Sander van Dijk is a motion designer from the Netherlands, and here he started out studying architecture and carpentry, before his interests turned towards VFX and live action. This eventually led him on the path of animation, and he decided to seek new adventures across the pond in the United States, where he is currently based in New York.
Sander is a very versatile and inspiring artist with more than 10 years under his belt in After Effects, and he is not afraid of getting his hands dirty and get into the nitty-gritty technical aspects under the hood. You may well have come across some of his After Effects tools already, or seen him linked with the brand new animation festival ‘Blend’ as co-founder, which took place last month in Vancouver with great success.
Needless to say that you will not get to where Sander is today without going after your dreams, hustling hard, and believing in yourself. We are very happy to have Sander sharing some of his story and experiences with us, and I think you will find a lot of inspiration and great resources in this one.
So without further ado; Sander van Dijk.
Thank you for sharing some of your time and experience with us Sander.
Q: Could you let us know a little about your background as a designer and animator, and what are you up to at this point in your career?
Thank you for reaching out. I hope I’ll have a lot of interesting stuff to share here in this “inner-view”.
I grew up in Houten, the most bike friendly town in the Netherlands. I knew how to draw well and always wanted to make things with my hands, so I studied Architecture and Carpentry.
One day my dad came back from work and brought a camera (logitech webcam) with the astonishing resolution of 640×320! haha. It came with “Stop-Motion” software. I could not stop playing with it. It was so cool!
To make still objects move was like magic. My friends and I would spend every free moment we had creating funny videos and building camera rigs out of Legos.
One day I saw the movie The Matrix and then saw it 21 more times.
Q: Twenty two times?
A little ridiculous I know. I was astounded by the Visual Effects. I wanted to figure out how they did them. So I spent days watching behind-the-scenes videos, doing tutorials, and experimentation. By this time I taught myself Visual Effects and was merging it with Live Action.
I ended up working for one of the best film houses in the Netherlands called Filmmore Amsterdam. That’s where I worked on Visual Effects for Dutch movies and discovered Animation by migrating more towards making the title sequences for these movies.
I wanted to become more proficient in animation and since this was still a very new thing in my country I decided to move to Los Angeles to learn more about Motion Graphics. This path led me all the way to working at places like King and Country, Giant Ant and Buck.
Though I still love to create Stop Motion, Visual Effects, and Motion Graphics, my focus is shifting towards UX and UI Animation and developing creative tools, I’m also venturing more into the conceptual realm of how motion can communicate ideas. I’m most interested in using my skills to communicate ideas that help propel the world forward, so socially- or sustainably-minded concepts, innovative technologies, and the edges of emotion and neuroscience, are particularly stimulating for me.
I often put up short clips of my latest work on Instagram, so if people are interested, they can follow me there.
I always follow my gut and spend my time doing things I love.
You have been creating lots of great animation for years now and have been working in After Effects for more than 10 years.
Q: How did you discover your interest in animation, and was there any particular moment where you just knew that animation was the direction you wanted to pursue?
I always follow my gut and spend my time doing things I love. This naturally led me into what I do today. I do my own thinking and design my life how I want to live it. Learn to follow your intuition and your own path.
I find Buckminster Fuller a very inspiring person. I encourage everyone to listen to this full one hour interview — Psychic Phenomenon — from 1979. It’s still relevant today, if not more so. This helped me put a lot of things into perspective and ask the question what am I really here to do.
Here is an audio only version of the interview, so you can listen to it on the way to the office.
I animated Buckminster’s name but it was so much work, I only made it 4 letters in. BUCK happens to get it’s name from this great philosopher.
You have recently been involved in the new design and animation festival ‘Blend’, which you are a co-founder of and also worked on the very nice piece ‘Blend Manifesto’ for the festival. The very first festival took place this October with a very, very strong lineup, and has received a lot of praise afterwards.
Q: How was this experience for you?
I had a serious overload of positive experiences. Every moment was so rich and in-depth! It’s unreal to see so many friends in one location. It’s been one of my goals to bring the online community together in the real world.
This all wouldn’t have been possible without my amazing friends Jorge, Teresa, Claudio, Marisa and Caspian, the speakers as well as Gareth and Lucas from the new Buck Sydney office that created the kickass design work and opening titles.
Q: What are the plans for the festival in the future?
We are all busy people but we can’t wait to create Blend fest again one day!
Nature is my infinite inspiration source.
WORK AND INSPIRATION
Q: How do you get inspired creatively, and are there specific sources you like to draw your inspirations from?
Nature is my infinite inspiration source. The intelligent design of the universe inspires me greatly. Nature’s patterns are fascinating. It’s all numbers—Yikes! Math? But hold on, numbers occur in many different cool ways like in geometry—numbers in space. And music—numbers over time.
I also draw inspiration from other people’s lives—especially those that pursue life to the fullest.
M.C. Escher has really influenced my artistic worldview. I often wonder what he would have been able to create with today’s tools.
You can read more about what fueled his passion in life, including what inspired him to create his work in the book M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work.
Those who push the boundaries are really inspiring. People like Wim Hof, known as the Iceman, taught himself how to control his own immune system and proved it scientifically. That’s mind-blowing! These people provide blueprints to explore how we can live life to our fullest capacity.
Pure geometric shapes are the most powerful visual forms.
Your design and animation always seems so well balanced and organic, and your understanding and use of colour is fantastic. Your designs are often very simplistic and flat 2D looking, but you always manage to make it look really interesting. I feel I can pause your pieces at any moment and the colours and compositions are always great.
Q: Have you always been particularly drawn towards this style of Motion Graphics?
Though I can work across a range of styles, my brain for some reason naturally trends towards more flat 2D because it supports geometry so well.
Pure geometric shapes are the most powerful visual forms. They are very effective at resonating with large amounts of people as it’s a universal language based on numbers. It’s timeless and for that reason you see a lot of logos that are very geometric and abstract.
To address your earlier point of balanced and organic. I don’t particularly start with thinking about style. I think about the underlying structure that communicates the concept—and then see what style best suits to evoke the right emotions.
Structure gives balance; style can help break that and make the work more organic.
So what I’m trying to say is that style is really the cloak of an animation, whereas, the invisible patterns underneath that style are really the skeleton. To many great designers this sense of structure comes naturally. Aware of them or not—it’s those invisible patterns that create the beauty and structure within physical forms.
Style changes constantly over time. I hold onto the strong timeless foundation of numbers as it will forever be truth.
Q: What is motion design to you? How do you like to describe or explain what you do in other ways to help people outside the industry to better get an understanding of what you do?
Motion design is exactly what it says, design in motion! To me there is no box to place what I do in. I see it as understanding the world around me.
“Hi Oma ( grandma),”
“Hi Sander. What are you doing in New York now?”
“Well, Motion Design.”
“I’ll explain more… I re-create physical reality. I do this by using drawings that move on the screen and create the illusion that they are real in order to convey a message, just like you can see on the television.”
How can you be a designer of movement without moving yourself!?!
Q: Do you have any rituals or certain things that you like to do, to help set yourself up for work and get into your creative flow?
There are a combination of rituals that get me into the zone, related to my health, physical exercise, and my environment.
Regarding health: Eat well.. I mean unprocessed food, real food. I want the best nutrition, so I can be healthy and focus on what I love most.
Regarding physical activity: How can you be a designer of movement without moving yourself!?! Martial Arts has been a great physical activity for me throughout my life. It is really a complete form of exercise. Although many people think it’s all about fighting. Depending on what form of Martial Arts, it’s really about shaping your mind and body.
In the movie Enter the Dragon, when Bruce Lee is asked, “What’s your style?” Lee replied, “My style?…You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.” He believed real combat was spontaneous, and a martial artist can’t predict it, but, only react to it. A good martial artist should “be like water“—move fluidly without hesitation. In this interview Bruce also talks about styles.
Environment is very important. Surround yourself with interesting people in an interesting space. In my home, I have over 250 plants and this creates an interesting space for me to be in and get inspired by. You are shaped by the environment you live in and the people you hang out with on a regular basis, so make your space and your relationships count.
While in “the zone” I listen to very repetitive music like progressive trance. It has a rhythm / energy that makes my thoughts line up and propels me forward.
What’s interesting to notice is that you can create triggers for yourself. I only listen to this type of music while I work—so when I hear it—my brain automatically goes into production mode. It gives me access to all the experience ever gathered about motion design, because it was all bookmarked in my head under that music.
Q: Do you have any preferred tools or online platforms you go to for inspiration and managing your ideas?
I use text editor to manage my thoughts in writing. Creatively, I choose to draw out my ideas with paper and pen. It’s nice to spend time away from the computer. Drawing is such freedom and it makes you think about every step a bit longer and deeper.
You have developed some really cool and handy tools such as ‘Ray Dynamic Color’ and ‘Ouroboros’ to make life easier for animators in After Effects.
Q: What is your drive and interest behind developing these tools for everyone to use?
At the source I feel that graphics and animation are a higher form of communication. Better animation tools allow more people to speak this language more easily.
Bret Victor is a huge inspiration to me regarding this topic. He talks about this in his presentation Inventing on Principle.
At 34:00 he states that ideas are locked in people’s heads. It takes many of us a day of work in animation software to keyframe this idea. And so he always thinks about the millions of ideas locked in millions of heads, not just animation and art—but all kinds of ideas including critically important ideas—world changing inventions—life changing scientific discoveries.
And then at 35:12 he explains his principle:
“Creators need an immediate connection with what they create”.
Then Bret goes on and describes why. I can’t put this into better words:
“When I see a violation of this principle, I don’t think of it as an opportunity. Ideas are very precious to me and when I see ideas dying, it hurts. I see a tragedy. To me it feels like a moral wrong. Injustice. And if there is anything I can do about it—I feel it’s my responsibility to do so. Not opportunity, but responsibility.”
I encourage you to dive more deeply into his work. Like this one I highly enjoyed, The future of programming. You can find many interesting essays on his website worrydream.com to expand your perspective.
Q: How did you get into scripting? Do you have an educational background where you learned the skill, or is it something that you have taught yourself out of pure interest?
While working on projects, it’s not uncommon for clients to keep coming back with revisions. In many cases this led to doing some very repetitive tasks to get the same effects. I like to work smarter, so I started to write little scripts in After Effects called expressions to do those tasks for me.
Sometimes people think I use code to generate my animations but I see it as building a little machine that you can operate—like the steering wheel of the car that controls a lot of the car’s components. It would be weird (and not to mention dumb) to climb out of the window on both sides to turn the wheels every time you want to take a left. Yet, that’s what we’re often doing in animation when we don’t have the tools to make the creation process more efficient.
Q: I think in general many are intimidated of getting into scripting, but do you really need to have a broad understanding of programming to get started, or would you say it’s fairly straightforward for people to pick up? Do you have any recommendation for people who would like to take a stab at scripting, or resources to point people in the direction of?
I’ve done and can recommend the following courses:
Dan Ebberts is the god of AE expressions: motionscript.com
Lloyd Alvarez. His class is $99 (worth both nines): Introduction to After Effects Scripting
David Torno with a free: After Effects ExtendScript Training Complete Series
I highly encourage designers to take a look at code. It’s more intuitive than you think. The fact is, you are already manipulating code in a way, but it’s through a graphics program that has some boundaries of what’s possible. Code has the freedom to create anything but the problem is that you can’t directly see what you’re creating while writing code.
You are also currently on a mission to bring some new features into After Effects. This includes a list of features which you have selected based off your own experience with the software, as well as gathered user’s thoughts on the most typical tools requested. In your essay ‘After Effects – Feature Platform’ you have animated this list of new features, and suggesting how these features could work in practice. I think this is a very exciting project and I like that it’s a community project which can also help the Adobe team getting some steer for how to improve their software.
Q: What is your motivation behind this project, and can you tell us a little about the current status of the project?
I care about animation tools because it unlocks the ability to communicate ideas in more depth.
You need experience and feedback in order to grow otherwise there is very little innovation. I feel like I have a huge amount of experience to share that can be crucial for the innovation of After Effects. I view this not as an opportunity, but a responsibility.
The Adobe team has contacted me and was very inspired by the article. It’s just a matter of time and internal politics within Adobe to hopefully get these changes through. The more support the community puts behind the essay, the more likely it will become reality. I’m not the only one with experience, so share your ideas here!
Surround yourself with interesting people in an interesting space.
Q: If you had to fast forward 5 years, do you imagine yourself doing the same thing you are doing now – or do you have other challenges and dreams that you would like to pursue and have a go at?
The only constant is change, I have many dreams and goals that I hope to make reality, and I’d like to put those into motion, otherwise I’ll be in the same place as I am today, which would mean I haven’t grown.
No one knows what the future will look like. What’s most important is that you dream and imagine what you desire into reality. Feel things into being; you are like a giant magnet attracting what energy you emanate. It’s the law. This is not created by man but by nature, so use it to your advantage to get the life you desire to live. As Buckminster Fuller says, “The best way to predict the future is to design it.”
Some things I like to imagine about becoming reality one day:
I like to make things with my hands before discovering animation, and I hope one day making animation becomes more of a physical interaction medium rather than sitting in one spot all day ignoring 99% of the human body’s capabilities. Bret Victor has a great article about this as well. The future of interaction design.
I also hope that humanity gets a more healthy relationship with technology. And we could switch from an “attention economy” to a “time well spent” economy. Designers and creators like Tristan Harris, have been introducing this to the public.
I hope to collaborate more with great like-minded people to make these dreams into reality.
Q: Do you have any other passions and hobbies you like to spend time on?
I like to get back into carpentry mode once in awhile and learning about nature. I recently built an indoor garden to grow food plants. I like to cook…and I especially like the chopping and the eating part! haha.
Q: Before we wrap this up I would like to finish off by asking you; what would be your best advice to someone starting out in the industry, or just curious about exploring motion design?
Before you do anything, find out what you’re truly passionate about. Observe what moves you emotionally before you can even think it. Then from there, see if design, animation, photography, or something else can help express what you’re passionate about.
If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, just do something you naturally like to do and that gives you energy and inspiration. If you still haven’t found it, explore what makes you tick on a deeper level; you may even find that external factors, like entertainment, for example have hijacked your mind, resulting in distracting you from what you’re really meant to do in life. If so, remove these influences from your life—at least for awhile—and explore life without them. Spend your most valuable asset “time” well and I ensure you—it will be more astonishing than any entertainment you’ve ever seen!
I would like to thank Sander again for taking the time to tell some of his story as and artist, and sharing some of his insights and experiences with us all. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did, and please do not forget to pop over and check out more of Sander’s amazing work and see what he is up to!
Buckminster Fuller – Lost Interviews / Psychic Phenomenon
Buckminster Fuller – Lost Interviews / Psychic Phenomenon (audio)
Blend – Opening Titles
Michael S. Schneider
A beginner’s guide to constructing the universe, Michael S. Schneider. (book)
Wim Hof – The Iceman
Bruce Lee: “Mind and body”
Bruce Lee: “Be like water”
Bruce Lee: “Styles”
Bret Victor – Inventing on Principle (talk given at CUSEC 2012)
Bret Victor – The future of programming
aescripts + aeplugins
Ray Dynamics Color (AFX tool)
motionscript.com by Dan Ebberts
Introduction to After Effects Scripting Video Course by Lloyd Alvarez
After Effects ExtendScript Training Complete Series by David Torno
After Effects Features by Sander van Dijk
The Future of interaction design
‘Distracted? Let’s make technology that helps us spend our time well’ by Tristan Harris
CREDITS AS FEATURED
BUCK – Logo Animation
Song by: Röyksopp www.royksopp.com – Happy Up Here
Art Direction & Design: Gareth O’Brien, Lucas Brooking
Animation Direction: Sander van Dijk
Animation: Sander van Dijk, Jorge Canedo Estrada, Claudio Salas, Justin Lawes, Austin Robert, Marisabel Fernandez
Music: Friendship Park
Mix & Sound Design: Ambrose Yu
Special thanks to: Ryland Haggis, John Black, Box Of Toys Audio, Summer Rayne Oakes, Emmy Lou Canedo
Ouroboros – AE Preset
Music and Sound Design: CypherAudio