Buck Co-Founder Ryan Honey on the SOM Podcast
Ever wonder how to get hired as a motion designer, or what it takes to build one of the world’s most successful motion design studios? Ryan Honey, co-founder of Buck answers these questions — and more — on the latest episode of the School of Motion Podcast.
Ryan Honey, Buck Co-Founder and Creative Director, on the School of Motion Podcast
If you’ve been looking for an insider’s scoop on how to make it in the motion design industry, let this audio guide you.
How to Get Hired: A Free eBook Featuring Ryan Honey
Show Notes from Episode 74 of the School of Motion Podcast, Featuring Ryan Honey
Here are some key links referenced during the conversation:
The Transcript from Ryan Honey’s Interview with Joey Korenman of SOM
Joey Korenman: Oh, boy, all right, so listen. I’ve done a lot of interviews at this point and I’m pretty comfortable doing them but this one actually made me kind of nervous. I just felt a little more pressure than usual to do a good job and to make sure that you, dear listener, get absurd value from the noises that I will be making with my mouth over the course of this episode. I didn’t want to screw it up, so I did my homework and researched the hell out of my guest today, Ryan Honey, co-founder of Buck. Look, if you’ve listened to this podcast before, you know how I feel about Buck and the work they’ve done. You know that they are one of the top studios in the industry and that their work has been blowing minds since 2004. It’s the Harvard of motion design companies. Very hard to get into and once you’ve made it at Buck, well, you can kind of make it anywhere.
Joey Korenman: It holds a very special place in our industry and I think a lot of the credit for that goes to the leadership over there who have built a pretty incredible culture of creativity for the Buck family. In this interview, Ryan gives us the inside story of what it took to create Buck and to see it grow to the surprisingly large company that it is today. You’ll find out what they look for in staff. You’ll hear about the growing pains, the lessons learned, the big wins, how they’ve adapted to the changing industry and oh so much more. Ryan is amazingly open about everything and does not hold back and I have to say that I learned a staggering amount from talking to him and I know you will too. So, if you’re a new artist or if you’re currently running your own studio, this conversation has something for everyone. So here we go, Ryan Honey of Buck!
Joey Korenman: Ryan Honey, it is amazing to have you on the podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your probably insane schedule. So, thanks for doing this, man. I can’t wait to talk.
Joey Korenman: Right on, so I kind of wanted to start at the beginning a little bit. Usually what I do is I get on everyone’s LinkedIn who comes on the podcast and I just go right to the bottom and I saw that you have an economics degree from Colorado College, which I did not know, and I don’t know how many studio owners have a degree in economics. So, I’m wondering how you went from there to working in the animation industry?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, so my father agreed to paid for college but only if I took an economics degree. That is how that happened. After I graduated, I realized that I had no interest in economics and I took a year off and I lived in London for a year trying to figure out what I was going to do. I was a bartender at a wine bar, worked at a couple restaurants and then a friend of mine knew I was interested in computers. I did a little computer programming, et cetera, in my spare time and she suggested that I attend a school in Vancouver called the Vancouver Film School that had a sort of new multimedia program, and I did that. I guess it was 1996, and it was the 17th program they had done and there, it was just a 10-month where we took like two months in kind of every discipline, everything from web design to music production, editing, graphic design, et cetera and of course, animation, and then that is what sort of sparked my interest and I started animating in Flash. I think it was Flash 2. And that was how I got into …
Joey Korenman: So, why did your father want you to study economics? Why that major?
Ryan Honey: It’s sort of a family tradition, I suppose. So, my brothers both have MBAs and my father also has … Well, he has a law degree but also studied business and he just thought that the most useful degree would be one in business.
Joey Korenman: That’s really interesting because I want to dig into this a little bit later but I mean a lot of studio owners, that’s the piece that they feel like they’re missing. They come from a creative and an artistic background and maybe their mother was a painter and their father was an illustrator but your family, it sounds like, were sort of business people. Do you think that was sort of an influence on your decision to start your own business and be an entrepreneur?
Ryan Honey: I think I just don’t like working for other people, that’s probably why …
Joey Korenman: Fair enough, unemployable.
Ryan Honey: Yes. I did work for an ad agency for one day in New York City and promptly quit. I think if I didn’t start my own business, I would probably be a freelancer if I had to guess.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, what was it about the ad agency that drove you away after 24 hours?
Ryan Honey: The honest answer was that I went to a meeting with my superior who was a female and she put her hand on my thigh during the taxi ride.
Joey Korenman: On day one? Wow.
Joey Korenman: Just right to sexual harassment, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the worst story I’ve heard about working in ad agencies.
Ryan Honey: And it was also the work itself was rather uninspiring.
Joey Korenman: Right. Also, the work wasn’t good. Got it, okay cool. So, you mentioned … You kind of jumped over it but I want to dig in a little bit. You spent a year in London as a bartender at a wine bar, now was that sort of by design? You wanted to expand your horizons or was that sort of like I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, let me just do something fun?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, that was basically it. I had a friend who … A childhood friend who was an actor in London and he was looking for a roommate and so I decided I’d go and live with him and I had a friend, a girlfriend, who was a hairdresser, so I was there pursuing her as well.
Joey Korenman: That sounds about right and so there’s always like this romanticized version of going abroad and backpacking across Europe and then you come back and you’re a changed person, did you have any of that or was it just a year kind of having some fun?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean I was a bartender, so I wasn’t rolling in the dough and London is very expensive and unbelievably cold in the winter, even though I’m from Canada, the wet cold was pretty miserable. So, it wasn’t exactly a lovely experience, let’s put it that way.
Joey Korenman: Right, right. All right, so then you end up going from there and did you move immediately to New York or did you kind of bounce around a little bit?
Ryan Honey: No, so I went to Vancouver for the 10 months and did the … Or it was about a year I did the course at the Vancouver Film School, the multimedia course and then I went to New York to see some friends. I stayed up at a friend’s farm in North Fork for a little while from college and then I went to the city and as I got out of the car, we were going to go have dinner at this restaurant called Lucky Strike and as I got out of the car, I saw a girl that I knew from Vancouver and she was with two guys, Dave Carson and Simon Assaad, and she introduced me to them and they ended up being my first business partners. I didn’t work with them immediately. I was in New York City kind of freelancing for them and also dealing marijuana by bicycle for about a year.
Joey Korenman: What was more lucrative?
Ryan Honey: The marijuana dealing, for sure. And then they … How did that work? Oh, that’s right, so we did a Flash campaign for IBM, one of the first kind of animated online commercials that won a bunch of awards and then work started to come in. This was for a company called Compound Heavy Industries in kind of the Times Square area that was owned by these two guys, Dave and Simon, and then two other guys. So, we started to get work and then I came on full-time and then we started to make … From making the animated Flash commercials, we started to make animated Flash shows, comedy shows, cartoons and from there, sort of Heavy.com was born and then I was made a partner and we raised some money and Heavy.com kind of had its heyday from I’d say ’98 to about ’01 until the crash, if you will.
Ryan Honey: And then the money went away and in order to keep the company going, I started directing commercials and that is when I brought in people like GMUNK, who was in London at the time, brought him over, Justin Harder came over and then Yker Moreno and Jose Fuentes and finally kind of Thomas Schmidt and Ben Langsfeld and that group kind of started making motion graphics and animated commercials and that’s when Team Heavy was born.
Joey Korenman: So, when you say you were doing Flash cartoons, are you talking about … Because I remember the heyday of Homestar Runner and these weird kind of online cartoons. Is that what you’re talking about or do you mean using Flash as an animation tool for broadcast?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, so the idea was that we were going to make these properties for Heavy.com and Heavy would be free and we had these animated properties and in the end, we had probably I would say about 12 properties. Some were live action. Some were animated. I kind of went through my Rolodex of every person I knew in the world and hired them to do things they’d never done before. We had … Let’s see live action, we had like a show called Hypnotics was a hip hop show. We had a show called Heavy Petting, which was like a sex show. We had … Let’s see, what else? Oh, Sabotage, which was kind of like a prank show. The Jimmy Show, which was a friend of mine from college, Jimmy Jellinek, which was sort of like an off the wall journalist show and then we had D Life as well, which was sort of one of the early reality TV series where everyone was filming themselves and these were all … Some of them were my childhood friends, some were college friends. Some were friends from New York City.
Ryan Honey: And then we had the animated series. We had like You Suck and Munchy Man and Fatty, Behind the Music That Sucks, so just sort of like parody stuff mostly and then that was being funded by investment money and the idea was that we were going to sell these properties to cable networks and then continue to develop shows for Heavy.com but we weren’t very aware of creating content that was commercially viable …
Joey Korenman: Sounds like it.
Ryan Honey: Although I think we did get some … I think there was a college network, I can’t remember what it was called but like something bear but they did license some of the stuff, which did keep the lights on for a little while but in the end, we couldn’t get advertising and we tried to make it a paid subscription website, which backfired and then we used the commercial sector to kind of fund it for a while and that was not sustainable, so in 2003, I left.
Joey Korenman: Got it and I check and Heavy.com is still around and it seems … I’m assuming now it’s a very different company. What did it end up sort of morphing into?
Ryan Honey: Now, I believe that the company is solely owned by Simon Assaad. He runs it and it’s really a news aggregator from what I can tell and so they aggregate news and I think they have some writers as well but they aggregate news, write their own content and then sell advertising around it.
Joey Korenman: Okay, so you’re in New York. You’re sort of producing these weird like soft core pornographic Flash cartoons …
Ryan Honey: Yeah, that’s a little far, I think, but …
Joey Korenman: I really hope some of this stuff is on YouTube. I would love to …
Joey Korenman: I’m going to go diving for it. But then you mentioned that you brought over some very, very talented people who are still very well known in our industry, GMUNK and Yker and Justin Harder. How did you know those people back then? Like how did you meet them?
Ryan Honey: I believe it was the internet, really just being in the sort of, at the time, quite smallish content game online and not a lot of people were creating … For the shows, we had to do all the packaging and I was also doing the design of the website and kind of maintaining that and a lot of inspiration came from motion graphics, so I was very aware of Bradley, GMUNK, in the beginning and I actually brought him over and he lived with me for a while and my wife, a very … If you know Bradley, he’s a very big character. Very hilarious.
Joey Korenman: That’s funny.
Ryan Honey: I would wake up in the morning and he’d be using his stretchy thing with his arms at the foot of my bed talking a mile a minute.
Joey Korenman: I’m going to ask him about that.
Ryan Honey: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so I guess that’s … And then Justin Harder, we got out of school. He just actually applied for the job and we hired him and I think some of it was word of mouth and yeah, and then like Jose Fuentes, who still works with us and so does Yker, he was an intern, so he came out of college as well.
Joey Korenman: So, was this like the Mograph.net days? Were you on message boards or were you just kind of keeping an eye on studios and things like that.
Ryan Honey: It was the Mograph.net days for sure but it was also that as well.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha, okay, cool. So, in preparation for this conversation, I reached out to a few people that have worked at Buck over the years and know you and I heard a rumor that the formation of Buck somehow involved a Craigslist ad and then I tried to find any mention of that online and I couldn’t. So, I’m just going to leave it there and let you take it away.
Ryan Honey: Okay, yeah, it’s a funny story. While I was at Heavy, one of my art directors was a guy named Orion Tate, who you may know.
Ryan Honey: And Orion decided to move back to Santa Barbara where he was from and so he left Heavy, I think he was still freelancing from there, and he sent me an email one day and said why don’t you move out to California and we’ll start our own business and just focus on motion graphics and animation and at the time, I had just had my daughter and we were not exactly flush and I said, I can’t really afford it right now. We just had our daughter and I need to make some more money before I can think about moving out there, and he said, well, if I can find you a job out here, why don’t you come and take that position and then work there for a year and then we’ll start our own thing. I thought that was a great idea and so he sent me … The first thing he sent me was a Craigslist ad for a creative director position at a company called Fullerene, so I had just sent … I had a portfolio site that I had built a while back and I sent that off and he called me the next day. His name was Jeff Ellermeyer and said why don’t you and your wife and daughter fly to L.A. and we’ll have a meeting.
Ryan Honey: So, we did and we met at a hotel that we were staying at and I sat down and the first thing he said to me was so, you’re going to come work for me for about a year and then you’re going to go start your own business. So, instead, why don’t we just start a new business right now and we’ll split it in half. That was pretty easy, a pretty easy decision for me. I went back to New York and packed things up and moved out to L.A. and the first person I hired was Orion and five years later, I guess, or maybe it was even less than that, it was four years later, Orion moved to New York to start the New York office and now we are all three partners in thirds. We ended up getting out company and one more partner.
Joey Korenman: That is fascinating. All right, so let’s talk about those early days. So, I’ve heard this story before but I bet a lot of people listening haven’t. So, where did the name Buck come from?
Ryan Honey: Buck comes from Buckminster Fuller. Jeff’s first company, Fullerene, was …
Joey Korenman: Fullerene, yeah.
Ryan Honey: The fullerene, if you don’t know, is the molecule that looks like a geodesic dome that was designed by Buckminster Fuller. They named that molecule the fullerene and so when we started the company and we were thinking about names, really the reason that he chose that name for his business, which was more of a web design shop, was this sort of idea of the marriage of art and science and if you know who Buckminster Fuller is, he was a prolific architect but also a futurist and an important thinker in American history, was also an inventor and really did embrace this idea of art and science as well as sustainability and was a sort of a theorist in that area. We liked what it stood for but of course, Fullerene is like this weird name that everyone can’t say properly and looks at it and wonders what the hell it is. We just shorted it to Buck.
Joey Korenman: And at the time, did you have any sense that Buck would one day become this huge company and you would say Buck and it would mean something more than Buckminster Fuller?
Ryan Honey: Definitely not. We started … I think there was five of us in a small office in Koreatown and I did not foresee this for sure.
Joey Korenman: That’s awesome. So what were the early days like right when you started? I guess how did you guys split the roles up?
Ryan Honey: So, Jeff was the business man. He really ran the finances and he also had his web design company that he was still sort of winding down at the time that kind of focused on the music industry and Orion and I really just did everything. I mean design, animation, pitching. We were kind of like producers, salesmen, live action directors, everything you could imagine, but then eventually we would hire … Get to hire people that would take over some of those roles piece by piece and yeah.
Joey Korenman: So, when Buck started, this was sort of the first golden age of MoGraph, I think. So, who were some of the studios that were in existence already that you guys looked to for inspiration?
Ryan Honey: Certainly it was sort of Brand New School was around at the time and Psyop, I think Stardust was around. There were other smaller ones that aren’t around anymore like Exopolis, Motion Theory, LOGAN of course, that’s the main ones.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, a trip down memory lane there.
Joey Korenman: So, this is one thing that whenever I talk to studio owners who have just started their studio and they’re about that size, they’re five, maybe six, seven people, that’s a really difficult stage to kind of grow through and to survive frankly because a lot of things change when you get to say 10 employees, right?
Joey Korenman: So, can you talk about what was the process like of growing Buck? I mean was it scary or did it just kind of happen naturally?
Ryan Honey: There were some moments that were a little scary. I think we always had a belief that if we invested in doing good work, we could use that to get more paying work and it did work out for us that way and so we would kind of add people and add capabilities and then we would take those and we would take all of our money and some of the bank’s money a lot of times to do a project and then we would use that to go out and get paying work and then we would hire more people and add capabilities again and then we would go out and do another project that we invested in and Jeff has some gray hairs due to Orion and I’s real belief that investing our personal money in projects would pay off.
Joey Korenman: That’s really interesting. I mean now I feel like it’s almost … Like everybody kind of knows now that that’s the secret, that you have to do projects that you’re not making money on to push your studio creatively to get those bigger jobs. You just kind of blew past us. You said you took the bank’s money. Did you guys have a line of credit you were literally using to sort of make payroll while you were doing projects that weren’t making money?
Joey Korenman: That’s incredible and frankly, I’ve never heard anyone just say that out loud, so that’s kind of … That’s good to know. I mean it makes sense and that’s a really … That’s one of those things that as a business owner, eventually you learn that that’s a thing that you can do. That you don’t have to bootstrap everything. You can kind of … There are ways to get money. How did you know that … Was that Jeff? Was he sort of the business guy?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, so Jeff, he’d been in business. He’s a little older than we are and he’d been in business for 8 or 10 years already, so he was well aware of the different ways that we could find things. He didn’t expect us to spend all of the line of credit three or four times over but he did have that ability where I think we would not have had that on our own but because he’d been in business for a while and the bank did trust him, we had access.
Joey Korenman: That’s great and so I mean this still happens today but at the time, I know this was really prevalent that you’d have to pitch to get the bigger jobs and now when you get to a certain size and you have a war chest, it’s a little bit easier to invest money in pitches but back then, was it ever scary? Was there ever times where you were like well, we kind of need to invest in this because it’s a good opportunity but if we don’t get it, then we just blew a lot of money and now we’re in trouble?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean I think we were fortunate that we had some early success with pitching and I think that was due to the people that we brought on early, early on. I mean Thomas and Ben came out from Philadelphia and I had worked with them at Heavy. Yker came out, Jose was out. So, all those guys came and really we put our noses down and were working seven days a week trying to win work and we did, like I said, have some early success and that was also fueled, I think, by our desire to do interesting work of our own and they really saw that as a benefit of being at Buck and so with the earlier success, we did sort of have more confidence and were okay spending the money, certainly we were slapped a few times over the years and quickly learned that pitching is not a science. You never know who’s on the other end making the decisions but yeah, I mean I think we just had a lot of confidence in ourselves and went big on everything.
Joey Korenman: That’s a really interesting way of talking about pitching, that it’s not a science because I would think that after a while you’d realize, okay, on average we win three out of every eight pitches and you can almost count on that. Is that not the case? Is it really just a crapshoot?
Ryan Honey: I mean I think that these days it’s more of a crapshoot than it used to be because it used to be that you were … When you talked to someone about the project, you were talking to the people who were making the decisions. So, if it’s the agency creatives, they’re giving you direction based on what they want to see. Now, that has changed over the years where it’s really they give you direction based on what they think they want you to see, not really knowing what their client wants to see. So, I mean I can’t tell you. I think that we call the recommend is now the kiss of death. I don’t think that the client has ever chose, in the past three or four years, the agencies recommend.
Joey Korenman: And do you think that’s because agencies are probably a little more tuned to like cool experimental things whereas a client just wants to sell more baked beans or whatever?
Ryan Honey: I think it’s a combination of things. One is a lack of trust between agencies and their clients and another is that really people at agencies, they’re looking to make cool stuff for their reel, so they can advance to the next stage of that career and the … So, they’re always pushing the creative, which is great for us but for their clients, as you said, they’re not so interested in that usually. Sometimes it happens but mostly they are interested in selling their product.
Joey Korenman: Got it. All right, so you’re going through this growth, you’re getting some early wins and I’m assuming you’re sort of piecing together the team as you go. So, how big did the company get before you became bi-coastal and opened up the New York office?
Ryan Honey: I think we were probably in the 30 range at that time and that was in … What was that? That was 2006? Yeah. And a lot of the guys that had moved out originally from the East Coast, moved back. That’s how we started New York. I mean New York obviously is Orion. Orion wanted to move back to New York. His wife wanted to be closer to her mother. We figured, well, this is as good a time as any to start a New York office, so we did that and he took with him a lot of the key creatives that had moved out West and they all started Buck New York and I think at the time, there was maybe like 8 or 10 of them and so then it would have … We would have shrunk down to 20 or 25.
Joey Korenman: Now was that decision really just sort of lifestyle-based, like Orion and some of the East Coast transplants wanting to move back there or was there also a business reason, like maybe there’s a different kind of client out there?
Ryan Honey: Well, Orion was the instigator because he wanted to move back and we had implicit trust with him and he is my creative partner and it made sense that we could expand and I didn’t want to lose my relationship with him either, so it seemed like a smart decision, so certainly there was access at the time to different clients and more clients and probably some more interesting clients on the East Coast.
Joey Korenman: Well, I just checked because I wasn’t sure but Dropbox was not founded until 2007 and so you have a West Coast office and an East Coast office in 2006. How difficult was that to manage back then?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, it was pretty difficult. It was rocky out of the gate for sure. We had some people who we hired to help manage it that didn’t work out and we were … I think our first office was really in an apartment that we just sort of cleaned out and put some desks in but we kind of worked independently at that point. There wasn’t a lot of cross pollination just because of the lack of tools, I guess.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that makes sense and I want to ask how it is now in a minute but I want to talk about the office that you added more recently, which is in Sydney, Australia, which that is about as far away as you could possibly open an office. What drove the decision to open that one?
Ryan Honey: That was a similar story. Gareth O’Brien who had been a creative director with us for about eight years, he’s from New Zealand. He wanted to move back to either New Zealand or Australia to be closer to his family as he started to have his own and we, again, really wanted to maintain ties with Gareth. He’s a great creative and a great guy but also saw an opportunity to do a few things. One is have access to the talent pool in that area. One thing we see a lot of is a lot of people from that area who are very talented tend to go back. So that was an advantage for us and then the Australian market, they do have … I think they take more risks creatively, so there was access to that work and then finally, it is in the same timezone-ish as the Asian market and we had heard that they were doing a lot of work out of Australia and we saw that as an opportunity as well as that market opened up.
Joey Korenman: And it’s really interesting to hear sort of the way you described the decision to open the New York office versus the Sydney one. It seems like in the years between those two events, you’d really matured a lot, I’m guessing, as a business owner and kind of recognized that business opportunity but it’s really cool to hear that behind both of those decisions, it really was about the people and you went way out of your way to accommodate people that you like working with and that you recognized talent. That’s kind of a theme that I kept reading in interviews with you, Ryan, is you always talk about the people and the talent. I think you even at one point said that Buck is in the talent business, which I thought was an interesting thing to say. Maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit.
Ryan Honey: Yeah, so I mean I just mean that we’re only as good as the people who work here and just simply in order to do the best work, you need the best talent and so our business is about finding and retaining the best talent we can.
Joey Korenman: Right, and I’m sure that’s a huge challenge and has probably gotten harder in recent years. So I’m going to get to that in a minute. So, let’s talk a little bit about the scale of Buck at this point. So, how many employees does Buck currently have?
Ryan Honey: I’m not totally sure, but I think we are around …
Joey Korenman: That’s says a lot right there.
Ryan Honey: I think we’re around 250-ish.
Joey Korenman: Holy shit, Ryan, that’s amazing! Wow! When you say that number, how does that make you feel? Did it just feel like that naturally happened or is it kind of amazing to you that it’s that big?
Ryan Honey: It’s amazing for sure.
Joey Korenman: That’s incredible and do you have any sense of how many of those 250 are artists working versus all of the administration and producers and finance and all the things that come with a company that size?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I don’t know but I would say probably, if I was to guess, like producers and admin and everything probably covers like 40-ish, 40, 50, I don’t know.
Joey Korenman: Wow, that’s amazing. I actually had no idea Buck was that big. Can you talk about … So, for context, School of Motion just hired our 10th employee, so we’re on our way to 250. We got a way to go and even just getting to 10, there’s been all these challenges that as someone coming from a creative background, I had no idea how to deal with and I can’t even fathom the challenges of growing to 250 and having layers and layers of management and multiple offices. So, can you talk about what that challenge has been like for you and maybe what some of the really big challenges have been?
Ryan Honey: So, yeah, I mean maintaining creative culture is a huge one. Trying to stay true to who we are and what we want to accomplish and giving the artists and really all the staff the kind of attention that they deserve and desire and then helping to satisfy creative opportunities … Or not satisfy, so helping to give people enough creative opportunities, at least the artists … Actually, artists and producers enough creative opportunities to keep them fulfilled creatively and then also giving people a road map for their career and that sort of speaks to the attention a little bit but it has …
Ryan Honey: When we were small, even like 40 people in each office, I was able to converse and be there with an open door for anyone who had a question or wanted to talk about where their career was going or what kind of opportunities they’re getting and as you grow, you have to delegate that and so there’s a moment where you’re kind of like you haven’t delegated it yet but you’re just identifying the problem and all of a sudden you see that things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to and then you’ve got to pivot and make some changes. I think we’ve been pretty successful at doing that in the L.A. office, which is bigger and I think the other offices are a little smaller, so it’s not as prevalent there but we are kind of … Because it happened here first, we’re starting to roll out our kind of the way we do things across all of them.
Joey Korenman: Right and to me, that’s the thing I was imagining being super challenging. Like at some point, you get to a size where there are … I’m sure there are people being hired by Buck that you never have contact with, certainly freelancers but even full-time staff maybe, they come in and for six months, they never reach you or maybe they say hello once and that’s your only contact and so how do you, as the founder, make sure that your standards, your high standards that you set at the beginning don’t start to slip a little bit as you scale?
Ryan Honey: Well, the main thing is putting the people in charge of hiring that share my vision for the work and that I trust implicitly will hire people and in the beginning, what we’ve done here is we’ve put people in charge of divisions and so we have a head of 2D, we have a head of CG, we have a head of creative tech, we have a head of design as well. They may have other roles that they also are responsible for because they’re usually the most talented, and the most senior people, but they also are in charge of hiring. In the beginning, when they first take on the position, we go through everyone together but eventually, it’s really … I leave it mostly up to them. We do have a bit of a committee depending on the position. I mean say if it’s a designer or art director or even ACD/CD. We do have all of the CDs do weigh in, and we have weekly meetings to review people’s portfolios and stuff. It has worked out pretty good.
Joey Korenman: Have you found it difficult at all to scale the operations up? That’s one of the challenges that every business faces and we’re learning how to do that now. Just the idea of having … Delegating certain responsibilities and having weekly meetings and putting structure around things, did that kind of come naturally or was that painful at first?
Ryan Honey: It was a little painful for sure. I do have a lot of support in that area, very smart, talented producers, executive producers who have helped me figure all that stuff out and then also my partner, Jeff and Orion too. I mean we all kind of have … When we identify issues, we’ll sit down and workshop it and figure out what the best approach is. Actually, we just hired a COO coming in and I can’t talk about who she is at the moment but she’ll be starting in June and so we … Scaling all of our processes and managing resources and fostering communication through offices, we’ve been doing it kind of by feel so far and now we’re going to bring in someone who’s managed nine offices and a much larger operation, a global operation in the agency world.
Joey Korenman: I’m kind of floored that you didn’t have a COO and you have 250 employees. That’s incredible. How much … So, now that you’re 250, but technology’s improved, we have Dropbox, Frame.io, lots of tools, is it easier now to work between the offices? Like how much crossover happens now between projects?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean the crossover generally happens in specific places, and it’s not all the time. It does have its issues. I think if there’s … We call it the Buck massive. So, if we have a thing, like a creative opportunity or something that has to happen really fast, if it’s a pitch or just even we got to show up for our client in a short amount of time or they need a lot of options, we get globally all of the talent that fits and everyone jams on ideas and that happens … Generally, we can move things around and kind of take people for a couple days here and there and generate a lot of ideas, which I think is one of our biggest strengths for our clients and being kind of nimble and also being able to put out a lot of quality creative in a short amount of time as far as ideas go, and then so that’s like one of the main ways we work together and then we have some sort of specialized divisions that happen across offices.
Ryan Honey: So, if it’s rigging, for instance, all happens in L.A. So, all of the rigging for all of the projects, Australia or New York, happens here. We have a bit more of a creative tech group here and they also … And the experiential now or spatial group is in New York, so if projects happen on this side of the coast, they will be working out of New York or they may work with our CT team here. And then there’s also larger projects, say projects with numerous spots or numerous deliverables and we’ve had … I mean we’ve had some that are totally obscene, I mean 250 deliverables in a short timeframe, things like that that we’ll divide up. Maybe all of the design will happen in one office, or we’ll split design and then we’ll split production.
Ryan Honey: I think we don’t do things like oh, we have a 30-second spot, you guys are going to do this five seconds or whatever. Mostly we’ll try to keep that self-contained for production, but we do split projects, especially if there’s just not enough people in the office to do them.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that makes sense and that’s got to be pretty cool to have such a deep bench and be able to just throw literally over 100 people at it if you had to. So, managing a company that’s grown that big, and you’re a founder, and you’re very much involved in the creative. What has that done to your work/life balance? This is another thing that comes up all the time on this podcast. I’m just curious to hear how it’s affected you.
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean I would like to say that I’m still involved in the creative but truthfully, it’s just not the case anymore. I am involved sometimes in the beginning of projects in helping ideate and of course, choose the work that we take on. I am here as a sounding board for people and I do act in that function sometimes but it’s gotten to a place where I can’t be involved in the day-to-day and I think although I do miss it, it has benefited the company quite a bit because there’s more autonomy with the creative directors and they can take on projects and not have to worry about looping me in and I think most of them … Well, almost every one of them except for maybe a couple, have worked with me for 8-15, 17 years and I trust them implicitly. That has allowed us to scale. It’s created a better culture here. I do, again, miss it and try to find other avenues for creativity and we can talk about what those are later but yeah, the client work is really sort of separate from me at this point.
Joey Korenman: Got you. Did you find that you were just becoming a bottleneck, is that when you realized you kind of had to step out of the day-to-day creative role?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean it was that, a bottleneck and then it was also just becoming … The work/life balance was just not working. I was on the phone all the time on vacation. I was flying all over the place. I was at the office. Up until maybe 2012, it was like a seven day a week was not … Was pretty normal. That was the norm, not the exception.
Joey Korenman: Right and I mean that’s something that every business owner, but especially studio owners … I think it’s especially hard for studio owners because typically you come from a creative background and that’s the thing you’re least willing to let go of, just giving up that creative control so that you can be the captain of the ship. So since you’ve done that, has work/life balance gotten better for you? Do you work sort of normal hours now?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, it has. It has. I probably … I have a lot of freedom to make my own hours and take vacations and that kind of thing, which is great, but it’s still my company, so you never really turn your brain off, and you have lots of ways to communicate with people, so there’s … I never check out. It’s kind of like your child in a way.
Joey Korenman: Absolutely. So, now that I know how big Buck is, I want to ask you the next question, which is okay, so let me put it this way, I’ve been in the industry since really like 2003, and so I’ve seen a lot of great studios, some of which you mentioned earlier, grow pretty big and then something changes, and it’s like some key creatives leave, or they decide to become an agency and cut out the middle man. Something changes, the work starts to get stale and then they circle the drain, and they die and Buck has done the complete opposite of that and so I’m curious, like what have you done differently or can you even put it into words? Like how come Buck has continued to not just survive but really thrive and grow?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I think it kind of speaks to our mission as a company, which is not necessarily to make money. We’re not like we have to make tons of money and this is the most important thing, but we have a mission, which is to be the most amazing partners and create the best work with the most talented people and that mission, at it’s core, is … Without the talented people, you can’t do the other stuff, so we focus on … We try to focus on the people and creating a creative culture where people are excited about coming to work and doing what they do.
Ryan Honey: Now, there’s going to be some trying moments for sure. There’s going to be projects that are a grind. There’s going to be projects that aren’t so sexy but it’s about really showing people that you appreciate them and then trying to communicate as best as possible with them about what they want and some people, it’s just not their thing. They’ll come here for three or four years and be like I’ve done this, I want to move on and go make a short movie, a short film or whatever or I want to move home, or I want to freelance, et cetera, but the majority have been here for a very long time, and it’s become … It’s kind of like a family and if we don’t lose sight of that, I think then at least we don’t lose sight of what the important part of us is, then we can continue to thrive and even grow.
Ryan Honey: I think that people … What I’ve seen in other businesses like ours is either the founders kind of check out, or their goals are just to build it up and sell it off or there’s conflict and thankfully, we don’t have conflict. We all are very aligned about what we want to accomplish, and we’re not interested in … Really, it’s become something where we’re more interested in helping the people who helped us build this and who continue to help us build it, help them thrive than making money and so that’s something else that we focus on is how do we keep it interesting, how do we keep it creative and that’s kind of what we’re getting into now and one of my focuses is to find those other creative opportunities and if it’s going to be in IP or content or gaming or apps, we’re looking at all different areas and sort of evaluating how we can fit in and how that’s going to work with our real service-based business.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, so I want to get into that in a little bit because I was talking with another guest on the podcast named Joel Pilger, and he’s sort of a consultant to studio owners and helps them scale, and he actually used Buck as an example of a company that’s really setting the example for here is how you continue to evolve and use the skills that you’ve built up but look for new opportunities to apply them, and I’ve seen Buck start to do that, and it’s really, really cool, so we’ll talk about that, but I want to talk about something you just mentioned, which was that sometimes people come to Buck and at this point, I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that Buck is a huge stepping stone in the motion designers’ career, everyone’s aware of that and so sometimes I’m sure that is the goal. I’m going to go to Buck for two years and then I’m going to go freelance because I want to have that sort of lifestyle, and I’m just curious, does that bother you at all? Or is that just sort of part of the game that we’re in?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean it’s part of the game. I think that, to be honest, if someone’s goal is to go and freelance, I don’t really want them here anyway, because when you’re going freelance, you’re giving up a lot of creative input, and the people who I want to be part of the Buck family are people who would rather be creatively fulfilled than make that extra whatever it is freelancing. And of course, we use freelancers on occasion and anyone who’s good, we try to hire, but it is what it is. I’ve had all sorts of people come and go for various reasons, and I’m never upset. That’s their prerogative.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, so I think the way I phrased this question is Buck is the Harvard of motion design companies. What I mean is everyone applies there and many people … Not many people get in, so I’m curious, since it seems like you’re looking for a very specific thing in a full-time employee and I’m sure it’s different when you’re hiring a freelancer but what are you looking for in a full-timer?
Ryan Honey: Besides talent, it’s really about the desire to create exceptional work and it’s also important that people have a varied skill set in most cases because we do a lot of very different work and we need people who we can bounce around and be comfortable bouncing around. Today, you’re working on this, tomorrow you’re doing this and some people love it and some people it just doesn’t fit with the way they think. So, people who enjoy a variety of work and then finally, we don’t work well with people with egos and I would say thankfully, in this industry, the type of people we see generally don’t and are open to other people’s thoughts and play nice with others but it does happen and so we’re very conscious of that and want to make sure that everyone knows coming in that no matter how talented they are, if they’re not willing to play nice, they’re out.
Joey Korenman: Right and talent in motion design, at least on the surface, it’s pretty easy to spot if you have that eye. You can look at someone’s portfolio and see what they’re capable of but how do you test for those other things before you hire somebody?
Ryan Honey: I mean it’s a feel I guess, have a meeting and these days, mostly we bring in interns and give them X amount of time before we make a decision if we’re going to hire them or not and if that’s not the case, it’s a freelancer that we bring in and have them work on a job and if people like them and they’re here for a month, it works out, then they’re hired. So, there is a try before you buy scenario. The only time that doesn’t work where you have to take a risk is someone from another country that needs a visa and their work’s really good, you talk to them online, do a video conference maybe once or twice, get a feel for them and then you bring them over. I would say … No, we have a lot of people from other countries, so we do do that quite a bit and it is riskier and so there are more times than the other way, there’s people that don’t work out but I would also say 90% of the time, it’s great.
Joey Korenman: I think it helps too, if you have a very clear company vision, and you express that to everyone underneath you, then they sort of know what to look for too. I find that that’s the trick with hiring in general is just making sure that the person who is hiring actually knows what the mission is, and it’s really interesting because I think you’re right, that the companies that I’ve seen really crash and burn, like grow big and just tank, it seems, from the outside anyway, that the decision they’re making are driven maybe by money. They see a financial opportunity by cutting out their client and going to their client’s client, and it sounds like that’s not important to you. What’s important is the quality of the work, does that sound right?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, we … That particular example, that does happen but it happens naturally. I think that is a shift in the industry in general. The move to direct to client work sort of led by Silicon Valley has happened naturally and it wasn’t a conscious decision to cut anyone out but when people start calling us directly, then we pick up the phone obviously. So, yeah, in our case, we have done that but it wasn’t a conscious decision.
Joey Korenman: Right, I guess I was talking more about motion design studio that all of a sudden hires a brand strategist and starts trying to be like an ad agency, that kind of thing I’ve seen kind of go south. So, while we’re kind of on the topic of hiring, what is the hardest skill for you guys to find, because I imagine that you must have an endless stack of resumes and reels and portfolios to look through, are there things that are really difficult to find even when everyone wants to work for you?
Ryan Honey: I think that the unicorns are … Well, there’s so many different kinds of positions here and so many different jobs to fill, but the unicorns that are the hardest to find are the people who have great ideas and can pretty much create anything and that’s … When you find those people you hold for dear life.
Ryan Honey: That being said, when we’re at a certain level where we’re looking for people who are amazing for every position or at least have the potential to get there, everyone from a producer to a coordinator to even an office manager is hard to find. So it’s every position is hard to fill.
Joey Korenman: Right, yeah, you kind of get to the major leagues and there’s just less people at that level. So, you’ve talked about how important it is to keep … Like when you find an A player, you hold on for dear life and there’s a lot of opportunities out there right now for A level creatives, and they can go off and make a bunch of money, if they want to. So, how do you hold onto them because I’ve met some of your staff, and they are so dedicated to Buck, and it’s pretty amazing to see because I’ve seen at other studios, you don’t always get that. So, I’m curious how you’ve developed that relationship with them.
Ryan Honey: I think it’s the culture and about approaching it like a family and as I said before, communication but also, we want people to be happy, genuinely we want them to be happy, so if that’s being creatively fulfilled and financially fulfilled to a point where we’re always checking in with everyone and making sure that those things are happening. The opportunities that exist at other places mostly are for really large companies that don’t have a focus on creative culture. So, we’re trying to make a home for these talented people who want to feel appreciated and they want it to be a place that is focused on them and what it is that they want to accomplish. So, you can make more money elsewhere and if that is your goal, then more power to you but if you want to be fulfilled creatively and be part of a family that is really focused on a mission that is about creativity, then this would be the right place for you.
Joey Korenman: So, as a company gets bigger, as a founder, your job obviously shifts as the company grows and when you get to the size you’re at, I think a big part of your job is ensuring that the company culture stays healthy and stays focused on the vision that you have for it and your co-founders and so how explicit are you? How do you make sure that everyone down to the intern understands that Buck is not about we want hotshots to come in for two years and then goodbye, we’re looking for a family, and we’re not going to pay you the most, but we are going to provide the best environment for creating amazing work? How do you instill that?
Ryan Honey: I think it’s just piece by piece. I mean we certainly don’t say things explicitly …
Joey Korenman: There’s no song? No Buck song or anything?
Ryan Honey: No, there’s no Buck song. The people we’ve put in place who are responsible for the culture have been with us for so long that they implicitly understand it and it’s sort of in everything they do. We certainly do have lots of meetings and discuss staff and talk about people who are doing a great job and make sure that they feel rewarded and make sure that they have other creative opportunities. As far as compensation’s concerned, I would say that we make sure that we pay the same or in most cases, more than other studios of our nature but we certainly can’t match the Silicon Valley dollars with stock options, et cetera.
Joey Korenman: Right, of course, yeah and that’s something I want to dig into in a little bit because I’ve heard from a lot of studio owners that that’s a challenge these days. So, I want to talk about actually some of the work that Buck does and Buck was on my radar I think since the beginning, but I think when I sort of became like an actually fanboy was the Good Books piece, and I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of people listening. That was … And I’ve heard you say in interviews that that piece was a big one for you guys. Now, looking at something like that, just the amount of animation in that and the way it was done is so insanely labor intensive. I can’t even fathom how many animator hours that took to do and so a lot of your work, like a lot of the work that you’re really known for has some element of that. Traditional cell animation or stop motion or some crazy mix of CG and stop motion or live action, there’s a lot of labor intensive stuff in it and I’m just curious, I know some of those you’re not profitable on but is it possible at all to be profitable on large scale, super labor intensive things like that?
Ryan Honey: Those things … It does happen, but it’s very rare. Those jobs you mentioned, especially Good Books, Good Books we were literally paid zero dollars to do, so that was … We liked the cause. They gave us total creative freedom to do what we wanted, and the script that they had was great. So, when there’s a creative opportunity like that, we do it for not just to have a piece for our reel that is going to get more work, but we also use it to inspire the creative culture and to attract talent.
Joey Korenman: That’s really cool, so when that project or projects like it come through, are there conversations internally like we’re definitely going to lose money on this, but I know that this artist over here has been dying to do something like that, and they’ll be psyched?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean that’s part of the conversation. It’s we kind of see the money that we spend on projects as marketing dollars for us, for our clients but also, like I said, to attract talent and to be able to spread the creative opportunities around like you mentioned.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that’s really interesting to think of your marketing budget as a source of funds to make cool stuff, because I think that there’s a disconnect sometimes in a business owners mind thinking well, the product I make, it has to be different than the marketing and really, in a motion design studios case, it’s the opposite like what your product is your marketing.
Joey Korenman: Yup. So how do you, as a company, decide which projects it’s okay to spend the resources and the time and frankly the money on?
Ryan Honey: We used to look at things through the lens of it needed to have two out of these three, either eyeballs, money or creative and I think that has changed over the years and really the creative is number one if we’re going to spend money on something, opportunity is two, which means is this going to lead to something interesting for us. For instance, we have worked on television shows and done sort of design in that area at a loss in order to create relationships that lead to other creative opportunities and then the third, I think, now is really about client relationships as well. So, we may have a client that we do a lot of work with who is great and we have a fantastic relationship and they need a favor and we’re more than willing to lose money on jobs if it means maintaining that relationship.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I mean that that’s kind of the ideal way to run a studio these days, and it’s obviously easier to do that when you’ve been around a while, and you’ve got some cash in the bank, and you’re not living month to month and basically not sleeping ever. So, was … For a studio that’s young and isn’t in that position yet, is this still something that they should be doing if they want to grow or is this something that you wait until you’ve done enough kind of not cool work but now you have some money in the bank, you can start doing these spec projects?
Ryan Honey: I think the industry has changed considerably in the past 10 years, and it’s not as easy as it once was to make cool work and attract paid work from that but that being said, as long as you’re paying your bills, you should be pushing yourself as hard as you can to create interesting work for all of the reasons that I mentioned before, and it’s not just to attract clients but also to attract and retain talent too.
Joey Korenman: Why do you think it’s harder now to do cool work and attract paying work through that?
Ryan Honey: The landscape that’s changed as before it was you had agencies who had clients, and we had reps who would follow people from agency to agency and have those relationships and go and do screenings and kind of … And then get them to take risks on new people or oh this director, it’d be great for your reel and now because the agency/client relationship is strained, people are less willing to take risks, so it’s the idea of ooh, I’m going to try this five-person shop and hope they deliver is not as easy as it once was and then the other side of that is that an enormous amount of work is direct to client these days as the companies take a lot of the marketing in house and then sort of … What they’ll do is they’ll have approved vendors.
Ryan Honey: So, if you’re on the approved vendor list, then they’ll give you work and that takes time, but it also takes studios of a certain size to be able to even get on that list and so starting off with five people, it’s less likely to happen for you and then there’s a lot of like sort of small jobs kicking around that … For startups or whoever else that young studios can take to build a portfolio but as I said, I think it’s probably harder to break into the more established group at this point.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I agree. I mean I have a friend who runs a studio in Boston and they fairly recently got approved as a vendor for Google and it was like this life changing thing but they had to jump through millions of hoops to do so and they’re at a size where they could jump through those hoops but you’re right, the five-person studio is going to have a hard time pulling that off. So, you kind of talked a little bit about something that … One of my favorite expressions that I learned from one of my old business partners was one for the meal, one for the reel and I remember when I met you briefly at the very first Blend conference and we were up on stage and you gave me some statistic that I don’t remember the exact number but basically what you were saying was that the amount of work Buck does versus the amount that you see on the website, it’s kind of a crazy ratio. So about how much of the work that Buck is doing as a company ends up being something that you’re like ah, we should show this off on the website?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean I don’t know exactly but I would say in the range of like 10%, and some of that is not because we choose … We think that it’s not worthy but it’s more that we’re not allowed to show it. So that’s part of it and then a lot of the work we do these days, we haven’t really figured out the right forum to show the work either. So, we’re in the process of redesigning our and re-imagining our web presence to kind of reflect more of the stuff that we do these days and so we will be able to put up more of what we’re up to but I think a lot of it is due to the confidentiality.
Joey Korenman: Right, yeah, that makes sense. So, I want to get into what we’re dancing around here, the changing landscape and all that but I had one other question for you about the actual work Buck does. One of the most common ways that I’ve seen animation studios and frankly even like big post production houses expand is by getting into production and just adding a big live action component and Buck has live action in its work from time to time but it’s not like a feature of Buck and I’m just curious is that’s ever been something that you’ve thought about expanding into and maybe why you didn’t?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean certainly we thought about it. We had some opportunities early on to direct live action and some we took and some we didn’t. I think we found that live action opportunities generally are not great creatively for someone like us and when someone does ask us to do that, it’s generally going to be because they want to make the most out of their budget.
Joey Korenman: Right, right.
Ryan Honey: They’ve got an animation component and they’ve got a live action component and they can’t afford to get a live action director and do good animation so they’ll ask us to do both. And we still do some of those things as you mentioned but we don’t have a director model and the other part of that is that we’re not a director model at all and we actually believe that the studio model is much more effective for our clients and with the live action directing, when you nave a roster of directors, it’s a very different kind of business and people don’t really understand like oh, who’s going to direct this, oh Buck’s going to direct it. Well, who at Buck? Well, no, just Buck, and it’s hard for people to swallow.
Ryan Honey: So, I think it’s a combination of things. The creative opportunities not being great, there’s a lot of competition for that work, especially the good work. It’s also a business that is a major time suck when you go to do a shoot, it’s from conception through pre-pro to shooting, everyone’s got to be on deck and it’s … You can’t do anything else. So, in the studio model, our creative directors can run two or three jobs at a time and have a hand in all those things whereas if they’re shooting live action, they’re just doing that. So, it’s got to be something that is compelling for us or is in the service of a job for a client that we have a relationship with or creative.
Joey Korenman: That’s interesting too because in a director model, I have friends early in my career who were directors at the company that I worked for, and the hardest thing for them was getting pigeon-holed and even … And then I mean this was probably 15 years ago but clients who would come to say the animation studio at Freelance [inaudible 01:16:28], they were used to the way of working that an editorial shop would have where you’d have the name of the shop. You’d have Crew Cuts or something but you’d work with specific editors, and they’d each have their own reel, and you’d pick the talent you want to work with, and a lot of clients tried to actually make that happen on the studio side and say well, I liked what I got from you last time. I want that designer again. Does that ever happen at Buck or have you … I mean has that ever happened in the past where people would say I like what you did, and I want to make sure what you do next time is just as good, so I want that person’s name, I want that creative director again?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean people do ask for specific creative directors on occasion and if we can accommodate, we do but I think we have also communicated to our clients that we are a large pool of talent and one of our best skills is being able to assemble sort of bespoke teams for your project based on what you need. And frankly sometimes they’re just not available and we have to suggest that someone else will work on it and that’s kind of what’s great about the model as well and why it works better with direct to client work is that they can come to us and we can, with any size project, and we can put a team together that will service that project and it’s not about a singular vision but it’s about working as partners with them to create.
Joey Korenman: Right, all right, so let’s talk about the way the industry has changed and it’s been changing a lot in the past decade but I feel like in the past, I don’t know, probably three or four years, there’s been this massive uptick in the amount of work from Silicon Valley companies and on top of that, you have all of these new technologies coming out that require motion design and so sort of recently, Buck released a very really fun app, we’ll link to it in the show notes of this podcast called Slapstick, which is an augmented reality app and I was really excited to see that because I’ve seen other studios start to move into this world of intellectual property and building products and things that they can own that can be passive income streams frankly and so I’m curious if you could talk about the decision to make that app and even expand Buck into that world of IP?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, so, I mean the goal with that wasn’t necessarily to make money. It is a free app. It was really about we have been doing a lot of AR for our clients be it Instagram or Facebook or … Well, they’re the same but Google, et cetera and so we do have quite a robust team here in the creative tech AR world and then we have all of these amazing designers and animators here and it was actually an idea that we had to give people another creative outlet. So, give the designers and animators, they can do these sticker packs. They can do whatever theme they want and then we can block out time for them to work on them and then have the CT team integrate them and then it was also an opportunity for the CT team to be thinking about features down the road.
Ryan Honey: We’re able to move a little quicker as far as implementing new features into the app than say larger corporations and so what we started to see was a thing where oh, the client had seen this thing on our app, this thing on our app, this new feature and they wanted to implement that into theirs, or they wanted to find a way to do something similar. So, it had some unintended consequences. It was really kind of a playground for us, but it has turned into a nice marketing tool as well.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was going to say. It sounds just like the way Good Books was marketing for your storytelling and animation shop, Slapstick, in a way, turned into a commercial for your ability to combine the cutting edge of technology with your design and animation skills, which is really awesome. So, is that something that you plan on expanding? I mean you talked about earlier that you’re really excited about using your creativity to try and find those opportunities, to expand into these new emerging areas. So, is there more of that coming down the pipeline?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean we have … We’ve developed a game, a mobile game that we are trying to find funding for and right now, we’ve just hired a head of development, and we are looking for … evaluating and looking for the areas that we want to invest in. So, the way we see it is that we have this amazing creative engine that people come to us and give us work for hire, and we charge them for it but are there opportunities for us to make our own content and drive the creative ourselves and that could be in games, apps, or even TV/film.
Joey Korenman: Are there other areas that Buck has found themselves involved in like for example, I know that UI and UX is a huge area where animation is becoming almost just expected. So, are there people at Buck also working on things like that and developing prototypes for the way [inaudible 01:22:29], things like that?
Joey Korenman: Now is that the kind of stuff where because working on a Nike commercial, right? That’s the kind of stuff that ends up on Buck’s website and that’s kind of how a lot of people get into motion design to work on a shoe commercial for some reason. So, is any of that stuff I guess sort of less appealing creatively, and your clients are asking for it, so it’s kind of like all right, we need to do it or is that stuff really interesting to you as well?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I think it is interesting. It’s interesting to some people, and it’s … The opportunities that come out of that have been very interesting. Again, it’s like these relationships you form with clients and especially this direct to client market where they’ll say okay, well, let’s try this now, do this. Ooh, we got this thing but really what it’s about for us is making sure we have people who want to do that work, doing that work. So, when they first bring us these opportunities, it’s like okay, we don’t have anyone who does that but this person could probably do it. So, great, let’s have them give it a go and then we check in with them to see if they’re interested or if they’re like yeah, it was fine, but I don’t really want to do that too often. So, then we’ll start to bring in people who focus more and that kind of work and organically build that team to service that client.
Joey Korenman: Right, okay, that makes sense. Now, as Buck evolves, and you have to find new talent, and you hire a head of development to take over sort of leading software development, things like that, is that something that any studio that gets to a certain size will have to do or there’s lots of studios that maybe want no part of that, they just want to stick to their core talent, which might be broadcast branding or something like that. Do you think that this is … Is this more than just like we’re interested in this and this seems fun and this is going to be fun for our team? Is this also we need to keep evolving to survive and to stay relevant?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean that’s not the thought. I think that people can survive doing the same thing they do and doing it well certainly. I think for us, it’s about creative opportunity. I think we want to … Part of the creative culture is about doing new things and all the conversations I’ve had with my creatives, it’s like I would like to try something new, and I’m like okay, what interests you and they’re like, oh, I want to get into TV shows or I would love to work on a game and those kinds of conversations spur us to look into that area and see if we might be able to do that in a viable way and most of the time, it’s something that we can do and so we pursued it. Yeah, I mean it’s about really just keeping it interesting for everyone and doing the same thing over and over again can get a little stale I think.
Joey Korenman: Right. So, looking back at when Buck was started, which was like just right around the time I got into the industry too, I mean I never would have guessed that there would be this much work out there and it’s a combination of like the amount of clients has increased, the different varieties of work out there have increased and smart phones and just tablets. I mean everything with a screen needs motion on it now and so, one of the biggest changes that I’ve sort of sensed in the past like decade but really in the past three to four years I’ve noticed a huge change is industry tech giants like Google and Apple and Amazon and Facebook, they’ve come in and they’ve radically altered the landscape of what it means to be a motion designer and I know that Buck has worked with, I think, all of those companies, so what has the impact been on Buck’s business but then also what do you think the impact has been on the industry?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean so as far as our business, definitely they’ve fueled a lot of our growth and that has been amazing for us, especially in the areas of creative tech and so that has been a major advantage for us. As far as the industry in general, they kind of led the charge in changing the advertising agency model. I know even back when we did our first Google job, talking to a product manager as the first point of contact. There were no creatives, literally no creatives on their side where it was like yeah, we have this product, here’s what we want to accomplish from a business perspective, make us something.
Ryan Honey: So, that kind of has forced studios like us to act in a sort of hybrid fashion and I don’t want to say agency, because that’s not what we are but it has forced us to add some of those capabilities and if that’s writing or in some cases even strategy or … But the difference is is that I think if you’re smart, you come at it from a different perspective than they have in the past because you’re trying to build something new, so it’s not about like okay, let’s go get all these people who have been doing this for 10 years and the old model, it’s about like okay, what is the kernel of what we’re trying to accomplish and let’s find people who are makers, who do what we do and task them with that and see if we can’t be successful.
Joey Korenman: That’s really interesting. So, like the fact that these gigantic infinitely wealthy companies come along and now they have marketing departments and they’re hiring really talented people in those departments and so now you’re interfacing with them. Is it essentially just like working with an ad agency now or is it still somehow different because I’m guessing the marketing department of Facebook is probably many times larger than a lot of ad agencies?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, sure. I mean it is different in the sense that you have … You’re working directly with them and their team and they’re tied to the project and so in the past, you’ve got this layer in between where they’re being tasked with something by their client and then they’re ideating and pitching and trying to get something sold through and then finally, when it does get sold through, there’s no time to make it and then they go and pitch it to three different companies and the client chooses something and they do. Now it’s more you’re on the ground floor, you’re working with them from the very beginning. It’s a different kind of relationship that I think is more fruitful and more of a partnership.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and what I’ve seen … Because most of my day-to-day conversations are with our students, employees at companies and freelancers and for them, and also for studio owners but especially for the lone motion designer trying to get their foot in the door somewhere, I think that all of those big tech giants, they just double the amount of opportunity out there and so in my eyes, it’s a net positive, but I’ve also heard that there are downsides to it and one of the downsides is that because those companies are not selling motion design as their product, motion design is … It’s maybe part of their product. There’s a different budget at play and what that means is that the amount of money they can throw at talent can be significantly higher than what a studio can afford, and I’ve heard that there’s almost like a bidding war sometimes for talent, and I’m curious, Buck, I think is in a great position of being one of the studios that every artist wants to work for but have you experienced that all, that you’re having to pay higher day rates or people are asking for more money because they can go to Google for six months and make a bunch of money?
Ryan Honey: Well, and I think that the people who have gone there and have worked in those environments and been wooed by the money, if they’re really interested in advancing their career and making cool work and being a maker, then they generally lose interest pretty quickly, and I certainly … There was a huge migration of people to Silicon Valley over the years and even from us as well. A lot of them have come back after their stocks vest and are ready to get back into it and it’s not to say that it’s not a great opportunity for some people who like to do a certain thing, it is but there’s lots of … They’re not creative focus companies. They’re a technology company.
Joey Korenman: Sure. There’s a little bit of a gold rush for sure with it and I certainly understand that. I mean being an artist, especially when you have to balance doing jobs that pay the bills with jobs that are creatively fulfilling and also sort of marketing for your skills, it helps if you have some money in the bank, so I totally get that, but you brought up one of the key downsides that can happen working with those companies is that especially I’ve heard that working with Apple, this is the case almost all the time is that you’re working on stuff that you not only will never be able to show but you can’t even talk about, right? You’re signing a contract saying that before you ever open after effects and so I know you’ve worked with all these brands and there’s probably lots of things you’ve done that you can’t talk about, is that difficult for the company? Is it difficult for the artist working on those jobs?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean there is some of that for the artist for sure. I think that as artists, when you create something, especially if it’s something you’re very proud of, you want to tell everyone that you did it and bask in the glory of it but it’s just sort of the reality. I think that we’re continually trying to challenge these brands about this subject. I’m not … I understand in some cases why they do it but I think that it’s probably not going to be sustainable for them.
Joey Korenman: Now as … This just reminds me, there was a piece that came out at the beginning of an Apple even in March and as soon as I saw it, I assumed Buck did it. As now, someone who’s worked with them a lot, do you have more say now? Are you able to say like yeah, we’ll do it but we do want to be able to show this? Do you have to negotiate that in with companies like that? Tread lightly. The snipers are right outside, right?
Ryan Honey: You can’t really ever … It’s always a wait and see basically.
Ryan Honey: Sometimes they’ll say yes and sometimes they’ll say no and so there’s really no negotiating. Like I said, we’re trying to encourage them to let artists show their work and I think that we were making some headway but there is a business component and a PR component on their side where they’re trying to control the narrative about the work and so that usually usurps any desire we have to have the artists recognized.
Joey Korenman: This is very well put. Is there … I’m going to ask you another dangerous question here, is there a … It’s interesting because you said that you used to include the number of eyeballs that would be seen as kind of one of the qualifications for deciding to do a job. Is there a premium paid for having Buck do something that they cannot show?
Ryan Honey: I’m not going to answer that actually.
Joey Korenman: Fair enough. Okay, fair enough. You know what, there had to be one that you wouldn’t answer. I love it. Cool. All right, I only have a couple more questions, man. I have to say thank you so much for your time. This has been fascinating. Now, Buck is established, so you’re no longer the young upstart scrappy company. You’re in a different situation now and when you started up, you had to kind of do it the standard way of getting an office and having people physically there and doing all that and it was just that was the reality of technology at the time and the way things worked but now there’s a lot of new “studios” starting up that are being built very differently and a lot of it is just a remote team of freelancers. Sometimes they’re not even in the same country and it’s really this scale up, scale down using freelancers model, maybe they have a producer, maybe they don’t and it seems like there’s a big trend of this now because it’s so inexpensive to start a studio and to market that studio and some of them seem to be doing really well.
Joey Korenman: I’m curious what your opinion is on the future of the traditional brick and mortar studio with the big overhead and all that and how that might be affected by these remote teams of artists that are calling themselves studios?
Ryan Honey: I think that if that works for people, that’s great and more power to them. For me, I would say there’s an inherent advantage to having people be in close contact and as a creative entity that is trying to solve creative problems constantly, the close proximity to everyone and the relationships that come with that, I think are one of the advantages that we have and will continue to have over someone who’s got just freelancers spread out and that’s not just about the work relationship but also the sort of … The bond that people create together and the shorthand and I wouldn’t say that people working remotely will never create good work, that’s just not true but I just think that as far as a scalable model that is able to move quickly and solve complex problems quickly, that in person teams are going to be more effective.
Joey Korenman: Well, it seems that that’s really inline with your overall vision and all the things that you’ve talked about in this conversation, trying to build a family and having people be really creatively fulfilled. I think in one of your interviews I read, you said we try to keep people creatively fulfilled so they don’t go looking for it elsewhere, which I thought was really funny. So, just in general, what’s your opinion of working remotely with people? Like does Buck work with remote freelancers or do you still really prefer everyone come in house?
Ryan Honey: Yeah, I mean it happens. It’s not something that we choose to do and usually it’s very specific, so it’ll be like someone who this guy’s a concept artist and he does this type of work, let’s call him or her and have them do that for this project. Sometimes people are very good and they totally get it but probably 75% of the time, it’s difficult. It’s just you’re like waiting for someone to show you something and then when they show it to you, it’s not what you wanted and then you’re like well, the day’s already done, we’ve lost all this time. So, it’s easier to be in the room with people or at least in the same building. Like I said, it happens and it has happened but it’s definitely not a preference.
Joey Korenman: Totally. Well, we’ve come to the last question, Ryan, and this is the one I’m guessing a lot of people listening have been waiting for, so I hope that the answer is just brilliant and insightful, and it’s pretty simple. I talked about this before, Buck is the Harvard of motion design studios. It’s very hard to get your foot in the door. There’s even … I don’t know … You probably haven’t seen this. There’s this amazing Instagram channel called Mograph Memes and they had this amazing post about how hard it is to get a job at Buck but if someone listening, let’s say that they’re pretty new in the industry and they’re looking to get a job at Buck, how should they go about doing that?
Ryan Honey: Well, technically, you apply but …
Joey Korenman: That’s it, okay, done, thank you.
Ryan Honey: The first step is about the portfolio and it’s not only the work that’s there, depending on what it is that you’re applying for but it’s also how it’s put together. I think that most people’s portfolios, if they’re not designers, they kind of … They don’t bother with the design aspect and if you’re not going to bother, that’s fine, then just don’t even try. I mean if you’re just an animator, just send us your Vimeo reel and a little blurp. I think that for us, because we are all creatives and if we don’t see that everything is thought of down to the T, we get turned off. So, if that makes sense. So, I think I’m just saying that if you’re going to apply here, you should just consider everything before applying and how best to show your work so that your talents shine.
Joey Korenman: So, it’s really about creating an experience for whoever at Buck opens that email that seems designed?
Ryan Honey: Well, it’s just don’t overlook anything. So, it’s like oh, I’m going to use this free website tool, whatever its called, I don’t know what those things are called but …
Joey Korenman: Behance or something.
Ryan Honey: Well, not Behance but you can do a pretty good job on Behance but Weebly or whatever the hell that is and like it’s got a bar at the top and then they just do like a crappy website with some bad … And it doesn’t work properly or the links are just poorly laid out, poorly designed, if you’re not going to put the time into it, then most likely, no one’s even going to look at it is my point.
Joey Korenman: Got it. All right, so it’s about the work and then obviously you have company values and things like that. Is there any way someone can sort of signal as they’re applying that they’ve drank the kool-aid, they’re ready?
Ryan Honey: No, I don’t think so. I mean I think that comes across in the work and really I generally don’t read the emails until after I like the work. So, when it comes through, look at the work first, if there’s something there, then go to the email, look at the email but there’s nothing that needs to be said, I don’t think.
Ryan Honey: No butt kissing or anything that needs to happen.
Joey Korenman: That’s great and then do you … Are you more impressed if they’ve worked with big clients or if their entire portfolio is just personal work, does that bother you?
Ryan Honey: No, not at all. No, as long as it’s inspired work and shows a dedication to the craft, then that’s fine.
Joey Korenman: Got it. So the answer is just be really good.
Ryan Honey: Pretty much, yes.
Joey Korenman: How fired up are you right now, huh? Seriously, that conversation was so satisfying for me as someone who has looked up to Ryan and to Buck for years. What he and Orion and the entire company have done is pretty remarkable and an amazing example of what you can build if you have a clear vision, guiding principles and a healthy dose of talent. I can’t thank Ryan enough for spending so much time talking with me and for being so completely open about how Buck works, his early days as a marijuana bike messenger and everything else we got into. I do hope that someone out there listening to this gets inspired and applies to Buck and finds themself among MoGraphs elite in the Valhalla of key frames and that is it for this episode. This was a special one. So thank you so much for listening. Until next time.