Conor Whelan is a talented motion designer from Ireland who just recently made a move across the pond to Canada to work with an animation studio. With a great flair for animation and illustration Conor manages to captivate his audience through great storytelling and nice dose of humour. With a big passion for particularly film noir and vintage aesthetics, he has already managed to create some very interesting and gorgeous pieces by combining this style with his canny eye for timings and splendid understanding of telling a story. I hope you enjoy Conor’s story so far.
So without further ado; Conor Whelan.
Daniel: Could you please tell us a little about yourself and your path in motion design so far?
Conor: Hey! I’m a 26 year old designer and animator from Ireland, living in Vancouver. I studied Visual Communication in NCAD Dublin, and towards the end of my degree I started dabbling in motion graphics by doing After Effects tutorials that I found online and messing around with personal projects. When I graduated in 2012 I did a 6-month internship in Amsterdam, where I learnt a lot about motion design and animation. From there I returned to Dublin where I worked with Piranha Bar for 3 years which brings me right up to last month, when I moved here to Vancouver to start as an animator/designer with Giant Ant.
Daniel: Would you recommend that people go to design school if it’s possible? Or do you think this has become less important in this information age of infinite learning resources online where many can teach themselves nowadays? Any pros and cons?
Conor: I’m really glad I went to an Art and Design school. I used to think that maybe I should have studied animation instead, but I think having a background in graphic design and design theory has been really important and useful for me and I think it’s helped shape my work and personal style. That said, I think anyone can learn pretty much anything online with all the free resources and tutorials out there. I think one of the main pro’s of going to college is having a network of people who do the same thing as you. Your classmates are who you end up learning most from and being most influenced by, and you don’t get that from studying alone in front of a computer.
Daniel: How did you come to discover your passion for design and animation? Was there any particular reason you got into it, or certain moment where you just knew that this was the right thing for you to pursue?
Conor: I was always really into drawing and doing art-y things as a kid because my mum is so creative and that rubbed off on me. My older sister went to art college before me and it seemed like the natural thing to do to follow in her footsteps, and graphic design was a really appealing subject to me. I felt like it was the perfect combination of art and applied logic and I found it so exciting! Then around 3 years into my degree I started messing around with After Effects, doing some terrible kinetic typography thing but it just blew my mind! I thought it was the coolest thing ever and I couldn’t believe that I had made it myself. Motion graphics was everything I loved about graphic design, but with the extra bonus of being able to control time too. I was hooked. Since then my style has probably changed a good bit but I don’t think I’ll ever lose the thrill of making something move.
Daniel: How was studying abroad in Portugal and living in another country? What did you gain from this experience and is this something you would recommend others doing if they have the opportunity to do so?
Conor: My Erasmus in Portugal was like one long vacation and I loved every second of it. For me Erasmus was more of a get-out-and-enjoy-life experience than a learn-lots-in-school experience, which I think is really important for anyone working in the creative industry. Traveling and meeting new people is how I’m inspired to make stuff so studying abroad was great in that way. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to do it.
Daniel: Do you have any rituals or certain things that you like to do, to help set yourself up for work and optimize your creative flow?
Conor: Hmmm I don’t think I have any rituals really. I’m a big fan of routine, and I tend to do the same things at the same time every day. I’m trying to get into coffee because everyone else seems to love it so much, but I’m always too eager and end up burning myself sooo maybe I’ll just stick to water. Also plants. Plants everywhere. My dream studio space would be like a miniature jungle with leafy fronds everywhere and lots of natural light.
Daniel: What is your general approach when starting on a new project and developing ideas and concepts? Is there any sources that you tend to be drawn towards when you look for creative inspiration – music, traveling, books, podcasts, socializing, art, sports, movies, nature, exercise, museums etc.?
Conor: I’ve always been really inspired by music, particularly music from bygone eras because of it’s ability to take you back in time, and I’ve been inspired by pretty much every film I’ve ever seen (either for good or bad!). I love the visual language that has developed through films and I try to learn from it and use it in my own work. ‘Every Frame a Painting’ by Tony Zhou is a series of amazing video essays that have taught me so much about cinematography and shot composition, so if you haven’t seen them you should check them out.
Daniel: What keeps you focused and motivated to do the things you love?
Conor: Travelling, working with great people who put love in their work, and trying to put myself outside of my comfort zone as much as possible!
Daniel: Aside from obviously being very good at the animation side of things, I think your understanding of storytelling and ability to captivate your audience is brilliant. Whether I’d be watching one of your almost “classical”-feel pieces, or others that has a great humoristic side to it – I’m entertained!
Is this something you find comes very naturally to you – or how do you actively develop that skill and vision for telling stories? What do you think is the main ingredients for a good motion design piece?
Conor: Thanks very much! I think any skills I have at telling stories are a result of reading books and watching films. I used to read all the time as a kid, but I don’t read as much as I’d like to now. My favorite books Northern Lights, were incredibly inspiring to me because they taught me that you can tackle big heavy subjects through not-so-heavy subject matter. I think to be able to captivate an audience you need to be able to captivate yourself, so if you don’t like your own film then there’s a good chance that no-one else will either. For me, a good motion design piece/short film is confident, aesthetically beautiful, and not too long!
Daniel: Some of your work seems to almost have an old “film noir“ or vintage style to it – which I guess ties quite well into your minimal and simplistic illustration style. This makes your work feel different which I think makes it quite refreshing and able to stand out.
Is this cinematic artform something you are particularly drawn towards, and how has that developed?
Conor: I love film noir and old films. I love how every shot is more dramatic than real life, every sentence more laden with meaning. It’s like a curated reality where even the most mundane scenes are beautifully composed and lit. I’m so completely helpless in front of beauty, and film noir is dripping with it! I like vintage design and setting my work in different eras because of the extra layer of meaning they can give the story. For example, in ‘My Darling’s Shadow’ I like the contrast of a vengeful, murderous woman in a time when women were often portrayed as subservient housewives.
Daniel: You have literally just gotten off the plane and completed a move to Vancouver from Dublin which is a pretty big one I can imagine – geographically at least.
What made you want to move to Canada in particular, and are you already setup with work in this new place?
Conor: I moved here to start working with Giant Ant. They’re an amazing bunch of talented people and I’m honored to be able to make stuff with them!
Daniel: There is no better way to put yourself out of your own comfort zone than moving abroad to a completely new place. It’s a great way to grow and learn about yourself.
What do you hope to achieve by moving to Vancouver, and is it important for you to travel and see whether the grass is greener on the other side?
Conor: I think it’s really important to travel and keep pushing yourself
outside of your comfort zone. It keeps you fresh! I’m really hoping
to make great work while I’m here, and to get out camping in the
mountains as much as I can. You can see them from all over Vancouver
and they’re breathtaking.
Daniel: Do you have any other passions or hobbies that you like to spend time on?
Conor: I play the saxophone a bit (but I haven’t in ages!), I like to run and play badminton. Now that I’m in Vancouver I’m going to go ski-ing and hiking as much as possible. Everyone’s really outdoorsy here so I’ve got to fit in!
Daniel: What are your primary tools in design and animation? Do you have any recommendable online platforms you go to for inspiration and managing your ideas?
Conor: I animate mainly in TVpaint and After Effects, and I use a little bit of Cinema4D. Pinterest is great for making moodboards and gathering references. I use Illustrator for making rough storyboards for use in the animatic but I know that Animade are releasing their own storyboarding software soon which looks really promising, so I’ll definitely give that a shot.
Daniel: 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?
Conor: It’s hard to know what I’ll be interested in in 5 years because I only started animating 5 years ago! Giant Ant are my favorite studio in the world so I’m hoping to still be there in 5 years time. I’d like to make another short film at some stage over the next few years, something a little more meaty and substantial than what I’ve done previously. I have an idea but it needs work.
Daniel: What is ‘motion design’ to you? How do you tend to explain what you do for a living, to someone that doesn’t know what it is?
Conor: It’s such a broad field that it’s hard to categorize under one title, so I think a lot of things fall under the umbrella of motion design. For me, it can be anything from title sequences to character animation, using a variety of mediums from 3D to more traditional frame by frame stuff. When explaining motion design to someone who doesn’t know what it is I’d say it’s like graphic design that has the added bonus of being able to use movement and timing to convey a message or feeling more clearly.
Daniel: What would be your advice to someone curious about motion design and wondering how to best get started?
Conor: Make stuff! Watch lots of tutorials (there’s plenty for free online) make things and put them online. Sites like Vimeo are great places to get feedback and meet people who have similar interests, and it’s great encouragement to keep producing work. Think about a subject you’re really passionate about and make a piece about that; it could be a story in the form of a short film, an infographic, a music video, whatever you want!
Daniel: If you had to choose between; traveling back in time – or into the future, what would you do? Why?
Conor: That’s a tough one. Despite my love of bygone times, I think I’d travel into the future. It’s more of a mystery! I’d go to the VR-cinema or whatever they’ll have and watch the latest release!
And that’s all from Conor this time around! I’d like to take the opportunity to thank him for taking some time out in his busy new Canadian life and sharing some thoughts and stories from his journey so far. Make sure to keep a close eye on Conor – you can find him here: