How often in life can you say you’ve sat side-by-side with your heroes – the ones whose work has inspired your entire career? How about a room full of them?

Last week I attended Motion, a three-day creative conference held annually in Santa Fe, NM, which tends to attract the best and brightest minds in motion design and filmmaking. 150 attendees spanning all ranges of age and interest joined speakers from The Mill, Leftchannel, Lobo, Imaginary Forces, TV LandTrollbäck+Company, Blind and others in thought-provoking creative exchanges that focused as much on the talent of the audience as the speakers on the stage.

The talent of each speaker and the questions the audience followed up with left me with copious notes that spanned an entire notebook, but for the sake of writing a digestible blog post, I’ll attempt to outline the most important lessons learned from each presenter:

As we mature, we risk losing our creativity

Cecilia Ottenweller noted that as we mature and journey through the corporate world we often lose the inspiration that once excited us to go out and create. As a museum instructor, she found that 4th graders were always able to find more creative solutions to a simulated mission to Mars than the groups of corporate executives who would fail the same challenge. She noted that adults often have an expectation that life is serious and tend to temper creativity. As creatives, it our mission to fix problems by thinking less logically and bringing back our childhood sense of wonder.

Cecilia also dispensed her practical advice learned through years of writing radio news scripts and museum tags:

  • Get information out fast, but get it understood
  • Distill information to what needs to be most understood
  • Be an advocate for your audience

Infer the intelligence of your audience

Karin Fong – the inspiration behind motion powerhouse Imaginary Forces – noted that as creatives we need to get away from dumbing it down and infer the intelligence of our audience. She noted that the creators of Sesame Street believed puppets interacting with real people would become too confusing, but when the concept was tested the creators realized that kids became much more engaged when they could recognize the real life connection. The need to trust your audience was just one of the many lessons Karin learned from Sesame Street that she’s applied to her career in producing content for television and film.

Hire talent based on their potential

Karin also expressed the benefits of hiring talent based not only on the merits of their portfolios, but also on their potential noting that Sesame Street differentiated itself by teaching comedy writers to write for kids. Whether they were teaching through animation, claymation or puppets, the actions were paired with strong music in order to make the lessons stick. Years later we can all still sing “1 2 3 4 5…6 7 8 9 10…11, 12” just as well as when we first learned our numbers.

“I’ve never been qualified for any job I’ve been hired for.”

Joan Ganz Cooney, creator of Sesame Street

Contrast provides tension

Karin explained the titles for Boardwalk Empire were originally scored with a period piece of music, but without contrast there was no tension. Paired with the modern track of the final sequence, the titles now tell the story of the past but from a more modern approach that doesn’t overwhelm the story. She also shared some of her favorite title designs including the table top objects of Delicatessen and the fun transitions of the original Pink Panther.

Passion projects can go full circle

While Greg Herman’s credits on numerous broadcast spots and films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier are extremely impressive, his inner voice often compels him to create short films to fulfill his passion. Greg explained his concept of circles: you can make an arch that includes creating something that fulfills your passion, share it and make a connection to someone else. Often, these arches will turn into full circle connections when someone recognizes your passion and asks you to create something similar for them.

Create with the resources you have available

Greg noted that a lack of resources such as time and equipment should never disqualify the possibility of producing a project. While deep in production on The Winter Solider, Greg took a weekend and shot a short titled The Straight and Narrow with all the resources he had at hand including talent (his roommates) location (the office of the VFX studio) and crew (used a steadicam operator he met at the studio).

Give your team a challenge

Lobo creative director Guilherme Marcondes was given the task of designing the opening titles for this year’s Motion conference. He remotely led his team of Brazilian designers and challenged them to create a piece of mixed media featuring live action footage, practical sets and costumes, stop motion and intricately designed animations. Guilherme recognized the uncomfortable feeling of giving up control, but noted that when the team stepped up to the challenge they created something he could’ve never come up with himself.

Make sure the project fits the time & money

Paul Mitchell, a creative director at The Mill+, noted that no matter the idea, a project still needs to fit the time and money. Tasked with creating an extremely ambitious 16 cinematics for game interstitials in just a short 3 months, Paul noted the need to be creative in order to meet deadlines. With the full support of the tech team at The Mill, he was able to task both the London and LA offices to ensure work could be completed 24hrs/day. Paul also noted the need to keep constant communication open with clients in order to ensure incremental project health checks.

Story keeps people coming back

Paul noted the cinematic stories he created for Call of Duty Ghosts allow for modern games to become episodic. Instead of game challenges ending, the stories create an emotional connection and push players to purchase new versions of the game in order to continue the story.

Collaboration is key

For the second time at Motion, Michael Waldren was tasked with creating an Exquisite Corpse project, this time by using talent from throughout the motion community. For those not familiar, the project features 3-5 second scenes created by various artists which seamlessly pickup where the previous scene left off.

Waldren noted the lessons in producing he learned while piecing together this year’s version:

  • Artists don’t talk to artists, competitors don’t talk to competitors, there’s a need to bring these people together
  • Always give yourself padding at the end of the project to ensure loose ends can be picked up

Boredom isn’t a bad thing

Mark Coleran, currently of Samsung, promoted the idea of using boredom as a method of freeing your mind. As creatives we’re always thinking, whether that’s about the next project, or about a particular execution, Mark noted the need completely clear your mind so you can be open to new ideas and triggers.

Personas do not equal concrete people

Mark also noted that personas that aggregate qualities about a subset of people cannot provide the empathy necessary to relate to real people. So if you’ve got a poster in your office featuring a stock photo of a woman in a business suit, it doesn’t make as much sense as a real customer.

Successful ideas come from confidence

Leftchannel’s Alberto Scirocco noted that there’s a fundamental problem in trying to generate “the big idea,” an impossibility to succeed by continually finding market gaps to generate completely original ideas. Instead, Alberto noted the historic success of building upon one’s personal aesthetic influences in order to create new original ideas. For example, he noted how The Winston’s song Amen Brother became a hip hop staple in the 80’s, before being sampled by the 90’s drum and bass movement. Several subcultures were built upon 6 seconds of the old b-side by creators who sampled and reproduced the original beat.

Build Confidence

Chris Do – the charismatic founder of Blind – emphasized the need to be confident in your work throughout the life of the project. He noted that a project lifecycle typically includes “This is the best idea ever!” but then quickly turns into “This is harder than I thought, this sucks!” Chris suggests to simply “just be you,” and not compare your work as it will rob you of it’s joy. I’ve outlined his notes on maintaining confidence below:

  • Don’t inflate the task – it’ll become too tough
  • Don’t impose barriers to prevent starting the project
  • Delay your judgement for 24 hours
  • Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
  • Adversity builds confidence – failure is the 1st step towards success
  • Build a bubble of invincibility – say “I crushed it”

Know when a project is done

Chris was adamant that we never know when a project is truly finished because we’re not sure what we were supposed to be making in the first place. He suggests writing a few words of what you’re project should be at the outset that you can judge against when you get subjective feedback.

Don’t get trapped by client work

Cinematographer Joel Pilger kicked off his presentation with an admission that in the 20 years of running a production company, he lost sight of his true passions. Joel noted it’s easy to fall into the traps of creating amazing work only if someone is willing to pay for it, or if you’ve landed your dream jobs, or if it’s solely to promote yourself. Passion projects shouldn’t be motivated by money, but instead should feed passion back into your day job, reenergizing you and aiding in finding your own creative voice.

“Just be you.”

Chris Do, Founder/CEO Blind

Motion is more than an event to learn and network with the best minds in design and film, it’s a creative reawakening that reenergizes your creativity and sparks the need to create.

In addition to the great sessions outlined here, this year Motion filled our evenings with eye-opening art and creations spanning interactive robots, projection art and performance through their partnership with the Currents New Media Festival. They also continued their series of After Effects faceoff challenges, pitting three extremely talented artists in an hour-long challenge to create a short motion bumper for a local client.

This was my second time attending Motion, and I joked with the organizers that I attend to get my butt kicked. It’s impossible to leave Motion without a mind full of ideas and the energy to go create them.