We recently had a chance to sit down with Yesael Sumalave, the owner of Atlanta-based motion graphics studio, Witness. We talked about how he decided to open a studio and what you have to think about before jumping into running a motion design business of your own.
Interview with Witness Owner Yesael Sumalave
How did you get started in the motion graphics industry?
I got started in the motion graphics industry, not on purpose. It was a different avenue than what I was doing in college. I was doing “video art” in college, which didn’t have a real direction towards doing something for the commercial world.
I wanted to expand and do something more diverse. So, that’s when I went into motion graphics to see how I could apply it to different avenues. Not just the artistic avenue, but the commercial as well.
What made you decide to open your own studio?
There wasn’t a specific time, it was just something I always wanted to do. I was interested in the creative freedom that you could get from it, with limitations, understanding that you are working for a client. But being able to have control over the project from a creative aspect was always important to me.
It was always an idea, but after freelancing for about 6 years, and being at different studios, seeing how they were run, I just decided to take the leap and start something. I knew I could do it too at that point.
What was the hardest part about going to work for yourself?
The hardest part about working for yourself is never being able to be satisfied with where you are. Financially, you can’t be satisfied because you are always trying to grow your business.
From the creative side, you are always looking to make better work and progress in that sense. The creative aspect for me is to always try to find ways to make better work within the guidelines of the client’s needs.
How has the industry shifted over time since you started until now?
I think now the market is becoming more saturated with more and more artists. The younger generation has easier access to computers and software. And more schools developing programs around motion graphics.
When I was in school there was a film major, video art, or video production. There wasn’t a motion graphics or broadcast design major. Now there are more majors and master’s programs in these fields, which has led to more saturation in the market with freelancers and artists.
Also, since there are more people doing this work, it’s become more accessible to companies and clients, making animation work easier to get done, and has cause budgets to go down with competition.
About the Business
Being an artist, how do you handle the business side of things?
You do the best you can. But that’s not really the answer. The answer is, you surround yourself with people who know how to do what you don’t know.
You have to find people that you can trust, and just oversee them to make sure they are doing a good job. No one can do everything. A lot of people can do a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be good at all of them.
What are your goals for Witness over the next 5 years?
Our goal, like most studios, is to create better work.
We want to establish a wider client base and stand out, not only in the Atlanta market, but regionally, nationally, and eventually globally. It’s a slow process, but it’ll happen step by step.
Do you specialize in a certain type of work at the studio?
We do specialize in animation. Anything to do with animation, 2D or 3D.
We mostly work in After Effects and Cinema 4D, but we’ve also dabbled in some cell animation. Overall, animation is our bread and butter.
Advice for Motion Design Artists
What advice do you have for artists coming up looking for work?
Depending on the type of artist, the key is to decide what avenue you want to take. If you want to focus on the art side, there is an avenue for that. If you want to make a lot of money, there is an avenue for that. But it can sometimes be hard to do both.
Figure out what you want to do first and foremost. That also means deciding what position you are aiming for. Do you want to execute and create the art, or you do want to be the director of the work?
Also, networking is very important. Getting to know people and being pleasant to work with goes a long way. Word does get around about whether or not you are a good person to work with.
What about advice for someone looking to create their own studio?
Don’t. Just kidding.
Really think about it, and think about all of the things that go into running a studio. You won’t just be sitting around making art. You have to deal with clients. You have to deal with managing talent. You have to deal with billing and a lot of other things that aren’t art-related.
As the person that runs the studio, you have to know that all of those components are a key part of the studio. You can’t neglect any of those things.
Just know what you are getting into before jumping in.
What are a few of your favorite pieces that Witness has produced?
One piece that comes up a lot is the work we did for Choose ATL. It was a really long process to complete. It has a mixture of 2D and 3D elements, and it’s pure animation for us.
Another one was the UPS Banking video. We started with a good foundation for the design and look, and we had a lot of fun animating that piece.
For more information on Witness, and to see more examples of their work, visit witnessco.com.