Skillshare member Greg Stewart is a freelance motion designer and creative director who creates gorgeous, dynamic animation designs in Minneapolis, MN. Although Greg had initially set out to be in ministry (he majored in Bible and Theology and minored in Spanish and Ancient Greek as an Undergraduate) happenstance led him to work in film and he fell in love with the medium. Once he got into animation from there, he says, he was “totally hooked.”

A full-time freelancer since March 2018, Greg says that he’s particularly drawn to animations that “don’t just look beautiful, but feel beautiful” and that he loves learning about a wide variety of subjects, including calculus and physics, to better “understand the fundamentals of how something moves…to recreate that in animation.” We chatted with Greg about his workflow, his freelance career, and where he finds the creative inspirations that make his animations so unique.

Hi Greg! Thanks for joining us. Your animations are so dynamic and visually stimulating. What inspires your work?

“Taking real breaks during the work day and going for long walks outside, going running, reading a good novel, or playing guitar are all things that give me energy to be creative in my career. ”

Thanks so much! I think it’s so important to constantly expose yourself to work that’s better than yours, so you have something to aim for when you’re looking to improve. I spend a lot of time looking at motion design inspiration sites like Motionographer and Wine After Coffee and the work of specific artists and studios I look up to like jr.canest and Giant Ant. I’m particularly drawn to animations that don’t just look beautiful, but feel beautiful, and I consciously strive for creating that feeling in all of my work.

I also think that there’s a lot of non work-related things that help me stay fresh creatively. Taking real breaks during the work day and going for long walks outside, going running, reading a good novel, or playing guitar are all things that give me energy to be creative in my career. Surrounding yourself with creative people has a huge impact too and I’m selective about what projects I work on. I purposely choose things that push me creatively, like a project with an animation style that is really complex or differ than what I am used to, and taking that on means I don’t spend as much energy forcing myself to work.

What’s your day-to-day like as a freelance animator?

My day-to-day varies  — and that variety is one of the things I love about being freelance! Right now I’m working on a specific project, which means that I am more or less working full-time with a small team in Vancouver. When I’m home in Minneapolis, I usually try to get into my studio space by 8:30 am or so, and stick around until at least 4pm. I start my day by making a list of goals for the day on a post-it. I like to stick it on my monitor and cross things off. I try and get a couple hours of “deep work” in before lunch, check email, and then work until I feel I’ve gotten what I need to get done, done.

I think having routines is really important as a freelancer, because you really only have as much structure as you give yourself. I’m not legalistic about sticking to it, though — if I want to work late because I’m in a groove, then I’ll work late and come in late the next day. If I feel I’ve been working too much or I’ve had to pull some long days, I’ll give myself a day off. Structure is important, but it should always have an end goal.

Greg Stewart at work
Greg Stewart at work

What you do requires such a specific, interesting confluence of design skills and technical ability, this unique mix of art and science. How did you decide that animation was the career you wanted to pursue?

“I have to understand concrete things like calculus and physics to make certain movements feel a certain way when I recreate them in animation”

I got into animation through film. My undergrad degree is actually in Bible and Theology, with minors in Spanish and Ancient Greek. I’d sort of planned on going into ministry, but my senior year of college I’d been doing a bunch of film work and really started falling in love with it. When I got my first job out of college, as a video producer at a church part-time, I got to create little animated bumpers for each sermon series. Once I got started with animation, I was totally hooked.

When I look back, I think I’ve always been drawn to things that are both complex and offer endless opportunities to learn. As a kid I loved figuring out how things worked, and eventually, I came to realize it was just as rewarding (if not more) to apply that knowledge to create something new. To me, animation is the epitome of that. I have to understand concrete things like calculus and physics to make certain movements feel a certain way when I recreate them in animation. Because every project is different, I’m never going to run out of new things to learn.

Is that what drew you to Skillshare? That drive to learn?

As someone who loves learning, and who is in an industry that requires you to keep your skills sharp if you want to succeed, it’s important for me to have resources, like Skillshare, that I can go to to keep learning. There’s a great variety of classes — in terms of subject matter, length, and instructors — and the project-based approach really pushes me to actually make something with what I’ve learned as opposed to watching a few tutorials to fill time. I’ve realized that if you don’t use what you learn, you lose it.

What are the classes that you enjoyed the most?

Reece Parker’s “Animating Transitions in After Effects” is by far my favorite class I’ve taken thus far. When you get into top-level animation, you have to come up  with clever solutions; you have to find ways to get your software to do things that it wasn’t designed to do. In his class on Skillshare, Reece doesn’t just give you step-by-step instructions he talks through why he’s doing what he’s doing. Getting inside his head and listening to him think about how he approaches his transitions taught me a lot about how to approach transitions in my own projects.

What is the most important trait that you think a freelance animator should have?

Good communication. I’d say it’s better to be a B+ animator with A+ communication skills than the other way around. It’s one of the top traits I look for when I’m hiring freelance help, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. If you put out amazing work but are a real pain to work with or aren’t clear about when your client can expect drafts or revisions, you won’t get hired. As a freelancer, your job is to make your clients’ lives easier, and communication is a huge part of that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Want to see more of Greg Stewart’s work? Check out his Instagram, Vimeo channel, and web portfolio.