Vocal Variety



YSDN 2006 Alumni

Freelance motion design and director in NYC




YSDN 2007 Alumni

Co-founder, Creative Director at Thought Cafe




YSDN 2006 Alumni

Creative Director and Co-Founder of Thought Cafe and FutureTalk


1. How would you compare the learning done in school to what you learn working in the industry? Have the working environments you’ve experienced foster growth and learning?


  • When I started to learn on the actual job I was like, “Oh wow, everything I learned in school doesn't apply here, but that way of thinking that I learned really applied,” it was more of the foundational understanding. It’s not just about drawing something or making something that looks pretty, it's actually about digging down to try to find what the proper solution could potentially be.
  • It fostered my growth a little quicker when they started to trust me more, because I was thinking of this from a holistic standpoint.

Jonathan or Suzanna

  • It was the way that we were taught to think about things and formulate concepts and see them through that I found the most helpful and applicable to the workplace.
  • There were things that in our time that I’ve learned like mounting and creating presentation boards that I didn't end up having to use but I still respected the learning behind it because it taught that kind of finesse and preparation of your final work. The importance of it, looking presentable and reflecting the amount of effort you put into it but definitely just sort of the cognitive aspect of how you formulate creative concepts was what really saw us through the actual grounds of being in a workplace
  • I remember so much of the critique rounds at school being so enlightening and just like learning how to take critique learning how to give critique. That's something that in a team dynamic, when you're explaining your work and taking feedback from clients or colleagues, comes in handy. The philosophies and processes that we were taught were certainly more clickable post graduation to work.
  • With the constant evolution and change of technologies, it's very hard for schools to sort of keep up with exactly what cutting edge workflows need to be utilised. In this day and age when things are changing so quickly, it is important to know and expect that you will probably won't be doing exactly what you learned execution wise but to really focus on the philosophical aspect and the process aspect that you learn there.

2. What inspired you to do motion design and what continues to inspire you?


  • During this time, animating graphics was becoming a whole new kind of workflow and medium where animation isn’t just about animated characters. It was now about animating communication.
  • I saw a lot of power behind this idea. Graphic designers were scribes in print then motion designers were scribes of the internet.
  • I was really excited about pushing the limits of making an animation be profound and become something that taught important things.


  • I remember watching a show called six feet under and the title came on. From the first key, from the piano and the visuals, I was hooked. Essentially, the emotions that I got from watching just the credits on screen brought me into what the show will be about. From that moment on, I just tried to find who did it and what else they did.
  • I believe that design is just a form of communication, some people use words beautifully, we just typically combine that with some form of imagery.
  • What really intrigued me was when I was reading about interviews and their breakdowns, it wasn’t “Oh, we have this look and we're just going to toss this on the show” no, it was “We want to understand what the show is about and what is intended.”
  • I love hearing different perspectives on these questions, and just hearing about how you went from point A to point B.


  • For me, the trajectory was a little bit different because when I was studying, I was pretty sat on editorial. Editorial design and branding was what I was most interested in. I really admired and respected motion graphics, but I just didn't gravitate so much towards animation. One thing I remember was worrying so much about choosing my, my focus, do I want to do editorial or book design?
  • One of the first jobs I took out of school was for a game design company so it was just a completely different world and ended up doing more branding work and graphic design for them but then saw just how many key players were involved in bringing a game to life and how much room there were for designers with all sorts of skill sets to take part.
  • Then when John and I partnered to start Thought Cafe, his passion for motion graphics flowed on to me. I really saw the beauty and power in it. Helping people communicate difficult concepts and educational messages in a way that was palatable and easy to digest really started to appeal to me.
  • I did try to get a job at Adbusters, that was my dream. But, it became a dream to start an animation studio as well and so I totally didn't expect my path to pivot there. What I love so much about doing motion graphics and animation was the creative side of the vision and the art and the composition of the boards.
  • So even if you're not specifically on the animation side I've always told people that there's different ways that you can get into these different expressions and mediums, with different skill sets.
  • There's always a place for whatever your key interest or skill set is and you can sort of move between mediums and learn the necessary skill sets required to kind of shift and pivot as needed. I always found that really encouraging, is that you can really love a medium and come into it from angles that you never expected.

3. Can you guys just give a brief description about Thought Cafe and tell us what inspired you to develop Thought Cafe?

  • It is sort of a boutique animation design and visual effects company that focuses entirely on factual content. So we work in the realm of sort of documentary film that you'd see on Discovery Channel or Curiosity Stream. There's a lot more now than there used to be when we started the company so more broadcasts work is happening nowadays.
  • Also education content, part of which, you know, a big part of the studio is a YouTube education channel we have called Crash Course, which has been a huge successful foundation for the studio that we've been working on for about eight years.
  • The original studio was founded by Susan and myself in a small little bedroom office in Vancouver. Now we've grown to usually between 25 and 40 people, depending on what we're working on and it's been really great to see over the last 12 years. There is enough work out there for motion designers and graphic designers and illustrators and animators to take their head to use their strengths to promote critical thinking and spread important messages
  • I think it's been really amazing to see all the other companies that came up around our time as well, especially in the YouTube space. That’s sort of what we were doing, it's been a really great path for us.

4. How has changing technologies, tools and applications affected the way you work?

  • Essentially what happens is, every two to three years, you're trying to learn something new. It doesn't mean you have to be an expert on it, but you have to at least understand sort of what the shifting landscape is which for some people can seem really daunting.
  • It’s just more understanding that the world is constantly shifting, and you never know what's going to really stick for a while. And what people will really gravitate towards in terms of how to access content. You could go back before we were in university where people just used newspapers and radios to get information. Then all of a sudden that became 24 hours news which meant that there needs to be more content created.
  • I think the biggest thing is just understanding the responsibility that you have with that technology. For learning software, you can go on YouTube, there's videos for all of that stuff. If you're interested in it, put the time in. When you're passionate about something you don’t feel obligated to learn it, you just play around with it and see how far you can get. Then you feel that endorphin rush of accomplishing something, it starts to snowball.
  • The biggest thing that I didn't know at the time was understanding how you as a designer operate. For example, what hours are you best working at, are you a day, afternoon or middle of the night person. You have to figure out how you will align yourself so when you're optimally ready to absorb information and to learn things, that's when you strike. Because if you don't, you're always going to feel like you're struggling. But if you're able to access that in your mind, you’ll be able to think “Oh, I can, I could do anything.”
  • If you're a bird, fly. If you're a fish, swim. I just mean, know yourself and be happy with that and lean into your strengths, you can cover your weaknesses with your strengths.
  • When we were this age and you had to learn a new program, you literally bought a book and it was 800 pages, and that's how you learn. There were no video tutorials, there was no support. We would buy these books and share them with people. So whenever I hear people say things like, “oh yeah I don't want to learn that” I'm just like, “oh my god, it's so much easier now.” However, I think the most important thing is you don't need to be a master at the application but you need to put in 10 to 15 hours of just looking at it, watching videos about it, trying a couple things.
  • I would say that people should have the attitude of being a maybe person, like don't say no to anything. Something should always be a maybe. We're living at a time right now where there's a big consolidation of technologies and a lot of things are really pointing towards real time animation via effects tools like the Unreal game engine and Unity game engine. So those things are really intimidating for people who are like “Man, I just learned how to use cinema 4D or I just learned how to use Blender,” but you're not going to lose all those things you learned. Using Blender, using cinema 4d, you're going to be able to take those over into another 3D application and do more things or combine the two. Doing some research and touching base with why everyone's talking about these tools, there's probably a reason why and it's probably important that you sort of learn a little bit about it.

5. For Theo:  What was the first project that gained large scale recognition that you're allowed to talk about?

  • The biggest thing would have been God of War.
  • I had no idea what it was at the time, I knew the game but I never played it so I went and got a PlayStation 2, and then bought all the games I could. Then I went on Wikis, read everything, and took notes that weekend. That's all I did. I didn't sleep, came back Monday and I was the God of War expert. When it came to the pitch and everything I could be more well versed with just the lore.
  • When we finally got the job, we talked with the director, he is a stickler for things, he mentioned something that I actually interrupted and corrected. Everybody looked at me like they were gonna kill me. And they said, actually you're right, and then they all looked at me like they loved me. From that moment on they were like  “Okay, he knows what he's doing.”
  • At the same time, I had to stop that pitch to help out on this TV title called Rubicon, and that was ultimately what was nominated for an Emmy, and we lost to Game of Thrones.

6. How do you describe your professional network and how has social media impacted the way you promote your work?


  • Crash Course was something that, when it first came about, we had no idea what it was going to be. So John and Hank Green had applied to do Crash Course, and we only knew of John because we animated one of his blogs, from their blog brothers channel. It had done well, he really loved it, he put it out there and that was sort of like us in our early days just testing out our theory of putting really educated and interesting voices to motion graphics.
  • We just happened to come across a vlog of his that was really well explained and we didn't even know who he was or anything. So later when Crash Course came about, they approached us to be their brand partners and help develop the animation style and all of that stuff that would go alongside the host on screen.
  • So, I remember us really weighing the decision and whether it was something that we could take on and, budget wise, we just knew it was sort of a risk. It could flop, YouTube at the time was popping but we didn't know how that kind of show would do. It turned out to be a huge success.
  • That brought a lot of opportunities our way because there was a lot of kids watching whose parents noticed, and worked in a company or agency that needed some work done and really loved our material. We had a lot of people reaching out to us to ask if we could just create an animated education show for them for free. A lot of that.
  • But we did get a lot of good opportunities out of that, I think it was just a great blessing and sort of an example of our work speaking for itself and then people coming across it, coming to us and wanting to work with us are bringing different ideas our way.
  • So from then we did start to attract more factual content and series and stuff that we really wanted to continue to branch into. Then a lot of it was through attending different networking events as well and making contacts within the city and the community.
  • We did for a time do our own thing with social media where we had a fund funded by the CMS fund, we did our own series called cafe plus. So for a couple of years we were doing our own animated YouTube show. We were trying to ramp up our own social media as well. But I would say that a lot of our stuff came from Crash Course and then just any clients that we worked with we maintained a good relationship


  • Well, just a large part of social media has been this kind of attempt at creating online communities. I think that a big part of what we did, from the beginning with Crash Course was allowing people to become members of a social media community that they feel like they were a part of.
  • Social media is really important, but if you're trying to develop something bigger or develop your studio you almost want to also create a community with that and so looking at community building through stuff like discord for example which has become pretty much the hub for community building of brands.
  • It's something that everybody should consider starting to get used to, or at least starting to do right from the get go.
  • The content has to be good but you also just have to do it. You have to do it all the time, every day. So a lot of people just can't do that, and that's okay. Don't think you're going to make it through social media if you're not willing to post every single day three or four times on both TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube occasionally.
  • Building a following, you just have to be doing all that. If you're not going to do it, don't think that you're not going to be successful, but don't also approach your career thinking that that's going to work out for you. Because it's a very intense skill to execute.

7. Share five helpful tips, specific to your design field

  • You want to understand that there's still a lot to learn about yourself and what you want to do and you may have an idea of what you want to be and what you want to do but that's going to probably be different than what you end up being. At the age that most of you are at, you should really focus on your skills and become a professional, having that nine to five. But then not letting go of that bigger dream you have right off the get go because you're not going to get the job in your first job out of school. Have that in mind, but treat that as your five to nine job. You got your nine to five job, and then your five to nine.
  • You don’t actually have to spend four hours, it just means that you’re spending 20 minutes or two hours, or 10 minutes or three hours, whatever it is. Every time that you're going to commit to work for that nine to five you're going to commit a little bit of time to your five to nine. The more you put into that and the more you develop that. The sooner you'll be able to swap that five to nine into your nine to five, which is something that most of my successful friends and everyone on this panel was kind of able to do in between the age of 28 to 35. But if you don't put in the extra time above and beyond the job that you get, you're not going to be as motivated or prepared and you're going to become a passive person who's not developing.


  • Embrace procrastination as part of your creative process. That was something I actually learned from my therapist that changed my life. I remember talking about how it was a creative project outside of work that I was really putting off and I wasn't able to hit the ground running on it for a long time. Her suggestion to me was like, you're still ideating the whole time that you're not sitting down to do it. You're thinking about it all the time, there's things you're mulling over: different ideas, different options, and different approaches. That's part of why you're putting it off because you're like “How am I going to get at this?” Sometimes it does help to just sit down and start but I will get down to it when it's necessary. The time I spend putting it off is actually part of my creative process sometimes and that's okay. I even dream about it and then suddenly I'm in the mood and the mood strikes and I'm ready to go and then it flows.
  • Another tip is to syphon my work life, not overworked myself and not get too stressed out. Don't run yourself into the ground because your health and mental health is all important to your creative process and your success too.


  • Don't forget where you come from, the people you grew up with and the people that you trust, value and respect. The people that you've been working with in this actual program are going to be your best friends and will help push you forward. Whether you're down and out and sometimes you just need to have a chat.
  • Don't lose your contacts, we graduated forever ago. Our group of people, even if I'm in New York, still know each other. You can help each other, you have a question about something that you have no idea about, you can branch out to somebody else.
  • The other thing is you don't need to know everything. Other people will be experts of things as well and you can learn their strengths. I think that's a really big thing and that helped me, especially with my freelance career because I jumped from place to place and it's you've got to prove yourself, very quickly. But once you start to know people and you start to know the players, you can start to realise, “Oh, I really am interested in that, let me ask them, like what do they do, what's the easiest way into this.” That's a way of fostering growth.
  • You've got your people. I know the pandemic has changed a lot of the physical interactions, but you still have your cohorts. Make sure you stay near them and talk to them and help each other out.

Q&A Portion

8. How do you recommend getting into motion graphics?

  • What aspect of it really interests you? For me it was the storytelling and the emotions. I was really good at creating style frames to show what the final would look like, then speaking with the team and figuring out how to execute it. So, I wasn't the best animator, I'm still not the best animator, by far, you know, so it's more about figuring out precisely what you're interested in.
  • Susanna said she's really good at typography. That was an access point that she could launch herself into because it's not something you need to know all at once. Just attack from there and then bit by bit, you start to build your skill set.
  • Just start making stuff, that's the easiest thing that you can do. Don't try and make a two minute animation, try and make a five second animation, or a 10 second animation. A lot of us want to be good at something before we start. A lot of people don't like playing a sport they're bad at or working on something that's a skill that they don't necessarily have, but again, you're going to find a passion for it.
  • For the animation side of it, let's say you're going to realise that you want to do that, but doing the storyboard side of it or doing the production design side of it is what you really enjoy but you're not going to figure that out until you can jump in and start doing it. The other way of doing this that can be really beneficial is to team up with fellow colleagues at school and be like “Let's make something” Just doing stuff like that where it can be more collaborative but where it's like “okay, I'm going to do some art and you animate it like let's see what we can build and just start working.” Don't try and carry it all on yourself but just start producing.

9. What was your favourite YSDN memory?


  • Theo was one of the happiest people in our year and had the greatest smile, so I took a photo of his face and added some effects to it in Photoshop and then made it into a shirt. It was part of our grad show fundraiser.
  • We're trying to sell and raise money and ended up selling out. It was great, people didn't understand but we all felt like we all have that memory. It was just a thing we talked about but the teachers didn't really get it, and then anyways that's a big memory for me.


  • A lot of the stressful sloppy moments are what I look back on with fondness.
  • A sloppy moment I remember that I look back on and chuckle out all the time was of one of my friends. We were waiting in the big round Hall and at York and we were just sitting around and I think we had an evening class. We were just tired and delirious. She had this laptop and CDs sitting on her keyboard and she said “I have to go to class!” and she just slammed her laptop and shoved it in her bag, all her keys ripped off of her.
  • We were just dying because it was so bad, it was the last thing you want to happen but we were so delirious at that point that even she was crying and laughing and running off to class. It's those sloppy moments that at the time I was just like, “Oh, I need sleep and I feel crazy” but there's some of the funniest memories.

10. Do you have any insights or experiences you’d like to share about negotiating compensation?

  • It's more just your personal self, your brand and what you believe you're worth is. I will say from the outset, you're never going to get what you want. I think the biggest thing is understanding that, whether you're going to work for the client or you're being hired by a boutique studio to work, come in as if you are a business yourself and you'll immediately be treated with more respect, when you're talking about funds.
  • As soon as you're starting, it's going to be more unique opportunities to show what you're worth. Once you have enough of a track record, you can start to dictate prices in a more meaningful way. From the outset, it's not “Okay, I'm professional” like no, you're just a student, you just graduated, the only thing that's different is that you got this piece of paper. You've got 14 year olds who are more professional. Then you've got 30 year olds, they've just been doing the work and understand like “Okay, so they want to do an album cover, let me figure out that, let me make a timeline, get them to sign off on deliverables once you start doing those things like, Oh, this person knows what they're doing” I can start talking about numbers but that means nothing, it's more about them, understanding what type of professional you are.
  • I think, from an SEO standpoint, this is probably similar to talking about the freelance side of things. One of the first things you want to do is decide what the opportunity is for you, because then you're in a better position to sort of understand what the opportunity cost would be.
  • But what I'd say, especially early on, is that the most important thing is to keep the conversation going. And that's sort of what the show was sort of hinting at like, don't let there be any dead end. The biggest number one dead end that you will always run into and we run into as a studio all the time is what the actual budget is. So, everyone wants to keep that very close to themselves, they don't want to tell you what the budget is right, they want to find someone who fits within their budget, but they don't want to tell you what the actual budget is