Last November I sought out to find motion designers in the School of Motion community that were excelling in motion design, helping lead the community around them and were serious about progress.
Why was I doing that? I was building a small team to talk with Chris Do on The Futur about our industry, and seek advice on how to overcome obstacles set before us. One of those artists was Dorca Musseb, a New York City-based motion artist.
Recently, we talked about journaling and how it’s helped her grow and stay on top of her day. I struggle with journaling and taking notes so I asked her if she wouldn’t mind sharing her wisdom with others as well, so here we are. First, we get to know Dorca and what she does, then she walks through what her journaling habits look like, and offers insight on how this can be a really useful habit to have.
Who is Dorca Musseb and what makes her tick?
My name is Dorca Musseb and I’m originally from Puerto Rico. I came to the US as a teenager a long while back. I’ve been a Motion Designer and Animator for 8 years now and I’m based in NYC. Some of my awesome clients are Showtime, Adobe, BET, Centric and Comedy Central.
I gravitate towards fantasy/comic book movies and TV Shows with heavy special effects, since I love compositing. Also, I read a ton of books and graphic novels, like going to museums and galleries, and really love surrounding myself with art, design, animation, my husband and my doggy.
…And wine. I like wine.
How did you learn motion design?
I went to the School of Visual Arts in NYC and graduated from their Motion Graphics Design program way back in the day.
Who is putting out great work that you admire, keep going back to for references, or who helped inspire you to start in this industry?
I think the usual suspects that everyone loves. Psyop, Gretel, Buck and Giant Ant. Their work is truly inspiring and fun to watch. School of Motion has been another interesting source of inspiration. I’m part of their alumni and seeing other designer/animator’s growth and the cool work they post is a great source of inspiration for me.
I’d say my mentors inspire me on a daily and push me to do better work like Christina Black my current art director Jen Epstein who has been a continuous source of strength, knowledge and inspiration. Dana Kinlaw and Josh Pelzek without whose influence and guidance, I wouldn’t have made it this far and Raul Alejandro whose drive and determination continues to inspire to this day.
As far as who inspired me to get in the industry, I think it was more of a what than a who. I’ve always loved animation and special effects as a child but I wasn’t confident my drawing skills were up to par and I never thought I could do traditional animation. Then, I discovered Flash (Macromedia Flash… I’m old) and my teacher at my community college back then encouraged me to pursue this “new digital animation thing” that was in its infancy back then.
Finding out I could animate without having to traditionally draw frames out started me down the motion design/animation path I find myself in today. When I attended SVA to get my bachelors degree, I had no idea they had a Motion Graphics program as it was pretty new back then as well. I took one look at their program and I knew this was what I wanted to do.
What type of motion do you like to focus on primarily?
I like to focus on 2 and 2.5D animation. I have been very shy in the past to try out 3D and while I am able to use the program, I’ve used it sparingly. I finally “girded my loins”, took the plunge and I’m taking School of Motion’s Cinema 4D Basecamp.
How do you set aside time to practice? How do you learn?
I am an exceedingly curious person and I’m constantly trying to learn something new. If there’s any downtime where I’m waiting on feedback from clients, I’ll go online and watch a tutorial or two. This is how I found School of Motion and ended up taking several of their bootcamps.
Sometimes, I may be listening to a Motion Graphics podcast where the guest or host mentions a technique I’ve never heard about and off I go to chase it down in YouTube land.
To be honest, a lot of the time I learn as I go. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a very wide range of projects that have required my learning a new skill set almost every single time. That’s how I’ve learned most of my technical skill and knowledge in design, compositing and animation.
I’ll add one more thing to this list and that is opening up peers and online downloaded AE projects and check what’s under the hood. Taking apart a project layer by layer and seeing how it’s built has been immensely helpful to learn how to technically build my own projects.
Watching this Greyscale Gorilla tutorial that did a layer by layer breakdown was a huge learning experience. I’ve since asked peers for their projects or downloaded AE projects just to see how it’s built and have learned a ton from it.
Any book recommendations, or documentaries?
I think if I list all the books I’ve read this article would probably be 12 pages long. Hahaha!
I’m gonna keep it relevant…
Manage your Day to Day from 99U has been so helpful for figuring out my personal process and dispelling a lot of artistic/designer myths. As an ex-perfectionist, I found their chapter on perfectionism absolutely perfect.
Design for Motion by Austin Shaw has been a great help for learning the process of designing frames.
Sprint, How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz has been a very interesting read.
For learning visual story-telling, Scott Mcloud’s Understanding Comics and Making Comics has been amazingly helpful since it’s about sequential art which is very, very closely related to Motion Graphics design boards (in my humble opinion).
What are your goals for your career in 2018?
I feel like I’m headed in a really good direction. I wanted to design more and I’m getting to do that now. I’m really happy with where I’m headed right now. It’s right where I want to be. This year seems to be paying off all the hard work I’ve put in. I feel really great and count myself lucky to be able to continue working in this field and getting better by the day.
I really want to start making some more personal work which I think will be happening soon.
What’s your dream job, and how do you think you’ll get there?
I want to tell my own stories.
I feel I need to learn a few more technical skills before I can tackle directing my first little animation short which I already have a good idea for. My dream job would be to eventually tell my own stories through animation.
Any advice for people working to hone their craft? What about those who are looking to go freelance?
The same advice that has been repeated time and time again because it’s what works. Work hard, ask questions, practice; lots and lots and lots of practice.
Watch, learn and ask questions from those whose work you admire. There is no magic sauce other than a lot of hard work. I wished I had different advice. I think when I started I thought there was a secret to what we do. I used to mystify the process and think I’d “never had these great ideas”. But ideas don’t come from the ether.
They come from working hard, practicing, weeping while watching someone else’s work that’s so much better than yours and learning from that work, building a good reference library and then weeping some more at finding how hard it is to get to that beautiful frame for it to last about a second on the screen. There’s no secret and no magic sauce. It’s hard work, dedication and practice…sometimes weeping.
Also, I’d say to not be discouraged when you see someone’s work and it looks amazing. A lot of the time, that person has had years of practice under their belt and more than likely is a part of a team of people that made it happen. I’ve been a part of a team of people who’ve made many projects happen. It takes a village and a few of the village’s neighbors. This is a highly collaborative environment. Being able to work well with others matters.
As far as freelance, don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there. And don’t be afraid to ask others what you think you should charge. Ask for feedback from both peers and clients. Get the Freelance Manifesto by Joey Korenman. Join the online communities like Motion Hatch that are amazing resources and ask questions there. Collaborate with other people and learn to network and put that ego away, please.
There is no magic sauce other than a lot of hard work.
What’s one piece of wisdom that you come back to when you need inspiration?
Inspiration is easy to find if you have Pinterest and decent Google search skills. I feel wisdom is needed to continue to stay motivated rather than inspired. It’s when things get hard or when they’re just not working or when I have to abandon a piece I’ve just spent hours (days, weeks) working on that disappointment and discouragement can get the best of me. I feel it’s more motivation than inspiration I have to find to continue to work.
In those moments, after a few minutes (hours or sometimes days) of internally throwing my fists in the air and cursing the gods in the skies, I have to take a deep breath and remember that there will be ‘a next time’ and I will do better. A lesson has been learned and at times a painful one. Learn the lesson well, salvage what you can and on to the next project. I’d say that’s what I come back to knowing that there will be a next time and I now know what NOT to do.
I feel wisdom is needed to continue to stay motivated rather than inspired.
This is one of the big reasons I wanted to chat with you. This big mysterious thing called ‘Journaling’, which always seems so sweet and yet so elusive for me personally.
When did you start journaling and why?
Steadily? For personal journaling about 12 years ago. For work, about 2.5 years ago.
I found out when I was younger that my memory is improved by visually seeing myself physically write things down and draw next to my notes. As a kid, I’d remember answers to tests depending on what doodle in the margins of my notebooks the answer was next to. Doodling helped me focus and remember.
When I started journaling again, my memory for references and technical skills started improving as a result of my sketching alongside taking notes while watching tutorials.
Was it easy to get going or did you struggle to find a rhythm?
Anything that gets tried for the first time is bound to be awkward and downright uncomfortable; sometimes even painful.
It’s just how it is until we make a habit out of it. I wasn’t consistent at first. But then I started realizing that when I didn’t journal and work things out beforehand when starting a project, I’d sit at the computer and get more and more frustrated at the results I was getting from my work. I’d end up going in the wrong direction or wasting a lot of my time. That’s when I started connecting the fact that for me, it’s a great idea to sit and journal before I tackle on any project.
Did someone introduce you to doing this?
It kinda organically happened on its own. It’s usually suggested to journal for therapeutic reasons and that’s how it began for me. I took that idea and made it a part of my work process as well.
What kind of journal do you use?
I’m picky about my journals. This is going to sound strange but I have to hold it in my hands and it has to feel like it’s mine. It has to feel like I can see myself writing or drawing on it. Otherwise, I won’t buy it. It also has to have some sort of nice design on the cover. I currently carry 3 journals with me. One for personal journaling, one for sketching personal ideas and one for work ideas/client feedback.
Have you ever had a client comment on you writing things down?
Clients love when I write things down, take notes or they see me sketching as they talk to me about their project.
It makes them feel good to see that I’m already having ideas on how to solve their creative visual problem. I often get comments like “oh, she’s already getting ideas!” with big smiles on their faces. It’s always a plus to bring a sketchbook to a meeting. Art Directors also love to see how my chicken scratches (otherwise known as thumbnails) turn into finished frames.
My notes and sketches serve as a reminder of my first impression on what the client is looking for. As I write down answers to questions or comments and feedback I may get, it helps me refer to it afterward when I sit down in front of my computer at my desk after that initial meeting and forget 95% of the things that I was JUST told.
I get easily distracted by shiny things and writing notes down out really helps me focus back to what was said in the meeting.
What’s the importance of journaling for you and then also for your career?
I’m so thankful to have found something that works for me on a personal level and I started applying it towards my work when I found myself stressed or anxious about a project and how to approach it, I found journaling keeps me calmer, grounded and focused and in turn, I feel more confident in my abilities.
I find that writing things down or sketching them out and seeing shapes interacting on paper allows me to think of the problem differently. It really organizes my thoughts and helps me make good decisions about the design and movement of the piece. It’s made a huge difference in my interactions with clients as they respond more positively and have more confidence that I can take on their projects with great results.
What would you say to get people started in journaling?
Get into the habit by writing for like 10 mins during the day. Just 10 mins. Write anything down. At first, it’ll be awkward and you may find yourself not knowing what to write. That’s ok.
If you can’t think of anything, write “I can’t think of anything”. Also, if you are frustrated or angry, it’s ok to write that down as well. It doesn’t all have to be positive only.
There’s going to be ideas that don’t pan out and it’s okay to scratch them out. And make notes on the side… “not working”. It definitely doesn’t have to be perfection. It’s just a place to work out your thoughts before you get to a computer screen.
What would you say has been the biggest impact since you started?
I really find journaling helps me work smarter.
How helpful it’s been with translating what’s stuck in my head aka “the vision” into the screen whether it’s by working it out with writing or sketching. It helps to work it out on paper first. At times, I’ll think an idea is the bee’s knees and when I try it out on paper, it either doesn’t fit the project or it’s way too complicated.
I’d rather find that out whether something is going to actually work or is appropriate way before I put Wacom pen to tablet than to go really far down that road of designing or animating and then find out it doesn’t work. Journaling has been a time saver in many ways that I didn’t think it would be.
I feel a lot of designers/animators skip this step thinking it unnecessary and jump right into a program. Then they get frustrated when they’re not producing what they want to see. It’s not a waste of time. I find it to be a real time and effort saver to work out my compositions and transitions before I commit to them on screen.
Once I’m finished working it out, I then write down my plan of attack. What textures am I gonna need? What assets will I need? How do I go about getting them? I make a list of the next steps and I check them off. When I’m finished with that, I write another list for details. Writing it down, step by step, task by task makes it way less overwhelming and more doable. It also feels damn good to check things off.
I really find journaling helps me work smarter. There’s something about the physical act of writing it down or sketching it out that clears the cobwebs for me so I can figure out clearly how to produce the piece I’m trying to make.
This has been an interview with Dorca Musseb, Motion Designer and Animator based in New York City.
Check out her work at dmusseb.com!