousands of solutions to the same problem.
Are there any student projects that have surprised you?
There was this guy, Corban Koschak in Explainer Camp.
Working with him along the process was fantastic. The improvements he made along the course, the level of engagement with the work, and the final project! Really cool!
In Illustrator & Photoshop Unleashed, I remember the work of Eva Munnich! There was a really nice submission for the “Building an idea” assignment.
Who's an up-and-coming artist that everyone should know?
From School of Motion? Jacob Richardson, Jordan Bergren, and Zak Tietjen. Not my students, but the most amazing artists on the Alumni community.
Care to impart some words of wisdom?
Something that Albert Einstein said:
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Of course, knowledge is also important, but keeping the Imagination alive allows us to learn and to absorb knowledge without being constrained to the rules of traditional education. Thinking outside the box is amazing, and it's possible when you dare to take away all those walls that have been built during school time, where creativity is meant to be killed or numbed.
Experimentation and open-mind approaches to learning are incredibly rich during childhood.
I wish for more of that freedom each time we approach new projects.
Goals & Inspiration
What are you looking to learn next?
I like to learn with the purpose of doing something specifically.
My next step is in exploring/ researching and learning experimental techniques that can be used on motion design projects. The goal is to create a series of short episodes highlighting experimental techniques that can be applied to Motion Design projects (like Opening Titles, Music Videos, and others).
I hope to have some free time soon to start on this! Learn more about illustration (for Motion), and art techniques that can be mixed into new projects. Learn (or re-learn / refresh) more about lighting for shootings, and study lighting in Fine Arts. I’m starting to develop the idea that I cannot continue to animate if I don't learn Geometry and Music.
The second one, well… I learned music during my childhood and during some other times, but I really need to dig into music much more.
And more Expressions! More and more!
What are some of your favorite sources of inspiration that most artists don't know about?
I love authors! In all ways! Authors have a vision above all. That’s what inspired me.
There was this film I saw, early when I was studying cinema, that absolutely impacted me, and changed the course of my thinking. Probably what got me into motion design?
Inspiration from Cinema includes:
My favorites experimental Cinema films:
When it comes to art & photography:
All kinds of dark imagery…
Studios & Motion Design Artists:
And then there is Sci-fi, of course… The mysteries of the universe…
Outside of Motion Design, what are some things that get you excited in life?
Above all, I love spending time with my two loves: my husband and son! We create extraordinary worlds of adventures going to the mountains, to the beach, playing, creating incredible ideas, and going out with our bicycles!
And I love analog synthesizers, doing some noises/ playing some music on some lonely, intimate moments for myself. I write mainly poetry or stories I want to create.
I’m fascinated by Education, in a world that is no longer ruled by the industrial revolution. I’ve become obsessed with learning to eat better every day.
Eat food and not so many artificial/not healthy “foods” out there in the supermarkets. Do yoga as much as I can. And I love discussing interesting themes or controversial ones. Finding people to openly talk/discuss is always fascinating!
How can people find your work online?
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