Deekay Kwon is a motion graphics artist who’s worked with clients like Google, Buck, and Huge. You might have seen his animations at the Made By Google keynote that introduced the Pixel, or on his Instagram, where his recent “Designer & Client” series hit deep for artists everywhere who have had to deal with difficult clients.
The South Korean-born, New York-based artist started out studying 3D animation and visual effects at the School of Visual Arts, but had to drop out due to financial circumstances. Still, a year of real-world studio experience and online tutorials have helped him work as a freelance artist for the past seven years of his career. He’s now paying it forward to his followers, with detailed YouTube tutorials and sharing his After Effects files so others can learn. I talked to Kwon about his favorite studios to work with, finding clients through Instagram, and why art school isn’t always necessary.
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Would you say that having studio experience has helped you?
Definitely. I think I learned so much more than what I learned at school. Basically, studio work is real-life work. You have a lot of pressure to make things right.
So is a school background necessary to get into this freelance career? What would you say to people who are considering art school?
I would say school is definitely not required to learn animation. I didn’t really have a great experience going to school because I took out a lot of loans. I guess the only good thing about school is that they actually introduced me to the world of animation. You can learn a lot online by watching tutorials, and I would recommend that instead.
So what are some good tutorials that you would recommend?
When I started out, there wasn’t any one specific place I could learn everything if I wanted to learn some specific technique, and I’d just search on Google and then someone would have a tutorial on that. Now there’s a lot of online tutorials such as School of Motion, or Video Copilot. And, you know, just YouTube and Vimeo. I think you’ve got to be really good at Googling skills.
For the stuff you post on Instagram, is that work that you do for yourself?
I would say about 80 percent is my personal work and 20 percent would be actual client work.
And of course, your Designer & Client series has gotten a lot of attention. Is it based on any particular client?
I think it’s based on all of my experiences.
Who’s your favorite client you’ve worked with so far?
I would say Buck. They have the best animators and designers, so you get to learn a lot by surrounding yourself with super talented people.
Are there any artists whose work you want to shout out?
Motion Markus’ work is super great. I’ve been watching his work ever since I was starting out.
Is there any advice that you would give to other freelancers or artists?
I would say just stick to what you like to do. That’s what I did and I ended up okay. When I was in high school, I didn’t have a high GPA, and you know how Korean parents are. They want you to go to an Ivy League college, and I was none of that. They were really worried, but I ended up okay. So just stick to what you like.
Would you say that your Instagram has helped you get more clients and work?
Ever since I started uploading my work to Instagram and getting more followers, that actually gave me a lot of opportunities to work with different studios. And the clients, most of them are from Instagram, but 80 percent of the job offers are not really standard jobs. It’s like random YouTubers that want to have an intro. And they don’t really know how much it costs, they want 15 seconds of animation intro for a hundred bucks, so I wouldn’t even reply back to those.
But other than that, sometimes I just reach out to studios and agencies to work with them. All the stuff that you see on my Instagram is my kind of style and what I like to do, so the studios and agents know that I’m good at this particular thing. And they will give me something that is similar to what I like to do, which I think is really important. Because when you go to studios without having your identity or your color, they’ll just give you anything, and you’ll burn out easily.
Is it hard for you to take breaks and vacations?
It’s not hard, because my schedule can be very flexible. But there were many times where I was really hungry and low on money, that whenever there’s work now I’m like, “Oh, I should always take this job.” So whenever there’s an opportunity now, I always say yes, even though realistically, I don’t really need to. And it’s one of those habits that I want to get rid of. Because now I’m 30, and looking back at my 20s, I didn’t really have much fun. I would just always work, work, work. And what’s the point of working too hard when you don’t have memories? So I’m trying to take it slow and make some memories.