Creative Lives — “Keeping it simple really is king” – Mainframe’s motion designer Jack Brown
During his studies, Jack Brown’s eyes were opened to the full scope of animation – its endless possibilities, styles and approaches. Having previously imagined a world of painfully slow hand-drawn processes, he found himself drawn to the cleaner finish and time-saving techniques of digital processes. Joining Manchester’s Mainframe studio as a motion designer in 2011, Jack creates super-polished, mesmerisingly intricate 3D pieces for clients such as Red Bull and Autodesk, using the company’s own specially developed software. Here he tells us how he’s learnt to keep things simple, and the benefits of persisting with self-initiated projects.
Motion Designer, Mainframe (2011–present)
Motion designer, 1Media (2010–2011)
Animator and Motion Graphics designer, Morph Films (2009)
BA Animation, Southampton Solent University (2005–2009)
How would you describe your job?
It’s an all-rounder animator and motion designer role, covering 2D, 3D, modelling, lighting, texturing and rendering. It’s quite wide-reaching, so it keeps things interesting and varied. I am sidekick to Ben Black and Matt Oxley [both motion designers], and we form the animation and motion graphics department. I am also editor-in-chief of studio puns.
What does an average working day look like?
Officially it’s 9am until 6pm, but we all put an extra shift in when needed, but that doesn’t happen too often. Luckily I live a stone’s throw away, so me and the dog (Rizzo) walk into the office. In terms of studio rituals, there are cups of tea and games of darts. The dartboard provides the perfect distraction for the odd 10 or 15 minutes. It helps reset your eyes and has been known to solve technical problems! Friday office beers is also a good way to get everyone together for a chat before the weekend.
“Gathering images and ideas is a great way of visualising the direction you want an aesthetic to move in.”
How did you land your current job?
I met the Mainframe London MD Adam Jenns through a friend of mine. I went into the Farringdon office for a chat and to show some of my work. When the Mainframe North job came up, Adam emailed me to let me know and so I applied. A short, informal interview later and I got the call.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
It’s pretty much all day at the computer, normally. It’s a very engrossing job, so it never feels like a slog. It’s a very informal and friendly studio atmosphere, so it’s a relaxing place to crack on with work.
How collaborative is your role?
We are constantly working together, sharing ideas and giving or taking opinions. Every job is different, but we collaborate frequently. Generally, we all have a look at what each other are doing and take the time occasionally to do a ‘show and tell’ of what we’ve been working on.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I still really love finding references for pitches and visual inspiration. Looking through the best of the best on the web (by other designers and artists) is always a massive inspiration. Gathering images and ideas is a great way of visualising the direction you want an aesthetic to move in.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
We’ve had some great, really polished 3D projects of late. We also made our internal project ‘For Approval’ which was a hit online and proved that it’s possible to finish internal projects!
What skills are essential to your job?
Other than the technical stuff, patience!
Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance?
I think we all manage to do what we like in our spare time. It’s not so all-encompassing that we miss any home life. We also fit in plenty of social time, so that the work-leisure time blends a little. There will be the odd occasion when we need to stay late and do a bit extra, but they’re rare.
Do you run any self-initiated projects alongside your job?
I’m a sucker for doing graphic design bits for friends! It usually manifests itself in logos or branding or invites. I like making static assets for print and web every now and again too.
What tools do you use most for your work?
A Mac Pro, Adobe Creative Suite, Maya, Cinema 4D, Z Brush.
In the studio
Jack at work
Inside the studio
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
Taller. I still do.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
It made me realise that hand-drawn animation is ridiculously labour-intensive! The course made me look more towards the 3D side of animation and focus on a more graphic approach. I had no idea how many styles and approaches there were in animation.
What were your first jobs?
My first job was making mostly 2D animations for TV-screen content. Most of the design came directly from point-of-sale graphics, so the creativity was limited. It did give me good grasp of After Effects though, and honed my skills on the graph editor. It’s where I started playing with basic 3D, which sparked my interest.
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
My old art teacher, Mrs Denby. She suggested that I went down a more cartoon-graphic-animation route. I see her from time to time and still thank her now. The move to Mainframe thrust me into the fast lane for learning new skills. All the team here have been unbelievably patient with me and my incessant questions!
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
I think the very first ‘proper’ client projects are immensely important as a way of getting all the fundamentals correct and making sure that your workflow fits into the production pipeline. That sounds pretty dry and boring, but without learning the basics, entire projects can fall apart.
“Hand-drawn animation is ridiculously labour-intensive! My course made me look more towards the 3D side and focus on a more graphic approach.”
What skills have you learnt along the way?
We always need to update our skills with the development of software. With MASH in Maya being developed here at Mainframe, we get to test, break and feedback on the software so the team can tweak bits here and there.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Learning to strip everything back. I have a nasty habit of over-complicating things before I got back to basics. ‘Keep it simple’ really is king.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
It’s exactly what I hoped for. It’s more varied than I thought, which has given me the chance to broaden my skills. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed combining the many aspects of the job over the years. Falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ of motion graphics, as it were.
What would you like to do next?
It would be nice to get involved with some virtual reality projects and explore that world a little more.
Could you do this job forever?
I really don’t think I’ll live forever.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Keep striving to get better. Hone both your technical and design skills to the point you can lead projects and have a more directorial role.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a motion designer?
Don’t take criticism too much to heart. Look back at your old work every six months. You’ll be astounded by the progress you’ve made. Use that to push you further.
This article is part of a feature on Mainframe.