Greg Gunn is one of the leading figures in today’s motion graphics scene. He made a name for himself as a founder of the studio Three Legged Legs a decade ago before moving into a position as creative director for Blind, one of the best studios around today. He’s had a hand in tons of great projects that you’ve probably seen on TV and around the web. And he’s also made waves with several personal projects, like Mythical Mondays.
We had an opportunity to chat with this creative force of nature, and we are excited to share his thoughts and some of his work here. Greg explains how he got his start, how he stays motivated, and how to make it in a creative field.
A Conversation with Greg Gunn
Give us a brief background on what drew you to illustration and animation, and how you landed in the industry.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time drawing. Futuristic cars. Crude cityscapes. Fake game characters with descriptions of their powers and abilities. And I played a lot of games. Video games, board games, card games. Anything I could get my hands on. I loved Mega Man, Magic the Gathering and fantasy board games like Hero Quest.
The combination of artwork, escapism, and storytelling was something I latched on to at an early age. And it’s probably what drives my interest in illustration and animation today.
My friends and I used to throw rave parties for charity and I would always get super excited to design the flyer. I would always design album artwork and build a website for every band I was in. Design and drawing permeated my life growing up.
I remember the exact moment I decided to seriously pursue design. My emo-core band was about to embark on a national tour, but I had also just received an acceptance letter from Otis College of Art + Design (I had applied a few months prior—y’know, just in case the rock star thing didn’t pan out).
I was at a crossroads: tour or art school?
Fortunately for me, I decided to go to school. At that time, I was interested in their graphic design program; mostly print and web 1.0 type of stuff.
But when I got there, I remember seeing the Digital Media reel play during a school wide presentation and thinking, “What the hell is that! That’s what I want to do!”
I had no idea what “motion” was. All I saw was graphic design moving around the screen doing amazing things. It reminded me of a lot of the Flash web animation going on at the time. Studios like Gmunk and 2advanced.com.
I switched majors that day and haven’t looked back.
Before landing as a creative director at Blind, you had your own successful studio called Three Legged Legs. How was running your own studio different from working for someone else, and how did you end up at Blind after Three Legged Legs?
Running a studio is difficult. And back then—circa 2007—it was a lot easier. TV commercials had generous budgets and took creative risks on young weirdos like us.
As a creative shop, Three Legged Legs was a special place to be. The work we were doing and the teams we formed were the best. We were fortunate enough to work with incredible people on both the agency and freelance sides. People like Matt Nava, Tuna Bora, Wendy Park and Chuck BB who are such monsters of talent that have gone on to do amazing things.
As a profitable business though, we suffered. Our sights were aimed at creatively valuable projects and less on fiscally valuable projects. When I think back on it, I am impressed that we were able to do what we did. It’s similar to how you feel when you look at old work and say, “What was I thinking? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Around 2011, we parted ways with our production company and rep. Chris Do had been a teacher and business mentor throughout my career and offered to give us a new home and partnership with Blind. Moving to Blind was a no-brainer, so we hit the road and migrated 2 blocks south.
Ultimately, Three Legged Legs disbanded and I was offered a position to stay on as Creative Director at Blind.
Can you tell us a few of your projects at Blind that you are most inspired by and why?
Three projects come to mind. The first one is a series of animations for Nat Geo WILD we did that put you in the POV of an animal. It’s super bright and illustrative but moves in this 3D dimensional game-like perspective. It’s like a first-person-shooter, without the shooting. The vibrancy and animation approach still blows me away—the team did a fantastic job with it.
Next is the Jeff Buckley interactive music video. This is one of my favorite projects! It’s a simple story about a day in the life of a couple, except the viewer is in charge of how the characters feel at any moment. And their decisions directly affect the story, color, and music. That kind of engagement and hybrid of disciplines gets me really excited. I feel like we just scratched the surface.
The third isn’t a project I was involved in, but I can’t not mention it. Matthew’s video for Xbox One X is just stunning. The CG team put a lot of work into developing the way pixel threading is visualized and I think it turned out spectacular. We have a lot of gamers here (Destiny 2, anyone?), so attending E3 and seeing our work projected at the Microsoft booth was pretty rad.
In 2014, you created a weekly animation series called Mythical Mondays. What were your goals when setting out to accomplish such a disciplined long term project? And how did it help you to grow as a designer and animator?
I wanted to give myself a fun, weekly animation assignment to practice with. And I knew that in order to do that I had to have a clear goal.
After some thought, I decided to find a theme that I could draw from (no pun intended) every week. I was really into Greek mythology and fantasy creatures when I was a kid, so drawing my version of a mythical creature sounded like fun.
In terms of growth, that project helped me refine my process for animating in Photoshop and transferring that to my phone to post on Instagram. That, in of itself, is still a pain in the butt.
I found myself doing the repeating tasks making the first few myths, so I developed a template, some Photoshop actions, and a process to move things along quicker. By the end, I could knock one out in a couple of hours.
It was also a nice challenge to hold myself accountable over the long term. I learned a lot about my commitment during that year. At one point I was 5 myths ahead of schedule, then I fell back to doing it the day of, and then back up again to 3 weeks ahead.
You are also involved in The Futur, an online resource for creatives to learn better business techniques. What’s one key insight that a creative needs to have in order to run a successful creative business?
To run a successful business, you need to be able to provide value to someone else. That value could be a product, a class, an idea, your time, whatever. Once you identify what value you can offer, you can build a business around who to market it to and how to provide it.
The Futur is a great example—we have decades of experience working with clients in the design, motion and production field at a very high level. And there’s a lot we can share about what we’ve learned along the way.
The value proposition is that we make it available to anyone in the world, at any time for far less than what you’d pay at a private art school. Plus, you can be at home in your underwear learning from your phone if that’s how you want to roll.
Can you give us a glimpse into a day in your life as a creative director? How do you spend most of your time, and how do you balance all of the tasks put in front of you?
Funny you should ask, I just recorded (or vlogged, if you a will) a day in the life of video for The Futur YouTube channel. It’s a lot more interesting than me trying to describe it.
Outside of work, how do you stay inspired and what else motivates you?
I’m constantly trying to learn or do something new. Something I know nothing about and want to explore. Especially if it’s tech-related. I’m a cautious early-adopter.
Beyond that, I listen to a lot of podcasts, try to always have a book to read and surround myself with people who are doing interesting things (that aren’t what I do).
For artists just getting into the creative business, what advice would you give to set them in the right direction?
I’m going to take a stream of conscious approach to this response:
Take the time to master your craft. Don’t chase the money or a title. Do the work and learn everything you can about it. Study business tactics. Learn how to price yourself and what your value proposition is. Contact the people you look up to and ask them about their process. Study those who came before you. Learn from them—both successes and failures. Look at what your peers are doing and do something different. Think about how to market yourself. Fanatically pursue growth and development.
Is there anything else you are working on or have recently finished that you’d like to share with us?
I have two things going on right now that I’ll share. The first is TLDR, my email list. It’s like a public journal where I share my creative process, productivity tips, and other good stuff. The goal is to examine how I work in the hope that it will help someone else.
The second is a secret that I can’t share much about just yet. What I can tell you is that it is a physical object. Follow me on Instagram to stay in the know 😉