Greg Gunn


How do I become Creative Director/Art Director/(Job Title)?

Start by asking yourself a different question: Why do I want to become Creative Director/Art Director/etc.? Having a goal is important, but knowing why and what that goal means will set you free.

Lets face it, everyone is a director. Or a creative director. Or an art director. All you have to do say so, right? Fake it ‘til you make. Though that holds some truth, I suspect few people really understand what that role entails. Dan Mall wrote a great article defining creative direction that I recommend everyone read. It highlights the differences (and overlap) between what a designer, art director, and creative director do. The results might surprise you.

Instead of aspiring for a title, I dare you to spend a few minutes and think about what you imagine yourself doing every day. Now take those thoughts and write them down in quantifiable, plain english that your mom will understand.

Whether it aligns with the dream title you seek or not, at least you’ll know what it means and that it will make you happy if you’re able to achieve it.

During my junior year at Otis College of Art + Design I formed a filmmaking collective with two friends. We made a handful of films for fun, for school, and for no reason. And we submitted them everywhere we could online and in festivals—’twas the pre-YouTube era.

As it turned out, someone saw value in what we were making and emailed us asking if we wanted to direct commercials. That was when we formed our animation studio, Three Legged Legs.

I didn’t aspire to be a commercial director or creative director. All I wanted (and still do) is to make fun, animated things with people I like, constantly try new techniques and tell lots of different stories. What I do day-to-day supports that 100%.

What advice can you give an aspiring (occupation goes here)?

This is the most frequently asked question and it’s quite difficult to answer. It’s too open-ended and there are a myriad of replies. When confronted with this one, I like to share the most important concept I’ve gained from work and life experience. It’s something that anyone can learn to do and applies to everyone:

Become a great listener.

By a great listener I mean turn everything else off—especially your inner monologue—and really pay attention. If you do it right, you’ll realize how difficult it is to do at all. 

Listening is exhausting and requires a tremendous amount of focus. But if you learn to really listen to others (e.g. clients, bosses, girlfriends, yourself) you will gain a better understanding of empathy. In my opinion, empathy is the cornerstone to communication and clear communication is the key to finding one’s voice and place in this world.

By mastering the art of listening each decision you make—creative or otherwise—will be a meaningful response and should bring you closer to achieving what you’re ultimately after on this planet. 

How do I keep the client from messing up my project?

A common theme I’ve found with us creative souls is this burning desire to control a project’s outcome. It’s as if we know the answer before we hear the question.

I spent years struggling with this concept until I came to an important realization: it doesn’t matter how strongly I feel about something or even if I’m right; at the end of the day it is not my project to control. Even if I am the creative director who pitched the initial idea, the end product does not belong to me. It’s not my baby, I’m just here to deliver it.

In creative business we tend to fall in love with our own ideas. When a client doesn’t like our idea, we take it personally or become frustrated—maybe even angry—that they don’t “get it.” The quality of my work (and life) drastically improved after grasping this concept. And I’m not talking about giving in to demands or watering-down an idea, I’m talking about truly understanding what your client’s needs are and why. My job is to do my absolute best within the parameters I am given.

Let's put this idea in terms of something easy to understand: hamburgers. If you have a client that wants a hamburger, you’d make them the juiciest, meatiest most delicious burger you know how to make with the ingredients you have. You wouldn’t make them a sizzling vegetable lasagna because you felt like a pasta casserole.

How do I get an entry level job or my first freelance gig in motion graphics in this tough economy?

In our industry, most folks don’t care what school you attended or where you’re from. They care about the quality of the work and the quality of you. What I mean by that is you need good work and good energy to succeed. 

As a recent graduate, you are competing with all the other recent graduates from art schools, online schools and self-taught people. And nowadays, there are a lot of them looking for motion work. To increase your chances of getting that job over the next person you can do a couple things.

The first is pretty straight forward: hone your craft. That might sound obvious, but that’s really what it boils down to. Hold your work up next to your peers and heroes. Study the differences and try to isolate your weak points: how can I make my type layouts stronger? What’s motivating this animation? Learn from the masters and put in your 10,000 hours.

The second thing—be more visible—is about putting yourself out there. Social media is the easiest place to do that. Follow people you admire and learn from what they share. Share your best work until you can replace it with something better.

Again, I’m not sure of the job climate in (your area), but I’d suggest starting with an internship somewhere. Position yourself in a place where you can observe others work and learn from them. Ask them questions and keep a notebook of what you glean. Then in your off hours, work on your own stuff and practice what you’ve learned.

Is the motion graphics profession worth pursuing? Does it pay well?

This is the real question here. Is all this effort worth it?

It’s a difficult question to ask and even more difficult to answer. If you define “worth” by financial gain then I’d say yes, but not for long. The motion graphics industry is saturated with talent looking for work, but the market for it is dwindling (in my opinion). That’s not to say there aren’t still jobs available and people looking to hire, but times have changed.

I foresee a downward trend in money being spent doing  “traditional” motion work (e.g. broadcast, commercials). Instead, budgets are spread out amongst a variety of media (e.g. digital, print, experiential). What that means is that budgets are shrinking and expectations are increasing.

If you’re very good at what you do—let's call you a specialist—then I believe you will find consistent work doing that one thing.

On the flip side, I also see motion going through a revolution. UI/UX design is becoming more complex and the use of motion to communicate through interactive platforms more common. So while the old “mograph” pool might be full, the new UX motion one is just getting started.

What are some of the difficulties in balancing your creative output while creating content for companies? How do you deal with that?

I think you're asking about how to manage the balance between personal-work and work-work. In an ideal world they are one in the same: you do what you love for a living. But a lot of time that’s not the case.

I’ve been very fortunate—and shrewd—with the projects I take on, but sometimes you have to take a job that isn’t your favorite thing in the world. In those cases, I try to find one thing about that project that I can latch onto creatively. Sometimes it’s a technique or personal challenge.

As for personal-work, I tend to always have a side project going on. For me it’s important to continuously make something that will help me develop in new and different ways. Sometimes it relates to my job, sometimes it doesn’t.

In terms of balancing that, I’ve found that managing my energy outweighs managing my time. My brain tends to work better in the morning, so I enjoy waking up early and tackling the toughest thing on my todo list first.

How do you deal with creative block? What strategies do you use to overcome creative obstacles?

If you stop and think about it creative block is about not knowing if what you’re doing is “right.” Or the inability to come up with an idea. I find that this usually comes from not understanding what your objective is. Meaning if you’re not clear about what the creative goal is, how do you know when/if you’ve reached it?

To me, creative block is an opportunity to dig deeper. It is part of the design process. That annoying struggle that makes you want to give up. That foolish notion that your first idea is the best solution.

The best way out of creative block is to embrace it. Ask yourself what is preventing you from moving forward. Write down a list of objectives for the project at hand and what rules or ideas you need to satisfy to know if they’ll work or not.

Armed with that, you can then measure your ideas against your objective and have a better sense of if you’re headed the right direction.

Do you think it’s important for new artists/students to have a strong online/social media presence and why?

I think it depends on the artist/student’s reason for doing what they do.

If you want to create art for art's sake, then social media probably isn’t very important to you. The end goal is not to be noticed or commissioned, it’s to make your art. On the other hand, if you’re interested in the business of creativity (e.g. commercial art) then I feel like embracing social media is very important.

Artists are inherently terrible at marketing themselves—I know I am—so the idea of promoting yourself sounds repulsive. But the idea of being discovered is naive, for most of us anyway.

I find social media fascinating and, when used the right way, can make a huge difference in your creative path. I’ve made real friends and collaborators thanks to social media. I may not ever meet these people IRL, but we can still work together, and learn from each other.

How do you define success?

For me, success is a state of being. It’s knowing that from the time I wake up to the time I fall asleep I’m making progress toward my goals, both professionally and personally.

It’s understanding what will bring me—and those I care about—happiness and doing everything I can to get closer to that. 

In my opinion, success is not a finish line where when I get there I say to myself, “Finally, I made it.” It’s a series of decisions and a constant balance between what I want and what I should do.

What programs do you use?