INSTRUCTOR HIGHLIGHT! Caegan Meagher

Caegan Meagher, our newest After Effects instructor, is a pretty neat guy. We sat down with him to get know a little more about his work and himself.

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Tell us a little about yourself: where are you from and where have you been before basing yourself in Austin?

Caegan: Sure – I grew up in Sacramento, California where I took a really keen interest in all things technology and animation from a young age. I actually taught myself how to read by playing this really awesome text-based adventure from Sierra called King’s Quest IV on an original 128k Macintosh which is a testament to just how old I am getting and how long computers have played a role in my life. I remember watching Saturday morning TV and being captivated by the stop-motion bumpers ABC would run and the “Penny’s Cartoon” segments on Pee Wee’s Playhouse and desperately wanting to know how they were made. I also distinctly remember my Dad taking me to a showing of Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation when I was probably way too young to be in attendance and being blown away by not just the hi-jinks, but also by the idea that adults might actually want to watch cartoons. When I was a teenager, the world of film became a lot more appealing to me as to this day I struggle to draw a straight line and I knew that I could find ways to marry my always increasing interest in computers to the world of post production. Fast forward a few years later and I found myself graduating post-film studies just in time for the economy to explode, not a lot of work to be found around my hometown and bleak prospects for someone so green in a place like SF or LA. I wound up moving to Austin where I knew a couple of friends from school who raved about it and it has been my home now for almost seven years.

What is it about motion graphics that drew you to making a career with it?

C: I never really set out to make motion graphics, in fact, it honestly wasn’t until I was much older that I became aware that motion graphics encompassed an entire professional field. My first introduction to it was at my high school which had a surprisingly decent AV lab decked out with a bunch of post-production software and a super laid-back teacher who let the class do whatever we wanted.  I was convinced at the time that barring high-end VFX, editing was basically the extent of overlap between computers and post-production, so I focused primarily on teaching myself how to edit on a Media 100 and an early version of Final Cut Pro. After a while, I got bored playing with the same “tutorial” footage the NLE’s shipped with and in hunting for more, I found a Classroom in a Book for After Effects. I was almost instantly hooked. I would complete each chapter and then immediately redo it, but with my own completely off the wall childish spin on things. A piece of old-timey footage of a train coming out of a tunnel and a man running on a green screen which was was meant to be comped together into some sort of title card for a fake B-movie from yesteryear would instead become a bizarro remix of dozens of copies of him running Lemmings style straight onto the train tracks and then exploding into tons of multi-colored pieces shooting particles everywhere. Looking back, it was all very reminiscent of Tim & Eric Awesome Show: just super crude, ridiculous animations made for my own weird amusement. I kept experimenting with After Effects making my off the wall animations, but remained ignorant to the fact that what I was doing was making very crude motion graphics pieces. I just sort of did my own thing under the auspice that I was using software meant for film production completely incorrectly but with delightful results.  It wasn’t until I saw the music video for The Prodigy’s Girls’ that I kinda put two and two together –  After Effects was the palette that let you marry animation and film to create this foreign thing called “motion graphics” and its boundaries were remarkably open-ended.

I continued pursuing a more traditional film production route because I naively believed that there weren’t any jobs to be found making motion graphics. I thought it must have been something that only hobbyist animators were involved in, whereas I knew how to edit and I figured finding work cutting films would be a lot easier. I never stopped using After Effects though because  I always found it to be a much more creative tool than the confines of piecing together other people’s projects and with time I was slowly able to sell more clients on my motion graphics know-how. By 2011, I had basically stopped pursuing editing work entirely to try and stake my claim in the motion graphics field.

On your website, you have a ton of really incredibly crafted pieces of work. How long did it take you to build up your body of work? Was it mostly commissioned work, or is some it just imagination letting loose on it’s own?

C: Thanks, that’s really kind of you! Truthfully, everything I have made that lives on my website was created in the last year or so. The vast majority of the personal and professional projects that I worked on from my teen years to age 24 or so were stolen during a break-in which taught me one hell of a lesson about backing up everything to the cloud. Looking back now though I kind of view it as a blessing in disguise as it really forced me to rethink how I was going to represent myself moving forward and what that meant for the type of work I wanted to pursue. I somehow skated by without having much in the way of a proper portfolio for a long time, which I was always really anxious about putting together. I have always struggled with being hyper-critical of my own work and I wanted to feel really confident about however I represented myself moving forward. After I left my last full-time job, I decided to take about six months off and just throw myself at learning Cinema4D and a handful of other 3D programs that I had experimented with a little bit but never had the time to dive into thoroughly. Seeing individual little one or two day projects through to completion as frequently as possible was (and remains) a great way of keeping myself honest in terms of marking my progress along the way while painting a picture of the the kind of things that get me excited creatively. My reel has some client work, but everything else on my website is just really kind of a continuation of those same early experiments I talked about before but in a much more refined fashion and with a much greater focus on 3D.

Where do you see yourself going? Do you have an ultimate dream of where you’d like your career to progress?

My focus is pretty diverse these days so it’s hard to definitively identify one path that I would like to follow. On the motion graphics front, I would really like to get into visuals and interactivity for live performance and experiment more with projection mapping, which is a lot of fun. I have also dabbled quite a bit with photogrammetry and VR over the last couple of years and both are super interesting to me, but I have yet to decide where I might go with them.

On the more traditional film side I have had an idea for a short science fiction piece kicking around in my head for the last five years or so that I would like to produce at some point but I need to find a good writer to help me flesh it out.

Outside of just motion graphics alone, what inspires you to create?

I draw inspiration from a lot of different places but most notably music and films and the marriage of the two.

Do you have any advice for someone who is just starting out and wants to pursue motion graphics as their medium?

I could write a small novel here, but to try and put it all succinctly:

1. Don’t be afraid to suck! I think it’s really easy to get discouraged looking at the internet, which is full of so much amazing work from all over the world, and get trapped in the loop of : “Oh, I will never be that good.” Rome wasn’t built in a day and I guarantee you the amazing work that you are drooling over is the byproduct of lots of trial and error. You might watch a two-minute piece and be amazed, but what you are missing is the hundreds of hours that went into making it. Good work is hard work, always.

2. Find your own style and voice. Again, it’s too easy to look at what other people have done and either watch a tutorial online or something, and then just rip-off other people’s work. Don’t fall into that trap! It’s always painfully obvious to anyone in the industry and stands out like a giant sore thumb. Experiment, try something different, and don’t be afraid to run with something unorthodox.

3. Limit your crayon box. There so many different pieces of software out there that can do so many different things and it’s easy to drown in options. Pick a program, learn some basics and start playing with it. Don’t pick up another until you’ve mastered the fundamentals or you can’t accomplish your creative goals.

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