Erica is a very talented director, illustrator and motion designer based in New York, where she runs her own little creative studio under the banner of PepRally. She’s almost got decade of experience under her belt and has spend some time in LA and Chicago as well, working and studying before setting up in New York. Her work has received much acclaimed recognition, and she has been contributing to the awesome sites of The Creators Project and Motionographer as a writer as well, so Erica has a great knowledge of the industry and knows what she’s talking about.
So without further ado; Erica Gorochow.
Daniel: Could you please tell us a little about yourself and your path in motion design so far?
Erica: I’m coming up on about a decade in this field. I was staff for about two years, but most of my career I’ve been freelancing, mainly in New York but a bit in Los Angeles as well. My focus recently has been direction, design and illustration. I still love doing boards, but I’m increasingly stepping back from animation to focus on building and managing small teams under the name PepRally. I’m embracing google slides more than ever these days. I’m also interested in game design and really enjoy collaborating with developers. Last year some friends and I put out an iPhone game called Specimen.
Daniel: Would you recommend that you go to design school if it’s possible? Or do you think this has become less important with heaps of online resources that you can learn any software yourself?
Erica: I studied film at a liberal arts school called Northwestern in Chicago. If you’re motivated, there are tons of resources on the internet that can take you far. The quicker you can make a pile of terrible work, the quicker you can get beyond it. For me, the main virtue of university was learning how to be creative in a team. Specifically, learning how to flesh out a concept such that others would might want to collaborate with you. I didn’t exactly learn to direct in college, but I realized directing was part creative and part managerial. If you can go to college I suggest it: but my two cents is to focus on collaboration, writing and widening your interests outside of motion design.
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?
Erica: Like many, I start by creating a mood board. I aim to bring in references from outside of motion: fine art, photography, apps, installations, in addition to work from other eras. I often bring in illustrations for color palette ideas. My first step is to grab printer paper and just scribble unintelligible bits across a page. I usually can’t even put things in boxes or think too sequentially, I just try to purge tiny ideas and then see where they connect. I often come back to these scribbles when I’m in a jam. I used to not thumbnail, but increasingly I’m seeing the virtue in going from scribbles to thumbnails to boards.
Currently, I feel powered by travel, podcasts and conversation with people outside of design. Though sitting down every day to do the work is critical, adjusting my view beyond my corner of Brooklyn, keeps me sane.
Daniel: You’ve founded your own studio PepRally. Could you tell us a little about the studio and your role, and how has the journey of running your own studio been so far? I’m also intrigued to hear where the name PepRally came from? :)
Erica: When I was positioning myself as a freelancer, it was like I was living in a one bedroom. By calling myself PepRally, I wanted to move into a two bedroom apartment. There’s more space to comfortably have others over. Prior to the name change, I was already getting projects with budgets that allowed me to bring others on. So it was just common sense to change the language around my practice. Calling myself PepRally has opened me up to new opportunities, but I’m still only scaling only when I need to. The greatest luxury I maintain is low overhead, which means I can still be picky about what projects I take on. I can still make personal work a priority. The flip side is scaling really fast for last minute things can be tricky. To be honest, I’m still navigating the pros and cons. When I think of the freedoms I have now, I think staying solo feels ideal in terms of creative priorities. But as I think about the flexibilities I might want to have in the future, a true studio might make more sense. I go back and forth about it.
I’ve been trying to think of a hypothetical studio name for years. PepRally was the only name I didn’t loath after letting it marinade in my mind beyond a week. Specifically, I remember I was listening to a band called Monster Rally when the name popped into my head.
Daniel: You have a great flair for animation – especially illustration based motion design. Do you see this as your personal style or is it something you are more drawn towards visually and creatively than other styles?
Erica: I started off as a generalist, but I’ve always payed more attention to illustration. Geoff McFetridge and Mike Mills were major gateway figures for me (and many others) in college. I’m at the point in my career where I can admit some styles just don’t rev my engine. After a few years of trying on a lot of hats, I increasingly feel confident in specializing. If anything, I want to continually figure out my own stylistic niche and spread that across other mediums, beyond animation.
Daniel: You’ve been on the circuit for a good handful of years now and have previously been contributing to the great sites of Motionographer and The Creators Projects (please correct me if you are still contributing). So I guess it’s fair to say that you’ve seen a fair few things and trends evolving by now. How the motion instrustry evolved in your eyes, and where do you see it heading?
Erica: The trend that interests me is animation as a fundamental skill across design in general. The motion design community used to feel a bit isolated. But now, being a designer who really understands motion feels like a big advantage. Increasingly, designers who get animation are MVPs in realms outside of :30 commercials — like editorial art, interactive, branding and beyond.
The other trend I see, and am excited about, is how realistic remote working has become. Sure, projects can run a bit smoother when everyone’s in the same room. But thanks to Slack and Dropbox, so many teams I work with are spread across the US, sometimes the world. That’s awesome.
Daniel: What would you say are the pros and cons for you about being a motion designer?
Erica: The pros: I like that motion is a cross-section of many disciplines. I like that there is a technical side and an artistic side and you can personally calibrate where you want to be on that spectrum. I also like the canvas of a screen in general. I don’t want our lives to be ruled by screens, but I see a lot of opportunity in the reality that screens are only multiplying. And even after ten years, I still think there’s a pretty raw magic to animation. Put another way, I’m still amazed that our brains can even process a series of sequential images as alive. At its core, that is still so cool.
Cons: Motion design tends to be couched in advertising. I can get bummed out if I work too long on something whose ultimate goal I feel disconnected from. Motion design can feel frivolous in the larger scheme of things.
Daniel: Do you have any online sources that you tend to go to for visual inspiration or managing your ideas?
Erica: I’ve been trying to look at blogs less these days. Dropmark.com is amazing for creating collaborative moodboards. Sort of like Pinterest but without the wedding dresses. ;)
Daniel: Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? Do you imagine yourself continuing on the same path as you are now – or do you have other challenges and dreams that you would like to pursue and have a stab at?
Erica: Big question. While I don’t feel content, I’m aware of the freedoms I have now: flexibility in terms of when I work and (for the most part) control over what I work on. Sure, I still take on select jobs for money reasons, but I can generally balance earning potential with personal interest. Part of me wants to continue down this path, and another part wants the challenge of scaling something beyond myself. And there’s always a tiny part of me that wants to take a sharp left turn towards something entirely new. I’m drawn to the idea of starting from scratch.
Daniel: If you had to choose between; traveling back in time – or into the future, what would you do and why?
Erica: I’ve always been optimistic about what’s to come. So, the future, unless Trump wins.
I would like to send many thanks to Erica for taking some time out in her very busy schedule to sit down and share some of her experiences and answering some questions from us. It is greatly appreciated and I hope it can spur some inspiration for more people out there. Be sure to keep an eye out for more great work from Erica and her studio in the future. Below is links to where you can follow her.