Rich is a very talented 3d motion designer and cg generalist. With over 12 years of experience in the industry under his belt, he’s worked in both the film vfx & motion design fields. Originally from Devon in the UK he’s been living in New Zealand for the last 5 years, and just recently went from full-time staff to setting up as freelance. Rich shares with us some interesting thoughts and experience from his much varied career path so far.
So without further ado; Rich Nosworthy.
Full list of show notes can be found in the bottom of the article.
In this day and age we are very privileged to have an almost infinite pool of learning resources available to us online. This also means that there is a growth in number of self-taught desginers out there today, and the necessity of going to university and taking an (often expensive) design degree, is not a requirement for starting out as a motion designer.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your design background, and how you got into design and animation?
I used to draw loads when I was a kid but never really took it much further than GCSE art, which I think was one of my lowest marks. I was always quite good academically with the technical stuff and ended up going to university to study computer science. There seemed to be a lot of opportunities with IT and I enjoyed the programming and technical problem solving side of it. I always stayed interested in graphics though, but I just wasn’t that good at it – certainly not enough at the time to consider doing it for a career.
In my second year of uni I came across a copy of a Maya 3.5 in one of the labs. That was the first time I’d ever seen a 3d animation package. I started going through some of the tutorials – and I was hooked. From then on I spent most of my spare time learning the program.
I finished my degree but never got a job in programming. Instead I got a job in a music store where I spent my spare time learning more about 3D. I managed to build up enough work to create a basic reel to try and get a foot in the door somewhere, and I dropped my CV into MPC in London where I started working as a runner. For 8 years I worked my way up in the film industry, going from 3D to matte painting to a bit of comping work. It was a great experience and I was lucky to learn a lot from many talented people. The one thing about working in film though is that projects can be long and you tend to specialise in one specific thing.
I tried to start drawing more again in my spare time and working them up in Adobe Illustrator. I wanted to see if I could maybe get into illustration for a bit but was advised by a friend in the design industry that I’d be a lot more employable if I could animate as well as illustrate. So I started learning After Effects, which lead me into Cinema 4d. That and the whole motion graphics area seemed to be more on my level where I could try out more stylised projects and I would get to work on all aspects of 3D and motion rather than focusing on one area as it was with film.
I made a motion graphics reel of my work which was really just a bunch of my own personal motion tests. Then when we went travelling to New Zealand in 2010, I showed my stuff around to a few companies along the way. Having the background in VFX helped too but I got in at a small company called Bunker and have now been there for the past 5 years.
So it has been a bit of a strange journey and just finding my way as I go. But it’s definitely been fun to try so many areas of 3D and motion to get to where I am today.
Q: I know you just recently went freelance. How has this transition been for you, and what was your reason for going freelance and leave the studio life as a full-time staff behind?
I’m still pretty new to it and so far it has been pretty good. I’ve only been working for the last month or two with some contacts I made while I was still full time, so I haven’t really reached out to many studios yet. I haven’t even had a chance to finish my new reel yet, which is sitting on my computer about 80% done, but hopefully I’ll have that out in the new year. I’m really enjoying the freedom of being freelance and it’s great to be moving around between studios and working with new people.
As for my reason of going freelance; I have always just worked full time for longer periods (normally 3 – 5 years per job) and I wanted a bit of a change and felt like it was time to try the freelancing life before I got too old to do it. Also when working for the same company you usually work a lot with the same clients so I liked the idea of getting some more variety in the projects I was working on. I’d never felt ready to do the freelance thing before and it’s a challenge having to do both the creative and business side of things yourself, but it’s a pretty rewarding thing to build up your own business I think.
Q: Even though this is relatively new territory for you, could you already now share some advice on what to be mindful of when you decide to go freelance, and setting yourself up as a business?
New Zealand is pretty easy in terms of setting yourself up as a business. There are probably much better people to ask about this as I still seem to be learning more stuff every day.
But having some money saved up seems to be one of the key things, especially when you’re used to having a consistent paycheck coming in every month. You never know when you might be short of work for a month or so or need to pay out for something unexpected, and having some reserves in the bank takes off some of the stress of those first few weeks when starting out.
I think it also helps to start planning way before you make the shift. Getting things like your website and a reel together can take a bit of time – and not to mention doing some planning of how you want to run the business side of things. I think it’s good to get at least a decent portion of those things done while you’ve still got money coming in from a full-time job.
Start networking and reach out to any existing contacts in advance of starting. It will help if you can line up a project or two for those early days until thing start running a bit more smoothly.
The biggest thing I think is also not to become too relaxed about it. Being your own boss is great but it’s still a job and you have to work at it. I try and keep office hours and if I have no paid jobs in, then I’m working on some of my own ideas that I can use for promotion, or spending time reaching out to new studios.
Q: You live in New Zealand which in my opinion have some of the most spectacular and beautiful nature on the planet. How important is the outdoors to you, and is there anything in particular that you enjoy doing when you’re out there getting lost in the wild?
Yeah NZ is an amazing country. I’m from Devon in the UK so I grew up around beaches. I then lived in London for 6-7 years, which was a fun city to be in – but I definitely prefer being out in nature. After living in NZ for the last 5 years I think I’d struggle to live in a city with no beach, forest or mountains nearby. I’m really into snowboarding and NZ has some amazing terrain and opportunities for that. Our local mountain is an active volcano too, which sounds exciting but it hasn’t really erupted since 1996 so we’ve been pretty lucky. We have some of the most amazing beaches, forests and national parks as well. You just need a car and the urge to explore, there’s so much to see on your doorstep.
Q: How do you get inspired creatively? Are there any particular sources you tend to seek inspiration from – e.g. music, traveling, books, podcasts, comics, art, sports, movies, space travel..?
Ha yes pretty much all of that – including the space travel. There’s obviously the usual sources such as Pinterest, Vimeo, Behance. Seeing other people’s work in your industry is obviously a big inspiration and I’ve been listening to a lot of Ash Thorp’s Collective Podcast lately. Films and music are also a big one for me.
I watched a lot of the typical anime as a kid. Akira was obviously a big influence, and Ghost In The Shell, Miyazaki movies, Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL were also some big favourites. Movies like Alien and Terminator, and I’m a big David Lynch and John Carpenter fan too. I was normally pretty tired from staying up watching late night movies.
I get a lot of inspiration from other sources such as architecture blogs and product design, and I’m also a bit of a collector of old junk. There is a shop near us that’s a bit of a museum of old stuff from the 80’s and 90’s and at home I’ve still got a pretty healthy collection of old toys that I had when I was a kid, and a Sega Megadrive that I still try and collect games for.
Personally I find that the best ideas always come when they’ve been allowed to simmer in your brain for a while. Anyone who’s been doing creative work for a while, subconsciously starts filling their head with things that engages them and that inspiration starts to form a kind of library of visual languages for ideas. It’s usually when I’m away from the desk doing something completely unrelated to design, that my head starts shaping ideas out of all the stuff that’s floating around.
You got an extraordinary skill to bring your work to life through beautiful renders and crafted 3d animation, often set in an abstract and entertaining story. It makes your work stand out with a lot of personality.
Q: Have you always been drawn to more heavy 3d motion graphics, and how did you get sucked into it?
Thanks. Yeah as a nerdy kid I think I first really got interested in 3d when playing Final Fantasy 7 on the Playstation. The cut scenes on those games were beautiful 3d renders, and I would just keep replaying it to be able to rewatch them again. I didn’t know how it was done but I liked the idea of having these tools to create your own characters and stories. Kind of like a super advanced LEGO kit. That as well as getting into Maya at university got me into 3d.
After having worked in films for a few years I remember one night going to see one of the onedotzero festivals that played at the London Southbank. These were presentations of some of the best motion graphics and animations from around the world. It was some really cool stuff and that was the first time when I really felt like pursuing more of my own 3D ideas.
It takes a lot of dedication, grit – and not to mention time – to reach the level you are currently at.
Q: What would you say has been the key drivers for you to reach this point in your career?
I think it’s more that I’ve never really considered doing anything else. Once I got into this I’ve not been able to put it down again. I have always just tried to focus on the areas I am most interested in which I think will always push you in the right direction. Over the years I’ve gone from programming, to 3d, matte painting, compositing, motion design and back to 3d again but there has always been this urge to create something. I think it’s been good as it’s given me a well rounded view on the different skills needed to do the kind of work I do, even though it has probably taken longer to get to the stage where I am now.
But you also need that motivation to keep progressing in your work. It’s all about perseverance however bad you may be at the start. If you keep practising you will only get better at what you do.
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?
I find that exercise can be good before I start work (if I’m motivated enough), or at the very least a walk to get coffee. I’ve never liked going straight out of bed to the desk. The hardest part is blocking out distractions of the internet, and non-essential things you think you need to get done. If it’s a super tight deadline then that’s normally enough to get me focused, but otherwise putting on headphones, closing your web browser/twitter etc. and blocking everything else out is good to start focusing. In the past when I’ve found it hard to get the creative flow going I’ve tried doodling or just making something super quick in Cinema 4d just to get my brain going.
Q: Do you have any preferred tools or online platforms you go to for inspiration and managing your ideas?
I’ve got a lot of stuff saved on Pinterest now. My albums are all really messy but it’s a great way to keep your references. Pinterest is probably the best thing for me currently and I usually save a reference folder of imagery per project. But I still think there must be a better way to organising your references.
I got a lot of saved Vimeo likes too, however it’s near impossible to find anything I’ve saved other than going through each page of them. Its normally when I’m trying to find something I saw years ago for a project that I normally resort to having to ask around on Twitter.
For concepting stuff I’ve found a cool tool called Kuadro which can turn a second monitor into a full screen pinboard – great for arranging reference whilst working.
Q: What keeps you focused and motivated? When you face hardship through work, what helps you pull through and keep your head in the game?
That’s a tough one, but I’ve never felt like I wanted to give up. Of course you can feel a bit drained at the end of long projects, but a few days off normally gives me time to refresh and get excited about the next thing coming up. I think the great thing about motion and 3d is that you can do almost anything with the software and the variety of work is huge. The technology is evolving pretty fast now and there’s so many ideas out there to pursue, and I get really excited about what things I might get to work on next.
Q: Do you have any other passions or hobbies that you like to spend time on?
Snowboarding is a big one for me. I got into it about 10 years ago at the indoor snow domes in the UK. Since being in NZ I can now go for a few short trips a year rather than 1 week long trip as it was back home in the UK which actually works out better for me. I really enjoy just spending time with friends and my fiancee Beth. I play guitar too (badly), but I’m trying to get back into that again this year. I probably do spend a bit too much time working on side projects and ideas. It takes up a lot of personal time but I find it very rewarding. I would like to get more variety in though and I am hoping next year to get into woodwork, or making something more hands-on like that.
Q: What is motion design to you? And how do you tend to explain what you do to a person that has no clue what it is you are doing?
Ha it’s hard to explain – especially to my folks. For me it’s design mixed with lots of other disciplines such as filmmaking, storytelling & animation. Trying to communicate a story or idea through animation or film. It’s so varied and there’s so many areas that you need to have at least a basic grasp on that it makes for quite a challenging career path.
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?
At the moment I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing. I’m pretty new to freelancing still so I’m looking forward to collaborating with more studios and seeing where that goes. Maybe at some point it would be good to join up with others and try and make something bigger but I will see what happens in the future. Perhaps someday I’ll get fed up and want to get out from behind the computer screen, but as long as it’s creating something I’d be happy.
I imagine you are very busy with your new “life” as a freelancer, so thank you very much for taking the time out to share some of your insights and experiences with us. Just one more question before I let you go..
Q: What would be your main advice to someone just starting out in the industry, or maybe just curious about exploring motion design?
From my experience I suppose it would be to take the time to learn not just the software but the skills behind that stuff too. First try and learn about design in general as that’s a good foundation to build upon. I did the opposite and learned the software first and it’s been many frustrating years figuring out why my stuff looked so bad. It can take a lot of time and it’s a competitive industry out there but if you’re motivated and keep going you’ll eventually start to get to where you want to be (and you never really stop learning this stuff anyway).
I’d like to send some big thanks over to Rich for taking his time to sit down and answer some of these questions and sharing his passion and experiences with us. Hope you enjoyed this article with Rich, and do yourself a favor and check out more of his stunning work and progress. Drop him a hello while you’re at it!
Adobe After Effects
Maxon Cinema 4d
Ghost in The Shell
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Final Fantasy 7