Creative Lives — Motion designer Stephanie Fung talks internships, fair pay and landing her role at Selfridges
Doing a year in industry while at university lead to Stephanie Fung’s lucky break. Her internships at companies like The Mill enabled her to build a professional network that would eventually lead to her full-time role as motion designer at Selfridges. While the designer is a strong advocate for getting professional experience through an internship, she believes you should always be paid properly. This is partly because your spare time should be spent investing in personal projects, rather than on extra part-time work you need to pay the bills. We chat to Stephanie about not working for free, the importance of networking and why a good portfolio can only get you so far.
Motion Designer, Selfridges (2019-present)
The Face Magazine (March 2019)
Studio Moross (March 2019)
The Mill internship (April 2018)
Peter Anderson Studio internship (October 2017)
BA Graphic and Media Design,
London College of Communication (2015-2019)
How would you describe what you do?
I am a motion designer, which means I animate 2D and 3D graphics, bringing ideas to life through motion. I work typically in and for advertising, branding and retail.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
I’m based in Selfridges head office. My working day is supporting its screens in store and also their online campaigns throughout the year with motion design.
What are your hours?
I work eight hours a day from Monday to Friday. The start hours are flexible which is great.
'Composition', Personal Project (2019)
'Composition', Personal Project (2019)
“When I started full-time work again I had to get used to working with big teams of people rather than just by myself.”
How is your time split between different tasks?
Whichever deadline is first has priority. Thankfully we have a good work schedule system here so I am able to balance my workflow well.
Is there anything you miss about freelancing?
I used to freelance during university to earn extra cash while I was building my portfolio. It was great because it allowed me to create work when I wanted and I didn’t have to stick to the typical nine to five. The flexibility you have with your time is what I miss about freelancing, hands down.
When I started full-time work again, it took me some time to adjust to the routine of working Monday to Friday. I also had to get used to working with big teams of people rather than just by myself. However, I realised that I quite like being surrounded by people.
'The New Order', Work for Selfridges x Digi-Gxl (2019)
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
It’s definitely been the New Order Campaign for Selfridges I did with Digi-Gxl. We were commissioned by Selfridges to create a digital animation of garments that were used in the campaign. It was kick-ass to see all our skills come together to create our 3D digital vision.
I haven’t worked with 3D clothing before, so this project gave me a good insight into how digital skills are translatable across fashion design or motion design. There were five of us and we were all assigned different roles. I had the chance to animate, texture and model some scenes.
What was it that first drew you towards working in the virtual 3D world?
The first time I felt excited to learn about motion graphics was three years ago when I started watching YouTube tutorials by greyscalegorilla or eyedesyn. I just knew I wanted to create the kinds of things they were making and have never stopped learning cinema 4D ever since.
Are you currently working on any personal projects? If so, how do you manage your time alongside full-time work?
I am currently working on a project for OFFF Festival. I was accepted on to their OFFF Academy mentorship programme and have been creating a personal project under the mentorship of Vasjen Katro. I won’t reveal too much about the project yet but I will be presenting it at OFFF festival in April 2020 which is exciting and scary at the same time. Wish me luck!
Aside from that, I’m trying to learn more Houdini [3D animation software] and Unity [gaming software] in my spare time. However, I won’t lie, time management is hard. Especially with a full-time job. It can be a struggle to find the motivation to do your own personal projects after eight hours of work, two hours of commuting and daily errands. And on the weekends, it’s tempting to just watch Netflix and relax.
“Even though I work in digital, sometimes drawing an idea is much quicker and more efficient when creating storyboards.”
What skills and tools would you say are essential to your job?
Notebooks for sure. Even though I work in digital, sometimes drawing an idea is much quicker and more efficient when creating storyboards.
Other programs I use are Cinema 4D, Houdini, Adobe and occasionally Unity if I want to design for VR or AR.
How has your background in graphic design influenced the work that you do now? Do you strive to strike a balance between the mediums?
Studying graphic design at LCC has enabled me to understand design principles much better and to apply them to my motion design. I’m a big advocate for balance and composition within design and I think that is shown in my work.
However, I do think there is a difference between designing for graphics and designing for motion. With motion, you have to always think two steps ahead about how the movement starts and ends. You also have to give the movement a sense of purpose. This is something you don’t need to consider when creating flat graphics.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
A vet or a popstar. I know… not even close to what I am doing now.
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
I’ve always been interested in drawing and watching animation. I especially loved watching Disney, Pixar, Ghibli and anime while growing up, which I believe has had a huge influence on what I do now.
Do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I studied graphic design, which is the typical route for motion designers. But the short answer is no, you don’t need a qualification to be a motion graphics designer. What you need is a good understanding of design principles and animation. All that takes is practice. There’s so many online courses on motion graphics to learn from.
“I’ve always been interested in drawing and watching animation. I especially loved watching Disney, Pixar, Ghibli and anime while growing up.”
After graduating, what were your initial jobs?
I was lucky because I got to network with people from the industry during my internship year. I was then able to invite them to come to my degree show. This is how I met my current team at Selfridges.
It really made the difference talking to people face to face. I realised when I was job hunting that people are more likely to hire you or give you an interview if they have met you. That’s why networking in the creative industry is so important. A lot of my classmates (who didn’t do an internship year in industry) are struggling to find jobs they want because they haven’t networked. A good portfolio can only get you so far.
However, if you don’t have the right social skills then it might be harder for you get that dream job.
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break?
My internship at The Mill was definitely my lucky break. I was able to develop my technical skills within Cinema 4D, Houdini and After Effects at a quick pace because everyone there is encouraged to learn and share knowledge.
They are also one of the top VFX studios in London, so when I discovered that I would be taken on as their first intern on the design team I was ecstatic. They were also my portal into the motion design industry. I made good friends with the team even though I was only there for four months. We’ve stayed in contact ever since.
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
I talk about this with my motion design friends a lot. The challenge is that you can never know everything. But it’s okay to feel dumb once in a while.
Programs you once knew are always updating, new programs are constantly emerging and things that look simple can actually be quite complex. That’s why you have to keep striving to learn in this field because it’s quite competitive and will only keep growing.
What have been your biggest learnings about making money as a creative?
I have a big pet peeve when it comes to the creative industries: pay your interns and freelancers properly! I will never support a company that doesn’t pay people for their craft and tries to substitute money for exposure or experience.
I learned the hard way with one of my internships. I remember working a part-time job while trying to do an internship as a motion designer because the internship couldn’t cover my living costs. Boy was I knackered. Working six or even seven days a week was exhausting and I do not recommend it.
“The challenge is that you can never know everything. But it‘s okay to feel dumb once in a while.”
Creatives shouldn’t have to support themselves in other jobs in order to gain experience in the field. It is a toxic trait of the industry that has trickled down from oldschool companies. If you are an emerging creative and looking for opportunities, please don’t do free work. Your time and value is higher than that.
Also, I learned that I had been undervaluing my design services when I was at university. I hadn’t felt confident and was almost too shy to ask for more. When I told my colleagues at The Mill what I was offering for my freelance rates, they were shocked and said I should be asking for double if not triple the price. Of course, the rate motion designers offer should align with their experience and skill set. But don’t be scared to negotiate your fee with the client. What's there to lose?
For more information on handling design and business, I recommend The Futur’s YouTube channel.
How important has social media and self-promotion been for your career?
Social media has been key for enabling clients to find my work, especially Instagram. It’s a great tool for networking and finding inspiration. I initially used Instagram for my little experiments within Cinema 4D but now I use it as my portfolio. I show it to clients because they can quickly see all my work in one place.
I wouldn't say I am a social media guru. Sometimes, I still don’t know how to use hashtags correctly (or even if they work) but I am learning as I go. I use my design Instagram to solely follow people in the design industry and keep it separate from the shenanigans in my personal life.
Stephanie Fung Logo, 2019, Personal Project
Sci Fi Moment made with Xparticles and Redshift, Personal Project (2019)
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Like I said, networking is key. Go to the motion design festivals. Throw yourself into the deep end. Talk with people in the industry even if it makes your toes curl and your palms sweaty. Once you do, you’ll realise that other people are just as socially awkward as you.
Lastly, I definitely recommend emerging creatives do personal projects. Don’t just show companies your university work, show them something you actually care about. It doesn’t even have to be finished. Usually, companies care most about your thought process and the potential of the project. I am a big advocate for personal projects because firstly you have creative control over them, and secondly they keep you sane from the crazy working world. Do it even if you're tired because it will only make your creative skills grow.