Interview with Motion Graphics Designer Al Boardman

Al Boardman is a freelance motion graphic designer who has produced work for big name companies such as Nike and Twitter. His work has been recognised by the likes of Wired and Adobe. We had to chance to interview him about his work and experiences.

What is your design background? 

I started out as a graphic designer for a large UK adventure sports retailer and after a few years, progressed onto a senior designer role. I had lots of fun there, thats really where I learnt about design.  

Why did you decide to become a freelancer? 

I quickly realised that I didnt get on too well with having a boss! Lets say a young, arrogant me, thought I could do it better myself I had nothing to lose really. Ive been a keen rock climber/mountaineer for most of my life, so leaving full-time employment to travel, climb and design was an easy choice. That was 15 years ago and Ive been self-employed ever since, although I dont travel and climb as much any more! 

Do you work from home or do you have a space/office to work from? 

I live and work in Bristol. I spend most weekdays in a studio that I share with some good friends, we are all creatives of some sort, so its a great environment and lots of fun.

What is your typical work day? 

I tend to get into the studio for about 9am. Its a mammoth 5 minute trek from home. Step over the discarded, empty beer cans at the door entrance and put on the kettle and some music. Im obsessively tidy, so I like to make sure that my desk is neat and that Ive taken care of any emails overnight, before starting any work. Obviously I faff about on Tumblr, Vimeo, Dribbble and Twitter first though - then wonder how it got to be 10am.  Then, a religious 11am take-out coffee from a little place down the road. Most of my work days are spent designing in Illustrator and moving keyframes around in After Effects. Im usually back home for 6pm. Im lucky, I have a nice work/life balance. I take a day a week off to look after my daughter too, which is a great thing to be able to do - we have a very different day together though!

Do you prefer working alongside a company or taking the whole project on yourself?

I mostly work with creative agencies and studios. I lived in the US for a few years, so managed to keep quite a bit of that work too, which is great. I think I work better by taking on a whole project, I like to own it, rather than animating some supplied designs. I think theres a much better cohesiveness experienced from taking a whole project on. Most of the projects I work on are either animated GIFs or short animated videos. This suits my short attention span

How important is social media for you?

It made a big difference when I was starting out in Motion Design, although it took some time for me to learn how to use it. Now I use it to connect with other people, learn and share work. Theres a great community on Twitter that I enjoy being part of. Using platforms like Tumblr and Instagram definitely allows us to reach audiences that would never have been possible before. I have a particular love of Tumblr. Its a great platform to show client projects, post random work in progress stuff and personal projects - which are increasingly important to me.

You are co-founder of an animation project called 9 Squares. Tell us a bit more about it.

9 Squares is a fabulous collaborative animation project, where 9 different animators, create an abstract, 3 sec GIF loop from a 4 colour palette. I co-run the project with my US-based pals David Stanfield and Skip Hursh. The project started back in Feb this year, when I posted this GIF on Twitter

A conversation began very quickly on Twitter and David said hey, wouldnt it be a fun idea to collaborate with 9 different animators and each create a square. Within about 10 minutes we had our first takers for our first round, with 9 different animators. Were now on Round 17, which is crazy! Weve had some of the worlds finest animators and well-respected motion designers participate in the project so far.  Theres lots of exciting stuff to come, too.

Where do you pick up inspiration for your work?

I try to step away from the internet (although its difficult sometimes), I love getting outdoors, going for a walk and taking inspiration from wild places and countryside. Whilst living in Chicago, I developed a real love of architecture, particularly art deco, which is so intricate and stylish. Recently, Ive found a new obsession with old book covers with weird geometric patterns.

Who do you admire in the animation world?

Gosh there are loads. Too many.

What would be your dream job?

I have my dream job.

What has been your favourite job to work on?

The ones that stand out are always the projects where the client is great, has respect for time and the process, gives constructive, encouraging feedback and allows you to do what you do best. For example, I recently completed a GIF of animated type for Nike, that was a dream project, with a flexible brief and room to have loads of fun with the designs and the animation. It hasnt gone live yet though, so unfortunately I cant show it. (Sorry, thats a bit of anticlimax!) Heres another great one, for the same reasons, this is a header created for IBMs Tumblr page IBMblr:

Do you feel you are still learning whilst working?

Oh without a doubt, thats so important. I have so much to learn.

What is the most important lesson you have learnt in your career?

I think it would be to create your own work and try to develop your own style. Ultimately its why any of us got into doing what we do in the first place. Have the guts to share your work and dont be afraid to ask for feedback. Be nice. Be humble. Be professional.

What software, plug-ins or templates do you use the most?

I use Adobe Illustrator and After Effects every day and Photoshop occasionally - mostly for just exporting GIFs though. Theres a few After Effects Scripts that I couldnt be without: Keysmith, Explode Shape Layers, Motion 2 and Adam Plouffs new Rubber Hose is fantastic.

What are the 3 things you couldn't live without?

Family. Food. A roof.

And finally, what are your goals and aspirations?

Work wise, Id like to do more collaborations. 9 squares has taught me about how much fun engaging other people and trying to give something back to the motion graphics/animation community can be.  More generally, I learnt so much living abroad so Id love to do that again. And more personal projects perhaps a short film even!

Thanks to Al for talking to us about his dream job and his work processes.

Find out more from Al on his website here and on Twitter here @al_boardman

By: Lisa
Posted: Thu 22nd Oct 2015

Tags: Motion, After Effects, animation, designer, Freelance, Illustrator, interview, motion graphics, Photoshop, talk


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