Spotlight On Beeple

Mike Winkelmann a.k.a Beeple is a true one-of-a-kind motion graphics designer with incredible commitment and staying power, to date releasing personal “everyday” projects without missing a day for over 8 years. In this very first designer spotlight on Motionworks I asked Mike to share with us more about those projects, himself and how he works.

Where are you based?

I am based in Neenah, WI, USA.  It’s a pretty small town about 4 hours north of Chicago.  It’s super f…..g boring and gets cold in the winter.

Where do you work and what is your role?

I work at home and do freelance motion graphics and concert visuals as well as all of my “Beeple crap”.

How long have you been in the motion graphics design industry?

Well I’ve been a graphic designer for 11 years but started getting into motion design more in the last 6 years or so.  I’ve been making short films for fun for the last 15 years though.

What kind of formal training have you had?

I took one video class in college (I went to school for computer science) and I took two art classes in high school.  I guess that’s about it for formal training!

What kind of training do you do these days?

I still watch a lot of tutorials and if I really like something and am able to download it from Vimeo I will look at stuff frame-by-frame to see how they might have taken little shortcuts to achieve the effect. When you break things down to that level it’s so much easier to see and figure out how things were put together.

Which software do you use?

Cinema 4D, After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator and actually for really quick stuff I still use a copy of Macromedia Fireworks 8. Hahaha, that ragged ol’ piece of software has been with me a long time but I’m fairly quick with it so it still has a place.

How long have you been using the software?

I’ve been using Cinema 4D since Release 10 I believe.  Since May 1st, 2008 to be exact!

Are there any specific tools you use more than others?

Mostly Cinema 4D and After Effects.

Do you use plug-ins? Which plug-ins are your favourites?

Absolutely, Octane renderer, X particles, DEM earth, Voxygen, Trapcode, Google Nik, Magic Bullet, too many others to name…

Do you use stock footage or images?

Mmmm, occasionally for commercial work.  For personal stuff not really though.

Do you shoot your own stuff?

Not as often as I should but sometimes I’ll shoot stuff.  I shot this a bit ago…

 What is your computer system setup?

I actually have three PCs and a MacBook. Two that I switch between for daily use and then one that is just a slave for rendering and then the MacBook for traveling or working on my deck when it’s warm!

Do you use a Wacom pen or a mouse?

Mouse usually but Wacom for sculpting in Zbrush or Cinema 4D.

You’ve been creating “Everydays” for a long time. How many projects have you done?

As of writing this… 2977.  Been a bit over 8 years without missing a single day.

How do you find the time around paying work?

I honestly don’t think there is any magic trick. You just have to say ‘no’ to about 1-2 hours of other things to say ‘yes’ to doing an everyday. Whether that means less sleep, less movies, less video games, less hanging out with friends. There is no way around it, if you want to do an everyday you will have to cut out something you do now. Nobody has 2 hours every single day where they just sit do absolutely nothing. The time will have to come from cutting out something you do now.  It also doesn’t have to be two hours though, even a half hour a day would be much, much better than nothing.

How long do you generally spend each day on an everyday project?

Usually around 2 hours or so. Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on what’s going on that day.

Do you look around for inspiration or you simply create whatever comes into your head that day?

No, I definitely look for inspiration as there is so much amazing work out there that really helps getting me motivated to try new techniques and test out ideas.  I usually look at Pintrest, Behance, Tumblr, Vimeo for inspiration.

Do you experiment a lot with new tools & techniques or stick to what you know?

I definitely try and learn something new each day.

I definitely try and learn something new each day, even if it something extremely small. That is really the entire point of everydays, to learn and grow. The pictures themselves are more of just a way to help facilitate that, but they are not the actual point of the exercise for me. At the same time I think it’s important to put what you’ve learned ‘down on paper’ so to speak.  Watching tutorials and learning is great but if you don’t ever put that knowledge to use, what is the point. I think it’s sort of a continuous balance between learning new stuff and using what you’ve learned to actually make shit.

Have you found that the everyday projects lead to paying work?

Absolutely, many people have found me through the everyday project.  It’s a great way to build a portfolio and strengthen your skills. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone starting out or people who would like to make the transition from fulltime job to freelancer.

Do you think there will be a time when you say “that’s it, I’ve done enough everyday projects?”

I think when I get to 10 years I will take a closer look at where I’d like to go from there and reevaluate if the project still makes sense moving forward. It’s honestly hard for me to imagine not doing it though. After 8 years, it feels like such an essential part of my life that the question feels a bit like me asking you if you ever think there will be a time when you say “that’s it, I’ve brushed my teeth enough”.

Could you share a specific technique that you use all the time in your work, that may save readers time too?

There are two buttons that I’m still not sure why they haven’t made part of the standard default interface for Cinema 4D but you can add yourself.  ‘Reset PSR’ and ‘Scroll to First Active’. It took me waaaaay too long to find out about those and after I did it was like “M….RF…ER”!!!  So much time saving… definitely a must have in your interface.

If there was one piece of advice you could give a beginner in this industry, what would it be?

There are a lot of people who will tell you never do work for free.

You need to do a shit ton of work, ANY work. I think preferably, you should do a lot of personal work because that will help your find your own voice and learn the most about what you’re truly interested in, and motivate you to excel the most at. But I do recognize that sometimes it’s hard to “do whatever you want” and that often results in doing nothing. But I think there is one other alternative to help you get practice that you won’t hear a lot of people advocating…

There are a lot of people who will tell you NEVER do work for free. And I can 100% see where they are coming from with that in terms of clients trying to prey on you (which they absolutely will). Contests, spec work, “do this one thing, and then next time I can pay you” – those are all designed to screw you over in terms of money and are horrible “career” choices.  Trust me. Been there, done that.

Practice is something that you and I really need a lot of.

However,  I think doing things for free can be okay assuming you have a realistic idea of what you’re getting out of it which is really just practice. And practice is something you (and I) REALLY need a lot of. So if that means entering some BS ‘contest’ or doing some shitty ass ‘spec work’ crap just for the practice of it (design, meeting deadlines, working from a brief) then go for it, but realize you’re doing this for YOU and not them. Everyone else is absolutely correct in that those clients are trash and 99.99999% of the time will not lead to any sort of paying gig or great career opportunity. But I feel like you can sort of take the power back by recognizing that and using their little contest as a tool to make yourself stronger and better from the structure they provide in terms of practice.

Lastly, where did the name Beeple come from?

It’s a stuffed toy from the 80’s that lights up up and makes sound.  You can buy them on Ebay for like $20.


To learn more about Mike check out Beeple Crap.


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