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How This Motion Graphics Designer Thrived During The Pandemic

Motion Graphics Designer Maple Shipp did well in 2020. In addition to using Storyhunter to find gigs with clients like Red Bull and…
How This Motion Graphics Designer Thrived During The Pandemic

Motion Graphics Designer Maple Shipp did well in 2020. In addition to using Storyhunter to find gigs with clients like Red Bull and BBC, she started a freelance business. How did she make it happen? And what can others take away? She fills us in on her time-management tips and tricks, what to keep in mind when working with brands, and the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated motion graphics industry.

Shivan: What does a motion graphics artist do?

Maple: A motion graphics artist does a lot of things. Cell animation, text animation, 3D work, and character animation, all of those things and VFX, depending on the work, can fall under the umbrella of motion graphics. It’s such a fast-growing and wide-ranging field. That’s why I’m in it. It’s so exciting. It’s new and very tech-forward.

Shivan: You were one of the most successful freelancers of 2020. What was your secret to success?

Maple: Honestly, to start talking about success during the pandemic, I need to go back and start in the summer of 2019. At that time I had been working as Director of Motion Graphics at the New York Post. But I have always known in my heart that I was meant to work for myself. But when you start thinking about doing that for real, it’s very scary. It’s taking an impossible leap. In July of 2019, I was offered a permalance position at Unreasonable Studios, which is an ad agency based in Soho. And I was going to be the in-house Panera Bread editor and motion designer. The contract was up at the end of December and it seemed to me like the perfect opportunity to runway into working for myself.

While I was under contract at Unreasonable Studios, the name of the game was to save money, get myself a home workstation, and start building clientele. So, I went all-in with organizing my contact list, reaching out to potential clients, signing up for platforms like Storyhunter, and just taking jobs. I never said no to a job. Sometimes that meant working three or four or five at a time. It was nuts. That second half of 2019 was the most I’d ever worked up until that point in my life and little did I know that would be a prelude to 2020. But all of that to say by the time the pandemic rolled around, I was well and fairly set up to work from home.

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Shivan: You joined Storyhunter in 2019. How did you hear about Storyhunter?

Maple: I found out about Storyhunter because when I was Director of Motion Graphics at the Post, I used it for finding talent, especially for my Dark History series. I needed to hire people to go out and interview these experts who would be all over the country. If someone was in the middle of Iowa, I needed to find good sound people, DPs, and lighting people in Iowa. So, Storyhunter was great for that. Then when I decided to freelance, it was just a no-brainer because it was so helpful for me to use it to hire people that I was like, “I bet it’s probably pretty cool to be on the other end of this.”

Shivan: What were the main ways you were finding jobs when you were building your business?

Maple: It’s amazing how word of mouth works. As soon as you start taking jobs and if you’re good to work with, people will recommend you. Storyhunter was a huge help for me. But also just doing good work for other people and having them refer me was a huge help. I stress this a lot to people who are new in motion graphics or new in the freelance world, which is that I cold emailed people all of the time. Find producers at different agencies or on LinkedIn who are looking for full-time motion graphics artists or video editors and just cold email and say, “Hi, I see that you’re looking for a full-time editor. I’m a freelance editor. If you’re ever looking for that kind of work, here’s my portfolio.” It’s really amazing how much people respond to that too because finding good people takes a lot of energy and time.

Shivan: How do you get people to actually respond to cold emails?

Maple: I absolutely love organizational tactics and reading about project management. I actually have a service where you can see when people click on links. It’s called Mailtrack. And you can tell when people open your emails and you can tell when people click on links. I think it’s very helpful in terms of, “I sent this cold email to this person and they just clicked on my portfolio.” And then in my Airtable, I have a section for people who have seen my email. If they haven’t responded in two weeks or four weeks I will email them again if I’m still interested in following up.

Shivan: You’ve worked for clients such as Red Bull and Instagram. Can you tell us about the projects you worked on last year? And what’s been the biggest difference between working for brands versus media companies?

Maple: The Red Bull one was awesome because I got it through Storyhunter. It’s a digital series called Just Sayin’. It’s super fun. I’m the editor, sound designer, and motion graphics artist. I did a social ad campaign for this super bad-ass company called Boy Smells, a candle company. They did a partnership with Kacey Musgraves and that social campaign was very avant-garde and fun. This past year, the companies that are coming into mind that are starkly different are the work that I do for BBC Reels versus Facebook and Instagram. Minutiae is focused on a lot more with brand work because branding is everything. Especially for Instagram, I remember one time I spent an hour with my boss going over the angles of gradients that were in our After Effects projects because that’s the kind of thing that really matters.

With BBC Reel, it’s so much more open, the world is your oyster. And as long as you’re telling a story visually that makes sense to an audience, you have free reign. It’s not that one of those things is better than the other, because honestly, sometimes with brand work, it’s easier because you know exactly what you can and can’t do. And with the creative stuff, if you’re like me, you can spin your wheels on design forever. Those are the biggest differences.

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Maple worked on this social ad campaign for Boy Smells

Maple: What content did you work on for Instagram and Facebook?

Maple: It’s the sales arm for Facebook and Instagram. So, it’s a lot of tutorials, for example, how to use Facebook and Instagram products. It’s a lot of spotlighting small businesses that use Facebook and Instagram and who’ve seen success using those tools.

Shivan: How do you balance your own creative urges with what the client wants?

Maple: It depends on the brand and on the project. I’m working on a project right now and the motion graphics for this project are very simple. But in order to achieve the desired result, that was what they needed to do. To be a very successful motion graphics artist, you have to put your own pride and your own creative direction tendencies on hold sometimes to give people what they want, because what somebody else wants and what you think they should want are often very different. I also think it’s important to remember that a lot of times you’re not the star of the show as the motion graphics designer, you are supplementary or you’re enhancing something else. As soon as you’re able to sort of put your own ego away and do someone else’s work in the way that makes the whole project better, that’s the best.

Shivan: When the pandemic hit, how did you recalibrate your workflow?

Maple: There was really no re-calibration that needed to be done because of the pandemic because I was already getting work digitally. I was already cold emailing and using job sites to get work. So, that didn’t change. But on top of getting these freelance jobs, I landed another full-time contract position with Facebook. 2020 was a whirlwind of work. Obviously, I feel very fortunate to be able to say that because I know 2020 was synonymous with a lack of work for so many people.

But me taking every job and just figuring it out as I went along was the worst possible thing that I could have done for my mental health. I was waking up at 4:00 a.m. to get work done before I started my Facebook job. And then after Facebook, I would work until I started seeing double and needed to go to reset. A lot of that was the pandemic forcing me indoors, because I was like, “What else am I going to do except work?” But that was very misguided thinking. My advice as a freelancer and I learned this because of the pandemic, is to try not to work more than 40 hours a week. And if you can find ways to work smarter and still make enough to live and save to retire, then that’s the dream because it frees up your life.

Shivan: How did you learn to start working smarter?

Maple: I block out hours of my day for various things I need to do instead of keeping a long-running to-do list, which is what I did all of 2020, and that did not work out for me. I got everything done, but it was a huge toll on my mental health. But in this time-block way, I can make sure I’m not overloading myself. And I insert things that matter to me that I really want to do like Spanish, reading, game nights, and learning stuff in the motion design world. Try everything you can to figure out a time management system that works for you and gives you that legendary work-life balance.

Shivan: Gender equality is a big issue in the male-dominated motion design community. What’s your experience as a woman in the motion graphics world?

Maple: I love kicking ass as a female motion graphics artist because there’s still so much more we need to do to make the playing field equal. It’s true that a lot of motion graphics artists are still men. It’s true that most of them are still white. I’ve been fortunate enough to always have a very strong sense of self-worth. And I think that as a woman in this industry, you do need to have that especially when you’re asking for pay because I do consistently constantly get offered less than my male counterparts. And when I push back, I get pushback. The motion graphics industry is so open and friendly and everyone is more than willing to talk about money and rates. The sooner that clients learn that we’re all just talking to each other, it will be fair. But as a woman, unfortunately right now, you need to stand up for yourself more than the average male.

Maple: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Shivan: Storyhunter did not pay me to say this, but sign up for Storyhunter if you’re a freelancer because it’s really been so helpful for me. The biggest piece of advice aside from time management that I can give to any freelancer is to network with people in your industry. There are all kinds of ways to network with people digitally. I have made such great friends and connections in this way. Friends make everything better, and if they’re in your industry, that’s even cooler.

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Interviewed by Shivan Sarna, Head of Stories