INTERVIEW: Steve Savalle

Today I want to share the first in a series of interviews that I have planned for Motion Apprentice. The goal of these interviews is to gain insights and advice from artists who are well-established in the Motion Design industry. This first interview is with Steve Savalle, who I first met as my instructor at Mograph Mentor. Steve's ability to motivate, thoughtfully critique and encourage was inspiring to me from the get-go, so I knew he would be the perfect person to kick off this series. Read on, and check out the links to Steve's work at the bottom of the page!

Guest Name: Steve Savalle 
Twitter: @SSavalle

MOTION APPRENTICE: Where are you currently working? Are you doing any freelance?

STEVE SAVALLE: Currently I am fortunate enough to have a pretty stacked plate. I just recently moved into freelance full time to explore a few extra roads that I wanted to travel. At the moment I am wrapping up a TV show intro, a larger scale piece that will be web based, as well as a couple "Hey can we put you on hold for this awesome thing" in which of course I answer, "Yes? Yes." Then when I can find some extra milliseconds in the day I need to focus on a personal rebrand. 

If I remember correctly, you were a traditional artist before getting involved in motion design, correct? How did you come about transitioning into animation?

Yes, my heart is with a pencil and paper for so many reasons.

1. it is the utmost challenge because if you fall short you can only look within. That challenge was something I am always pulled towards.

2. and the most obvious of all reasons, I thought I was really good at it. Lets face it, anything you tend to feel confident about you want to keep driving forward with, I think that is human nature.

The transition was a difficult for me though, I was taking something I LOVED, and trading it for something I thought was being automated by a machine. Fast forward, obviously I was wrong, but I was young and was left with the choice, do I want to draw pictures, or pay bills? No grey area here, illustration is a tougher field to get established and consistent income than most. It is a skill that so many love and appreciate, but very few will pay for. So animation was my next path I decided to travel. 

Do you think that your background in traditional art was a big benefit when getting into motion design?

Yes, yes, yes, and did I mention yes? Teaching for Mograph Mentor lets me rant about this in great detail, but to keep it short and to the point I offer this. Understanding light, depth and perspective can take someone from novice to advanced on the clearest path imaginable. It is not an easy path by any means though. Imagine this, I show you a couple miles worth of distance you have to cover, and that seems great, even fun. Then I hand you a sandbag weighing your body weight and tell you "OK, now go." Now covering a few miles is easy, however, now you have the weight of yourself on your shoulders to think about. It will slow you down, feel unpleasant in ways you didn't know imaginable, and you start to question EVERYTHING along the way, most dangerously yourself. This leads folks to do one of two things, put the bag down after a X distance, looking around pointing fingers wondering why nobody is helping, making excuses. Or, you will look deep inside yourself and keep taking one step at a time. Knowing that you can't think about that finish line, but you are getting closer to it, closing that gap. That weight will never get lighter, but you grow stronger mentally. Some people can cover that distance faster than others and that is OK, just don't stop moving. 

From time to time I'll discover a new technique or a new aspect of motion design that I never really put much time into before, and totally geek out about it. For instance, right now I'm getting really into character rigging in Moho and having a lot of fun with it. Has there been any one aspect of motion design lately that's gotten you similarly excited? Any technique or style that you'd like to dive deeper into?

Expressions and Rigs! I LOVE and live in the graph editor, that is my baby and why I am able to make a living in this industry, but for me nothing is more rewarding than a rig that drives a handful of moving pieces, personally. 

I first met you when you were teaching a class I took at Mograph Mentor. How did you get involved in teaching with MM? Have you learned anything new or gained any new skills through the experience of teaching at MM?

I received an email from Mograph Mentor's founder, Michael Jones, back in July 2013 (I am actually reading it right now ha, nice flashback). He had told me about his vision, launching an online school that wasn't just tutorials or step by steps, but had a classroom personal touch to it. I was currently teaching an advanced animation course at a local college and was very familiar with what it took to create that type of dynamic. Fast forward to now, it is the most rewarding professional thing that I could be a part of. 

Teaching motion design is something I've been interested in as well - so I'm curious as to what kinds of challenges you encounter specific to teaching motion design to newcomers? What is the typical new student's biggest "hurdle" when entering the world of motion design?

I love this question because the answer changes for every student I've ever had. While some students may be very very similar, all of you are slightly different in a enough ways that my efficiency as a teacher is reliant on the ability to adapt to you. That is a part of it that is exciting, and why I think Mograph Mentor tends to bring the best out of students. So this, hands down, is the biggest challenge in my opinion, but understanding it is why I am a part of this community. 

The biggest hurdle, hands down, is themselves. If you have me/had me as a mentor, day 1, I preach "the wall." It is a real thing and you are going to walk right into it and it will suck. Knowing it is there though, learning how to get around or over it is where I come in. Everyone is looking for an easy button in the beginning, one sentence or a few plugins, and like magic, it makes sense and you are now great. Reality is though that isn't how it works yet, and clients will make sure your road stays forever changing. That hurdle moves further away in the rear view mirror the more they work through it. Minds sharpen knowing that it's just another thing, like stubbing your toe. 

For people just getting started who are looking to get hired, what do you suggest they do to make themselves marketable as a motion designer? What are studios looking for when they evaluate reels?

For me, personality is just as important as your work. I look to see are you humble, is the desire to learn there, and can you show me variety and dedication. If I get sent a reel, or a body of work, with only a handful of pieces I think to myself, "If you really care, and really want this, why aren't you creating more? If you aren't willing to work hard for yourself, why should I believe you are going to work hard with me on my team?"  This is why I recommend spending time on short, 5-10 second pieces. I love seeing the process too, show off your storyboards, sketching, mood boards. Show me you know the process and it is a huge win in your column.

Also know this, for anyone still reading this and saying, "Well I don't have all that yet and how am I going to do that and blah, blah, excuses, words, finger pointing, etc." What is stopping you from emailing a company and asking to stop in and meet the team? If you don't have a lot of work to show, then sell the hell out of yourself. Go in, shake hands, learn names, smile, bring donuts and coffee. I don't expect new people in the industry to know how to walk the path, but dedication to wanting to be a part of it is everything. I will walk you down that path as far as you need if you put the effort in. A studio will take a chance on someone willing to learn, putting themselves out there. 

What advice would you give to motion designers who want to improve their skills and take their work to the next level?

Stop hiding behind a monitor and put yourself out there. Create, learn, absorb, and listen! People like myself love to teach and help, but if you spend more time talking than learning it is going to be rough. Plus everything else I ranted about above. 

Where's the best place for people to follow you and your work?

You can check my site out at: 

Or you can follow me and see my dog and dumb endurance races on
twitter: @SSavalle

2015 D Show award for Best Cinema Non Broadcast Great project brought to us by Tiny Toy Car. The design and story telling process started with Cub Studio and the animation and final design elements were created by us at Pluto. Client: Tiny Toy Car Design: Fraser Davidson, Steve Savalle, Mike Basilico, and Chris Naglik Animation: Steve Savalle, Mike Basilico, Fraser Davidson Audio: Pluto